16 Ways to Make Your Small Business Boom

In a previous post, I told you about Flavia, a professional masseuse who worked the kink out my neck last time I was in Nicaragua.

Flavia’s concern over making enough money to support her family led me to ponder what she’d have to do to turn her skill as a massage therapist into a six-figure income. I suggested that she (a) raise her fees, (b) work more hours, and (c) start her own business by hiring other massage therapists and taking a portion of their earnings.

While starting your own business is a great way to rapidly increase your income, marketing it on a limited budget is a challenge for most new entrepreneurs. Following are 16 recommendations for Flavia. The majority of these strategies can apply to any small business … so consider using some or all of them to help your small business grow.

1. Pass-Along Discount Cards

After each massage, Flavia should give her customers three preprinted “pass-along” cards for some sort of introductory treatment at a discount. The card should briefly list the services she offers, and then say something like “You are entitled to an X% discount on an introductory treatment, courtesy of [blank space to write in the customer’s name].”

When Flavia hands her customers the pass-along cards, it’s important for her to specifically ask them to give the cards to friends, relatives, or colleagues. The chances that the card will be passed along increase 1,000 percent when the request is verbal. And the best time for her to make that request is just after the massage, when the customer is feeling good.

2. Referral Rewards

It costs money to get new customers in every business, including personal services. So Flavia should reward people who consistently refer new customers by giving them free or highly discounted treatments. Keeping in mind that each new customer should be worth hundreds – even thousands – of dollars to her (if she runs her business correctly), she should be willing to reward people who bring in new business with, say, $50 worth of treatments from time to time.

3. Upgrades and Ancillary Sales

Every treatment should be seen as an opportunity to sell something extra. Flavia should sell massage oil, aromatherapy candles, incense, etc. And during the course of the massage, she should offer additional upgraded treatments (such as using hot stones) that may take little extra time but for which she can charge a reasonably good amount of money.

When your customer is relaxed and happy, you don’t have to push very hard to make an upgrade or ancillary sale. Flavia should shoot for upselling at least 50 percent of her customers.

4. Multiple Discounts

Right now, Flavia works on a job-by-job basis. She doesn’t offer discounts for multiple massages. Experience proves that you can double or triple the income you will get from a customer simply by asking him to buy future, discounted services at the beginning of the relationship.

Flavia should have three packages: three treatments, 10 treatments, and 25 treatments. The discounts shouldn’t be too steep, because that’s not necessary with satisfied customers, but they should be consistent. If a single massage costs, say, $40, a group of 10 should cost $350 and a group of 25 should cost $750. Flavia should collect this money up front and provide refunds only if the customer has some sort of emergency that prevents him from using the rest of the package.

5. Posters and Flyers

Flavia should be aggressive about putting up printed advertising wherever potential customers are likely to congregate. Prime targets would include the bars and restaurants at nearby resorts, as well as local shops and even outdoor markets. These ads should be simple and to the point – for instance, a good photo of Flavia smiling with a line or two on the services she offers. (Getting the photo right is the main thing.)

Flavia shouldn’t have to pay to post her advertising. She should rely on the friendly relationships she develops with employees and shop owners to get her foot in their door … and then offer free treatments as recompense.

6. Local Newspaper and Magazine Ads

Newspaper and magazine ads are expensive and generally not productive for small businesses … but when they work, they can be effective for a long time. Flavia should wait until her business is generating more cash than she needs and then use a small portion of it – maybe 5 or 10 percent – to gradually test local media.

When buying ad space, she should never pay full rate and she should not be talked into taking multiple ads (although ad salespeople will tell her that consecutive ads have a cumulative effect). She should run a small ad here, a small ad there, until she finds one that works. She should double-test it – and then, if it works a second time, commit to multiple placements (but only at a sharp discount).

7. Co-op Advertising and Recommendations

Flavia’s customers – relatively affluent vacationers – spend money on all sorts of things besides spa services. Flavia should figure out what those things are (by talking to her customers) and then make contact with the appropriate business owners and discuss ways of marketing on a cooperative basis. A very good way to do that is to agree to simply to talk about the other person’s services while servicing your own customer. (“Are you a surfer, Mr. Brown? Oh, my friend George repairs surfboards.”)

8. Phone Message Advertising

Every time a customer calls Flavia and gets her answering machine, that customer should be given a reason to call back and do more business with her. A phone message is a relatively small thing, but it’s also a very intimate way to communicate. Letting her customers know that she has a special on some new treatment – “this week only” – might very well bring in an extra hundred dollars.

9. Business Cards

Flavia should carry business cards with her wherever she goes. They should be cute and friendly, but convey her message. She should keep them with her at all times, and give them out at every available opportunity. The back of the card should offer a good reason to call her for an introductory session.

10. T-Shirts and Other Paraphernalia

Flavia should have T-shirts made up and distribute them to good customers and high-profile locals. Because she is photogenic, I’d advise her to put her face on the shirt, along with her name and something clever that will attract attention. This kind of publicity is not direct, and therefore Flavia shouldn’t spend much money on it. But if her shirts are worn on the beaches and near swimming pools, it can only help promote her name.

11. Personal Appearances

Flavia should give free demonstrations at the resorts and clubs her customers frequent. By offering to lecture on specific topics of interest, she will provide these places with something valuable that they can pass along to their customers for free. Every appearance should end with a polished, low-key pitch that sells Flavia’s products and services.

12. Articles

Flavia should write articles for local newspapers, magazines, and websites (including her own). She should write about what she knows and establish herself as an expert in the particular style of massage therapy that she practices. She should be forceful in advocating the benefits of her style. She studied and mastered it because she believed it was the best … therefore she should have no hesitation about telling the public why she feels that way.

13. Deals with First-Line Promoters

In Flavia’s industry, the first-line promoters are the booking agents that get people to come to Nicaragua in the first place. Flavia should find out who they are and make deals with them. She should ask them to offer her services up front as they are booking trips, and she should be prepared to pay a 50 percent commission to them on each treatment.

For the tour promoter, Flavia’s business is extra money that he doesn’t have to work hard to get. For the customer, it’s a thoughtful convenience. Flavia should make similar deals with all the local hotel operators and property managers. They have extra profits to gain and nothing to lose by passing along her information – or, better yet, providing a link on their e-mail correspondence to their customers.

14. Website

There are more than a dozen ways Flavia could promote her business through a personal website. Most of these have been touched upon in past issues of ETR, and we’ll explore many of them in detail at this year’s Information Marketing Bootcamp. Because of the nature of Flavia’s business, her website doesn’t need to be very elaborate. It could include as little as a nice photo of herself, some graphics that represent her “style” of treatment, her credentials (she happens to have great ones), and a list of services. She should not include prices on the website. And there is no need for elaborate graphics.

If Flavia pays more than $300 to have someone create her website, she will have paid too much.

15. Search Engine Optimization

Flavia needs to understand how SEO works so she can make sure that if someone searches for massage or spa services in Nicaragua, her name will come up.

16. An E-mail List of Customers

Flavia should get the e-mail address of every customer she works on, and send a little letter to her e-mail list once or twice a month. Her e-letter should be fun and informal. It should announce all the new products and services she is developing, and provide news and information about massage and other therapies to establish good will and showcase her expertise.

The customer e-mail list is, by far, the most valuable tool a small businessperson has. It can make the difference between a business that just gets by and one that is hugely successful. There is an art and science to growing and mining a customer list – all of which will be explained at this year’s Information Marketing Bootcamp.

Flavia is ahead of most people when it comes to starting – and succeeding at – her own business, because she already has a financially valued skill. Master a financially valued skill, and you too can turn these 16 marketing strategies into huge profits.

[Ed. Note: If, like Flavia, you are hoping to take your business to the next level, start by going online. To learn more about search engine optimization, website building, creating an e-mail list, and other strategies that will bring you more customers and bigger profits, sign up for ETR’s Info Marketing Bootcamp: “Making a Fast Fortune on the Information Revolution.”

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]
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