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Silvana Clark
Need to market your home business but have a tight budget? Ask Silvana, author of Taming the Marketing Jungle: 104 Marketing Ideas When Your Motivation is High and Your Budget is Low, for help!
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 EP Low-Cost Marketing Q&As

Q. I am starting an errand service in my city. I am wondering what the best way to market such a service would be? I have created a nice "flyer" and
am considering distributing it to about 1000 homes in my area, however I am wondering if this will give me the most bang for my buck. Do you have any suggestions?


Q. I am a stay at home mom and I am very interested in starting a home care business. I would like to clean homes, shop, cook, and do laundry for
senior citizens or families dealing with Alzheimers. I do not have a lot of experience in Management, however I am a self motivator and want to begin today. Where do I start??????

Thank you,
Kim Hjermstad
A. As people get busier and busier, the need for an errand assistance business is a good one. But rather than randomly give flyers to everyone you meet, I suggest narrowing your focus.
Do you want to help out busy mothers? Then offer to pick up children and take them to piano lessons. Deliver meals to their house or even clean their house. Where do you find these mothers? Deliver flyers to child care centers and after school programs like the YMCA so parents can see them when they pick up their children. Take flyers to dentist offices, the
grocery store, etc...wherever you have women working.
If your area of interest is to work with seniors and their families, then once again, distribute flyers to senior centers, bingo centers and medical supply store. Maybe your local pharmacist will give out your flyers to elderly patients. Contact visiting nurses or even a hospice and explain what you have to offer.
In other words, instead of saying that you offer "An Errand Service," be specific. The headline of your flyer could be, "Need help juggling your child's busy schedule? Let me help provide reliable, safe transportation for afterschool activities." Or how about, "Need a little assistance in your home? Let me help you with laundry, shopping and other errands. I provide warm friendly service and companionship to senior citizens."

Be sure to list the benefits that come with hiring you. People want to know: What's In It For Me? Let them know they'll have more free time, a cleaner home, etc.

Good luck!
Q. I want to start a part-time pet sitting business. How do I find my target market, and then how do I target my advertising to them? I have used classfieds with very few results. Do you think doorknob hangers, brochures or business cards are worthwhile?

Thank you,
A. Deborah:

People love their pets, so you have a good idea. The first place to start might be to have simple flyers made up, stressing the benefits pets receive from your service. For example:
  • Less stress for pets.
  • Owners know their pet is in comfortable surroundings.
  • Your visits provide the appearance that the home is not empty.
  • You can give special treats, medication, etc...specialized service.

Once you've listed the benefits, take the brochures to veternarians, pet shops, animal groomers, etc. Ask your friends who they see as a vet. Then you can call and say, "Dr. Johnson, I'm a friend of Suzie Smith, who brings her two cats to you. She suggested I contact you to let you know about my pet sitting service." That is known as a "warm" lead. The vet or pet store owner has some point of reference about why he/she should listen to you.

Have you considered a short classified ad in the paper under the "pet" section? After you get business ask your customers for names of their friends who could use your service. It won't be long before you're as busy as Dr. Dolittle!
Q.. I started an in-home daycare back in January so that I could stay home
and raise my 1 and 2 yr. old boys. I started with my two children and two
other little boys who are brothers. I just happened to acquire them because I
told a friend about me quitting my job to start the daycare and she told her daughter about it and that's how I got my first two.
Now the mother has given me two weeks notice and I'm having trouble finding more kids for the daycare. I have registered through a place called the Childcare Connection which is a referral service for providers, but I have yet to hear from anyone.

I have extremely limited funds at the moment and am getting to the point where I have to do something. I made some flyers and posted them around the nearby Air Force Base, Army post and elsewhere, but have had no luck. Any other suggestions?

Jennifer Culp
A. Every community needs high quality childcare, so you should soon be able to find new clients. You said you put up some flyers...Are they professional-looking? Do they offer benefits to customers such as flexible hours or healthy snacks? I recently saw a hand written flyer for child care with several misspelled words. My first thought was, "If this person is careless in spelling, will she be careless with a child's safety?"
After you have a flyer, contact the human resource department of local businesses. Explain what you have to offer and ask if you can give them some flyers to distribute to their employees. Contact local public and private schools. Many of the children have younger siblings that need child care. Parents will see your flyer when they visit the school. Local libraries often sponsor pre-school story times. Ask if you can give flyers to the parents
attending. You just might end up with more busness than you can handle.
Good Luck!
 Q. I am starting a home-based bookkeeping business and I need tips on getting clients. I have everything else ready to go but have not received any response to my ad in the local newspaper or to flyers I mailed out. Please help me get this off the ground.

Thank you!
A. Yes, getting clients is difficult, but not impossible. The first step is to tell everyone you know that you are a bookkeeper. Get some professional-looking business cards and distribute them in your community. Put them up at all the local print shops. Many office supply stores have bulletin boards where business owners can place their cards. One woman I know always leaves her business card with the tip at restaurants.
Does your community have craft shops? See if the craftspeople need a bookkeeper. They are usually so involved in the creative aspect of crafts that they overlook the practical need for accurate bookkeeping.
Many community groups have an organization called, "Leads Clubs." These are groups of people who share leads amongst each other. Someone will say they need a mechanic, and someone else announces they need a bookkeeper. That's when you jump up and say, "That's me!"
Good Luck!

Q. Dear Silvana,

I recently started a home-based business in Interior Design. My marketing has included flyers and, most recently, postcards to new mortgage holders
listed in the business section of my local newspaper. My dilemma is that the competition is so great where I live. I would love to be able to discover a niche market to stand out from my competion. I do have a targeted market for the postcards, but I'm not getting the response that I expected.

What I would love to be able to offer to my clients are some personal touches to their homes. I've done the window treatments in my own home, I love to paint and use the popular faux treatments. Please help!!!

Thanks in advance,


 A. Since competition is tight, you'll need to find a "niche" that makes you stand out from others. What is your specific specialty? If you can become known as the "Window Treatment Specialist" or the "Baby nursery decorator," you'll be able to get some business. Try going to a small, locally-owned fabric, paint or home improvement store. Ask if you can give a free short
seminar on your specialty. If you offer your services for free, the chances are the store will promote the seminar. You'll then have people attending who might hire you.

Even on a tight budget, could you create some new window treatments for your child's classroom? The school newsletter would then mention your work. The point is that people need to see a sample of your work before they feel comfortable hiring you. Keep trying to maintain a high visibilty.

Good Luck!


 Q. Recently I have established my own home-based business which has a full range of drafting and word processing capabilities in combination with printing, plotting and e-mail. I would appreciate it if you could suggest how to get reliable customers.

Thank you.
A. Hello:

Sounds like you have a much needed idea for a to get the customers! It always helps to check out your competition and see how you can be a bit different. Can you offer free pick-up and delivery? Can you get the job done faster? Do you offer higher quality at a higher price? Find out what distinguishes you from other people in your line of work.
It also always helps to get positive referrals. Can you offer your services to a local non-profit group in exchange for them giving you credit in a newsletter or mailing? That way, when you approach a potential client, you can say, "Here's an example of my work that I did for the local woman's shelter last week...." It lends you credibility.
You mentioned you do e-mail, drafting, etc. Sometimes when you offer a wide range of services, people get confused as to what you really do. (Plus sometimes it conveys the idea of, "I'll do anything just to earn some money.") Perhaps narrow your focus and emphasize 2-3 services you offer. That helps people understand your business.
Your local paper probably won't feature a general story about your new business. But they would be interested if you have some unique characteristic to it. I heard about a woman in a similar line of work that always took her three dogs with her when she picked up work from her clients. The paper did a fun article on her with an emphasis on the dogs...but her business was also mentioned.
Hope that helps!
Q. I have an idea for a home-based business...I want to use my natural skills of organization and creativity (along with a desire to enjoy my "job") into a children's party coordinator/planner. My budget is extremely limited. I have no commercial food preparation area, so cannot cater, though I'd like to expand the business to include that one day. I'd like to be the "legs" for the working parent who wants to provide a fun, memorable birthday party for their
child, while working within a contracted budget outline. Lots of parents just don't have the time/energy to put into putting together a party for their child. I also plan to include a photography service.
Where in the world do I start to pull this off and be successful??? I have
the experience of being a mom to three kids and planning the parties for them, plus attending countless other kid's parties. I've begun journaling ideas for
themes, decorations, scouring books/magazines for ideas and building a file to
house pictures of possible party ideas.
I know I can't start this business today, but how will I know when the time is "right" to begin this business and where do I start when I do? Besides that, how do I even know if this service will be successful in my area?
Any advice you can provide will be gratefully accepted.
Thank you,
Lisa D.
A. Lisa,

Sounds like a fun business idea! It's obvious you've already done some research and gathered numerous ideas. Here's a couple more for you:
How about asking a friend if you can plan their child's next birthday party at no cost to them except for the supplies? That way you can "experiment" with presenting 2-3 party plans and then actually putting them in action. I know you've done parties for your own children, but there is a big difference when working with someone else's money and ideas. It also serves as a contact for future parties. People will often ask, "Can I call someone as a reference to see if they were satisfied with their party?" That way you'll have a contact for them.
With the holidays coming up, contact a few community groups such as Rotary clubs, homeless shelters or even the children's library and see if you could plan their holiday children's party. Let them know you are donating your services, and they just pay the actual costs. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to pass out business cards and let others know what you do. It really raises your professional credibility if you can tell a potential client, "Last month I planned the holiday party for the children of Rotary Club members."

Hope that helps. Good Luck!
Q. I am trying to start a desktop publishing / word processing business and can't figure out how to go about getting customers. Any suggestions?
A. Hi Beth,
There are several ways you can make your first sales with a desktop publishing and/or word processing business. Here are a few ideas to start with:
  • Many small business owners and entrepreneurs need word processing and desktop publishing assistance. Check your newspaper for groups such as "Leads" clubs or groups dealing with home based businesses. Just attending a few meetings and introducing yourself and your skills can result in new business.
  • How about offering to do a newsletter for the PTA, Girl Scouts or your church? You'll gain valuable publicity when you highlight your name and your business in the newsletter.
  • Is there a college nearby? Design an attractive flyer and post it where both students and instructors see it.
  • Visit printers in your area and show them samples of your work. Ask if they would refer you to customers or let you display a flyer or business card.
Try a few of those ideas and let me know what happens.
Good luck!
Q. Hi,

Well, after being in business for 6 months and only having 6 paying customers I've decided to ask for some help!

I opened Joyous Gifts, a gift shopping service and custom gift basket service. I have done the following: Direct Mail (postcard with names off a Chamber of Commerce mailing list), Yellow Pages (due out end of this month), T-shirts (to wear to my exercise class), had pens made w/ name & phone #, and did a few craft/trade shows.

I am a former retail manager so when I do get a customer I know how to keep them (I've gotten 3 out of 6 by word of mouth).

Someone suggested that I give a "special gift" to the secretaries of some local businesses, but I'm a mother of an 18-month old and have no real childcare option.

Any other suggestions? Will the yellow pages make a huge difference?

A. Hi Joy:

What a clever name for your business that ties in with your own name! How about capitalizing on "Delivering Joy" as your trademark?
Contact a local nursing home or center for battered women. Ask them to randomly select someone that could use a little "joy" in their life. Then ask if you can bring them a gift basket. Contact your lifestyle editor of your local paper and let them know what you are doing. Add to the "joy" by dressing your toddler in a cute outfit and have them help deliver the gift basket to the lucky recipient. Yes, it is a publicity angle, but you are also making someone happy. Maybe set a policy that twice a year you will select a person in your community to get a free gift basket.
Contact a local restaurant and ask to display one of your baskets, along with your business cards. They can ask customers to drop their business cards into a jar and after a few weeks, pick a winner of the basket. You take all the business cards and send them a note, thanking them for entering the contest and describing your services. Because they actually saw one of your baskets, they feel a "connection" with you. The idea is to let people know what service you provide.
Pens and T-shirts are nice, but people need to be able to actually see a basket. With the holidays approaching, people are looking for gifts.
Contact the senior assisted living centers in your area and ask if you can set up a display in their lobby for a few hours so people can do their shopping in one location. Mention that you can customize baskets to suit the interests of the recipients. Ask the instructor of your exercise class if you can distribute flyers to people in your class. Better yet, ask if you can bring one or two sample baskets to class so people can see them. You might want to get a copy of Entrepreneur magazine or look up their web site. They have an entire "kit" you can buy that is geared specifically towards starting a gift basket service. I just looked at excerpts from it on their web pages and it was full of great ideas.

Good luck!
Q. Hi, my name is Bridget. Right now I am attempting to type this with an overactive 2 yr old climbing on me. I have tried about everything. I have even put together a book -- but have not had a single sale, even though I was featured in October Women's News Magazine. I have now even put some flyers in supermarkets offering errand service, shopping, typing (at least my 2 yr old is strapped in and not climbing!).
I feel I need to do something that will get me out of the house. I was hoping to make enough money on the information book to get us ahead on bills, and also to be able to start offering tours for the disabled to Ireland. Course with no money -- that dream is out the door!
Now is there any very very cheap way to promote the business, and my book. I am typing this extremely fast -- have to -- at the speed of a two year old!
Bye for now!
A. Hi Bridget:

Yes, it is difficult to type with a 2 year old "helping." When my daughter was 2, we would go to the mall at 8 in the morning and join the Mall Walkers. All the stores are closed, so she couldn't touch anything. Then I spent an hour or so letting her walk the mall and wave to the senior citizens walking also.
You didn't mention what type of book you wrote. Was
it an actual book with an ISBN number that could be ordered through bookstores? Or was it more like a booklet? There's a book called
1001 Ways to Market Your Books by John Kremer. Full of great and inexpensive ideas. Most libraries have a copy if you don't want to buy it.
There is a woman named Paulette Ensign who has a web page filled with information on how to put short informational booklets together. She tells how to write and market them. Several of my friends followed her advice with good results. You can reach her at [email protected]
You also mentioned running an errand service. Since you have some flyers, try distributing them at places where seniors or "busy" people congregate. How about at assisted living centers, retirement homes or at a hospice? Contact the Red Cross or Visiting Nurses Association. Perhaps lawyers or doctors could use your services. If you distribute flyers at your grocery store, that isn't reaching the market you want.
Leading a tour through Ireland would be fun and rewarding. Do you have a background in leading tours? People signing up want to know you have a proven track record. What would you do with your toddler while you led the tour? People who pay you to lead them on a tour will not be patient if the toddler is along and you need to change diapers. How about leading some parent/child programs in your community first?
We rented a large gym at a reasonable cost and opened it for two hours to anyone wanting to bring their toddler to play and ride Big Wheels. We limited it to children under the age of 3 so young ones wouldn't get pushed around. I bet other mothers would be glad to pay $2-3 to let their child have a big space to run and play.
From there, lead a parent-toddler hiking class where you meet at a different park each week and hike with your children. This gives you some experience in planning and organizing activities for when you get ready to head to Ireland.
Good Luck!
Q. I am a working parent and my husband and I are trying to market a stay at home business for medical billing service. We are having difficulty getting a client because the expense of mailouts are high and coordinating them is difficult because we are low on capital. We also tried mailouts and most of them got sent back because our mail lists were not that accurate.
Is there any other way to market this type of business without the expense of mailouts involved? The people who marketed the software told us that this was the way to market the business and we have not been successful in getting a prospect or even an interview?
Any suggestions or leads?
A. Sounds like you have a good idea, but need help getting clients. Medical Billing is a popular work at home business, so I think you are on the right track. It's important to remember that everyone likes to do business with someone they know rather than from an offer in the mail. Can you call the receptionist at your own doctor's office and ask who does their billing? Ask if they are satisfied with the service.
Then call a few local people doing billing from their homes and ask if they ever sub-contract out work. You might find they are swamped with work and could use your help. Are any of your friends doctors? Instead of asking for their business, just gather information about what they like and don't like about their present billing service. Their answers might give you insight in how to provide a quality billing service.
There is a national association of people who do medical
billing. Contact them and ask for any catalogs or resources they have.
Hope that gives you a few ideas.
Q. Dear Silvana,

My husband and I bought a franchise home inspection company four months ago, after going thru the expense of the franchise, training out of state and following their "no fail" marketing plan -- we are about to fail completely!
We have sent out thousands of free and discount coupons, visited countless real estate offices, offered contests, but we don't seem to be having any effect in the southern California market. The buyers that we have had return glowing comment cards -- but that doesn't pay the bills!

Thanks for your help.

A. Mandy:

It must be frustrating to have high hopes for starting a business, complete the training, and work hard but receive no results. You mentioned you had glowing comments from the customers you do have. They could be your best resource. Have you asked any of them for letters of recommendation? Have you used their comments as testimonials on your flyers?
Statistics show that when people look at a brochure, they read the captions under a photo first, then they read testimonials. I find it hard to ask for referrals, yet when I do, people are glad to oblige. It might take a phone call to a past customer and tell them you are working on growing your business. Ask who they know that would benefit from your expertise. Then when you call that new person you can say, "Pat Smith suggested I contact you...." It helps break down any resistance barriers.

I find that any sort of newspaper exposure helps business. The local newspaper probably won't do an article on "Husband and Wife Start Home Inspection Business." They need something new or unique. Husbands and wives starting a business together is a new trend. Try and find 2-3 other husband-wife teams in different businesses and contact the newspaper about running a
story on the pros and cons of working together as a married couple. That could easily get you and your business featured in the paper. Then, when you contact potential customers, include a copy of the article. That gives you instant credibility as a "famous" person in the community.
Many business papers run columns on business people who are new to the area. Again, contact those people and say,"I read in the Business Journal that you recently moved here from Timbuktu. Since you're new to the area, I thought I'd introduce
myself. If you're looking to buy a house, you'll want to have it inspected before you buy it. I'd like to tell you about my home inspection service."
Hope that gives you a few ideas. Good luck!
Silvana Clark


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