All six kids individually said "Ewwww. No. Don't do it! I'll never drive with you again." "Marvellous", was my response. Even my husband wrinkled his nose in distaste at first. You see, I'd decided to put business branding on my new little white Hyundai Getz.
Low key advertising makes perfect sense. It's inexpensive and continual. In fact, I don't know why more small businesses and self employed people don't do it. Today I'd like to walk you through my process of finding, then employing a business to execute my plan. I feel there are numerous business lessons for 2011 to take from it.
Step One: Like many other consumers, I live an almost completely web-based life. The first place I looked was on the internet, using Google. It was a total failure - I didn't have the right terminology, using only "painting" and "auto branding".
Lesson One: Your search terms. Do you have non-technical terms that your target market will use? Have you put in your locations served and services? The place to do this is in the page title (the white letters at the top left of each web page).
Step Two: Next, I turned to social media. Though my Facebook business page I asked if anyone knew of a company they'd recommend. As my Facebook updates feed through to Twitter and LinkedIn, I only had to ask once to have it appear in three places. I had about 12 recommendations and lots of good advice. For example: consider using vinyl instead of paint - it can save repainting the car if you sell it; you better drive courteously and safely - everyone will know who you are; keep the car clean.
Lesson Two: Even if you're not on social media personally, it can still be an area of referral - and condemnation. So nurture your customer service to get referrals.
Step Three: Like most business people, I'm very busy. I'm also not tightly constrained by budget (time is money, so time searching for multiple quotes has a cost). So though I was given referrals in many forms, I skipped the ones with just phone numbers and went straight to the websites. Both sites I looked at had visual examples which are important in their line of business. I emailed both companies. Only one got back to me, almost immediately. The second company still has not answered my inquiry sent through their online web form.
Lesson Three: Several points, actually. First, try to get your referrers to give website addresses, in addition to phone numbers; most people want to look at your "visual business card" first. Next, website inquiries are as important as picking up a ringing phone. How many people don't bother filling out online inquiry forms, from bad past experience? My hand is raised. If you run a business be sure your incoming emails are answered. Here's a trick. Have the incoming web inquiry come to your inbox ; create a rule to have a copy of the inquiry go to the person that handles it. Then weekly do a reconciliation. How many have they answered vs how many you know truly came in.
Step Four: Having got the response from the company (I selected vinylgraphics.co.nz) all our communication was via email, then SMS, then finally I picked up the phone to set a time to bring in the car. When the car was done, Henry the owner attached a photo to the email to show the finished result.
Lesson Four: Henry didn't know if I was a tyrekicker or not, but he still went to a lot of trouble creating and emailing visual mockups and tweaks. Though not every online quote will come through, I believe most people are moral and honourable. Faced with competitors with similar pricing and features, they'll feel an unspoken obligation to work with someone who has helped them.
In summary: Three strategies. First, the internet makes doing business so FREASY - Free and Easy. It allows minnows like Henry, by being agile and responsive, to compete with wealthier and larger businesses. You often cannot tell the difference in size from a website. Second, word of mouth referrals take many forms. Try to upskill to ask people to also give weblinks. Finally, and most importantly, set up processes that ensure you - or the right staff - attend to all online web inquiries as you would the phone that's ringing on the desk or in the pocket.
PS. If you see me driving around Auckland - you'll give me a honk, won't you?
Debbie Mayo-Smith is a bestselling author and international speaker.