Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Marketing Monster #1

I recently had a reader email me with a question about marketing strategies for a home-based business. She wrote:
"I know there's no "best way", but what are some of the ways a small home based business that's just starting out advertise without spending thousands on a display ad? Do you mind sharing some of the things you have done?"

Well, I can't say I'm an expert on the subject by any means, but I've dipped my toe into a few things thus far. With less then 6 months of Divapreneurialship (boy do I love making up words!) under my belt I've still got a LOT to learn, but hopefully some of my attempts will inspire you.

What follows are things I've either (a) tried, or (b) am planning on trying in the near future. I've made the focus of this piece a small, home-based business as I would guess that is how many of you are starting out. I will highlight one "tactic" per blog post, so check back soon for the next installment!

(1) Trade Shows
I know, I know, this costs money. Not a ton when compared to other advertising methods, but enough. However, you WILL NOT find a better target-marketed advertising strategy at such a cheap price than this. I repeat, WILL NOT. As such, I've decided to include it in this list, AND even have the audacity to list it as Number One! If you read on, however, you'll see why.

Tradeshows are an incredible way to commune with future, and more importantly, currently seeking clients. Provided you do you homework and find a tradeshow related to your product/service, you will effectively be hitting hundreds of potential clients in a matter of hours. Think about it: an ad placed in the newspaper will see thousands of eyes in that one day it runs, but what are the odds that all those thousands of people will even look at it, let alone also coincidently be in the market for whatever it is you're selling? According to Kim Lavine, author of "Mommy Millionaire" (2007), tradeshows:

- are the most cost-effective way to reach qualified buyers
- generate more leads and require less effort than a typical business call in person or on the phone
- are a great way to meet both existing and new customers
- give you a great opportunity to study the market and your potential competition

Ladies, this is why tradeshows are so amazing! As a case example: I started taking clients in the fall of 2006, and had a respectable three (!) total. I did not enter my first show until January 2007. It was a one-day wedding fair and ran from 9am - 5pm. In that time I literally had thousands of brides (re: potential clients) stop by my booth and browse my invitation samples. Out of that I got the bulk of my current clientele, and out of them I'm also beginning to get some word-of-mouth referrals (more on that in a later post). Infact, I now only plan on entering two tradeshows per year -- one in January, and one in September. I don't think I need to enter any more! I officially consider my start date as Janaury 21, 2007 now because in hindsight, I wasn't really "out" 'till then.

Of course, as someone involved in the wedding business its relatively easy to find market-targeted tradeshows. But how do you find shows of a different nature? The single-best way to do this is to contact the convention centres, big halls, and any other places that seem to host tradeshows in your city. They will have a list for the upcoming year of any and all shows they will be hosting, both consumer ones ("open to the public" such as wedding fairs or car shows) and business-to-business ones ("private/closed to the public" such as oil & gas shows for oil companies). Go through the list, and try to pick out any that sound like they could work for your product/service. Then take that list and check them out on Google -- chances are there will be a website about it somewhere.

Another great way to find out about tradeshows (though sometimes not super-reliable, which is why I've listed it second) is the website . Go to this site and click on "Tradeshow Directory" on the left-hand side to help you find shows specific to your industry.

Divas, when you add it all up and then compare it to more-traditional advertising, tradeshows are heads-and-tails above the competition in terms of price. Where I'm located (a large city in Canada), the average cost for a booth rental (this is just the space, not any signage) is $10 - $15 per square foot. My 10 x 10 booth at the wedding tradeshow cost me $1500 + tax -- I easily made that cost back in orders I received after the fair. Some of the extra-big centres in the States (Las Vegas, San Francisco) will cost you more, but its still worth checking into.

In terms of decorations, don't go overboard. Granted, you don't want your booth looking like the poor-man-on-the-block, but you do NOT have to go "all out" especially in your first few years. Go to a couple of tradeshows prior to yours, walk through the aisles, and gather some ideas of how you can best present what you're selling. Then go home and start scrounging -- look in your basement/garage, call up friends, take whatever you can get your hands on and find a use for it.

Another personal case example: I didn't have much (re: zero) money to put into my booth at the fair. I was incredibly lucky in that my husband works for a company that designs tradeshow booths, so I got a great price on my big sign. But after that, I had nothing. I stressed and stressed for weeks about how I was going to display everything, and finally settled on a less-is-more attitude. I had a few leftover tree-branches from my wedding that I strung with lights (we had gotten the branches by walking back alleys in older neighborhoods in the summer -- whenever someone did some major pruning and threw the branches out, we were right there to catch them!) and placed them on either side of the sign. I took a third one and hung some of my invitations from it in a "wishing tree" style that I'd seen in some wedding magazines. My mother-in-law got a great deal on some brown fabric and sewed me a simple tablecloth to go over the table that came with the cost of the booth. I laid out my sample books, used two small dishes to hold my business cards and a third to hold the ballots for the draw I was having, and then borrowed a vase and silk flowers from my own home to complete the look. I got hundreds (honestly!) of compliments from attendees at the show regarding my booth set-up. Everyone commented on how simple-yet-elegant everything looked, and how my booth stood out from my competitors (who had all gone with an uber-contemporary look). I was so proud!

So thats it ladies. Tradeshows. The wave of the future (well, not really, but you get the point!). Learn to use them strategically and they'll take you far. Promise.

Well, don't HOLD me to that .... :-)

Lavine, Kim (2007). Mommy Millionaire. New York: St. Martin's Press

1 comment:

Lacey said...

Would you like to do a link trade with my wedding blog? My site is Saving for a Wedding and I'm trying to find other wedding blog friends to trade links with.

Email me at if you'd like to. Thanks!