How to Market With a Near Zero Budget

Posted on August 25, 2013 by - Also by this author

Marketing a small transportation company can be a daunting task. It’s a Catch-22: You have to market to get sales but you need sales to have a marketing budget. Or do you?

Matthew Silver, founder and president of Ultimate Class Limousine and Transport in Hicksville, N.Y., started his business from the basement of his home in 1988 and built up a fleet of sedans, vans and buses. Silver relates well to start-up operators and their need to make a splash in their communities without much money. He shared some useful ideas in this interactive session.

Silver recommends using trade dollars or bartering with organizations that can help get the word out. He spoke of the relatively low cost of providing service through trades, gift certificates and donations to local community charities. “These trips cost you nothing but the chauffeur’s hourly wage and gas,” Silver said.

While many operators view the value of their vehicles being out on the road at full retail value, the mark-up over actual cash cost allows you to use full retail dollars to get what you need with minimum out-of-pocket expenses. For example, Silver suggested finding a printer who is willing to trade with you. Using the printer as an example of trade power, Silver laid out the math. If you have an average hourly retail rate of $100 on a stretch limousine and you send it out for four hours, your actual cash layout is estimated to be under $100 with a trade value of $400. A printer is someone who can provide you with business cards — a necessary tool in marketing. The printer also can provide flyers, brochures and printed gift items such as coffee mugs.

Silver also covered more traditional forms of marketing such as radio commercials traded for promotional limo use by the radio station. Another option is to trade services for a church fund-raiser for some advertising or publicity. This type of “donation” also qualifies for a tax write-off as a charitable donation. In the same type of arrangement, Silver recommended participating in community charity organizations with the goal of “becoming the go-to-guy in the community” by donating to local causes for company name exposure and vehicle displays at community events.
Another great marketing avenue is businesses involved in sales, such as copier companies, that may reward their salespeople for reaching goals. Silver suggested that you can “sponsor” such awards by asking that your name or logo be included in advertising by the company or organization in exchange for the use of a limousine. This also includes restaurants that have an “Employee of the Month” program that may allow you to advertise within the restaurant in exchange for providing a night out for their monthly winner.

New York operator Matthew Silver spoke at the 2013 ILCT Show about the relatively low cost of providing service through trades, gift certificates and donations to local community charities.
New York operator Matthew Silver spoke at the 2013 ILCT Show about the relatively low cost of providing service through trades, gift certificates and donations to local community charities.

In this interactive audience participation, several operators expressed concern about having so many gift certificates issued that the redemption of a certificate could cause a problem on prom nights or other big limo nights.

I suggested to Silver that operators include two small statements on each gift certificate: “Some restrictions apply” and “Not valid on blackout dates.” These two statements allow you to remain in control when accepting a gift certificate by declaring any date a “blackout” date, or in the event the client lives far from your base of operation, you can state that there is a 30-mile restriction or some other specified limit you may have to impose.

Silver is active in civic organizations within his community and suggested that being a member of such groups as Rotary International and Kiwanis allow you to market your company to all the members and learn more about what they are doing that could help you get your foot in the door with either the fellow member or people they conduct business with.  

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