During the first 10 years I ran Reston Limousine and Travel Service Inc., our marketing tools included Yellow Page ads, direct mail, a PR campaign, and charity. These four tools helped us grow from $390,000 to $5 million in 10 years. Now, the Internet has changed everything.
E-mail: Strategies for online marketing are always shifting, with businesses able to distribute emails free. I have compiled more than 40,000 email addresses in my database since 2002. I bought addresses from the membership lists of all seven Chambers of Commerce to which I belong. I keep addresses of clients and potential clients who receive our quotes. I network constantly, collecting 50 business cards a week.
However, the trick is to constantly compile and update as many email addresses as possible. Remember, a certain percentage will always unsubscribe. To prevent that, always say something of interest. Do not send more than one email per month. We found that a monthly distribution netted a strong return; weekly emails drove away many readers. Each email should be clear and offer an incentive of some value, such as a contest, package, or prize. Holding monthly contests, such as "Best Mom" or "Best Dad," works for us and draws a big response.
Tickets: We also buy sporting tickets and concert tickets that we package with a limo for the evening at an attractive rate. Since many concert tickets are hard to find, an audience will pay attention to a promotional email.
Designing Ads: For ad design and database upkeep, I recommend outsourcing it. Reston Limousine uses a company that charges $99 per month to design and send out the emails, maintain the database, check for duplicates, and handle unsubscribes. It also sends you a complete monthly analysis that shows read rates, open rates, click rates, and unsubscribes.
Facebook: Facebook and Twitter are other inexpensive online tools for marketing. A Facebook page is free along with emails. First, set up a page and then send "friend requests" to everyone in your Outlook Address Book. With a solid list, you can create a fan page for your business and invite your friends to join. Ask them to invite their friends to also become fans. You can send out specials via email to all of your friends.
Twitter: A Twitter account should be set up to advertise your business and bear its name. I have found that a Twitter address that matches my company name boosts my search engine rankings. Once you have a Twitter home page, you want to get people to follow you. You should not follow other people unless they follow you in return, thereby ensuring you grow organically and keeping a balance of attention. Aim for 20,000 or more followers who can receive your specials via email. While Twitter should not be used for marketing, it can be a powerful tool if used properly. Be sure to say something of value if you want followers. For example, I talk about our "Traffic Land" software which allows our dispatchers to see traffic patterns citywide. We encourage Reston Limousine clients to call us as a resource for best driving routes.
Tweetdecks: An important part of Twitter is registering for a "Tweetdeck" that allows you to "manage" your tweets. You can set up three columns and track all incoming tweets, tweets about your company, and a list of favorites. Twitter enables customers to give you feedback, so it's important to monitor all comments. When I saw a complaint about my accounting department, I immediately contacted the client and resolved his issue.
Wider Words: Other highly useful and inexpensive ways to market your company in this economy include public speaking engagements, white papers, articles in local newspapers and magazines, and a company blog. When you speak to a group, you are introducing yourself and your business to many potential customers, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers.
Strategic Partners: Because email marketing is vital in today's advertising world, look for strategic partners. Create packages with similar businesses so each of you can tap each other's email databases. The possibilities for strategic partnerships are endless and a valuable tool to grow your business.
Kristina Bouweiri, president & CEO, Reston Limousine and Travel Service Inc. in Sterling, VA. She can be reached at Kristina@Reston-Limo.com.