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Home Based PC Sales & Services Marketing- Breaking Into a New Market

Q. Hello. I currently run my own part-time PC sales & service company from home. I would like to move to doing this full time, but need to setup a solid customer base. In the past I have been aiming towards home users, but I want to add small/home office businesses to my client base. My question is what would the best way to market to both the end users and small businesses? 99% of my sales in the past have come from referrals, so I haven't spent a dime on advertising. I just want to know what are a few low-cost effective methods? I already have a website www.envisioncs.com  where potential clients can find out more about my business. Thanks for your help! This site is great.-- Bailey

Advice by Yvonne Buchanan


Dear Bailey:

Your situation is certainly not unique. In a poll of small business owners my company conducted in September, 31 percent of them were also trying to break into a new market in the next year. You have an advantage, however, in that there should be significant crossover between your markets. Many SOHO (small office/home office) users, by their very definition, are based in the home. Following are a few ideas to capitalize on your advantage.

Referral Campaign. You mentioned that you reach your customers primarily by word of mouth, and that you're interested in a low-cost method of reaching more customers. The most obvious method would be a referral campaign from your existing customers. Borrow an idea from a carpet cleaner I used once: They did a great job, so I referred them to a friend. When they finished the job for my friend, they sent me a hand-written thank you note with a check for $10. Did I continue to refer them business? You bet!

Whenever you serve a client, ask for a referral. It can be as simple as handing them two business cards, asking them to keep one, and requesting they pass one on to someone else. You may offer an incentive at that time, or surprise them, as my carpet cleaner did me.

Track Everything. Ask your new customers how they heard about you, what it was that inspired them to contact you. Use this information to market to potential clients.

Sig File. Bailey, from your note it appears that you either don't have a sig file or don't use it consistently. You need a sig file! Include it on all of your original e-mail correspondence. What's a sig file? Check out mine:

Yvonne Buchanan 
Our Courses Change Lives 

As you can see, a sig file is basically an electronic signature block that includes your name (no title: that's for ego trips), your company name, your tag line or unique selling proposition, and your preferred method of contact (either your web site address, your e-mail, phone number, etc.). I like people to visit my site, so I include my web site address.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP). And speaking of visiting a site, I visited yours, and it's quite nice. I noted on your "About Us" page that you identify what makes you different (your unique selling proposition): "We aim to enhance the buying process by helping you find the product that will be the best fit for you, both now and in the future." It's a bit long for a tag line, but you could shorten it on your sig file to something like, "Technology tailored to your needs." You get the idea. Just make sure it tells people what's unique about your business to differentiate it from other similar businesses.

Linking Campaign. In addition to your referral campaign and sig file with your USP, consider a linking campaign. I did a quick reverse link search on your site and found only three sites who'd linked to yours. Trade links with sites whose markets are similar to yours but whose products or services are not competitive.

More Ideas

  • Take every opportunity to submit press releases on your company: sales quotas, new customers, training, discounts, whatever you do that's news. 
  • Write how-to articles for business publications. No promotion, just information with a brief bio letting your potential customers know where to find you. 
  • Hang out where small business owners hang out: join the Small Business Association or a local entrepreneurial group in your area and network (the schmoozing kind, not the LAN kind.) 
  • You may want to consider some advertising. To save your budget, limit paid advertising (banner ads, small display ads) to target market sites (this one is a good example) and target publications only. (A target publication is one that your potential customers read.)

These are just a few of many low-cost and no-cost public relations and marketing vehicles at your disposal. If you're getting 99 percent of your sales from referrals, you've obviously got a quality package. All that remains is letting your new market know about it.

About the PowerHomeBiz.com Guide:  

Yvonne Buchanan is a 20-year veteran of public relations, marketing and advertising. She teaches public relations courses online for career changers, freelancers and students through The PR Academy www.learnpr.com and is co-founder of Real-World PR www.realworldpr.com , a public relations information provider for small businesses. Real-World PR offers public relations toolkits (manual/CD combinations) that allow small business owners to create and maintain their own public relations programs.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of PowerHomeBiz.com. Users should not treat the Guide's response as legal, accounting, or professional advice as all answers are intended to be general in nature. Such advice can only be properly given by qualified professionals who are fully aware of a user's specific geographical areas or circumstances, such as an attorney or accountant.