QUESTION on Starting a Secretarial Business:
I started up a home-based secretarial business. I’ve purchased all the equipment and now I need some clients. I combed through the yellow pages and sent letters to 100 prospects which are small businesses in my area. I’ve contacted all 100 by phone and was either told no or “not right now”. I am going to continue with this strategy but I’m a stay at home Mom with no budget for advertising. Any ideas? Thank you.
Barbara J. Smith, Smith Clerical Services.
ANSWER by Yvonne Buchanan
My first question would be, do you know where your market is?
Before starting a business, it is important to survey the market to find where your ideal customer is. You mention in your note that you contacted 100 small businesses. Did you segment these small businesses based on those most likely to use outside secretarial services?
If these 100 small businesses are your target market, you’ll want to remain in contact with them. Did you include a business card and brochure with your letter? It’s good that you followed up your letter with a phone call. If you’re unknown to them, it’s unlikely they will hire your services on the first attempt. Just remember, with professional services, which rely on relationship building, it’s much better to contact the same customer 10 times than ten customers one time.
One way to stay in touch with potential customers is to plan a regular weekly visit to their sites. Call it “Helper Thursdays” and let them know you’ll be stopping by to pick up any work they might have. (If you choose to visit all 100 sites, break them up geographically and plan to visit 20 sites each day of the week.) Leave a card and brochure on your first visit, and be consistent about subsequent visits. Once you become a regular visitor and a familiar face, they will begin to look for and set aside work for you to do.
Another way to stay in touch is to write a small newsletter (even a 5×7 postcard) and mail it monthly or quarterly, any regular schedule will do, but at minimum quarterly. In the newsletter, include your best tips for creating perfect documents, and list current projects you’re working on and customer names and testimonials to help prompt additional work.
If you aren’t sure where your target market is, consider signing up with a couple of temporary agencies, such as Kelly Services. Note the type of businesses that request secretarial help. This will also help bring in some money while your business grows.
Also, consider specializing by promoting a particular area of secretarial service. This will help you narrow your market. For instance, if you specialized in resumes and term papers, you could post a notice on your local college bulletin boards, or even a small ad in the campus newspapers (the cost is minimal).
Businesses such as yours often survive and thrive on word of mouth. But first you need some mouths! Tap your previous employers, your spouse’s employer, your friends and neighbors, their employers, their spouses’ employers, for your initial customer list. When you have your first customers, offer unique incentives for referrals to other clients (a batch of cookies, a silver dollar, a gift certificate for a free mocha).
Before long, you’ll have everyone talking about Smith Clerical Services.
Recommended Books on Starting a Secretarial Business:
- The Definitive Personal Assistant and Secretarial Handbook: A Best Practice Guide for All Secretaries, Pas, Office Managers and Executive Assistants
- Administrative Assistant’s and Secretary’s Handbook (Administrative Assistant’s & Secretary’s Handbook)
- Virtual Assistant, The Series: Become a Highly Successful, Sought After VA
- The Virtual Assistant’s Guide to Marketing, 2nd Edition
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.