Plan to Market and Market Your Plan

Although we’re in the signage and graphics industry, and we create fabulous advertisements for clients on a daily basis, it’s ironic that all too often our own businesses suffer from bad signage and/or ineffective marketing.

Like that old expression, “the cobbler’s children go without shoes,” we in the sign industry don’t always use our skills for our own benefit. Let’s just say I speak from experience.

While we have a storefront sign and vehicle lettering, samples in our lobby and a decent Web site, these elements quickly become stagnant if not regularly updated.

Just like we should be educating our customers about updating their signage routinely, the same goes for our own advertising.

Creating an effective in-house marketing plan needs to start somewhere. I think it’s best to start with some honest self analysis. This will help you decide where best to spend your advertising dollars. Without a clear idea of where to spend your advertising budget, both time and money will be wasted.

If you operate a full service sign company that offers many different types of signage, it’s a good idea to sit down with your accounting department and take a hard look at the numbers. Develop detailed numbers for each type of service you offer and compare the sales figures with the actual net income generated after expenses. How do they compare? This will tell you which among the services you offer, are the best money makers.

Our company has a C-45 Electrical Contractor’s License. We decided a few years ago to start pushing electrical signs. Vehicle graphics have always been our specialty, but with a local wholesale electrical supplier we decided to add the service. While we did make money doing electrical signs, we also found that because this is a time-consuming service, involving a lot of customer meetings, proofs and long installations, the profit margin for our business wasn’t as good as the profits we see with vehicle graphics.

We still offer electrical signs on large jobs that incorporate other services, but we’ve decided to not pursue electrical jobs and have instead created a good working relationship with another local sign company that specializes in electrical signs. We refer electrical jobs to them; they refer vehicle wraps to us. Both of our customers are taken care of.

Besides vehicle graphics, our company also offers in-house engraving, including Braille and ADA; two completely different services, but both are profitable for our company. By discovering this about our business, we are able to focus our advertising dollars on these two areas.

It is also a good idea to assess the effectiveness of your current forms of advertising. Are you doing what you always do, simply because you always do it? Or do your ads really bring in new customers because of a particular form of advertising?

Don’t just look at the responses you get from your ads; you also need to consider the amount of profit you get in relation to the amount of money spent on advertising. If the income generated by the advertising falls below the cost of advertising, then it’s time to consider different marketing options.

There are a wide range of advertising alternatives available. Over the years we have tried radio, newspaper, theater screens and the Yellow Pages. All of these are extremely expensive options. Other than the Yellow Pages ad, we found that for our shop the other options were relatively ineffective.

And there’s a simple way to track the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Whenever a new customer comes into our shop, we enter their information into the computer and ask how they heard about us.

The most obvious way to get the word out about your business is to do what you do best. We tell our customers the truth when we extol the benefits of good signs. We should be taking advantage of our own services.

Be sure your company signs represent the high quality a customer can expect to receive from you. Good building signs, vehicle lettering, full color business cards, brochures and lobby samples advertise your business and provide a professional look.

Print up small outdoor-durable decals with your company name and phone number and apply them to the back of all signs and banners you produce before they leave your shop. Over the years, customers have returned for new or updated signs because of these small decals.

Word of mouth advertising is the least expensive and best way to market your business. We have all heard the statistics that a happy customer will tell at least one other person about your business; while an unhappy customer will tell at least ten other people about your business – and why they shouldn’t come to you.

Obviously, it is in our best interest to take care of a customer and hope they spread the good word. But don’t be afraid to ask a happy customer for a referral to a colleague that may need signs as well. Ask a customer when they pick up an order if there is anything else you can help them with. You may spark a new project.

Offer a referral card. If a customer passes on a special referral card to a friend or colleague, the new customer receives a discount, and the card is put in the file for the referring customer, who also receives a discount on their next order. Be sure the card has clear information about how to contact your business, that it lists some of your services, explains how the discount works, and contains a line for the referring business to write in their name.

Proper handling of walk-in foot traffic and phone calls is an important extension of your market plan. If your advertising and market efforts are bringing in customers, but you can’t close the deal, you’re losing out on important revenue.

When working with a new or existing customer it is often difficult to get them to understand the true costs of your services. What the customer pays for a sign and what a sign costs are two very different things. The amount paid for a sign refers to the actual money that exchanges hands to get that product or service. The true cost of a sign refers to what the sign costs over time in relation to the income that same sign generated. When evaluating your customer’s needs, your signs should be making them money.

By educating the customer on the true “costs” of signs, you may close more deals. We have a slogan that “Our Signs Don’t Cost Money, They Make Money.” We try to explain this to the customer by helping them understand that while they may spend $3,000 to wrap their vehicle, it is an advertisement that will not only last them at least three years, but it will also be seen by thousands of people. For our company this amount buys us less than three months of Yellow Pages advertising where our ad is surrounded by those of our competitor.

Cold calling businesses is a time- consuming process. It’s a hit-and-miss way to market. Another extremely simple, yet more effective way to market is what I call “warm calling.” Whenever one of our employees goes out to do an install, they take along a stack of full color postcards that read “What Can We Do For You” with a list of our services. They also attach their business card to the front. After the sign or graphics are installed, they take a few minutes to drop off the postcards at surrounding businesses. There is a built-in level of trust created by letting business owners know that we just finished a job for their neighbor.

Setting up an a-frame next to your work site or parking the lettered shop vehicle right out front also establishes a level of professionalism. Keep a stack of business cards and postcards in the shop vehicle at all times.

By developing a Web site for our company we have been able to create on online portfolio for prospective customers to look at. More than once we have earned a new customer because they were able to see our work online. We have made a conscious effort to continually update the site with new photos of our work and information about our services. The site should look professional and should be a representation of your company. Be sure to include your Web site address with all of your other forms of advertising. Consider Google AdWords or other search tools to increase your search engine hits.

E-mail is another inexpensive marketing tool. We have created a database with the e-mail addresses of many of our customers. Once a month I send out an e-mail with a brief note, our company info, a link to our Web site and opt-out information for those who may not wish to be e-mailed in the future. All of this information is in the body of the e-mail should they not receive the attachment or are not sure that they should open it.

I create a full color ad with a discount on one specific service or product and insert a .jpg version in the e-mail. We have received good response that has sparked new orders. The true cost of marketing by e-mail, including my design time, is zero because of the income it has created.

Offering discounts to non-profit organizations, churches and schools is another inexpensive way to earn new business. Advertise these discounts when contacting these groups. If you are creating signs for a fundraising golf tournament, for example, ask to be a hole sponsor, or to have your name on the signs in exchange for a good discount. You still make money to cover your costs, and you’re logo will be viewed numerous times at the event.

Our city has a Class A baseball club. When they needed their transport van wrapped we negotiated a trade. Our company placed an ad in the full color handout given to fans at every game. In exchange they received a nice discount on the van graphics.

One of our customers sells advertising for our city buses. Our company designs and prints some of the ads, and installs all of the ads. We are currently looking into including our own advertisements on these buses. The price per month is half of our Yellow Pages ad and travels around our local market daily.
Our city also has bus bench advertising available. The ads themselves are fairly inexpensive and we can choose to advertise on specific streets. By printing the ads ourselves we have also decreased the costs.

Creating a clear marketing campaign is one of the most important things you can do for your business. By establishing the advertising goals for the company and the services you want to push, your advertising budget will be stretched further. With smart choices your advertising won’t cost you money, but will make you money.