By Michael Dorausch, D.C.

Get your mind on your business and your business on your mind.

This is the time of year I recommend you lay out your small-business marketing plan for 2008. Getting these ideas organized now will free you up to enjoy the holidays and hit the ground running at the first of the year. It’s also a great way to tongue-tie those emotionally driven telemarketing calls that come from yellow page companies and other marketing services. When our office receives such calls, we tell them that we’ve already committed to an entire year’s marketing plan and they’re welcome to call in October of next year, if they’d like us to consider working with them.

I have divided these tips into two separate categories, Internal and External. In order to develop a successful small business, you want there to be a healthy balance between internal and external marketing efforts. Internal marketing, as it relates to this post, is marketing that is directed at your current client or consumer base. External marketing is directed at those that are not yet utilizing your products or services.

Depending on where you’re at in your business, will affect the amount of energy you put into each of these two categories. If you’re just getting started and you don’t have any clients, you’ll be focusing almost completely on external marketing. As your business grows, the art is to shift that energy from external to internal (which oftentimes requires a lot less effort and offers greater reward). Years ago I remember a successful Pennsylvania businesswoman saying that if she had focused the same energy she did on attracting new business to her current customer base, she wouldn’t need to focus much on new business. I believe many small-business owners can attest to this.

As you’re reading through the list, you’ll likely discover that some ideas don’t sit well with you, while others set off a spark of inspiration. It’s important to pay attention to those feelings since at the core of all your marketing efforts is you. It’s my belief that all marketing is internal (comes from inside of you), but that’s a topic for another day.

Not every tip is going to apply to every type of small business. For instance, you may not collect birthday information in your business, or even address data. If that’s the case, you may want to revisit your overall marketing strategy and develop ways to collect more information.

Internal Marketing Surefire Tips

1) Monthly Theme in Office
Many of the marketing ideas below involve a monthly theme. Examples include New Year’s, Valentines, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, Back to School, and Thanksgiving. In our business we also celebrate March Madness (basketball), Spring into Health (April), Open House (June), Food Drive (October), and others.

2) Monthly Mailer (with a Monthly Theme)
Whether it be a postcard or a brochure, have a plan to deliver a unique monthly piece to your current client base on a predetermined date each month. In my experience, it’s best to send mail two or three days before the day you want your customers taking action. Having the mail reach the post office on Friday has worked great for my local business.

3) Monthly Birthday Cards
Some small businesses collect birthday information. Depending on the type of business you’re in, it’s important to get permission from your clients before engaging in this activity. Birthdays are a big deal in our practice and the response rate has been phenomenal. Use office management software or create a spreadsheet to keep track of customer birthdays. To keep things efficient, I’d suggest you send out all birthday cards at the end of the month prior to one’s birthday. For your clients that have birthdays in January, you would mail birthday cards during the last week of December.

4) Monthly Birthday Board
The addition of a monthly birthday board has increased the positive energy in our front office. You can view one here. Our existing clients love seeing their birthdays (and the birthdays of their friends and families) on the birthday board. Again, we get permission from everybody before putting names on the board, and we only include the first initial of each person’s last name. The birthday board is created each month by a member of our staff, and it always goes along with the office theme for the month.

Besides getting people to smile, the birthday board has other advantages. It acts as a big cheat sheet for when you see a client or customer walking into your business. If they (or someone they referred) have a birthday coming up, you’ll brighten their day by acknowledging it. The board also has an affect on new clients. The phrase out of nearly every person’s mouth the first time they see the birthday board is… you see a lot of people. Our reply is… yes, thanks to all those that refer us new business.

5) 4 Cards Biweekly
Amazing to me how few small businesses don’t take advantage of simple things like handing out business cards. Twice a month, you or someone in your office can handout four business cards to each client or customer that comes in that day. We are very open about this practice and we ask our customers if they’ll help us grow our business. Some business owners may feel this is a cheezy approach, but understand this… We’ve reached the point where many of our clients request more cards, because they’ve handed all the others out. (I love you guys!)

6) 2x Orientation per Month
Are there things your customers don’t know about your business? Are you set up in such a way that you could invite people from your current customer base for group orientations? In the field of health care, this is a no-brainer. Our clients want to know what kinds of mattresses they should use, what types of pillows to buy, what’s the best sleep posture, how often should they exercise, what foods to avoid, how to sit properly at the computer, and the list goes on.

7) Monthly E-Mail Newsletter
Depending on the kind of business you have, you may want to engage in e-mail newsletters more than once a month, but once monthly, in alignment with your current theme, is a great starting point. Don’t be afraid to be unique, let your office personality shine through, and provide links to online destinations you feel would be beneficial to your customer base.

8. Recall Postcards
Dental practices are one of the best examples for recall postcards. Most of us don’t realize it’s been six months since our last visit and the card is a nice reminder. This approach won’t apply to all types of small businesses, but it’s been very effective in our chiropractic practice.

9) Call New Clients Daily
This tip reminds me of a story. A couple of years ago I called a new client the evening after the first visit she and her husband had in our office. She had answered the phone and didn’t sound too thrilled that I was calling. I expressed how thankful I was that they chose our office and I asked if they had any questions or concerns regarding their care. She responded… I’m stunned. I had one of those split-second oh sh*t thoughts. She continued by stating she’d never recalled a doctor ever calling to check in with her. She’s since been responsible for at least six or seven new clients in my office.

10) Welcome Letter to All New Clients
The phone call is followed up with a welcome letter from our staff. We send out a nice thank you card and include a refrigerator magnet with our office information. Get some nice card stock or purchase thank you cards in bulk. Create a message that reflects the intentions of your business and genuinely say thank you to each and every person that walks through your doors.

11) Weekly Blog Updates
I’d rather keep online activities (other than the e-mail newsletter) in a separate post, since there are entire strategies that can be applied to both internal and external marketing, using one’s blog. That being said, update your local business blog at least weekly, and include information your clients will find useful.

External Marketing Surefire Tips

BMX12) Volunteer
I almost can’t consider this a marketing tip since there are so many other rewards received besides growth in your business. That being said, in the year 2000 I volunteered to help athletes that were participating in a sport that was gaining in popularity, and as a result I became a go-to chiropractor for some of the worlds top athletes in BMX. We could easily put the concept of volunteering into a success category of its own, as there are many reasons why it’s good to get involved in supporting others.

13) Monthly Talk
When I first started my business this was the external marketing approach that grew it the most. I still get nervous at times but I enjoy the rush I get from public speaking which has made this a great fit for me. I’ve spoken at film companies, movie sets, local corporations, tech startup companies (I love those), local gyms, sporting events, and networking meetings. Can you get out of your office and speak somewhere? You may need to get creative, depending on what kind of small business you’re in.

14) Local Network Meetings
Getting involved in local groups like the Chamber of Commerce can be beneficial. Being a tech minded guy living in Southern California, nowadays, I’m more likely to frequent events like Barcamp and METal (Media Entertainment Technology Alliance), but I did also attend traditional chamber meetings when I first got started.

15) Press Releases
I’m focused on local businesses so press releases in this case relates to print publications in your local community. If you’re in a non-metro area you may find some great rates are available in your local newspapers. Online opportunities are growing and you may want to consider Internet based services such as PR Web.

16) Bulk Mail
You can get a permit for bulk mailing and get lists of target data for businesses and persons in your community. If you don’t want to do large quantities of bulk mail, you can put together a list of businesses in your area that would be most likely to refer, and send them regular mailings. My office receives mailings from local massage therapists, yoga instructors, acupuncturists, and orthopedic surgeons on a near daily basis. When I receive mailings from businesses that I’ve heard my clients say positive things about, their information gets saved for potential future referrals.

17) Signage
Is there any place outside your business location that you can do advertising? Can you get affordable signage down the street? While billboards in metro areas like Los Angeles are typically out of the question for small businesses, there are opportunities to advertise on bus benches, phone booths, shopping carts, car washes, and neighboring buildings. Get out in your local community and take notes on the places you find are displaying small business advertising.

18) Sandwich Boards
Before putting out sandwich boards, check with your landlord and local ordinances. Oftentimes sign companies will make colorful and bright sandwich boards that can be used outside your place of business. The local bar in my strip mall shopping center puts out a colorful sandwich board every day with their happy hour specials.

19) Bulletin Boards
These are boards you’ll find inside local coffee shops, laundromats, health clubs, neighborhood markets, and car washes. While I’m not recommending you be a board spammer, this is a free method to get your information out in the community. Bring plenty of your own thumbtacks and leave some extras behind for good business karma.

20) Flyer Boxes
These are those often times clear or white boxes you see being used by real estate agents. This tip also reminds me of a story. About four years ago I picked up one of these boxes from a local office supply store (less than 20 bucks) and I had it mounted outside my office. We are in a strip mall location with a mini-market as a neighbor, so there’s plenty of foot traffic. I printed up a stack of flyers that I was really excited about and I placed them in the box then walked about 15 feet back into my office. Moments later a guy walking out of the market reached into the box and pulled out a flyer. My office has big plate glass windows so I was able to see everything. He walked away while reading the flyer and pulled out his cell phone. My phone rang (like the freakin’ Matrix) and it was him on the other end calling to make an appointment. Not only did he become a great client, he is a season ticket holder for the San Diego Chargers. Can you handle a few more clients sharing their appreciation by handing you tickets for pro sporting events? I can!

21) Certificates
Certificates are great for giving to local charities, local sporting events, fundraisers, and other local businesses. They are easy to make and there’s a number of ways you can use them to share good will in your community. Be sure to check local and state laws when it comes to certificates and expiration dates.

22) Fax Blasting
I personally don’t like receiving bulk faxes, but I’ve been told by a number of other small business owners, that they can be quite effective in attracting new business. If you are going to go down this road, do everything you can to make it easy for people to opt out, and don’t go overboard on fax transmissions. Multiple unwanted faxes from the same source really get annoying, especially when you’ve been asked to be removed from fax lists. Check local and federal laws before doing any bulk faxes.

23) Screenings
Business screenings are similar to in office talks but they’re typically done at sporting events, fairs, art shows, and other local community events. You may not even want to get too much into promoting your business at a local community event. For example, handing out free balloons to attendees of a local fair, without giving the company sales pitch, can be a great way to show your participation in the community. When you’ve been in business for a while, screenings and participation at local events can really boost your business, as your regular clients will tend to spend time at your booth, evangelizing your products and/or services to others.

This is only 23 of the many internal and external marketing ideas you can apply to your 2008 local small-business plan for success. Did I miss any that have brought your business results?