NO-COST MARKETING: Five Ideas that Work

Introduction

Marketing-a necessary component of every business that often becomes a huge expense with seemingly negligible results. Staffing companies spend outrageous amounts on four-color brochures and high-gloss marketing materials that many times never get read or worse, become obsolete before they are even used.

Web sites are expensive to create and maintain. Radio and TV advertising can be cost prohibitive. The monthly expense for yellow page advertising is mind-boggling when you consider its questionable impact. As a business owner/manager you must choose the marketing methods that will best utilize whatever limited budget is available. Why not augment your choices with additional marketing at little or no cost?

The following article offers five marketing ideas with action and implementation plans. These ideas will cost you virtually nothing to execute and provide ways to produce effective marketing that can increase your revenues and profits.

Benefits

This issue will propose marketing ideas that you can initiate to enhance your company’s position in your market and spotlight positive elements of the services you provide. And these ideas can be implemented at virtually no cost.

Toolkit

Five practical ideas to supplement your marketing now:

Idea #1: Create a Marketing Plan

Idea #2: Build and Make the Most of your Reputation

Idea #3: Publicity and Public Relations

Idea #4: Using Inserts as a Marketing Tool

Idea #5: Co-op Advertising

Also included in the Forms section are a “Sample Marketing Plan” and a template you can use for news releases.

Action Plan

Idea #1 – Create a Marketing Plan

This marketing idea takes no investment dollars at all, and will provide guidance throughout the year, yet it’s an idea that is missing from most small-to-mid-sized staffing companies. Why? Perhaps it’s because many business owners are intimidated by the subject of marketing. Perhaps it’s because so many staffing companies market “by the seat of their pants,” initiating marketing campaigns as they come upon ideas that are intriguing, while never creating a written plan. That method can be very costly.

A good marketing plan serves as a written map-showing the goal and how to attain that goal. It should be brief and it should have focus. Without focus, marketing is a waste of money. The following are the steps you will need to create a simple, effective marketing plan:

  1. State the purpose of your marketing (e.g., to build a larger base of clients with whom you have a growing relationship).
  2. Briefly state how your purpose will be achieved (e.g., by creating regular contact with new and existing clients that demonstrates your value).
  3. Define your target audience.
  4. Describe the marketing methods you have chosen to use. Make this list as complete as possible (e.g., weekly classified ads, postings on three job boards, monthly billboard ads, specific give-aways, yellow page advertising, direct mail program sent bi-monthly, sponsorship of a local charity event, referral bonus program, etc.).
  5. Identify your company’s niche in your market.
  6. State your “USP” (Unique Selling Proposition) so it can be a focus throughout your marketing.
  7. Express your marketing budget as a percent of your projected gross sales.

This plan should be no longer than one page-brief and focused. Without a written plan for marketing, you will either spend too much, experience disappointing results or both. Make an investment in your time, allocate your dollars with a planned purpose, and reap the results.

Idea #2 – Reputation

Reputations are a whole lot easier to destroy than to build. It can take a long time to build a reputation you are proud of, but very little time to destroy it. One way to damage your reputation is by not recognizing that the customer (candidate or client) is always right-even when you know they are dead wrong. Training your staff in handling customer complaints so that the matter is amicably settled goes a long way in enhancing your company’s reputation.

Poor service will assuredly damage your reputation. If you can’t fill an order in the time required or with an appropriate temporary, you’re better off suggesting an alternative solution to your customer. “Live to fight another day” and your reputation won’t suffer. A poor fill or an order that languishes with no call to the customer can cause your reputation to diminish.

Also, if your marketing materials in any way convey exaggeration or worse yet, dishonesty, your reputation will be hurt. You must be the company that your marketing claims you are. Negative word-of-mouth spreads faster than wildfire. If a person has a bad experience with your company, an average of 22 others will hear about it. And web communication only increases those numbers. Be careful! Your reputation is a precious asset. It will drive customers to you or away from you.

The following are five action steps to help you build a positive reputation:

  1. Advertise once in a regional edition of a respected national magazine. After that, you can make reprints and use those reprints for a long time. The result provides substantial credibility which can only help your reputation.
  2. Use consistent classified advertising with the same media because it can inspire confidence in prospects and build your reputation.
  3. Show respect for your customers’ time through the efficient handling of their orders and through the flexible solutions you offer to their staffing challenges. Your professionalism enhances your reputation.
  4. Write a “Staffing Insights” column for your local newspaper or chamber newsletter, demonstrating your expertise and strengthening your reputation.
  5. Instill customer care and client satisfaction as the number one concern of your organization. From top to bottom and bottom to top, everyone in your company must believe the customer is #1.

Idea #3 – Publicity and Public Relations

It’s not what you know but who you know-and how you become known-that makes this marketing idea so effective at virtually no cost.

This idea involves, once again, an investment of your time, energy and imagination but without the more costly investment of money. To attract publicity, you need to have news that is of interest to readers or viewers of the media you approach. It’s important that you become personally acquainted with the media people in charge of selecting the stories that will be covered. The closer your contact, the more coverage you’ll likely receive. These people could include managing editors, feature editors or business editors interested in staffing and the many ramifications of employment in your area.

You will need to uncover the names of these people and arrange to meet them. Perhaps through other business acquaintances, through organizations that they belong to or even by frequenting “happy hour” places where they hang out. Your responsibility is to meet them and to get to know them on a first name basis. Then provide news that will really interest their readers (e.g., offering free monthly seminars on the “do’s and don’ts” of interviewing in today’s market, or offering a new service of interest to local businesses that is not currently available in your area). Send out press releases to your contacts and follow up with a phone call to be certain your story gets the proper attention.

Public relations is publicity that can have wonderful and occasionally not so wonderful attributes. On the good side, PR gives you loads of credibility and it doesn’t cost a dime. On the bad side, you cannot repeat PR and you have no control over what is said.

To generate your own PR, we suggest the following:

  1. Do or create something “newsy” for the media. They want news worth reporting as much as you want free exposure.
  2. Provide your news, a press release, a fact sheet, and a black and white glossy photo to the appropriate people at the appropriate media offices.

Again, follow up with phone calls. Be persistent. If printed publicity appears, make reprints and mail or drop them off to your clients and prospects. Frame a copy for your reception area where the maximum number of people will see it. PR is a great marketing tool for building credibility, but keep in mind, in this world, if you’ve developed the contacts, only then will you get the coverage.

Idea # 4 – Inserts

Inserts can be a powerful and inexpensive marketing tool. Staffing companies can use inserts as paycheck stuffers that allow them to:

  • Advertise specific “hot jobs” to temporaries or contract workers to attract referrals.
  • Announce a new service.
  • Let people know about a change of personnel in internal office staff.
  • Notify field staff about the opening of a new branch.
  • Send a monthly or quarterly newsletter.
  • Tell everyone about a change in procedure due to an upcoming holiday.
  • Send special “Congratulations!” and recognition of field or office staff who did something noteworthy.

Keeping in touch with the people you have on assignment allows you to nurture those relationships. Keeping your field staff informed and demonstrating your concern will keep your company in their minds as well. The result can benefit you with increased referrals and a decrease in recruiting expense. But, that’s not all… Inserts can provide a benefit with customers as well. If you need to send time sheets to a client for a new assignment, include an insert that offers a “special discount” on the customer’s next order. Whenever your invoices are sent to a department manager for approval, include an insert announcing something of value to that client. It might be a discount on future business or a free white paper on a subject of interest like, “How to Save Budgetary Dollars with Temporary Help.” You could announce a new service such as an IC3 certification program or a Vendor Management System you’ve just installed for your volume customers.

When you use an insert that makes a specific price or discount offer, it will work best if that offer is made on a limited-time basis. Thirty days generally works best. Whatever the content of your insert, be sure there is value to your customer, either in cost savings or in the information you are providing. You can make your inserts easily in-house. Once the copy is prepared, an administrative assistant with good graphics skills can prepare the finished insert which can be printed on colored paper (bright yellow works well) or specialty stock (paper direct has almost unlimited choices).

As with your field staff, inserts are an inexpensive and useful way to communicate with your customer. The key here is to use this idea consistently. Inserts are a marketing tool that can and should be a regular part of your marketing program.

Idea #5 – Co-op Advertising

This last marketing idea works well for staffing services that utilize line or space contracts with their local newspaper. If you are a service that signs an annual agreement to use “x” number of lines of classified advertising, this idea has great benefit and actually saves you advertising dollars. Select a mid-sized client with whom you have a solid working relationship. Choose a client that uses your service for hiring but also places their own ads to avoid paying fees if they can. It’s helpful but not absolutely essential if that client is experiencing a period of personnel growth. The customer however, must not be large enough to have their own classified advertising contract with the newspaper. Suggest that the customer place their classified ads through your company, on your contract.

Most daily papers will allow a contract holder to use more than one name and address when they advertise. You simply include the names and contact information of any other companies as part of the annual contract. The paper will assign a specific billing code to each ad and send the charges to the company (yours) with whom they have the classified advertising contract. You then bill the client. You can charge the customer more than your per-line cost but less than the client would pay if they advertised on their own. This idea helps you reduce the number of lines your agency must use each year while maintaining a lower per-line cost. Your customer benefits by paying less for their classified ads when they have a need to run help wanted advertising.

If you have a really good relationship with the client, they may consider referring to you the resumes of candidates in whom they have no interest so that you can contact these people with other job opportunities. Or as an alternative, you could offer to screen the candidates responding to your client’s ad and refer only qualified people at a significantly reduced fee. The customer would then give you access to any candidates not qualified for referral. As an additional bonus, your staffing service would generally be the first to know of job openings at this client’s office and can be prepared to respond quickly if the client’s advertising is not successful in locating a viable candidate.

Implementation Plan

As I have listed these five no-cost marketing ideas, I have attempted to include implementation steps with each action plan to keep this issue from becoming too lengthy. I would however, like to re-iterate a couple of implementation steps that pertain to all these ideas. They are, in fact, essential to every successful marketing initiative.

  1. Take time to create a plan for every marketing idea. Express every plan in writing.
  2. Get buy-in from your staff. Without their cooperation and enthusiasm, any marketing idea will falter and ultimately fail.
  3. Create a schedule so that everyone responsible knows the action steps to take and the dates for implementation.
  4. Recognize that marketing takes persistence. You must “touch” your customer multiple times to experience a return on your investment. Good relationships take time to build.
  5. Strong relationships require constant nurturing. These no-cost marketing ideas should help you without increasing your expenses.

Forms

Sample Marketing Plan

Company Name:

Purpose: To increase our prospect database by 30% in the next 12 months and to convert 15% of those prospects to customers using follow-up sales activities.

Plan: To research and qualify a minimum of ten new prospects every week. To uncover a minimum of one new buying influence in each of our top 75 customers and to place those new contacts into a scheduled marketing program for future sales follow-up.

Target Audience: Owners, managers, and department heads in companies currently employing 35 or more employees in non-production jobs.

Marketing Methods: Telemarketing using marketing interns to collect company names as prospects and to call for contact detail; a weekly classified advertisement and job board campaign to attract high-end office administrative candidates; quarter-page yellow page advertising that emphasizes our specialty; mailing and e-mailing marketing program sent to new prospects every five weeks; second program for current customers; creation of in-house newsletter for temporaries and career candidates to be sent monthly; sponsorship of chamber’s winter job fair; “temp-of-the-month” program; quarterly open houses with door prizes.

Company Niche: Placement of high-end administrative support personnel in temp and direct hire positions in small to mid-sized companies.

Unique Selling Proposition: XYZ Staffing is the only administrative support staffing service offering a “no time limit” guarantee on temporary help and a six month replacement guarantee on direct hire.

Budget for Marketing: 10% of projected gross margin.


Outline for a News Release

Created By: AUTHOR’S NAME

Purpose: (Expansion, new service, strategic alliance, award, new hire, promotion, etc.)

Timing/Date for this release:

Person to contact for more details:

  1. Headline: (What is the theme or purpose? Why will someone want to read it? What is your “angle?” Be brief and make your headline catchy.)
  2. Key points for your news release:
    • What is the meaning behind those key points (why are you doing this?)
  3. Any “quotes” from customers, users, or 3rd parties that support your news:
  4. List the priority of the information you want to convey (critical information must appear first):
    • If 3rd party is involved, provide their company name, location, etc. and a brief description (as they want it) portrayed in the release as well as a contact name if they wish it included:
  5. Be sure to submit your proposed news release to any third parties involved for approval on your copy (especially contacts and/or direct quotes):
  6. Provide company “boiler plate” information at the end of any news release: