Promoting Your Consulting Business

As you analyze your business's markets and opportunities, you must consider the best methods of reaching these markets. Do your clients watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers or news magazines, see billboards, read online pop-ups, or click on web links? More important: how can you cost-effectively reach them with your message at the point where they are considering a purchase of your service? You can buy a thirty-second Super Bowl ad for $2.6 million, but will it earn many times the price in new sales? Probably not. How many of the 45 million viewers need the services you offer and will contact you? Not enough. What are your other options?

Media is the plural of medium, something in the middle position — such as between you and a potential client. Mass media are mediums of communication designed to reach the mass of the people. Mass media include television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and the Internet. In addition, there are target media or specialized communication mediums that focus on specific groups. A local business newspaper, for example, is a medium designed to reach a specific group of people, such as small business operators in Chicago, Illinois. A website offers instructions, advice, and advertisements on household repairs.

A cartoon in a business journal shows two vultures on a large rock. One says to the other: “To heck with waiting for something to die. Let's go kill something!” Sometime a business has to be proactive to survive.

The primary business goal of the media is to make a profit by delivering advertising messages to prospective buyers. The media does so by offering these buyers something they want: news, information, data, music, entertainment, or other benefits. Most small businesses use the telephone book, newspapers, shoppers, broadcasting, and other media to present their messages to potential clients. Your marketing analysis and business plan should consider the most effective media for delivering your message.

Phonebook Advertising

Many consulting services say an ad in the yellow pages is one of their best sources of new business. In most locations, if you purchase a business telephone line you will get a listing in one category of your local telephone book. In some areas, the listing is optional. The listing may be as simple as:

AAA Shipping Services, 123 Main St 555-1234

Or the firm name can be in capital letters such as:

AAA SHIPPING SERVICES

123 Main St 555-1234

Or you can include information on your specialty, and even an alternate telephone number like this:

AAA Shipping Services

Specializing in International Cargo

123 Main St 555-1234

After hours 555-2345

Most telephone books include a few pages with information on how to select a space ad. You'll see terminology like double half, triple quarter, and columns. Many telephone books in rural areas are half-size with only two columns per page. So a triple quarter is three columns wide and a quarter page long; a double half is two columns wide and a half page long.

Many businesses upgrade their listings with space ads. A space ad is simply an advertisement that takes up more space than a line or two and is usually surrounded by a box. To determine the size and cost of an appropriate space ad, check your local telephone book's yellow pages index section under the heading for “consultants.” It will list consultant categories and the page number. In your category, look for ads from competitors. When a potential client looks in the yellow pages, which ads stand out best? Which have the greatest eye appeal? Which are easiest to read? Remember that you don't need the largest ad in the phone book; you need the one that's most cost-effective for you.

The firm that produces your telephone book will help you design and write your ad. Then they will supply a layout of the ad and a contract for you to sign. Most listing or space ad contracts are for one year and can be paid in monthly installments with or separate from your telephone bill.

Newspaper Advertising

The task of a newspaper is to make money for its publisher. It does so by developing a relationship of information and trust with its target readers. In fact, it will have numerous target groups, each developed in order to sell advertising to businesses that want to reach them. The paper's sports section offers one target group, the classifieds another.

Newspaper advertising is sold by the column inch or other space measurement. Take a look at your local newspaper. Most have between four and eight columns of text to a page. An advertisement that is one column wide and one inch long is one column-inch (1 c.i.).

Once you've identified the local newspaper and the section of the newspaper that best reaches your target clients, contact the paper's advertising department and meet with an ad rep to get a rate card and discuss campaigns.

Shopper Advertising

A shopper is primarily an advertising publication. Most don't attempt to be objective news sources. Their function is to bring as many buyers as possible together with sellers. Regionally, shoppers are also called penny savers.

One of the big differences between newspapers and shoppers is how they are distributed. Although most newspapers are delivered by carriers, they must limit advertising to qualify for cost-effective USPS second class postal rates. Shoppers, because they are primarily ads, don't get this low distribution rate and are distributed either at retail stores or by more expensive third-class postal rates.

Because newspapers are purchased by consumers and shoppers are not, newspapers are considered more desirable media for advertising. People are willing to pay for them. Shoppers simply come in the mail or are handed out free. However, the advertising rate (also measured in column-inches) is typically much lower than that of area newspapers. As with newspapers, contact your local shopper publications and ask for a rate card and sales rep to learn more about their market and their advantages.

Be aware that, in many markets, newspapers and shoppers may be owned by the same publisher. This may limit your advertising options, but you also may get lower combined rates as opposed to buying space in them individually.

Broadcast Advertising

Radio and television have revolutionized advertising, bringing sound and moving images to the sales pitch. Both types of broadcast media have their advantages. Radio is more portable, found in cars, stores, homes, and devices. Television is more visual, offering additional sensory messages to the advertising process. However, in most markets, television advertising is too expensive for small businesses. A thirty-second advertisement (called a “spot”) can cost thousands of dollars to produce and require thousands more in advertising fees to make a significant impression on viewers.

Radio stations play specific types of music or offer news and talk on definite topics for one purpose: to draw a defined audience to listen to ads from their sponsors. The audience for sport talk radio will be different than a hip-hop or an oldies station. Considering the local population, radio stations position themselves to reach — and to sell to — a defined audience that isn't otherwise being reached efficiently.

The point to remember about radio advertising is to select what your clients want rather than what you want. You can be a big fan of PBS, talk shows, or classic rock, but if these local stations don't focus on delivering your message to your prospects, don't advertise on them. Spend your money where it will bring you more money. Advertising must be an investment. Your advertising representative can help you write your business's ads and advise you on who should read them — you or announcers (called “talent”).

Magazines

A magazine is a focused periodical. It is published on a regular basis (weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, bi-monthly, etc.) to be read by a specific target market, such as local upscale buyers or contractors interested in news about residential remodeling. Your ad in a magazine has readership as long as the issue is in print; once it is replaced by a new issue, your ad has effectively expired.

Magazine advertising makes sense for niche businesses, those that are focused toward a readership that is similar to that of your target client. It may be a local magazine or one defined by an industry or special interest. Your business plan should identify any magazines and trade (industry) publications that are read by your target market.

Magazine ads are purchased as fractional pages, such as quarter-page, half-page, etc. Rates decrease for the space used as the size goes up. A half-page ad typically costs less than two quarter-page ads. Frequency also earns a discount. An ad in two issues as a rule costs less than twice the single-issue rate. You can save advertising dollars by purchasing a longer-term contract for the most effective size of ad for your business.

Other Media

You've probably already noticed that advertising permeates modern life. It's everywhere. Why? Because it works! Advertisers wouldn't spend thousands, even millions, of dollars on something that doesn't work. They're not philanthropists.

Once you open your consulting business, you will be inundated with media sales reps offering everything from yellow pages advertising to vanity ads. There will be placement ads in regional directories, reps for bus bench ads, pitches for ads in shopping carts, direct mail campaigns, and many others. Which should you consider? Any that will profitably bring you new clients. How can you know if the medium is profitable for your business? You can't.

Consultants who offer services online can advertise with search engines and on sites of interest to your prospective clients. Google offers AdWords (http://adwords.google.com) and Yahoo sells search ads (http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com) that you can purchase to promote your consulting service. You also can search for “internet advertising agency” to find businesses that can help you identify where to promote your services online.

The easiest way to determine where you can profitably advertise is to carefully study your best competitors. They know. They've probably spent many thousands of dollars on advertising that doesn't return a profit. Follow their lead. Eventually, you will discover profitable media they are missing, but don't try to reinvent business advertising just yet. Follow the leaders.

Seminars and Public Speaking

Besides advertising, there are numerous ways you can make positive impressions on prospects. One time a management consultant developed and presented a low-cost Saturday seminar on managing time for success. Admission was $25 at the door, which covered the room rent, coffee, donuts, and printed handouts offered to participants. Of course, the consultant offered additional services, including copies of her book on time management.

In addition, consultants can speak to other groups on a variety of employment topics. Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, and other service organizations are always looking for informative (and free) speakers. Just remember that it must be informative, not just an opportunity to sell. Also consider speaking to special-interest clubs within your field of experience. You will be building your credentials as an expert.

Many consultants who speak at seminars supplement their income by selling books or tapes before or after their presentation. This is called back-of-the-room selling and gives you an opportunity to promote your business and meet prospective clients. If your consulting service will be built with seminars and public speaking, consider this opportunity.

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