As I am writing this article, I am also developing my marketing calendar for the new year. I am often amazed at the time, money and effort we devote to communicating with current and prospective clients to ensure our place in the marketplace and to facilitate our continued growth. Our marketing plan for this year includes direct mail, text blasts, bag drops, post cards, social media postings, robocalls to existing clients, internal signage and weekly emails. Furthermore, we will be active in our community and expanding our networking through this involvement.
We’ll be sending various messages to folks moving into our area who meet predetermined criteria, asking our top clients to refer friends who might benefit from our services, and sending a constant stream of messages to our current customers.
I am not offering this list just to report on the different ways we work to grow our business. Believe me, I wish it were a whole lot easier. The point I am trying to make is this – there is no one magic bullet that is going to bring in a boatload of business. Marketing takes effort and if done improperly can be a real waste of money and effort and a genuine source of frustration. (A lesson learned first-hand by yours truly.) Messaging requires thought and developing an understanding of your potential clients and customers’ needs and wants. Too often we as entrepreneurs develop our marketing around what is important to us – not the client.
As their cleaner, we need to learn what we can do to ease our customers’ sources of pain or discomfort. By letting them know how we can alleviate various problems in their lives we can earn their trust and their business. We also need to let folks know how we can help them accomplish things that are important to them. That in a nutshell, is why it is important to have regular contact with our customers or potential clients. The old adage out of sight, out of mind, is particularly relevant today.
Unfortunately, many cleaners don’t think marketing is important, don’t feel they have the time or ability to promote their business or believe they can’t afford to communicate with their customers regularly. However, from personal experience, I can assure you that with a bit of perseverance and commitment anyone in our business can increase their sales, and ultimately, their bottom line through a regular marketing effort.
It wasn’t too many years ago I had this same skeptical mindset when it came to marketing. It probably had something to do with my accounting background and lack of entrepreneurial experience. However, there came a time when my business (and I) had become stagnant and something had to change. I started my introduction to marketing during my annual budgeting process by establishing a marketing budget as a percentage of gross sales. This process helped me keep my advertising costs in line, but it also helped us maintain a floor during difficult times when it would be easy to cut back on costs, including discretionary expenses, such as marketing.
I also looked for ways we could provide services that would help our customers the most. This primarily involved talking with both our current customers and prospective clients. I was surprised when people asked for services, we already offered but didn’t realize we provided. For example, we had people telling us they wished we cleaned comforters and drapes, or preserved wedding gowns. People asked if we could press garments or cleaned rugs, things we already did.
We needed to become more proactive in letting our clients know what we could do for them.
Primarily because it was rather economical, early on I became a believer in sending email to clients. Using one of the popular email marketing products, we began sending emails to our customers regularly. At first, we sent them about once a month, then twice a month and finally we started sending one a week. Although most of our emails contain an offer or special of some type, we also send quite a few that offer insights into events in our personal lives, motivational or inspirational videos and some which are meant to share a smile or story. By sharing personal information and stories, we discovered clients started looking forward to receiving our correspondence as opposed to looking at our emails as a nuisance. Open rates started to increase and response to our offers steadily improved.
However, when I have discussed advertising with some of my dry cleaning brethren, some have told me they were not fans of using email as a means of promoting their business. I heard such comments as, “I tried sending emails, but it didn’t work for me. My customers didn’t want to give me their email address. Customers complained about getting emails from me…” The list of reasons for not being successful went on and on. One of my peers even stated very sternly, “email is dead.” They quit using emails as a marketing tool because their open rates were minuscule, and their offers didn’t result in more sales.
As mentioned earlier in this article, emails are an important element in our overall marketing and communication strategy. I am convinced with practice, any business can use email as an effective way to communicate with a large number of clients and prospects. That being stated, there are some things you can implement to help get better response.
First of all, identify your audience and develop your message to them. You certainly wouldn’t craft a message to a group of youth soccer team parents the same way you would write to an audience of business professionals. Do your best to understand what their hopes, dreams, needs and pains are. By crafting your email to your audience, you are on your way to improved responses.
Don’t be afraid to let your clients know what is going on in your world. This can include what’s happening in your business, with your staff, customers and most importantly – your life. Customers want to do business with people they trust and sharing events and happenings going on in your world is a great way to build that trust.
Also keep in mind how folks open emails. When we receive good old fashioned snail mail, we look at an envelope – decide how important a letter might be and we either open it, set it aside to open later, or throw it in the trash. Email is opened in much the same way. We scan our inbox to determine if we want to read an email, maybe click it later and see what it’s about, or we immediately delete it. Therefore, don’t underestimate the importance of an impactful subject line, it’s the “envelope” that determines if your content will be read.
Which of these subject lines would you be more likely to open? “10% off dry cleaning special!” or “Who is the bigger ass?” The latter headline had an open rate more than four times the former. Humor, suspense and topics of interest to the reader will result in higher open rates and hopefully better results. In the case of the latter subject line, the email related a story the reader could save more money by voting for a picture of yours truly as the bigger ass than choosing a photo of a donkey. This one email got a response and a resulting increase in sales than just about any other we have sent out.
We also do our best to be consistent with our messaging. By sending out weekly emails, our customers have gotten used to seeing our messages and some even comment if we miss a week or send them on a different day of the week than we usually do.
It has also been my observation, that as dry cleaners we tend to be a bit wimpy when it comes to offers we use when trying to entice people to use our service. We tend to think in terms what is the least amount I can afford to discount, or we go with the flow by copying what others are promoting. Let me offer a different strategy when it comes to crafting offers, “What is the most I can give my current or potential clients that would convince them to do business with my company?” By using this approach, you are trying to eliminate resistance to your offer. By giving up the most you can to attract a client, you can reap rewards down the line.
In summary, I am of the opinion that emails are still a viable device in our marketing toolbox. If properly crafted, your email campaigns can still yield effective results, including good open rates, and most importantly, contribute to increased sales. Emails do take work, but I have found it to be a very cost effective means of promoting our services. I believe most dry cleaners can use emails as an effective piece of the marketing puzzle.