Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared for the November 14, 2001 edition of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Ideas for Getting Back on Track
On Monday, November 19, at 3 p.m. small business guru
Jane Applegate speaks at a Back on Track America "Whistle
Stop Tour" at the Performing Arts Center in Newark. Back on Track
America is a project of Applegate’s SBTV.com, an online small business
network at (www.janeapplegate.com). Sponsors include Fleet Bank, ING
Aetna Financial Services, America Online, SCORE, Entrepreneur
Amtrak, Wyndam Hotels and Resorts, and MasterCard.
Back on Track America is a coalition dedicated to revitalizing small
businesses reeling from the recession and the September 11 attacks.
It offers free advice, information, resources, and inspiration aimed
at helping small business owners manage in a difficult environment.
Each Back on Track America event consists of a three-hour work session
and concludes with a networking reception and a community town hall
meeting. It’s all free. Call 888-567-0615.
In addition to spearheading Back on Track America, and founding SBTV,
which broadcasts stories on finance, law, human resources, marketing,
and more, Applegate is the author of three books of advice for owners
of small businesses. The latest is 201 Great Ideas for Your Small
Business (Bloomberg Small Business, $14.95). Here are excerpts:
business cards on your desk and just see a mess — look again.
What you’re really looking at is potential income.
No matter how small your business may be, you should be creating and
updating a database. With simple software, a current database allows
you to easily mail newsletters and sales information to customers.
You can also target prospective customers by renting mailing lists.
Add telephone numbers, and your database becomes the basis for a
Collecting detailed information about people and their companies is
easier than you think. Business cards, sales invoices, catalogs,
and magazine and newspaper articles all contain invaluable information
and contacts. Small-business magazines such as Nation’s Business
include contact addresses and telephone numbers in their articles.
The easiest way to create and maintain a database is with a simple
software program. There are many very affordable programs on the
that keep track of the information and allow you to cross-reference
and access it in several ways.
More complex programs, such as Goldmine, Act!, and Sharkware, organize
your daily appointments and remind you when to place important
calls. The biggest headache is entering the data into the program,
but you can certainly assign this task to a staffer or hire a
worker or student to do it.
I took myself out to the local movie theater. Standing outside the
door was a young man in a Haagen-Dazs apron. He was passing out
offering a "double feature" — a free scoop of ice cream
when you bought one scoop at the regular price. I immediately knew
where I was heading after the show.
Ticket stub in hand, I trotted down the block to be the first in line.
(I didn’t want to embarrass myself by running.) For a mere $1.85,
I savored my calorie-laden pralines and coffee-chip double scoop.
The kid even let me keep the coupon for a repeat performance. Talk
about generating goodwill!
Giving away a free scoop of ice cream brought me into the store for
the first time. And, of course, it won’t be the last. It also proved
to me that a coupon is a low-cost way to attract new and repeat
Coupons are great because they are cheap to print and easy to
You can send an associate to place them under the windshield wipers
of parked cars. Although, admittedly, this method can be annoying
and produces litter, it’s good for a local promotion. You might also
consider giving your coupons to neighboring merchants — and offer
to pass out their coupons in exchange.
for her small store, but she ended up with a famous cat.
"One day, a stray cat wandered in, and we started to feed
said Watt. "Then one night, we accidentally locked her inside
the store. The next morning, when we came in, she was asleep in the
window. She became an instant celebrity."
People, especially kids, loved Lily the cat and came to visit her
weekly. To raise money for a local school, Watt decided to host a
"Tea with Lily." It was easy to promote the event, because
by then most people knew who Lily was.
Today Watt works as a freelance writer, but she remembers her famous
cat mascot. "She was wonderful PR for us and loved her unusual
But remember, if it’s appropriate to have a pet in your business,
make sure it’s a people-loving one.
Some small businesses are fortunate enough to hook up with a celebrity
spokesperson. David Blumenthal, president of Lion Brand Yarn Co. in
Manhattan, learned that Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White loved
to crochet. He immediately contacted her agent to ask if she would
be interested in becoming the spokesperson for their line of yarns
and crochet patterns.
They made a deal that has endured through the years.
White worked with Lion on two illustrated pattern books on crocheting.
She consistently wows customers when she appears at trade shows on
behalf of Lion Brand Yarns, demonstrating her crocheting skills and
emceeing a fashion show of crocheted creations.
It doesn’t make sense in every single case, but many small businesses
benefit enormously from a mascot or spokesperson. It’s a component
of your marketing plan that can help establish a brand identity for
your product and stir up a good deal of excitement, too.
newsletters and thousands more for free, according to industry
Newsletters cover everything from fly fishing and school violence
to gluten-free baking.
With the right mailing list, exclusive or proprietary information,
and a few thousand dollars, just about anyone who can write or hire
writers can start one. But making money is another story.
"You have to pick a field as narrow as you can get it, but leave
it wide enough so there’s an audience to promote to," advises
Howard Penn Hudson, president of the Newsletter Clearinghouse in
New York. "Too often, people who start newsletters find they
narrowed the field enough."
Health care, technology, and celebrity newsletters are hot right now,
according to Hudson, who publishes the Newsletter on Newsletters,
founded in 1964.
and clients with your business is to arrange a visit. An open house
combines a social event with the ability to do some serious one-to-one
marketing. Of course, if you deal with toxic chemicals or dangerous
machinery, you’ll have to decide whether or not an open house is the
best way to boost awareness of your business.
One of my strongest and fondest memories is touring the Pepperidge
Farm bakery on a third-grade field trip. I’ll never forget the sweet,
yeasty smell of the bakery and the freshly baked loaf of white bread
they gave each of us to take home. Since that tour, I’ve been a loyal
Pepperidge Farm customer.
Hershey Foods is another big company that invites thousands of
into their factories each year. That open door policy has turned
Pennsylvania, into a major American tourist mecca.
Even if you rarely have visitors, think of the things people would
like to learn about your business. Few people ever have the
to see how things are made and packaged.
You may not have a glitzy office, but even a small-scale open house
can draw people to your door. No matter how boring you think your
business is, remember that people love to have a behind-the-scenes
look at anything. Consider the incredible popularity of Universal
Studios and the tours that visitors line up for.
In planning an open house pick a time of year when your business looks
its best, and weather won’t jeopardize attendance. Send out
at least a month in advance, and ask people to RSVP via telephone
or fax. Schedule the event to last two or three hours — no more.
Ask all your employees to tidy up their areas and find places to lock
up any valuables about a week before the open house.
Hand out a flyer with basic information about your company along with
an event agenda. Assign plenty of staffers to act as hosts and guides.
Buy flowers or plants to decorate the reception area. Rest up the
night before so you are ready to meet and greet people.
You might also invite your local station or paper to participate in
your event as a media sponsor. This takes more time and effort, but
it may be worth it. Be sure to involve all your employees and their
families in your event.
a great idea, but if it’s filled with out-of-date information it
a waste of time and money. Every year a certain percentage of people
in your database will move or change jobs, so it’s important to update
the information at least once a year.
A simple, cost-effective way to dean up your database is to send out
a perforated, two-part postcard with a simple offer or discount and
a space for people to update their information. Be sure to print or
stamp "address correction requested" on each card, so the
post office will return the undeliverable cards. You pay the postage,
but it’s worth it.
Prepaying the postage on the return card will definitely increase
your response rate. When the undelivered cards come back, spend time
deleting the names. Then update the responses as they are returned.
Doing this kind of purge is important, particularly if you are
to do a major mailing. A clean, accurate list will increase your
of a strong response rate to any offer you send out.
Corrections or additions?
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