Sometimes it takes just one client — or one more client — to get a business going or to kick it into high gear. It used to be said, way back in the 20th century, that a prospective client would have to see your business’ name five times before it registered. Now, with ads everywhere, but human consciousness dulled by semi-permanent attachments such as iPod earbuds and cellphone Bluetooths, the number is multiplied.
Lisa West and her sister, Nora Anderson, have come up with one more way to get the word out. As low tech as it is common sense, their ad venue is designed to fill those dead air moments passed in line at a store cash register or a receptionist’s desk or in a restaurant lobby waiting for a table.
The pair launched their home-based business, Select Business Advertising (www.selectbusinessad.com), last month. It involves charging small businesses and professionals to place a business card in a rack with 32 others. The racks are then placed in busy spots like stores and restaurants. Locations so far include Cox’s Market at 180 Nassau Street, Orpha’s Coffee House in the Village Shopper in Skillman, and Maximum Fitness on Stryker Lane in Hillsborough.
Busy finding clients, the pair have found that, so far, “everyone has been very gracious,” says West. “Smaller businesses have respect for getting a business off the ground,” she says. “They’ve given us ideas.”
Businesses they have visited have also expressed that “they want another advertising venue, they need another way to advertise,” she adds.
Clients pay $29 a month with a one-year commitment, and are encouraged to pay for the whole year upfront. But if this is too much for a start-up to handle, West says that her company will offer monthly billing. A business owner herself, she knows that sometimes “it’s hard to give up a chunk of money upfront.”
In addition to offering entrepreneurs and professionals a place in which to prominently display their business cards, Select Business is ready with advice on how to reel business in. West and her partner are showing their clients how to “soup up” a business card and make it a mini-coupon. The cards will not merely provide contact information, but will also serve as promotions, bringing clients or customers in by offering them something extra — maybe a free consultation, or 10 percent off on a product, or a two-for-one deal.
A native of northern New Jersey who now lives in Princeton Walk, West earned a psychology degree from Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1982. She began a career in social work, but found that she did not enjoy the problems that come with that field. “I wanted the health side of it,” she says. Trained as a dancer, she taught dance and “got into the whole health club scene.” She found that she enjoyed the work, and felt fit and healthy herself.
With moral support from her husband, Mark Edwards, a former financial analyst with Merrill Lynch who is now in business for himself, advising individuals, West founded PTS Fitness in Montgomery and ran it for four and a half years. That was enough. “I gave up,” she says. “It’s really a lot for one person.” Passionate about horseback riding, she thought that the life of an entrepreneur would afford her lots of time in the saddle. “But I had no time at all,” she says.
She sold the business, and she and her husband, who gave up his corporate work at about the same time that she gave up her health club, spent two years on their horse farm near Freehold “figuring out what to do.”
At first the respite was delightful, but then stress set in. “There was no money coming in,” West says. Then one of her sisters — not the sister with whom she is starting the business — became very ill. “It was an over-riding thing,” she says of the illness.
Ready to enter the world of work again after downsizing to Princeton Walk and boarding her horses, West thought about what needs there were in the marketplace. She recalled that when she was running PTS Fitness she and the small business owners around her were constantly looking for ways to promote their businesses. “We used to put coupons in each others’ stores,” she says.
The urgent need of small companies to get the word out about their services led her to start thinking about business card displays. “I went on the Internet to see if anyone had made a business card display,” she says, “and I did find a company that manufactures these boards.” The displays hold 33 business cards and three brochures, and are locked so that random people can’t slip their business cards in.
With the boards on order, West enlisted her sister, who also trains dogs as Anderson Canine Training in Skillman (609-240-7191), to join her. Anderson, also a social worker by training, had moved east from Michigan when their sister became ill.
The pair refill their racks every two weeks and report to each client on how many cards were taken. West says that clients can — and in many cases should — change their cards often. This will keep interest fresh and will allow them to rotate promotions or fine-tune the messages on the card.
“Our first goal is to have 20 locations,” says West. New to this venture, as many of her clients are to their enterprises, she is not sure how quickly Select Business Advertising will grow. Very different from the fitness business, but with very similar needs, West’s new company has to get the word out. Her fortunes are linked with her clients’ to an unusual degree. If their mini-coupon business cards bring in business, the word will spread, and her business will thrive.
It’s a busy, noisy world. West and Anderson are betting that a little card can cut through the buzz, capture attention, and boost their clients’ profile the old-fashioned way. No pop-up ads, no blogs, no wires, just a new way to use the business card, a business tool first used in 17th century England. They worked then, and with luck, they will work in a new iteration now.