Marketing a product, if not easy, is at least obvious. A product, whether it is a refrigerator, a car, a dress, or even a house, is tangible. The prospective customers can see it, touch it, and fairly easily discern its quality and features and compare it to other, similar products.

But what if you are selling a service? How do you show your prospective clients your quality, your features? If you are an accountant, a lawyer, or a computer repair person, how do you convince your prospects to use you?

Marketing a service is marketing the intangible, says Avdi Hamit. By its very nature it is more difficult than marketing a product. Hamit will discuss “Marketing for Service Businesses” at a free seminar sponsored by the Greater Princeton chapter of SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives) on Thursday, June 9, at 6:45 p.m., at the Hamilton Township Library. E-mail or call 609-393-0505.

A native of Australia, Hamit holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA, but wouldn’t say from where. “It was overseas,” he says. “It would be meaningless to people here in Princeton.” He has worked as a COO, CEO, and CFO, and has served on boards of directors at public and private equity companies in North America, Australia, Asia, and Europe. He started his own company a few years ago and eventually sold and is now working on a doctorate while “on a sabbatical from the college of life,” as he describes it. He lives with his wife and children in Princeton.

“Princeton is a wonderful area,” he says, “and my family is enjoying it here very much.” He sees his work with SCORE as his opportunity to give back to the community that has welcomed him.

“I’d like to see people stop asking where you are from and just start helping others,” he says, “particularly in the economy we have had in the past few years.”

#b#Reluctant entrepreneurs#/b#. At SCORE, Hamit sees many people who have been laid off from long-time corporate careers. “They are in the 45-plus age bracket, they are finding it difficult to get another day job, and they have decided to start their own businesses,” he says. He calls them “reluctant entrepreneurs” — men and women who never saw themselves as business owners, but suddenly find that self-employment is the best way to earn a living in this economy.

They each have a skill, Hamit says. They are expert bookkeepers, computer professionals, human resource professionals, graphic designers, whatever. They understand how to navigate a corporate culture, but they often don’t know how to market their services to other small businesses.

“It is crucial to understand the inherent differences between “product sales and marketing” and “services sales and marketing,” says Hamit. The competition is fierce. The new service business is competing not just with other new businesses, but with smaller independent business owners and firms that have been established for many years. For business success, says Hamit, the service professional must understand “the significance of a solution and relationship sales approach.”

#b#Develop good listening skills#/b#. The owner of a successful service business is a good listener, says Hamit. Service companies get most of their new business from referrals, so it is crucial to understand the concept of “consultative selling.” This means learning to ask the right questions and really listening to the answers.

When meeting with prospects it is much more important to ask them questions about their business and really listen to the answers. Then discuss — not tell them — how you can help to solve the problem. “Always remember that it is people who buy, not companies. You are selling to people and that means interacting with them,” says Hamit.

#b#Understand the urgency#/b#. “It takes experience to strike a balance between listening to the needs of the prospective client and making a sale,” Hamit says. To do this a business owner must learn when the client is ready to buy. “The more urgent the need, the more the person will want to work with you.”

Hamit suggests that new business owners may need to “give it away now” so they can build a reputation, develop a base of clients who will refer them to others, and get testimonials about their work.

#b#Know what you are selling#/b#. It sounds obvious, but Hamit says many of the new business owners he meets do not really understand what they are selling. A bookkeeper is not just selling expertise in using software such as Quickbooks, nor even just an understanding of accounting practices, inventory control, or other necessary services. Service professionals are selling trust and confidence in themselves and the idea that they can be relied on to accurately handle the aspects of bookkeeping the client may not understand or do well.

Develop a business plan. Many new business owners don’t know much about business plans or why they are needed. Others see them as a tool for businesses looking for bank loans or other financing.

Many service businesses can be started without financing, says Hamit, but they still need a business plan.

“A business plan is not a static document,” he says. “It is a yardstick to measure where you want to go and how far you have come.” It should be taken out every few months, studied, and updated. “Being a business owner is not a 9-to-5 lifestyle,” he says. “You will be living with your business 24/7.”

Hamit recommends that potential entrepreneurs consult with SCORE or similar organizations before starting a business. He believes that talking with experienced business owners can often save a new business owner from potentially fatal mistakes.

He mentions a recent SCORE client who came in to discuss a new business idea. “Before he left we had totally changed the way he looked at his business,” Hamit says. “He thought he would need a storefront. He decided he should work out of his home, instead. He changed his ideas on how to promote his business and who his customers would be. In one meeting he did a complete 180 on his business plan. That’s the value of getting an objective viewpoint.”

Be ready to evolve. Even if you have been in business for a while, you need to be ready to make changes. “Business is changing rapidly these days. Every business owner needs to be ready to change with it,” he says.

His final piece of advice, for both new and seasoned owners still struggling, is this: “Never be desperate. People can smell it and they don’t like it.”

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