A few short months ago, the president of a computer training company asked me if it was possible to grow your business without spending any money on marketing.
My gut reaction was simply, “Not possible.” However, knowing this probably wasn’t the right answer; I thought about it and realized that some of the best marketing activities I’ve seen and done haven’t cost a whole lot of money. Of course, there was the labor involved in having me, or a marketing staff, implement those activities. That certainly was a real cost. No doubt about it. So how could you possibly do it for free?
What if YOU were the President of that small training company and didn’t have a marketing staff, didn’t know a whole lot about marketing, and didn’t have a marketing budget? How would you do it?
First off, if you offer a great training service and know how to sell it, and know how to effectively run a business, there’s a good chance that business will grow. Maybe not as fast as you might want it to, but it would probably grow. Especially if you’re not in the middle of a recession. Oops, sorry about bringing up the “R” word!
Good marketing is somewhat like rocket fuel for an already solid product, effective sales approach, and organized business infrastructure. A good marketing plan can turn something good into something great, and can get you there a lot faster.
So, here’s how to do it.
Ten ways to grow your training business without spending a dime (or a rupee, or a pound) on marketing.
Read, read, read, about marketing
You must educate yourself if you can’t afford to invest in a marketing person. Also, you get what you pay for if you bring in a marketing person just out of college or with no training industry experience. If you can’t afford someone with lots of experience and with a training background, then you will spend a lot of money learning what works and what doesn’t work.
So, assuming you’re not ready for a marketing person, it’s time to make a resolution to really learn marketing. Start by educating yourself through books and newsletters. Develop your Marketing Plan — 101 curriculum based upon the next nine items on this list.
Spend time developing your business value proposition and positioning
I can’t say enough about the importance of spending quality time on crystallizing your business value proposition. When you finish this, you will be able to clearly and succinctly communicate the value of buying your product and why it’s clear that prospects should buy it from you.
There are hundreds of books written on this, so go to your library, get one, and follow the steps they recommend. It’s time consuming, but it’s your marketing foundation. Everything else will benefit if you do this part right.
Focus on getting referrals
I happen to believe that 80% of every training purchase is somehow influenced by a referral. Before people buy training, they talk to someone who has already had a good experience. This means that getting your happy customers to pass your name along may be the most effective way to spend your time. This can be a huge return on your time investment. You should look at every new customer as a foothold into the company they work for and their network of colleagues.
For more ideas about how to get referrals, read my article, “5 Ways to Increase Customer Referrals.”
Market the next class
It’s a common conclusion that the cost of marketing to a current customer is much less expensive than the cost of obtaining a new customer. Some marketing researchers say that this number may be as high as twenty times the cost. Take this to heart.
Focus on marketing to your customers first. Every time you communicate with a customer, tell them what to buy next. This could be in the classroom, after the class, in an e-mail, or on a sales call. After they take a class, they should have a very clear idea of what to take next. The timing may not be “right now”, but they need to know where they’re going next so that they’ll remember it when they’re ready.
Increase your lead conversion rate
Every phone call or email inquiry from a qualified prospect is golden. What’s the value of an incoming inquiry? If you’re selling instructor led training, the marketing cost of creating an incoming call can be as much as $500 US. The marketing cost for most calls is around $100.When that call comes in, do you treat it like it’s worth that much? What percentage of those calls do you convert to sales?
If you don’t know what that percentage is, then take some time to figure it out and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised. Generally, if you’re not closing one in five sales calls, then there’s some work to be done. If you were able to close 20% of your incoming calls, then how much would this increase your revenue? You might also be surprised at the answer to this. Long story short, increasing the conversion of incoming calls or emails can have an immediate and huge effect.
If you have a website, pay a LOT of attention to it.
These days, almost every prospect sees your website before they ever talk to you or buy from you. What does it mean to have your website as your first impression? First, ask yourself if your website makes your company look better or worse than you actually are? If it’s worse, then you’re losing sales. Second, on your website, how many clicks does it take for a visitor to find the course they want and click the register button? If it’s more than three clicks, then it takes too long and your website is creating frustration and reducing sales.
Understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and spend lots of time on it
Unlike Google Adwords, SEO is freeâ€¦assuming you have the knowledge and the time to take advantage of it. The more time you spend on it, the more traffic you will get to your website and hopefully, the more prospects will buy your training. You can hire companies to optimize your website for search engines, but it’s usually over $5000 US to do so. Even at that, you won’t get as much as you can get by educating yourself and getting good at it.
The first step is to read the best book that I have found on the topic called “Search Engine Optimization, an Hour a Day”. Also, check out the author’s website, which has some tools to get you started.
Get the most out of e-mail marketing plan
This is another free one that anybody can do, but most don’t do it very well. To do it well, you need to start by planning way in advance. Put together a six month schedule of every e-mail you want to send. The more you plan the more the emails will complement each other and the less likelihood of you aggravating your customers with too many emails. Also, you’re more likely to do them if you have a long term schedule.
Secondly, you must have a plan to email your customers after they take a class. Right after the class is when they are most likely to register for a second class. The further away they get from the class date, the less likely they will be to take a class. Think this one through and setup weekly email batches that go out to your students.
Third, do a newsletter. This is a natural for a training company. Get your upcoming class schedule in the e-mail with individual hot links to each upcoming class. Remember that for your prospects, the timing of the class is almost as important as the class itself. With so much competition, make sure you show them class dates in the e-mail.
Document your success and get customer testimonials On your classroom evaluation questionnaire, do you ask your students if you can use their comments and name in your marketing materials? Like I mentioned earlier, almost no one buys training before they learn about how good the training is from a colleague. Grow your business by putting testimonials and positive quotes on your website, brochure, and catalog will increase your sales. There’s a direct correlation between the number of testimonials a prospect reads and their likelihood to buy your training.
Network with non-competitive training companies
There’s a lot of training companies who are in the same boat that you are. They have great training, but are a small company that doesn’t have the time or money for marketing. Call these people, get to know them, and share what you’ve learned. Nine times out of ten, if they’re not your competition, they’ll share what they have learned also.
One great idea that you can immediately apply to your business can be the difference between profit and loss. This is knowledge that you will rarely find in books.
What NOT to do:
Don’t even think about advertising
This will be the biggest temptation you have if you have any money sitting around that could be used for marketing. Advertising sales people will be calling you and they make it oh-so-easy for you to spend your money. Bottom line, advertising doesn’t work well enough. There’s always something better you could be doing with your money at this stage in your company.
Don’t even think about exhibiting at tradeshows
Talk about a drain on resources. What you pay for the booth space can be as little as 20% of the total direct and indirect cost of an event. In addition, tradeshows just aren’t that effective and are very hard to measure. Take my word on this one.
Don’t even think about direct mail
I think we’re both in agreement on this one. Direct mail is expensive and it requires some expertise to do well and to get a good return. Usually you do it three times before it starts to pay for itself and even then, you’ve got to know what you’re doing to really grow your business and get a real return on investment. For now, focus your efforts on making your e-mail marketing better.
Hope this wasn’t too much information, too quickly. The lesson learned here is that there really are a lot of things you can do with little or no money. And even more importantly, these things should all come before you spend a lot of money on marketing anyway. So, work your way through this checklist. After you’ve mastered them all and checked them all off, then you can start investing more on marketing.