Making Your Small Business Look Bigger
12 ways you can level the marketing playing field.
Bill Neal, CDT
Our hyper-competitive industry and the current state of the economy continue to force many laboratories, large and small, to explore more aggressive marketing strategies to offset the business slowdown. Larger laboratories have the advantage just through their sheer volume of business, available cash, and more name recognition in the marketplace.
However, smaller operations that provide the same or superior services as a larger business can also stand out in a crowd and compete. All it takes is the right image, access to the right technologies, and the right attitude to make a smaller operation appear bigger and more professional in the marketplace. So what can a small business do to achieve the look and feel of a bigger operation?
Assuming that both the larger and smaller laboratories produce acceptable levels of consistent quality work, we can explore methods that smaller laboratories can use to look a little bigger and more professional. The process is called “branding.” A solid branding strategy improves how prospective dentists perceive your business. This is a process that small business owners can use to “upgrade” their business image and services to level the playing field.
Have your business letterhead, envelopes, and business cards professionally designed and printed. Do not use your color ink jet printer to produce them. They are usually the first point of contact with your customers and leave a lasting impression.
A well-thought-out website gives your company and the services you provide a professional look and feel. Websites can also be used to support e-marketing initiatives such as landing pages for direct mail promotions, discount coupon offers, and new product offerings.
Many small businesses use manufacturers’ printed literature in their sales efforts. While these do a great job of promoting the products of the manufacturers, they do nothing to promote your business. In the past, branded product literature was expensive to produce, but on-demand print technology has made designing and printing small quantities of these materials affordable. Executed correctly, they can elevate the perception of the laboratory and its products and services to match those of larger operations.
Inexpensive to produce, branded statements and case stuffers are much more effective than simple printed messages on invoices. Use them to promote new products and services to existing customers.
Central Phone System
Do not answer the phone yourself. Obtain an 800 number or vanity 800 number, such as 800-GET-XXXX, and opt for a system that can handle automated on-hold messaging, promoting various products and services, or provide some vital technical messaging. Another option is to subscribe to a call service where a remote receptionist answers the phone with your business messaging.
Purchase and apply your business logo to polo-type T-shirts for your delivery personnel. These staff members often are the only personal contact many dental offices have with your laboratory on a regular basis. Let them become visual promoters for your business.
Many laboratory owners and their staff attend dental trade shows or educational seminars. Make sure all your employees wear a business suit or, if the meeting is business casual, wear the same color shirt imprinted with your business name.
Consider purchasing a good customer relationship management software program and integrate it with your phone system to upgrade your customer service capabilities. If this is too costly, locate a computer near the phone so access to customer information is rapid and accurate.
Everything customers see, hear, or touch coming from your company should be consistent with the company image you want them to perceive. All printed materials, boxes, fee schedules, memos—everything—should be an accurate reflection of the image you have developed. This is your brand so do not short-change it or yourself.
Free web-based e-mails, such as from Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo, can give customers the perception that your business is small. Obtain an e-mail address using the name of your business.
Testimonials from well-respected customers help a laboratory to establish credibility and give the impression that these customers are a small sampling of your client base. They also convey a sense of trust that others have put in your laboratory and will help you to promote your products and services via the web or direct mail.
Many services available for little or no cost on the Internet, such as podcasts, GoToMeeting, or social media, give your business the appearance of being a larger operation. They provide high-tech tools you can use to communicate with customers and a forum to help you position your business.
You do not have to spend enormous amounts of money to give your business the image of a company large enough to handle customers’ needs. Just make sure that what you do is professional, ethical, and that you deliver what you promise.
About the Author
Bill Neal, CDT
AMG Creative Inc
Fort Collins, Colorado