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How do I market my business cheaply?

I have a “full service” (no additional costs on quoted rates) refrigerated truck rental business based in Cape Town. At present I have a sub-contract with a national transport company that rents the two vehicles for 3 days per week, there is no room for expansion with this customer. My first objective is to have the current two vehicles rented 6 days per week. Second objective is to build up to a fleet of six vehicles within 1 year. How would you approach the marketing of this business in the most cost effective way?

This requires business-to-business (often abbreviated as ‘B2B’) marketing. So we aren’t talking about television or newspaper adverts here, which target large numbers of consumers. Rather we want to communicate to the (select) few people who are interested in the refrigerated trucking business.

Identify your market
Firstly you need to identify prospective markets for your current and future vehicles. I’m not an expert on trucking and logistics but it strikes me that there are a few obvious markets:

Trucking companies that already have refrigerated vehicles who may wish to augment their current fleet
Trucking companies who don’t have refrigerated vehicles who have possible business for refrigerated loads but don’t have their own vehicles or who don’t have sufficient business to justify owning a vehicle outright
Trucking companies outside of Cape Town (i.e. geographic expansion)
Short duration / last minute “stand-in” business

Determine exactly what you are offering customers
Next you need to determine why your prospective customers should do business with you rather than competitors, or acquire their own trucks. This is the most critical part of marketing and the most overlooked.

If you define a truly unique value proposition (USP) it’s much easier to interest the market.

Do you intend competing on:

Lowest price (perhaps for long contract periods)?
Best service?
Short rental periods (i.e. augmenting customers’ current fleet for capacity overflow)?
Unique size or other attribute of your vehicles?
Don’t underestimate the importance of having a clear USP. Without it, no matter how much marketing communication you do, you are unlikely to create market interest and build the business.

Identify prospective customers
Given that your (prospective) customers are also looking for their own customers, they shouldn’t be too difficult to find. The Internet is a wonderful marketing tool. Trade associations and associated suppliers such as clearing agents might also help identify prospects.

Even a prospect that turns you down can offer important information about other players in the market. The aim is to really understand who’s who, what type of business they concentrate on and how they compete. Without this information you are blundering around in the dark.

Selling is marketing too
Get out and sell. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting (if possible) or as second best a telephone call. But be prepared; know exactly to whom you need to speak, what their title and responsibilities are and what business problem you are in a position to offer solutions to.

Selling is so effective that unfortunately everyone is doing it. You need to be able to offer possible business solutions early in the conversation to retain interest and build rapport.

There is in my view, little value in conventional advertising under these circumstances. You should however, spend significant effort creating a well thought-through web site (which these days effectively replaces the “sales brochure” of old).

You can create a remarkably professional website yourself for very little cost at WordPress . If budgets allow you could also consider a limited amount of Google search pay-per-click advertising to attract prospects to your site. As you only pay for those who click through to your site, this can be very cost effective.

Until you get paid, it’s not a sale
The most important business lesson in my career has been the importance of deciding with whom you are not going to do business. This is particularly pertinent in a business’ growth phase. Easily available business might be indicative of unattractive business.

Beware of unscrupulous (prospective) clients who change suppliers when unpaid suppliers finally refuse to continue the relationship. Remember that a ‘sale’ until paid for is better described as a ‘donation’.

Source: Howard Fox for Entrepreneur Magazine

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