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If you are reading this article, chances are you could use a little extra money. With the advent of the internet and the migration of advertising dollars from print to electronic (and this time, it's the real thing, I swear! Not one of those 1999 tech busts!...Seriously!) If you own a small business today, you look at many advertising mediums. The majority of these mediums lump themselves into 2 categories, creative or direct.
Creative has always been the crapshoot for the small business owner. A sales rep walks into your business, espousing the greater good of television or radio advertising, quickly moves past the ratings, viewers etc and into the sexiness of hearing your name at 6:57am Monday, Thursday and Saturday if you are watching station X or listening to station Y. If this product didn't work, a Super Bowl commercial price tag wouldn't make headlines every December (for how much Geico paid) or late February (to hear which is most memorable). The key with creative is frequency. If you have realistic budget for frequency, you can make the phone ring with a creative campaign. If you have that budget you probably aren't reading this article. Realistically speaking, you don't have a ton of money to risk on creative advertising effectiveness, haven't backed it up with a call to action, and you need, pound for pound, the least amount of advertising money possible, with the most phone calls?
Enter direct advertising. Classified sections in newspapers, they make your phone ring, if you're selling something people want. (For the record, advertising in the sports section of your local paper is creative advertising (people don't go to page 5 of the sports to regularly check out the latest prices on used cars.) Classified advertising is in the process of going from the newspaper industry's cash cow to taking it on the chin from eBay (ever heard of it?) and even more attractive small town slugger, Craigslist (you go Craig!). If you're business pumps out used cars by the pound, chances are you, or your salesmen are using these two websites to start realizing savings from Rupert Murdoch and his yacht-owning cronies. Even the best of eBay or Craigslist, however, doesn't put much of a dent in your P&L statement if you are service based like a contractor, or general retail, like a bookstore.
Enter the yellow pages?Pound for pound, no other medium makes the phone ring at your business like the good old fashioned yellow pages. Throw down your money, and answer the phone. You already know that. So do all the TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers in the country. The best protected advertising budget in any small business is the yellow page budget. Yellow pages are the scourge of the other guys. How many radio sales reps will walk into your store after you started your advertising campaign and say, "Tom, your $1,000 invested with my station this week got you 48 phone calls?" (If you find a station like that please send me the phone number, and I retract everything I said earlier) When someone wants a plumber, a pool boy, a new pool, or a divorce attorney for getting the new pool without his wife's approval, they pick up the weathered old yellow pages, leaf through a few adverts, and call someone that sells what they need.
So, am I telling you to advertise in the yellow pages?,,, Not so fast Skippy?First, let's look at the cost of the yellow pages,?You want the phone to ring in Miami, and you're a plumber? Better be ready to pony up some serious cash?say $3-4k per month. In Miami, the average cost of a service call could be around $65. If you don't have a crew, that ad needs to generate 61 calls to break even, not including the employee cost, travel costs etc. Not so bad? How many calls did you need to generate those 61 service calls? Did you go see everyone that called you? I would guess, for a contractor, you might get lucky and have a 50% close rate?122 calls?to break even. Don't forget to pay yourself?200 calls. Depressed? Better be glad you don't sell shoes. The same ad would generate a much lower close rate, and you need to sell an dump truck of shoes every month!
What's my point? Enter the ELECTRONIC yellow pages?No print bill, real time changes, and guess where all those print yellow pages are putting their money these days? BellSouth and SBC just paid $100M (you know, $100,000,000) for a new domain name, and combined their "competing" forces to make a better entry in the fray, thinking that you might remember yellowpages.com better than smartpages.com or realpages.com. (Makes you wonder where Google fits into the old branding and name recognition game.) Verizon seemed to get the concept a little better with superpages.com by aligning with Mr. Gates over at MSN right around the time Al Gore was inventing the internet. Getting back to the point, the internet yellow pages are going to do to print yellow pages what eBay and Craigslist have done to the newspaper companies. No paper, no ink, usage climbing (for electronic yellow pages, usage is climbing to as high as 70% of online searching, and buying) and real-time, do-it-yourself advertising. Advents such as community ranking, mini-sites, toolbars, pay per click, pay per call, and just about every way possible to pay for performance, track performance, and see what other buyers of your goods or services thought of your business. Due to the ever changing, "who's in first place" of the internet, there has yet to be determined if there is a Lance Armstrong in this race. Our own company USdirectory.com, via its partnerships, and investment into technology, is looking to become a late entry, blue-ribbon bearer. At this point, it's too early to clearly point out which one, or all, or none, of these companies will do to yellow pages what Google did to global search. That being said, even Google doesn't reflect enough tenure to ensure its own top position.
Who wins?? You do, the business owner. Technology is about to reduce your advertising budget the way Southwest and JetBlue changed the airline industry. Your customer base, as they migrate to the internet as vehicle of choice, will reach you at lower price points, and in greater volume, then ever before. Your mission, should you choose to accept, in investing in the right mix, at the right point, and try to cater not only to your existing radius of business, but around the planet with new and specialized niches?but that's another story.
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