This article was written for nursing-based consultants, but is applicable to many professions.
By Dorajane Apuna, BSN, MA, RN, CCM, CNLCP
© 2008 The Medical-Legal News
What is penny marketing? This is an inexpensive marketing plan for the individual consultant entering into the business world. In the early days of setting up a business, it is necessary for a consultant to step up the profit line and develop motivation for the product line, which in this setting is a service.
Penny marketing, what is that? How can this help me? Several of my peers have commented to me, “How do I get started? Where do I begin? I have trained for the work, have the ideas, but I am afraid that none of the training prepared me to start my business. I am a nurse, how do you market yourself? I only have a few dollars and I have to work another job until I get my business started, so I don’t have much to put into marketing.”
When you are on a limited budget, it is important to squeeze the most out of every dollar spent on marketing. I highly advise starting with the development of a written marketing plan. Spend a few afternoons thinking and writing the plan. When you are ready to start, look at the following 10 “rules for a successful marketing plan” and give it some uninterrupted thought. Inexpensive computer programs exist, and many books are available that explain how to set up the basic marketing plan. Using techniques in this article, you can do many things at low cost which have a high return.
In most businesses the basic start of a business plan is to identify your product and your customers. As a consultant, your business is focused on the clients. All your experience, planning and actions for your business will be centered toward the needs of the client. You do not need sophisticated or aggressive personal selling skills or an extensive sales team. When you meet your client it will be necessary for you to be able identify what the client needs and how you can provide the service. Never promise what you can’t give. Your main purpose is to assist your client in making his business more successful.
In the programmed marketing programs, they want you to basically define your business, why you are different, what you have to offer and how you are going to do it. They also want you to look at establishing a budget. It is important to keep the plan simple and remain in your comfort zone.
• Rule 1: Be open to ideas. Many of the marketing books on the shelves pertain to the midsize to large businesses. Very few of these books are written for the entrepreneur, especially a nurse who is trying to spread his or her wings. No matter what anyone tells you, you do not have to have a large marketing budget, and most of the small businesses survive without the “big budgets.” The most important part of the budget should be spent on improving your product line, your services and presentations. In other terms… this is marketing “you.”
Rule 2: How am I different from the rest of the group? There are many nurses, legal nurses, case managers and life care planners out there with similar training, similar products, and similar skills… how are you different? It is important to ask yourself this question: “Why would an attorney, judge or trust officer want to hire me rather than my competitor?” The more common answer of quality, expertise, better background, different skills, etc., is not the base. It has to be more personal. What do you offer that your competition doesn’t?
• Rule 3: Your target. Who are you marketing? What is your first target for success? If you have several possible contenders, then divide the groups into like groups (personal injury attorneys, medical malpractice attorneys, product liability attorneys, trust officers, judges, etc.) and target one group at a time. If you already have customers, then survey them and ask questions such as what motivates them when they are choosing a consulant. How do they decide who is right for their cases? What did they like about your product and what did they think could be improved? Have the survey developed and send it with each thank-you letter when your cases are completed. When you are marketing a law firm or company, devise company profile cards that include demographics such as name address, type of business, but also personal things that come up in conversations such as interests, birthdays, children and spare time activities. Look at their websites. What kinds of cases do they commit to when accepting a case?
• Rule 4: Know your strengths. As briefly stated before, what do you have to offer a firm that the other life care planner, nurse consultant, or case manager cannot? Are you specialized in critical care? Orthopedics? Do you do hands-on care as a home health nurse with cerebral palsy kids? Do you testify well? Do you have an experience with people where you can draw out information that others miss? Are your writing skills top quality? What do you bring to the table that others cannot demonstrate? Attorneys want to win the cases and need experts who present well and are able to convey to juries the reasons why their clients deserve to win. Remember, they are hiring you because of your nurse expertise, not because of your looks or your ability to talk. Nurses have the background to know what an injured person needs to have a reasonable life in relationship to an injury, not a play therapist, nurse’s aide, or other healthcare provider. You have taken care of these patients on a day-to-day basis. You have provided the equipment and supplies for them to live.
• Rule 5: Evaluating the ways of promoting yourself. Not each technique is right for you and your individual business, but it is important to try them all, sort out the ones that work best for you, eliminate the others (or try them again later on when the business climate changes). In the beginning it is important to present to your customers who you are, what you offer and how they can receive your services.
• Rule 6: Make your plan. Working without a plan is like standing naked on a corner. You can’t evaluate what you are doing to make people pay attention. A written one-year plan will cause you to think out what you want, research the product and organize how you will approach your business. It allows a mechanism for evaluation and identifies your goals. It is easy to buy inexpensive software that asks a lot of questions and that will formulate a plan. However, if you are doing it on your own, then be sure to include the following:
• A business description that includes the market niche, what services and products you are offering, a profile of your targeted customers, identification of your competition, your plan for “beating” the competition, the customer base (how many customers are in your area, their descriptions, population versus consultants, etc.).
• Goals and objectives for the next year. Where do you see your company next year? What is your profit goal?
• Products you offer, e.g. case management, life care planning to attorneys, to trust companies, eldercare planning, MSAs, etc.
• Promotion goals: How do you plan on marketing? (The next article will describe more techniques for marketing.)
• The budget. How much do you plan on spending on marketing, running the business on a day to day basis? What equipment do you need? What are your day-to-day expenditures? A rule of thumb on new businesses is to plan on 10% to 15% of proposed sales or profits to be put back into the business for marketing.
• Rule 7: The more you do, the more you make. In all businesses, you have to work to make them successful. I am going to suggest many low cost marketing ideas, but you have to implement the ideas and try them more than once to make them work. They won’t be successful on their own. You are your business. In this stage of your life, you are the business. If the idea is working, build on it, improve it and adapt it to your situation. Don’t be afraid to try new and different ideas. One thing to remember with penny marketing is that if it doesn’t work, you are not out much and it won’t hurt your profit line. It only stands to increase the bottom line, not eliminate your profit.
• Rule 8: Quality products sell. When you are first learning and developing a product, it is OK to have mistakes or be in transit. Now that you are in business, the better the product, the more business you will have. It is not OK to have misspelled words, typos and look messy. You must have a professional product and be the best. Have others evaluate your formatting, your presentation and your organization. Just because you were taught the basic formula, it doesn’t mean that it was written in stone. Make sure your supportive documents are footnoted, your figures are correct and the presentation is professional. Be sure that you identify your deadlines and meet them. If you produce an inferior report you may be paid, but that attorney will never hire you again. And worse, they may talk with their colleagues and you won’t be hired by them, either. Never produce something that you are not proud of. Ask for more time, if necessary. Never give a half-finished report.
• Rule 9: Reach for the stars. It is rare that you will see results of a marketing program within the first few months. Don’t give up, keep persevering. Don’t constantly change directions — give your plan a chance to work. Consistency is important for success. Remember, your competitors have the same goals as you do, so you just have to be smarter, better and more active than they are with marketing.
• Rule 10: Don’t allow yourself to stand in the way of what you are doing or reaching for. It is difficult at times to learn to be more aggressive or bold when approaching strangers and asking for business. Don’t let your shyness or pride stop you from going after business. Learn how to talk with people and evaluate their needs, and learn how you can provide the right answers for their cases. Never lie or try to pretend that you can produce something or a product if you can’t. Steer clients toward the right people to do the job and they will remember you the right way. If you give them a bad product, the memories won’t be as good. When marketing, never forget to ask for the business.
The business card
The least expensive, most effective marketing tool you will own is the business card. It represents your company and should in a few short words tell what you do. It is so easy to overlook this tool. Manufacturers of business cards abound. They offer deals, and high quantities for low prices. Some of your colleagues run them off the computer. Don’t do this. They look cheap and look like you don’t have pride in what you do. Take some time to look at the different materials. What says “this is you”? Make sure you have your correct address, phone numbers and that your name is spelled correctly. Many people put their services on the back of the card. Develop a logo that represents your company. Use good quality paper and ink. Long after you are out of sight, your card remains in your future customer’s hand as a representation of you and your company. I have had several clients call me years later saying they found my card and wanted to talk to me more about how I can help them. Use them to market. Always include your card when you write marketing letters. Leave a handful on a table when you are speaking or attending conferences and always give future customers your cards so that they can share with others. Cards are inexpensive, but have a large return in business. I always send a “thank you for your business” letter to my customers and leave a few cards so that they can refer me to others. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can print a business card as the signature line in your emails.
Develop a 30-second synopsis of what you do and what your business consists of to share with others. If you are shy, you will have difficulty with marketing. Learning to talk to people and sharing your information in a good, interesting way will go a long way in marketing. Learn to talk openly at gatherings, church meetings and social groups. The person who you are sharing with may have a brother, sister or friend who will need your services. Practice in front of a mirror so you can see your expressions. Develop motivation and learn to be enthusiastic about what you do. Talk about your job to anyone who will listen — it will be rewarding.
A well written newsletter sent to customers on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, semi-annually) is a great way to keep your name in front of the customer. Things to include in a newsletter:
• Information current to both the legal and medical fields.
• Information concerning websites, publications or other resources.
• Regular columns on things such as new medications or new equipment.
• A calendar of events.
• Interviews with other clients or the competition.
• Cartoons or captions.
• Synopses of new bills or legislation.
• Industry changes, new trends or financial information.
The two, four, or six page newsletters are the most popular. One of the nicest ones I have seen lately was a legal sheet folded in half, making a four page newsletter. It takes approximately 8-10 total hours to develop and print the newsletter. After printing the dummy copy off your computer, you can easily have them printed at a copy shop. Staple them at the edge and mail them directly to your customers,
It is important to join local or civic groups in your targeted area for the exposure. The members may not always be the potential customers, but they are able to share your information with their friends or customers, thus giving you a wider base of influence. I would suggest groups such as the local claims adjusters, Lion’s Club or Toastmasters.
Volunteer to speak at local attorney associate meetings concerning what you do, on medical trends or on how to find things in the medical records. One of the best responses I have had from attorney groups was when I spoke on “Aromatherapy in the Workplace” to a Women’s Attorney Association. One attorney frequently uses peppermint candles when she knows an agitated client is coming for an appointment. She really noticed a difference.
Power of food
Never underestimate the power of cookies. Fresh, good-smelling cookies will often open a door. I bring them for the first appointment, holidays and to say “Thank you for your business” calls.
When bringing gifts, make sure that they are for the office, not just one individual. One of our consultants makes jam every year and gives it to her attorney customers to help them “get out of jams.” Nothing helps a tough day better than a slice of toast with homemade jam. As long as the jar lasts, they will be reminded of you.
One nurse made labels with her information and stuck them on the small bottles of TUMS® to hand out to her customers “for the really tough cases.” I would not suggest medications other than simple over-the-counter kinds. Another nurse bagged jelly beans for the paralegals.
The calendars that have magnetic backing, the computer strip calendars or the little stick-up calendars have your name in front of the customer for 12 months. Divide the cost of the calendars into twelve months and you will see that they are a worthwhile expenditure.
There are many websites that list potential experts who are free or others who charge a minimal fee. Organizations such as the State Brain Injury Associations, state expert associations, law.com, RNManager, etc., list different specialist areas on their lists as a service to their organizations. Search for expert sites. Having your own website is very important. If you list with service providers (ISPs), they not only help you set up your domain, but have simple software that allows you to design and set up your website for a minimal monthly fee.
When going to your association meetings, look at what your competitors are doing. Collect business cards, brochures or newsletters. Study the way the medical groups present their company brochures or give presentations. Really learn your computer programs so that you can develop your own slides, PowerPoint® presentations or lectures. Many low cost and free ways to advertise are out there, so just be open and look around.
In each of my newsletters I offer a drawing for a medical publication. It can be a collection of puzzles, a pocket medical dictionary, etc. Recipients have a coupon in the publication that they fax back to me for the drawing. The winning name is placed (with their permission) in the next newsletter.