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Starting up a Computer Repair Business

Expert: Julie King

Brent asked:

My question is, I wish to start up a mobile computer repair business. I need advertising/marketing help to get this off the ground. Any and all HELP will be greatly appreciated.

Julie King answered:

"Because every company has unique marketing/advertising requirements that depend on your location, marketing, unique benefits, and budget, it is difficult to make specific recommendations. That said, there is an approach that you can use that will help you develop and implement an effective marketing/advertising plan for your business. Here is a brief overview of the steps in that process:

  1. Needs analysis. Before you can develop an effective plan, you need to have identified your needs, goals, market, and uniqueness. Here are some questions you will want to answer, and some things to identify.

    a) Establish your goals. How much business do you need to stay in business? How much time do you have to get your business up and running? How much cash do you have for an initial marketing/advertising launch, and how much will your budget be for ongoing marketing? How are you going to be sure that you get your message in front of potential customers on a repeat basis?

    b) Define your target market. Who will buy your services? What will motivate them to buy?

    c) Understand what will set your business apart from the competition. What is the 1 key thing about your business that will make people want to do business with you? This is your "unique selling proposition" (USP), and will tell customers what the benefits – not the features – are to doing business with you. For example, given that you are a mobile computer technician, a key benefit could be "direct to your doorstep"…and you could promote something like: "fast and friendly service delivered direct to your door". This may not be enough to grab interest from your audience, and you will want to do some research and test marketing to refine your USP.

    d) Define your budget. How much money do you have to spend? How much time do you have to spend marketing your business?

    e) Summarize your needs. Once you have answered the questions outlined above, create a 1 page document that defines:

    i) The goals of your company;
    ii) Your target market;
    iii) Your USP; and
    iv) Your budget.

  2. Develop your plan. Once you finished Step 1, it is time to develop a plan that will enable you to achieve your goals. This is a vital step where you will define the tools that you will use to market your business, and develop a plan of action where each marketing tool you use will emphasize the other strategies.

    a) Start by brainstorming. Initially, list all the different ways you could market your business. For example, the list may include:

    i) Flyers, postcards, & direct mail;
    ii) Advertising: local papers, regional papers, national papers, business and trade magazine, radio, and television (etc);
    iii) Networking: local chamber of commerce, board of trade, associations, community groups, etc.;
    iv) Online: create a website, join email discussion lists, participate in online forums;
    v) PR: send a press release announcing your new business, write an article for a newspaper/magazine, position yourself as an expert;
    vi) Special events/strategies: participate in/sponsor special events; and
    vii) Trade shows, association events, meetings, and free seminars.

    b) Categorize your list. Look for targeting opportunities. After identifying your target market, and conducting some market research to gain an understanding of this market, your next step is to select the strategies and tools that will be more effective in reaching this market – while minimizing your advertising costs. Focusing in on a specific market – such as accountants – can help if you will be promoting a specialized skillset to a captive audience. For example, many people expect a computer service company to be at a computer show, but you might get better results by attending a conference for accountants where you showcase your ability to maintain systems that are optimally configured for this market. The better that you understand your target customer, the better equipped you will be to meet their needs and effectively promote your products and services to potential customers. Your list should be quite long by the time you are finished, and will include free promotional techniques (only requiring a time investment), relatively inexpensive, and expensive. Create several categories divided by cost, and sort items from your list into the categories. There are other ways that you can sort the items, but for most small businesses to whom "cash is king", sorting by cost is an effective approach.

    c) Identify your best options. Once you have sorted your list, highlight the things that will be easy for you to do/afford as you're getting started. Identify the marketing techniques that you think are absolutely necessary. Look for trends, priorities, and an overall marketing strategy in the things that you identify. As you do this, try to create a comprehensive plan that will maximize the value of your marketing efforts.

    d) Build a marketing plan/calendar. Once you have identified your best options, it is helpful to create a prioritized timeline/marketing calendar. On your timeline, mark out what your business will do, when you do specific things (e.g. Sept. 15th: distribute flyers), and how much each element will cost. This is a dynamic process, where you will go back and forth several times, checking your timeline and plan against your budget. Don't just focus on the first couple of weeks or months, but look forward for the next 6-12 months. By the time you are done you will have created a marketing calendar, which will be your guide as your business gets started. (Tip: the best businesses dynamically evolve to meet the needs of your customer. Use your marketing calendar, but don't feel that you are locked into it. Instead, consider it a good blueprint that will evolve as you get your business up and running.)

  3. Finding the experts/sources to help you implement your plan. Once you have developed your marketing plan, there will be several areas where you will need help. Business image is very important, and before you consider doing something yourself, honestly ask yourself whether you will be able to craft the image that you plan to have for your company. Typical areas where you may need help include:

    a) Initial Planning: If you feel that you need help in the initial planning stages, you can hire a marketing consultant to help you. Many communities have local business support centres that can provide consulting for a reduced cost or even for free.

    b) Corporate Identity: Unless you have strong design skills, developing a logo, business card, and corporate identity is best left to an expert. Local networking is a great way to find a designer in your area. Be sure to see samples of work, and look for a designer who has a good grasp of marketing strategy. Costs for this work can range from $150 at the low end to $5,000 at the high end.

    c) Advertising: Since you have identified your target audience, you will want to advertise in channels that will reach this audience. Look for publications/stations that meet your criteria, and get in touch with the advertising department for rate card. Advertising is expensive, and may not generate immediate returns. Investigate all your options, and consider including a listing in a professional directory rather than taking out a separate ad. The publication should be able to help you put an ad together, but it's always a good idea to have a clearly defined USP so that this can be effectively communicated in your ad.

  4. Web Resources. In addition to CanadaOne, there are many websites that offer useful marketing and advertising information. Here are some additional resources that may help you as you get ready to launch your new business:

    a) : online magazine with information on publicity

    b) : website for the popular marketing book

    c) : website that can help you locate trade shows

  5. Book Resources. Here are two books recently published on the topic of marketing:

    a) Secrets of Power Marketing, Peter Urs Bender & George Torok – 1999. ISBN: 0-7737-6045-8

    b) Smart Marketing on a Small Budget, S.J. Ross – 1999. ISBN: 0-07-560469-8

Marketing and advertising is a very important, extensive subject. I hope that this gives you a good idea of how to get started, and wish you great success in your new venture.

Julie King"

About the author

Julie King is the co-founder and managing editor of CanadaOne, Canada's first small business portal.

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