You know what you’re doing when it’s you and the hardware. Or even the software (why doesn’t everyone just use Linux, you ask yourself constantly, but if they did you’d be starving for jobs). But when it comes to telling the world what you do and how good you are at it, you aren’t so confident.
Networking? Bleh. Cold calling? If you wanted to do that for a living you’d be a telemarketer or that guy from Wolf of Wall Street. All you really want to do is your job, and you know the work is there. The question is, how do you get that work without descending to fakey tactics on the schmooze circuit, a prospect which causes your toes to curl in anticipatory horror?
We have good news: it’s not only possible, it’s not even hard. With a little preparation and some self-analysis you’ll be able to present yourself authentically as a professional, competent, and experienced computer repair tech who is open for business. Here are some of the best tips we have to help you build and execute an effective marketing strategy.
Know your ideal customer
You can’t start the journey without knowing the destination. If the answer to “who is your ideal customer?” either “I don’t know” or “anyone, absolutely anyone” you’re already behind the 8 ball. Get out in front of it by taking the time to look at what kinds of jobs are your favorites, and who needs them done. Then you can spend most of your marketing efforts targeting them directly. Perhaps what you love best is configuring and upgrading elaborate gaming systems; then you go where the gamers are, both online and IRL, and you talk to them. If you’re in gaming forums, put in a graphic signature with a link to your website and identify yourself as a pro at repairs and system building. Spend your ad budget in gaming magazines instead of the Yellow Pages (which are a great choice for people who like to work with the elderly and get them online).
Closely linked to the above, you should do some self-analysis. Put a list of the jobs you love best, the ones you want to seek out, somewhere you can see it and add to it as ideas occur to you. Post it on the wall above your desk if you can. It’ll help you stay focused so when that okay-paying but completely unenjoyable gig which will interfere with your existing work comes in, you’ll find the strength to say no.
Price fairly and creatively
Some customers, particularly businesses, prefer prepaid plans and will put you on retainer or buy a certain number of hours each month. One internet marketing consultant in Victoria, BC, offers 10 hour packages and then gives 2 “rebate hours” to purchasers, which most never use. The customer perceives this as a great value and it costs the consultant nothing but those two hours which have only been redeemed by a couple of customers over the past five years. To get customers interested in prepaid plans, you need a sterling reputation and good references; people want to know you’re going to be around for awhile.
Others, particularly walk-ins, will only do pay-as-you-go. Set the price for this higher than the prepaid plans, as the risk factor is very real. Even if you’ve got a great location, you never know when a water main break is going to shut down the street, block sidewalks, and flood your parking lot, and there goes your traffic. If your price is seriously different from that of your competition, customers will want to know why. If Bill Gates calls you for advice, that’s something you need to explain; if the reason is “my rent is really expensive” that’s not a compelling reason for a client to pay more.
Set aside time specifically for marketing
Whether you spend this time working on a plan or directly working on marketing efforts, make sure to mark out 25% of your time for marketing. It’s key, particularly, in the early days. Without the time spent to make people aware of your services, your business will starve. It may starve slowly, or it may starve over a period of agonizing years, but it will starve without marketing. Read marketing books with how-to’s in them; avoid airy, pontificating books from prominent marketers that don’t give you real world advice you can apply immediately. The Guerrilla Marketing books are great, for example.
Network as appropriate
You can get an amazing amount of business simply by getting out with a pocket full of business cards and introducing yourself at networking events. Everyone has computers, and at one time or another everyone will need help with them. Some groups, like BNI, will guarantee that you are the only person in the group with your speciality and that others in the group will actively try to get you referrals. Look at the statistics for your group and at the cost to join, and see if this choice makes sense to you. If you’re acutely uncomfortable in groups, or talking about yourself, this is probably a step you can skip.
Marketing materials, logos, and signage
Please tell me you’re not going to have a wizard or dragon on your business cards. Because everyone else does, and it’s not considered professional. It’s very “living in my parents’ basement.” Save up a few hundred dollars and go to a competent graphic designer who specializes in small business logos. You’ll get something absolutely unique which will look good on a street sign, a business card, a website, and so on. Once you have the logo, everything else is easier to design, because it works around a strong foundation. You’ll need business cards and a website at the very least; if you work out of your home and your town allows it, a sign out front declaring your business can bring in a steady stream of neighbors as clients. And always include your card when you give people receipts; they’ll often toss the receipt and keep the card.
Generating word of mouth
The best word of mouth comes from happy customers, so when you give your customers their machines back, take a second to give them a business card and write “good for 10% off the next repair, service or part” and ask them to give it to someone they know who needs computer repair work. It makes them look connected and you look generous. And generally when passing it on the customer will tell her friend that she was very happy with your work and can recommend you.
If you fix it, they will come.