Far too many computer business owners get caught up in trying to behave like they are far larger and better funded competition. I won’t name names, but if “black and orange” gives anything away, you catch my drift. They will always outspend you in advertising, outreach you in service area, and be able to pull profits much higher than your own. But so what? If there’s one thing we can learn from the mistakes of the big box stores, it’s that they just can’t cater to specialized needs like us. That’s why even in the face of their presence, computer businesses like your’s and mine still thrive.
Along these same lines, a lot of computer businesses get stuck in the rut of trying to advertise like the aforementioned competition. Large Yellow Pages ads, a vast presence on Google Adwords for every search term imaginable, and the rest of the corporate advertising gamut. An advertising mantra that I’ve followed since my company FireLogic‘s inception is: innovate, don’t just imitate.
I’ve found that hunting for customers through “traditional” means isn’t always the most fruitful way to spend time and money. Google Adwords is great, but results can still be spotty and hit or miss. Local, smaller advertising opportunities tend to be fairly decent but they too have their downsides like uncertain target markets. Relying on one outlet as a means for all of your new work is prime recipe for disaster.
Turning that notion on its head, I thought about bringing my services to my customers instead of having them find me. You may not initially think of it as a gateway to new clients, but volunteer work has become a solid source of new customers for our small business. I’ve not only been able to snag excellent customers through the gift of giving away my expertise, but the relationships and partnerships I’ve built along the way have been steady referral streams as well.
How could something that is innately free and complimentary lead to such a great recurring referral network? It’s simple, actually. Think about why corporations dump thousands, if not millions, into goodwill efforts, volunteer work, and similar endeavors globally year after year. It not only provides channels of positive word of mouth to an otherwise potentially untapped market, but also raises company profile – especially when competition is fierce. Employ this same mentality for your company and you can reap the same benefits I’ve been seeing for the better part of the last year.
Here are some things to consider when deciding on what kind of volunteer work, and how much, to get involved in:
Partner with other local established outlets to give you a platform in your efforts.
People naturally place a high mental stake in businesses who are tied to trusted organizations. It’s the basis for why endorsements in the political realm are so powerful. I’ve built strong relationships with a few local libraries in my area due to the volunteer work that my company has provided for them. We started off with providing a scattering of volunteer computer classes for one library which led to us eventually providing a steady schedule of classes across multiple libraries.
Today my company is a regular staple in providing free Google Apps training and complimentary open-session tech support at these libraries. People have come to trust us not only from the content we deliver but our standing with the libraries themselves.
Fill voids or needs that your community seems to be lacking.
Doing something just for the sake of doing it will soon grow tiring, and people will see past it after a while. Keep your volunteer work fresh and look to meet the needs of your community. While we have been providing Park Ridge residents with Google Apps training for nearly a year now, we decided to branch out and offer a class based around computer and internet security.
Judging from how many malware removals we handle on a monthly basis, this was a no-brainer. The content is fresh, timely, and spot on with what we feel is a knowledge gap for the average computer user today. If you address the needs of your market through volunteer work, they are more apt to reach out to you for computer service.
Boost your company’s and your reputation by “becoming an expert”.
Fellow computer repair industry genius Brad Kendall poses the following quote on the importance of becoming an expert in your field which couldn’t be more correct:
“When you become an expert with a niche business, you can target your marketing and get more clients by focusing on the right prospects. When you are an expert, you have clients, not customers.”
Volunteer work is just the kind of outlet that you can use to not only hone your message but also to gain the trust from the audience you care about most: potential clients. Going off of my first point above, when trusted local organizations place their name behind you, they in turn reciprocate a level of notoriety for your company which would otherwise take a longer time and more varied means to establish. You don’t need to become the Kleenex of computer service to gain a strong local foothold in your area.
Don’t be afraid to advertise your core services while volunteering.
There’s a right and wrong way to subtly advertise yourself when doing volunteer work. Wearing a placard with pricing of your services while offering local computer classes is not the way to gain customers. Don’t turn your volunteer work into a bonafide infomercial. When we host Google Apps classes, we always allude to the fact that we provide training and consulting services for homes and businesses on the product. Similarly, when we help man the monthly Open Help Desk events at one local library, we appropriately offer outside services if the need arises. Don’t be overly blatant, or else people pick up on it. People are more likely to trust and use your services for paid labor if they don’t feel pressured or over-advertised to.
Consider volunteer work a lead-in for offering full featured services.
I mentioned earlier how my company offers steady Google Apps training classes on a volunteer basis at local libraries. It just so happens that our company is hosting a paid Google Apps Boot Camp series this upcoming summer which is right in line with the same content that we show off in our classes, just taken to the next level.
By providing the free training for Park Ridge residents, it gives us an outlet to offer everyone a taste of our expertise, and if they wish to utilize us more fully, they can sign up for our complete class. It works very well actually. Remember that so called “reputation chain” that I touched on earlier. That concept is fully intact with anything you happen to advertise and offer while doing your volunteer work.
Volunteer work & the positive word of mouth about it leads to excellent SEO.
My company website isn’t anything special, but its organic Google ranking in just over two years of being active is despised by other local competition. A prime example of this free word of mouth is the excellent blurb we got in a local news story about our company’s support of the yearly “Taste of Park Ridge” festival our small town hosts. Not only did that story generate more traffic for our booth at the event, but it built some nice online SEO that otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to so freely achieve.
The best part about the whole thing is how we landed the sponsorship deal. We merely exchanged computer service for a booth at the event and both parties ended up with what they wished for. We got the exposure from the event, and the Taste received excellent complimentary computer work. We have been receiving similar fanfare about our volunteer classes through newspaper articles, and the response has been phenomenal. Do good, and the positive rewards will come back to you in the end. You can read up further about my tips for improving your company website’s SEO from my previous post on Technibble.
No matter what anyone may tell you, there are no shortcuts to a rock-solid company and personal reputation for computer repair. Good hard work, an honest ethic with your customer base, and a willing extended hand of giving to your local community will ultimately lead to better word of mouth than any traditional advertising campaign. I took an entire article to dedicate to this topic because I truly believe this is an often overlooked avenue for new work, and to be completely honest: it has been working excellent for me.
Take note on my pointers above and dip your toes into volunteering your expertise. Who knows, you may actually even enjoy it (as I do).