Marketing a Computer Business In A Small Town

small-town

Guest Post by Adam Sewell:
Let me introduce myself. My name is Adam Sewell, and I run a technology services business in a small town of 20,000. MyGeek Computer Services has been around for a little over two years now, and I’ve had a hard time making my business known in the community, even though I grew up here. I found that marketing my business using conventional advertising methods was ineffective. Yellow Pages, Google Ads, Facebook ads, and other advertisements just didn’t produce the results that I expected. After about a year of failed marketing attempts, I realized something important. My small town reacts differently to marketing compared to a large city. In this article, I will detail what I did, how I did it, and what proved successful.

As I mentioned, my small town has about 20,000 residents. The population is composed of ex-textile workers, small business owners, and a good selection of affluent individuals. Our town is best known for its pork barbeque, and a nearby lake is popular for recreational activities. We are nestled in the middle of a triangle of three of the largest cities in the state, all within an hours drive. Like many other small southern cities, there is a very strong network of ‘good ol’ boys’. There are several other computer repair shops in the area – some mobile, some with physical shops, and some working out of their homes. Most of these do no advertising at all.

In today’s digital world, you might expect most people to search the internet for new businesses, or to read reviews of existing businesses, especially when it comes to computer services. That may be true in your city, but in mine, it’s a different matter. I will concede that those in the 18-30 age bracket utilise the Internet to locate possible service providers more than the previous generation, but still not as much as you might expect.

A few times over the past two years I’ve run Internet marketing campaigns, including Google Ads and Facebook Ads. With Google I averaged about 1 or 2 clicks per week – yes, per week. I’m not claiming to be an expert with Google Ads, but I did spend a considerable amount of time reading up on the subject.

With Facebook Ads I had more success. I averaged about 1 or 2 ‘likes’ per day. But the interesting thing was that they were all from out of town! I set the radius to target my county, which bled over into a larger city to the north. Nearly all my new ‘likes’ were from this larger city. But even with that limited activity, I received no phone calls from the Facebook traffic. So I’ve eliminated those methods from my marketing plan for now.

I next looked into Yellow Book. Yellow Book has a reputation for being on the expensive side, but it’s almost a necessity, especially if you are targeting residential clients. I sat down with the representative from the company, and he proceeded to give me a demographic summary. Most of what he said wasn’t new to me, as I had done my own research. However, he confirmed my suspicion that the residents of my county respond poorly to internet marketing compared to residents of other counties.

Newspaper advertising is another traditional way to get your business name out in a small town, but from my experience, it was expensive and seemed ineffective as well. I ran several ads in the local newspaper and received no calls from them. However, I was able to get a decent response from a couple of articles they ran about my business. One of the articles was a grand opening article that I personally wrote, which they edited before publishing. I also wrote a few articles for the newspaper detailing some tech help items. While the expensive advertising yielded nothing, the articles were actually worthwhile.

Internet marketing was ineffective, Yellow Book was expensive and didn’t have the focus towards business that I needed, and newspaper ads were expensive and produced very little response. What’s next? What about ‘word of mouth’?

I have actually received most of my business from referrals and hitting the pavement. It all started with my CPA. I worked out a deal with the CPA to maintain their network. He felt I did such a good job that he referred me to some of his clients, who then referred me to other businesses they had relationships with. I also joined a networking group that meets weekly, Business Networking International, which has been great for my business.

By getting into this closed network of ‘good ol’ boys’, striking deals, and getting referrals, I was able to kickstart my business. Word of mouth is the most important form of advertising, and by using a network like BNI you are able to extend your salesforce out into the community through people the community already trusts. People trust their friends and family before they would trust an advertisement in the newspaper or on the radio.

In the end, you just need to get your business in the public eye, whether that means going door to door introducing yourself or joining a networking group. Regardless, it may take some trial and error to find out what works for your business in your community. Most importantly, ask your friends or family members where they go to find services they need, such as a plumber or electrician. Wherever they are looking, that’s where you need to be seen.

Guest Post by Adam Sewell: Adam is a technology professional with over 10 years of experience. Classically trained in Information Technology but passionate about open source software such as WordPress and Linux. Other interest include politics, religion, and anything else you’re not suppose to talk about in polite company.



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Comments (20)

  • Eike Heinze says:

    I totally agree. I have absolutely similar experiences with one difference:

    Through a bunch of lucky circumstances I got on a local radio station. They have every weekday morning a call-in talk show called “The Open Line”. During the first hour of this show (10-11AM) the often have “expert guests” like CPAs, horticulturists, gardeners, cooks, local business people and so on.

    On the first Monday of every month I am their “computer guru” on air, answering all sorts of questions about computers with Windows systems.

    I am candid and very direct with my opinion and advice, never sugar coating unpleasant truths and always speak my mind. I name names, for example if somebody has a bad experience at Best Buy or a similar location I add some salacious BB detail and directly tell them to go there only when they have money to burn.

    The audience loves it, respects me and many have that hour marked in their calendars!

    “My” radio show is the best thing that ever happened to me.

    (Sorry, since a recent change in ownership the station does not stream their program anymore.)

  • Rutger van der Heijden says:

    I started out this year and my experience was the same. Folders and flyers, social media, AdWord campaignes and sponsered events turned out to be just a waist of money.

    My town has between 15.000 and 20.000 people, has no noteworthy local radiostation but does have two local newspapers. I contacted the newspaper that has the highest regards in the public eye and had them write up an article about me and my business. After it was published, the phone kept ringing and ringing with paying customers. Needless to say the investment cost for the article was earned back fast.

    But what really helped was word-of-mouth. The people I helped that found me through the article referred me to other people, who referred me to other people and so on. If one person tells one other person, or two, your customer base will grow.

    Also, in my case, I gave back to the community by volentering at the towns fire department. All firemen in our town are volenteers, consisting almost exclusively of local businessmen. As soon as they saw me as an honest and hard working guy, they start taking me and my business seriously. Not to say that I did this for the purpose of getting business, but it sure helped a lot.

  • heath says:

    I would agree as well. I am part of a networking group that not only got me business but allowed me to meet some good friends.

  • Tammy says:

    I have a successful business in a small town. I am a town transplant so no one knew me but I married someone whose father and brother have been running other businesses in town for 30 years. So, I used the family name in my business name. People called because they knew my father-in-law.
    Next, when advertising in the newspaper, advertise in the classified. Everyone reads the classified and obituaries. Our town mails the paper to everyone for free on Saturday. So, I only run the ad on Saturday. I see the ad taped to people’s towers years later.
    Phone books are important but just run a nice small bold 1″ block ad. It’s mainly to help them find you later.
    Give all customers business cards and magnets with your contact info. Make it easy for them to refer you.
    If you do a good job at a fair price and treat customers with respect then you will grow. Remember word of mouth works for bad faster than good.

    • Tammy says:

      One more thought. Join the Chamber of Commerce if you have a good one in your town. They may provide you with a membership list or a newsletter that you can be seen in.

  • Dieter says:

    I service an area in a valley about 100km long that has several small towns within. I agree that word-of-mouth is my main sort of advertising. However, advertising on the side of my vehicle has also helped as well. It cost me about $60 to put something tasteful on my truck and have gotten several calls from that. Quite cost effective I would think. I also think that advertising in newsletters can be a boon. Several towns in my area run their version of a ‘local newspaper’ and, at the very least, you are giving back to the community by supporting their paper.

  • BigNerd says:

    I am in the writer’s back yard (Moore County, Adam) and can confirm many of the same problems. I do not service small business (yet), just home users and have found them hard to reach. One thing that has been successful for me is to place a classified ad in a local newspaper that services only one area of the county. It is centered around an area of about 5,000 people, mostly retirees, and can hardly be called a newspaper. It’s more like a newsletter. Very inexpensive and has been very effective for me. Lots of gated communities have similar newsletters and it would be worth a few bucks to run an ad in one. I have found that as time has gone by, the ad has gotten more effective.

    I have to say, though, that I have had good luck with the Yellow Pages. My area has a lot of retirees in it and when something doesn’t work, that’s where they look. It’s also worth noting that if someone’s computer is down, they may not be able to access the web.

    Google, on the other hand, has been useless to me. One customer in a three month campaign.

    • BigNerd says:

      One other thing that I was reminded of this afternoon. I call each customer the day after they get their equipment back to make sure all is well and then I send a postcard with a hand written thank you note on it. I see that postcard nearly every time I get a call from a customer to do some more work. Today, it was sitting on the customer’s desk where I was working. I usually see it stuck on the refrigerator. Can’t beat that.

  • Micah says:

    I went through the same thing as Adam when I tried to start my own business, and it’s true, in most small communities, word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising. In fact, where I work now, if we tell one customer something new about our services, 15 more seem to know it the next day, and then more the next day, etc. It’s a social network that you just need to get into, be available, and do quality work, and you’ll be fine.

  • Tom Miller says:

    Word of mouth advertising and BNI.

    I have only two problems with BNI. One is I am not able to attend every week. The other is my local chapter already has a computer help company.

    Since I am still trying to make the transition and my current job takes me out of town 90% of the time its just plain difficult :)

    I have also experimented with the Yellowpages, Yellowbook and similar mass-media advertising. I have gotten extermly limited results.

    It sounds like I am going to have to go to one on one marketing.

  • Tony Okerson says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the importance of word-of-mouth references. Adam’s hometown of 2000 is a metropolis compared to mine of 800, and I live 10 miles from town in rural Southern Illinois. I am one of those that work from my home, have never done any formal advertising, but still the word get around. Do a professional job, treat your customers with respect, and you will be repaid many time over when they recommend you to their friends and family.

  • bob lou says:

    the owner and I sometimes went door to door and introduced ourselves and left flyers. But you have to be polite to customers…I recently walked into a computer store and the people working there were not very friendly. I went back a few times to buy some things but the techs working behind the counter were not very friendly and didn’t greet me when I walked in.

    That business is closed now..you have to greet everyone as they walk in and chat a little with them. Sometimes they just come in to ask a question about and want an estimate etc. Customer service I learned about as a tech working for AT&T as I serviced many business customers.

    Another thing is follow up calls to your customers…if it’s going to take a few days to get that part then call and tell them. Otherwise they show up the next day expecting their computer to be ready only to be told we are waiting for parts.

    I also used to give free gifts…the favorite one was a small pocket calulator and inside the top lid was a place to insert a business card so I put our buisness card inside it. Also I often place stickers on the backside of tv’s and other items with our business name.

  • Tony_Scarpelli says:

    It is obvious that you market to rural and small towns differently than you do in the city. But you should also consider your image. If your image is too shiny, too slick, too fancy or big city it can be an automatic turn off to rural and small town folks as well.

    Put your name on an index card and put it in the Coop on their corkboard. I probably get 10 customers a year from the coop. Although I am in a town of 400k and do all the things that are required in city marketing, I accidently stumbled into favor with some rural folks when a savvy farmer used my services and fell in love with my manager’s personality and our service. We also do some work for have a Mennonite community in a small 1200ish sized town about 20 miles from my town and we do business or many of them as well.

    However in the City in which I live, Chamber of Commerce, Independent Small business associations offer no marketing opportunities at all.

  • Chris says:

    I have to agree with this post in all forms. The town i do business in is about 2500 population. There are several surrounding towns with the same. There is a lot of pavement hitting and getting to know the local business owners. Rotary club and chamber of commerce are two big things. If not just for the networking.

  • Jim Fogarty says:

    Indeed. I spent $1200 out the gate trying to promote my company in this area of small towns and ranches. Not one bite. I then joined the chamber and local Lions club (they do everything in this town), and word started to spread.

    This approach takes longer, but once it gets going, and as long as you do good work, treat people well, and charge fair prices, it can be very rewarding, with long term loyal customers.

    I’ll share a little more. When customers ask me about technology choices, I tell them to call me when they are in Office Max (an hour away) and about to purchase, and I’ll give them my opinion. Takes two minutes, and I don’t charge. Same thing with them buying a laptop. I tell them to narrow it down to two or three within their price range and email me the links. I’ll take a look at them and make recommendations, and may even suggest an alternative or two. Takes 5 minutes. But these little things are valuable to them. And the trust built up is valuable to both of us.

    I agree with what was said about bad reputation spreading faster. That stuff has a lot of weight in a small community. But it’s okay. If someone is unhappy with work, I may hear about it later, in a roundabout way. When I do, I’ll go to their office and tell them I heard about it, and I extend my hand by asking what I can do to make things right. That in itself goes a long way. If the customer doesn’t want to work with me, than, ok, I’ll move on. But my other customers will hear about how I handle things (keep doing it that way and they surely will), and respect it.

    What I’m saying is in this small town environment, the relationships are the most important part. I stop by and chat with people, ask about family, etc. I really enjoy this way of doing things. And people take care of me as well, telling me about opportunities, etc. They even barter, like when I cleaned a customers small biz computer, and he came over and replaced my rain gutters (I just had to buy parts). Was a win both ways :)

    You really know your customers, and them, you. You’re neighbors. “Ol Boy network” has a negative connotation to it, and it shouldn’t in this case. It’s the way things are in a small town, and I like it. People want to know who you are before they trust you. If you can be a good person and seal a deal on a handshake, you have no worries. Old school.

  • John E. Hall says:

    Get friendly with Real Estate agents; Realtors. The good ones are some of the best for my business. They seem to know a little of everything about everyone, and have a pretty good feel of the “pulse” of your town. The successful ones advertise (and talk!) a lot. You can saddle up with some of their media, and perhaps have better exposure to the local market. Worked for me!

  • Jamal says:

    This article sounded as if I had written it. Even our business names are almost identical.

  • Zac Janes says:

    Great advice here. I just launched my business in a small town of Hervey Bay (QLD, Australia). My super creative name is Hervey Bay Computers – http://www.herveybaycomputers.com.au – Keep It Simple Stupid!

    Not so sure about BNI though – I’ve been to it once, and it’s not really my cup of tea.

  • Justin Hill says:

    We are in NC as well in a similar sized area, Cleveland County. We have been here for 15 years, and the ONLY way we have gotten business lately is via word of mouth. We used to have a major ad that ran in the yellow pages, but over the years we made it smaller and smaller, as it was bringing in less and less business. Internet traffic is worthless in our area as well, and we don’t even have an actual webpage anyway. We were lucky though, we managed to get medical offices as clients and our business has spread that way. I have a fair amount of the emergency room staff as clients as well. I had to get stitches once and was talking to the doctor that was sewing me up. Always talk about yourself and what you do. You never know what kind of referrals you get.

  • Rosemary Gabel says:

    My experience is the same, but different. I never tried the expensive large audience type ads, because I don’t want too much business. I’m a retired 76 yr.old, so I concentrate on the Seniors.. give me just enough business to keep busy. But even that was slow until I started writing articles to put in their monthly Senior Park magazines, that are freebies, distributed to all. This has been perfect! Articles give them a chance to see that you know what you’re talking about, and help them feel that they know you.
    Now, if they would only LEARN how to use it right!! They still think it’s like a typewriter! and all they’re concerned with is their email.
    http://www.pctutor-santamaria.com