Small businesses that cater to local customers can often benefit from hosting a free educational workshop or seminar in their community.
Although these events take time and effort to develop and promote, those that offer real value to participants — without any promotional or sales talk — can make a lasting impression on people and lead to referrals.
These free events can also help build the reputation of a business that offers a new concept or is in an industry that’s experiencing a downturn.
Take, for example, the home-staging industry. Faith Erickson, who owns Stage Right in Massachusetts, says she has several factors working against her: Staging (the temporary redesign and furnishing a house for the sole purpose of selling it) has been slow to take off on the East Coast and the sluggish housing market has caused fewer people to put their homes up for sale.
Moreover, the bulk of Erickson’s business comes from referrals (real estate agents and attorneys and others who interact with home
sellers). “You have to do some educating and some schmoozing,” Erickson says. “Building trust and relationships are instrumental in getting repeat business.”
Her networking paid off recently, when a real estate agent recommended Erickson as a presenter at a free, two-hour seminar on “Selling Your Home in Today’s Market.” Erickson did not push her services, but instead gave the participants useful information and encouraged them to ask questions.
She used her time at the event to show “before” and “after” photos of houses she’s staged, discuss what today’s home buyers really want, and emphasize that “even houses people have ignored over the past 40 to 50 years, once they get some painting, editing, and proper room flow — and are priced right — are selling.”
Held in mid-March, the event hasn’t yet led to any inquiries, but Erickson isn’t surprised, because most of the attendees were just beginning to think about selling. “It’s typically a long sale cycle,” she says. “One or two responses would have been huge.”
Instead of setting a goal for a certain number of responses, she views her participation in local events as part of a long-term marketing strategy of getting her name out in the community and spreading the word about the benefits of staging.
Mike Wittmann, who owns Coach Mike’s Personal Training in Illinois, agrees that free events produce results over time. He provides free fitness camps throughout the summer, at which participants may try out exercise equipment like kettlebells and TRX. His hope is that they’ll feel a need to use his services on a regular basis.
Wittmann says he also walks potential clients through the supermarket, pointing out healthful food choices, in an event he calls “Shop with the Trainer.” He speaks regularly at schools about the benefits of exercise and good health.
Although he enjoys helping others, Wittmann believes his passive marketing techniques are more effective than traditional advertising. “This business, like so many others, is about word of mouth,” he says. “You get referrals from somebody who has seen you speak somewhere or from someone who is working you and has experienced results.”