Most people are sensible and plan their future business ideas with military precision. I am not most people. Confession time, I planned my future business in the hormonal, sleep deprived, vomit-covered early days of motherhood! I had been offered redundancy from my employer to coincide with the end of my maternity leave so what was I going to do? The few things I knew for sure; I needed an income, I wanted to work around my baby and I did not want to be an employee.
From a Whim to a Successful Business
My research began in earnest. Ummm perhaps not, I read a few books, spoke with a few friends and waited for the universe to guide me…and it did! So a few months later I bought my baby signing franchise, TinyTalk Angus & The Mearns.
Fast forward eight years and two more children and I have taught over a thousand families to sign. I extended my franchise area twice, recruited two teachers to join my team, won several awards, added three strands to my business. And above all, I have made a healthy income and worked my business around my children. I have been my own boss and run a successful business.
In the early days, I marketed my business through trial and error. In 2010 social media was not yet being fully utilised for marketing businesses (read more about Digital Marketing history here) but I saw it’s potential. A baby signing business is a niche market. As the classes are only suitable from birth to preschool there is a relatively small window for acquiring customers. I set up a Facebook page and started engaging with my customers. It quickly became apparent to me that I was on to something very special- relationships.
The Power of Relationships in Marketing
My customers came to my classes and built friendships with the other families there. The children became friends and play dates were made outside of class. The families appreciated the chance of a hot cuppa and a listening ear from me. Also, the children became firm ‘Gayna fans’ regularly requesting for me between classes. My classes became an essential part of maternity leave and then the most wonderful thing began to happen. Repeat customers! This alongside word of mouth promotion feels like my marketing end goal.
Repeat business is more powerful than word of mouth, it’s not just saying something is good – it’s putting your money where your mouth is – twice! Thus the amazing relationship with my customers continued. Unbeknownst to me, I was using strategies as laid out by Ki and Hon (2009) to cultivate quality relationships and boy did it work! As a result of ensuring access, positivity, openness, sharing of tasks, networking and assurances my customers in return demonstrated trust, mutuality, commitment and satisfaction and they continue to do so today.
What’s My Trick?
But there’s a trick to using relationships for PR and you will ignore this at your peril. Relationships will only help you build your business if they are genuine. Anything less and your customers will see right through you. It would be disingenuous to become firm friends with all of your customers and probably not good business sense. Instead, I make time to listen to my customers (online or offline), I celebrate their successes and I offer support and facilitate friendship building with other customers.
The evidence of this relationship marketing is not just in the happy, noisy (sometimes raucous) social time of my classes or the tight squeezes from the pre-schoolers. It’s also evident in the conversion statistics. In the last year, 63% of my customers have either signed up from a word of mouth recommendation or been a returning customer. Now that is something to behold.