Small business owners and those of us who work out of our homes are always looking for ways to spread the good news about our services and products. I was inspired last week by my friend Michelle who has taken the plunge of starting a new home business. At my children's schools (and probably at yours too), this is the time of year where parents are being hit up to contribute for fall fundraisers. My boys' schools are asking for contributions of items or gift certificates to be used in silent auctions and at the fall carnival.
Michelle's new business came to my mind immediately. She is a good friend, so I really want to support her efforts and help her new endeavor take off and grow wings. I went to her to purchase gift certificates for the service she offers. She kindly offered to discount her normal hourly rate in half for me and prepared a beautiful certificate to be used at the auctions. Along with the certificate, she provided a handful of her business cards, which will be displayed alongside the auction items. Michelle is a smart businesswoman – she recognizes a good networking opportunity when she sees one. The people who attend this type of fundraiser fall squarely into her target marketing audience.
Are you a small business owner looking to spread the word? Don't overlook your child's school as a formidable pool of potential customers. Do, however, be very cautious about being respectful in your marketing efforts. The following are some "Do" and "Don't" guidelines for networking at school – they can also be applied to church, social group and sports team environments:
- Let other parents at your school know about your business by advertising in school directories, sponsoring ads in the school yearbook, or in fundraising programs
- Donate a sample of your work or a few hours of your service as a fundraising item or raffle prize
- Volunteer to use your skills or services to benefit your child's school. I started my web design business after a year of volunteering to build my children's school web site – I never would have imagined that taking that volunteer position would have led me to a wonderful new career
- Pressure the parents at your school into helping your business. For example, if your business involves needing hostesses for home parties, do not approach parents and put them in an awkward position by asking them to host. If they are interested, they will come to you.
- Use the school telephone or email directory to cold call or spam fellow parents
- Use your work as an excuse for not sharing your time and talent as a volunteer at your children's school
All of the "Don't" items are things that I've experienced and been turned off by in the past. School environments are small communities that often feel like family – treat that family right by using your time and talents to serve it well and you will find your efforts rewarded in kind.