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As a small business owner, odds are you don’t have the budget for large-scale pay-per-click (PPC) or content marketing campaigns. But that doesn’t have to slow you down: there are several ways you can get a leg up that don’t cost a lot of money—and hardly any time. Here are four of them.

Raise your rates

If your competitors are consistently quoting projects at a higher rate than you are—and landing them—then it might be time to raise your rates. There are a few ways you can approach this:

  • Position yourself as an expert in a specific niche or service offering. This doesn’t mean you have to restrict the types of projects you take on—it’s about strategically positioning yourself in your messaging.
  • Quote a little higher on each job until you meet resistance. In the short term you might under- or overshoot, but in the long run, you’ll have a clearer idea of what the market will bear.
  • Re-evaluate your target customer. If your prospects are consistently unable to pay what you’re asking, you may need to adjust your marketing strategy. For instance, if you notice that leads from organic search are higher quality than those from social media, you might focus more on SEO as a result.

Protect Your Cash Flow

Late-paying (or non-paying) clients are the bane of many a service business owner. Fortunately, nonpayment issues can be averted with a carefully written service agreement. Although standard payment policies can vary by industry or service, this often means charging new clients upfront or taking a 50% deposit. Additionally, your service agreement may specify interest rates for late payments.

Some clients—particularly large organizations—might refuse to pay upfront if they have a payroll schedule that applies universally to vendors. Such a client can be worth the risk if they’re an established company with a good reputation. However, if they don’t initially pay at the agreed-upon time, put your services on hold until they do.

Don’t hesitate to talk to an expert if you need help navigating the legal landscape or choosing a payment policy that suits your business type.

Reduce Your Overhead

We live in an age of software subscriptions. There are lots of useful tools for automating tedious processes, but the costs can compound unnoticed over time.

Take inventory of the tools you use to manage your daily or monthly operations. Consider nixing the ones that aren’t currently serving your bottom line, or find more affordable alternatives.

Get Your Clients on Retainer or Productize Your Services

A retainer is an agreement where your client pays a recurring fee to secure, or “retain,” access to your services for an agreed-on length of time. The benefit of retainers for service providers is consistent, reliable income. The benefits for clients are a convenient billing cycle, priority status, and a discounted rate on your services.

There are different ways to approach retainers. With a time-based retainer agreement, a client might pay up front to reserve 10 hours of your time per month for six months.

Nowadays, many service businesses are moving to value-based retainers. In this model, the service provider sets its fee based on the value of their services to the client, rather than trading time for dollars.

Be proactive and sell your clients on the benefits of a retainer model. Consider productizing your services and offering your clients a choice of two or three different packages with your premium package offering the most value at a discounted rate.

For service businesses on a budget, spending more money on marketing can be a risky bet. Often, tweaking your policies and procedures from the inside out can be a faster and safer route to long-term gains.


Ready to take your next step towards starting your business?

If you are looking for one-on-one support for your small business, give the Business Link Business Advisors a call at 1-800-272-9675 or email askus@businesslink.ca. You can also visit the events page for upcoming activities!

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Chloe Brittain

Chloe Brittain is the owner of Opal Transcription Calgary, a virtual assistant company serving businesses and professionals in the corporate, media, academic, and entertainment industries. She also writes about kitchen décor for her family’s Calgary-based cabinet refinishing company, Not Just Paint. Follow Chloe on Twitter: @opaltranscripts.
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