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You've decided to take the plunge and open a franchise. You've done your due diligence, secured your financing and have your opening date in sight but the hard work is far from finished. Now come the tasks of hiring, scheduling, managing, attracting and retaining customers while sticking to your franchisor's proven business model. In the end, however, your dedication will be worth it as each and every action brings you one step closer to achieving your business potential.

Perhaps one of the most important ways to help get your franchise off the ground – or, if you've been open for a while, introduce your concept to a new audience – is through an integrated marketing program. Initiatives have largely been focused on print media outlets but with the rise of the Internet, marketing in this forum has proved to be an effective addition to traditional marketing programs in reaching a wider variety of potential customers. Here are a few ways to utilize the Internet to help your franchise grow:

  • Target your ideal customers. Ask yourself who your ideal customer is and how your business can benefit them. This will help you to determine how to get your products and services in front of them most effectively. For example, if you own a tanning salon or massage therapy spa and your ideal customer is a 20-something female, think about what services they're going to need to keep continue looking their best year-round and utilize these keywords to your advantage: The higher the frequency of these keywords appearing in your materials, the higher the likelihood is that these ideal customers will come across your business in their search and patronize your business.
  • Tap into social media. It's hard to go a day without hearing someone talk about Twitter or Facebook – use that to your advantage. Set up a fan page or group page on Facebook featuring information about the company, client testimonials, before and after photos of your work and even ongoing and upcoming specials and send your existing customers invitations to join.

    If those who view your page are satisfied with the work you've done in the past, chances are that they will let their friends know and their friends will let their friends know and so on which will grow your network and maximize the potential for new customers.

    Twitter is also an excellent resource because you can see what people are talking about in real time. If you run a search for specific words or phrases pertaining to your business, you'll see who is talking – or "tweeting" – about those topics at that particular moment. You can then reply to their comment with a link to your site or with details about a related promotion your business is running.
  • Think about related industries. Though your clientele may be faithful, your business isn't the only one they patronize. If you own a coffee shop, for example, talk to the proprietors of other local cafés or sweet shops – franchised or independently owned – about joint promotions to be featured on both of your Web sites.

    This way, you're accessing an entirely new group of potential customers that already know and trust the company you're partnering with and, given that level of familiarity, will be more inclined to give your business a second look.
  • E-mail in moderation. Collecting e-mail addresses from your clients is a great way to stay connected and keep them abreast of any new happenings at your business they may want to partake in. A newsletter at the beginning of each month detailing specific products or services, announcing new team members, highlighting a regular customer or two or inviting them to connect with you on Twitter or Facebook shows you value their business and are thinking of them.

    Be wary, though: Many customers are hesitant to provide their e-mail addresses because they fear doing so will mean an onslaught of spam. If you assure them you will only be e-mailing them once a month, after they make a purchase or another set amount, they will be much more receptive to opening the lines of electronic communication.
  • Monitor and reply to feedback. Portals like Yelp and Citysearch are invaluable resources for you to monitor what your customers have to say about your business. If the feedback is positive, send a thank you e-mail and a coupon to use during their next visit. If the comments are unsavory, however, don't just sit idly by – take action.

    In April of 2009, Yelp began allowing business owners the opportunity to publicly comment on reviews about their businesses and provide additional context around specific reviews. This has proved to be extremely useful for countless business owners in several ways: Replying shows they care about their reputation and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure their customers are happy. And since this is done publicly, people searching the site see the vested interest of these business owners and may give the business a chance at a later date.

    Whether you are just starting out or are looking to expand, the Internet can play an integral role in growing your business. If used properly, you can gain access to a wealth of new customers, build lasting relationships and ensure your business's success now and well into the future.

Daren Coudriet is a consultant at WSI, a company that provides Internet marketing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. Prior to joining WSI in 2004, Coudriet was the vice president of sales and strategy for an Internet solutions company and counted the New York Times, Standard & Poors, the Washington Post and Amtrak as clients, but elected to apply the knowledge gained in working with these companies and assist franchisors in implementing innovative solutions based on the best practices. He can be contacted at (978) 223-2225 or darenc@wsics.com.

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