Brochures, a fancy-pants Web site (complete with spinning logos), a marketing plan, a well-organized data base and even those cheap pens with your company name on the side: These are all, admittedly, powerful tools in the marketing war we must all wage.

When I conceived Eye Candy Graphics, my little gimmick was going to be to send big, hand-made, swirled lollipops to introduce our arrival on the large-format scene. Well, two years later there are still no lollipops, or a brochure for that matter. There is, however, almost more business then we can handle. Where has it come from?

I believe our marketing has been more about how we keep business and the referrals it generates, and less on purely traditional marketing. That's not to say a solid marketing plan and diligent follow-through aren't powerful and absolutely necessary as a business grows. But, it's much easier to keep a current customer then it is to find a new one.

Happy customers will also sing your praises across the land and I believe a referral is about the most powerful marketing tool there is. So what is the fertilizer that gets a small printing business hopping?

Let's start with image. In the beginning, my studio was like the primordial sea. But, I thought artists were given special license to be chaotic. I even had delusions that it looked impressive because we are so busy.

Needless to say, I don't think my customers appreciate the chaos of production. They have their own chaos, so they want to walk into a business and feel that you're going to take care of them and make everything all right.

The promise of meeting a deadline - backed up by an organized, calm operation - is like a steaming hot cup of cocoa to these stressed-out professionals.

So, much to the chagrin of my mom and my friends, I am admitting that a clean, organized studio is now a huge priority. Notice I didn't say first priority. I still think cleaning and organizing when a deadline is looming and everything is broken is just silly. But remember, it is the first step in impressing and gaining the trust of your clients. It also doesn't hurt to play Sade's "Smooth Operator" quietly in the background.

You should consider your business as the last line of defense for your customers and archive all your jobs. I know this is a lot of work but CDRs are not very expensive, and the benefits are well worth it.

First of all, if you have an organized archiving system, your clients can just pick up the phone and order more graphic "widgets." This makes their lives much easier. As they hang up the phone, they probably say to themselves, "Gee, that Augie is a swell guy."

In another situation earlier this year, a big client called in near-hysteria. He lost the only copy of a CD containing 12 extensive tradeshow panels that we printed last year. Within a minute, I was again a huge hero.

One caveat is that you should always ask permission before you copy a job. Most find it a great idea, but there is always the occasional designer who fears his poster design will be stolen and used across the world to make great fame and fortune.

Give away a nickel, get back a quarter every time. That is, unless you're dealing with a non-profit business.

I am not trying to slight these hardworking people with a cause. It's just that their zeal for getting donations and special deals is unmatched. If they start in on their wheel-and-deal spiel, just remind them in a consoling voice that you're trying to make a living over here. Then throw some confusing numbers around that show they are getting a screaming deal, which it usually is.

As for everyone else, I think it's a great idea to give them something if their business is significant. Perhaps a poster of a customer's son in his hockey outfit, replete with his first broken nose.

I had one customer who sent me a photo invitation to a gala Christmas party. It was the whole family on horses in the mountains. I must admit the card was rather festive. So I scanned the photo, applied some gallery effects, printed it on canvas and then stretched it onto a frame. He shoots ... he scores!

You would not believe the attention my picture, my business and I got. This customer carried the picture around the party showing everyone. Plus, it's good for soul to give something back.

Another creative way to score bonus points is to work free passes into the deal when you do work for festivals and events. These jobs are usually on a tight budget, and the event organizers love to give away passes if you give them a good deal. Then you can give the passes to your favorite clients. (click to continue...)

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