This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.
In Start Your Own Food Truck Business, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Rich Mintzer explain how you can get started in the mobile food industry, whether you want to own a food truck, cart, trailer, kiosk or other on-the-go food business. In this edited excerpt, the authors suggest some marketing strategies you can use to spread the word about your mobile food business.
Good food and service with a smile are important, but if nobody knows you're serving, you're out of luck. While you don't necessarily need a full marketing plan, you do want to think about how you'll attract customers.
One of the first steps is to choose a name that will draw attention. Typically, you want your name to express what you sell in a clever manner. Some business owners had the fans name the truck, which enhanced their fan connection. Others held local contests. Still others came from websites like crowdsourcing.com, where people submitted names and the person with the best name got paid for their idea. Most, however, were the result of some brainstorming with family and clever friends. Sometimes, you'll get an idea from someone you least expect. so ask around.
Twitter, FourSquare and Facebook have become the hottest marketing tools for mobile food entrepreneurs to stay in touch with their customers and fans. Twitter specifically has become a favorite of mobile food vendors. You can get started by going to Twitter.com and setting up an account under your business name. Then you can begin sending tweets. The best part about Twitter is that it's an interactive media tool that keeps your customers updated in the moment.
"Twitter is all about engaging your followers," says social media expert and consultant Kris Ruby. "You can't respond to every tweet, but if you're going to show you care about your followers, you should write back often.".
Sign up on Facebook.com for an account for your mobile food business, Be sure to include photos of your food and your vehicle. "Give people a reason to respond. Ask open-ended questions, make a game out of it," suggests Ruby, who says it's important to bring people into your marketing. "Facebook pages work very well for businesses." And, she adds, updating your page often is important.
There's a growing market of mobile applications that provide users with information on the nearest restaurants or the location of the nearest food trucks or carts. Many of these applications are for iPhones, though others, such as Foursquare, will work on a Blackberry and other smart phones.
Foursquare is all about letting your fans know where you are at any given time. It also allows customers to do shout outs, which could be a comment about their favorite foods, such as "I love the Guacamole Burger!" The person with the most shout outs (for that day) becomes the mayor.
"It's a good marketing idea to reward the mayor with a free burger, taco, ice cream cone or whatever you sell," adds Ruby, who stresses the importance of not just letting people know where you are but also building a steady following.
You need to have your website and Facebook page URLs clearly printed on your menus. Good content on your site about food and topics your audience can munch on is also important in building a following and increasing hits. Blogging is very popular these days, but you need to make your blog interesting and fun to read. Also, drawing in new business by adding tidbits of clever information, trivia, e-cards, jokes or anything else relating to your food or overall theme is beneficial. Then add a "Forward to a Friend" tab to start viral marketing. People like to send short, clever tidbits to their buddies. This way your followers can help promote your business.
It takes some work to build a following, especially as more competition hits the streets. Try these tips for building one of your own:
Giveaways. One of the most tried and true means of building a following is by giving something away, whether it's a promotional item or a sample of your product, which in this case means food. Consider giveaways a standard means of generating a crowd. Food companies have been doing this for years by providing free samples in supermarkets.
Contests. You can promote a simple contest through social media as well as from your vehicle. You might, for example, look for someone to name your latest food creation. Prizes need not be spectacular, just enough to convince fans to participate. Make a big deal about the drawing of the winner so people will be on hand and buying your food.
Word-of-mouth marketing. The cheapest means of spreading the word is by having others do it for you. You could set up a "Tell a Friend" 15 percent discount offer or pull a stunt of sorts, like Starbucks did by attaching cups to the roofs of cars. The cars then drove around, and anyone who flagged the driver to let them know their coffee cup was on the car's roof received a free cup of coffee. You may not have Starbucks' budget, but you can do something on a smaller scale. Singing and dancing servers might get you noticed, or perhaps you can have someone dressed up as a mascot to hand out balloons and coupons near your location.
Attending or staging local events. If you believe the turnout will make it worth your while, plan in advance to attend local events, which usually means reserving a space. You can also do what other food truck owners have done and stage a party or a puppet show for kids if you sell ice cream. Be creative.
Customer relations. One of the simplest ways of drawing repeat customers is by having good customer relation skills. This begins with a smile, a polite thank-you and paying attention to the needs of your customers. Courtesy has become a dying art -- don't let your truck be part of this demise. Train your employees to be accommodating, polite and courteous at all times. If there's a problem, make sure they're ready and willing to solve it to the customer's satisfaction. Remember, your reputation is on the line, and with the immediacy of social media, the last thing you need is someone badmouthing your business.
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