World’s Best Ad

My husband has often said that I “dragged him kicking and screaming” into the world of self-employment in 2000. At those times, I have to remind him that he became a successful entrepreneur in 1973.

Seventeen words in a local newspaper put my husband through four years of private college. Before you get too excited, remember that college was much cheaper in the mid-seventies. Here they are:

“Reliable college student must have lawn cutting jobs to defray school expenses. If interested, please contact 555-5555.”

Why was this a great ad?

  1. Targeting. Placed in the well-read local newspaper, the town largely consisted of train commuters to Manhattan who did not have the time or energy to cut their lawns.
  2. The first word was strong, relevant, and little-used: “reliable.” This was the critical need. Homeowners were frustrated with irresponsible young men who did not show up to do the work. And, as the first word, “reliable” captured the reader’s eye when skimming down the ad column.  
  3. “College” indicated that he was probably more responsible than a high school student. And, along with “student,” a certain connection was created in the reader’s mind. After all, most of the local residents had college degrees.
  4. “Must have” implied a sense of urgency.
  5. “Lawn cutting jobs” got right to the point of what he offered.
  6. “To defray school expenses” created empathy. The target group knew all about college expenses.
  7. The call to action was short and polite. No name was given, but “please” showed a good upbringing. Reliable and polite?!  Sold.

Jim built a customer base that was loyal and generous. The wives (yes, life was a bit different back then) would call on hot days, asking his mom to tell him to stay home. The response was, “He has already left.” Upon arrival, he was given plenty of water and admiration from his customers, who quickly became fans.

At the end of three summers, Jim planned to exit the lawn-cutting world. Thus, he sold the list of customer names to another college student, with the pre-arranged guarantee that each homeowner would give the new person a trial cut. Also, Jim promised not to compete. So, the next year, when he decided to cut lawns for one final summer, he got permission from the buyer to run the ad in the paper for the next closest town, and within three weeks had built a new business – while keeping his promise.

The world has changed, but there are lessons to be learned from this example. If you want to be successful, plan a business that suits your resources and abilities, and has the potential to meet your needs. Target the most-likely prospects using cost-effective media. Promise a good product or service, and then live up to your promise — even if you have to sweat in order to do so.

Until we meet again,
The Entrepreneur’s Friend

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The Entrepreneur’s Friend® is a registered trademark of Wheaton Consulting Group LLC.   Photo credits: All photos were taken by Cynthia Wheaton and owned by Wheaton Consulting Group LLC except as noted. Coffee cup art by Jim Wheaton.   Author support: Fellow authors from The Wrinklings and Light of Carolina Christian Writers Group.