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Should Your Small Business Hit the Road or Go “Mobile”?

It is not uncommon for new small businesses to get their start without the expense of a brick and mortar presence. Transporting products directly to customers can be quite cost-effective. For example, restaurants can start with a food truck or retail stores with pop-up shops as a way to reach new customers with lower fixed costs, all while testing their business models.

Online shopping offers many customers convenience by bringing products directly to their doors. But, you can't put a shopping cart on the website of a service business that requires face-to-face or hands-on contact. Here are four potential reasons why your business might increase its client base when you go mobile.

#1. Increase business from existing clients

You probably know that the cost of acquiring new clients is about 500 percent higher than retaining the ones you already have. This is why you work hard to provide the high-quality services that breed client loyalty. But, if you're not located near your clients, they may give some work to conveniently-located local providers, particularly in emergency situations.

The ability to bring your services to your clients can help ensure that a client emergency does not translate to a loss of business. You will not only retain the loyalty of clients who value your services, but location issues will not stop them from recommending your services to others in their community.

If you have a dry cleaner, try a mobile pickup and drop off service for extra convenience—and maybe even premium pricing.

#2. Attract clients who appreciate convenience

Many people would pay a bit more to reduce the hassle of driving to the services they need. Dog grooming trucks are a good example, because they bring clients significant savings in the time and effort of getting a less-than-fragrant big dog back and forth, particularly when clients have to de-smell the car interior before dog pickup.

The value of wheels increases when clients have to make multiple trips or do heavy lifting to obtain services. If your appliance repair service uses the company van that you already have to offer pickup and delivery, most clients would happily throw in a few extra bucks to avoid getting a heavy vacuum cleaner in and out of the car.

#3. Provide services for individuals who cannot come to you

The days of doctor house calls are all but gone, with the most recent American Academy of Physicians survey indicating that only about 3 percent of members make more than two house calls per week. Doesn't this seem counterintuitive? Why force people who are sick, in pain or contagious to travel to the doctor's office and sit in a waiting room, only to be told to get plenty of rest?

Even when clients are not sick, they have many reasons why they can't come to you. For one thing, the time spent driving to your business adds a burden on overcrowded work schedules. One associate of mine couldn't afford to be away from the office, so she chose a mortgage broker who came to her workplace to do the paperwork, which made a real difference to the home-buying process. And, some mechanics find that putting an oil change truck on the road increases sales, while freeing up repair bays for more profitable major fixes.

#4. Spread the word about your company

Whether your services require a van, truck or bus with your company name and number, or even if you use a standard car to get to your clients, catchy advertising on vehicles attracts curiosity. For that matter, wearing a stand-out T-shirt with a cool company message invites immediate conversation. Be prepared to answer questions and distribute cards wherever you go.

Understand that the associated costs are not always intuitive.

Depending on the type of your small business services, traveling to clients may be relatively simple and inexpensive, particularly if you don't need any special vehicles or other equipment. However, you do need to carefully consider all related costs and preparation before taking the plunge.

For one thing, more employees on the road means that you need to provide a good way for them to stay connected with home base. Even if you start with just a handful of traveling employees, you want to make sure that they stay connected — and that you can stick with the same services as you add more employees to your traveling workforce. Nextiva offers mobile services that are scalable. You don't need to pay for more than you need when getting started and you don't need to switch to bigger services when you grow.

This is one of many details that you need to consider before you decide to take your services to your clients' doors. The cost of taking employees away from the workplace might be another significant concern. A thorough risk-reward analysis is a critical component of making this type of business decision. Maybe your traveling accountant can help make sure that the numbers justify taking your services on the road.

About the author

Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at www.CarolRoth.com. She also has an action figure made in her likeness.