Getting a Collections Firm Star Billing on the Web
The challenge for this Net latecomer is to create a site that reflects its reputation
Q: My partner and I own a very reputable collection agency. We are new to the
Internet and interested in getting our name circulating in a professional
manner. Do you have any tips on how to do this?
--C.A.E., Bristol, Conn.
A: Most business owners will probably, at some point, find themselves having
to hire an agency like yours to collect past-due accounts, so your services
are going to be useful to many entrepreneurs across many industries. Therein
lies your challenge -- your target market is quite broad, and you'll need a
good marketing strategy if you really want to take advantage of the Internet
to get your name out there. Be aware, however, that state laws that govern
collections activities differ, and you may not be able to take on new
clients outside your geographical area.
To develop a Web presence, you'll need to spend serious
time Web surfing to determine what other collections agencies have done and
what types of businesses and agencies would be appropriate sources of
referrals for you. But you can do this kind of research
over several weeks in the evenings or on weekends from your home PC. You
could also have a staff member devote a few hours a week to Web surfing or
hire a student to gather some research for you, but it's probably best for
you to stay pretty involved in the process. If you aren't familiar with the
Net by now, you've fallen behind the times.
Of course, you'll need a Web page that will have reciprocal links with
other complementary businesses. To get those links, make your Web page
professional and useful, and keep it properly updated. If you get queries through your
site, respond to them quickly. Is there a place for visitors to fill out an
application for your services? Consider writing or gathering some useful
articles on collections and how to handle overdue accounts that would make
your site a resource for entrepreneurs. You may want to post some links to
industry associations that relate to your services. Like any marketing tool,
your Web site is a way to get your name and contact information in front of
your target audience, along with your professional certification and
testimonials that prove your firm is indeed reputable.
Think of ways you can get Internet exposure for free or at low cost. Perhaps a
Web directory for a particular industry would give your company a link on its
page as a way to point its viewers to a valuable service, suggests Stephen
Dem, an Encino (Calif.) attorney specializing in commercial collections. Or you
could work out a fee, or do collections for the Web site's business or its
members for a small discount in return for the link. Monitor how much
business these reciprocal links actually generate with a few trial sites
before you promise big discounts. Since your service is applicable to so many
industries, you might wind up with hundreds of links, and you don't want too
much work at reduced rates.
Standard Internet marketing tools, such as banner ads on search-engine sites,
are also possibilities you need to explore and for which you should set a
budget. For real-life examples of practical successes -- and failures -- from
companies who've experimented with all types of Web advertising, check out
StrikingItRich.com, by Jaclyn Easton, a book that profiles 23 Web companies
and their strategies for success.
For more help in your own industry, go to the Web page of the American
Collectors Assn., www.collector.com. You can get your first link right
there, by filling out an online application. Join their ACA Online group,
which offers news, newsgroups, chats, legislative information, and other
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