GARNER, N.C. — More and more small businesses are saving marketing dollars by turning to the Internet to find customers. They use blogs and Web sites as a cheaper alternative to expensive listings in the phone book or advertisements in the newspaper or on television.
Thom and Joni Millage, the husband-wife team behind Garner's All Spotless Carpets, cut their print advertising and turned to MerchantCircle.com, a site that offers tools to help small businesses build a Web brand and be found by online searches.
The couple began All Spotless Carpets in 2002.
"We started out the traditional way, with the Yellow Pages," Thom Millage said.
Over the years, he estimates, he spent more than $10,000 for placement in the yellow pages.
"It's too risky to spend that kind of money on the phone book when more people are turning to the Internet. It was just a waste of money for me," he said.
"A lot of young people like myself, even older people, they go straight online," Joni Millage said.
"They would say 'We got you off of Google. We got you off Craigslist. We got you off the Internet,'" she recalled.
Starting in 2006, the Millages turned to MerchantCircle.com to market their carpet cleaning business. Thom Millage said hundreds of visitors see the company’s online listing each month.
Brad Manuel is a customer of All Spotless Carpets. "We put the yellow pages right in the recycling bin," he said.
The Millages upload pictures, build coupons, send out newsletters and write blogs using MerchantCircle.com tools.
"It helps me to brand my business," Thom Millage said. "I get a lot of Internet exposure and I have a free blog. It's almost like a free mini Web site."
The Millages estimate their online presence has saved them $10,000 in advertising. "Doesn't matter how good the economy is, I'm always trying to pinch that extra penny," Thom Millage said.
The Millages like the interaction that an online presence provides. Customers can reach the company by e-mail, and can leave reviews about their service.
"We know we do a good job and the review process really helps us to stay up to date and stay up on our customer service," Joni Millage said.
"If someone leaves me a nice remark, I can respond and say thank you," Thom Millage added.
A basic account with MerchantCircle.com is free, but businesses can pay for extra features. There are more than 300 businesses using MerchantCircle.com in the Raleigh area.
The Millages also use the Web to connect with others in their situation.
"We've met a lot of other businesses through Merchant Circle that are in the same boat we're in – fairly young businesses trying to succeed. It's always good to be able to talk to other people in your same position.
"I tell every business owner I meet about Merchant Circle ... because having more people on that site only makes it more possible," Thom Millage said.