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As many new business owners quickly discover, the most difficult part of starting a business is finding customers.
Having a great product or service that you are sure many people will need isn't good enough. Customers won't find you, your store, your website or your Facebook page just because you have started a business. You have to go out and find the customers. In fact, most business owners find they need to be looking for new customers on a regular and frequent basis even after their business becomes successful. How do you do that? Here are 15 ways to find customers for your business:
1. Develop a plan. Consider who would make the ideal customer. If you sell to businesses, consider what department is most likely to buy your products or services, and what individual (what level of responsibility) would be the one to determine the specific purchase requirements. (Make some calls if you don't know!) Determine how long the buying cycle is. Is buying your product a decision that can be made quickly by a single person? Or are you selling something that has a long buying cycle, possibly involving multiple individuals? Next think about how the typical buyer normally finds products or services like yours. What circles do they travel in? Are they active in social media?. Who are they likely to listen to or where do they look when they want to buy your type of product or service. Write all this information down and look for patterns. Then, plan ways to put yourself and your information where the people in your target market can find it when they are ready to buy.
TIP: Use the BusinessKnowHow Marketing Plan Worksheet to gather information about your market.
2. Look for and follow business prospects on social media. Don't try to sell to them on their social media feeds. Instead, try to develop relationships. Retweet or comment on their posts. Mention them if appropriate in your own social media posts (ie, "@JoeSmith gave a terrific presentation on retail security at today's Chamber meeting") Your goal: to get known and seen as a friend. Selling is a lot easier when you sell to people who feel like they know you.
3. Work your local newspapers. Even in the digital age, daily and weekly newspapers are still an incredible source of contact information and leads to potential customers. Watch for names of people who have been promoted, who have won awards, who have opened new businesses, or who in any way may be potential customers. Send those people personalized mailings congratulating them on their success or telling them how interesting the article about them was. Include your company name and slogan plus any appropriate product information with your signature. (Example: Jane Smith, ABC Associates, Financial and Retirment Planning Help For Business Owners)
4. Be sure your website and social media pages make it easy for visitors to know how to reach you. Better yet, give them a reason to give you their contact information. An offer of a free newsletter, a free guide to something related to your industry, or a coupon can all be good devices to use for lead capture. Then follow up regularly on those leads.
5. Sponsor Events. Watch for events that may bring your potential market together. Look for fliers about the event at local networking group meetings. Or, call and ask the organizers if there are sponsorship opportunities available. Local events can be quite inexpensive to sponsor. Or if the sponsorship cost is high, they may have a "Friends" of the event option that will give you the right to have fliers at the event for a very small fee.
6. Attend meetings and seminars that your prospects might attend. If you've been doing that and haven't made contacts that could lead to sales, try new networking groups. Look in the newspapers to see what other organizations hold events that might attract your target market and attend some of those meetings.
Related: 5 Simple Networking Follow-Up Strategies
7. Follow up after meetings. Contact the people you've met to see if they may be prospects. If they say they don't need your services now, ask when a good time to call them back would be, or if they have business associates who could use what you sell now.
8. Give a little to get a lot. Give away free samples of your product and ask the recipients to tell their friends if they are pleased. Or, if you are a consultant, give away some free advice. This could be in the form of a newsletter with that contains news or tips and hints, or it could be a free consultation during which you provide just enough information to help the client scope out their project and know that you have the ability to handle it.
9. Work your personal network. Ask your friends if they know of people who can use your services, or people who may know others who could use your services. If your pricing structure will allow it, offer friends and business associates a finders' fee for referrals that turn into jobs.
10. Study your successful competitors. Where do they advertise? Where do they network? What tactics do they use? What works for them may work just as well for you.
11. Use multiple small ads instead of one big one. If most people in your type of business advertise in print to bring in customers, you should do the same. But don't plan on making a big splash with one large ad. Plan smaller ads to run over a long time in the same publications that your competitors advertise in.
12. Test pay-per-click (PPC) and other online advertising. To keep costs down, target your ads so they reach people who are similar to your most likely prospects, and target them so they only show up in the geographic region you service. (Example: women between the age of 40 and 55 who live in Boulder, CO.) Set daily budgets and monthly budgets, and check your account frequently the first few days you set it up.
Related: Pay-Per-Click Pitfalls and Solutions
13. Claim your place in Google My Business. While you're at it, be sure to list yourself (and make sure your website address is correct) in any directories you qualify for. Chambers of commerce, and other local business groups often have member directories in which you can list contact information and website url.
Related: Claiming Your Local Small Business Listings Online
14. Ask for feedback when prospects don't buy. Did they find a product that better served their needs? Did they decide they don't need the product at all? Did they just postpone their buying decision? Did they find it difficult to place an order on your web site? Use what you learn to make needed changes and watch your sales start to grow.
15. Realize there is no one path to success. Sales often happen because prospective customers hear about your products and services in several different ways and from several different sources. The more often they hear about you, the more likely they are to consider what you have to offer when they are ready to buy.
Need more help? Check out these marketing ideas.
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