When things get tough at a small business, it’s tempting to throw money at the problem in the hopes that it will go away. Instead of developing a sound social media strategy or making sure current systems are ready to go, business owners throw money at paid advertising.
In between answering emails, troubleshooting the copier, and making images for social media, it’s difficult to carve out new strategies for finding new customers. But if you want to grow, you absolutely have to create a longterm machine that makes prospects stick.
There are tons of ways to grow your customer base. SEO, PPC ads, social media, and other kinds of advertising can all play a role. But if you’re not set up to catch interested parties, it will be hard to succeed.
In this post, I outline 7 things small business owners don’t do to find customers, but should:
The world is using Google. Small business owners know this, but many struggle to understand how they can optimize their websites for search. Because they see the process as hard, they shy away from it. In turn, they miss out on the huge benefits of organic traffic (we’re talking SUPER huge sales increases).
Don’t do this!
Instead, read up on SEO trends. If you’re too stretched for time, hire an agency or consultant to help you out. There are many things you can do in the mean time: Creating helpful content, taking advantage of review sites, and posting on social media can all lead to SEO success.
There’s a ton to say about SEO. If you’re ready to get going, check out these helpful SEO resources:
Attend In-Person Events of All Varieties
Creating real life relationships is the best way to spread the word and get new customers. If you’re in a rut, consider joining a BNI Club or Chamber of Commerce. Even if you don’t get new customers right away, you’ll be able to talk shop with other small business owners. These guys are sure to have some ideas on how you can get on your feet.
Just remember: you’ll get out what you put in. Michael Bremmer, CEO of Telecomquotes.com and active member of his local Chamber of Commerce, reported that 60% of his company’s revenue came through the Chamber. Michael’s sure that his high level of participation is what made this possible.
To get even more out of this strategy, attend a bunch of different events. Venture outside your industry and go to a marketing conference. Stay within your industry but go to an event geared at much bigger brands.
If you’re worried about cost, look for free events. There are tons of meetup groups and free networking events in most cities and towns.
Remember to bring business cards and to follow up. If you meet someone particularly interesting, be sure to connect with them on LinkedIn or to email them the following day.
Properly Leverage Email Marketing
Email marketing could be your secret sauce– you’re just not sloshing it on yet. Many small business owners don’t know how to create effective email strategies, and they miss out from opportunities to engage with current customers and get new ones.
Imagine if someone came to your small business website, or walked into your store, and was interested in your products or services, even though they didn’t make a purchase. If you give them the option to sign up for a newsletter, they’ll be hooked into your offerings. You’ll be hard to forget. When it comes time to make a purchase, they’ll think fo you.
Email marketing do’s:
Test your email copy, subject lines, and timing with A/B tests
Get an email marketing platform like Constant Contact, MailChimp, or Campaign Monitor (it’s worth it).
Read a few articles on email marketing best practices to get going.
Email marketing don’ts:
Don’t send an email to people who haven’t given you permission to do so.
Fill your subscribers inboxes with too many messages.
Only talk about yourself. Make sure you have something valuable to offer your subscribers.
Research Who Their Customers Actually Are
It’s easy to say “oh yeah, my customers are women in their 30s”, but are those really your customers? Learning who your customers are– and what makes them tick– is key to finding new ones. If you’re able to identify exactly who is benefiting from your services, it will be easier to get more of the same ilk.
Here’s how to do it:
Send out a survey. Don’t just ask customers how they use your services. Ask them what their biggest issues are.
Hold a customer meetup or focus group. Meet these people in person to learn what makes them tick.
Do some tests. Try targeting Facebook ads to certain groups, then look to see how those groups compare. Is one more likely to visit your website?
Get some software. Tools like KISSmetrics are helpful for narrowing down your customers.
Effectively Manage Relationships
Once upon a time, there was a real estate firm in Houston, Texas. When someone wanted to sell their home, they’d send an email to the company, as instructed on the website. The emails were then printed out and left atop the agents’ desks. Usually the agents were able to pick up the lead and get going, but often leads got lost in the shuffle. It was impossible for the company to keep track of how many leads were coming in from their website, and real estate agents had no system for figuring out whether these emails had been dealt with or not.
I shudder thinking about how much business was lost.
This firm wasn’t taking advantage of what modern technology can offer. There’s a very simple solution– it’s called a Customer Relationship Management tool. Don’t let the fancy name scare you. A CRM is just a way of keeping track of all customers — past, present, and prospective.
Perfect Their Partnerships
Every business owner knows that partnerships are a good idea, but not many know to to leverage them. The key is to partner with a company that caters to the exact same audience as you do.
If you’re feeling squeamish about the amount of time and energy this will take, do something simple. Grasshopper, the entrepreneur’s phone system, and Wave Apps, an accounting solution, partnered together simply by writing blog posts and offering each other’s customers a deal.
Brad Sugars, an Inc. contributor, recommends “host-beneficiary” relationships. These happen when a well-established business partners with a smaller and lesser known business (you). Imagine if Coca Cola was willing to recommend your drink to everyone who bought a Coke– the sales would come pouring in.
Just remember: there has to be something in it for both partners.
Make It Easy For Prospective Customers To Get In Touch
Most small business owners feel like they’re drowning in too many emails. Sometimes they even skip over emails from potential customers (this happened to me once when I was trying to hire a financial planner). Sure, you’re super strapped for time, but that doesn’t excuse blowing off an email.
They key isn’t to increase your available hours, but to streamline your help system. Support sites, knowledgebase, live chat, phone lines, and scheduling apps make it easy for customers to self-serve. Instead of contacting you to make an appointment, they can use your scheduling system and do it themselves. Instead of bothering you with a nit-picky question, they can visit your knowledge-base.
The Key To Finding Customers
There are tons of ways to grow your customer base. SEO, PPC ads, social media, and other kinds of advertising can all play a role. If you’re not set up to catch interested parties, it will be hard to succeed.
Are you doing these things at your small business? What other strategies are you using?
About the Author: Emma Siemasko is a business writer and a content marketer at Grasshopper. She loves writing about startups, small business, marketing, and productivity. To connect with Emma, find her on Twitter @EmmaFayeS or visit her on the web: emmasiemasko.com7 Things Small Business Owners Don’t Do to Find Customers, But Should Guest Blogger