by Anne Day | Featured Contributor
Finding customers is probably one of the most common, ongoing challenges facing the small business owner, especially for women, as many of us don’t like to “sell.”
Let’s face it, a warm body with money to spend will suffice when you first start out. However, as you build and grow your business and get beyond start-up mode, it pays to be a bit more selective. I am sure we can all share horror stories of the clients we would have liked to fire.
The tips I am sharing apply whether you are new in business or more seasoned, because you can never get complacent even when you are on the right track and your business will evolve and change.
Do your homework
- The first step is to determine what it is you are selling. Who is your target audience and why should they buy from you rather than one of your competitors? Working on your value proposition and what makes you unique is crucial.
- Another key step is really drilling down to identify who your ideal customer is? If you have been in business for a while, think about the customers you have who you have just loved. How did you find them and what made them special? Repeat this strategy and ask for them for referrals.
- We live in a “what’s in it for me” society – so work out what is in it for your customer. Why would they want to use your service or product? What problem are you solving?
- Where do your potential customers go? How best can you reach them and get their attention? Does your website have a call to action?
Develop a marketing plan
- Now that you’ve done your homework, you can develop a marketing plan targeted at your potential clients. Just remember one size doesn’t fit all, so you will have to vary your approach depending on the demographics of the people you want to reach.
- You may have to use different medium in order to connect with your potential customers. It also makes sense to diversify your strategies as that way people are hearing your message in different ways.People live busy lives, it usually takes several mentions to capture their attention and spur them into action. Provide reminders.
- You may want to test your material. Sometimes we are too close to it to see that we we’re using too much industry jargon, for example. Before you invest lots of money on printing, website development or participating in trade shows, test your material on folks who are part of your target group.
Listen and try not to get too defensive if they don’t like an aspect of your material. By involving people from your target group, you’ve actually established your first sales force, because they now have a vested interest in helping you succeed.
Network, network, network
- Now you are ready to get out there and introduce yourself. Think about where your target customers might go and try to go out there and meet them.
- Join business networks and spread the word about what you are doing. I usually recommend belonging, if you can afford it, to three types of networks – your local chamber, an industry specific network and a women-only network.
- Have realistic expectations of what you will achieve by attending meetings. People do business with people they know and trust and that takes time.
- Avoid playing the business card shuffle, where you collect and give out as many cards as possible. Instead get to know one or two people and learn about their businesses.
- Networking is a two-way street. Listen and take an interest in the people you meet. When you help them, you can be sure they are more interested in returning the favour.
- Got a satisfied client? Ask for referrals. Word of mouth promotion is the best marketing you can get, and … it’s free.Showcase your expertise
- You may want to consider starting an e-zine as a way to keep in touch with your existing clients and at the same time showcase your expertise by providing useful information. Remember, it can’t just be about you, it has to be helpful to the reader.
- Blogging is another way to get your name out there or writing articles for industry specific organizations.
- Give seminars, webinars to provide useful information and let people get to know you better.
- Use social media to share useful information of interest to your target group
- Volunteer. You just never know who you will meet when you lend your expertise to a non-profit organization, plus it feels good to helping others.
And hang in there. Very few of us achieve success overnight. In fact there’s a saying that the only place where success comes before work, is in the dictionary.
But she found working for yourself can be isolating and so eleven years ago she started Company of Women as a way to connect and support women entrepreneurs. Today the organization has six chapters across the GTA and beyond, and over 300 members. In 2009 she received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Oakville and the TIAW World of Difference award for her work in supporting women internationally. Over the years she has helped thousands of women grow professionally and personally through her programs, services and personal encouragement.
She is the author of three books, the most recent being Day by Day – Tales of business,life and everything in between. She is a regular business columnist with Huffington Post, and blogs for numerous other publications.