First, three great ways to get customers to come to you:
1. Get Visible
Join a Local Business Association Many communities and/or neighborhoods have business associations. Investigate to see if your area has one and if it does, join it. Get your face and your small business known in the community and become one of those people and businesses everyone knows–remember people prefer to do business with those they know and trust.
Volunteer at and/or Sponsor Community Based Events Another way to get your face and small business’ name out there is by volunteering and/or sponsoring community based events. Something as small as donating products or services to a local PTA event gets your business in front of hundreds of parents…parents who will know that you support their kids and the community. All communities have opportunities for your small business to give back, and since you reap what you sow, get busy sowing!
Donate Your Products or Services Get involved with groups where you can donate your products and or services to help others. Whether it be a group of entrepreneurs just starting out, or as a resource for those in the community that are in need. Not only is providing others a step-up a rewarding experience, but it also provides your small business with great PR material
2. Get the Word Out
Write and send out press releases Using press releases is an excellent way to establish your small business in its area of expertise and it’s free publicity. Press Releases are easy to write, but if you’re not comfortable writing them, hiring a professional is also an affordable option. (see the Resources Box for more information on Press Releases).
Offer Discounts to Current Customers for Recommending New Customers Word-of-mouth advertising is not only free, it’s the best kind. When your current customers give live testimonials to their friends and associates, your small business is more likely to reap the reward of new customers. Offering incentives to your customers only makes them want to share the joy of doing business with your small business even more.
Write Informational Articles Yes, more writing. Why? Because it’s an excellent way to get the word out! Writing informational pieces on topics that are related to your business should be relatively easy–if you have a scrapbooking store, write something on scrapbooking; if you’re a plumber, writing about plumbing–just make sure to make the piece informative, useful and timely. Again, if you’re not comfortable writing the piece yourself, work with a professional, it is more affordable than you might think.
Once you’ve written your piece, submit it to publication’s that would be interested in the topic. Associations are great resources for this and most of them have newsletters that are always in need of useful content. For example, if your own a dog grooming business, sending your article for consideration to a Dog Owners Club or Association for inclusion in their newsletter is a place to start.
If you’re considering trying to get into a magazine, make sure to check out their article submission guidelines–this avenue will be more difficult, but you can always try – I recommend sticking with association newsletters and submitting to article submission sites online. (see the Resources Box for more information on writing and submitting articles).
3. Offer Incentives
Offer Discounted rates for new customers For service based small businesses, offering discounted rates to first time customers is a great way to let them “try you out.” Once they’ve experienced how valuable it is to work with you, they’ll be coming back for more–and referring others!
Sales and free gifts with purchase Sales are another great way to get customers in the door for the first or second or third time; as are free gifts with purchases. New customers can be more comfortable trying out new things at discounted rates and everyone likes a gift. If their experience is positive (and it will be!) and they are communicated with (see “Keeping Customers” below); they will return and become regular customers.
Second, three ways to make sure those customers remain loyal:
1. Communicate Continuously
I can’t say this enough, communicate, communicate, communicate. If you want to become THE resource for your clients in your area, you have to be ‘top of mind’ for them when that area is mentioned. A great product or service and excellent customer service help, but so do reminders. This doesn’t mean bombard them with junk mail and spam, but some formal marketing/communication plan is recommended. Make sure the communication adds value, remind them of an upcoming sale, provide tips or an informative article…something that they’ll look at and make a mental note of at least. (see more information on Customer Communication in the resources Box).
2. Ask for and Act on Customer Feedback
This is one that gets overlooked, or only half done many times. Ask your customers what they like and what your small business could do better AND then, ACT on it. I don’t mean every piece of feedback is worth acting on, but if you hear the same thing over and over, or if a comment rings true, DO something about it. You’re in business because your customers pay for ‘stuff’, if you can improve the experience of them getting the ‘stuff,’ it’ll only make them want to come back when they need more ‘stuff.’
3. Go Above and Beyond
Excellent Customer service is a given on this one, so why not take it a step further. Throw in something unexpected that fits your type of small business. It can be something small, but meaningful, something that the “other guys” don’t do–your customers will remember and return.
Following all or some of these steps will have your small business on the road to more new and returning customers who truly enjoy doing business with. Start your plan for getting ’em and keeping ’em now!
By Benjamin Waller