Business is coming back slowly, but it’s still a challenge. And that may be “The New Normal” for some time to come.
More than ever before, it’s no longer enough to sit and wait for customers to come to you. You need to take matters in your own hands, get creative, and get moving to expand your base of clients.
Here are 10 tips to help you do that.
Start close to home
You want more customers, but what about finding more ways to serve the customers you already have? The people who know you for great service and high quality? Figure out ways you can expand what you offer – as long as you don’t wade into something you lack the training for. (A lawn service can add snow removal to its roster of services, for instance, but should probably pass up trying to become a kitchen remodeler, as well.)
Network, network, network
Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Go to events for the people in your industry – or for the folks who make up your customer base. If you serve a particular category of firms, get to know the people who work in that industry, whether they’re your customers or not. That will up your chances of getting their business someday.
But think carefully. Who do you want to reach? What is the specific message you want to get across? Which media outlets do your potential customers gravitate toward? What magazines or newspapers are they reading? What radio stations are the folks listening to who buy your services?
This is more difficult than it might sound, but it can pay huge dividends. Is there something about your operation that gives you expertise relevant to general consumers? For example, with an industrial cleaning business you could do a short write-up on “Five Ways to Save Money When Hiring a Cleaner” – and make sure those are solid, useful tips (“Hire my company” doesn’t count!). If the result is a genuine public service, not just self-promotional puffery, your local weekly paper is likely to give it some space – they’re always hungry for copy.
Start spreading the news
Does your business lend itself to a newsletter that you could send to existing customers? It doesn’t need to be often, and it shouldn’t be long – two sides of a page might be enough. It does need to look polished and professional. This is where you can enlist that nephew who majored in English and wants to write the Great American Novel, or your assistant who was a graphic design student.
Tell your customers what’s new in your operation that will interest them: New services, new employees, new ways you’re doing business. You can do this on paper or, better yet, create a blog or an email distribution list. (If you use email, make sure you have the permission of everyone on your list – you don’t want to end up in the spam folder.) A project like this serves two purposes: It keeps you “top of mind” for current customers, and it gives them an easy way to pass on your information to their friends and colleagues who might also need your services.
You’re not on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn yet? These resources are today’s version of the Yellow Pages mixed with the local paper and the corner coffee shop where everyone gathers to chat. A presence on social networks costs next to nothing. But again, you need to be cautious: When you post news on these sites, make sure what you offer is of genuine interest to a broad group of people. (This isn’t the place to expound on your political views or share an off-color joke.)
Give something away
Is there some aspect of your business that can be promoted through a free or modestly priced service? For example, if you provide waste tank pumping services, offer inspections to check for solids that have settled in the tanks. You won’t want to do those for free, of course, for two reasons: They will cost you the time for the labor spent in doing them properly, and customers are actually less likely to value the results of a free inspection versus what they have paid for a service. But you still want to keep the price reasonable so it attracts new customers who haven’t used your services.
Join the team
Is there a nonprofit community program you can become part of and raise your profile? Perhaps you can sponsor a kids’ soccer league. Or donate your services to the local Habitat for Humanity or other charitable organization that is relevant to your line of business. That’s a great way to get name recognition while doing something to help improve your community.
Go to the party
Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if it hosts an annual business expo or similar event. These are typically daylong or weekend-long programs held at a local high school gym or other public space. Participation may cost you a small fee, but don’t let that be a deterrent. It helps show the world you’re out there. You never know who might show up and realize you’ve got exactly the sort of services they’ve been hunting for.
Pay a bounty
Is your business one that can grow by word of mouth? Consider offering current customers a discount coupon on their next service for referring new business to you.
And the one thing not to do? Stand still. Someone else, using these or other ideas, will pass you by.
About the Author
Erik Gunn is a magazine writer and editor in Racine, Wis., where he operates Great Lakes Editorial Services, consulting for businesses, nonprofits and individuals. Readers may direct inquiries to him by contacting this publication at 800/257-7222 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.