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Jumping over small business hurdles: Part 3

Ultimately, your small business is here to sell. But how do you get that first sale, encourage repeat customers, and then grow your client base? You need to find, keep, and multiply them. We’ll discuss how to do just that in this ‘Small Business Hurdles’ post.
*Note: Technically, ‘client’ implies a long-standing relationship, as well as the purchase of services (consulting, solutions, being represented, etc.); whereas ‘customer’ suggests a once-off sale – like buying goods/products from a grocery store. For the purpose of simplicity, I’m going to refer to the two interchangeably in this post.

Sometime all it takes is on great sale.

Sometime all it takes is one great sale.

1. Customer Acquisition 
When you’ve just started out, getting even one person to buy from you is a mission on its own. Once you’re sure that your products/services are ready, you’ll need to attract that first customer. Here are two ways to direct attention to your business:
a) Launch an online marketing campaign – Sounds slightly scary, but it doesn’t have to be. This could involve promotional techniques like:

  • Sending emails (not spam) to specific individuals, offering your services and specifying  what makes your company the best.
  • Social media marketing (which I’ll discuss in step 3).
  • Creating a business website for your audience. On the site, it would be great if you could offer something of value, such as an eBook which one can download (for free).
  • Search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Something like Google AdWords would involve spending a little bit of money, but for that amount you could:

–> Create text-ads that appear in search results and highly increase your exposure.
–> Use the AdWords technology to target specific users.
–> Measure, analyze, and improve your results.
–> Pay only when someone clicks on your ad.
b) Advertise the ‘old-fashioned way’– This could actually be an easier and more effective method, if you have a physical storefront for example. You could:

  • Print flyers, newspaper/magazine ads, and business cards to share around.
  • Establish yourself in the Yellow Pages or even in radio/TV ads – if you can afford it.
  • Do face-to-face networking. Don’t underestimate this technique; it still works very well for many businesses. Many people are more comfortable buying from/working with others that they know or have met. Even if they don’t become immediate customers, they could  direct potential ones your way.

Just remember that not everybody is your customer. “What’s that supposed to mean? I need anyone that I can get, right?” Depending on what you provide, there will always be a target customer. By now, your market research and business plan should have given you a clear picture of your ideal customer’s profile. The profile is particularly important when you’re using marketing techniques. 

Cultivate everlasting business relationships.

Cultivate everlasting relationships.

2. Customer Retention 
As Tim Berry says, you might be mistreating your best clients. Are you exploiting the people who’ve been with you for a long time? Older/repeat customers deserve “the best rates and the best treatment”. You might be so focused on obtaining as many new customers as possible, that your reliable clients get sidelined.
This also goes in line with quality vs. quantity, i.e. managing business growth while maintaining your dedication & excellence. As your company expands, you might find that it’s difficult to pay as much attention to your clientele as you did in the beginning. If budget allows for it, perhaps you could eventually establish a team/department to manage customer support and service.
Essentially, you have to strike a balance. It’s usually the customer-centric enterprises that garner the most attention and positive results. This entails: exceeding your audience’s expectations; developing your products and services according to the customer’s needs and wants; and putting effort into fostering long-lasting relationships/partnerships/networks. The bottom line is: keep your customers happy, because the angry ones could spell disaster. 
3. Customer Expansion
Growing your customer base will always be a small business goal. Of course, the best way to expand the business is if you could sit back and do nothing – no marketing, no spending time or money… but how?
Well if you’re lucky, written testimonials and word-of-mouth referrals could go a long way in promoting your company. But for this you have to be more than exceptional and have great clients too. If you’re not that lucky (or that good), then here are some tips:
Show that you're professionals.

Show that you’re professionals.

a) Brand building in the face of tough competition – Differentiate yourself from competitors by: 
–> Establishing yourself as a leader/expert in your industry/field. Do this by writing articles, showcasing guest blog posts, publishing whitepapers and eBooks, creating video tutorials, etc.
–> Connecting with your customers. Social media (as we all know) has gotten a lot of hype for its effective marketing abilities. That’s because it’s quick, more personal, and efficient. Find out  which social networks your customers lounge on, reach out to them there, and provide them with useful/interesting content. Respond to all customer queries AND negative posts, and use the social platforms to build your reputation. 
b) Incentivize, reward, expand – Everyone loves a prize or a discount. Motivate your current clients to buy, and invite new ones to try out your products/services, by offering:
–> Social media contests
–> Daily deals (through sites like Groupon)
–> Special rates for a limited time, through your website or other online profiles 
4. Customer Deletion 
I had to add this section, because no matter how large and successful your business becomes, there will always be customer loss. Sometimes, though, it’s not your fault. It’s theirs.
Bin the bad customers.

Bin the bad customers.

There are customers that just not worth the time, effort, and resources that you spend on them. Getting rid of customers might sound like a ridiculous idea for a small business, but at some point, you might change your mind.
Clients from hell always seem to crop up, no matter how hard we try to avoid them. If a customer is being a ‘certified orifice’, then maybe it’s time to let go. So how does one do that?
“Consider changing your pricing or policies, perhaps, to allow the clients who are hardest to manage to fall gently out of your client base…”
– – –
And there you go. Time to start selling.

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