So you’ve done the legwork, literally taking those many steps to start your business – that’s great! And by now you may have discovered that building a customer base can be one of the most challenging steps for small business owners.
Developing a Customer Base for a New SMB
Once you’ve committed to your business, continue to build it up right. As a new business, follow your initial efforts with the following essential steps to finding customers and cultivating your customer base.
5 Steps to Build Your Customer Base
1. Use Your Existing Network
Think about who, in your immediate network, might be a good fit for your product or service. Someone you have established trust and familiarity with is much more likely to consider purchasing from you.
If these customers have a positive experience, there is a strong chance they will make recommendations to people within their network. Referrals from satisfied and loyal customers are highly promising leads.
2. Build Relationships with Your Target Market
Find local clubs, meetups, and interest groups relevant to your industry. For example, if you’re opening a book shop, join a local book club. If you’re a personal trainer, consider joining local fitness meetups.
The more people like you as a person, the more likely they are to want to become your customer. Even if you don’t find leads immediately, having a presence in your local community will put you on people’s radars.
It’s also a great way to learn what people in your target market like and dislike about your competitors, which will help you identify any gaps you can fill to make your business stand out.
3. Offer More for Less
As a small and emerging business, you need to find a reason for new customers to choose you over your competitors. One way to get a foot in the door is to offer something for free, or at a discounted rate.
Free Samples and Trials
Offer customers a 7-day evaluation, a product sample, a free consultation, or a free newsletter, requiring only their names and email addresses. This is a great way to get potential customers interested in your product, while also building upon your email marketing list. Follow up with customers after the sample or trial period, prompting them to sign up and asking them to provide feedback on their experiences.
Discount Referral Programs
Discount codes are a fantastic tool for drawing in new customers. Many businesses are using discount codes in their checkout, particularly as a way to reward customers who refer their friends.
Issuing a unique code allows your website to verify the referring customer at the checkout. You can set up your promotion to apply the discount only to the referring customer – or you can extend it to the customer they have referred.
Discount codes are a fantastic way to drive revenue, meet sales goals, and acquire new customers, while boosting your visibility amongst your target market.
Although discount codes have many benefits, there are a few downsides. They have a tendency to drive non-loyal shoppers, and the discounted products will have lower profit margins. Before going down the discount code route, consider whether it actually fits into your overall business strategy.
4. Speak at Local Events
Many event organizers struggle to find speakers within their budget. Organizations usually appreciate someone local with expertise who is willing to speak for free.
If the audience at the event is your target market, then it’s a perfect platform to introduce yourself and your brand.
Rather than approaching the speech as a marketing pitch, let them know who you are and what your company does, but focus on sharing your knowledge and experience in the industry, relating back to the topic. At the end of your speech, mention your website and leave your audience with some information about how they can purchase your product.
You can also use this opportunity to offer something back to the audience – some slides from your presentation, a resource or guide – in exchange for their contact details.
5. Use Social Media
Social media is very important for any business to stay connected with their customer base. Follow the expert social media tips to grow your social followings.
To improve your presence online, find out where your target audience spends the most time online, and channel additional energy into that platform.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Google + are all great ways to engage with existing customers, and spread further awareness of your brand. For many of these platforms, user activities are visible to their friends or followers. So, when existing customers like a post or provide positive feedback in the comments, it can leave a strong impression on the people in the social circles of those customers.
Vary your content, and tailor it to suit each platform. You can run powerful ad campaigns, answer customer questions, respond to feedback, hold competitions, and let your followers be the first to know about new products.
“Give to Receive” and Develop Your Customer Base
Starting with your existing network may seem like a no-brainer, but have you used yours to its fullest? And this is not a one-way street – you have a proposition that delivers a win-win to your new brand, and your potential customer and customer base. By offering discount codes and speaking “for free” at local events, you’ll begin to experience how giving most definitely leads to receiving. You’ve taken the initial steps to start your small business, so take the next 5 steps we discussed above and keep it up!
Are you starting to build your customer base? Will you use one or more of these steps to boost your progress? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments!