One of the biggest obstacles new business owners face is building up a base of customers. You can market through social media channels, hand out coupons and more, but gimmicks can’t always close the deal. If your business is stagnant and you’re not sure why, consider how you connect with your customers. In an age where we’re all inundated with advertising on our phones, TVs and computers, we’ve become desensitized to marketing at a point. Sometimes, a genuine connection can go much farther. Networking can bring you closer to your current customers and help to expand your reach to new customers in many ways. Explore the possibilities through these tactics.
Network of Customers
Set up a referral bonus system. When you experience something great, you want to talk about it and relive the experience all over again as you share your story. Does your small business get people talking? If so, leverage that. Word of mouth referrals have always been a cheap and effective form of advertising, and they still are to this day, especially when someone can get a “word of mouth” recommendation from a complete stranger through third-party review sites like Yelp and Facebook Reviews.
If you don’t get a lot of referrals, create a system of reward for your customers that take the time to recommend you. This will incentivize not only the new customer that they bring in, but also the original customer who will want to continue to return to the same store to cash in their reward.
Use testimonials. If your customers are always letting you know how much they appreciate your goods or service, take note of it. You can use advertising to tell potential customers how great your business is, but a genuine testimonial can make a much stronger impression. Testimonials aren’t always challenging to get either — just as you enjoy sharing your positive experiences, so do your customers. Your customers will feel good about supporting your business and affirming the choice they made by selecting your good or service.
Once you get the testimonials, use them wisely on your website, emails, print ads and in-store materials. Don’t oversaturate or it will make the testimonial seem phony and unauthentic. Before you post any of your testimonials publicly, take any additional measures you may need to use them for marketing material.
Network of Small Business Owners
Attend meet-ups. If you aren’t connected with other small business owners in your community already, attending a meet-up is a great place to start. If you are, meet-ups are a great way to expand your current reach. Websites like Meetup aim to bring like-minded people together to organize around a common connection. Find a niche that interests you or that feels like a great opportunity to network for your business. The sub-groups available on Meetup include women who lead, marketing, entrepreneurs and more. This is a great way to build a foundation for our next tips.
Get on an approved vendor list. Hotels, contractors, event planners, office managers and many others use a pre-approved list of potential vendors as a way to help narrow down the best options to fit their needs. The person using this list can look at their options and rest easy knowing that these vendors have already been vetted and have a seal of approval — it’s an implied five-star Yelp review.
For example, an event hall may have a list of approved DJs, caterers and florists. Most likely, every booking for that hall is going to choose a vendor from that list, generating a consistent flow of new leads to their business — you can see the benefit of getting on one of these lists. The question is, how do you get on one? Start by thinking about other small business owners you would put on your own referral list. Going back to the earlier example, if you were a caterer and had a really positive working experience with a specific event hall, reach out to them. Give them a compliment and share why you enjoyed working with them and how you’d like to work with them in the future. If they have an approved vendor list already, request to be added. If they don’t, read on for more.
Recommend people you stand behind. If you’ve built connections with other small business owners that don’t have a preferred vendor list, there’s no reason you can’t use similar tactics to gain leads for future customers. When your businesses complement each other, it’s very easy to click with their customer base. Depending on how well you know your fellow business owners, however you may not be able to plainly ask them to recommend your business to their customers. Find a method that works for you. You can recommend their business to your customers and hope that they will hear about your comments through the grapevine, though that’s not foolproof. Consider putting a special discount on a postcard-size ad and ask your fellow entrepreneur to keep the stack by the register for interested customers. The key here is to support your fellow business owners, and, hopefully, they will return the favor, helping to grow your customer base even further.
Establish blog partnerships. If you host a blog as part of your marketing efforts, consider setting up a reciprocal blog partnership with a fellow small business owner. In recent years, Google has put less weight on referral links of this type, meaning you won’t gain much SEO value from it — that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, though. Try to partner with small businesses that attract a similar demographic to reach an audience you may not have accessed before. It will increase the likelihood you’ll get seen by potential new customers in a format that demonstrates your knowledge — a valuable (and free!) form of advertising.