Note: This post was done as participation in Tea Silvestre’s blog carnival at The Word Chef.
A business is nothing without customers. Whether you are a service provider or product creator, full time or part time, running a business is hard business…and finding customers is the hardest part.
You not only have to find customers, but you have to find the right customers. Luckily for business owners, it is easier than ever to find and connect with customers. But as you may see after this post, the problem can quickly become having too many options .
At this point I won’t rehash the necessity of building and nurturing relationships with customers. That much is already clear (I hope) and has been covered on many blogs other than my own. Once you establish leads and find potential customers it is up to you to build your relationship with them.
Your business is your business and your customer is your customer. No two are the same. There is no blanket statement to describe how these relationships should be treated or built on. But I’m going to try my best to show how they can get started.
Honestly, I don’t want to get too much into paid methods.
The first reason is because most people know these paid methods exist. Paying for advertising and marketing is as old as time. There’s nothing creative about it.
You can pay for ads on Google so people searching for certain terms see your business pop up in the sponsored results. You can pay for ads on Facebook and target people with certain criteria fitting your ideal customer profile. You can even pay for lead contact lists (something that my friend in the mortgage business has had some success with).
But the second reason I don’t want to get too much into these is many business start-ups (including my own) try to operate on a shoestring budget. There are cheaper, more creative ways to get those potential customer connections.
And that is what I want to talk about…
1. Email List Relationship Building: The money is in the list, right? That’s because email conversations are much more persona than blog commenting or Twitter messaging. Your email is private and personal. It is not a public account. It is directed at you.
Any business looking to create a loyal customer following should being building their email list ASAP. This can be done several ways, but the most popular technique is to give something of value away for free.
Once you being building up your contact list, you should also begin interacting with them on a personal level. People buy from people they like. Sell yourself first, and your product or service second.
2. Inbound Blog Marketing: Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion, is the king of inbound marketing (and the jungle ). His business story is an inspirational one. Marcus entered the world of inbound marketing and skyrocketed his pool business success.
Answer potential customers’ questions. Provide them with useful potential-decision-making information. They will be grateful for the help. And it’s quite possible that your competitor isn’t making the same information readily available. Who do you think the customer will favor?
3. Guest Post on Related, Bigger Blogs: Nothing can drive in potential clients, customers or even business partners, like a little exposure. Create some great content, like the best content you’ve ever created, and offer it up to a site with a bigger audience.
If you are answering someone’s burning questions, they will come over and check you out. If they see that you are offering solutions to their problem, they may contact you as a potential customer.
4. Clarity on Your Site: If you are providing a service or consulting, make it clear on your site that you are for hire with a “hire me” page. Describe what services you provide.
If you have a product available make sure that it is front and center. If people can’t see it, and don’t know that you have a product that can make their lives easier, they can’t buy.
5. Q&A Sites: Q&A Sites are a good source of people looking for answers. Provide a great answer and it will be available for a very long time and ranked very well in search engines.
Even if the person asking the question doesn’t come after you for your services, someone down the line may read your brilliant answer and contact you for more. Just remember to leave a way to get in touch!
6. Answers on LinkedIn: LinkedIn Answers is more than just a regular Q&A site because it is within a social network. The great thing about LinkedIn that makes it different than other social networks is that it is catered to professionals – people looking to network and possibly make business relationships. This increases the chance of your answer leading to further conversations.
7. LinkedIn Groups: Speaking of LinkedIn, groups can be a great source of potential customers. Joining groups gives you access to people with similar interests. Some will be consumers and some will be providers.
By being a part of the group you can message members with special offers and promotions for your products or services. Or, you can take it one step further and talk to the group organizer about messaging members for you for a little extra legitimacy.
8. Facebook Groups: Facebook also has groups (for anything you can possibly imagine!). You can try and promote your products or services on the group wall – but that often seems a little spammy.
In this case, it is definitely better to try to get in touch with the group organizer for a promotion.
9. Twitter Keywords: Use Twitter search to see who’s talking about your area of expertise. Maybe someone needs help…offer it up!
You can use hashtags and actually seek seek out people looking for help too (i.e. “#help”).
10. Fiverr Samples: While Fiverr is a great resource to get some cheap projects done quickly for your own business, it is also a great way to possibly lure in some customers for bigger projects of your own.
Alex Whalley talks about using Fiverr to create an online business.
11. Find Affiliates: Doing all the work on your own can be both exhausting and discouraging. But what if you could get a couple of people on your team? Sales partners that don’t take any control of your actual business.
You can pay to be a service or product provider on an affiliate network. Or you can go out and make connections with people that will help promote your product.
While this method is often associated with product sales, you can also partner with affiliates for service promotions.
The downside of these networks is that you there will most likely always be someone under-bidding you. But one successful project can be the beginning of a long business relationship.
13. Forums: Forums are are designed for discussion so there is a lot of opportunity to create possible business relationships. Some forums even have sections for people to connect specifically for that reasons (like the “Warriors for Hire” and “Warriors Wanted” sections on the Warrior Forum).
Whatever industry you are in, chances are there is a forum for it. And if there isn’t, then you are either in the wrong industry or have a huge opportunity on your hands .
14. Leverage Media Exposure: Getting into certain media outlets can provide you with plenty of exposure and allow you the opportunity to display your expertise.
15. Online Classifieds: While sites like Craigslist can be a big pain in the backside and a huge source of spam, they can also be a great resource for finding potential clients and customers.
While most postings in the jobs sections are for employees, why not pitch a freelance/consultant relationship to the employer? You could also get lucky by finding something in the “gigs” section of the classifieds.
Going Past the “Meeting”
So there you have it: 15 ways to find and “meet” potential customers for your business. Once you get your foot through the door it is important to build on the relationship. This not only turns potential customers into customers, and customers into loyal customers, but it also allows you the ability to see if the potential customer is the right customer for you. Remember, sometimes a decision to not take on a customer is just as important as a decision to take on a new project.