White-in-article.jpgWhat makes your small business valuable to your customers?


by Max Berry.


These may not be economic boom times, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still attract new customers to your small business. The trick is in knowing which customers to go after. Here are some tips for identifying—and attracting—the right customers for your small business.


Socialize For Success

If you want to attract the right customers, you must first be explicit about who you are. “Our personality is reflected in everything we do,” says Whitney Martin, founder of the Richmond, Virginia-based women’s fitness boutique Styles Group Fitness.


One cost-free way Martin broadcasts her personality is by maintaining a social media presence. “I’ve never paid for advertising,” she says. “I’ve done [my marketing] through social media.” The way you express yourself through social media—from the tone of your Twitter blasts to the photos and videos you share on Facebook—will speak volumes about your business, and act as a direct link to like-minded customers.


“Specificity is an advantage small business has over large business,” says Jimmy Vee, who is a co-founder of consulting firm Gravitational Marketing and an advisor to Martin. “People need to feel like they have a relationship with you before they’ll do business with you.”


Pull-Quote.jpgEstablishing that kind of relationship with your existing customers will help attract new ones. In a slow economy, people wary of spending money are more apt to listen to their friends and associates than to advertising. “When you’re clear about who your customer is, people love to refer,” says Vee’s Gravitational Marketing partner Travis Miller.


Martin notes that her customer base is “almost one hundred percent referrals.” But she is also honest with all prospective clients. “I’ll have a woman say, ‘This is what I’m looking for,’ and if I don’t feel I can give that to her, I’ll refer her to another gym. I don’t want to be all things to all people.” And clearly she doesn’t need to be; after just 18 months in business, Styles Group Fitness is expanding to new locations in Virginia and North Carolina.


Shake Things Up

A bad economy is no excuse to get complacent. “If you’re not experimenting, you’re not living,” says Miller. He and his partner Vee note that companies that market in new and creative ways throughout a recession come out on the other side with a greater market share.


One way to get creative with your own marketing is to partner up with a complementary, non-competing business in your area. Martin, for her part, linked up with a woman who runs a nearby wedding invitation store. After Martin interviewed her for an online radio show she used to produce, the owner of the store wrote about Martin’s company in a blog post read by 400 brides-to-be. “It’s all about connecting,” Martin says of the relationship, “all about [saying]

‘I want to create value in your business, can you make value in mine?’”


Slow economic times are also ideal for experimenting with and rolling out new products and services. By making it known that you’re still striving to be the best, most innovative company you can be, you’ll set yourself apart from those businesses that appear fearful of change.


“Sell something different, sell to someone completely different,” advises Vee. “I recommend picking a strategy and going all in. If it works, great. If not, go back and start again.” Martin concurs: “Some business owners create a box and say ‘I have to fit within that box.’ I think a good business is a business that evolves. The best business owners are people that not only keep their eyes out for new opportunities, but are willing to pursue them.”


The Pursuit of Affluence

Of course, the right customer for any business is the one willing to spend money. This may lead many entrepreneurs to believe the best way to attract new customers is to slash prices. Not so, says Vee: “People think of price as the motivating factor, so many would think it best to lower prices. But that leaves you with low profitability and no money for customer service.”


Rather than slashing prices in an effort to cast the widest net possible, Vee and Miller recommend targeting more affluent customers. They also cite Styles Group Fitness, which is geared toward women with household incomes of $100,000 or more per year, as a prime example of this strategy.


Martin herself is quick to acknowledge the affluence angle in her own business model, but she also stresses the importance of being inclusive. “Some clubs can make you feel excluded, but our overall attitude is one of open arms,” she says. “I have a college student and a girl who works at a mall kiosk [as clients] and they don’t make that kind of money—fitness is just really important to them.”


So, naturally, is finding the fitness program that best suits their needs. “There’s been lots of talk over the last decade of value, of extra stuff,” says Miller. “But we’ve found greater importance in actually being valuable.”


And by making all of her customers feel like they’re part of a community, Martin’s commitment to being valuable is able to attract customers that might not ordinarily fit her customer base, like that girl working at the mall kiosk. “Like attracts like,” says Martin. “It’s about getting into a group of people and finding common ground. That’s what I want to do. All of my time and energy goes back to my customers.”