When I was getting ready to start my first business I did as much reconnaissance as I could. At the time, I was still working for a big law firm, making good money and I had a very nice benefits package. Additionally, my wife was pregnant and we had a toddler scampering around the house. Needless to say, there was very little room for error.
One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a wizened old lawyer and businessman who had a very successful practice for many years. Here’s what he told me:
“Once you get started Steve, you will be inclined to spend most of your time catering to your current clientele. And while that is of course important, I want you to remember that you will need to juggle three balls, not just that one.”
“What I am saying is that there are three types of customers,” he went on. “New customers, existing customers, and exiting customers. You need to pay attention to all three if you want to succeed. People will leave your business for all sorts of reasons – they might move, or find someone cheaper, or get mad at you, or their needs change, whatever the case may be. The only way to replace clients who leave is by consistently working to create new ones. Then, later, those new clients will become existing ones. Later still, they will leave too and you will have to have even more new ones. You will need to always be juggling new, existing, and exiting customers if you want to stay in the game.”
That advice remains as true today as it was when he first told me over 20 years ago, and that of course begs the question: How do you, in fact, get new customers?
The popular answer today is “social media!” And while it’s true that social media must be a part of your marketing mix, let’s look at the top three tools that have always worked best:
1. Advertising: The tried-and-true, 800 lb. gorilla way to get new business is by advertising. Television, radio, and newspapers all can trace their evolution and growth to being the great advertising mediums of their day. They grew because they helped businesses grow.
And not only does advertising work, but because of the Internet, it is more affordable than ever. Back in the day you might spend a lot of money advertising with the hope that the right person would see your ad and call you. It was expensive because you also were paying for a lot of eyeballs that would see the ad but never call.
These days, with Google in particular, your ad dollars go a lot further. You can create an ad targeting people by searching for specific terms that relate to your business and only pay after they see your ad, like it, and click on it. That sort of specific, targeted lead beats spending mass money on other mass mediums.
2. Marketing and Public Relations: With advertising you spend money directly on some sort of communication medium where you tell people about your business, however, marketing is a different sort of communication, one that ideally is a bit more subtle. With marketing, you still are communicating with the public about your business, but the message isn’t “buy now” but rather, “look at us and what we can do for you.”
Marketing works to get you more business because it keeps you in the mind of the buyer so that when they need what you sell, they remember you.
The marketing tools available today have vastly increased and improved also because of the Web. Whether it is social media (see, it can’t be avoided!), e-newsletters, your website, or YouTube videos, the types of marketing methods that exist for small businesses today are amazing and should be taken advantage of.
By the same token, PR is another powerful tool for gaining new customers. Having a website or television station do a story about what a unique business you have is the type of legitimacy and marketing bonanza that cannot be bought.
3. Referrals: Having a satisfied customer tout your business is marketing gold and is sure to bring in additional business. And yes – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – the Internet has changed and amplified this strategy too. How? Consider the plethora of places online where people can discuss and rate your business, whether it is Yelp, or forums, or comments on blogs and social media platforms.
The good news is that one thing hasn’t changed: The way to get that all important word-of-mouth is still the same as in the pre-Internet era:
Do great work.
If you do great work, offer fair prices, have exceptional customer service, stand behind what you sell, fix what’s broken, take care of your staff, and exceed expectations, you will get people to refer business to you.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.
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