Starting your own business is a big deal; it can be scary as you enter uncharted territory for your career and your future, but it can also be exciting, rewarding and really successful if you do it right. And one of the hardest parts about being an entrepreneur is growing your customer base. You can have the best idea in the world, a flawless business plan, expert mentors, amazing employees and the perfect product, but if you don’t have clients, you will fail.
According to Alan Hall, entrepreneur and contributor for Forbes.com, “successful entrepreneurs know with exactness the wants, wishes and buying
behaviors of specific individuals. They have analyzed the size of the market or the number of potential customers that fit the target profile. But further still, they know their customers’ names, ages, genders, incomes, home and Internet addresses, professions, education, associations, and marital status, number of children, hobbies, their tastes and interests. They grasp what their customers watch, read and hear. They understand their likes and dislikes. Knowing a customer to this depth is one of the key characteristics of highly successful business leaders.” In other words, if you want to build your clientele, you need to really tap into your potential customers and get to know everything there is to know about them. Remember that without those clients your business will not be successful, and that with their support, you and your company will thrive. So how do you do it? How do you access those customers? It might take a lot of work and effort, but it’s not as complicated as you think. Here are some tips to help you grow your customer base.
Network, Network, Network Start by writing down everyone you have ever met or worked with who might serve as either a client, or a potential access point for new clients. Colleagues from previous jobs, classmates from college or business school, people you meet at the local coffee shop, neighbors, parents, long lost cousins…think big and think outside the box. Once you know who you can naturally interact with you’ll suddenly have a much bigger universe of potential clients to approach. In addition to your personal circle of friends, coworkers and future customers, you also need to meet new people who meet your target audience. You can network on social media, you can join networking groups, you can attend business events catered to your industry and clientele, and you can set up meet-and-greet events. However you do it, approach the situation as a big opportunity to expand your network of clients and don’t take any interaction for granted. Always have business cards on hand, be prepared to answer questions and pitch your business plan, and always stay focused.
Follow Up Meeting potential clients is half the battle. But keeping them interested and actually turning that positive first impression into a loyal customer is equally important. As Entrepreneur reports, Deborah Mitchell, CEO & Founder or Deborah Mitchell Media Associates, argues, “it’s easy to collect business cards and exchange numbers, but the real business happens when you follow up. Take a few days before you reach out via email with a short recap of your meeting and suggest a possible follow-up meeting or conversation. Not all connections immediately turn into clients. Use the various social-media platforms–especially LinkedIn and Twitter–to stay in touch.”
Manage the Clients You Have As you try to grow your clientele and gain new customers, don’t neglect the customers you already have. Turning those individuals and companies into loyal and high-quality clients will keep them coming back for more, and will also help turn them into your biggest advocates. You want them to not only give you their business, but also tell their friends and colleagues about you and help market your brand whenever possible. Remember the movie Jerry Maguire, when he suggests fewer clients, less money, more attention and more relationships? Treat your current clients with respect and attention, and it will pay off big-time in the long run.
Embrace New Technology but Don’t Forget About Face-to-Face Interactions Sure, there is tons of new technology and online tools to help you network and grow your clientele without ever having to see a client in person. That’s the digital world we live in now. And while those tools are useful when you put them to work in the right way, they cannot be the only tools you use. Connecting through Linked In, Facebook or other networking sites is a great idea, but don’t forget about the power of face-to-face interactions. Set up meetings. Pitch your business plan. Take potential clients to lunch. Show them what you can do. Sometimes that personal connection makes all the difference when client is choosing between you and a competitor.
Cast a Wide Net Selena Rezvani, Contributor for Forbes.com and entrepreneur, argues that you shouldn’t wait to go after the big clients. “As a new entity, many people will advise you to start small or go after the “low hanging fruit.” Don’t. Aim high.” Worse case scenario a potential client says no, but if you expand your reach as much as possible then while some people may not be interested, others will be, and you’ll be poised for success so you can continue to grow and more forward.
Look to Similar Brands that Share Your Target Audience Once you know your target audience, you don’t have to start from square one to access this individuals and businesses. Chances are there are already other companies and brands who tap into that target client you are looking for. Find those businesses and partner with them. Attend their events, follow their actions, offer perks to their existing customers, pitch an appealing partnership to the host business and make sure that you find a way to benefit the existing business, their clients, and your brand as well. When this is done right, everyone wins, and you’ll gain a ton of clients who fit your exact target with minimal effort.