Somehow as business owners, we got brainwashed into thinking social media is our business.
Somehow running our businesses have turned into focusing on growing our list of followers, getting more likes on posts and having a presence on every social media platform. We even put links to social media on our websites and icons on our promotional materials–valuable locations we would charge any other company an advertising fee for.
Our days are consumed crafting perfect posts that will be seen by less than 1% of the following we worked so hard to build, responding to comments and engaging in groups to create relationships. In the moment, we tell ourselves we’re working on our businesses. By the end of the day, we’re wondering why our businesses aren’t growing, why we still have an overwhelming to-do list and why we’re no closer to reaching our big goals.
We’re running on a hamster wheel and it’s called social media.
I’m not telling you to ditch social media. It serves a purpose and can do a lot of good for your business. I’ve used it extensively for my handbag business, but I never relied on it or treated it as my only means to find customers.
It’s one of the many tools we have to market and support our businesses, but should never be the only tool.
Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten about so many of the other valuable tools we have. It’s time to start paying attention to some of those other tools.
When brainstorming ways to find new customers for a business, I like to think in terms of push and pull.
Push and Pull Strategies
Marketing can be separated into two groups; push and pull.
Push strategy is taking your product or service to the customer. Think of it as getting in your car, walking up porch steps and knocking on someone’s door with your product in hand. You are being pro-active, taking the initiative to tell customers about your products and services.
Pull strategy is getting customers to come to you. It’s like hanging a banner on your storefront that says, “We sell shoes” and then waiting for customers to walk in the door. They’ll enter your shop because they noticed their shoes are looking worn. Social media is generally a pull strategy.
Both strategies are needed for running a business. Relying on one strategy for your marketing is dangerous. A healthy business uses a balance of both push and pull.
It can get a little confusing figuring out if a marketing tool is pull or push. The important part is to make sure you’re using a combination of going to your customers and bringing them to you.
Where to Find New Customers
Maybe you’ve been swallowed up in social media so long you can’t think of other ways to get new customers.
Grab a pen and paper. I’m going to help you come up with so many ideas, you won’t be able to write them down fast enough.
Close your eyes and imagine social media no longer exists. (You just gave a big sigh of relief, didn’t you?)
With social media no longer an option, ask yourself, “How do I find new customers? How can I take my product to new customers (push) and how can I help them find me (pull)?”
I’m going to get you started with six ideas. Even if you don’t think they apply to your product, service or industry, use the principles to brainstorm new ideas.
1. Build Relationships in Person
I call this strategy, “getting your hands dirty” because it requires getting away from your computer and physically doing something.
Set up a booth at every event (tradeshows, expos, Farmer’s Markets, bizarres) your customer attends. Even if you don’t sell a single product, don’t look at it as a loss or waste of time. Collect email addresses to build you mailing list. Create relationships and speak directly with customers. Consider it a focus group for learning what they like and don’t like about the product, and what their needs are.
I’ve exhibited at so many events for my handbag business, I’ve lost count. At some events, the booth would be swarming with customers while at others a slow trickle of people would walk by. Every event was not immediately profitable, but every event brought in new customers for my business–long-term customers.
These are the customers that returned yearly to a shows to buy my new design in every color. These are the customers that later engaged on social media and built up my social media following and mailing list. These are the customers that influenced their friends to purchase.
These were my most valuable customers.
These relationships generated more for my business because I had created them in person. They felt connected to me as the designer and to the company. I could listen to their feedback and one design later they’d see their requests were heard.
Relationships created through face to face interaction can push your business forward better than any online relationship.
If setting up a booth isn’t the right model for your type of business, think of places where your customers gather–networking groups, mommy meetups, gyms and volunteer organizations. You can attend for the mingle or as the guest speaker. The opportunities are out there. Sometimes you have to create them yourself.
2. Collaborate with Other Businesses
While you’re in the zone of thinking of the opportunities you can create, consider how you can work with other businesses who have the same customers as you. Think about the places your customer shops, where she spends her time, what her hobbies are and what types of events attract her. Think about where there’s cross-over. It isn’t always obvious.
Collaborations can be in the form of directly selling your products; offer a trunk show of your products to a retail store to piggyback onto an event they are already planning or team up with other shops in your area to create a big event.
Collaborations can also indirectly sell your products by providing something for free, such as presentations or services. Even if you sell a tangible product, you can still offer to teach a skill or give a presentation related to your product. As the designer of a handbag company for knitters, I was often a guest speaker at knitting guild meetings to share the story of my business and journey. The presentations were in at meetings, not vending events, but I always sold a few bags and gained new customers.
If you’re a photographer, offer to shoot or set up a photo booth at a charity event such as a walk. If you teach yoga, ask local businesses if you could do a free class for their employees or contact your local workout apparel store to teach a free class in the store.
This is your opportunity to get creative, try different approaches and be surprised by what collaborations bring in new customers.
The key step to gaining new customers from collaborations and events is to make sure you’re making it easy for people to find you again. Collect email addresses for your mailing list, put discount cards in event gift bags or when you teach, and watermark the photos taken at charity events. Think through the collaboration from start to finish. The finish isn’t the end of the event. The finish is gaining new customers.
3. Write for Publications
There are myriad publications online and in print you can use to find new customers. Identify the publications your customers are reading. If your business is a local-based business, focus on local publications. Narrow the list down further to publications that offer more than a byline for articles. Look for publications that provide a short author bio or link to your website.
Once again, think about crossover to increase your reach. If you’re an online retailer of women’s clothing, write an article in a women’s business magazine about how you reduced employee turnover at your company.
Many publications will not pay you for your article. Consider your pay the traffic they will drive to your website. This is why it’s important to select publications whose readership is the same as your customers, that provide an author bio with a link, and that do a good job promoting their articles. Let them do the promoting on social media to their large following to bring you new customers.
Early in my handbag business I started designing knitwear patterns to be published in the popular online knitting publication of the time. I could have sold the patterns myself and made more money than what the publication paid, but I knew the exposure would bring me new customers. In return for my patterns, they were providing me with an author bio, a link to my website and exposure to their huge readership. For years it was one of the top sites to drive traffic to my website.
4. Ask for Referrals and Create a Network
Word of mouth is powerful, especially among friends.
To make referrals work obtaining them needs to be a part of your sales process–just as getting the customer’s shipping address and credit card number is.
Asking for a referral can be uncomfortable. It can feel salesy and makes us vulnerable. When you work the ask into your sales process, it will help you detach from it. Create automated emails to be sent after a sale is closed asking for a referral.
When a customer thanks you for the work you did, your response should be, “I’m so glad to hear you’re happy with my work. My business is sustained through referrals. Do you know someone who could also use my services?” When customers are happy with your work, they will want to refer you, but often won’t until you ask them for the referral.
Creating a referral network between businesses is also very good for growth. The wedding industry has mastered this. When you book a venue, they provide you with a list of photographers, caterers, florists, bakers and planners. How can you use this same strategy to create a network for your business?
I know, you don’t want to even consider cold-calling. It’s not fun and makes you feel like a telemarketer. Before you cross it off your list, know that it works.
I created the wholesale side of my handbag business through cold-calling. I’d mail catalogs to stores and then follow up with a call. Despite all my efforts to be polite and respectful of the shop owners’ time, I was hung up on and spoke with some very rude owners and salespeople. It was hard and I did not enjoy the process.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. You can’t only do the things you like to do. If you want your business to grow, sometimes you have to do things you don’t enjoy. If you want something bad enough you have to get out there and get it.
I had the tough calls, but I also had the very profitable calls. Shop owners who thought my company was a huge company were impressed the owner was calling them. Many thanked me for contacting them and requested that I call every few months for re-orders. They’d ask for tips on how to sell my bags and get recommendations on the best-selling styles and colors. It was one more opportunity to create good relationships.
Social media has given business owners the mindset that we shouldn’t have to pay for advertising. We keep posting content in the hopes something will go viral. While we wait for that to happen, we’re missing opportunities to reach new customers.
Advertising needs to be viewed as an investment in your company. It provides a return. The sayings, “it takes money to make money” or “you need to prime the pump” are very true statements.
If you don’t believe enough in the work you’re doing to invest in it, why are you in business?
Unfortunately, choosing the right places to advertise and the right amount of money to invest is a mix of art and science. Every advertising opportunity needs to be evaluated and tested before launching a large campaign. When the right type of advertising for your business is identified it can generate huge returns.
Share in the comments
What marketing tool will you try? Did I miss a marketing tool that isn’t social media? What’s been effective for you?