You know, it’s tempting to open the doors, and just expect people to start walking in…
I certainly WISH it was that easy – it would make life a lot easier for all of us! The truth is, though, that no matter how GOOD you are at what you do, or how AMAZING your product is…building up a client base, loyalty, and recognition can take a whole heap of work.
The secret, I think, is to be a little bit of a bulldog…you gotta be determined, try everything, and just keep going. You have to put in the hard yards, and just keep slugging away…don’t give in, don’t get discouraged. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.
Let people know – of course! So, this means deciding WHO your target audience is, and making sure you let them know who and where you are! This sounds pretty basic and obvious, but it’s really pretty imperative.
What will be your advertising strategy? For me, being a service business, I don’t have a product to sell as such, so I need to make sure people who might use accounting services know I’m here. I have done pamphlet drops to all the people in my local area (as I believe that is probably my best source of clients) but also have made the most of Facebook as an advertising platform. I also have a presence on the Web, have made some contacts with complementary service providers (Finance Brokers, Bookkeepers, Financial Planners, and Lawyers) to get my name out there and also develop a Network that could be helpful for my clients.
You might like to target print media, radio, or television; sponsor local sporting clubs; or take up a stall at a fair or exhibition…whatever you think will get people who want you to KNOW about you. It really is the most fundamental step!
Next, you need to decide what your priorities are. For me, it’s reliable service and being approachable. If I tell someone I will call…I call. If I promise someone an email, it’s in their inbox when I said it would be. If they call for a chat, I make sure I am available to answer their questions or relieve their concerns. Your industry may not need the same level of personal contact – you might find that product availability is your point of difference, so make sure you always have adequate stock levels. Or you might find that your particular business needs to be open longer hours than standard – so perhaps stagger your staff so someone starts early and finishes early, someone else starts a bit later but keeps the door unlocked later, too.
You also need to make sure you are contactable. Of course, you need a phone number and a front door…but is that enough? Knowledge of your customers’ needs will let you know…but most people these days use Google to find a local supplier of a product or service. Do you have a web page? Do you have somewhere they can find your number, your email address? Or are you exclusive and get all your new clients via word of mouth or referral? If this last is the case, what have you done to convince your current clients or contacts to refer you to their friends and colleagues?
Promote, Promote, Promote…be shameless! After all, you’ve got something people want, haven’t you? Don’t get changed out of your work shirt to go to the shop…go on the way home, let people see your logo! It might be a conversation starter…but it could also pick up your next big client. The number of times I’ve gone to the shops after work and someone has said “oh, I’ve been meaning to get a new accountant” or something to that effect.
Always have business cards on you – never miss an opportunity…
During quiet periods, call someone …maybe a client who came in once and hasn’t been back; perhaps someone who mentioned they need your product/service but never showed up; a friend you know is in an industry that often uses your kind of service; or maybe someone in the same industry who may have overflow work for you from time to time. Don’t forget to Network…build up a collaboration of others in the same position as yourself – they can be an invaluable source of help, but then you can support them when THEY need something. Not only good for business, but good for you socially and mentally…especially when things get a bit stressful.
But most of all…be patient! Have faith…do all the things you know you should do, make all the preparations for when you finally take off…but be gentle on yourself while you wait. Don’t expect too much right at the start, because that just leads to discouragement and cynicism…perseverance and flexibility – keep going, but be prepared to change the plan a little if needed, and grab opportunities that might arise, even if they were initially what you intended.