You’ve successfully launched your business, and built up a solid—if small—customer base. Starting small has its benefits; after all, it allowed you the opportunity to cultivate a loyal relationship with your customers. By now, you’ve had time to work out any kinks, and you’re confident that your product or service is truly the best your business can offer.
Now, you’re eager to expand and grow your business. But, growing your customer base is much easier said than done. How do you get more customers for your business? I asked the Young Entrepreneur Council for their input, as well as Palo Alto Software’s Caroline Cummings and Tim Shoemaker. From marketing tactics to better networking, try these tips and watch your customer base grow quickly.
8 ideas to help you grow your customer base:
1. When it comes to your pitch, get out of your comfort zone
If you’re having trouble expanding your customer base, you may be inadvertently narrowing your focus—and with that, missing the mark with potential new customers. If you’re pitching your business in the same way that you always have, it’s no surprise that you’re having trouble reaching new customers.
“Go against the grain and defy expectations,” recommends Wesley Mathews of High Level Marketing. “Selling is the transfer of trust, so instead of relying on a sales pitch you’re comfortable with, focus first on building a relationship with the potential customer.”
Building trust, says Mathews, is one of the key ways to reach new customers. “Once you’ve earned their trust, you’ve also earned their ear,” he says. “At that point, you can begin to educate them on recognizing the superior value of your product.”
2. Leverage your existing network
Your existing network may be the best place to reach out to, as their good word of mouth will help grow your customer base.
“I’d recommend that the business develop a core group of customers that can make referrals; referrals are strong leads,” says Tim Shoemaker, who heads up Channel Sales here at Palo Alto Software. “I’d recommend that they network as much as possible within their target market. For example, if they’re a bike shop, then they should try to join as many cycling related groups as possible.”
Darrah Brustein of Network Under 40 and Finance Whiz Kids, agrees. “Tap into your immediate network and determine who might be a good fit for your product or service,” she says. “It’s best to focus on the lowest hanging fruit in the beginning, and to boot, they’re also more likely to recommend your company to their networks. You already have established trust with your network, so leverage that.”
3. Build a “relationship map”
Tamara Nell of The Leading Niche recommends building a “relationship map,” which will match your strongest relationships with the areas where there is the greatest need for your product or service. This map will help point you in the direction of who you need to reach out to, in order to tap into potential customer bases.
“When I first started my company, I created [a relationship map] and found a partner who had the introduction to the client but not the resources to do the work,” she says. “We partnered, and The Leading Niche was founded. To this day, I continuously update my relationship map, which leads to new opportunities.”
4. Continue expanding your network
While relying on your existing network to expand your customer base is great, you may eventually wind up out of new leads. When you find yourself in this situation, you may need to look to expanding your network.
“You can have a great idea and a great business structure, but if you do not have contacts that might be interested in helping you, it’s impossible to succeed,” says Alfredo Atanacio of Uassist.ME.
How do you go about growing your network? “Attend networking events, join organizations, form partnerships, and watch your network grow,” he says. We’ll get into that a bit more next.
5. Speak at an event or host an industry gathering
You have plenty of expertise in your field—why not get involved in the community? By sharing your experience and getting involved in your industry at a local level, you’ll have the opportunity to grow your connections, as well as your reputation as a thought leader in your industry.
“My first clients came from offering to speak for free or hosting a workshop at business events that I knew my ideal clients would be attending,” says Natalie MacNeil of She Takes on the World. “I started off on a local level, and then I was given bigger opportunities that got me in front of more people. That’s how I got my budding business off the ground.”
6. Add calls to action
On a smaller, more immediately actionable level, there are plenty of strategies you can take with your marketing that can potentially draw in new customers. Add a call to action for every piece of marketing you send out—whether that be an Instagram post, a weekly newsletter, or one of your offline marketing strategies.
“After establishing a marketing plan, you will begin to execute multiple strategies each day,” says Nicole Munoz of Start Ranking Now. “It is not enough to just write a blog. After it’s written, you must add in a call to action that clearly states how clients can work with you (i.e. ‘Sign up for my…’). Make this a part of all your speeches and networking actions as well.”
Calls to action don’t have to be elaborate or ask much from your customers; often, the goal is as simple as increasing engagement. Ask them their opinions, suggest that they tag you with a certain hashtag, or provide a link so that they can sign up for your email updates.
7. Try offering free trials to new customers
Another practical tactic to acquiring new customers? Offer them a free trial of your product. “Free trials are a great way to market, since they attract new customers and garner good reviews and testimonials,” says Souny West of CHiC Capital. “They also allow you to get more feedback on new products and then make improvements where needed.”
Okay, that sounds great, but how do you turn them into actual return customers? “By offering free trials, you can show them the value of what you have to offer and convert them into paying returning customers later,” says Souny.
Instill in this potential customer the value of your product, and make it clear that your product or service is truly exemplary. Do this, offer great service, and you’ll likely be able to convert them into a loyal customer.
8. Provide your service for free in exchange for a case study or in-depth testimonial
If you are a service-based business, offering your service for free, in exchange for the client serving as a “case study” or providing a detailed account of the benefits of your service can be a great way to get new clients.
“Getting a great case study is one of the best ways to drive lots of new business, since it assumes that your service works and that you have happy customers,” says Obinna Ekezie of Wakanow. “In addition, exchanging value—service for case study—is a great way to build trust and get solid feedback from a customer.”
For example, say you offer personal training services; try to partner up with a prominent member of the fitness community, and offer them a free service, in exchange for a blog post reviewing your service on their highly trafficked blog. This has the effect of increasing brand exposure, building trust and credibility within your field, and, hopefully, will drive plenty of new clients in your direction.
Bonus: Our VP of Business Development, Caroline Cummings, shares her list of tips:
- Join groups like chambers of commerce, networking groups, lead referral groups, and industry-specific groups.
- Do co-marketing with complementary businesses.
- Try offline advertising. Depending on the industry, traditional advertising may work. For example: My husband’s tree service created a professional commercial and ran it on local TV stations, and got flooded with leads.
- Attend trade shows and have a giveaway as a means of collecting contact info.
- Run deals on LivingSocial or other coupon sites.
When it comes to reaching new customers, which strategies have you employed? Which did you find most successful?