by Kate SmalleyOne of the biggest challenges for small business owners is finding a fast, effective way to bring in new customers. That’s because most owners must wear several hats – bookkeeper, technical support representative, human resources manager and marketer. And, of course, owners must provide quality goods or services. Finding the time to market can be especially difficult if you are a one- or two-person operation.
The reality is that spending the time to market is essential to maintaining or growing a business. It helps you avoid one of the biggest pitfalls in small business: relying on a big client or two for the lion’s share of your company’s revenue.
Two things often happen in this scenario. First, business tend to provide preferential treatment to the older, bigger client rather than to smaller, new client, which may cost some business. Secondly, businesses find themselves in a tenuous position by putting most of their eggs in one basket. If the primary client leaves, the company could be economically devastated.
A healthy company always has new clients coming in the door as well as happy existing clients. You can rely on word of mouth to get those new clients on board, but usually it’s not enough. Here are three tips to help you stay on top of marketing efforts.
Get organized. Hire someone to create a database of that huge stack of business cards that you’ve been keeping in your top desk drawer. Make sure it’s a database you can easily use for emails or mailings – like your Microsoft Outlook contacts or ACT! Having all your potential customers at your fingertips is money well spent.
Once you have all your contacts input, you can send targeted e-mails or letters to your potential clients. Make the messages short and sweet, as well as informative. People look forward to getting valuable information, so give it to them. Follow up with a phone call to find out if the information was helpful and if your company can provide goods or services.
Even the busiest entrepreneur can send 20 e-mails each month and follow up with them. Schedule the time on your calendar to do it.
Create an “elevator pitch.” Try to pare down your company’s products and services to a sentence or two. Start by writing down what you do and then edit. This is a great exercise, especially if you offer a wide variety of goods and services, to help you clarify your top priorities.
Most people want to try to throw in everything they do. For example, if you’re a landscape designer, you may be tempted to talk about turf, bedding plants and terracing. Instead, tell people “I’m a landscape designer. I help people create their own backyard oasis.”
If at all possible, get specific. If you are a graphic designer, be sure to add your specialties. Don’t just say, “I’m a graphic designer.” Do say, “I’m a graphic designer specializing in e-newsletters and interactive web sites.”
Cultivate your current clients. It’s much easier and cost-effective to sell an existing customer additional services than to go out looking for new ones. That’s what makes the pitfall of having one big client so insidious – the smaller clients that you are tempted to shove to the side may actually bring in more business than your current big client if you give them the same stellar products and services.
Schedule monthly meetings with your clients to find out how you are doing and to learn what they see on the horizon for their own business. Show them how you can help fill their goals and dreams. You’ll be amazed at how much a couple of hours of your time will pay off.
Contact is the most important element of marketing. If you don’t have time to do anything else, make sure you contact at least 10-20 potential or current clients each month. Doing so will help keep that business coming in and your company healthy.