Starting a business is an exciting endeavor for every new business owner. Once all the legal paper work is done, the business plan is set and the doors finally open, many breathe a sigh of relief — and then get right back to work. Savvy business owners know that the real work in starting a new business is getting your first customers.
Here are a few ways to attract attention and get your first pool of (hopefully) many customers:
Direct-mail and online marketing
Direct-mail marketing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to reach your target audience. Printed postcards, brochures, sales letters and other materials mailed to your likely customers cuts out middle men such as ad servers and publications, allowing you to deliver your message exactly as intended. Before launching a direct-mail marketing campaign, make sure you have developed an excellent mailing list using tools such as those available from the online printing company PsPrint.
Online marketing, while not as effective as direct-mail marketing, can help you reach customers economically. Beginning with your business website (yes, you need one) and trickling down to search engine and content advertising, directory listings, article marketing and e-mail marketing, online marketing has many tools you can use to your advantage. One caveat: be wary of scams, as they're a dime a dozen on the web. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is: If someone promises you 30 million website visitors for $20, chances are you're wasting your money. You might get the visitors, but they won't be targeted.
Advertising in newspapers, magazines and trade publications and through printed posters, signage and racks can add up to a lot of business in short order. Again, the trick is to find publications that your target audience reads and to position your marketing materials where they'll be seen by the same audience. A restaurant, for example, might leave brochures or coupons on a local hotelier's counter top because they share the same audience. You've seen the hundreds of rack cards prominently displayed in local tourist centers. When advertising in publications, make sure your ad goes in relevant sections - a new ice cream parlor would want to advertise in the newspaper's food section or a bridal shop would want to advertise in an annual bridal tab, for example.
Join chambers of commerce, trade associations and business networking groups such as BNI to establish a base in your business community. This is essential if you're selling B2B, but also has many benefits for B2C businesses.
Trade events, conferences and seminars all provide excellent opportunities to gain new leads while learning more about where your industry is heading. You can also use such events to check in on the competition's marketing efforts.
Calling customer one
Telemarketing still works, but it is more difficult than it was a decade ago. Depending on your industry, though, this is still a viable option, especially for B2B enterprises. Don't forget to get listed in phone books and trade directories so prospects can call you!
Word of mouth and free press
Tell your family, friends and other associates about your new business and ask them to spread the word to drum up sales. Word of mouth referrals are still the No. 1 marketing medium in the world, and for good reason — people trust their friends' recommendations.
Issue press releases announcing your new business, volunteer for charitable events and even contribute free articles to trade publications, newspapers and magazines to earn free press that is both credible and impressive.
Finding your initial customer base can be a daunting task, but if you define your target audience and work to reach them in an efficient way you stand a better chance of drawing them in with your offer. Make sure your customer service skills lead the pack for repeat business that will sustain you through the business life cycle and beyond.