Customers are the lifeblood of any business, but how do you attract new ones with limited – or no – budget?Customers are the lifeblood of any business, but how do you attract new ones with limited – or no – budget? Let's take a look at some of the obvious – and perhaps less so – ways you can promote your business to new customers with little or no cash outlay.
1. Shop-front Is your chance to engage with and get your key messages across to everyone who passes by. Yet it's often frighteningly underused. It's not enough to simply make your shop-front look nice (although it's important it does!). Start by listing all the reasons why people should buy from you then rank them in order of how appealing they are to potential customers. Now challenge yourself to reflect those messages somewhere in your frontage, working from the top of the list down. Be careful to maintain a balance between getting your key messages across and confusing people (or cluttering your display). Focus on the most important messages and do it well.
2. Networking It may not be your cup of tea, but there's no doubt the more people you tell about your business – and make a good impression – the more business you'll generate. There are plenty of established networking opportunities, so choose one that best suits your business. Be prepared to try a few to find the right one. 3. Social media There are more opportunities than ever to promote yourself through social media and get your message over to huge numbers of potential customers. The key to doing it well is to connect with other people and to present yourself as you would want potential customers to see you. Be prepared to devote the time initially to learning what works and how to attract attention, and be prepared to ask others to help promote your business (and to help promote theirs). 4. Look after existing customers Good customer service is one of the most influential reasons for customers coming back to you, so it's essential once you attract customers, they have a good experience. Not only will they come back, but if they're sufficiently impressed they'll tell others.
5. Basic SEO If you have a web presence, search engine optimisation is essential for helping potential customers find you. But did you know it doesn't have to cost a penny? There's an industry of people making money from SEO. They all have a vested interest in making it seem more complicated than it really is. The reality is Google – the most important search engine – keeps its algorithms a closely guarded secret. So even the market leaders in SEO have to operate on guesswork. Don't be scared off by the ‘complexity' of SEO. Most of it is straightforward and comes down to common sense. There's plenty of information on on-page SEO, and the basics are easily enough to get you well on the way. In simple terms, you need to decide the terms you want to optimise, make sure those terms are mentioned several times on your site, and submit your site details to Google. Remember the single most effective element of SEO is your Page Title. Keep it short, but include the key phrase you want to be optimised for. For example "Smiths – Computers in Wakefield". 6. Online directory listings There are loads of directory sites and almost all offer free listings. Find the main directory sites by searching for well known businesses in your field (or local area) and make sure your details are included. If you are already listed, make sure your details are accurate and you include a description of your business if there is the option to do so. 7. Referral schemes We've already discussed the importance of word-of-mouth for attracting new customers - why not help it along by offering a referral scheme? Offer money off vouchers or free services to existing customers who recommend new ones. Not only does this encourage new customers, it also draws in existing ones as they too redeem vouchers or take advantage of your offer. 8. Leaflet drops Leaflet drops are a relatively inexpensive means of getting your name out and your message across. Make sure the messaging is clear and you provide appealing reasons for people to come to you. Don't be afraid to ask other local businesses if you can leave some leaflets in their shop or office to help reach the largest possible audience. 9. Local voucher schemes Why not approach other local businesses to partner with them to both attract customers? Agree to hand out vouchers, money-off or special-offer coupons to each other's customers. If you partner with enough local businesses and want to do something a bit more eye-catching (and potentially newsworthy), create a local "currency" – essentially the same as vouchers, but replace a money-off coupon with a note representing the amount of money that can only be "spent" in participating local stores. This is far more likely to be picked up by the local press, and emphasises the "support your local business" message. 10. Events Events are an inexpensive way to put your business on the map locally and – depending on the type of event – can be a great way to attract local press attention. Free computer "training" is a simple way to attract people to your store. For a very small investment in time you'll end up with something that'll really draw attention and give people a clear reason to remember you. But you can be as creative with events as you like. Be bold – what seems like a crazy idea at first may well be the sort of thing to really capture people's imagination. If you are the first or only store in your area to stock a particular brand or product range, why not hold a local ‘product launch'? Why not hold events to celebrate the launch of major new products regardless of whether you're the only one supplying it locally? A Windows X launch party may steal a march on your competitors and gives the impression you have a close relationship with Microsoft. It also gives you the opportunity to showcase the product, demonstrate your expertise, and win new customers. Tip - always remember to have plenty friends available to make up the numbers in case your event isn't as well supported as you had hoped! 11. Be prominent in the local community Getting your message across locally carries great benefits however you do it. But doing it as part of the local community carries even greater weight. The key issue here is how marketing yourself in this way generates goodwill. Donating second hand computers to local groups or charities will get you noticed, will generate goodwill, and can even help with your own recycling. Offering free computer support to local community groups will get you noticed not only by their members, but also mentioned at their events and in their literature. Even the most unlikely events offer the opportunity to get noticed by people with the potential to buy from you. What about attending council meetings and asking questions? Remember to position yourself when you do: "As a local computer shop with an emphasis on great service to consumers and businesses alike, I'd like to know what the council is doing to help keep expertise like ours within the local community?" Everybody at the meeting will be left with the impression you supply IT equipment, you service both businesses and consumers, you place great emphasis on customer care, and you are the local expert. Not a bad message to get across by asking question. 12. Partner with compatible businesses Rather than compete head-on over small areas of business overlap, seek out compatible local IT businesses and pool your expertise and marketing. If you are particularly strong in certain areas and they have expertise in others, working together will mean you can offer a far greater range of services between you. You could even work together on larger projects and pitch for business you'd otherwise not have had the expertise (and potentially the confidence) to bid for. Providing there are only a few areas of potential conflict with other businesses, adopt a 'the more the merrier' approach to partnering. The upsides far outweigh the down. 13. Conduct surveys Surveys are a great way to gather feedback that helps improve your business. They are a great way to promote yourself and to get in front of a much larger audience. They are an incredibly powerful way to enage with customers and prospects as well as raise your profile locally for examples and more on how to do this. It really does work - we've helped customers do it. All you need is a clipboard, some relevant questions and enough identification so even those who don't participate in the survey notice and remember you. T-shirts with your logo and messaging are one obvious and inexpensive way of doing this. Surveys also allow you to target specific areas, for example another part of town with greater foot traffic than your location, or the next town or village, allowing you to reach people who would never normally walk past your shop. 14. Leverage your exposure Look at each element of promotion as simply a means to an end, not the end itself. For example, coverage in the local press is not the end goal but something to use in your future promotions. Roll it up into other activities. Incorporate each element into your message and tell everyone about it. Use existing publicity to garner further publicity … the "as seen on TV" approach.
And finally, but key to all your promotion… 15. Have a clear brand and message Make sure you know exactly why people should buy from you, you reflect that clearly in your messaging, and this is reflecting in your brand. Summary This list is by no means exhaustive, but is designed to bring together some obvious and some more unusual ways you can set about winning customers. You are no doubt already employing at least some of the techniques listed above and no doubt plenty of others. What success have you had from the methods above or from other means? What works for you? As always, we'd love to hear your feedback, so don't be shy with the comments…
As always, the business advice we give is exactly that, advice! what works for one person may not work for another.