Maya Haber’s customers are unable to sing her praises – they bark them instead.
Haber is the founder of Barkville, a Manhattan-based dog training company that helps its furry clientele adapt to big-city life.
Fortunately, their owners are eager to speak on their pets’ behalf. “A German shepherd that I’m working with now came through a client I had many years ago,” says Haber, who launched her small business in 2018. “A lot of my business comes from referrals and word of mouth.”
The same holds true for most other industries, where “most folks are willing to help,” says Bruce Walker, VP of business development and partnerships at communications platform provider Botsplash, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“If you’re a small business, you’re looking for every opportunity you can get,” he says. “Most people within an industry have some type of sphere of influence and know people at other companies. Taking advantage of those networks is not unusual at all.”
Indeed, referrals are one of the most popular – and effective – ways small businesses can attract new customers. Yet it’s not the only tactic. Read on for more customer acquisition methods that can help you expand your customer base and grow your business, whether you’re selling to consumers or other businesses.
Offer Incentives to Get New Customers
Sometimes a potential new customer needs a gentle nudge to move from the consideration phase of the decision-making process to purchasing your product or service. Incentives such as a coupon, a free trial period or bonus item, or entry into a contest for, say, a pair of concert tickets are a few ways businesses can move the conversion needle.
“Incentives are a good way for many companies to get people through the door, providing they can absorb the cost of a discount or providing a trial,” Walker says.
Incentives are also a smart way to keep the customers you’ve worked so hard to attract. Consider setting up a loyalty program and encourage them to refer your business to others. A combination approach may also be effective – one that rewards customers for referrals made.
“We re-engage our existing customers, asking them, ‘If you refer someone to us, they’ll get 10% off and then you’ll get 10% off your next order, too,” says Wes Dean, director of e-commerce sales at PFL, a direct mail marketer based in Livingston, Montana.
Follow Up With Former Customers
Customers may stop buying from a company for any number of reasons – their needs have changed, prices are better elsewhere, getting through to customer service was a nightmare, or they had one too many frustrating website experiences, to name a few possibilities. Nevertheless, hang on to their contact information and use a situation like a 50% off sale, new product features, or website enhancements as a reason to re-engage.
Another idea: Reach out to former employees who have since moved on to another company. “We stay in touch with those people to see if there’s an opportunity to engage them at their new company,” Walker says.
Update Your Online Presence to Keep Prospects Engaged
Studies show first impressions are formed in a matter of seconds. That’s why it’s imperative to put your best digital face forward, be it your website, your marketplace page, social media, or anywhere else online.
“Within the past year we did a complete facelift of our website, which was put up in the early 2000s,” PFL’s Dean says. “There was really too much information on there. We wanted to bring it into the new digital age.”
Among the possible updates, you may wish to redesign your site, refresh web pages and content, enhance page-loading speed, simplify the checkout process, and add new features that make it easy for potential customers to get in touch.
“People are coming to your website, and if you don't have a way of engaging with them, you are missing out,” Walker says. “All the work you’re doing to drive traffic does little if you're not able to immediately engage with someone on your site. There are many types of chat widgets available, but everything should lead to a live conversation.”
Talk to Your Customers
“It is still a premium to be able to talk to someone on the phone,” says Dean. “The conversion rate is so much better because it’s a person-to-person interaction – even in the digital age – and we can demonstrate how we can help them.”
At Botsplash, cold-calling is a dominant tactic for getting new customers, though plenty of initial research happens first to determine the right people to contact, Walker says. “We have to work on finding decision-makers and then tell them a compelling story of how we can help,” he explains. “We usually start on LinkedIn to identify companies and then employees and roles.”
Barkville’s Haber understands the power of conversation, too. “I’ll have six dogs hooked up to me, we’ll be walking, and people will come up to me and ask how I do it,” she says. “That’s how I get clients.”
Haber even chats with the doorpersons she passes along her dog-walking routes each day. “I give them my cards to pass along to dog owners in their buildings,” she adds.
Leverage Social Media
Don’t let Haber’s feet-on-the-street approach fool you: She has also amassed an impressive number of followers – 1,630 and counting – on Instagram, where she posts photos, videos, and detailed descriptions of her training methods and experiences to attract new customers. Haber is strategic about which hashtags she uses, explaining that she’s “not looking for numbers” but instead “quality organic engagement.”
“I’ve also made great friends with influencers, who will share my educational content,” she adds. “Then suddenly I’m getting their followers onto my page.”
As a B2B company, Botsplash leans heavily on LinkedIn to attract new customers, Walker says. “We have a schedule where we’ll post regularly, around five days a week from the company, and we’ll also post personally,” he says. “We post content on the website first, and then we’ll post links to it from LinkedIn, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.”
Share Your Expertise
Walker is also alluding to content marketing, which focuses on “creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action,” as defined by the Content Marketing Institute.
Content marketing takes many forms, including company blogs and articles, videos and webinars, white papers and reports, infographics, podcasts, and newsletters.
“We’ve been posting 90-second weekly videos on YouTube and then link to our social media platforms to promote them,” Walker says. The clips include a mix of high-level, industry-focused videos aimed at prospects, videos about the company’s communication platform, and general-interest videos, such as how to attract new business on LinkedIn, he says.
But no matter the type of content marketing, “It’s important to stay on schedule,” Walker advises. “Consistency is really key as we try and build our own awareness.”
Optimize for Search
To make the most of your content marketing strategy, experts advise pairing it with search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to ensure the major search engines “see” your content and, optimally, present it at or near the top of a potential customer’s search results page. Techniques include incorporating relevant keywords – the words your target customers most frequently use in their searches – throughout your content, linking to other content on your website, and, behind the scenes, using meta titles and descriptions. A variety of SEO tools exist to help guide how you select and compete on keywords.
Another way to improve your search engine visibility is to set up a free Google Business Profile, advises Howard Isaacs, marketing director and reputation manager at Las Vegas-based Superstar Auto Group. That way your business location will appear on Google Maps and in local search results, along with essential information about your business. You can also post content and images to your listing. But don’t set it and forget it.
“Google rewards those who frequently update their pages, especially if you include videos and images,” Isaacs says.
In addition to Google, consider how your brand shows up on other search engines, such as Bing, DuckDuckGo, or Yahoo.
Attend In-Person Events to Identify New Customers
Whether it’s an industry conference, a local Chamber of Commerce or city council meeting, or a business Meetup gathering, in-person events provide an unparalleled opportunity for small businesses to meet potential new customers. Bonus points if you can be part of a panel, lead a seminar, or sponsor a booth if your budget permits.
With larger events, merely being on-site can be beneficial – and a cost-effective way to meet prospects. “You can find out when the events are and just be in the hotel when they happen. You can camp out in a coffee shop or in the lobby,” Walker says. “You want opportunities to be where your customers, and potential customers, are. Go where you can see the most people at the least amount of financial investment.”
Philanthropic and charity events are another avenue for meeting prospects, providing they align with your company’s and customers’ values, Walker notes. You may even consider hosting your event, such as a wine and cheese party celebrating your store’s grand opening.
Partner With Complementary Businesses
Consider working with a company whose offerings and customer base are related to yours as a means of drumming up new business. For example, an independent computer reseller could pair up with a few local IT technicians, who refer their clients when they need new hardware. Likewise, the reseller would refer clients to the technicians when they’re in need of IT support.
“When we’re looking at partnerships, we’re looking at whether their software complements what we do but is not in competition, and whether it can benefit our mutual clients,” Walker says.
Barkville’s Haber actually embraces her competition. “I refer people out to other trainers and get referrals back,” she says. “In reality, there are thousands of dogs that need help all the time. If I can make relationships with other trainers, they’re more inclined to pass on clients, and I am as well.”
Lean on Testimonials and Online Reviews
The best way to show prospects what you can do for them is by letting your customers speak on your behalf in testimonials you can post online, says PFL’s Dean. Online reviews can also be persuasive: A March 2021 survey conducted by Bizrate Insights of more than 1,200 online shoppers found the majority (32.1%) cited review scores or ratings as the most important factor in their decision to purchase.
Be sure to monitor the sites that may contain reviews about your company – and respond professionally, Superstar Auto Group’s Isaacs advises.
“I answer daily, thanking people for their business or apologizing for, say, a poor service experience and ask them give us another chance,” he says. “Then someone from the service desk may call with a discount.”
Utilize Advertising Methods to Attract New Customers
Last but certainly not least is the centuries-old discipline known as advertising. Depending on your budget, advertising – whether digital, such as display, search, and social media advertising, or traditional, such as direct mail, TV, radio, and billboards – remains a tried-and-true way to generate brand awareness and attract new customers.
If you’re like PFL’s Dean, you may even combine the two formats.
“We’ll get a list of leads and send them a printed postcard with a QR code,” he explains. “The [recipients] who scan it are brought to PFL website. The QR codes are specific to each person, so we can track how many people scanned it, and by geographic area, and then work that list down.”
A version of this article was originally published on June 25, 2019.
Photo: Getty Images
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are some of the great ways to attract new customers to your business?
There are several different ways to attract new customers, such as:
• Word-of-mouth marketing
• Online reviews
• Social media
• Email campaigns
• Events and trade shows
It's important to remember that there are many ways to attract new customers. You should experiment with different methods to find what works best for your business. Most importantly, don't forget to provide excellent customer service! This is the key to keeping your current customers happy and attracting new ones.
2. Why is it important to attract new customers?
There are a few reasons why attracting new customers is important. First, it helps to grow your business. The more customers you have, the more revenue you'll generate. Second, attracting new customers can help you reach new markets and expand your business. Finally, it's important to keep your customer base fresh. This ensures that your business stays relevant and top-of-mind for potential customers.