When James Lochrie and his partner launched Wave Accounting in 2010, getting customers quickly was their first plan of action. Through experimenting with various methods, they found that search engine optimization—designing the content on their website so that it would be found on Google and other search engines by their target market—was critical to their business. “It was the first and easiest thing for us to start tackling,” he says.
The lesson? You have to be where your potential customers are. For Wave, whose primary product is cloud-based software for small businesses, that audience was already online—and searching for solutions to their accounting problems. “It’s all about finding a channel of acquisition that drives the best type of user early in the stage of your service or product development,” Lochrie says.
Use online tools
For Larry Anderson and Neil Thornton of Niagara-based business consultancy Trigger Strategies, the first place to put in effort is always LinkedIn. “The future of any business depends on its database,” Anderson says. “Twenty years ago it was called a Rolodex. Today, your database is your professional network, and LinkedIn falls into that.”
And while LinkedIn is extremely useful to search for prospects, whether it’s to find the right contact at a target company or to look for, say, every VP of marketing in Halifax (just use the advanced search), your first step should always be to fill out your own profile – both a personal page, and one for your business. “I won’t search Joe’s Plumbing—I’ll search Joe,” Thornton says. “I want to see the person I’m dealing with.”
Know your product—and your customer
Step back and ensure you understand your value proposition and your target customer, notes Vancouver business consultant Lisa Princic. “You need to know exactly who you’re trying to attract and what you offer them,” she says. “That’s the basis for everything.”
Nail who your customer is and you’ll know where to look for them, she adds. “You find them based on knowing the avatar of that person you’re trying to reach. It becomes obvious when you have that picture in your mind.”
Think depth over breadth
“Your early clients will teach you a lot about a particular industry,” Thornton says. “We often consult small businesses to go after a vertical—if you work with a construction firm, then go with other construction firms.” Demonstrating your expertise in a particular niche is a good way to attract similar customers, and to show them that you’re worthy of their trust.
Give your expertise away
“We’re big believers in attracting people by sharing your knowledge, ideas and expertise without expectation of return,” says Anderson. Trigger Strategies, for instance, has a blog, videos and a series of white papers available for free on its website (as well as a newsletter sign-up that encourages interested parties to share their email addresses).
“You have to earn the right to ask for something,” says Thornton. “For every ask you should have at least a dozen gives.” When contacting a new prospect, for example, he might send them a white paper relevant to what he perceives as their business needs and goals.
And while some might worry that giving away the product they’re trying to sell might hurt their bottom line, Anderson stresses that the opposite tends to be the case. “There aren’t any secrets anymore—there’s this thing called Google,” he says. “We’ve seen this in many industries. Share your knowledge and that makes people want to learn more from you.”
Experiment, and see what works
“The fastest amount of customer acquisition is the right thing to do,” says Lochrie. “You just have to experiment like crazy to get them.”
A solo entrepreneur opening a hair salon, for instance, might use a mixture of digital marketing, mail drops, knocking doors and meeting people one-on-one. “It’s just about getting out there and getting your name known,” he says. “From there it becomes a game of word of mouth.”
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Where do you find new customers? Share your strategies and tactics using the comments section below.