Ask SCORE: How to find customers for your business 

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Ask SCORE by Dean Swanson

Last week several SCORE mentors were meeting and discussing the help that some small business CEOs need to “find customers.” This is a vital topic, and I will share some of the ideas, including those from Rieva Lesonsky, president and CEO of GrowBiz Media and one of SCORE’s content partners. Her contribution is included on the SCORE website in the resource library.

Dean Swanson

Whether you’ve just started your small business, are in the early stages of operation or are still in the planning phase, it’s never too early to think about how you’re going to attract your first customers and clients. You may have included some of these practices and strategies when creating your business plan.

1. Identify your target audience. Who do you think your target market is?  Be as specific as possible — by including gender, age, education, where they live, their media (including social media) consumption habits, etc.

Then build your customer acquisition strategy around that profile. This is more than developing a marketing plan/  Think about how, when and where you can reach these people. And what is the best way to communicate with them?

2. Study your competition.  Who are your competitors? What audience are they targeting and serving? How do they reach them?

3. Make a prospect list.  Think of the people you know and the people they know. Are some of them in your target market? Put them on a list of prospects. If you’re starting a B2B, include businesses you’ve interacted with on your list.

4. Ask for referrals. Ask everyone you know if they know someone who might buy what you’re selling. Alert your social media connections, neighbors, former co-workers, family members that you’re launching (recently launched) a new business and you’re looking for customers. 

5. Network. Are there local business networking groups in your industry? Attend meetings, whether in person or virtually. Join your local chamber and/or membership organization. Seek out networking groups. 

6. Be visible. Participate in community and industry events, whether that’s a trade show, an industry conference or a local fair. Even sponsoring a local ball team can build brand awareness and bring customers to your door.

Before you venture out, make sure you’ve memorized your elevator pitch and can deliver it in an authentic (not salesy) way. Not as many people use business cards today, but it’s never a bad idea to have them with you — just in case.

7. Team up with other business owners. Look for other small business owners whose products or services are complementary to yours. Can you team up and refer each other’s business?

8. Build a website. Every business needs a website — every single one. Do not think a social media platform is a website substitute — it is not. Social media channels are owned by the social network. You must use their design, follow their rules and drive consumers to their site. You’re spending money promoting their brand. And many of the sites frequently change their algorithms and policies.

A website, on the other hand, is all about your business. You create the image you think best conveys your message. And a website gives customers direct access to you. Think of your website as a home for your business. Even if you have a physical office or shop, your website (especially if you use smart search engine optimization techniques) will likely be how new customers discover your business.

Remember, businesses that actively engage online typically grow 40% faster than they would without an online presence. And in today’s environment, many consumers prefer to shop online. And, according to QuickBooks Commerce Small Business Shopping Report, 48% of consumers today are more likely to try new businesses than they were pre-pandemic.

9. Use social media. I’m not saying ignore social media. Create your social media accounts as soon as you have a name for your business. Register that name on all the major social platforms, even if you don’t plan to use them at the moment.

Follow your competitors on their social channels, and listen to the conversations they’re having with their customers.

Use social media advertising to target people who meet your target market criteria. These ads are relatively inexpensive and can specifically target the consumers you’re looking to reach.  

10. Get listed. List your new business in as many business directories as you can. A business directory is an online list of companies (think digital Yellow Pages). First, claim your free listing on Google My Business. There may already be a listing there, but if it’s not “claimed,” it’s likely not complete and may be incorrect. Don’t overlook Bing — about 25% of all U.S. search queries are Windows-based and any other relevant directories.

11. Send postcards.  

According to a report from the USPS, 66% of marketers say they use postcards most often to reach customers. And about 51% of recipients say they find direct mail postcards useful, according to the Data & Marketing Association. Postcards are affordable, and you can target specific neighborhoods and zip codes. 

There are numerous other ways new businesses can attract their first customers. Discuss these with your SCORE mentor.

Dean L. Swanson is a volunteer certified SCORE mentor and former SCORE chapter chair, district director and regional vice president for the northwest region.