Ask SCORE: How do I find new customers and help them find me?

One sure-fire way of finding new customers is to have current customers refer them to you.

That’s hardly surprising, as referrals are typically the top source of new business for any company. So how does a small business just starting out find those first customers and start the coveted cycle of referrals?

A good first start is to develop a comprehensive marketing plan in step with your business plan. You’ll have a good, detailed profile of your target market, and how they shop for products and services like yours. The characteristics of that market will then dictate how to attract the attention of those customers, whether its strategic advertising, networking at professional conferences and associations, or contacting previously identified decision-makers.

There are also tools to help those potential customers find you more easily. The most important one is a well-designed website. It should be professional in appearance with your company name and contact information prominently displayed, easy for visitors to navigate, and filled with content containing keywords typically used in Internet searches for your type of business.

Social media can also be a helpful tool in finding new customers. Blog posts and tweets on topics of interest to your customers are a good way to populate search engine results with your company name. Platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn offer both free visibility and, if desired, advertising options to give you an even higher profile.

Though social media offers an instant Internet presence, it does not always translate into instant results. “Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet; it is trial and error with every marketing initiative,” advises Internet marketing and social media consultant Dan Beldowicz. “The better you know your target market and the better you align the information to make an emotional connection with them, the better the chance you have of converting fans into customers.”

Even in this social media-driven world, there remains a variety of simple, low-cost ways to connect with customers that don’t require an electronic device. Among them:

Watch for events that may bring your potential market together. This includes events that might attract your target customers, as well as other companies in your business.

Follow up with people you meet after meetings. If they don’t need your services now, ask if there’s a better time to contact them, or if they have business associates who could use what you sell.

Work your personal network. Ask friends if they know of people who can use your services. You could offer a finder’s fee for referrals that turn into jobs, but many people may consider a cup of coffee or dinner reward enough.

Ask for feedback when prospects don’t buy. Use what you learn to make needed changes in your approach, whether it’s in person or online.

For more help with finding new customers, contact SCORE — Mentors to America’s Small Business. SCORE is a nonprofit organization with more than 11,000 volunteers who provide free, confidential business mentoring and training workshops to small business owners. To contact Kitsap SCORE, email kitsap@scorevolunteer.org, call 360-328-1380 or visit kitsapscore.org.

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