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The Skillery is a Nashville coworking space with resources and programming for freelancers, entrepreneurs, small teams and independent professionals, all aimed at making work meaningful, satisfying and unabashedly fun.

Starting a Business: finding loyal customers

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Starting a Business: finding loyal customers

Matt Dudley

Photo: Vacant Fever

It’d be great if “if you build it, they will come” were true when it comes to entrepreneurship. But like every other part of building a business, drawing in customers takes work, planning, and consistent attention. 

Acquiring customers is a tricky game, and, at least in part, a numbers game. The more people who know about your product or service, the more likely you are to have a paying customer. And there are several steps on the path to customer acquisition. For this week’s Starting a Business post (during week four of our current CO.STARTERS at The Skillery cohort’s studies), let’s look at a few of them:

STEPS TOWARD FINDING AND DRAWING IN CUSTOMERS

Building awareness

How do you get as many people as possible to know about your business? Start with your basic building blocks. Launch a clean, user-friendly website that clearly portrays your product or service. Be present on social media (you don’t need to use every outlet that pops up, but experimenting with the bigger ones — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — and seeing what works for you, plus trying others that you feel drawn toward and seeing what sticks, is a good way to start). 

Once you’ve set up easy ways to be found, explore avenues that encourage people to find you. Are there local or national publications or blogs whose audiences align with yours? Inquire about advertising online or in print, or about doing a giveaway. Are there local groups whose focus matches your ideal customers’ interests? Reach out about sponsoring a meetup or event. Experiment with some Facebook ads and boosted posts. Start an email newsletter. Research writers, bloggers and editors that regularly write about topics related to your business, and send a friendly pitch. There’s no one action that’s a surefire hit for building awareness. It’s a process, and it requires trying a lot of different things, gauging their effectiveness, and fine-tuning your approach from there. 

Building interest

There’s making people aware that your business exists, and then there’s making people like the fact that your business exists. Helping people past “that’s a thing” and toward “I’d like to check out that thing” is a lot like making a good impression as a person. Be authentic. Be honest. Engage directly. Don’t be pushy, don’t be salesy. Maybe joke a little. No one likes feeling manipulated, and that’s exactly what comes across when you get lost in the marketing-jargon briar patch. So as you’re putting yourself out there, put yourself out there — show people how great your business is, don’t just tell them. 

Building trust

The next step: Your potential customer knows you exist, and feels intrigued. For them to become an actual customer (and hopefully a loyal one), you need them to be willing to make a decision about your product or service. You need them to trust you, and that trust is all about dependability. Can you, did you, and will you deliver what you say? It’s that simple. Are you worth trusting, again and again? And how will your customer know that before (and after) they’ve purchased from you? This, too, is a process. It starts with follow-through — your reputation depends on you backing up your promises, every time, and being determined to make things right if anything goes wrong. It moves forward through customer testimonials and reviews that praise that follow-through. Encourage customers to share their experiences, whether that’s through social media, a confirmation or follow-up email or a friendly in-person nudge. And when you get good feedback, don’t be afraid to spotlight it.

Inspiring action

Once a potential customer is aware of you, has interest and wants what you have to offer, they may choose to take action and engage with you. What do you want them to do? Purchase a product? Sign up for a newsletter? Share something with a friend? Decide what action you want them to take, and make that process as frictionless as possible for your audience. If it’s a purchase, don’t make them work to find out how to buy — if you’re selling online (using, say, Etsy or your Squarespace website), put that front and center on your website, your social media pages and in your email newsletter. If it’s a sign-up, make sure that encouragement is obvious and easy too. (Facebook’s new call-to-action button is a good example of simplifying/spotlighting your main desired action.)

As you move through each step of the process, your audience whittles down some. Of all of the people who know you exist, only a percentage will like you. And only a percentage of those will trust you. And a smaller percentage will pay you. And then just a tiny few — and these are the most important people in your circle — will refer you to others. This is often referred to as a “customer acquisition funnel,” and much has been written about it. But if your focus is on treating every potential customer like one of those loyal, friend-referring customers, awareness — and positive awareness — will surely grow.

What do you think? Have you had experiences with spreading awareness about your business that fit into this rundown, or totally run counter? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 
 
In next week’s Starting a Business post, we’ll take a look at the benefits of starting small. (If you’ve missed any of the past posts, look back through our Starting a Business series.)