Successful entrepreneurs know that customers are their lifeblood. Unless you're one of the relatively few entrepreneurs with a product that sells itself, repeatedly and perpetually, you can't overlook the need to actively win and retain clients.
A great product and excellent service are vital, as is effective marketing. After all, people have to know about your business to become customers.
Whether you're offering life coaching, guitar lessons, landscaping or professional photography, or selling hand-knit sweaters, designer clothing or cheese from your own goats, good marketing moves can draw in new customers and deepen existing clients' loyalty.
Before you get started, consider writing a marketing plan — even a simple one — to map out your efforts. You can get some ideas from SCORE's free, downloadable small business marketing guide or develop a more simplified strategy.
Developing a marketing plan may be the ideal first step, but even if you forgo a formal blueprint, a few key moves could jump-start, or accelerate, business in 2018. Every business and entrepreneur is different, so consider those that apply most to yours.
1. Share your expertise
Offering useful insights is a great way to raise your profile as an expert without making a hard sell.
You might blog on your company website, publish an article on LinkedIn, record podcasts, post webinars or tutorials, or host a free seminar in a local library or coworking space.
A financial planner, for instance, could invite parents to a school auditorium to talk about strategies to save for college, or hold a WeWork gathering for startup entrepreneurs to outline ways to build personal wealth and save for retirement. Posting videos with the same info is another option.
A therapist could publish a blog post or LinkedIn article, or both, with mental health tips on handling stress, achieving goals, improving mindfulness or managing family conflict, while a home organizer could share decluttering advice.
If you sell handcrafted or homemade goods, you might post a video tutorial, or series, on knitting, sewing, canning or other domestic arts, or offer a mini-lesson at a fair or farmer's market.
A frequently updated blog on your company website can help you and your business develop a following of regulars.
2. Get active on social media
Depending on your business, clever use of Facbeook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn can drive customers your way. You might promote sales, contests and events, or share news about your business. Even sharing photos or interesting tidbits can draw in customersIf you're blogging, podcasting or posting videos, use your social media accounts to link to them.
Be sure your tagline or blurb describes your business in a way that will get you noticed by potential clients in your desired target market. If you want to turn up on Twitter or LinkedIn searches for a "Seattle residential architect" or "New Jersey organic farmer," then use the appropriate wording.
Social media can be a great way to engage directly with customers, but remember to keep tabs on your accounts and be prepared to respond, whether your customer leaves a rave review or brings a complaint to the entire Twitterverse
3. Create or update your professional website
It's hard to overestimate the importance of a polished website for a company or professional, even if you conduct most of your business offline. You may win or lose potential customers before ever hearing from them based on their search for your website.
If you don't have a website, or if it doesn't look good, you may lose a prime opportunity with potential clients.
Your website is a chance to present your business in a professional way and set the tone with customers, whether you're selling whimsical gifts or promoting your legal services. Make it easy to navigate, and to fuel its marketing effectiveness, add client testimonials and an engaging, regularly updated blog.
4. Tend to existing and former clients
Remind them of your products and services and let them know about any new offerings or changes in your business.
Emailing helpful tips or news is a good way to stay in touch with regular customers without directly asking them to buy anything.
On the other hand, a direct approach can work wonders.
Freelance designers, writers and consultants can touch base with clients they haven't talked to in a while to offer their services and re-establish a working relationship. Consider asking existing clients if they need additional services or know of anyone else who could use your offerings.
Retail small businesses — online, offline or both — might offer deals, gifts or special events to existing customers. This could be a gift card or a unique object with your corporate logo, an exclusive online discount code or a physical coupon to use within a month.
Consider throwing a party to show appreciation to loyal customers. Wine and hors d'oeuvres, accompanied by your favorite Spotify playlist or a local musician, needn't cost a fortune. This isn't the time for a sales pitch; it's a "thank you," designed to engender warm feelings about your business.
If you're an online-only business, consider a party alternative. Could you invite your top 50 customers to a multi-city virtual party, sending gourmet pizzas to their homes or businesses at the same time, maybe with a video chat?
5. Reach out to your community
Attend or host networking events, create a pop-up shop in high-foot-traffic places, or go in with other businesses to throw a street party or fair that features your wares.
Sponsor something fun — perhaps a bowling tournament, scavenger hunt or race that gets your business in front of a relevant target market.
Consider banding together with companies or professionals in related fields to refer customers to each other or engage in other joint marketing.
Getting involved in community activities and philanthropy is good for the soul, and can raise your profile as well. Consider establishing your business as a supportive community player.
As you plan for 2018, take some time to brainstorm what two or three steps you might take to boost your marketing efforts.