Finding customers is the hardest, most under-estimated part of a new business. Here are 5 low-budget ways to find customers from one of Australia’s most successful Mumpreneurs.
Most of us have seen those beautiful start-up business plans with glorious graphs predicting double-digit year-on-year growth.
But the plans are often naïvely and overly optimistic because they underestimate just how hard it is to cost-effectively acquire customers. Having started an online business (Matchboard) five years ago, and acquired 2000 business customers on a shoestring since I know what it takes.
I’m happy to share my top 5 powerful, mostly FREE approaches to sales and marketing, so read on!
The good news is that, unlike in the past where the way to find customers was through dreaded cold calling, or expensive print advertising, the new way is to market so that customers find you. This is known as inbound marketing.
(search engine optimisation) is my favourite form of inbound marketing and around 50% of our customers come this way. In simplistic terms, it’s where you get to appear on page 1 of Google for free, by posting quality, relevant content on your site. The idea is then to convert those visitors through a call to action such as registering, subscribing or ordering.
So if you enjoy writing, you’re in luck – regularly post engaging blogs featuring keywords people enter in search engines when looking for your products and services, and you’ll be rewarded with the holy grail of a listing near the top of Google. If you don’t write well, all is not lost, as you can outsource to a professional copywriter. There are also a few technical tricks to making SEO work, so consider an SEO consultant to coach you when you’re ready to get serious!
2. Social media
The day I launched my business, I asked my LinkedIn network for a favour (“I’ve just launched a new matchmaking platform for businesses and would SO appreciate if you could share this link with your network”).
That single sentence resulted in 3 customers Day 1, proving the power of social media for customer acquisition. Since then, I did the calculation that for every hour I spend on LinkedIn, I drive more than $500 of revenues (I track the source of new customers). Sharing updates, blogs and news on social media is free and has clear business benefits.
Pick your top social media platform (eg. Facebook for consumer sites and LinkedIn for business sites), and leverage it to the hilt!
If you have a new brand or concept, the fastest way to reach a large audience is by getting your story in the media. A lot of people think you need to hire a PR agency to get in the media. In my experience, that’s not true. It may be a great idea for well-funded or mature businesses, but if you’re a lean startup, retaining an agency just isn’t feasible.
My advice is to start by identifying a few journalists or editors who write for your target publications – maybe that’s the local newspaper, a Mums’ website, the radio or an industry magazine title – and home in on them with a personalised email pitch.
Make sure it’s a strong, newsworthy pitch, as you don’t get a crack at this every week without being annoying! Also register for free at Sourcebottle, where journalists post every day for sources to interview.
4. Contra deals and partnerships.
“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is a great motto for partnerships where your business and a partner business promote each other, with no cost incurred by either party.
So think of an organisation you don’t compete with yet has the same target market as you. Approach them with an offer to introduce them to your customers, subscribers and followers, and they can do the same for you. This could mean using your website, social media and newsletter channels. If it works for both sides, consider ramping it up to joint offerings.
Word-of-mouth referrals are considered the highest quality leads, most likely to convert. Trusted contacts such as old colleagues or alumni are often more than happy to support you with referrals, so be sure to let them know you’d appreciate them! For others, a financial incentive works well, and this is why it’s helpful to set up a simple Referral Partner program. At Matchboard, we provide 25% of our revenues back on referrals, and it really works!
About your Guest blogger: Sharon Melamed, Managing Director, Matchboard: Sharon Melamed is a digital entrepreneur. In 2012, she launched Matchboard, a free platform where companies can enter their needs and find “right-fit” vendors of solutions to match. The company was named by Westpac as one of Australia’s “top 200 Businesses of Tomorrow” this year. Sharon’s accolades include being awarded PowerProfile status by LinkedIn for having one of the 50 most visited profiles in Australia. She holds a double honours degree from the University of Sydney and speaks five languages. Contact Sharon on LinkedIn; Twitter; Email