Marketing: How do you connect with customers?

Being a small business owner is the very definition of “wearing many hats.” On any given day (or even within the same hour), you’re the marketing guru, the IT director, the office manager, the customer service rep … and the list goes on.

Every function of your business comes with its own set of challenges. Fortunately, there’s always a way to tackle them. Wearing the marketing hat, we start by addressing one of the toughest business challenges - how do you find customers and build a loyal customer base?

  1. Narrow your target

    Small business owners tell us all the time that they cast a wide net to find anyone who could be a customer. There are two problems with this approach: First, it spreads your limited marketing resources too thin. Second, by targeting everyone and anyone, you may reach the wrong clients.

    Here’s how to find the right ones: Review your current client list and choose the clients that you like the best and enjoy working with most. Then list the reasons why you enjoy working with them. Those are the characteristics of the prospects that you’ll target going forward.

  2. Invest in social media

    You don’t need to be on every social channel – you just need to be on the ones where your customers are most active. Ask them which social media platforms they use, both personally and professionally. How did they find you? Where do they go for answers to their questions? Focus your marketing programs on the most relevant ones.

  3. Start using a CRM system

    A customer relationship management (CRM) system can automate how you keep track of customers, much more effectively than a spreadsheet or a bunch of scattered emails. A good CRM system can show you what your customers need from your business, how you’ve solved problems in the past, and when you last contacted them with promotions and outreach.

  4. Shop for the right point of sale (POS) system

    If you run a real-world storefront, you need fast and easy ways for customers to pay for services using multiple payment methods – such as credit, debit and contactless payments. If you also sell online, you need a POS system that’s integrated with your physical store so that all your customer transactions and inventory are all in one place.

  5. Add reporting tools

    You need data, not just estimates of how many products you’ve sold or how much revenue you took in. Look for systems that can generate easy-to-understand snapshots of how your business is doing day to day, month to month, and year to year. Ask your software provider or a consultant to recommend a good reporting tool that works with your business system.

  6. Connect with customers

    You’re never just marketing and selling – you’re making connections. Create strategies to reach out to customers on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly, whether on social media or at in-person events. Schedule a free customer event at your location. Offer samples, training, demonstrations, and free products.

  7. Make it a stress-free checkout

    Delivering an effortless experience is what keeps customers happy and coming back for more. The truest test of loyalty is when something goes wrong. By exceeding customer expectations and offering a flawless service interaction, you can directly impact the likelihood of customers repurchasing your product or service. When things are going right, collect feedback when possible. You can even use survey software like SurveyMonkey to find out from your customers where you can be doing better.

  8. Use your data

    What customers were buying from you last year that aren't buying as much this year? What products are your best sellers? Look for a payment processor or a CRM system that gives you information about your customers' purchasing behaviour. Gather these insights to target promotions and other outreach initiatives.

  9. Pause, step back and reflect

    Every small business owner has a never-ending to-do list. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy without truly understanding which of your actions are generating results. Take 5 minutes per week, 1 hour per month and 2 hours per quarter to step away from activity and pause and reflect. Do your actions = results? If not, change your actions.

Gene Marks, Small Business Expert

Gene is a columnist, author and business owner. He writes every day for The Washington Post, weekly for Forbes, Inc. and Entrepreneur, and has written 5 books on business management. Gene enjoys helping business owners understand trends and how they can take action.

Carissa Reiniger, Founder, Silver Lining Ltd.

Carissa started Small Business Silver Lining with a mission to help small businesses become more profitable and sustainable. She created SLAP, the Silver Lining Action Plan, a 13-month growth program based on behaviour change science, helping small business owners adopt the right behaviours and take the right actions to grow their business. She also regularly writes, speaks and advises on small businesses.

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