With the recession appearing to recede, many companies are looking to expand their roster of paying customers, reaching in to new segments, covering a larger geographic footprint, and going after business that only a few months ago seemed all but unattainable. If you have a plan of attack using proven strategies, growth and expansion for your business are within reach.
"Show me a company with more than 10 percent of its business with one customer or more than half of its business in one industry and I'll show you a company at risk of being impacted by one company or one industry," says Paul Weber, CEO of Entrepreneur Advertising Group in Kansas City, Missouri. "Show me a company with a comprehensive social media campaign but ignores other media and I'll show you a company missing part of their audience. Show me a company only devoted to networking and I'll show you a company that will soon find their time availability slipping away." Weber's point is that frequency and diversity are essential in keeping any company viable and relevant with customers and potential customers.
These are common problems for small businesses, but they are easily addressed. Here are five strategies to help you expand your audience and drive transactions with new customers.
Diversifying Your Customer Base: Try Cold Calling
"When I've tapped out social networking, non-client referral sources, client referrals, sponsored or hosted events, webinars, article placements and blogs, I'll make cold calls," says John Thomas, a former director of business development in Dallas. "Sometimes they are to prospects and sometimes to potential referral sources. I've won a lot of business through a cold call."
Martha Retallick, a website developer and photographer for Western Sky Communications in Tucson, Arizona agrees, "I do most of my business prospecting via the phone. There's a lot of rejection out there. But you know what? Getting past the fear of rejection was surprisingly easy." The best way to get over your fear of cold calling is to practice. Look through your address book and start with clients you haven't done business with in awhile and expand to people beyond your immediate network.
Diversifying Your Customer Base: Ramp Up Your PR
"Getting attention from the media is like getting free advertising on TV, in the newspaper, or via social media channels, allowing you to reach not only your current audience, but also people who may have never heard of you or your product," says Wendy Duval, public relations and communications manager for The Vermont Teddy Bear Company. "Much of the attention we've gotten from the media has been the result of releasing relevant products when the time was right. For example, designing Star Trek Bears around the time of the new movie's release or designing bears to represent all of the candidates during the 2008 presidential election." By making products relevant to current news topics, Vermont Teddy Bear was able to target their media outreach accordingly, which in turn resulted in increased visibility to a larger network of consumers.
Diversifying Your Customer Base: Turn Your Virtual Audience into a Real Audience
So, everyone is talking about social media. Why? Because it works. Social media is a cost-effective way to build up a new virtual audience. But your new audience doesn't have to stay virtual. Ted's Butcherblock, a full-service butcher shop in Charleston, South Carolina, knows a thing or two about turning social media followers into real customers. "We love to make fun offers with social media," says Ted Dombrowski, owner or Ted's Butcherblock. "We did one offer through Twitter that said, 'Be the first to come in and say 'I love bacon!' and you will win free tickets to our special bacon dinner.' I was shocked to see how many people came in the shop shouting 'I love bacon!'" For Dombrowski, social media was a great way to pull in a different demographic. "Social media was a way for us to reach out to a younger audience. We could use social media to make our shop accessible to a completely new type of customer."
Dig Deeper: 30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your Business
Diversifying Your Customer Base: Focus on Networking
According to Caroline Nuttall, publisher of CHARLIE Magazine, "In a time when social media is king, real life, face-to-face networking goes a long way." Personal connections are a great way to increase your audience. It is easy for someone to forget an email, but it is much harder for someone to forget you, especially if you make an impression. "Speaking engagements are a great way to network, which allows you more of a mass appeal," says Nuttall. She recently spoke at a cultural event and said it was "a powerful speaking opportunity in front of a big crowd, the exact right audience for you, in a unique and memorable format."
Sharon Kraun, former sustainability practice leader at Cohn, Overstreet & Parish Integrated Marketing in Atlanta has had to rely on the good old-fashioned way of person-to-person networking particularly for her start-up Marketing Matters. "Most of my business comes through referrals. Each successful client is a link to another potentially successful client," says Kraun. "While social media does enable you to reach more people in a shorter span of time, the one-on-one, in person communication still provides a stronger connection." Take every opportunity you have to talk about your business. People can't support what they don't know about.
Dig Deeper: Digital Networking vs. Traditional Networking
Diversifying Your Customer Base: Embrace Your Competition
You don't have to fight your competitors for their audience; working together can often be much more efficient. The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., uses this philosophy to broaden its reach both locally and nationally. "Through partnerships with like-minded organizations such as The American Institute of Architects and sponsors such as The Home Depot Foundation, the museum has increased national recognition of the organization by opening access to our partners network of supporters and members," says Johanna Weber, the museum's marketing and communications manager. "This in turn has resulted in increased web traffic, attendance at museum programs and exhibitions, and new fundraising opportunities for the museum." Partnerships go both ways, so if you are willing to help out your neighbor, you have to opportunity to gain the support of a much larger network.
Diversifying Your Customer Base: Additional Resources
Whether you enjoy socializing, writing, helping your community, or helping your neighbor, there is a strategy for building your audience that can fit both your personality and your business, without costing an arm and a leg. If you want to learn more about the strategies discussed here, these books are great resources for additional information.
- The Collaboration Challenge: How Nonprofits and Businesses Succeed Through Strategic Alliances by James E. Austin
- Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build Your Business by Larry Weber
- Endess Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts in to Sales by Bob Burg
Additional reporting by Tiffany Black.