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11 Ways to Find Your First Customers
by Rieva Lesonsky
April 12, 2022
man in blue button up talking to customer and showing them car tires

How To Find Customers

Whether you’ve just started your small business, are in the early stages of operation, or are still in the planning phase, it’s never too early to think about how you’re going to attract your first customers and clients.

Here are a few ideas to help you launch your customer acquisition efforts. You may have included some of these practices and strategies when creating your business plan.

1. Identify your target audience

Who do you think your target market is. Create a buyer persona, which is a profile of your ideal customer/s. Be as specific as possible—by including gender, age, education, where they live, their media (including social media) consumption habits, etc.

Then build your customer acquisition strategy around that profile. This is more than developing a marketing plan, though that is part of it. Think about how, when, and where you can reach these people. And what is the best way to communicate with them?

2. Study your competition

Who are your competitors? What audience are they targeting and serving? How do they reach them?

3. Make a prospect list

Think of the people you know and the people they know. Are some of them in your target market? Put them on a list of prospects. If you’re starting a B2B, include businesses you’ve interacted with on your list.

4. Ask for referrals

Ask everyone you know if they know someone who might buy what you’re selling. Alert your social media connections, neighbors, former co-workers, and family members that you’re launching (recently launched) a new business and you’re looking for customers. 

5. Network

Are there local business networking groups in your industry? Attend meetings, whether in person or virtually. Join your local chamber and/or membership organization like Alignable.

6. Be visible

Participate in community and industry events, whether that’s a trade show, an industry conference, or a local fair. Even sponsoring a local ball team can build brand awareness and bring customers to your door.

Before you venture out, make sure you’ve memorized your elevator pitch and can deliver it in an authentic (not salesy) way. Not as many people use business cards today, but it’s never a bad idea to have them with you—just in case.

7. Team up with other business owners

Look for other small business owners whose products or services are complementary to yours. Can you team up and refer each other’s business?

8. Build a website

Every business needs a website—every single one. Do not think a social media platform is a website substitute—it is not. Social media channels are owned by the social network. You must use their design, follow their rules, and drive consumers to their site. You’re spending money promoting their brand. And many of the sites frequently change their algorithms and policies.

A website, on the other hand, is all about your business. You create the image you think best conveys your message. And a website gives customers direct access to you. Think of your website as a home for your business. Even if you have a physical office or shop, your website (especially if you use smart search engine optimization (SEO) techniques) will likely be how new customers discover your business.

Remember, businesses that actively engage online typically grow 40% faster than they would without an online presence. And in today’s environment, many consumers prefer to shop online. And, according to QuickBooks Commerce Small Business Shopping Report, 48% of consumers today are more likely to try new businesses than they were pre-pandemic.

9. Use social media

I’m not saying ignore social media. Create your social media accounts as soon as you have a name for your business. Register that name on all the major social platforms, even if you don’t plan to use them at the moment.

Follow your competitors on their social channels and listen to the conversations they’re having with their customers.

Use social media advertising to target people who meet your target market criteria. These ads are relatively inexpensive and can specifically target the consumers you’re looking to reach.  

Some important social stats to remember:

  • Visual social posts are 40x more likely to get shared on social media
  • 62% of consumers share online deals with friends, exposing your business to a broader audience
  • 78% of small businesses attract new customers, as well as engage with current ones using social media

You can also sell products directly from your social platforms. According to eMarketer, there are more than 90 million social commerce buyers.

10. Get listed

List your new business in as many business directories as you can. A business directory is an online list of companies (think digital Yellow Pages). First, claim your free listing on Google My Business. There may already be a listing there, but if it’s not “claimed,” it’s likely not complete and may be incorrect. Don’t overlook Bing—about 25% of all U.S. search queries are Windows-based and any other relevant directories.

Being listed in a business directory will:  

  • Send quality referral traffic directly to your website
  • Generates fresh leads
  • Helps you get consumer reviews
  • Improves SEO. It helps get quality do-follow backlinks

11. Send postcards

According to a report from the USPS, 66% of marketers say they use postcards most often to reach customers. And about 51% of recipients say they find direct mail postcards useful, according to the Data & Marketing Association. Postcards are affordable, and you can target specific neighborhoods and zip codes. Check out the Every Door Direct Mail program offered by the U.S. Postal Service.

There are numerous other ways new businesses can attract their first customers. Discuss these with your SCORE mentor. If you don’t have a SCORE mentor, you can find one here.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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