Entrepreneurship – the uncharted path to financial freedom from that soul-sucking 9 to 5 job (unless you are fortunate enough to win the lottery, or inherit a healthy trust fund). I am sure most people have given some thought to launching their own business at least once in their lifetime. However, it takes a certain level of determination to actually began and sustain the process.
Even with great persistence, success is not always a guarantee. Many small business startups crash and burn due to a failure to plan, develop effective marketing, source adequate funding, or accurately assess demand for their goods or services.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, I spend many waking hours brainstorming my next business venture. My first foray into business ownership began in college when I started a dorm room barbershop to generate extra pizza money. Upon graduation, my focus shifted toward completing my MBA and establishing my career as a management consultant. However, my desire to continuing pursuing a small business never faded. I just needed to find the right opportunity to spread my entrepreneurial wings.
My approach to finding my next business venture involved writing down and analyzing my natural talents and interests on paper, and pulling out the best idea to leverage into a product or service offering. I possessed graphic design talents coupled with a working knowledge of Gimp and CorelDraw software, and thus I decided to open The Logo Tree logo design business and search for customers through the online marketplace Thumbtack. Although I created logos for several customers, the demand was not sufficient to sustain this business in the long term.
For my next venture, I channeled my love of music, willingness to learn new technology, website creation abilities, and professional presentation skills into a wedding DJ business. I purchased and practiced with very professional DJ equipment, and created a website. I tapped into my graphic design skills and created a business logo, and established various social media sites. I then created and executed a marketing strategy and formally launched DJ Charlo Professional DJ Services. After a couple of years, I taught myself how to use a DSLR camera and purchased all the necessary equipment to offer a photo booth service to complement the DJ business.
Recently I leveraged my significant Organizational Change Management experience to launch the ChangeWonks.com site, which focuses on providing helpful advice, resources, and eLearning opportunities for managing professional and personal change.
Many print and online resources outline various paths to successfully launching a small business – generate a business idea, create a business plan, conduct market research, identify the target customers, secure funding, launch. However, how do you actually attract and retain your customer base as a small business owner?
The answer may very well be through trial and error. There may be no one size fits all manuscript that will provide the answers to finding ideal customers who are willing to pay for your goods or services. However, I discovered the following common lessons to attract and retain customers while overcoming each of my small business ventures’ unique learning curves:
- A strong online presence is critical to attracting clients.
- Five star customer service is mandatory for success.
- Under-pricing or giving away free products and services is a losing strategy.
1. A Strong Online Presence Is Critical to Attracting Clients
Research shows that over 2 BILLION people worldwide will purchase goods and services online by the year 2021. Small business owners can only benefit from this significant source of new customers by having a professional online presence.
Standard online practice should include a professionally built website, a clean business logo, sharp images of products for sale, and a clear description of services provided. A review page with positive customer testimonials and a simple Contact Us page for customers to reach out to you directly is better. A Subscribe page for customers to sign up for updates and the latest offers from your business is best.
Several web-hosting sites (Godaddy, Wix, Word Press, etc.) provide guidance on creating and maintaining professional websites, while online marketing companies (Constant Contact, MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, etc.) offer subscription applications to manage customer enrollment and communications.
There are many success stories of small business owners who made a small fortune solely through selling goods and services online. However, the challenge lies not only in developing a product or service where there is customer demand and a willingness to pay, but also in providing awareness of the existence of this product and service, while creating a simple and expedited method to pay and receive any purchases.
Effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Google Ads are two methods to drive customer traffic to a business website by using key search words to appear as close as possible to the first page of an online search result.
Traditional methods such as handing out professional business cards that include the business website address is another great way to drive customer traffic.
Social media is yet another driver key source of customer traffic. Social sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn possess the functionality to target desired customer demographics, present marketing videos or images, and lead customers directly to the business website or social media pages. Of course, business social media pages, much like business websites, should display a brief overview of products and services along with pictures and hyperlinks to the official website. Social media profiles are free to build and easy to maintain, however the business owner has to pay for targeted marketing campaigns.
Marketing is an unavoidable business cost that requires a sustained budget to attract new customers. Without an investment in the right marketing tools, customers will not be aware of the existence of a business and as such cannot purchase any product or service offering being sold by that business.
2. Five star customer service is mandatory for success.
To put it simply: your customer service needs to be over the top to be successful as a small business. Over performance, combined with requests for online reviews will lead to even more customers.
Rest assured there are many competitors in your chosen market with multiple positive reviews from their customers. You must exceed your customers’ expectations, to ensure that they are satisfied with your services and are willing to heap praises on your business online.
Potential customers will want to see evidence of your service capabilities or product quality. Multiple 5-star reviews your very satisfied customer base will provide this evidence. So brainstorm on ways to improve upon and maintain excellent levels of customer service, and be sure to ask your customers for reviews upon completion of each sale or service delivery. Your reputation will continue to grow, and your business will continue to expand.
3. Under-pricing or giving away free products and services is a losing strategy.
Every business owner must know his or her product or service’s true value, and should be willing to set their prices accordingly. Some business owners make the fatal mistake of low-balling their completion for the sake of getting sales at any cost. This is fine if the purpose of the business is not to make money.
Additionally, this business practice is setting a precedent – if customers pay a low price today for your product or service, they will expect to pay low prices in the future. Therefore, business owners may become stuck and will have trouble getting out of the low-balling strategy.
The same applies to giving away free products and services. This practice should only apply to charitable events or promotional giveaways.
Business owners should set and be prepared to defend their prices. If their product or service quality is worth the advertised price, then customers will pay for it.
Do you have any thoughts or additional advice for small business owners that you would like to share? Please comment below!