It’s the classic conundrum of small businesses: a burning desire for more customers, yet a painfully small pocket of cash to spend on acquiring them.
The “easy option” in marketing is to set up an Adwords account – a bottomless click pit, but making Adwords work is actually not that easy at all and many businesses realise outsourcing the management of their Adwords account to experts is the only way.
If your website is not “up to scratch”, then Adwords clickers are unlikely to follow the trail to your call to action, and you’ll need a website overhaul as well!
For whatever reason, if those hard-earned clicks don’t convert into sales, it’s back to square one. To simplify the process, I’ve included some of the methods I have used which are based on 5 years’ experience of experimenting of building my own online business, Matchboard, which has over 2000 business customers – all acquired on a shoestring.
Here are some of my suggested alternative methods to acquire customers which are less financially draining:
Unleash the power of social media
Let’s talk about Day One when Matchboard launched. At the time, I had 2,500 LinkedIn connections, and I respectfully asked my network for a favour: to share my startup website with their networks. Within 24 hours, 50 connections helped me out and the first three clients landed – at a marketing cost of zero.
The moral of the story is that every connection or follower you have is potentially an advocate, partner or customer, and there’s a monetary value attached to that. So don’t be afraid to call in the occasional favour with your network and ask them to share and recommend your business on social media. And be sure to return the favour when asked!
What are friends for, if not for referrals?
Speaking of networks, “refer a friend or colleague” programs have been marketing mainstay for years. You might say you already get referrals from close contacts, but if you formalised this into a referral partner program, imagine how many more referrals you might enjoy! Referrals account for about 20% of Matchboard’s business, which is a substantial number of new customers acquired with no capital outlay – just a bonus back to the referrer after we’ve banked the deal.
Abracadabra, content’s my mantra!
If I had a magic wand as a small business owner, I’d wave it to make a stream of engaging content. And I’d post this content on my website, with links on social media and in the company newsletter. Unfortunately, I’m no Harry Potter, so I take the time – a couple of hours a week – to write, because people don’t respond to cold calling anymore. They read online – in B2B, 93% of people start their buying process with an online search – and from there they form an opinion about who and what is good,trustworthy, and worth contacting.
It’s therefore imperative to establish yourself, through content, as a thought leader or innovator, so people come to you (and not your competitor) when they’re ready to buy. Writing costs time, yes, but it also forces you to step back from the day to day and crystallise your thinking around different bigpicture topics, and perhaps even do a bit of online research to enhance your own knowledge.
Prrrr….make PR your pet hobby
Name a business owner who doesn’t want to get on the front page of the main media with a positive news story? That doesn’t have to be a pipedream. I’ve managed it more than once myself as proof! I suggest approaching PR from two angles: proactive and reactive. Reactive is where people actually come to you and seek your expert comments on a story or subject. Proactive is where you go out and pitch your story to the media.
With reactive, the key is to put in place relationships with partners and key suppliers so that they know you are willing to say nice things about their company as a “case study” or “success story”, when they themselves generate media interest. Let your bank, telco and insurance company know that you’re willing to be such a spokesperson should an opportunity arise!
Secondly, double check you don’t have any media contacts sitting amongst your LinkedIn connections, as you can reach out to these people and let them know you’re happy to be a source in their little black book for anything to do with X, Y, Z topics, where you are an expert. Thirdly, try Sourcebottle, where journalists seek out people to interview on different topics every day!
As far as proactive PR is concerned, I suggest working with a PR consultant on one project to begin with, so you can see how it’s done. (I’m happy to recommend the fantastic PR freelancers I’ve worked with.) There’s a trick to writing a press release and pitching to editors, which takes time to master, and often involves relationship building with the editors themselves.
However, in parallel to that, build your confidence by approaching some small publications directly. Make a list of five niche publications serving your target market – and email the editors once you have something genuinely of interest to offer. Maybe you’re announcing the results of a survey of all your clients to reflect an industry trend, or perhaps you’re the first company to do XYZ…
There are many alternative methods to generating leads and sales, and as a business owner, challenge yourself constantly to think of new approaches. Social media, PR, referral partner programs and content marketing are my favourites that won’t cost a fortune to try. Good luck!
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