Remember the heady days of the dot-com bubble? I don't recall any other time when a business could get money from a venture capitalist (people who lend money to start-ups) when they had a business model designed to lose money. Venture capitalists and stock brokers loved it. The economy was flush with money. But business analysts were crying out that there was something terribly wrong: no customers.
Entrepreneurs (and everyone else) have learned their lesson: business plans need to be based on one thing alone: finding and keeping customers, not some cleverly invented software that has no income stream.
How do you get clients? How do you keep them? How do you do that again and again and again?
Those should be the three questions you ask yourself every single day. (In fact, why not post them on your bathroom mirror!?!)
Getting clients can take a lot of work: you go out and find new clients. It takes resources and energy to try to convince prospects to shop from you (either because they don't feel they need your product or because there's a myriad of competition out there).
Keeping clients takes less work, but it still takes work: you need to make sure that your pricing is competitive, your products work well, and your service is second to none. (Newsflash: brand loyalty is at an all-time low; people want value and they measure that value in different ways, depending on who your niche is).
Within this structure are a few additional ways that you can get and keep customers. These additional ways aren't necessarily a lot of work but they are very effective.
Ask for referrals: If your current customers perceive value from their experience with you, have them refer someone else to you. Chances are they know someone just like themselves who shares the same needs. (After all, we tend to spend time with people just like ourselves). Be blatant and ask them. This has worked for insurance salespeople and investment advisors for many years. Maybe it's time to use it yourself. If you have 100 customers and 1 customer in 10 gives you a single name, you have 10 new prospects. If you close half of those prospects, you just increased your business by 5%. How much profit in your pocket is an additional 5%? Now imagine doing that each year, over and over again.
Offer referral coupons: If your clients need a little nudge (maybe they're shy about giving up the names of people they know) offer a referral coupon. Give them a card (or a code, if you're an e-store) to give to friends who may shop at your store. If those friends turn into customers, send a gift or a financial "thank you" to the referring customer.
Speak in public: This can turn into its own lucrative sideline for you, but it's a way to find people who are interested in your topic without them feeling threatened that you're trying to sell them something. (Don't worry, they're just as receptive to buy from you). They will turn to you when they do want to buy because they consider you the expert. (Plus you can sell books and information when you're speaking to earn additional profit).
Once you have mastered a niche, adopt another one: We've shown in past articles the importance of finding and mastering a niche. There may come a time when you feel you've done what you can with that niche and have the products and infrastructure to branch out. It could mean more work (for example, a new website that caters specifically to that niche) but it could increase your customer base.
Consider alternate forms of advertising: It's easy to get stuck in one type of advertising, as if it operates on autopilot. For example, Pay-per- click ads for online businesses; Newspaper inserts for offline. If you feel that you could do your advertising in your sleep, it's time to find a new advertising method to freshen up your approach.