Being a small business owner isn’t always easy. However, that has not stopped the 400 million entrepreneurs worldwide from living their dreams — and it shouldn’t stop you either. Whether you’re looking to launch your own online store or sell your skills, the only way you can be successful is to get — and keep — customers. But how?
As American Express explains, attracting new customers is largely a matter of knowing your business well and establishing yourself as an authority. Before you embark on any new business venture, however, make 100 percent sure that you look and sound professional both online and in person. After all, no one is going to take your word as a fashion stylist if you live your life in sweatpants and worn-out kicks.
Marketing for the Win
If the idea of marketing is intimidating, you’re not alone. For many entrepreneurs, one of the least appealing aspects of business ownership is stepping outside of your comfort zone to promote yourself. But marketing is essential, especially when you’re just starting out and have yet to leave behind a trail of happy customers to help build your client base.
Thanks to technology, and specifically social media, you can do much of your marketing legwork from the comfort of your own home, and online marketing is very effective. One way to get your brand into the minds of others is through the tried-and-true “like and share” social campaign. This does not mean that you can simply create a post and hope for it to go viral. If you want to be truly successful in your online marketing efforts, you have to get to know your customers. Millennials, for example, tend to value experiences, while those in the 40-plus crowd may be more drawn to great deals. Promotional content catered to the younger group might offer a free art lesson as a prize for sharing whereas older customers may value a BOGO sale.
Facebook remains a valuable and inexpensive platform where you can launch fan content, giveaways, and video-based campaigns. Social media is also an excellent way to initiate a crowdfunding strategy once you’ve established a fan base. If you’re not up to date on your financing terms, crowdfunding at its core is the process of getting many people to give you money to improve your business or services. However, in the case of a small business, if you go the crowdfunding route, you’ll need to give incentives. This could be something as simple as a lifetime discount on merchandise or first access to new product launches. Fundera explains more and also goes into detail about other business financing options.
Be a Changeling
While you absolutely need to be consistent in your business, one of the best ways to keep customers coming back for more is to give them more of what they want. If you own an online boutique, for example, stay on the lookout for new styles, and make sure that your customers are the first in their area to have access. Dropshipping is a great way to do this, and it gives you an opportunity to continually change your inventory without actually having to keep an inventory. Plus, with so many product options for dropshipping, it's easy to zero in on what's trending. If you’re worried that you can’t keep up with trends quick enough to react, keep in mind that there are people out there whose job is to do just that. Make a point to follow top trendsetters and influencers and to keep a close watch on your competitors.
One of the biggest hurdles that you have to face when you launch an online business is to establish yourself as trustworthy and secure. It’s not enough to be an expert in your industry; you also have to make customers feel safe shopping with you. Start with a clean and easily navigable website that works on both computers and mobile devices. Avoid the temptation to supplement your income by allowing banner ads on your site, but don’t be afraid to show off seals from the Better Business Bureau or highlight glowing customer testimonials. SEMRush further explains that your domain name should not sound cheap and spammy, and your contact information should be clearly available.
In addition to a good site and visible reviews, you should have the tech to keep your customers safe. If you accept online payments, use a trusted party, such as PayPal, or check with your bank to see if they offer online merchant services. Bolster your online security efforts by hosting your website on a dedicated IP address and investing in – and installing – an SSL certificate.
Visibility Is Key
Just as important as your marketing and security procedures are how visible you are within your community. Customers will be more willing to give up hard-earned money if you are a familiar face. As a small business owner, even if you operate solely online, you are in a unique position to give your customers the personal experience they crave. Respond to emails and telephone queries quickly, participate in online discussion groups, and volunteer in places your customers frequent. If you sell pet supplies, for example, sponsor an adoption day at your local animal shelter. Don’t be afraid to get out in your community, as there are many events in all major metropolitan areas that welcome vendors. This will give you a chance to allow people to touch and feel your products and to see the person behind the screen.
Service Is Essential
Clever marketing and an ever-changing product line are essential, but the way you treat your customers will ultimately determine your success. If you’re not a people person, hire someone who is or invest in customer service classes so you know how to handle problems when, not if, they arise. Be proactive with each customer and they are more likely to continue to patronize you even if they encounter issues with a product.
There are more small businesses and self-employed individuals than there are major corporations. And while you may never be the next Jeff Bezos, there’s plenty of market out there to share. As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to carve out your own spot in your niche.
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