You have started marketing your own business, and you hope to be a big success. You’ve made the commitment, spent all your savings, spent your investors’ money, taken out bank loans—now what? Do you have all the customers you’ll need to be successful, just waiting for you to unlock the front door and turn on your phone? You’ll need customers right away—a lot of them!
Getting customers is the most difficult part of opening a new business. You have no past customers, no prospects, and no referrals— and you will need all of them. As your business grows, these will all fall into place and form a foundation on which you can build.
Marketing and sales promotion should start before you are ready to officially begin your business. Once you’ve made your decisions on store layout, office construction, and/or home business equipment, it’s time to start getting those first customers, who are so important to all new businesses. Without them, you’ll have bills to pay and no money coming in to pay them. Your startup capital will be depleted very quickly without a decent cash flow in the beginning. Don’t let this happen to you! Go after customers early and use several different methods to see which work the best.
Here are some ideas to consider and have in place before you actually open for business:
- Have a toll-free number. It can feed into voicemail or your home phone number so customers/prospects can ask questions and request information. Later, you can have calls go to your office or store phone, where you can answer them during business hours. A toll-free number can make your business seem larger than it really is.
- Get your email started. Send email to—and receive it from—prospective customers to create interest for your opening day.
- Start direct mail. Send letters, flyers, menus, and so on to your biggest pool of prospects in advance. You can do this yourself on a smaller scale or turn the task over to a mailing house that can select the correct lists of prospects and do the entire mailing for you. This first mailing will make future customers aware of you, create some sales, and make it easier to contact customers later.
- Offer free literature. Use response cards, email, and a toll-free number from which prospects can request free information. Your literature should explain what your company is all about and why eople should buy from you. Describe products and services that will be available and explain how they are different from and better than competitors’ products or services.
- Set sales appointments. Set sales appointments in advance, so you’re busy visiting prospects from day one.
You can use your home phone to set meetings with the most receptive prospects. If you have friends with businesses, offer to pay them for a desk and phone until your office is ready. If the sales appointment is more than a week in advance, you can mail a postcard a few days after your call to remind the customer of your appointment.
- Start telemarketing. You, your staff, or an outside firm should start calling your most likely prospects as soon as possible. Tell them about your new business, when it will open, and why they should be your customers. You can also accept advance orders if you know what your prices will be. However, don’t promise delivery or store pickup unless you are absolutely sure you can do it. You don’t want to break your first promise to a customer.
- Announce introductory offers. Entice people to try your new business with special offers, but don’t give away the farm— it will cheapen your image. Make offers that you can afford and that prospective customers will value. Always set a time limit or an offer-end date, or else your introductory offer will become your regular offer. You want people to try your product or service and then return to buy at regular prices.
- Offer gifts. Include something extra for the first 100 or 500 buyers to get the cash register ringing. Everyone likes to get a gift as long as it’s usable and has some value. Try to find things that relate to your business either directly or indirectly. After you open, you can have a special prize for the 1,000th or 10,000th customer and make a big deal about it.
- Have a contest. Offer a contest with no purchase necessary to get people to try your product or listen to your sales pitch. Be sure to follow all state and federal rules. It’s wise to offer one big prize to attract attention and several smaller prizes so there will be more winners. If you’re having a drawing, announce the time and day far enough in advance that you can have as many people in attendance as possible—they may make a purchase while they’re there. Make the contest duration short—four to six weeks is desirable—and enter any names on a mailing list when it’s over.
- Offer a free trial. Get prospective customers using your products by giving away free samples. Nothing sells better than the actual product or service, especially when the user doesn’t have to pay for it. If it’s as good as you say it is, it should sell itself. Don’t provide such a large sample that it supplies all the customer’s needs for a long time—you want the customer to purchase more as soon as possible.
- Place advertising early. You’ll want your print ads to be out when you’re ready for business, and many publications and magazines have a one- to two-month lead time. This is the time for any introductory offers or grand-opening sales to be in buyers’ minds. Always check with the publication to find out when the ad will actually hit the public. Often the November issue will be released the second week of October, for example, so be sure to ask when the issue will be out.
- Send press releases. Find something newsworthy about your opening and send it to newspapers, magazines, trade journals, radio, and TV at least a month in advance of your opening. They may be interested in a revolutionary new product or even a contest if the prize is unusual. Read the inside pages of related publications to get ideas from what they are printing.
- Hold a seminar. Make the seminar free and convenient and include demonstrations and an informative agenda. About 60 to 90 minutes is enough to create interest in your new business, and much longer than that may have the opposite effect. You can also learn what new products or services your attendees are interested in and find a way to offer them.
- Stress your guarantee. Make a big deal about your guarantee so first-time buyers can feel comfortable—no one likes to be a guinea pig. Some customers may be apprehensive when it comes to a new business because of past experiences. You need to assure them of your commitment to the highest standards and back it up.
- Offer cash discounts. Gifts or discounts for immediate payment in cash can increase your short-term cash flow and make your purchasers feel as if they received a good deal. If you can’t ask for the total amount in advance, try requesting a 50 percent deposit on the first order and the balance on delivery or within 10 days. Any money you receive early will help with expenses and paying suppliers and any employees you have.
- Start networking. Go to all the meetings you can—find them listed in your Sunday or Monday newspaper. Bring
plenty of business cards and give them to as many people as possible. Explain how your new business is different from your competitors and ask for referrals or permission to call for an appointment. Always keep at least 10 business cards with you.
- Offer advance-order specials. Offering extra quantity, discounts, freebies, and/or free delivery can result in a pile of orders waiting for your first day. You may make less profit on these orders, but you’ll have a cash flow, which is extremely important in any new business. Offer whatever you can to get those orders without taking a loss. A small profit is better than no customers at all and will build loyalty plus word of mouth.
- Teach a class. Local colleges and business schools have shortterm classes and clinics in various subjects. Offer your services in your field of expertise for little or no pay. People in your sessions will want to know your current business, and it may produce some new customers.
You want to create a sense of urgency for prospective customers to act now—they may lose the offer if they don’t act quickly! The early new business and customers will give you much-needed cash flow and will increase your chances of success. Be aware that special offers, contests, and discounts will reduce your profits on the beginning orders, but this loss can be made up with repeat business. It also starts the free word-of-mouth advertising working. Don’t overlook or set aside the task of getting those first customers— they are very important.