Making the decision to work at home as a mom entrepreneur is an exciting step. The process of envisioning and planning for your business delivers an adrenaline rush like no other. Once you have settled on the kind of business you want to start and have created a web presence to represent your operation, the adrenaline might turn to nerves as you start to ponder the very real hurdle of finding your first customers. Below are 15 reliable ways to hook prospective customers and reel in your first paycheck. Not every method will work for the particular product or service you plan to offer, but together these ideas present a big picture look at the options out there.
1. Hold a product launch event. This is relevant, of course, if your business has a product to introduce to a market. If you’re selling something that is readily available elsewhere, it probably doesn’t need its own event. Launch events usually cater to one of three audiences: tradespeople, media, or prospects. Choose an audience for your event (don’t try to cover them all, or the event will be ineffective) and choose the location and invitation list accordingly.
Don’t make the mistake of hearing the word “event” and thinking this must be a scheduled affair or a face-to-face gathering. Modern-day events can be mobile, making use of street teams or even flash mobs, or be arranged online. Social media is great for planning a cyber event to launch your product.
2. Take advantage of friends and family. That’s not a directive to bully your relatives into buying your product. Just consider that they are a receptive audience who is inclined to help you out. If your product or service helps solve a problem for someone you’re close to, why would they not choose to buy from you?
With family, it is tempting to give your products or services away for free. Do not take that too far. Your friends and family can serve as a test market, but they are not as objective and probably won’t be as critical as the rest of your market is likely to be. Their testimonials are less valuable for the same reason. If your inner circle is in the market for something you offer, give them your pitch, but don’t just give them your product.
3. Find customers in your civic circle. Many people belong to civic organizations because they enjoy the camaraderie and the cause, but they are also aware of the networking advantages that membership brings – don’t be afraid to pursue customers in any organization to which you belong.
4. Scan your school days for connections. Consider former classmates and teachers, college buddies, extra-curricular club members, and teammates. You own a business, which means you are in sales. You can’t be afraid to tap people you know, and why should you be when you are offering a product or service you are proud to stand behind?
5. Consider how what you offer might add value for the professionals and tradespeople you interact with on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. That includes your doctor, dentist, accountant, hairstylist, baby-sitter – anyone who performs a service for you. They might be inclined to support your endeavor if you can present it as something that makes their life or work easier or better.
6. Give it away. But not to family members (see #2)! If your business takes off, you will be in a position somewhere down the line to offer freebies to friends. But for now, any giveaway you offer should go to someone who is part of or represents the market you are trying to enter. If you decide to hold a product launch event (#1), consider offering an event discount for the product to anyone who attends.
7. Use your local Chamber of Commerce. Any local chamber worth its salt will offer a variety of networking and get-to-know-you events for its members or prospective members, and budding businesses are one of their main draws. Contact the Chamber to find out how you can participate with or without a membership – you may find that a membership will pay dividends when it comes to finding a local market.
8. Attend a state or national conference or meeting. Register for a booth to show off your product or simply use the time to network with people in-the-know in the industry you’re joining. Either way, you will get some exposure for your business or product and can identify how you’re different from the competition, members of which are also likely to attend. That will help you snag customers in the long run if you can set yourself apart.
9. Capitalize on someone else’s event to market your product. This can be a one-time event, like a food, art, or music festival, or an ongoing event, like a Farmers’ Market. If you can swing a booth at a repeat event, that’s a great way to not only find your first customer but to start to establish some regular customers who will look for you and come back for repeat business.
10. Use Facebook – everyone else is (or so it seems)! As some businesses turn to Facebook for their entire online presence, customers are getting used to going to Facebook to learn about products and services. This is a quick way to attract attention, and your friends and family can help spread the word.
11. Create You Tube content. Whether you have enough material for your own channel or just want to create an advert to generate some buzz, You Tube is still a popular place to talk about your business. To see what kinds of adverts are working in that forum, view Mashable’s list of the top viewed You Tube ads of 2011.
12. Use Online coupons. They offer big discounts to buyers have big fans and big naysayers. They offer great exposure if you can identify what local markets you’d like to target, and they can be created for online businesses. Consider the option carefully and make sure you can absorb the cost if the coupon happens to be very successful. Read more about how to make daily deals pay off for your business.
13. Get inexpensive business cards printed at a site like Vista Print. Even if the card is generic to your business, as long as it states your web address, it enables you to leave that most-important piece of follow-up information with prospects at any event described above. If they are interested in what you offer, they can check it out on their own.
14. Find out how your competition is getting customers. Identify 2-3 businesses you’d like to emulate or that have a similar product. Browse the web and check out their promotional and marketing efforts. If they’ve been in business awhile, chances are what they are doing now is paying off for them or they wouldn’t be doing it
15. Plan a media splash. You can focus only on social media, but if you have the financial resources, a splash that involves other advertising venues can generate serious interest. This might mean spending a significant amount of your time, energy, and money in a concentrated time period (say 2 weeks) to get the word out about your business in as many forums as possible. You can accommodate for this if you plan for it in advance. Get specific about where you fit in the marketplace and consistently communicate your product through a variety of public relations vehicles (press releases, social media, and print advertising, for example). If people bite, you’ll want to incorporate more of the same over a longer period of time, but for now – you need a more intensive launch!
Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you can measure the results. It is ok to take a risk and commit some resources to your initial effort if you are sure it won’t be fatal to the company if it fails. Finding new customers is about making money, yes, but it is also about testing the waters. If you only do a little bit here and a little bit there, you probably won’t be able to measure your results and identify what worked and what didn’t. Pick a few options, go forth, and get those customers!
The best way to learn – from others who have been there!
Now Over to You
What is one unique way you have found a customer that you don’t think others would think of? We would love to hear them!