In the 2014 SME Survey, South African entrepreneurs said that the thing that kept most of them awake at night was managing finances. CNBC Africa reported that a major challenge experienced by small businesses was difficulty in accessing funding. Neither of these are the F-words that I am referring to here. They can frequently be resolved through two other F-words: friends and family.
But fundamental to the success of your business are the customers that buy (and pay for) your products or services. It’s great that you have wonderful products or services, but without money coming from customers, you don’t have a business. How do you ensure that you have paying customers? You use three F-words.
FIND your customers
One: You need to FIND customers. The easiest way, initially, is to go out and get them: Its time consuming but door-to-door, face-to-face contact builds connections and trust. That includes friends and family. Hand out flyers. Let everyone you know about what you have to offer.
It’s easier and cheaper to keep existing customers than to attract new customers. People are naturally loyal to a company that they know and are reluctant to change to someone that they haven’t used yet. But a bad experience can lose you customers – both repeat and referral business. So look after your existing customers.
Two: Your business needs to be FOUND by future customers. How will people know that you have what they are looking for? Typically, they will find you through (1) word of mouth, and (2) advertising.
Happy customers are your most effective ‘salespeople’.
First published in SME South Africa
Look after your customers
They are not paid to promote your business so they are credible. Look after your customers by giving great service so that they will tell others about you.
When advertising, ask yourself: who are my potential customers? Not everybody. Knowing who they are helps to narrow down, to target your advertising. Are they near to your business, what do they read, do they use the internet, public transport?
Then “fish where the fish are”: advertise where your customers read or live or work.
Your advert should be seen by your customers
FOLLOW-UP your leads
Three: You need to FOLLOW-UP on your potential customers until they buy, and then keep following-up. Do you know the names and contact details of all the people who have shown an interest in your product or service? List them (your ‘leads’) with the first contact date and the product or service they asked about.
If you can record your prospects or leads in a spreadsheet (eg MS Excel or Google Sheets) or a Customer Relationship Management program (eg Base), all the better. Then you can easily include reminders for follow-ups and notes about what they said.
When you have enough paying customers, you might find that you don’t need that funding after all.
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How do you attract and retain customers? And how do you manage your leads?