If your business doesn’t have customers, then you don't have a business. Here's how some of your SME peers go about attracting new customers.
My Business regularly speaks with SME owners from all over Australia, operating in every industry and market imaginable. Despite their differences, many of their everyday struggles are the same — one of which is how they attract new customers to drive revenue growth.
Here's what a few of them have said about how they approach this common problem.
Do your research
Before you even start attracting customers, business owners should ask themselves ‘Who is my customer?’.
Gary Elphick (pictured right) of customised sportswear manufacturer Sydney's Disrupt Sports says his customers are vital for business, and it’s important to think of them first and foremost.
“[I ask myself] who exactly is my customer for this product market, for each customer and each country with each piece?” Mr Elphick says.
“For us in yoga, for instance, a client who wants to have their individual stuff printed and made for them is different to a yoga studio who wants to have a set of equipment which is different to a promotions company, which is different to a bank ... everyone's got a different pricing and product and pieces.”
After knowing who your customer is and therefore who you want to attract, Mr Elphick also suggests maintaining open communication, to find out what they want, then provide that for them.
“I actually firmly believe in [speaking] to your customers, ask them what they want. Go to your partners and ask them what they want. Ask them if they're willing to pay for it. Do everything you possibly can before you go and build and invest in technology. Build the business first,” he says.
“Figure out what problem you want to solve and make sure it is a problem, not just a 'nice to have'.
“Bring your customers along on the journey with you as well, so ask them for their input, developing, keeping them up to date, and building it for them as opposed to building something and then try and sell it to them.”
Understanding your customer is particularly important if you plan on targeting a specific type of customer.
This is something that Cameron Bray, owner of Gold Coast-based luxury superyacht management firm Bray Management, knows first hand.
“One of the questions we get asked all the time is 'Where do you find your clients? / How do you find your clients?' Because they are such a small percentage of the public,” he says.
“Whilst yes you do need the product knowledge, I think it's more about having the right strategies in place to be able to represent you well, have your marketing collateral and your marketing strategies all very specific and very much targeted to these markets.
“Do your homework and have a really clear strategy in place.”
Consider the right method of engagement
Using technology to attract customers can be seen as an easy, minimal cost venture, but you can’t just throw money at a computer and see customers instantly.
Belinda Bow (pictured left), founder of franchise group Green Chilli Marketing based in Newcastle in NSW, suggests thinking about who you want to target, and what would be the most appealing platform for them.
“Digital marketing is so important, and it’s a really big part of developing any business,” says Ms Bow.
“The reason for that is that everybody is online — they’re looking at tablets, they’re looking at phones, they’re on social media, they’re looking at websites, they’re on Instagram and all that sort of stuff.
“When a lot of people look at marketing, they say ‘I just want to get the brand out there’. That’s all well and good, and that’s a brand-building exercise, but if you’re still not attracting the right person who will be primed and ready to buy, it’s quite futile.”
As such, Ms Bow says that having done your research to identify your ideal customer, use that knowledge to connect with them in ways most appealing to them.
“[For example] if it’s a working mum that has kids, [you know] she has to pick up kids from school on an afternoon,” she says, adding that you can target your messaging around school times, mother groups, radio advertisements and relevant social media groups.
Maintaining a high standard of customer service is how Nigel Malcolm of Perth-based Fleetcare both attracts and retains customers to his national fleet service business.
“At the end [of the day], the products and services are not that different across the industry, but what people look for is customer service with honesty,” Mr Malcolm explains.
“One of the big things is how do you perform in adversity when things do go wrong? I think that's been one of our elements: we make mistakes and things happen and customers also need some special care for maybe a different business or something has changed in their business, and it's how you step up and how you deliver through those times which I believe is probably one of the most important things in business.
“We attribute our longevity to that; we've worked hard to keep our customers happy. And I think: add the personal touch, because at the end of it, the communication mediums today can be quite impersonal, and at the end of it we're all people, and people deal with people.”
Like Mr Malcolm, Sebastian Lee (pictured right) of Sydney and Melbourne bridal fashion house Eternal Bridal also views customer service as the key to attracting new customers.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to customer service really; it's about the whole experience,” says Mr Lee.
“That is something Eternal Bridal is always advocating, and for anyone who joins our family, this is something that we advocate very strongly, because [my wife and I when getting married] recognised through our experience that a lot of the places that we visited, it feels like you're just there to buy a product.
“Whilst having great products is important, that is also the absolute requirement to be able to be in the industry. At the end of the day, [a wedding] is a special occasion, so it is about the entire experience that a bride should be feeling when they are going through the process.
He adds: “That's what makes us different and that's why we were so keen to create something that is different.”
Collaboration can bring mutual benefits
It's not always a dog-eat-dog world in business; collaborating with other businesses can help attract customers for you both.
Eric Brown of QVS Commercial Interiors and president of the All About Business network in Sydney says that referrals can go a long way to generating new business leads from trusted partners.
“Referrals are such a step above any other form of marketing,” Mr Brown says.
“If someone says to me 'you've got to use this guy, he's great at what he does' that's like gold for me; it holds so much more clout than me looking at an ad or searching online and I don't know if their work is good.
“To me, it's all about referrals and testimonials, and people backing up what you're saying. And you'd be silly not to use them.”
The results of lead generation and referral partnerships can also be easily tracked, says Mr Brown, enabling you to measure their performance.
“Generally I close about 30 per cent of my deals; [whereas through All About Business], it's probably 65 per cent of the opportunities I get I close, just based on someone's word of mouth and someone saying 'these are really good people, they are good at what they do and they will look after you'.”
Consider looking at offshore markets
Sometimes attracting new customers can mean looking outside of Australia's borders. And particularly given the relatively small population of Australia compared with many other countries, the opportunities in offshore markets can be enormous.
Scott Boocock (pictured left), director and co-founder of Adelaide-based HEGS Australia, suggests that exporting goods to other countries can be a way of finding new customers and gaining considerable growth.
For those businesses without connections in offshore markets, Scott suggests seeking out reputable distributors to help you on your way.
“We need people that are living and breathing those currencies and those countries on a daily basis. We decided at the very beginning to use distributors. We sell direct to distributors on those continents, and who then work with us on the marketing side to then get it to retailers,” he says.
“They're living and breathing those relationships on a daily basis, and for us to do it all the way from Australia would've been very hard.
In order to find a distributor, going to expos can help you find the right people for your goods, suggests Mr Boocock.
“Actually go over there and go to the expos. We just came back from the Chicago Expo ... we presented HEGS, and we ended up with more distributors for the USA, France, Germany, Nigeria, Africa, and South America,” he says.
“Find the biggest show for your product, and go it, because that's where the distributors will be.”
It's important to note, though, that what you do to attract customers in one country may not exactly work out in another.
Mr Boocock says when HEGS expanded its clothes pegs into the United Arab Emirates, the marketing included images of women's lingerie hanging on a clothesline.
“They don't allow that in there, so basically, we found out very quickly: don't put them on the front of the bag!” he says.