Many small businesses ring in the new year by taking a fresh approach to winning new clients. Whether you plan to reinvent your company or just attract an untapped demographic, there are a few ways to achieve your goals.
First, you must identify your ideal customer. Do you know your target? What do they do? What do they value?
After pinpointing your audience, reposition your message to gain those customers. Work your connections, but keep in mind, it’s tougher than ever to land deals. These days, your potential clients might be hurting or short of funding, says Mike Silverman, managing partner of engineering-services firm Ops A La Carte LLC in Santa Clara, Calif. “If you’re fairly new at this, you really have to not be afraid of rejection,” Mr. Silverman says. “You can’t give up. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Here are three best ways to win new clients.
1. Go where the growth is. Silverman says he attended trade shows for a few core industries that were doing well (medical, oil and gas, green technology, defense and space), and concentrated on specific geographic regions including the San Francisco Bay area and southern California. This helped the firm not be spread too thin, Mr. Silverman said. More than half of 2009’s revenue came from these specific industries, he says.
At Homestead Resort, in Midway, Utah, general manager Britt Mathwich says the hotel made a quick shift away from the corporate and training market to families, after seeing a slump in business travel. The resort picked up more business by attending home-decorating and bridal shows, he says.
Walt Maclay, president of engineering-consulting firm Voler Systems, a division of Strawberry Tree Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., says he attended a medical trade show in 2009 for the first time in several years, because the medical device industry is stable. “People still get sick, even in a recession,” Mr. Maclay says.
2. Ally with other businesses. Maclay also is partnering with companies that provide similar or complementary services to pick up new clients. For instance, he’s now working on two projects that combine Voler’s electrical-engineering expertise with the other firm’s mechanical-engineering specialty. Other businesses are temporarily re-assigning employees. Law firm Schiff Hardin LLP, has taken the strategy of secondment, or “lending” lawyers to companies for positions such as general counsel, says Ronald Safer, managing partner in Chicago. The partnership can help a business that may be a potential future client, and allow Schiff Hardin’s lawyers to learn that business intimately.
3. Use online tools. Reach out to others by maintaining a blog or a Facebook page with useful, educational content. Social-networking tools are also places to post promotions. Mr. Maclay says he gained new clients by posting the company’s resume on Craigslist. Marie Danielle Vil-Young, owner of event-planning company À Votre Service Events LLC, says she is redesigning her Web site to attract a specific audience—young, professional brides—by changing the site’s colors to black, hot pink and white. Ms. Vil-Young said social-networking is important; her intern’s sole responsibility is to research and write for the company’s blog.