By Pat Sisneros and Juergen Kneifel
As the new year begins, many small-business owners are looking to grow their enterprises by attracting new customers. You’ll probably find that business growth and sustainability are on the New Year’s resolution lists of many entrepreneurs. Yet it takes time, effort and often money to promote and market your business.
We asked three local business owners how they are reaching out to land new customers and also how they’ve learned to work smarter, not harder, to save valuable time and resources.
Katie Dearman is the owner of Kate’s Deli in Everett. Being in the deli business for eight years, she’s weathered the economic recession and business challenges with tremendous success. She’s proud to have 10 staff on her payroll. When you consider the typical failure rate of restaurants and delis, Katie has demonstrated determination and a great service ethic combined with quality food, which brings in customers.
“It was my passion since I was 14 years old to own and operate a small restaurant,” Dearman said.
When she opened the doors to the deli, her limited budget kept her from advertising and marketing.
“Word of mouth is what we relied on right from the start,” she said. “If we were going to make it, we needed to have local support from guests who would tell their friends and neighbors.”
Dearman knew that advertising was important – even though there was no budget set aside for it. So when Dearman heard about the Entertainment Book program, she was pleased to participate. The program opens the door to new customers with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. Best of all, the program was free to the deli.
Andrew Kleppe runs a small two-year-old company, A+ Pressure Washing. His advertising strategy in one word? Craigslist.
“I was combining several business interests when I launched the pressure washing business,” Kleppe said. “The business is very seasonal, and the winter months have been somewhat lean. Getting new clients is always a high priority.”
To offset the slower business cycles, Kleppe has been studying web design and has started to offer freelance website design and marketing. The mix of services may be the key to stable cash flows. And with so many other small businesses listing services online, Kleppe has many viable leads that could easily turn into web design project accounts.
Amanda Waltman is a professional photographer, and her strategy includes giveaways. Several years ago, Waltman, owner of Art of Subtlety (www.artofsubtlety.com), discovered that auctions and charity benefits are great business builders. She often donates a photo shoot and large print, a combination valued at $250, for bidders to secure family or child portraits. More often than not, the new customer will purchase additional prints beyond the donated material. They’ll also refer friends and relatives.
“I typically donate 15 to 20 packages each year to local charities,” Waltman said. “There’s no better way to showcase your services, and 99 percent of these photo shoots are on location.”
Her business thrives by word of mouth and quality portraits that are proudly displayed in customer homes. It’s truly a win-win-win situation when a charity raises money, a family receives a photo shoot and print, and a small-business owner gains a new customer.
Waltman mentioned another creative marketing activity that brought new customers her way. When New York Cupcakes in Bellevue needed promotional materials for their website and print brochures, the business provided promotional space in their retail stores in exchange for Waltman’s expertise in professional photography, another win-win scenario.
We’ve also noted many new social media and internet vehicles to promote and advertise a small business. These too can be of little or no cost to the small-business owner. Amazon Local, Livingsocial.com, Groupon and other websites are growing in popularity. And Craigslist has a dominant market position that generates plenty of transactions for services.
Traditional advertising vehicles also continue to bring in new business. Newspaper advertising will cater to small-business owners through coupons and ZIP-code zoned products. Cable ads are also targeted and can provide cost-effective new customer acquisition.
It’s a new year. How will you grow your business?
The experts all agreed that the most important way to ensure steady growth is to take good care of new customers so they’ll call again. In other words, don’t miss the opportunity once you’ve made the connection with a new customer!
Pat Sisneros is vice president of College Services at Everett Community College. Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the EvCC Business program. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.