How Small Businesses Can Attract New Customers

by Jennifer Schiff

These five inexpensive, Web-based strategies can help you reach new customers and increase sales.

To be successful at attracting new customers, today’s small business owners need a multi-faceted, multi-channel customer acquisition strategy that targets prospective customers where they surf, exchange information and shop. While there are many ways to do this, the following five strategies are highly effective, inexpensive (or free) and any size business can employ and benefit from them.

JetCity Devices.com
JetCity Devices
(Click for larger image)

Think Locally

Jet City Devices is a small business that specializes in repairing cell phones (mainly iPhones and BlackBerries) and sells an array of cell phone accessories. The company offers in-person repairs out of its Chicago and Seattle offices as well as mail-in repairs. And it has a very easy-to-use e-commerce site.

When owner Matt McCormick, a former programmer at Microsoft, launched the Jet City Devices Web site in 2007, he made sure it was optimized — using good title and h1 tags, appropriate keyword density, meaningful URLs and good descriptive copy — so that search engines and customers could easily find him. He also used Google AdWords, “a no-brainer,” he said, because “you only pay for traffic delivered to your Web site and, if you pick your keywords right, the traffic is highly qualified.”

At the beginning of this year, however, McCormick took a more local approach to attracting new customers, specifically targeting cell phone owners in Chicago and Seattle. His strategy included

  • Posting ads on Craigslist
  • Using locally targeted Google AdWords (both sites “are cheaper and more effective than national campaigns,” he said)
  • Listing Jet City Devices on Google Local Business Center (“free and can get your business highlighted at the top of search results”)
  • Listing onYelp.com (“it’s free and great for validating your business to local customers”)

McCormick modified the Jet City Devices site so that the home page and each product repair page specifically called out local Chicago and Seattle repairs. He also added two new pages for each repair: one for people in Chicago and one for people in Seattle.

His local strategy has worked. So much so, McCormick says, that Jet City Devices went from just $5K in sales this January to more than $22K in sales this October, an increase of more than 400 percent, with close to a 20 percent conversion rate for local visitors.

Blog, Blog, Blog

Another simple, inexpensive way of attracting new customers to your e-commerce site (or bricks-and-mortar business) is to create an affiliated blog where you regularly write about topics of interest to customers, as Karl Miller, the owner of HudsonGoods.com, did.

My Hudson Goods blog is one of my primary marketing tools — and it’s free,” explained Miller. “I take all of the photos and post all of the content myself.”

(Click for larger image)

Miller uses the blog, which is powered by WordPress, to talk about vintage-style home furnishings — the area Hudson Goods specializes in, which is popular with Baby Boomers and couples just starting out. And he structured the content of the blog “so that it’s a quick read but mostly for entertainment with cool photos,” he said, because he knows people are busy and you need to quickly catch and hold their attention.

Miller also makes sure that each blog post includes a photo of one of his products, one that is similar to the type of furniture he is discussing in the blog post, and includes the price and a direct link to the product on the Hudson Goods e-commerce site. And he features a few of his favorite products on the sidebar of the blog, which are also linked to the online store.

To further attract customers, Miller runs contests and giveaways on both the Hudson Goods blog and on related design/furniture blogs with whom he’s established relationships.

And all that blogging has paid off by generating new sales. Thanks to Sitemeter, a Web site traffic tracking service, Miller knows that the Hudson Goods blog has been instrumental in driving traffic to the main Hudson Goods site.

“My blog recently hit a high of 400 new visitors a day,” he reported. “I have found that [about a third] of the visitors to the blog go to my online store and, once there, look — on average — at 10 different pages/products. And these are not random visitors. They have specifically clicked on a product they were interested in on the blog to go to the store.”

Make Facebook Your Friend

Social media, particularly Facebook, has been a fantastic and inexpensive way of attracting new customers for Megan Healy and Amy Trelenberg, co-owners of Shopmamie.com.

The two friends set up a Shopmamie.com Facebook fan page and update it every day. They also use Facebook, Twitter and their blog to let their target audience — fashion-conscious women ages 18 to 40 — know about Shopmamie contests, special offers, events, style tips and news.

Shopmamie.com also offers customers special discounts for being a Facebook fan. “It’s just an added incentive to keep updated with us,” said Trelenberg. “We want to draw as many new customers and fans to us as possible, so we try to create as much interest and buzz as possible. Facebook helps get people to our site… and generates sales for us.”

Whiner & Diner Eco-Chic Pet Accessories
Whiner & Diner Eco-Chic Pet Accessories
(Click for larger image)

Become an Expert

For Catherine Simms, the co-owner of Whiner & Diner Eco-Chic Pet Accessories, writing articles to establish herself as an expert on pet care, has been a leading source of new customer acquisition. For example, when it occurred to Simms that many dog owners were not aware that an elevated feeder (which Whiner & Diner sells) is better for their dog, she decided to write about it.

She then posted her article, “The Healthy Benefits of Elevated Dog Feeders,” which included information about and a link to Whiner & Diner, on her site, on her blog and on several online article submission sites. The article took off, getting picked up by other sites and shared by pet owners, which in turn brought new customers to Whiner & Diner. The only cost to Simms was a bit of time and energy.

Koa Coffee Plantation
Koa Coffee Plantation
(Click for larger image)

Use Affiliate Marketing

Linda Caroll, who is in charge of “all things Internet” for Koa Coffee Plantation, a small Kona coffee plantation in Hawaii, likes to quote department store magnate John Wanamaker on the difficulty of reaching new customers: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; trouble is I don’t know which half.”

“It’s so true,” said Caroll. “The potential for wasted advertising dollars is a painful reality to small business operators.” That’s why KoaCoffee.com decided to try affiliate marketing, because it doesn’t waste dollars.

“With traditional CPM advertising or even CPC (cost per click) or PPC (pay per click), costs may or may not be recouped,” she explained, whereas affiliate marketing is pay per action, which (to Koa and to Caroll) made better economic sense.

To help ensure the success of its program, Caroll chose affiliate networks ShareASale.com and AvantLink.com, and sought out affiliates who really understood Koa Coffee’s product: high quality, upper price range coffee that appeals to sophisticated buyers.

In return for marketing KoaCoffee.com, the company offered affiliates commissions that were above the coffee industry average, as well as one-on-one support and the tools and incentives Caroll felt would help them to succeed. As she explained: “Without successful affiliates, there would be no sales or new customers.”

To date, KoaCoffee.com’s affiliate marketing strategy has been very successful — “a win-win for everyone,” said Carroll — with new customers coming to the site and buying coffee daily.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about IT and small business issues and runs a blog for and about small businesses.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Dec 15th 2009
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