For new business owners, winning customers is a priority. Yet spending lots of money on advertising or marketing may be impossible on most start-ups’ budgets. Here are 10 cost-effective ways you can attract customers and get sales.
Finding customers for your new business can seem like a monumental task. In a perfect world, you’d buy advertising, run promotions and hire marketing staff to generate a steady stream of customers. In reality, limited budgets can put expensive marketing channels out of reach. That means most sales and marketing tasks may fall to you when starting up.
So, where can you start? The good news is that with some creative thinking and a little marketing know-how, you can attract customers to your business. Here are 10 things you can do to get new customers for your start-up.
Learn how to think creatively and define your brand with our free Marketing In The 21st Century course. Part of our Learn with Start Up Loans partnership with the Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.
1. Create a marketing plan of action
Having a marketing plan is a good place to start. You don’t need pages of detail. Instead, write an outline of the marketing channels – such as social media or local newspaper advertising – that you intend to try and the results you want to achieve.
2. Use social media to reach customers
Potential customers for your business are ready and waiting on social media but avoid the temptation to join every available platform and post the same information.
Social media can be time-consuming, so decide which platforms – such as Facebook or Instagram – are used by your customers and concentrate only on these.
Direct sales messages can work, but you should spend time engaging your audience with interesting, educational or humorous content. You don’t need big design budgets, either. Free services such as Canva and Unsplash can help you create professional-looking graphics.
Many customers enjoy discovering the stories behind the products or services they buy, so consider posting behind-the-scenes content on Instagram and TikTok. You can try posting video, running polls to get feedback and holding competitions using a low-cost service such as Rafflecopter.
Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram offer paid advertising options that allow you to target customers with sales messages. You can get started with a small budget and some platforms offer free advertising credits to new businesses.
Read our guide on how to make social media work for your small business
3. Don’t ignore traditional marketing
Social media may be the modern way to reach customers, but traditional marketing methods still have their place.
Posting leaflets in local shops and restaurants or running a direct print mail campaign can bring sales if it’s done well. Advertising in the local newspaper and community or parish magazines can also be useful.
Email marketing remains a powerful tool. Gather email addresses from previous customers by running competitions or offering an incentive, being careful to follow data protection rules and send out newsletters. Don’t be too sales-y. Give people a reason to stay subscribed. If you’re running a healthy drinks business, for example, you could email customers helpful fitness and diet tips.
Services such as MailChimp let you send email newsletters for free up to a certain level of subscribers.
4. Make headlines with PR
Getting your business featured in the press is a powerful tactic for raising awareness and acquiring new customers. You could pay a PR agency, but there are ways to do it yourself.
Many journalists use the #JournoRequest hashtag on Twitter to find people to interview or information for a story. Reply if you’re relevant. Having an opinion on topical subjects is an excellent way to get coverage.
Draw up a list of relevant journalists to follow on Twitter and keep an eye on the subjects they tweet about.
If you pitch journalists directly via email, do your research first so you know exactly what they cover and the formats they use. Sending an irrelevant pitch could annoy a journalist and prevent coverage in the future.
Don’t ignore local media. It’s a great way to reach people in your area who want to support local businesses. If you have news to share, a local journalist is more likely to be interested than a national reporter.
5. Build your network
Building your network should be on your to-do list.
Many business owners are willing to help other businesses, and while they may not end up as customers, they may know others who could be. Look for events, both offline and online, where you can meet other start-up business founders. Eventbrite is a good place to search.
Professional online network LinkedIn can be an effective way to make connections with other business owners.
Look to join trade associations and other local business support groups too.
6. Review your website
Your e-commerce website should be as effective as possible at generating sales. It’s worth regularly checking your website from a customer’s perspective. When people arrive on your website, do they immediately understand what you’re selling?
The ‘squint test’ is a simple technique to use. Squint at your website until you can’t read anything and see what stands out. The content that stands out should be the main priority of what you’re trying to achieve. If it doesn’t, you need to fix it.
Search engine optimisation (SEO), which determines how high your website ranks in internet search engine results, is another area to look at. You can pay for expert SEO help, but there are things you can do yourself such as finding the right search keywords your target customers use. Publishing a regularly updated blog may help to keep your website fresh and search engine friendly.
Download our SEO toolkit for start-up businesses
7. Launch a pop-up shop
Use temporary pop-ups and markets to meet customers face-to-face. As well as making sales, they are a great way for start-ups to do market research by asking people what they think about your products, packaging and branding.
If you’re a product business, markets are particularly useful at Christmas. Apply early as stalls can sell out quickly.
8. Collaborate with other businesses
Joining forces with another business can increase your sales. Food businesses, for example, could partner with another supplier to create a hamper of different products. A web designer could collaborate with a videographer to offer their combined services as one.
You could also run a joint event with another business. If you have physical premises, display another company’s leaflets and business cards in return for them doing the same for you.
9. Promote your awards and nominations
Winning or being nominated for an award is a great way to get publicity for your business. There are thousands of awards to enter, such as general business competitions, specific industry awards and initiatives such as customer service awards.
If your business is nominated or wins a prize, shout about it far and wide. News about an award win is great content to send to local journalists. You could also feature it on your website, in your social media posts and your email signature.
10. Share your expertise
Demonstrating your expertise, particularly if you run a company providing advice to other business owners, is a way to generate new customers and boost your reputation.
Speaking at an event is one way to do it. Many business groups, trade associations and community organisations offer speaking opportunities. Big events and exhibitions often put out calls for speakers too.
Writing content is another option. Look for publications and blogs that accept articles from external contributors and podcast hosts looking for interesting guests to share their stories.
You could also give Clubhouse, the audio-only social network, a go. Start a room on a set topic and share your expertise.
Want to market your start-up business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on effective marketing techniques. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:
Plus free courses on finance and accounting, entrepreneurship, project management, management and leadership.
Disclaimer: Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.