Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 4:27pm by Site Administrator
The struggle to attract and retain key customers is a constant one, but business owners and freelancers have lots of tools and resources to help them when marketing themselves and their businesses. Web-based solutions produce hassle-free services and efficient communication options, while networking events and online opportunities are perfect for making new contacts. This list is full of ideas to improve your branding techniques, e-mail etiquette, website design and other hacks to help you figure out ways to keep customers from flirting with the competition.
Where to Find Them
You’ll never beef up your client roster if you don’t know where to find new customers. Maintaining a presence on select sites and at certain events will increase your profile too.
- Conventions: Get yourself an invite to conventions that market to your target audience. Everyone’s already in the mood to network anyway. Just don’t forget to bring your business cards.
- Airports: If you travel on a week day, you’ll probably notice that a good percentage of your fellow passengers are business travelers. Strike up a conversation with someone about their business, and you may find yourself gaining access to a whole new demographic, region or industry.
- Volunteer events: Whether you’ve got your eye on snagging the nonprofit as a future client or just want to meet people from a range of backgrounds while showing off your community efforts, volunteer events and fundraisers are a great way to meet customers.
- LinkedIn: This popular social networking site connects professionals and alumni to forge profitable relationships.
- Ryze: Ryze "helps you expand your business network."
- Xing: Xing is a sleek social networking site that offers professional contact management, a business accelerator and other cool apps.
- Facebook: Get on Facebook to market yourself to a particular demographic, keep track of customers and set up groups.
- MeetUp: Members of this site organize get togethers based on interest and location.
- Chamber of Commerce: Visit your chamber of commerce to gain access to their business mailing lists. You’ll have names and contact information for some of the leading professionals in your area.
- Industry-related seminars: Even though you might think you wouldn’t be able to learn anything new from a seminar, attend anyway so that you can meet your target audience and offer them supplemental advice and services.
- Guru: Guru is an online "marketplace" for freelancers. You might be able to find new customers willing to trade services or share mailing lists.
- Elance: Elance is another freelancer-oriented site that connects business professionals and jump starts new partnerships.
Once you’ve met your target audience, you’ve got a small window of opportunity to make an impression. Check out these networking tips that will make you and your business more attractive.
- Business cards: Never leave home without your business cards. Visit this site to design some for free.
- Pass out coupons: Attach a coupon to your business card to encourage future contact.
- Stand out: This post from Freelance Switch gives freelancers plenty of quality ideas for standing out in a competitive field.
- Host your own networking event: Under the guise of bringing together your friends and business associates, plan a happy hour to meet new customers for yourself.
- Pass out free stuff: This tip works especially well if you’re hosting the event. Pass out promotional items that boast your logo as prizes or to put in goody bags.
- Sponsor a contest: Sponsor a contest in your community that awards the winner a temporary gig designing one of your products or an invite at an industry-related convention. Write up a press release for the paper and advertise at schools, churches, community centers and more.
- Engage others: Whether it’s by introducing yourself to the "loners" or starting up a group conversation, bring different groups together. You’ll be remembered as someone who’s inclusive and knows a lot of people (even if you really don’t.)
- Make notes: Make plenty of notes to help you remember the people you meet. You can jot down a few key words on the back of someone’s business card which will give you something personal to say when you follow up.
- Know your competition: If you don’t know your competition ahead of time, you may wind up handing out coupons or pitching a project to the wrong person.
- Follow up: In the world of networking, the follow up is key. Send an e-mail, a coupon or a handwritten note.
Make sure your website is user-friendly and attractive otherwise your future clients will leave you for someone sleeker and more organized.
- Update your blog: Your business blog keeps customers in the know about upcoming projects and the daily grind at your office. Use this guide to ensure maximum blog usability.
- Create a simple navigation system: Designing a clear, simple navigation system will help customers find out information about your company easily and quickly.
- Write an "about" page: Don’t forget to publish a short bio about yourself and the history of the company. Your new customers will want to do a background check before they enlist your services, and it’s best if they hear the truth from you.
- Link with CSS: The website NetMechanic.com encourages Web designers to set up their links with CSS. Follow the tutorial to find out how.
- Make searching for information easy: Include a search box that allows visitors to search for information and archives on your site easily.
- Give customers access to their own account information: Let your customers have secure, online access to their account information, including billing statements, deadlines, services requested and more.
- Set up 24/7 support: A live chat software program will give customers online support anytime they need it.
- Link your homepage to your logo: This tip isn’t just about website usability: any action you can take to promote your logo is a smart move.
- Advertise security: If you want customers to buy products from your website, you need to convince them that your site is secure.
- Encourage feedback: Set up a feedback form on your site to let your customers know you care what they think and are dedicated to making improvements.
There’s no better way to keep your clients loyal than to spoil them. From sending out a birthday surprise to sharing your contacts, check out this list of fresh ideas.
- Celebrate their anniversary: When a customer has reached the one year mark of doing business with you, give them a break on their monthly invoice or attach a free service or coupons to their regular services.
- Host free clinics and workshops: Educate your clients by offering them clinics and workshops that teach them how to perform simple tasks that you normally do for free anyway. Just don’t give away your major secrets!
- Remember their birthday: Send a perky e-mail or have flowers delivered to a customer’s office on their birthday. Chances are, everyone else will be doing the same thing, and if you don’t, you’ll stand out: in a bad way.
- Send a thank you gift when a customer renews a contract: Don’t act like a renewed contract is expected. Even if it’s coming from one of your most loyal customers, make it a big deal and take them out to a special lunch.
- Allow them to pre-order new services: If you’re about to launch a new product that will undoubtedly sell out, give your loyal customers first dibs. Let them pre-order the item or hold on to a few to send as gifts.
- Share your mailing list: You may not want to give out your top secret contacts, but sharing a few key e-mail addresses and phone numbers from your Rolodex will make them feel special. They may even return the favor.
- Nominate them for awards: Nominate your top clients for community awards to show off their business talents and community spirit. They won’t be able to thank you enough for the personal gratification and free PR.
- Provide plenty of perks: The next time someone sends you free tickets to the symphony or a heavily discounted reservation at a bed and breakfast, consider passing them on to your best customers.
- Give them space: Your customers might feel too pressured or overwhelmed if you’re constantly throwing specials and reminders in their face.
- Get personal: Blogger Eric J. Adams suggests cultivating a personal relationship with your customers in order to inspire loyalty. Keep it simple, though: Adams cautions, "don’t expect too much from your newfound intimacy; two minutes of chitchat will only go so far."
- Gift giving Dos and Don’ts: Before you shower your customer with gifts during holiday time, read this post to anticipate appropriate gift ideas.
- Make house calls: No, we don’t mean showing up to your customer’s house in the middle of the night with a contract that needs to be signed, but making occasional trips to their office to deliver confidential agreements will earn you brownie points.
- Emphasize quality: Always pledge to do whatever it takes to deliver quality products and services to your client. They’ll move on to the competition if you start offering defective merchandise, hiring lazy employees or missing deadlines.
Customers like to assume that they’re your number one priority. Even if you’re juggling a large client roster, make sure to check in on each customer every once in a while to give them the personal attention they expect.
- Encourage partnerships: Put your clients in touch with each other and encourage them to make partnerships of their own. They’ll see you as a leader in your field and a "go to" person for meeting new people and starting up projects.
- Hand out your cell phone number: This isn’t always a smart idea, so make sure you give out your cell phone number to very close customers only. They’ll feel honored to have gotten such a sacred number.
- Send handwritten notes: Quick e-mails are okay, but if you really want to spoil your clients, send them a handwritten note as a follow up or to thank them for their business.
- Send out holiday greetings: Whether it’s a well-designed e-mail at Thanksgiving or a funny card for St. Patrick’s Day, show your clients that you care all year round.
- Follow up after a service call: After a customer receives a service from your company, make a phone call, send an e-mail or mail them a feedback form to find out if they’re satisfied with the results.
- Give them plenty of notice: If you’re going to be out of town or unavailable, let your clients know way ahead of time. Give them alternative contact numbers in case they have an emergency when you’re gone, and make sure they’re well taken care of before you take a vacation.
- Hire interns: If you can’t afford to hire a full-time employee to write thank you notes and monitor customer satisfaction, hire an intern to do the grunt work instead of failing to do it altogether.
- Design effective e-mail campaigns: Periodically send out well-designed e-mail campaigns to touch base with your customers, update them on specials and introduce them to new hires.
- Show them how current events affect their services: If the economy is bad, let your customers know how gas prices will affect your business or if you expect to cut back on certain goods and services. Giving your customers insight into how your business works will make them feel included.
- Communicate during a project: Give your customers updates regarding their project, especially if you think you might need more time on a deadline. They’ll be more understanding if you talk to them ahead of time than if you wait until you’re already behind schedule.
- Train employees to be customer service professionals: Even if you don’t have a separate customer service department, take the time to train your employees to work with your customers in a variety of crisis management situations and phone skills.
- Don’t go into hiding when a problem erupts: If you’re approached with a client problem, don’t stop answering the phones. Tackle the issue head on and take responsibility when necessary.
- Continue to make improvements: Asking for feedback isn’t any good if you don’t actually make improvements and listen to your customer’s complaints. Showing them results means showing them you care.
- Prioritize: Use a smart Web-based system like Neptune to help you prioritize and keep track of how much time you spend on each customer.
Give your customers exclusive access to specials and deals they wouldn’t receive with any other business.
- Throw an annual party for your regulars: Everyone loves a party. Gather all your regular customers together and treat them to a special dinner. Better yet, invite them over to your home for a more intimate party.
- Go above and beyond: If you’re in the print making business and find out that your loyal customer’s daughter needs a sign for her softball championship, see if you can offer a discounted price for the job, or even design one for free.
- Give your customers VIP online access: When customers shop online, give them a special promo code or discount.
- Sign on specials: Award new customers with "sign on specials" after they make their first purchase. Give them a free gift or a discounted price for the first few months.
- Reward your best customers: Try out these ideas from Starbucks customer Ron Lieber, who suggests throwing members-only parties and offering free coffee.
- Customized gifts: Don’t limit yourself to creating promotional products for your business only. With a program like Qoop, you can create stickers, posters, keychains, calendars and more for your customers, featuring their business logo or photos from company events and fundraisers.
- Free upgrades: Whether or not it’s a special occasion, periodically reward special clients with free upgrades, like same day shipping or including bonus products.
- Offer reduced cost shipping: Give your frequent customers a break when it comes to shipping prices. E-mail them a members only code to enter into the online shopping register at checkout.
- Free samples: Free samples not only make your customers feel spoiled, they also promote a new product.
Making things easy for your customers will keep them coming back for more. From interactive calendars to quick and easy accounting software, these tools will make your business transactions run more smoothly.
- MOO: MOO lets you design promotional items and print images that will come in handy when you want to advertise a new product or send a greeting card.
- Harvest: This time tracking tool will help ensure that you don’t overcharge clients.
- Escrow: If you sell products from your website, use this program to protect yourself and your clients from fraud.
- Box: Keep all of your customers’ files safe by working with this Web-based file sharing system. You won’t have to worry about misplacing important documents or losing contracts anymore.
- BillMyClients.com: This user-friendly bill pay system sends invoices through e-mail or the USPS quickly and securely.
- FreshBooks: This popular online invoicing and time tracking system will help you manage your finances more accurately.
- Spongecell Calendar: Create and share a Web-based calendar so that you customers have easy access to your schedule.
- LogMeIn: Business owners can stay connected to their work and their customers by managing files, conducting online meetings and more with LogMeIn.
- PunchyTime: This time tracker offers an easy, fun way to keep track of your employee’s time as they network with clients, work on projects and even do business after hours.
- Breeze: Another way to keep in touch is to update your clients with e-mail campaigns designed with Breeze.
- Dimewise: This economical, remote access financial solution will allow you to organize invoices and reports securely and accurately.
- Veetro Help Desk Software: Set up your own help desk to assist customers with technical problems.
- Backpack: Backpack helps you "organize your business and share information with your team," including anxious customers who want up-to-date info. on their latest projects.
- Vstore: This free software gives business owners the tools they need to set up shop online. You can customize different designs to reflect your website’s theme and online store.
- Veetro Management Reports: This smart software program helps business owners create reports with "real-time statistical reporting on all aspects of…business performance." Your customers will love being able to access organized, accurate information about their accounts and your company.
- Google Alerts: Set up Google Alerts so that you’ll be notified whenever one of your customers is featured in a story online. You can send them the link or congratulate them on the new press.
Effective, Convenient Communication
Keep your customers engaged by promoting effective, convenient communication. This list features Web conferencing tools, project management software and more.
- TokBox: Use this live video chat application to talk to your customers in real-time without having to drive to meetings.
- HyperOffice: Share files and receive customer input on special projects when you work with HyperOffice.
- activeCollab: This program helps you "eliminate stress" and "manage success." You’ll be able to involve your customers in whatever project you’re working on through customizable design options, website integration and more.
- ShareItNow 4.9.02: Use ShareItNow to share items on your desktop with clients for easy project management and collaboration.
- Zoho Web Conferencing: Instead of zooming all over town for different meetings, encourage your customers to use this simple Web conferencing solution.
- Campfire: Campfire is an application that features Web-based group chats, fire sharing and image sharing, so that you can work with customers online anytime.
- EyeOS: This open source tool goes beyond project management. Open up your operating system to customers and vendors, so that you can conduct meetings, design presentations and access all your files from any computer with an Internet connection.
- Skype: This popular online voice messaging service is great for quick communiques with customers.
- Meebo: Meebo combines your buddy lists from instant messaging services like AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk and others. You can log onto your account anywhere, not just your home computer.
- Basecamp: This popular application organizes all kinds of information and communication histories within your company and client list. It’s password protected, ensuring a secure system.
- Wikis: Set up a community portal for information sharing and open communication by creating wikis on your company website.
- Userplane: This collection of online communication applications includes a Webchat services, Mediaplayer and more, allowing you to chat via text, voice or video.
- Google Talk: This very simple instant communications solution is a popular Google app that has file transfer capabilities, Gmail notifications and more.
- Communication tips for the technology age: Review this post titled "Is it Time to Consider New Ways to Communicate?" to come up with cutting edge communication techniques for savvy customers.
- Don’t disappear on the weekends: If you’re the owner of a business, customers expect you to put in more time than your regular employees. Freelance Switch encourages you to "communicate promptly, even on the weekend."
- Brush up on e-mail etiquette: E-mail is becoming the official way to communicate in professional circles, and even if you think you have perfect grammar and plenty of tech savvy, your e-mail etiquette could need a makeover. Check here for tips.
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