How to build a client base

At the core of every successful small business is a great idea. But ideas can only get you so far because no business has ever succeeded without customers. For this reason, it’s imperative that every entrepreneur know how to build a client base.

The first step is to evaluate your business honestly. Ask yourself what problem it’s solving for potential customers. Everyone in this world has problems, so if you’ve got a legitimate solution, you’re on your way to establishing a solid client base.

Once you’ve identified how your business solves an existing problem, survey the industry to see how your approach varies from the competition. There needs to be differentiation there, or you’ll run the risk of simply becoming white noise and blending into the background.

Now it’s time to target your ideal client. What is it about your business that will resonate with them? Ideally, this demographic will recognize the value of your solution once they learn about it. This specificity lightens your advertising burden substantially because you can present the unique message of your business, rather than educating on the industry as a whole. As any small business owner will tell you, it’s easier to make an elevator pitch than teach a dissertation.

For example, if your business does custom modifications on classic cars, your target audience might be wealthy men who already own classic cars and are passionate about the appearance of their vehicles. This group is who you should be talking to because you won’t want to waste energy trying to convince someone who owns a 2006 Toyota Corolla to trade it in for a 1966 Shelby 427 Cobra.

With your target audience front of mind, you’ll need to create a marketing plan to reach the right people at the right time. Using the example of a car modification business, you might consider advertising at car shows and other industry gatherings.

In conjunction with your marketing efforts, you’ll want to enlist influencers to promote your cause. The term “influencer” sometimes has a narrow (and sometimes pejorative) definition in the Instagram age, but that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here. What you want to do is connect with prominent individuals who have relevant roles in your industry.

Using this approach, the owner of a car modification business might partner with a trusted seller of classic cars–or perhaps an auto body shop that specializes in high-end vehicles. The point is to align yourself with others who can lend credibility to your business and even serve as a conduit of new customers.

As your business grows and you begin to make a name for yourself, don’t forget to leverage the very clients who form your base. Make it easy for them to review your business online, then diligently monitor those reviews to resolve any issues and highlight any praise.

It can also be a good idea to put together a referral program that makes it as easy as possible for your clients to spread the word about your products or services. The best referral programs offer a worthwhile incentive, which is only fair considering the powerful impact referrals can have on your business and client base.