Think back and remember: what kind of reaction did you get when you first told the people in your life you were starting your own small retail business?
Plenty of congratulations, I hope. Probably a fair amount of “I’ve always wanted to do that, too!” and “I’m sure you’ll get lots of customers!”
But maybe also …
“Good luck—from the statistics I’ve seen, you might need it!”
“Wow, you’ve got guts. Starting a business is a big risk.”
What those well-intentioned pessimists didn’t know is this: if you do things right, luck isn’t the biggest piece of the small-business success puzzle. Not by a long shot.
“I’m not really a risk-taking kind of girl,” writes Retail Marketing Academy founder Samantha English on her site. “I’m a planner. I like to carefully plan, research and analyze.” When she became a small business owner herself, it was indeed a bit of a leap. But she also had a pretty good net waiting for her in the form of her marketing expertise.
Recently Samantha teamed up with Tim Paige, our Senior Conversion Educator at Leadpages, to cohost a marketing training designed especially for retailers. Although it was a one-time event, the strategies they covered were so valuable—and, frankly, so underused—that we wanted to share it with a wider audience.
Personally, before I arrived at Leadpages, I myself spent most of my career either working for small brick-and-mortar businesses or advising them, so I know that these strategies work. But I also know you might not have 70 minutes right this very moment to absorb them, so, in honor of Small Business Week, I’ve put together some quick tips, too—namely, seven ways you can boost foot traffic and ultimately get more customers.
At first glance, some of them will look like well-known retail marketing tactics—but there’s often a little extra step you can take to stand out from the crowd and get reliable repeat customers faster than your competitors.
So without further ado, here are seven easy ways to attract more customers.
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1. Throw a promotional event and stay in touch
For years, I worked at an independent jewelry store, where the biggest event was an annual customer appreciation sale. During the in-store event, every item in the store was on sale, we provided free coffee and cookies, and we raffled off watches and gift certificates.
Sounds like fun, and it was. But this event’s hidden power as a marketing strategy wasn’t the snacks or the discounts. It was the raffle tickets, where entrants provided their email addresses so we could re-engage our customers in the future.
Everyone likes a party. This simple strategy was a way to remind guests of the good time they had and get them to come back in weeks or months down the road.
These days, you can do the same thing a lot more easily—no painstakingly typing email addresses from a piece of paper into a database. In fact, if you use a tool like opt-in texts, you don’t need pens, paper, or a fishbowl to handle a big raffle. You can simply ask guests to text a short phrase—such as “IWANNAWIN”—and their email address to a designated shortcode to enter.
Then, when it’s time to declare a winner, you can quickly export that list of email addresses and use a random-number tool to pick the lucky entrant.
You can even use this tactic to bring people to your friends-and-family sale, grand opening, trunk show, or workshop. Just promote your opt-in texts, ask people to enter the raffle, and require that they show up at the event to learn whether they’ve won.
For other ways to draw a crowd to your store’s event, check out this post full of additional event marketing tips.
2. Perfect your customer service, then spread the word
While special events are effective in boosting momentary foot traffic, it takes work to sustain that momentum in your everyday operations.
One advantage you have as a brick-and-mortar store owner over Internet competitors is the relative ease with which you can build personal relationships with customers.
Take advantage of that power and don’t forget to treat all customers well regardless of spend. In my retail days, we had an unassuming married couple purchase nothing but $10 watch batteries from our jewelry store for years (experiencing excellent customer service each time).
When they finally bought their first piece of jewelry from our store, it was a $30,000 diamond ring for their anniversary. They didn’t look anywhere else.
You never know where your next big sale will come from, and that applies tenfold in the digital world. In fact, you could say:
You never know where your next great testimonial will come from.
From Yelp to Angie’s List and everywhere in between, online reviews are a powerful factor in getting customers into your store (or convincing them to stay away), and the watch-battery customer has as loud a voice as the diamond buyer. Your customers are probably already used to leaving reviews in forums like these, so don’t be shy about collecting testimonials from your satisfied customers.
Where can you get these testimonials? Lots of places. Try:
- Sending an email to your list specifically asking customers to reply with a few words about their experience in your store
- Looking for friendly comments about your store on Facebook and Twitter
- Reading through reviews on places like Yelp
- Offering a special discount or small giveaway to customers who record a quick video testimonial in your store
Then, once you have them, use them. In fact, many Leadpages templates have spots for testimonials built right in, like this one:
3. Follow up with your customers and contacts
Testimonials are one way to capitalize on making a big sale to a satisfied customer. Another way is simply to stay in touch with your customers. This helps keep your brand front and center in their minds, motivating them to visit your business often.
One of the best ways to follow up with your customers is to email them—not just to let them know about new products and sales, but also about trends and other topics that are relevant to your business and may be of interest to your customer base. And, of course, sending special limited-time offers or coupons is a reliable way to get people into your store in a specific time frame.
Is your email list a little bare? Taking action to strengthen your email list is one of the best ways to improve your marketing efforts. You can start collecting email addresses simply by adding a pop-up opt-in form to your store’s website: in exchange for your customer’s email address, you’ll give away something valuable such as a coupon or a voucher for a free gift.
If you don’t have a website, you can simply share your Leadbox—or a simple landing page containing it—to your business’s Facebook page and let people who find you on Facebook opt-in there.
4. Leverage social media with balance
Many small business owners are intimidated by social media, but this is actually one of the easiest-to-use and most cost-effective marketing tools at your disposal. Marketing is all about connecting with the people who will become your customers, and social media is a natural vehicle for building connections.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other outlets allow you to interact directly with potential customers in your market. Get started by creating a Facebook profile for your business if you haven’t already. Make sure it contains accurate information about your hours and location, and upload a profile photo and a cover photo to showcase your shop in its best light.
From there, consider where your target audience spends time online. If your product lends itself to aesthetics (jewelry, clothing, interior design, or even food), consider starting an Instagram account as well. A business-to-business service might better spend its time posting on LinkedIn.
If you are a Leadpages member, I’d also recommend publishing a landing page to your Facebook profile as a tab, which will allow you to grow your email list right within Facebook.
Once you set up your accounts, make sure to use them regularly. In addition to posting links to any opt-in pages you create, posts about promotions, and store news. Share articles that are relevant to your industry. By sharing content that isn’t just about your business, you’ll start attracting a wider audience who’ll be there when you do have some news about your store to announce.
5. Protect your reputation
If you’re like most people, you prefer to do business with people and organizations you know, like, and trust. Your customers do, too.
Having a great reputation can be the difference between thriving and failing, and this can be intimidating: you can’t please every customer every time.
Each one of your customers has a microphone. Yelp, Google Plus, and Facebook are just a few platforms that amplify the voices of your worst (and best, so it’s not all bad) customers.
What should you do when you come across a negative online review? Handle it promptly and professionally before it can hinder your traffic and sales. Stay calm, assess the situation, and resist the urge to become overly defensive, which can appear petty and unprofessional to outsiders.
I’ve previously worked advising law firms, which inevitably have dissatisfied clients from time to time. (Someone loses in every case that makes it to court.) I always suggested they neutralize bad reviews by acknowledging the reviewer’s perspective and pointing out a way for everyone to move forward. A sample response might be:
“Client service is a top priority at our firm. The experience you describe does not meet our standards and we apologize. Our staff has taken part in a refresher training so we can continue offering our clients the best service.”
That exact language may be too formal for your context, but do keep things relatively brief and impersonal. You want disgruntled customers to feel heard without dragging you into a lengthy argument.
Fortunately, using the testimonial strategy above can help drown out any critics. If a customer raves about their experience to you in the store, tell them that you would appreciate it if they would share their thoughts online. Then, when visitors to your website see testimonials from beaming customers wherever they turn, they’ll be less likely to be swayed by a single malcontent.
6. Build your network, then reach out to their audience
Referrals from other businesses in your community can give you some of your best customers. According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over any other type of advertising. They can even become a source of additional referrals.
After the owner of the jewelry store I mentioned earlier became active in her local chamber of commerce, fellow chamber members became some of our best customers. The store also gained exposure through chamber media and charity events. Networking with fellow business owners in your area is an excellent way to plant the seed for referrals.
Another option is to build strategic alliances with complementary businesses. Homeowners may remember that their realtors recommended inspectors and their lenders referred them to title companies. These are examples of strategic alliances between businesses with shared interests.
When you connect with the ideal partner business—one whose customer base mirrors your own, but whose products don’t compete with yours—it makes sense to link up in joint marketing efforts. In a rudimentary form this could be as simple as trading flyers or stacks of coupons to place in each other’s storefronts, but there are more effective options.
Such as trading email lists. You and your strategic partner could agree to each include content about the other business in your respective email newsletters, or you could actually compose an entire email to be broadcast to your partner’s mailing list.
One of the best ways to make sure recipients of that email join your own list is to include a Trigger link. Trigger links are one-click signup links that work only in email. When you set up your Trigger link inside Leadpages and include it in an email to your partner’s list, anyone who clicks will automatically be added to your list.
From one email, you get a stream of new potential customers—without having to spend a dime on advertising.
For another retail-focused joint venture idea, check out this sweepstakes campaign from beauty-industry vet and affiliate marketing expert Jennifer Wagner.
7. Reward loyalty
While your small business needs to cultivate new customers, don’t overlook your most reliable source of revenue. It has been estimated that acquiring new customers costs 5–10 times as much as retaining existing customers.
So you definitely want to encourage your existing customers to become loyal, repeat customers. Old-fashioned tactics such as punch cards are fine, but why not make your email list work for you here, too? As long as your email marketing service allows you to send timed emails, you can automatically send customers something special to mark their “anniversary” of connecting with your business.
You could even include “customer spotlight” posts on Facebook or your blog (if you have one) for your very best customers. It could be quite an incentive: make a certain number of purchases or visits, and you get a platform for your own business or other projects.
That’s not to say that programs like these are a substitute for listening to your customers and truly believing that your business has something important to offer them. But I suspect that’s the part you already have down.
How will you take action to get more customers?
You might not have the opportunity to try all seven of the above ideas, but don’t let that stop you from taking action. Remember, successful business owners can’t sit idly by and wait to hope to get more customers—you need to take control.
I suggest choosing just one tip to incorporate into your business operations today.
How does your business take standard marketing strategies to the next level? Tell us in the comments.
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