Oftentimes, I am approached by established businesses who request either a website or a re-tooling of their existing website. I like to investigate deeper into what is motivating them to invest in a website now as opposed to a year from now. One factor that always seems to surface is they are losing customers to their competitors, or their customers have tapered off and they don’t seem to be coming back.
99 times out of 100, these are knowledgeable, customer-focused businesses. For this majority, the root problem does not lie in the quality of their service. More often than not, the customer base that the business has always had is simply getting older, moving, or more aware of their competitors. I often find there has been little effort to replace that vanishing customer base with new customers.
There is a strong correlation between the long-standing business that has always gotten customers by word-of-mouth referrals and businesses that have a gradually disappearing customer base. It’s not a 1:1 ratio, but it is very high.
So what to do if you are one of these brick and mortar businesses suddenly in trouble? And how do you avoid getting into this predicament in the first place?
If You’re Already Against The Ropes
This is not the best position to start from, but if you are motivated to put in the work, you can still battle back.
Getting a new website is not enough on its own to bring in new customers, but it is a key component in this fight. You’ll notice that I keep referring to this as a fight and a battle. It is. Hopefully, you will feel the same and do what is necessary to gain your customer base back.
The first thing I do with any business is assess their market and what their position is within it. What are your advantages and disadvantages? What are your competitors using to their advantage? What are the differences in how your business and your competitors are perceived? Answering these questions (and several more) honestly help us figure out how dire the situation is and what needs to be done.
Established businesses that have relied on word-of-mouth often fall into one of two camps. One camp has time to work on their business due to reduced customer flow, but they a) don’t know how to effectively market their business and reach new customers, or b) are buried underneath daily tasks and have no time because they are working in their business.
If you have time to market, but need infrastructure and guidance, this is easier to solve in many ways. It is difficult to simultaneously be in a money crunch and have no time to do anything but do the service work you are providing. This second situation can be alleviated by hiring other people to do tasks that are chewing up your day, and allow yourself to delegate tasks. It is infinitely easier to tackle this proactively instead of retroactively.
Investing money when your customer base is shriveling up is scary. But oftentimes, the alternative is to ignore the situation and do nothing, which solves nothing.
The top companies in specific verticals or local industries usually invest time and resources in finding their next generation of customers where they are at. Sometimes this means advertising, but mostly it means investing in content marketing, which drives organic search engine discovery. It means being active and attentive on social media channels where their customer base spends their time. It means being active and visible in the local community. It means reinvesting in their business infrastructure to stay competitive.
There are thousands of long-standing businesses that are slowly being eroded away because they have not continually reinvested time and resources into customer acquisition. This is something you can prevent.
Preventing Erosion Of Your Customer Base
Repeat customers are a solid base for your business. But in order to stay competitive, you must always focus on growing. Growth gives you the capital to continually reinvest in your business.
Regular customers have a churn rate. This means so many will drop off and disappear every so often. These customers must constantly be replaced for your business to survive. So your business must have a sound strategy for letting potential customers know you offer the exact service they need or will need in the future.
Here are some methods that require a time and effort commitment, but are relatively low cost.
This simply means publishing things your target customers will be interested in before they need your service and at the moment they need to look for your service. If you receive the same questions from customers, answer each of these questions in a blog post or video (or both). People searching for the information they need to solve their problem will find you. If you publish enough of these, people will star to see you as an authority in your industry. If you publish enough thorough answers to customer questions, some of these will start to be found by customers in Google.
On a long timeline, this is the #1 most effective way to raise your organic discovery. But unfortunately, it also seems to be the thing business owners seems most reluctant to do. No matter if business is going good or bad, it is the time commitment that is the biggest stumbling block for businesses everywhere.
But because so few businesses are using this to their full advantage, it remains something your business can leverage, if you are willing to commit to it.
Email is the one things that people always open. If you have an email list, and people opt-in to it, that means they are ready to hear more about your service. They are giving you a invite to market directly to them. And despite what you may have heard, email newsletters are 3 times as effective for conversions as social media. (More on that in a second).
If you have been producing useful written content, you can turn that into an incentive for people to sign up to your email list. If you haven’t put together something to give away in exchange for their email (usually an e-book), you can offer a on-time coupon code or something else to get them to take action.
The beauty is many people do not ever unsubscribe to your email list. You can continue to market to this new customer base indefinitely.
There are many businesses that do not want to participate on social media whatsoever, but ignore the fact that everyone walks around with smartphones. Yahoo lists Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as the top five free downloaded iPhone apps of 2014. As of this writing, 148Apps.com lists those apps in pretty much the same order for the top 10 downloads for the week of February 22nd. Twitter and Pinterest are in the top 20 free apps, and Vine is in the top 40.
I’m not saying that hopping on social media will instantly solve your problems, but it pays to be where your potential customers are. Attention and time are limited resources, and your current customers as well as the next three generations of your customers are on social media. Your competitors are on social media, perhaps you should seriously consider being fully present on social media. It’s not the whole answer, but it is a part of it.
“I don’t have time to clickity-clack on social media and chit-chat.”
“Do you have all the customers you need to survive?”
“Make the time.”
Advertising is something you do to boost a brand when you’ve done everything you can to boost it organically. That’s my general opinion. Some targeted advertising can be done through Facebook Ads, but it is easy to run through a lot of money if you don’t know what you are doing. AdWords is also tricky. Some keywords are going to cost much more than others, and a click doesn’t always mean a sale.
PPC campaigns are something you should do only when you have a healthy budget, and when you have someone knowledgeable about how to run them on your side. My personal preference is to avoid burning through resources unnecessarily, so proceed carefully if this is an avenue you are considering. Be sure to measure what ads are giving you actual returns and track everything.
[Disclaimer: I do not run PPC campaigns for clients. I much prefer content marketing.]
Stop Your Customers Disappearing
Whatever your situation, it is unique. The path your business took up to this point in time is unlike any other. But there are lessons you can learn from other businesses. There are mistakes others have made that you do not have to repeat. There are successful businesses that you can study to see what you can incorporate into your own strategy.
If your business is healthy, continue to invest in it. Make sure it never falls fallow or gets complacent inside of your market.
If your business needs help, you need to consider what actions you are willing to take to make it healthy again. Ignoring a situation does not make it improve.
Every action has a reaction. What actions are you willing to take to make sure your business continues to survive for years to come?