Good news: Business is booming at your small company.
Phones are ringing. Clients are calling. You’ve got more work than you can handle.
So you should take care of current customers and put marketing on a back burner until things slow down, right?
Sorry, now is not the time to relax because one day in the not-too-distant future those phones may go silent; customers may stop calling. Here’s a fact of small-business life: You need to keep marketing continuously to keep your sales pipeline full.
Whether you’re a carpenter or a consultant, own a law firm or a laundromat, you’ve always got to work to keep a steady stream of customers.
When you’re really busy is the best time to market and network. Just like dating, when you’re popular, you attract more suitors.
I cringe when I hear an entrepreneur say, “I’m not taking on any new clients at this time.” Or, “I’m not looking for any new customers; I’ve got more work than I can handle.”
Everyone I’ve ever heard say that is now out of business.
Inevitably, you will lose customers even if you’re doing everything right. Client attrition is a natural part of any business, especially small businesses.
Some customers move away. Their needs change. Their financial situation worsens.
If you’re not growing your business, it will shrink. And if you’re turning away customers, they’re going elsewhere — to your competitors.
That makes your competitors bigger, richer and better able to compete with you now and in the future.
Here are some strategies to keep your pipeline full and help ensure that customers keep coming:
• Always be selling. And marketing. And networking.
People are busy and have short attention spans. You must keep your name in front of prospects repeatedly for them to remember you when they need you.
When you’re very busy, it’s tempting to skip going to that industry or community meeting, but networking is a critical part of your job as a business owner.
• Keep in contact with former customers. Many small businesses neglect past clients.
But former customers are typically the best source of future business and referrals. Develop a contact program — email newsletters, regular mailings, social media — to communicate with past customers regularly, even in your busiest periods.
• Create a waiting list. Learn how to schedule future work.
Instead of saying, “I’m too busy” and turning away customers, schedule them for a reasonable time in the future. Once you lose a customer, that person is not coming back.
• Get more help. If customers can’t wait, or you occasionally have more demand than you can handle, seek contractors, consultants or part-time workers that can serve as a flexible workforce.
If the workload is consistently too heavy, think about hiring more staff.
• Consider variable pricing. Airlines do it; professional baseball teams do it.
If you’re really in great demand, perhaps you are not charging enough, especially during very busy periods. You also can lower your prices in slow periods, making it clear that you’re giving a discount and that these are not year-round prices.
• Look for recurring income sources. Go after clients who need your products or services month after month, year after year.
They should be the prime target of your marketing.
In my own business, I aim to have a minimum of a third of my income from sources on long-term contracts or with definite ongoing needs, but I would sleep a lot better if two-thirds were from those sources. I want to know I can pay my basic overhead and stay in business.
Even in the midst of the chaos of a full workload, try to determine when your backlog of customers is likely to run out.
It pays to be a little bit paranoid. So keep working on creating a sales pipeline, or one day you won’t be busy at all.
EXPO MANAGEMENT INC. is located at 983 Main Street, Suite 204, Andrews, NC 28901. Send mail to PO Box 667, Andrews, NC 28901.
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