Attracting and retaining clientele is an integral part of running a successful business – irrespective of its industry, structure or size. Although a challenging feat for all entrepreneurs, this can be particularly trying for young entrepreneurs, who have not had the privilege of building up a network of business contacts and potential clients over a number of years.
This is according to Gugu Mjadu, spokesperson for the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year competition, who says that young entrepreneurs are often so focused on the novelty of establishing their own business venture that they forget the importance of securing an initial customer base. “Regardless of how innovative or necessary a new product or service may be, clients are ultimately the deciding factor in whether or not a business venture will be a success,” she says.
Mjadu explains that although securing business is a challenge for just about every entrepreneur when starting a business, seasoned business owners or experienced individuals who have worked in an industry for an extended period possess a network of contacts or may have potential leads in place based on existing relationships. “This may, however, be very different for young entrepreneurs that have just finished university or recently started their careers.”
She adds that it is very unlikely for a start-up business to have a big budget for a marketing campaign, but there are still things that a business owner, as an individual, can do to get things rolling. “While start-up marketing is important, landing that first client doesn’t require an expensive marketing campaign. Rather, it comes down to what a young business owner can achieve with the limited set of resources available to them.”
Mjadu provides her five top tips for young entrepreneurs/businesses looking to land their first client:
- Decide who the client is: The first step in attracting and growing a client base is defining exactly who the client is. Entrepreneurs should narrow down their target market with factors like age, location, interests, and income level in order to know who it is they are looking to target. Once a specific target market has been defined, researching this audience extensively will allow a business owner to identify leads that will hopefully result in a sale or a client if pursued correctly.
- Get the word out: Word of mouth advertising is arguably the biggest source of clients for start-up businesses. While paid advertising and mass-marketing may work well for more established brands, when it comes to gaining business as a start-up – talking one-on-one to a few well-targeted individuals and gaining their support will prove to be more valuable.
- Network and collaborate with competitors: While it may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, reaching out to competitors and other similar players in the market can be extremely beneficial in finding clients – especially for a business in its infancy. A good way to do this is by joining industry groups and forums – whether these are online or face-to-face. Rather than seeing other businesses as competitors, view them as opportunities for business expansion through collaboration. Networking with like-minded people, and those in the same industry, can offer the potential for a young, start-up entrepreneur to engage with and learn from more experienced business owners – which can also prove invaluable for a new business just entering the market.
- Communicate effectively: One of the most important elements in successfully sourcing new clients is clear and targeted communication. Entrepreneurs should decide on a tone and style for their brand very early on in order to communicate in a consistent manner that connects with their specific target audience. Furthermore, entrepreneurs need to identify the channels that are likely to be most effective in reaching these clients – which ties in with having a clear idea of exactly who is being targeted.
- Don’t sell yourself short: As a young entrepreneur without years of ‘business experience’, it could be tempting to undervalue the business and its offering. Instead, research should be done to establish exactly what the product and/or service is worth and be confident in what the business is selling. Young entrepreneurs also shouldn’t be intimidated to pitch for large clients due to the belief they don’t have enough experience. However, entrepreneurs should also be cautioned not to grow too big, too fast, as without the appropriate structures in place this could be as damaging to the business as not having enough clients.