A business without customers is like a grocery store without food; it just doesn’t work. In today’s competitive world, many entrepreneurs will have an idea of how much it costs to “acquire” customers based on their market and sales funnels.
But small business owners like you often don’t have this kind of budget — and yet you need customers just as much (if not more) than the larger competitors in your niche.
It’s possible to attract new customers without spending a dime. (Or spending very little.)
Here’s how you can leverage specific areas of your business to acquire customers with nothing more than good old-fashioned elbow grease!
1. Get Friendly With Your Neighbors
Start with the organizations and businesses all around you. Obviously, you don’t want to work with your competitors, but complementary businesses and charities offer opportunities for both parties to benefit and acquire customers.
Start by looking for organizations in your area that have a similar audience to you. Try reaching out to these businesses and discussing a possible cross-promotion. You can do the same with local charities.
- You could organize a fundraiser for a local charity and donate a percentage of your proceeds to them. Not only does this help a good cause, but it also presents an opportunity for the charity to promote your business as well, thus bringing more customers to your cause in turn.
2. Reel ‘Em in With Word of Mouth
Word-of-mouth marketing is still an incredibly effective form of advertising. It’s just a matter of getting the ball rolling before you see results.
A simple and cost-effective way to get things started with your business is to offer discounts for referring new customers.
You have an email list that you use to market new promotions or products to customers, right? Use these current customers to spread the word.
Here are some ways to get acquire customers by leveraging the ones you already have:
- Include links to writing reviews in your emails
- Give customers an incentive to refer people to your business (discounts or gift card to your online store)
- Do a ‘give one, get one’ plan where current customers who refer others get some kind of incentive too, like a gift card to a coffee shop
- Engage with customers who have already spoken out about your business online (Yelp, Google reviews, etc.)
3. Try Out New Social Trends
The rise of social media platforms has given birth to new opportunities that won’t cost your business a single cent.
From Instagram Stories to Facebook Live, you have the ability to promote your business live every day for free. For example, a local business we spoke with recently has a very small online presence, but was able to acquire new customers by live streaming previews before their major auction events.
In this case, just before each auction, they would film the employee showcasing items for the upcoming event. That was it!
The reach for these kinds of videos is huge, so the company immediately saw new customers watching their live videos (and liking their page) to check out their monthly events.
4. Keep a Scale-Focused Mindset
Sophisticated investors often talk about “positive unit economics.” It sounds like a difficult term, but it’s pretty simple: it means your customer lifetime value, or CLV (what an average customer is worth to your business over time) is greater than your customer acquisition cost, or CAC (how much it costs you to acquire one customer).
Once you’ve gained some customers for free using the methods above, you’ll have a solid understanding of how much your customer is worth to you.
Once you’re there (say it’s $1,000), you can scale your acquisition costs above “free.” If you can spend $200 to acquire a customer that’s worth $1,000, how often would you do that? All day long! That’s positive unit economics.
Note that once you have a real CAC, it’s important to track everything! For instance, my company makes the accounting program Zipbooks, which make it easy to monitor exactly what your CLV and CAC are, and make sure you’re keeping your unit economics positive.
Either through free or paid acquisition methods, earning customers requires patience, skill, and a lot of creativity.