Seven tips for winning customers in tough times

How to effectively use company downtime to create a succesful year ahead

‘Blue Monday’ might have long passed, but many small businesses are still in the midst of a seasonal lull, as customers continue to tighten their belts, and the flow of in-store and online traffic grinds to a halt.

Rather than accept this as an annual slow-down, small businesses can use the quieter months to set the foundations of a successful year ahead – and get their own books back into the black.

Here are seven tips for driving customers to your business – even when times are hard.

1. Run a workshop. Consider hosting a free workshop session on your areas of core expertise. A cooking or hairdressing demonstration, or advice for customers on anything from protecting their boiler from the cold weather to how to keep their New Year’s Resolutions, will help remind customers of what you can do for them. It doesn’t even need to be in person – you can host the workshop online and attract even more people to join. You can use the session to gather insight into what customers are interested in, and it will keep you foremost in their mind when they are prepared to spend money.

And it doesn’t need to stop at the end of the session, either. You can get additional marketing benefits from the workshop by capturing the key points and the attendee questions and repurposing them on your website, blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter or e-newsletter.

2. Say thank you to your best customers. If you have a steady stream of customers that you’ve been getting to know over the years, acknowledge how important their custom is to you by sending a personalised ‘thank you’ note. You may also consider a small token of appreciation, such as more significant discounts, private viewings / events or inviting them to be part of a VIP group.

3. Plan your marketing campaigns. At the start of the year, have a thorough look at your calendar and start planning your upcoming campaigns around holidays, seasonal changes and other milestones that are important to your business. And remember, it’s never too early to start thinking about next Christmas, noting down lessons learned last year that will help you maxmise sales in 2012.

4. Increase your social media marketing efforts. February could be a good time to brush up on your social media skills, and ensure you’re using social platforms to your best advantage. For some free pointers, check out the Common Craft video series on YouTube or investigate Constant Contact’s Social Media Quickstarter. The beginning of the year is also a great time to expand the list of people and businesses you follow on Twitter and revamp your Facebook business page.

5. Reconnect with local business partners. Slower sales periods are also a great time to meet with local, complementary businesses and brainstorm cross-promotional ideas. Why not arrange a drinks party, or find out what networking events are going on at your local Chamber of Commerce or business support group.

6. Check what’s selling well. Using any ‘downtime’ to evaluate the big season sellers and identify complementary products and/or services will definitely pay off. For example, if gourmet knives were a big seller over Christmas, consider a promotion on kitchen tools and gadgets. In your promotion, your content should tie these elements together with other content, such as insider chef’s tips and the best tools to use for kitchen jobs.

7. Get your customer lists organised. Along with deleting those dead email addresses, adding in new contacts and segmenting your audience, why not use this month to look more closely at your customer database to identify trends and interests? If you’ve been actively engaging customers to learn more about them beyond their transactions, you’ll be able to segment your master customer database much more easily. Based on this information, you can create customised content and offers for these subgroups that will likely attract custom and encourage higher response rates.

Just because there’s a slow-down in customer traffic, doesn’t mean there has to be a reduction in the new opportunities you can create for your business. Embrace these so-called ‘dark’ days of winter to get a head-start on 2012.

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