How to Attract and Keep Customers for a Small Business (Marketing)

Three Parts:Identifying Your CustomersAttracting New CustomersKeeping Existing Customers

Most small businesses are formed by people who are very good at what they do. However, this is only half of the equation for being successful with a small business. Understanding how to generate sales is the other half of the equation. Marketing is perhaps the most important business aspect of any small business. Too many small business owners think they will prosper on nothing more than word of mouth. It often takes much more to attract and keep valuable customers.

Part 1
Identifying Your Customers

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    Understand your customer. Customers are the focal point of your business, so you need to grasp who they are and what motivates them so that you can meet customer needs. [1]
    • Ask yourself important questions about the types of customers who spend money at your business. Are they rich or poor? Educated or not? Young or old? Male or female? Business or consumer? Where are they?
    • Create a mental image of a customer you would like to serve and use this image when you are creating marketing campaigns. Make sure that you direct your message to this customer and not to some general population. Really try to connect with your ideal customer.
    • Consider market segments that may exist for your customers. For example, does your business have both male and female customers, but you may need to market to them differently? Other examples of market segmentation include age and geography.[2]
    • Remember that business is all about serving others. They are the only ones who will put money in your bank account. The more a business focuses on serving others, the more successful it will be.
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    Analyze yourself and your business. In order to learn who your customers are, you must understand your business thoroughly. This requires a realistic view of yourself and your business.
    • What makes your business special? What is unique, different, important? Be able to clearly answer the question, "Why should I buy your product or service when there are so many other choices?".
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    Perform a SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis can help you better understand your business, which can improve your ability to identify your ideal customers.
    • Strengths and Weaknesses are factors of internal to your organization. An example of a strength is having an excellent location. An example of a weakness is lack of capital for investment.
    • Opportunities and Threats are factors external to your organization. An example of an opportunity is a growing number of your target customers moving into your area. An example of a threat is a new competitor moving into your area.

Part 2
Attracting New Customers

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    Create your brand. Your brand is the most identifiable advantage you bring your customer expressed in a a simple, short phrase. This phrase is constantly repeated in your marketing effort and informs all other aspects of your business's public presentation (employee behavior, advertising, tone used in written materials, etc.). Your brand is the message that you want your customers to hear that will make them choose your product over your competitors'. Identify your brand or create one that represents your business's overall identity and your competitive advantage.
    • A brand serves as your company's identity and allows you to build bonds with your customers. Focus on forming relationships and syncing your brand with the identity of your customers.[3]
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    Utilize traditional marketing techniques. Depending on your understanding of your business and its customers, there are many traditional marketing techniques to choose from in order to attract new customers.
    • Direct Mail — Using direct mail is a way to mail items to a large number of potential customers.
    • Newspaper and Magazine — Placing advertisements in newspapers or magazines frequently read by and in your target market can be a cost-effective marketing strategy.
    • Phone Book — Listings and advertisements in the commercial section of telephone directories in your target areas are still a valuable way to market in some industries.
    • Signs and Billboards — Advertising space on signs and billboards can be very cost-effective if properly designed and placed.
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    Adopt non-traditional marketing techniques. Certain businesses, or those with certain types of customers, may find that thinking outside of the box of traditional and online marketing is best.
    • Advertising on vehicles — There are many ways to advertise with cars including bumper stickers, decals, car wraps, and more.
    • Industry examples — Look at what competitors and others in your industry are doing to market their businesses. It may work for you, too.
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    Employ online marketing strategies. Sometimes your identified customers may not be local or easily marketed to by traditional methods. You may have a business that sells products online or even an entirely online business. In these situations, and others you may determine when identifying your customers, online marketing is useful.
    • Website — Nearly every business today needs a good website to help in marketing efforts.
    • Pay Per Click — If your website is your business, or at least strongly relates to building your business, consider a pay per click campaign to help attract targeted customers to your website. For example, Google advertising makes it possible to target people based on different types of customers.
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    Utilize social networks/media. With the prevalence of social networks and social media today, it can be important Use Social Media to Market Your Business. There are many ways to use social media to market small business. Consider posting content on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.[4]
    • Focus your social media presence and communications on benefit to the customer instead of features of the product or service.
    • Use the social media tools that your customers use. This may include social networking sites, blogs, or microblogging sites.
    • Utilize different types of content, from text and pictures to audio and video.
    • Be active regularly on social media. Having an account is not enough. You have to be present online for your customers to notice you.
    • Use free product give-a-ways or other incentives to increase traffic and connections to your social media accounts.
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    Understand the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. It is important to keep track of digital campaign statistics of your marketing efforts so that you can continue to use your advertising budget wisely.
    • Make an effort to assess how each marketing effort affects sales. For example, you can ask customers where they heard about your business and record the responses.
    • You can also look for jumps in sales (or lack thereof) after beginning a new type of advertising.
    • For online marketing, track your daily and monthly "click through rates" or the number of clicks your advertisement receives on each site. Then keep track of your conversion rate or the rate at which each person that clicked on your advertisement did what you wanted them to do (signed up for a newsletter, made a purchase, or downloaded an app).
    • To do this, divide the number of total conversions a month by number of visitors to your site a month.[5]
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    Get referrals from existing customers. Once you have a few customers that like what you have to offer, enlist them to help you. This is known as acquiring customers by referral. Most happy customers will gladly tell others about you, but most of the time they will not think about it unless you give them a reason or incentive.[6]
    • Referral marketing works best for retailers and service providers, such as automotive service, health professionals, and banking institutions.
    • If you find ways to reward or recognize your customers for sending you new customers, they will do so more frequently and with greater zeal. Examples include cash rewards, gift cards, or discounts on future purchases.
    • Don't forget to market the referral program. In order for this type of marketing to be successful, existing customers must know about it. This could be done through direct communication, signs at the business, or online.

Part 3
Keeping Existing Customers

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    Get to know your customers well. A customer is like a prized possession. In order to keep them, you must know what they like and why they like it. While respecting your customers' privacy, gather as much information as you can.
    • In-person — This works especially well if your business allows for frequent, direct interaction with your customers or clients. Talk with them. Ask them questions, and feel free to be direct. For example, ask them why they spend their money at your business, or ask for suggestions for improvement.
    • Surveys or questionnaires — Whether you provide your customers with hard copies of questionnaires, use phone surveys, or take advantage of online tools, this technique can provide valuable information and identify patterns or trends related to the experiences, likes, and dislikes of your customers.
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    Provide your customers with valuable information. Do not forget about your customers. Your customers will appreciate receiving communications and information from you beyond the original purchase. There are many ways to keep in touch with your customers.
    • Newsletter — You can promote your business through newsletters provided to customers through the mail, email, or on your website.
    • Blog — You may want to start a blog to provide additional information to your customers. Blogs can be excellent marketing tools. [7]
    • Updated information — Always send existing customers new information on your business and its products or services.
    • Use their preferred method of communication — Some customers may prefer not to receive phone calls, but would rather receive information via email. Make sure you use the method they prefer.
    • Remember birthdays and holidays — Send cards or small gifts to valued customers on special days.
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    Offer a way for customers to provide feedback. Communication with customers needs to be a two-way street. Feedback from customers, good or bad, is valuable to a small business, so you need to present a way for them to provide it.
    • Available contact information — Nothing can be more frustrating for a customer than not being able to find contact information for a business. Make sure your address, telephone number, and email address are readily available online, on marketing materials, and other places where customers can find it.
    • Suggestions box — Having a suggestion box provides a physical means for customers to give immediate feedback. Make sure you read and respond appropriately to any suggestions.
    • Website and Social Networks/Media — Your website and social media sites can provide a quick and easy way for customers to provide feedback. Be careful, though, as this type of feedback, even negative criticism, is public.
    • Try collecting customer feedback through a call center. For tips read: Collect Customer Feedback Through a Call Center.
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    Analyze customer feedback. Read through comments in batches and start to separate them into categories such as speed, accuracy, courtesy, price, product choice, availability, hours, location, etc. Look for patterns of what went wrong and try to determine the root cause of the problem pattern before attempting to solve it. [8]
    • You may want to try the "5 Whys." Start with a problem statement like: "I don't like the way my salad tastes." Then ask yourself, "Why I don't like the way my salad tastes?" The answer might be because it is soggy. Then ask yourself, "Why it is soggy?" The answer might be because you put on too much dressing. Then ask yourself, "Why did I put too much dressing?" The answer might be because you were distracted when you were making it. Continue asking yourself why until you find the root of the problem.[9]


  • Operating a successful small business always means that the business owner spends much or all of his efforts working on the business rather than in it. Learn about marketing by reading books, attending seminars, watching videos and so forth. There is an amazing amount of information available at no cost. Consider subscribing to some marketing newsletters. Read those that actually give you something rather than sell you something.
  • If you want your small business to succeed, you simply must spend a portion of your time marketing your business. Successful entrepreneurs agree that working ON your business is the most important work you can do.
  • Online business is a people business and you need to brand yourself to succeed. By branding yourself and growing a relationship, you build trust.
  • Consider taking some courses in entrepreneurship, business, and business marketing from a reputable source. These classes will be worth the investment.
  • Your local library is a valuable resource for books and periodicals to help you market your small business.


  • Some investments into marketing will not have a great return on investment. Some may even lose money. Be prepared for this, but do not worry too much. You will learn from these marketing failures and improve your marketing strategies going forward.
  • While there is a great deal of marketing information for sale, be choosy. Research the author of anything before you purchase it. Many will promise you riches, but only a few deliver really useful information.

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Categories: Marketing