08/12/2013 05:31 EDT | Updated 10/12/2013 05:12 EDT

How to Find Customers for Your New Business

I recently received a call from a woman who was just starting out in her business. Before she'd told me much about her business, she asked me "How do I find customers?"

Wow, I thought, does she think I can just produce them like the rabbit out of the hat?

As I asked a few questions, it was clear that she fell into a group that I come across regularly who believe if they build it, they will come. Almost through osmosis, the customers will just find them and all will be well.

Oh, I wish that was true, but reality is you have to do your homework before you even open your doors for business, because without doing the necessary due diligence of working out exactly who your target audience is, your business is doomed before it even starts.

I often find that "newbies" don't spend enough time digging deep to unravel who their ideal customer is. In fairness, when you start out, any warm body who will pay will do, but if you want your business to survive and grow, you really need to be more clear on your niche, what makes your offerings unique and who would most benefit from your product or service.

It is that clarity that will help direct any marketing you undertake. You have to think about whose problem are you solving? Why would they need your product or service?

Once that has been determined and you have the demographics in place of your potential customers, you next need to give consideration on where they hang out, what they read and the best way to get your marketing message across to them. Remember too that one size does not fit all, so you need to incorporate several ways to reach them.

I recall going through a marketing exercise a few years ago when the marketing consultant asked me to describe my top three target groups. We gave them names -- Michelle, Suzy and Jane which made them more real, and wrote down their characteristics and why they would want to be part of our organization. The consultant then asked me who was my favourite type of client, and when I responded that I liked working with start-ups, she laughed and said, "but there's no money honey in that group."

And of course, she was right. Part of the work in developing your marketing plan is being realistic, and determining what will be most financially rewarding. While I could not afford to work only with women in start-up mode, I was able to build a plan through which they could still accommodate a certain percentage in my total clientele.

The other key to finding customers is networking. The more you are out there talking about your business and meeting people, the more likely that you will get referrals or find customers. However, a word of caution, this will not happen overnight. It takes time. It is all about building relationships as people do business with people they know and trust. So hang in there.

As for my caller, I gave her a few suggestions and the name of someone to call but I fear she may have a long way to go.

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