I was on an entrepreneurial forum the other day and somebody asked the question: “Where do I find new customers? I’m desperate for some clients.” and it got me thinking about how small business owners can attract the best customers for their businesses online, as this is a pretty common question for many entrepreneurs and small business owners. The short answer is “everywhere” but the long answer is more nuanced. We discussed this on the Adbot podcast: Robots & Donuts recently, (link below) and we thought we’d unpack all our hacks and tricks in a blog post, too. Enjoy!
Listen: [Robots & Donuts Podcast]: Where Are All Your Customers Hiding?
Where are my customers hiding?
The first thing to understand is that your customers aren’t all hiding in some magic place secretly waiting for you to unlock the door with the password that only your competitors know. The great thing about this is that you aren’t alone – everyone is searching for this elusive channel. The bad news is that it doesn’t exist.
When my business partner and I were starting out setting up our little donut shop in Cape Town, we found it a little overwhelming to start the journey, because – apart from developing the menu and project managing the build and all the legal stuff that goes along with opening a business and restaurant, and the banking things blah blah blah – we also had to think about how we were going to market our business so people knew we existed, and could actually find our business online. The best way is of course to do one thing at a time, and marketing was no different.
I always like to reference the book Atomic Habits because I think it has a lot of great insight about how we can manage our lives more efficiently. When we want to start a new hobby like meditating or yoga or running, we often fling ourselves into it at full speed, buying all the gear and getting ourselves hyped. We spend R2000 on a pair of state of the art sneakers, go for one 5km run, pull a hamstring and then let the shoes gather dust in the closet for the next five years, because our first experience was terrible.
Atomic Habits teaches you that if you want to build a strong habit, you actually have to do it incrementally. So if you want to start running everyday, you probably have to start walking three or four times a week, adding short sprints of jogging in between walking, until you are fit enough to run for 2 or 3 kms straight. The old adage “you’ve got to crawl before you can walk” wasn’t created for the birds.
I believe that building a business is a lot like this, and it’s how we built our little donut shop from a tiny little hole-in-the-wall cafe that started 2 weeks before lockdown and was operated solely by me and my business partner, to a small business that employs 11 people.
So, how can you attract the best customers to your business?
If you want to build your business, you have to put in a little bit of groundwork in a lot of places, building it slowly over time. So I decided to put together a checklist for you based on how I grew this business. Here are my top ten basics to have in place for your small business marketing plan:
- Website: If you want to attract customers to your business online, make sure you have a website and make sure it can be viewed on mobile; ensure that it is SEO-optimised; use meta descriptions properly; make sure your images are tagged correctly, that your loadspeed isn’t terrible and that your website actually gives all the information that a customer might need. The very first thing I did before our business was even open was brief a design and development team to create a website for me. I was in an incredibly lucky position, having been a partner in an advertising agency, so I used a couple of the resources at my disposal to create a simple one page website which hosted our menu and gave the basics like our address and contact details. I knew this would all change once we had operated for a while because I wanted to add ecommerce later on, so I didn’t want to spend too much time and effort upfront only to have to change it again later.
- Email: Have a professional email address – this is a simple one (and something I am certainly guilty of, and currently still rock a gmail account) but having a gmail account just isn’t as good as a branded email. It’s so easy to do if you have a website domain, because you own the domain email rights. Or you can set one up through the G-suite.
- Google My Business Page: this is great for multiple things, not least of which is SEO. It’s free, and also helps with people being able to leave you reviews; find more info; you can post business updates here, as well as host your address etc. Google Reviews has helped drive a lot of business to Grumpy & Runt because the business has really good reviews and other people look at them and can see what’s on offer according to how customers have perceived the shop.
- Social Media: Find one or two social media channels that work for your competitors or similar brands and have a crack at them. Work out a posting schedule, stick to it and think about what will provide value for your clients. We found that Instagram works really well for a donut business because it’s a truly visual medium and is one of the biggest social media players. We started out just with stills and doing some stories, but have since graduated to doing reels and more advanced social content, and have recently taken to trying out Tik Tok because it’s the most up and coming channel in SA and is a great lifestyle platform.
- Boost some posts. Unfortunately there are so many brands out there, and everyone is creating content. To stand out you have to do two things: create content that looks good and provides value; and you will have to put some media spend behind it. We didn’t put too much money behind social media content because we built a following pretty rapidly, but if you want to get that initial reach, especially around a particularly good piece of content (maybe a professional video or a lovely product or store shot) then put a few dollars behind it and boost it.
- If you have a physical store, make sure people can find it on Apple Maps; Google Maps; Bing, and whichever local digital GPS service people use. When we first started we just set up Google Maps, not considering that many people who live in the city area of Cape Town are probably using Apple Maps. So when some of our customers told us that our opening hours were wrong on Apple Maps, I quickly went and claimed our page and set it up correctly according to the details I supplied.
- Make Word of Mouth (WOM) Work. Do some PR: Participate in community events; send out some influencer drops; email relevant magazines for your industry and tell your story. In our first 6 months, I gave away so much free product to anyone with an Instagram following that was above 2000. I said yes to literally every opportunity, and chased even more opportunities. I sent (respectful) messages to relevant food and lifestyle influencers asking if I could send them some of our product to test. I didn’t ask for them to post, I just wanted to gift them the product, and if they wanted to post about it, then they did.
- Print Ads: Run an advert in a local paper or magazine. Most local magazines have advertorial teams, and if the circulation is small, the ads aren’t usually that expensive. Even a half page ad in some magazines won’t cripple a small business. Often these places have good deals as well, especially if they are running an editorial piece on you. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Ad sales people love to haggle 😉 We had a little editorial feature running in the Khuluma Magazine (the airline Kulula’s magazine which has massive reach) and the ads sales team asked if we wanted to do an ad – we could only afford to pay for a quarter page ad, but they had a half page available, so they gave us the space for the price of a quarter page.
- Paid Search: Run some paid search ads on Google Ads; Bing and other search platforms. Google has 98% of the search market, so if you are going to run search ads anywhere, this is the best place to start. You can use automation tool like Adbot to run them simply and effectively, as you can get setup in less than ten minutes. I literally set it up once and now I spend maybe an hour a week just refining it once or twice a week to help my bot learn, and add new campaigns during the marketing calendar year (such as Valentine’s Day or Father’s Day etc) and then remove those ads once the event has passed. And I always keep evergreen relevant brand and product ads running throughout the year to ensure a steady supply of customers coming from Google who might be looking for donuts in Cape Town or vegan bakery in Cape Town, or whatever.
- List on local directories. Many local towns and cities have local directory services. South Africa has the physical Yellow Pages, and a new digital app business directories YEP (Telkom’s new digitised business directory). But there are often directories for specific industries as well. Find ones relevant to your industry and get yourself listed. In our case (vegan donut shop) there are multiple: Tripadvisor; Purple Cow (vegan listings site); A Billion Veg (vegan listing site); Eat Out Guide; Inside Guide and I am sure many more that I can’t remember setting up.
- BONUS: Automate as much as possible. This will help you eliminate or reduce the time spent on time-wasting tasks, such as XERO for book-keeping and Adbot for running Google Ads; Hootsuite for scheduling social media posts etc. We use Adbot to run our Google Ads and Xero for our bookkeeping.
So those are my top tips for starting a small business and ensuring you have the basics covered. If I’ve forgotten any, or you’d like to add some, let us know on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @myadbot.