Business Start-up: Reaching the Customers

Setting up a successful small business is a major step — and is not one we should take lightly. It’s also a huge topic, so I’m going to cover it over the next few weeks. Note my use of the word ‘successful’. I’m going to start with the assumption that our small business will be successful. Anyone starting a small business hopes it will be successful, but only a small percentage of the businesses set up each year actually succeed.  So let’s start from the belief that our business of writing will survive.

For our business to survive, there are ONLY three things that need to happen: we need to get customers; we need to satisfy the demands of those customers; and we need to get paid.  Everything else is window-dressing.  So, let’s start by thinking about those customers and how we are going to find them.

If we start by brainstorming all the different types of customer a writer might have, we come up with quite a long list (and I’m sure your list would be even longer than mine). For books, whether fiction of non-fiction, the traditional customer is an agent or a publisher; however, with the growth of e-publishing and self-publishing, the reader is much more accessible as a direct customer. Additionally, there are newspapers, journals, magazines, both hard-copy and electronic. Thinking slightly outside the box, every company in the country is publishing something — whether it’s the annual report of a major multinational, or a simple website for the garage down the road — and not all those companies will have the writers they need on the payroll. There are also professional associations, sports organisations; the list goes on and on. Think about your own interests, experiences and expertise: where would you go to find out about any of them? Once we’ve identified our potential customers, here are some tips for how to reach them (and it you’ve got any other suggestions, leave a comment, so we can all share them):

  • Network 1: For people to become your customers, they need to know you exist.  So get your name (and contact details) out there.  Spend as much time networking as you can.  Tell everyone you know (and everyone you don’t know, but just happen to be talking to) that you are a writer.
  • Network 2: Don’t underestimate the size of your indirect network. Every one of your family and friends has their own circle of contacts. Ask them to pass the word around. Next time someone says to them “I wish I could find some one who could…” they will think of you and pass the word on. 
  • Network 3: Print some simple flyers or business cards and leave them with local shops, restaurants and bars.  With today’s technology, you can do this yourself, without incurring huge printing costs and still put over a professional image.
  • Network 4: As a writer, your customers don’t have to be just around the corner. Having dealt with the local opportunities, it’s time to turn to the rest of the big wide world — and that’s where the internet comes in. The power of electronic networking was brought home to me when I joined LinkedIn a few years back — at the time, it was the best option for my professional networking. Initially, I only had 11 contacts in my network. Yet the third degree network that opened to me (contacts of my contacts’ contacts) was more than 182,000 people. Today, I have more than 500 contacts and my third degree network runs into the millions.
  • Network 5: Today, the options for electronic networking are much wider — and frankly confusing: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Youtube plus others. I’m not going to attempt to unravel that particular tangled ball of wool here — although we may return to it in a later post. I recently had the chance to hear the inspirational Rebecca Woodhead speak (see Authorpreneurship and Fishnets:Swanwick Day 4). My suggestion would be to go to Rebecca’s website and start learning about how to really network.
  • Making Contact 1: Make sure you are contactable at all times.  The best ways to do this are by email and mobile phone.  When you are starting out, you can’t afford to be choosy over when you work or when you talk to people.  You are there when they need you – or you are not there at all.
  • Making Contact 2: Establish a presence on the Internet.  That doesn’t mean spend huge amounts of time or money developing an all-singing, all-dancing website.  That can come later.  For now, all you need is the equivalent of an electronic business card.  Invest a small amount of money in a suitable domain name.  It makes the business look bigger than it is and allows you to have a suitable email address.  An address like mybusiness@hotmail.com is a dead give away that you are a small outfit.  An address like myname@mybusiness.com looks more professional.  Use the templates and site-builder software that come with many of the web-hosting services.  You can develop a simple, professional-looking site in less than an hour.

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By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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