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Business TargetHadi Djunaedi

If you're a small business owner, you're likely on the lookout for new customers on a fairly regular basis. After all, having a steady stream of interested parties who become paying clientele is the benchmark of a successful business. Whether you're in a service industry, retail or otherwise, there are some tried and true methods for expanding and keeping your customer base evolving:

1. Know your audience. Knowledge is power, and knowing just whom you are targeting for business will put you one step ahead of your competitors. Before you set out to gain new clients ask yourself the following questions: Who is my ideal customer? What makes them tick? What can my business provide them that will make their lives better or more efficient? Knowing the answers to these questions will give you a foothold in acquiring new clientele or customers.

2. Network. Socialize at both industry and non-industry events and don't be shy about pitching your business and engaging new people. Go to business functions, join chambers of commerce, attend trade shows. Always have your business cards handy and your one-minute elevator pitch ready to go. You never know who you might meet and where that meeting may take you.

3. Research your industry. What are the latest trends in your area of business? Who are the industry leaders, movers and shakers? What's coming up on the horizon? What's changed in the past few years? All of these questions and more should be easily answered by you or your employees in order to have your company viewed as a leader in its field.

4. Join industry groups. Member associations for your particular area of business are key to networking but also showcasing your skills. As well, being part of an industry association often allows you to have access to training, upgrading or accreditation courses in your field of business – which will give you the competitive advantage in the marketplace.

5. Step outside of your box. Spread your net far and wide and step outside your comfort zone in order to differentiate yourself to your potential customers. If your business is primarily retail, consider providing a form of consultative services every so often. If you are in the one-on-one consultative business, mix it up once in a while and perhaps engage another consultant or two. The key is to show your flexibility, openness and innovation so that potential clients and customers will be drawn to your company.

6. Tweet, Like and Stumble. Social media is here to stay. This is particularly the case in the business world. If you want to expand your reach, get online and become familiar with the more recent methods of expanding your business' footprint as well as engaging new customers. Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and other social media platforms are easily-accessible and proven ways to profile your company as well as offering channels to new and potential new customers.

7. Offer incentives. People love free stuff and discounts, so use this fact to get new customers in the door. If you're a service industry, offer an introductory free class or consultation, allowing people to test-drive your services in advance. A related tactic is to offer discount coupons, product specials, etc. as a method of enticing the curious with the end goal of getting them in the door.

8. Leverage existing partnerships. There's nothing like word-of-mouth marketing and you already have existing ambassadors for your company. Your business partners who may include suppliers, can be some of your greatest allies when it comes to increasing your customer base. In addition to the most obvious tact of asking for referrals, consider providing your clientele a deal that gives them product or services from both you and your business partner. Done effectively, it's a "win-win" situation, with both businesses potentially gaining a new customer or two.

9. Showcase your expertise. There are a number of ways that you can get in front of potential new clients in order to pique their interest about your business or service. Start a blog that discusses relevant topics in your area of business. Write an e-book that is offered free online via your company website. Participate as a featured speaker at conferences, educational facilities or trades shows that cover your industry and you will get in front of people who are already engaged, interested and potentially ready to sign on to your product or service.

10. Organic growth and referrals. The best clients and customers are those who have been referred through an existing customer or client. Think about it – all of the "heavy lifting" has been done for you, as the existing customer has likely discussed the positive aspects of your company. They've "sold" your value proposition to this new prospect and all you have to do is close the deal. Don't be afraid to ask for referrals from happy customers and once you get them through your door, your more than halfway there to gaining a new client.

Barbara Grant is the founder and president of Retrofit Pilates, a full-service Pilates and fitness studio in Toronto.

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