Attracting customers and keeping them or getting them to recommend you to others may seem a bit of a battle but in my opinion it all comes down to one simple thing and that’s customer service.

When attracting customers and keeping customers – your level of service plays a massive part in what you do.

I’ve been running my business since 2009 and after putting the hours in networking for the first couple of years and making a name for myself, I found I could calm down a bit on constant network events and word of mouth and recommendations have now become my only source of business.

I will bend over backwards for my clients and I advise them as much as I can and I charge for my time appropriately but I know that going the extra mile, meeting tight deadlines and building relationships with my clients is what brings work to my door. Whilst I will never be complacent about it, I would prefer to focus on my clients and keep them happy – that’s a good level of service and you’ll gain trust and repeat business from it.

Nice to meet you

So, I’ve touched on networking, everyone should network to a certain extent, online networking, which I’ll mention more later, has its place but doesn’t replace face to face networking.

People buy people, so if you confidently tell people about your business in an enthusiastic way and all importantly listen to what they have to say about their business even if you don’t think there’s any synergy with yours then you’re doing all the right things – you never know who they know and could refer you to and vice versa.

Networking is also a good way to link up with other people who you may be able to collaborate with or refer to. I’ve met photographers, social media experts, copywriters and web developers amongst others that I now refer my clients to. Larger design and web companies have referred smaller clients to me when they’re busy so don’t shy away from professions you overlap with.

If you’re uncomfortable networking try going to an event that has some structure to it, groups like BNI have a chance to network before hand then you sit down and every person in the room has a minute to promote their business, so have a minute prepared that tells people what they need to know – but make sure you keep to the allotted time. Afterwards people who are interested in your product or service will approach you, groups like this are on a membership basis but you can visit a couple of times without having to sign up. You must remember that these groups only allow one person from each industry category so there is no conflict, so you’d have a plumber and an electrician but not a plumber who also does electrics, the person who did both may be able to join but not sell the service that’s already taken.

Having to stand up in front of a room full of businesses and sell yourself might fill you with dread but everyone is in the same boat and you’ve got to start somewhere, most membership groups are very welcoming so they’ll put you at ease.

Alternatively there’s turn up and network groups which are typically are a free for all, so you may be there with other people from your profession, if this is the case, see it as an opportunity to collaborate and/or learn from them.

How did we do?

People are very good at complaining when things go wrong but thanks to review sites people are also happy to give praise where it’s due and it’s becoming common practice. I often go on Trip Advisor when I’ve been out for a meal or stayed in a hotel because I know how valuable feedback is. We all like to work on recommendation, so asking people for reviews for your work can stand you in good stead. You can sign up to various review sites that incur a monthly fee and some of these are great in building your reputation especially online, however, you can also do it yourself through Google Reviews and Facebook reviews.

If you choose Google reviews you need to have a Google plus account and so does the person leaving the review, this can be a bit of an obstacle when using this service as not everyone has got a Google plus account. Your business also needs to be verified with Google places but that in itself has many benefits including SEO (search engine optimisation). Using this method gives you a star rating on Google (once you have over 5 reviews) so people can see how good you are and what people are saying about your business. Facebook also accepts reviews, all you need is a business Facebook page, which is easy to set up if you don’t already have one, you can then invite people to leave a review on your Facebook page. A lot of businesses without websites rely on social media to get their name recognised but ideally you should have both a website and all the social media platforms so you can build a rapport with your customers on a wider network.

To get great reviews you need to be great! Think about your USP’s (Unique Selling Points). What can you do that no one else is doing? What can you do better than your competitor? I have a client who installs bathrooms, at the end of the job they send a cleaner in to tidy everything up and leave the room ship shape, they also leave behind a lovely hand wash and moisturiser set for their customers, so, not only have they done a good job at a good price, they’ve gone that extra mile and it is appreciated by every one of their customers. Is there something you can do that adds the finishing touch and keeps your customers coming back or recommending you to friends and family?

Something as simple as having your van or car branded so everywhere you go you are promoting your business, you might just pull up next to someone at the lights who is in the market for your product or service. My only caveat to this is, if you drive like a maniac or have a tendency to get road rage then don’t bother, you will ruin your reputation, however, if you do class yourself in that group maybe it’s time to rethink how you behave on the roads! I saw a couple of electricians in a van the other day, we needed a small job doing at home so the van caught my eye until an empty McDonalds drink was thrown out the window and right away they lost that potential job – so always think about how you are promoting yourself and your business at all times.

Going back to social media, I belong to a few online network groups, and some ‘mummy’ groups mainly on Facebook, and people constantly ask for recommendations for a lot of trades; children’s entertainers, electricians, plumbers, gardeners, carpet fitters etc. One of my clients who runs a bouncy castle company has got loads of business through a particular Facebook site for parents, people recommend her because she is always on time, she goes the extra mile and builds a rapport with her customers by being ‘real’ and being the face of the business, which all goes back to customer service and ensuring you’re always doing your very best.

Other social media platforms like You Tube, Pinterest, Twitter etc. are also good for building relationships with clients. We recently had our garden and drive way done and the gardener shared a board on Pinterest with me with ideas of stone, hedging, flowers, fence colours etc. it was a great way to visually build up an idea of what the garden would look like and as I have no clue about flowers and shrubs she sent me low maintenance suggestions that even I can’t kill off! Since doing this I suggested a wedding photographer client of mine uses Pinterest for his brides to get a feel of the look, theme, colours etc. of their wedding so he can capture the best parts of their day and really get a feel for what’s important to them – it’s going that extra mile to get to know your customers and deliver the best service you can.

I’d never go anywhere else

Last but not least there’s always recommend a friend cards. Make sure you give the friend and the person recommending them a treat or a discount so that both parties see a benefit and it gives them more of an incentive to recommend. My hairdresser who is also my client (I wouldn’t go anywhere else for my hair doing!) has used recommend a friend cards for some time now and gets new and repeat business from them, once a new customer has been and had a great experience they too will recommend their friends to get a further discount. So long as you continue to maintain a good level of customer service – you’ll keep the customer and their friends.

What I’ve covered off is not everything that you can do, there are many ways for your business to stand out and promote yourself through the service you provide, but as I said in the very beginning it all comes down to customer service and going the extra mile, even remembering little things like a birthday or a recent holiday starts a conversation, builds rapport, gains trust and gives your customer a reason to come back.

To show how much I value customer service and feedback it would be lovely if you could take a second to vote for me in the customer service category in the 2015 Trust Awards, thank you : )

VOTE FOR I AM EMILY