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Customers – the most important part of any business

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Having reliable, regular customers is at the heart of any successful business. But in order to survive and grow you need to be continually trying to attract new customers. This is the age of all things digital and selling online is a must for those firms that can. If you operate in one local area, or only sell face-to-face, a world of selling opportunities could await via the online community. By not being tied to one geographical area, you could be selling to customers in every corner of the country – or even across the world. You may already be an established business, but how will you find new clients if they don’t know you exist? Advertising and PR can help you to raise the profile of your business and get seen by potential new customers. As one Bill Gates once famously said: "If I was down to my last dollar, I'd spend it on PR!" Driving more traffic to your website is also important. A website or an online shop is often the first point of contact for new business customers, but it's useless if it doesn't attract them. Your website should be optimised so search engines can find it when prospects type in keywords related to your business. You can also drive traffic to the site using a combination of online and offline advertising and social media like twitter. Think of these tools as oil to grease the flow of traffic to your site. There are plenty of free online sites that teach you how to best apply social media, which can seem daunting to the uninitiated. If you need to find a large volume of new customers and fast, buying in a database for you to email, telephone or send direct mail to is one way of targeting a high number of customers at once. You should make sure that you buy it from a reputable source though, such as a member of the Institute of Direct Marketing. Check whether the data was cleaned in the last six months and ask to test a sample of data beforehand. You need to know your best customers, and looking to your existing client base can help you ascertain who are the ones that bring in the most money. Do they have any characteristics in common such as age, geography or business size? If these are your most profitable customers it makes sense to put your focus on finding more of the same, rather than other less profitable parts of the market or areas you are not familiar with. You can also tap into your existing client network by asking them to refer you to their friends or business contacts. There will usually have to be some kind of incentive in it for them, but not always, and goodwill can go a long way. Though not always a source of direct sales, networking can help you to make new contacts and grow your referral network. Entering new markets – selling your existing product but to a new set of customers you haven’t targeted before can be a challenge, but a lucrative one if you get it right. However, it may mean rebranding and positioning your product slightly to appeal to these people. Selling overseas to an entirely new market, while clearly not for everyone, is even more of a challenge, but fortune favours the brave. And there is lots of help out there. We've put together a short guide for businesses thinking about getting started with selling abroad, which you can access here. UKTI are also there to help. If you're looking to find new customers and grow your business, but are unsure of where to start, the Forum offers members a marketing audit to review your current marketing activities and provide recommendations for growth. Call us on 0845 130 1722 to find out more.

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