Getting new customer leads is a common problem that both new and existing businesses face. They may have a great product or service, but don't have the right marketing plan and process in place. There are many different ways to generate leads. The most notable ways include word-of-mouth referrals, advertising, business alliances, networking, public relations, social media to some extent and then good old direct sales (i.e., cold calling). The method that’s most appropriate for your business will depend on the size of your company as well as your industry, budget and specific goals.
Let's focus on the two factors that are most important to small businesses in choosing a starting point: time and cost. Which method will take the least amount of time and also cost the least in the short term?
Online pay-per-click advertising campaigns
The quickest method by far will be advertising through Google in a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. With the Google Adwords platform, advertisers are able to market to customers through sponsored text listings that are triggered by targeted keywords. For instance, a mobile application development company may target a phrase such as, “find a mobile application development company in Los Angeles.” When searches for that keyword phrase are entered, the web development company’s ad may appear below the search box or to the right of the organic listings (non-paid). The searcher may then click on the developer’s ad which will result in a new visitor to the website, but the developer will also be charged for each click.
The longtail keyword phrases and the less frequently searched words are typically the cheapest as there are less advertisers competing for that term. The downside to PPC campaigns is that it’s very difficult to be profitable in the beginning. Most advertisers need to learn and optimize their campaigns based on customer behaviors, which will in turn improve their return on investment. Therefore, this method, while easy to implement, can be costly in the beginning.
Networking and thought leadership
Most businesses can enhance their online and offline reputations through networking and thought-leadership work. What does that mean? Examples include speaking at a conference, conducting a webinar or even publishing written work. Whether you know it or not, you’re likely an expert in your profession, even if you’re not a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant, and you can certainly differentiate yourself from the crowd by joining and leading the conversation.
The return on investment for thought leadership may not be measurable at first, but over time it will be, if done effectively. In this specific case, it would make sense to speak at an event designed to help early-stage entrepreneurs run their businesses. This may be at a business incubator, a small-business conference or the local chamber of commerce or a small-business development center. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything other than your time.
Free public relations
Many companies are familiar with compensating a public-relations firm thousands of dollars a month and not necessarily being able to measure the return, which is frustrating and expensive. Have you subscribed to one of the email distribution lists that connect writers and publishers to experts and companies for sources to use in their articles? Help a Reporter Out (HARO), launched by the PR guru Peter Shankman, is the best-in-class of these new free distribution lists. It’s very easy to use and it works; I know from experience. A successful pitch will take some trial and error, but it’s certainly cheaper than hiring a PR firm. This method is also free, but takes time.
You should invest in a mixture of the above, but start with online advertising, as that's the easiest method with which to generate leads quickly. You'll need to be mindful of the daily expense, but leads should come through that channel.
Ryan Himmel, CPA and registered securities analyst, is the founder and CEO of BIDaWIZ.com, a professional network for small businesses and entrepreneurs to obtain trusted advice and services from a team of CPAs, Enrolled Agents, Financial Planners & Tax Attorneys. His team provides answers to the many finance and tax questions that small businesses encounter every day. Ryan has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fox Business and Crain's New York, among other publications. Ryan also regularly contributes to the community with his finance and tax blog.