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Finders Keepers

How to attract customers and keep them coming back for more.

Customers are the most important ingredient in any entrepreneur's recipe for success. First, they provide much-needed revenue in the early days of your new business. Then, if you've done your job right, they go on to become satisfied, repeat customers who spread the good word about your business to others--generating referrals and more business for you.

Finding and keeping customers is one of the most essential aspects of running a new business. Initially, your goal is to let potential customers know that you and your business exist. Once they've had the opportunity to try your product or service, you'll want to do everything in your power to keep them coming back.

To successfully find customers, stress your venture's Unique Selling Proposition (USP) as frequently and clearly as possible. This is a carefully worded statement of the important aspects that set your business apart from your competition. Rather than focusing exclusively on features, point out how your new product or service will benefit your customers. Features are selling points about your product or service; benefits are more specific ways that your product or service will enhance your customers' lives. The answers to the following questions will be benefits: How will it save them time or money? How will it make their lives more efficient or enjoyable? How will it solve their problems or fill their needs? How will it be superior to similar offerings from your competitors?

Get the word out about your USP to generate first-time sales by using a combination of tried-and-true methods: fliers posted on bulletin boards in your community; direct-mail letters and brochures; advertisements in the local newspaper; and ads in the Yellow Pages. Persuade established businesses in your area to distribute literature about your business, or to make it available on their counters. Send press releases to local media outlets. Let relatives, friends and co-workers know about your business.

After your first sale, do whatever you can to keep your customers coming back for more. Publish a newsletter to keep them informed of developments in your business and to maintain an ongoing, personal connection. Request feedback to remind them of your dedication to providing a top-quality product or service, and improve your offerings when necessary. Send customers thank-you, birthday or holiday cards to let them know you appreciate their support. Exceed their expectations by providing just a bit more than they anticipate--a customer-appreciation discount, an extra service at no charge--to keep them satisfied and ensure referrals.

Finding and keeping customers involves strategic planning, aggressive thinking, and bold, innovative approaches. It also involves consistency in the quality of your offerings and a commitment to meeting--and even exceeding--consumer wants and needs. Because different types of businesses require somewhat different approaches, our Building Blocks entrepreneurs have returned to discuss the methods they've used to generate and retain customers of their own.

A business writer for the past eight years, Kylo-Patrick Hart has run a successful homebased consulting business since 1989.

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finders Keepers.

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