"It's not my nature to be a salesperson, so I've been lucky that most of my clients have found me through referrals or my business listings in the phone book," says Suzanne George, 34, who launched a San Francisco shoemaking business in the summer of 1995. George's footwear is unique because she creates the shoes by hand--one pair at a time--to meet the specifications and special sizing requirements of her clients.
When George went into business for herself, she informed relatives, friends, and co-workers about her business, and they spread the word to others. Most of her clients--people who have difficulty finding mass-produced shoes that fit well--have been thrilled with her made-to-measure footwear. This is good news for George, because such clients tend to become repeat customers. "When you spend a lot of time on that first pair--making sure the fit is just right--most people who make that first investment become interested in ordering again," she says.
George believes listing her business in the telephone book has been instrumental in generating first-time customers. "When I got my business line installed, I got free listings in the white pages and the Yellow Pages, and I regularly get calls from those. They come from people who have really serious fitting concerns and those who just want to find out more about what I do," she explains. She's been a bit surprised by the volume of calls resulting from those listings, especially because they're business-name-only listings without additional details.
To date, George has not placed any paid advertisements to promote her business, but she is exploring new, inexpensive ways to get the word out about her business. "I've been trying to align my business with others that have customers who are in my target population. I make it a challenge once a week to visit a business that I think would be a good match--to set up a formal or informal kind of relationship," she says.
Nevertheless, George realizes that past customers provide the key to her business's future. "Because I don't have a big volume, the repeat work is really important," she says. "To remind my customers that I'm here and that I care, I often check back with them--give them a call or drop them a note--just to see how things are going. I'm always trying to figure out news ways to keep in touch with them."