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Balancing Act

Your business' success depends on working to attract new customers--while still keeping existing clients happy.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the September 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The startup phase of your business can feel frenzied and overwhelming as you set up your operations and market like crazy to get clients. And once you get that roster of clientele, your sole focus becomes providing them the best products and services. Of course, before long you'll have to find the right balance between serving your old clients and marketing to new ones.

"It doesn't have to be anything complex-just write down exactly who you're targeting and what you're offering," says business consultant Kimberly Stevens of Ask the Biz Coach in Crofton, Maryland. "[It's about] figuring out the solution to the problem that the market has vs. trying to be everything to everybody."

Stevens notes that while it's tempting to relegate marketing duties to the back burner when you have new clients clamoring for attention, you must still work them in somewhere. Plot out in advance the marketing steps you intend to take, and schedule them in bite-size morsels, such as setting aside two or three hours to make cold calls, attend a networking event or write a sales letter. Give these marketing appointments the same priority you would a client meeting-you wouldn't put something that important off or fail to reschedule it if something came up, she says.

It also helps to take a closer look at how much time you'll need to do your client work. Stevens says entrepreneurs often have trouble balancing their old clients and new contacts because they set unrealistic timelines. Keep in mind you'll be doing both marketing and back-office duties, so create your deadlines accordingly, she says.

Entrepreneurs who are really pressed for time should pursue two-for-one marketing ideas, which serve existing clients while helping you find new ones. "For every industry, there are centers of influence-people who already have a relationship with your target audience," says Stevens. "Target people who can [do] double duty as a center of influence."

For example, a Web designer who targets other small-business owners as customers could market his services to a small-business accountant. The accountant's Web site and verbal recommendation could then help the entrepreneur garner new clientele from the accountant's roster.

Entrepreneur , founder of PM Studios, a music industry educational service in Boca Raton, Florida, is quite familiar with double-duty marketing. He's built his business by offering clear incentives to existing customers who bring in new clients. A former media exec, Ruttenberg, 40, knows the importance of word-of-mouth and says he has never taken out an ad-and never will. "I actually [give incentives] and pay my current customers to act as pied pipers."

He even asks his clients exactly what they'd like for incentives-and then grants their wishes, which vary from discounts on services to gift certificates for spa getaways. "It works like a charm," he says. "It was slow at first, but after a while, if you treat them correctly, they will spread the word." His business, which he started in 2002, has seen quick growth because of this strategy, and today, he expects to gross 2004 sales in the six figures.

Whatever marketing methods you choose, remember that balance is the key. Don't let feast or famine become your routine-strive for balance now, and you'll keep old clients happy while gaining a steady stream of new ones.

Kimberly Stevens of Ask the Biz Coach in Crofton, Maryland, has seen entrepreneurs make some big snafus while striving to balance old clients with new contacts. Let this be your guide to what not to do:
  • Don't approach your marketing plan haphazardly. You can't wait for new clients to come to you, even if you're doing great with the old ones. Schedule times to do specific marketing tasks. "If you push away marketing," says Stevens, "you're not going to grow in your business."
  • Don't forget to track your marketing results. Since your time is at a premium, it's foolish to continue to market in ways that aren't effective. Track exactly how many clients come in from each marketing tactic, and use only the ways that are most efficient.

    For each tactic you try, "Ask yourself: How much time did you invest in it, and how much did you get out of it?" suggests Stevens. "How much money did you invest, and how much did you generate from it?"

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. "A lot of people don't know what they're doing when it comes to marketing, so they avoid it," says Stevens. Admit you need guidance in this area, and proactively seek help-be it from books, classes or advisors. Realize it's a critical aspect of your business-akin to sales-so commit yourself to it. It will pay off.

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