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Getting new customers or earning repeat business from existing clients is a critical component of any small business wanting to establish itself and generate long term business success.

It’s not quite as deeply philosophical a question as, “Chicken or egg, which came first?” But for new business startups, the decision whether to focus energy on getting new clients or earning repeat business from existing clients is a critical one from the moment you’ve completed your first successful project.

The ideal solution would be devoting equal attention to new customer acquisition and retaining existing clients. However, such a 50-50 proposition may not be possible for the entrepreneur who wears many hats in addition to being an account executive. (At least not until the cloning process is perfected.)

Paul Lemberg of Axcelus Consulting says what you choose to focus on should be based on your goals for growth. “If you want fast-paced quantum growth, you should concentrate energy on adding new customers,” writes Lemberg. “If you envision continual year over year growth in the 10 to 20 percent range — booking repeat customer revenue is far easier than adding new customers.”

Retention may be easier than acquisition, but staying in the front of your customer’s mind in a way that leads to repeat business is still a multi-tiered process. In many ways, your approach needs to be as solicitous as your initial sales pitch. Here are some tried-and-true tactics that engender customer loyalty.

Create better customer relationships with personalized follow-up

Old-fashioned? Certainly. Effective? Definitely. Sending thank-you notes usually tops the list of any article about good customer relations. Whether they are handwritten cards or personalized in some other way, this is the best method for making a good impression on key clients. Just make sure your message is friendly and familiar (i.e., no “Dear Sir or Madam”). Also, you can get an employee or even a family member to help stuff envelopes, affix personalized mailing address labels, and the like.

Find loyal customers with better business reporting

You’ve achieved certain goals to satisfy your customer in the first place. If additional positive results accrue over time, this could present an opportunity to remind them how your efforts were effective initially and continue to be beneficial.

Find what customers like the most with effective surveys

Feedback ensures the wise spending of marketing dollars in the future. But asking customers to fill out a questionnaire following a period where no contact has been made is a subtle tactic for getting them to remember your good work without making a sales call. Offering a small gift with your corporate identity on it does a lot for improving survey responses and puts an additional reminder in front of customers.

Engage existing customers with informative newsletters

Whether printed or electronic, newsletters are the perfect vehicle for keeping customers in the loop about what’s happening with your products and the people in your company, as well as any special events or deals you want to announce.

“The key is making sure you send information that’s helpful or interesting at least once a month,” recommends Startup Nation columnist Stacy Karacostas. “Send e-newsletters sporadically at your own risk. People unsubscribe if they don’t remember you or why they wanted your e-newsletter in the first place.”

Incentive Programs. If there are multiple competitors occupying your space, rewarding customers with prizes or discounts can help ensure they stay loyal to your brand. Finding the trigger point is the key to a successful incentive program.

As Kim Durant of Demand Media notes:

“Customers may be loyal to the business for idealistic reasons — such as wanting to support a hometown business or a ‘green’ and ethically minded business — or for personal reasons, such as liking the business owners. If you can find out what makes some customers loyal to your business, especially if it is an idealism-related reason, you may be able to incorporate that reason into your marketing materials to inspire similar loyalty in others.” 


Chris Lenois is a freelance journalist writing for Vistaprint, a leading provider of personalized address labels and other small business products. Chris is also a business owner and his articles covering marketing and business trends have appeared in numerous publications, including Wired and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.


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