Remember the first time you heard that experimental, philosophical question about the tree alone in a forest? It went like this: when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? You might remember it as an uncomfortable moment that made you consider reality and perception in a new light. A similar question can be applied to your new startup and customers. If no one knows about your business, is it really there? Is it really a business? You need actual customers to do actual business. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows it’s there, you’ll never sell a thing.
Once you’ve discovered and understood the brand that is your business, it’s time to start creating awareness. You need a presence and a voice in your market. Here’s how to reach potential customers:
- Identify your target audience. Much of this will be intuitive. You know your product or service—that’s why you started a business—and you probably have a pretty good idea of who will want it. But you should still take some time to acquire a clearer picture of your audience. Research some statistics, survey a few people, even run a few tests. These don’t have to be formal studies. They can be as simple as letting a few people from different demographics try out your product or service, then collecting feedback and comparing it. You might be surprised by what you find.
- Create content. After you know who your target audience is, you should start creating as much quality content as you can.
- Website—Always start here. When someone is interested in your business, assume the first thing they will do is google you. Not having a website can hurt your credibility, so it’s important to make sure potential customers can find you. It’s okay if you don’t have a big budget to hire an agency for this yet. There are numerous sites that allow you to use templates to create a site that suits your brand at a low cost.
- Social media—create pages and accounts for your business on Twitter, Facebook, and other relevant social media—Pinterest, Yelp, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, etc. Start posting regularly on these. A lot of what you post should be related in some way to your business or industry, but you can also engage with others in your target market. Like, comment, and share to give your business a voice.
- SEO and hashtags—these will make it easier for potential customers to find you. Be sure to use keywords and hashtags that are relevant to your product or service.
- Videos—the best way for people to understand your story is to see it in action. Videos give you a personal quality that’s hard to get across in writing. This doesn’t have to be commercial quality. It can be as simple as a time lapse video of your product being made or your business headquarters being set up. Give your potential customers something interesting that tells them a little bit about who you are.
- Communicate with your network. Tell your friends and family about the business you’ve started. You don’t want to do this in a way that puts any kind of pressure on them—you just want to share your story. You can even use your personal social media to do this. Post a picture of your new logo or premises. Just be careful not to over-post. Pick only your best pictures to share.
- Collect feedback. While you’re creating all this content and developing your presence, you should be asking people you know for their honest feedback. The whole point of having a voice is to reach more people, and it’s always helpful to get some perspective from someone other than yourself. Use the responses and advice you gather in whatever way that you can, and make sure anyone who gave you their opinion knows how much you value it. When you let a friend or peer be a part of the foundation of your new business, you make them loyal ambassadors that will give you even more reach.
- Build media relationships. The key to this step is to connect with people before you need them. Think beyond traditional media sources here. Today, a blogger or social media superstar can be every bit as powerful as a traditional news source. First, identify a few blogs or social media accounts with a big following that relate to your market. Then, start engaging with them on social media whenever possible and relevant. You can comment on their blog posts with thoughtful comments or retweet or reply to their tweets. Make yourself one of their valuable followers, so they might one day do the same for you.
- Form complementary partnerships. If there are any companies in your area that specialize in products or services that complement yours, connect with them. You don’t need to come to any kind of formal agreement; just get to know one another, and you can start referring your contacts to them. Usually, people will return the favor. Even if there aren’t any companies that relate to yours near you, form relationships with other businesses in your area. Referrals are the best compliment you can give a business, and providing them can only ever help you.
- Be a community leader. Making connections is vital, and being an active member of your community is one of the best ways to do this. Attend as many events as you can, join professional organizations, offer to speak at functions, or sponsor them whenever applicable. Make sure to follow up in some way with the people you meet at these. Send emails, set up coffees and lunches, and connect on social media. Additionally, enter any contests or awards that are relevant to your business. Even if you don’t win, it gets your company in front of more people.
Above all, creating awareness for your business should be fun. You’re taking a brand that means something to you and sharing it with your audience. That enthusiasm you have—you want it to show. That’s what will give your business a voice that people can relate to. That’s how you’ll reach your audience and turn them into customers.