One of the big questions I often get asked about online brands is ‘how do I get customers?’ And it’s a legitimate question because I was once asking myself the very same question.
If you are looking to make a living from your online brand, the one thing you will definitely need is customers. And you’ll need to get them quickly.
For starters, you’re going to need to pay back all your set up costs if your business is going to thrive. Even setting up an online brand can cost you both time and money. You’ll want to start getting customers from day one.
You’ll then have to start paying ongoing costs. Every day that your online business exists, you’re going to have to fork out for ongoing costs, whether it be hosting, accountancy fees or your own salary.
It’s only when you’ve got your head above water that you can start making a profit. Fortunately, setting up a business online can be done a lot cheaper than setting up a physical shop.
So before you even contemplate launching your own online brand, have a think about where you are going to source your income streams.
Here are a few tried and tested ways to get customers.
Start with friends
If you have no audience at all to start your business, a good idea is to call on your friends to get the ball rolling.
I set up an online shop for my wife (www.cosyhomestore.com) and one of the biggest problems we faced was getting customers.
We started by telling our friends, families and neighbours about it. We shared links on our own personal social media profiles and sure enough, we had orders coming in from day one.
There will be a limit to how many of your friends and family will buy off you though so make the most of them. Get them to leave reviews so that you can start building trust with those outside your circle of family and friends. Use these reviews (with permission) in your ongoing marketing.
Introducing special offers can also help you get customers with whom you have no prior relationship. Trust is perhaps THE main thing you need to win and online shoppers need to feel that they can trust you before they’ll input their payment details. You’d be the same.
Build your audience, one person at a time, one sale at a time.
Each sale is an opportunity to build a long-lasting and ongoing relationship. Having spent time conversing with our customers through email, we now have a number of regular customers who buy things every few weeks.
Build an email list
THE most important thing you can do with your online brand is build an email list.
Why? Because it’s the most effective form of getting sales. It’s also a safety mechanism should some of your social media platforms decide to pull the rug from under you. It’s happened to me before on several occasions.
People are more reluctant to hand over their email addresses these days so you’re going to have to create some sort of exchange. Whether it’s a free ebook, or a free report – create something that you can exchange in return for their email address.
For one of my brands, I’ve managed to build a list of 8,000 people by offering them a free ebook. It’s a two-way transaction.
I can post all day about my merchandise on Facebook and not get any response. But when I send out an email to my 8,000 subscribers, I’m almost guaranteed to make a sale from my merchandise.
Build a social media audience
In my online career, I first started out building a social media audience for fun. Whether it was just an ego thing, I don’t remember. It was only as the numbers were creeping up that I realised that I could be making money online.
Take Grumpy F*ckers. It’s an online brand that started with just one blog post.
I was out walking my dog one sunny morning in 2015 when I saw a woman coming towards me with her dog. As we approached each other, I smiled and with a cheery disposition, said ‘Good morning!’.
As someone who prefers not to speak to anyone else, I’d surprised myself. The woman, however, looked right at me, and without even a smile, walked on past, without saying a word.
I was miffed. I couldn’t believe how grumpy she was. I imagined where she went to drink coffee and I thought it’d make a good idea for a blog post.
This is what I came up with:
I posted this story to Facebook and refreshed the Facebook page after just a few seconds to see if it was showing ok. Within those few seconds, it had already had over 100 shares.
I soon realised that thousands of people were pouring to my website. And I soon realised that I had a captive audience with nothing to sell to them.
I ran home and spent a few hours designing Tshirts to sell. My only regret is that I didn’t have my products ready earlier when the initial bombardment began.
I now sell merchandise all over the world. I’ve been interviewed on US radio, I’ve had photos sent in from people wearing my T-shirts in all kinds of places.
Use SEO effectively to get customers
SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation) is a bit of a dark art but using the basics can help you reach new people organically.
It is a bit of a slow burner though but it’s well worth the time investment because once it catches, it’s devastatingly effective.
I’ll give you one example. I first launched my magazine business back in 2007 but it wasn’t until 2010 that I set up the brand’s website. The first site was shockingly bad but as I’d never been trained in putting a website together, it was no surprise.
A few years later, I did a bit of research into the basics of SEO and I created some pages to see what all the fuss was about.
If you put ‘magazines Cardiff’ into Google, you’ll see Living Magazines Cardiff somewhere up the top there. It’s been that way for many years and it’s all down to the (free) SEO work I did all those years ago.
I’ve put together a free guide on how to improve your SEO here.
Social media adverts
This is one thing I’ve definitely not paid any more for. I can therefore say that I am no expert when it comes to social media advertising.
There are however, plenty of online brands who source most of their customers through social media adverts. I’m no expert on this but Hootsuite have written a great piece about it and you can find it here to get you started.
As a bit of a recluse, I have to admit that I’ve never used this method but I do know people who get customers by the bucketloads from meeting up with people, either physically or online.
You can search for networking events near you but if you are building a brand online, you’re not going to be too worried about getting customers locally unless your brand is geographically specific.
Create a blog and create great content
A blog is your chance to connect with both existing customers and new customers.
Creating useful content does several things.
First, it attracts people to your site. Traffic is the oxygen that your site needs to thrive. Physical shops around the world are closing their doors because no one is going into them. Your brand won’t last long unless you have traffic flowing through it.
Second, providing people with useful articles gives them something for free. People benefit from interacting with your site. They feel as if they are getting something out of it. This will make them feel happy, and feel more inclined to keep coming back. You’ll also be building a bond that will help them be more reciprocal when you are looking to sell them something.
Lastly, it helps you build yourself as an authority in your field. People will come back to you, put their trust in you and ultimately buy from you.
One last word of advice
Look after the customers that you already have.
Remember that your online brand exists to serve people. Always put your customer first because it’s not you – it’s about them.
Treat them well and they’ll treat you well. They will do the job of advocating your brand. They will spread the word about your excellent service. They will share your stuff online. They will do a lot of the marketing for you. But only if you treat them well.
It’s far more beneficial to keep your existing customers happy than spending energy sourcing new business. If you’re doing an excellent job, your reputation will grow. And people like to talk.