How to get customers; if you run a small business, unless you’re one of the rare few, it’s a thought that occupies your mind most of your waking hours. Sure, you probably have other concerns as well; employee retention, taxes, customer service, vendors, accounts receivable, and so on, but unless you keep the pipeline full, little else matters.

Your business likely depends on a steady stream of new customers walking through your doors. Leave aside for a minute that is is much easier to keep an existing customer, and sell to them again and again. If you want to grow, it’s new business you need.

Get New Customers

Whether you sell these or just want to drive one, it is essential to keep a steady flow of new clients, customers, or patients coming through your door. Unlikebusiness owners of only 10 years ago, small business owners today have extremely powerful tools at their disposal to get them.

You’re fortunate to live in a time with the greatest communication medium human kind has yet seen, the, as we called
it back in the ’90s, “information superhighway”. Whether Bill Gates himself could have envisioned the extent to which AL Gore’s baby has grown is open to debate, but the fact remains that one thing at which it excels is delivering information for which people are searching.

The Information Superhighway Goes Right to Your Door

Even better for you, as a business owner, is that with the proliferation of mobile devices and cheap computers, one thing that people search for the most is where to find the products and services they need. If you know how to make the Internet work for you, you can capture new prospects at precisely the most advantageous moment; when they are searching for the products and services you offer.

Customers are On Their Way to Your Store Right Now, If You Only Show Them How to Get There

It doesn’t get much better than that, except that it actually does. With the advent of mobile, there is a strong likelihood that the prospective customer is actually driving around with the need or desire to purchase your wares as they’re searching online for it.

Done properly, it is a relatively simple matter to show them that your establishment is a perfect fit for them and their desires. If they’re not searching on a mobile device, chances are they are checking from the office or home immediately before heading out the door to buy whatever it is that you’re selling.

Because humans love nothing if not convenience, and mobile prices keep plummeting even as the devices improve by leaps and bounds, mobile use is poised to overtake PC use by 2015; just around the corner. Market research powerhouse IDC predicts that by that year total internet users will number 2.7 billion, and that the annual mobile growth rate for all mobile device will be 16.6%, culminating with 1 billion smart phones being sold in 2015.

Furthermore the company said yesterday that by 2015, Android powered tablets will outpace iPAD sales, thanks to more affordable Android devices, and Amazon’s KindleFire tablet. This year, the company projects Android device sales will grow by 54%. “Soon, more users will access the Web using mobile devices than using PCs. It’s going to make the Internet a very different place.” according to an IDC spokesperson.

So, What? How Can I Use This to Drive More Customers to My Store?

What’s that trend mean for you, as an auto care provider, chiropractor, dentist, restaurant owner, or roofer who’d just like to see more customers, clients, or patients call for an appointment or walk through the front door? It is a potential gold mine, provided you position yourself to take advantage of it. It’s a case of position or perish. Those owners who’s business’s are found precisely when when people are looking will thrive, provided they are set up to handle the influx of new customers. Even if you, as a business owner have no ability or desire for growth, it will allow you to upgrade your customer base, by taking on the more desirable clients and leaving the rest for your competitors.

If you are looking for growth, as an astute business owner, you’ll go to where your prospects are looking, and increasingly, that is online. More specifically however, for local small businesses, it is not to the traditional search engine results, although those can still deliver tremendous benefits when used correctly.

What Developments Will I Be Using to Power This Customer Acquisition Revolution?

Relatively recently, Google, Bing and Yahoo introduced local listings. Thee are not to be confused with traditional search engine results. You’ve seen them near the top of the search results pages when you do a search for a local provider, with the cute, little pins stuck in a map, denoting business locations. In the case of Google results, they take up to 7 first page positions, which is the prime search engine results real estate.

This is a boon to local small businesses. People tend to stay on the first page when to comes to finding what they’re looking for, with about 85 percent of searchers clicking on a page 1 result, and around 30% picking the result in the top spot. Local search has modified this behavior somewhat, by directing people’s attention away from the normal search results (known as “organic”) and toward the local listings. Google itself says that 20% of a all searches and 40% of searches from a mobile device are location related.

At first, many business owners were slow to grasp local search significance, but that appears to be changing now, as those who find their businesses prominently featured there are reaping the rewards far beyond what they typically get from more traditionally advertising methods, such as yellow pages and newspaper ads. That kind of thing gets passed around relatively quickly in business circles.

Why does this work so much better than many of the more established methods? Simple, it’s because people are increasingly turning to the power and convenience of their smart phone, tablet, or laptop, and eschewing the older, print-based provider location methods. Judging from the number of newspapers either disappearing or going entirely online over the last decade, this trend will only increase.

In fact, according to the industry journal Editor and Publisher, the first decade of the 21tr century saw 20% of newspaper jobs vanish, and many large, established city papers, such as the Rocky Mountain News, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Tuscon Citiczen, and Minneapolis Star Tribune either went out of business entirely, filed for bankruptcy reorganization, or migrated to an Internet only format. Many o the large newspaper firms evaporated or filed for bankruptcy as well, as readers increasingly turned to the Internet for their news and ad revenues dried up.

Ad revenues went elsewhere because local merchants found they got much higher ROI from alternative marketing and advertising methods. A quick check of your local newspaper reveals that with the exception of auto dealers and theaters, few local businesses choose to advertise in a medium that doesn’t work as well as it did in days gone by.

How about the phone book advertising? Again, somewhat passe’. When was the last time you used the cumbersome volume to find a local business? Exactly the point! Few others do, either. Many marketing experts now advise eliminating the large, expensive display ads, and leaving only a single line, bold listing.

So, How Can I  Get My Business Into the Local Search Results My Customers Are Using Now?

For one thing, although it is certainly a great idea to have one, you technically do not even need a website to appear in local search results, such as Google Places for Business, or as of early March 2012, Bing Local. This is a stark departure from traditional search engine results which are listing your website. If you have no website, you have no chance to be listed. Admittedly, the “no website problem” plagues fewer and fewer business owners these days.

You may already be there, but if your business doesn’t appear, here is how to at least give it a shot. In larger metro areas some business categories are fiercely competitive, with business owners fighting tooth and nail to gain one of the coveted places listings. In Google Places, only the top 7 businesses for any search term appear, leaving the remainder fighting to either get there, or land an organic search result on the first page.

While getting a first page organic (as opposed to local search) result is certainly possible, it can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Most business owners simply don’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves, and hiring a company to do what’s necessary can cost many thousands of dollars per search term, and then you need to keep working (and spending) to keep your results there.

On the other hand, local rankings are much easier to achieve, and Google doesn’t charge to be listed in Places, unlike their pay per click platform, AdWords. You will have to do some work to get listed there however. First, you’ll have to claim your listing, and here is how to do that, so that you have it, and it doesn’t get hijacked to be sold back to you later; and yes, unfortunately, people have tried to do that.

Claiming Your Places Listing

1 – Sign up for your Google account and Places listing. – Don’t have one yet? Go to

https://support.google.com/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=142902&topic=1660711&parent=1656746&rd=1

to sign up for your Google Places listing. Click the, appropriately enough, “Sign Up for Google Places” button that is featured prominently in the center of the page. You’ll be taken to a Google account sign in page. If you have a Google account you use for your business, sign in with that. Otherwise, create on now.

Do not use your personal Google Account for your business listing, create a new one. It will be much easier to attain a featured spot in the Google Places listings with  dedicated page for your business.

2 – Set up your GP listing – Once you’ve gotten your account, it’s time to get everything set up. Log in, and you’ll notice a “List Your Business” button . You’ll enter your phone number, ad Google will check to see if they have your business listed already. If you’re unsure,they probably do not.

Once you’ve done that, you will be able to enter business details. Here is where it gets tricky. Some things, like your address and phone number are pretty self explanatory, while others may seem easy, but how you set them up now can make all the difference later. For example you are able to enter a description. This is capped at 200 characters, slightly longer than a Tweet.

It is very important that you include in your description the same terms that people use to search for your business online. You can use one of two methods to determine what those are. The first, and most technical, is to use a keyword tool, such as Google’s to list what terms people use to search for business related to what you do. The second method, and sometimes just as effective for local search results, is to ask as many people as you can what terms they would use if they were searching for what you provide.

Choosing the correct search terms is vital if you want actual customer traffic however, and should not be left to chance. Google will match your description with those terms to help determine where your listing appears in the search results. Now you can see why you have to get this right.

You’ll have the ability to enter your website address, email, and business category, as well. If you have a contracting business, such as a plumber, roofer, exterminator, or electrical contracting firm, choose the appropriate service areas and location information. Check the “Yes, this business serves customers at their locations” button. You will also want to specif a service area, either by radius or name(s).

If your business operated out of a fixed location, such as an auto care provider, medical office, accounting firm, restaurant, or any other business where customers come to your shop, click the “No, all customers come to the business location” button.

To ensure that you are the business owner, Google requires verification before publicly showing your listing. To do this, they send a post card to your address with a PIN, which you must enter in your places listing to confirm it is valid. Once this step is complete, your business places listing will be online for all to see.

Great, Now Where Am I?

Except that well, they might not see it. Sure you now have a listing, but if more than 7 other businesses in your category with your search keywords also have one, Google uses other factors to determine which is the most relevant listing to display for searchers. So, you could be forced out by competitors for many of the most advantageous search terms, even if you now have a Google Places listing.

How to Stake Your Claim at the Top

Seems like a bit of work, only to be eclipsed by your competitors, doesn’t it? It is not an unusual situation, however. Just think how many different dentists, plastic surgeons, Chinese restaurants, accountants, and transmission repair shops there are in a large, or even medium sized city, and you see where the trouble lies.

What can you do to increase your chances of appearing at the top spot, or at least somewhere in the coveted places listings? Well, you can always hire a firm to get you there, and that is certainly a popular option, especially for time strapped business owners who have enough on their plate already. If you do choose that route, you’ll be pleased to discover that it is typically much less expensive, and the results appear much faster, to pay a firm to get your Google places listing featured for your desired keywords than it is to pay for traditional search engine optimization services.

If you want to do the work yourself, here are the most important things you need to do. These are often enough to vault you past most of you competitors, many of whom have not done the extra work required.

1 –  Make sure you’re business is verified. You can have a listing, but not have been verified. Request your Google verification PIN postcard and enter the PIN in the form box when it arrives.

2 – Add Pictures and Video – In your places listing, you’ll see an area where you can enter pictures and videos describing your business and what you do. Google didn’t do this simply because they had extra space. Take them up on it. It is another factor they use to help you rank higher in Places.

Here is a powerful tip. When you upload the photos, make sure they are named with the descriptive keywords you’re trying to rank for. So, if you have a diesel repair shop in Auburn, be sure that at least one of your pictures is named something like: diesel_repair_shop_Auburn.jpg.

Make some compelling videos about your business. They don’t have to be Marty Scorsere blockbusters, just quality, descriptive videos that highlight what you do and why you’re the place to go for it. Upload those to YouTube (it’s owned by Google), and paste the video’s URL (address) into the box in your Google places account manager where it asks for you to enter video. As with your pictures, make sure the YouTube title and description match what you’re  trying to be found for.

You can add up to 10 pictures and 5 videos. Start gathering the photos and making the videos now! They will help your listing rank higher.

Next you’ll want to get something from your existing customers; reviews. These are powerful for two reasons. One is that the social proof they provide makes people feel more comfortable about your business, but the second is that those gold stars make your business really stand out among all he other places listing, making yours more likely to be clicked on, even if it is not near the top.

You’ll need at least 5 reviews before the gold stars appear. Do not, under any circumstances, forge these reviews or even submit genuine reviews yourself. Your customer needs to submit them from their own Google account.

You can incentivse them to offer an honest review, but you can not simply pay them for a good one.  Your Google account, at the very least, will be in jeopardy should you do so. Train your staff to ask your customers to leave reviews on your website, and offer them complementary coffee cards or something else for taking the time to leave an hones review. It will pay off handsomely for you.

More On How to Get Customers Into Your Shop Next Time

You should now be at least on your way to getting a flood of new customers from the Internet. In many areas, thousands of customers monthly search for exactly what you offer. It’s shame if you’re not getting some of them. Next time, I’ll examine additional strategies to help your GP listing rise to the top, in addition to other powerful ways you can help your business get, and keep customers using the Internet and powerful methods..

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