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Customer Acquisition Plan for 2023 - 5 steps for freelancers and SMBs

Do you get the chills when thinking about "customer acquisition"? How do you even get started with prospecting? Where are all those potential customers hanging out? And how on earth can you create time for this in your overbusy schedule as a solopreneur or small business? 

The answer is simple: follow the 5 steps of Jean-François Bodart’s customer acquisition plan. Below you can find his advice based on his experience in business development. 

The 5 steps of a customer acquisition plan at a glance

Step 1: Prepare your customer acquisition plan with 4 questions

Every entrepreneur knows that prospecting is the first important step towards more sales. But as you also know, there is a vast difference between business knowledge and daily life. 

Look at things from a different perspective to truly grasp the importance of prospecting for your business. Jean-François gave us this simple yet powerful tip.

Add NOT to questions you, as an entrepreneur, take for granted 

Give it a try:

  • What will happen to your business if you do NOT prospect? 

  • What will happen if you do NOT find new customers?

  • What will happen if your leads do NOT engage with you?

The answers are shocking, right? 

Instead of visualising a reward (growth and more sales), you picture the negative consequences of skipping the acquisition process of new customers

The word NOT makes you think differently about the obvious. Prospecting deserves a spot in your agenda. 

Now, hang on. 

Don't reach for your phone to call cold leads. And don’t jump on the social media highway right away.  

Remember: the first step of your customer acquisition plan is a proper preparation

And this starts with some introspection and this first question…

#1 Who is your focus customer?

Marketers speak another language. For sure, you have come across terms like “niche”, “target audience” and “ideal customer profile”. A "focus customer" is in fact the same. But it highlights what you, as a business owner, need to do.

To grow your business fast, you need to focus on customers you prefer to work with

Whatever country you are living in, you are not the only freelancer or small business. 

The competition is fierce.

And luckily the pool of leads is huge. 

But unless you are a big tech giant, you will never be able to serve everybody. 

There is no point in even trying to reach all companies with your marketing messages. The same applies to consumers. 

If you try to be heard by everybody, nobody will hear you 

So, who do you actually need to reach? 

Describing your focus customer in detail is important and easier than you might think. 

Start with as wide a target group as possible and then narrow down. 

For instance: 

I prefer to work with this type of customers: 

  • Freelancers (too general, but a good start)

  • Freelancers who offer graphic design services businesses. 

  • Freelancers who offer graphic design services businesses in the pharma industry.

Now, you have defined a clear focus target group. You can add as many details as you want. But keep in mind that this will also shrink your pool of leads. 

Ready? Let’s move on to the next question.

#2 What problems is your ideal client struggling with? 

Understanding the troubles of your ideal customer requires research. And that takes time. Unfortunately, this is a limited resource. 

It’s tempting to skip this strategic step and just sell what you are offering now.

A better strategy is to first dive deep into understanding your focus customer's problems

Let’s illustrate the true power of this question for your customer acquisition plan with an example.

Two families, let’s call them Doe and Doakes, are living in the same area. Both have a garden and they are unhappy with the way it is now. 

You might assume that these families have the same problem: a garden that doesn’t fit their needs. 

If you dig deeper (pun intended), you quickly discover there is more to it.

The Doe’s are retired and want to sell their house. An upgrade of their neglected garden would increase the selling price. But they don’t want to spend all their savings on a gardener. 

The Doakes, on the other hand, have young children. Besides a playing ground, their dream garden also contains a garden office for the mom. The father is not interested in mowing the lawn every weekend. 

Same solution (landscaping the garden), distinct problems.

To understand your target audience's problems, you can use a myriad of sources. 

  • Talk with your existing customers. A simple CRM makes it easy to filter your most valuable customers and call them one by one. Add some notes to make sure everybody of your team is kept in the loop. 

note-in-crm.png

  • Read customer reviews and pay attention to negative reviews. These contain hints on what customers care about. 

  • Do the same for any complaints you may have received. Even if you don’t use a ticket system, you can check your emails, social media, etc.

If you are starting up or launching a new product or service, you cannot rely on a customer base. You will need to consult other sources of information to understand the problems of your target audience. 

  • Spy on your competitors' social media channels. Focus on troubles and solutions. Ignore generic comments such as “Great team!” because they only leave you guessing what’s so great about them.  

  • Research Facebook groups and forums. These public treasure troves are filled with conversations about the toughest problems your ideal customer is facing. 

Collect all the problems and then move on with the next question. 

#3 What solution can you offer to (new) customers?

Once you understand the deeper problems of your prospects, you need to critically review your offer. Focus on how you can help your prospects

That’s easier said than done, especially if you have been around for a while. 

Think beyond your end product or services. 

Take a break and look around your work environment. 

Every product you see, every software program you use, solves a problem. 

Even a frame against the wall or that cactus in a pot solves a problem. It makes your environment cosier. 

On to the last question. 

The toughest one…

#4 Why would customers choose you?

Customers don’t choose blindly. They look for a good reason to pick you as their provider. You can help them in their decision making by giving them good reasons. 

Based on your analysis of customer problems, you can determine your strengths and highlight them during the customer acquisition process. 

Customers decide on different grounds. Often your price is not the only, or most important aspect. 

Successful companies stand out from the crowd

If you are different from your competitors, people will remember you. Therein lies a great opportunity for you. 

If you are, for instance, a graphical designer, your clients may prefer to work with you because you deliver designs before the deadline. 

To summarise: 

  • Define your ideal customer.

  • Understand their problems.

  • Offer an appropriate solution.

  • Know your value and strength.

Before you roll up your sleeves, you need to take one more item into consideration… 

Bonus question: Why is NOW a good time to choose for you?  

Research has shown that only 3% of prospects are about to make a purchase. 

Let that sink in: 

97% of your prospects are not ready to buy NOW

Although that may sound discouraging, think for a moment about your current situation. 

  • Maybe you are a homeowner. However, that doesn't mean you want to have solar panels installed NOW.

  • Maybe you own a company car. But that doesn't mean you want to buy an electric car NOW.

Before you buy, you go through a process of informing, exploring and comparing.

You want to be prepared before you decide.

Your customers are following the same path. They may not be ready to buy now. 

So, all of this preparation was for nothing? Of course not. 

You are now ready for the next step of your customer acquisition plan. 

Step 2: Find new customers where they are hanging out

When you have a clear picture of your ideal customer, it’s time to find them. You can get into contact with leads online and / or offline. 

That is still like finding a needle in a haystack, unless you apply the following advice.  

Acquiring customers on social media

Nowadays, everyone is on social media. Yet, not all platforms are the same. If you want to acquire customers, you need to be active on platforms where your leads are spending their time. 

Focus on 1 social media channel

It is tempting to create a profile for as many social media channels as possible. As a freelancer or small business owner, you probably did this too at one moment. 

After all, the higher your visibility, the more likely someone will become a client. 

Alas, that is a strategic mistake. 

Luckily, you can fix it. 

  • Instagram is the best choice if you are a hairdresser or even an architect. 

  • If your focus customers are young adults, TikTok is a good choice. Of course, if making videos is not your thing, you won’t gain followers, who can turn into customers. 

  • Etc.

Choose your platform wisely. If you believe choosing is losing, think again.

Apply the 80/20 rule

If you are not familiar with the 80/20 rule, it will quickly become clear with an example.

80% of your prospects are on 20% of social media channels

Let’s look at this from another perspective. 

You only miss 20% of leads if you are NOT present on all social media channels

Besides, what would you do if suddenly 1000s of people would send you a request for a quote? 

Choose a strategy that suits you

There are 2 ways to use social media in your customer acquisition plan. You can also combine them and build a powerful promotion machine.

  1. Either you pay for ads. You can easily outsource this and focus on billable hours. Our time tracker makes things even easier for you.

  2. Or you create your own content and spend time on the platforms. Prevent giving the impression you are always available to your customers. This route is labour intensive. Luckily,  Jean-Francois shared a valuable tip on that, too. 

Repurpose your content on social media

You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Instead of creating and posting new content, you may as well reuse old posts. 

  • Every 2-3 months, review your old content.

  • Make some small tweaks.

And you are good to go. 

Doesn't that make you sound like a lazy parrot repeating itself? 

The answer to this is 3X “No” 

  1. People quickly forget what they have read, seen, or heard before.

  2. It takes time for a message to sink in. By repeating your message, people will gradually get it. 

  3. You give new followers and connections a chance to discover your content. 

It’s hard to imagine how businesses thrived before the era of social media. 

And yet, old school customer acquisitions strategies are gaining popularity... 

Cold calls

Cold calling may sound like a prehistoric strategy to approach prospects. Yet it is on the rise again and there is a good reason for this.

Successful companies approach things differently

Everyone is trying hard to make the most of social media. There is a lot of activity and noise, resulting in an overabundance of information.

Prospects find it hard to decide whom to follow. 

A phone call with prospects, on the other hand, is more personal

  • People hear your voice,

  • can ask questions directly

  • and get to know you and your offer better. 

To boost your cold call campaigns, apply the following 3 valuable tips.

Never ask if you are calling at a bad time

If you are cold calling leads, never ask them if you are calling at a bad time. If that’s not the case, your prospect would not have picked up the phone. 

As soon as your conversation starts, clarify that your call will only last two minutes. This will take away the stress at the other end of the line. 

Call lukewarm leads

A lukewarm lead is somebody who is not a complete stranger. That’s different from cold calls where people may never have heard from your small or freelance business before.

Calling a list of businesses you found on, for instance, the golden pages, is less efficient than calling people who… 

  • filled in a form to download a brochure from your site.

  • interacted with you on social media

  • subscribed to your newsletter.

Offline networking events

Offline networking events are another great place to meet B2B (business to business) prospects.

A prerequisite, of course, is that you feel comfortable starting a conversation with strangers

If you have answered all questions in step 1 thoroughly, you will have an advantage over many of the participants. 

After all, you know what problems the attendees are facing and you offer an appropriate solution.

We need to make one important remark here: 

Networking is not the same as selling 

Besides, the art of selling is not the same as it was before...

Step 3: Successful selling in 2023

The internet turned the traditional way of selling upside down. Never in history has connecting, discovering and comparing new products as easy as it is now. 

Yet, this has led to new problems. 

The abundance of information and options causes anxiety

People are afraid they will make wrong choices. 

Even if prospects have finally decided what they want, they still have doubts. 

Selling is the art of reassuring people they have made the right choice

That's an enormous difference with how sales people learned the tricks of the trade. Persuasion was a powerful weapon for sales calls, but this no longer works.

Make prospects feel comfortable and your sales will boost. 

Step 4: Outline all details of your plan to acquire customers

A plan without details is just an idea. When you are on a mission to acquire new customers, pay close attention to every detail. 

In your agenda, you can block time to focus entirely on your… focus customer. 

Double focus will lead to more results, faster. 

Especially when you apply the following tips from business development expert Jean-François Bodart. 

Appoint a responsible to follow up on prospects

Small teams can divide the tasks of customer acquisition, but there is also a risk. If you don’t explicitly agree on who will follow up prospects, nobody may do it in the end. 

Don’t assume that somebody else will do it, but appoint a person in charge of following up on leads. 

It also helps to use a tool such as CoManage. Every member of your team can, for instance, access all pending quotations at a glance. 

Example-offers.png

Avoid the yo-yo effect while prospecting

The yo-yo effect in customer acquisition is similar to the yo-yo effect of dieting. You invest time and money in recruiting clients. At some point, you have enough of them to fill in your planning for the next months and you focus on other aspects of your business. 

This cycle is exhausting and stressful

Recruiting clients is more efficient when you spread it over a period of time. 

You can’t build trust and a good reputation overnight. 

Once you have achieved this, you can almost execute your customer acquisition plan without having to lift a finger yourself… 

Step 5: Turn customers into brand ambassadors

Word of mouth is the holy marketing grail for every small business and freelancer. 

But here, too, a major shift has happened… because of the internet. 

As you know from step 3, people (and companies) want to be reassured they made the right choice before they buy. 

Regardless of your power to persuade prospects, people will always doubt what you claim about yourself. 

When your conversation smells too much like sales, you will find it harder to sound convincing. 

This is why testimonials are so important for any business. 

What others say about you is more credible than what you say about yourself 

Unfortunately, that can go two ways. 

How to deal with negative customer reviews?

Customers are not afraid to publicly share negative experiences. They feel mistreated and some people quickly seize an online opportunity for revenge. 

At that point, the damage is done. Your reputation is now at stake. 

Prevention is better than cure. Staying on top of how your customers feel about your business is therefore essential, even for small businesses and freelancers. 

• Never ignore unhappy customers.

• Check whether a negative review was actually posted by a customer. Fake reviews are the new form of spam and deception. The same goes for excellent reviews, but more on that later. 

• Start a dialogue. This differs from a discussion. Kill your emotions and focus on facts only. 

• Don't fall into the trap of "bribing" unhappy customers. Before you know you risk losing your credibility. 

• Follow up your quotes systematically. That way, you can spot troubles before they happen. 

Jean-François Bodart shared two more excellent tips for turning your customers into ambassadors for your brand. 

Guide customers to write a review

Satisfied customers are strange creatures. They often react differently than you had hoped. You might get compliments from them on the phone or via email. Although that feels nice, it also stays under the radar. 

Be proactive, but don't just ask your customer if they want to write a review. 

Give them step-by-step instructions, but never try to influence their opinion. 

Even if a review is not as shining as you had expected, you will learn from it to become even better

Don't reward customer reviews

Incentives, or rewards for writing a review is a popular technique. But this is a double-edged sword.  

If you go that road, your customers or leads may suspect that all those excellent reviews are fake. 

Put your customer acquisition plan into action

Apply the 5-steps of the customer acquisition plan. Shortcuts won’t bring you closer to your destination, so stick to the order as described above. 

Remember that a plan is a general outline. 

You will need to be creative and fill in the blanks yourself. 

But that’s part of the fun. Your business is unique and looking for prospects is a great opportunity to show this to the world. 

And while you are doing so, why not connect with us on social media? You can find the links to our channels at the bottom of the page.

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