When I started my practice, I spent long hours waiting for clients to call and schedule. Why wouldn't they? I had a beautiful space, I was good at what I did, and I had a huge sign outside announced that I had arrived.I soon realized that drawing in clients takes more than simply having a place for them. Small biz owners need to be proactive. Although I was doing my part by passing out business cards and leaving information everywhere I could think of, let's face it: most people go online to find everything these days. If you don't have an online presence, you don't have a shot of attracting customers. The best thing I did for my business was to host a series of online coupons. Starting out, I simply didn't have the means to advertise. Those small online coupon companies provided me with exposure to clients that I would have needed money and time to reach. At first, the larger companies (i.e. Groupon and Living Social) wouldn't work with me-they prefer to work with businesses with some longevity. So I stuck with the little guys, and worked my way up. Now, years later, I can say that Living Social was my largest client draw to date.
I talk with small biz owners all the time who use these online incentives, and many have the same complaint: Groupon and Living Social take half, and then the couponers never come back. That is a lot of work for very little money.
I don't see it that way at all. Why? Well, at this point, approximately 80-90% of those Living Social clients have come back. When I opened, I offered free mini-sessions on Sundays, just to give people a taste of what acupuncture was like. I wasn't making money from it, but I was investing in my business. Most of those clients came back, making it worth it for me.
And this is how I view my Living Social experience. That initial loss was well worth bringing in clients who never would have heard of me, otherwise.
So why is it that so many business owners never see their coupon clients after their initial visit? Here is my perspective:
- Many business owners don't focus on building a connection to the client. When you start seeing a ton of new clients at once, you can do the easy thing and line them up, getting them in and out. That way, you will get your money and be ready to move on to the next promotion. That's fine, if you never want to see them again. When I run a promotion, I do it with the intention of attracting consistent clients. I am very busy, but I reserve the same amount of time for my couponers as I do for my regulars. These clients get the same experience as those who pay full price; I never rush them or make them feel as if they are less important because they haven't paid as much. And when they realize how enjoyable the sessions are, they are happy to rebook.
- You need to be honest about maintenance. In this business, there is a true benefit to repeated sessions. If you have an issue that needs work, you will likely need more than one session. And if you are coming in feeling great, occasional reinforcement sessions will keep you in that place. I tell my clients what my recommendations are regarding frequency of treatment, but I don't push. Everyone has their comfort level as far as investment in time and money. I simply tell them what I honestly believe will be best for them, and leave them to decide. I've been doing this for years; this might be their first time trying it out. People want a little guidance, without being forced. If they sense that you genuinely know and care about what will be most beneficial to them, they will be happy to continue coming.
- Keep in touch. At the beginning of every visit, I ask patients if they would like to be on my mailing list. At this point, I have had exactly 2 people say no. I now have hundreds of people on this list, and send out a monthly newsletter with interesting info about holistic health. Quite often, I will hear back from those who I haven't seen in a while, because the newsletter puts me back into their head. It's a nice reminder for people, and I try to keep the info entertaining and timely. I see a noticeable increase in calls after the monthly newsletter; in fact, I haven't done one in a while because I'm simply too busy to handle the additional influx at this point!
- Respond promptly, or explain why you aren't. Depending on the promotion, there may be hundreds of people calling you at once. At daunting as it may be to reply to all of these people, you are the one who made the decision to run a promotion...and remember, this is what you wanted! You now have hundreds of opportunities to prove your worth and attain new clients. Don't start off on the wrong foot by disappearing once the phone starts to ring. Customers with coupons find it frustrating to call, over and over, without a response. I do my best to never let anyone wait more than 24 hours for a return call. This starts everything off on the right foot. People are far more tolerant of waiting to get in when they receive a callback, even if only to explain that it may be weeks before an appointment is available. Which brings me to my last piece of advice:
- Cap if you need to. If you only work alone, figure out how many customers it is possible to service within a 4-6 month time frame (Living Social provides 4 months, but I believe it varies.) If you can only see 20 extra clients a week, what will happen if 600 people buy vouchers? Disaster and heartache. Do yourself a favor and limit the amount of coupons out there. Participating in an online coupon program is supposed to bring in fresh, new business...not to infuriate people because there is no chance in hell that they will ever be able to actually get in.