Recently, I wrote a post called It’s All About YOU.

(That’s the page you might want to bookmark and visit later as it was made especially for our readers to share themselves and their questions — no expiration date!).

Today, I address a question from Karen Vaisman of Karen Vaisman Photography (actually she has two questions…I’ve saved her second one for the end):

How do we find qualified clients in this economy?

My answer? Finding the customers who are ready to buy, is the same process in any economy. It starts with understanding them from the inside-out. If you don’t know what makes them tick, what their biggest problem or desire is, and what they do when they’re not considering your products or services, then you’ve got a huge problem. You won’t know what your ideal customer wants to buy, what she’s willing to pay for it, or most importantly, how to reach her, until you find out. Time for some market research.

Market Research 101

As small business owners, we’re extremely lucky. We’ve got a resource at our disposal that entrepreneurs a generation ago would kill for. I’m talking about the Internet.

In particular, that fabulous search engine, Google. Start there. Use Google’s keyword tool to see what people are searching for. Use search to get creative with your questions. In order to sleuth out what’s going on with your target market, you’ve got to get good at asking questions. Here are a few to get you started:

  • How many people are in my target market? If your business is local-only, this is a lot easier than finding a world-wide number. Start with your local Chamber of Commerce or local government website. They’ve usually got the latest census data. Why do you want to know this? Because you need to figure out if your market is even viable. Will there be enough people who want what you’re selling?
  • Where does my target market hang out? If you’re looking for families, where do families go? If you’re looking for newlyweds, where could you find them? Usually, you’ll come up with at least a dozen different ideas — some offline, some online. That’s good. Now you can go there and start conversations with them.
  • What does my target market worry about most? Forget about your product or service for a minute, and listen to what your ideal customers are saying. You may have to actually ask them a few questions yourself, and that’s okay. Actually, it’s a fabulous opportunity for you to get in front of them without being all salesy. You’re just doing a survey. No strings attached. Ask them things like, “What websites do you visit most often?” or “What time of year would you be most likely to purchase X?” Put together a short list of about 10 questions. Easy peasy. And guess what? Now they know about you. And you didn’t have to advertise or anything.

The next step is to put together a list. The list should include two parts:

  1. Actual names and contact info for those you might consider your ideal customers.
  2. Contact info for other businesses and organizations (websites, too!) that your ideal customers are most likely to frequent.

This list should always be growing. This is the list you’ll nurture night and day. This list will guide all your other marketing efforts. It will keep you on the straight and narrow and help you decide where to best spend your marketing dollars. In short, your list is sacred.

Now that you’ve got your market research out of the way, it’s time to tackle the next challenge: your marketing strategy. Our current economy (whatever that is) only impacts your strategy to the extent that you allow it to.

Yes, people tend to be more careful with their money when things are shaky. That might mean you need to get creative with your products and services. Or, it might mean nothing.

It all depends on what your market research tells you. News reports this week were giddy over the fact that previous sales records for Black Friday and Cyber Monday had been broken.

Clearly, there is money to be spent. [And one thing I know for sure: if there’s something I really, really want to buy, I’ll figure out how to get me the money!] The trick now is to find those people who really, really want what you’re selling. (Again, the strategy is the same no matter what the news tells you.)

Outline Your Strategy

First off, make sure you have a SMART goal for your marketing. Everything you do needs to be watched and analyzed, and you won’t be able to do that unless you choose a specific, measurable and realistic goal (e.g., increase revenue by 10% over the next 12 months, etc.).

Then, know what your budget is. Don’t know what to spend on marketing? Check out this video I made recently:

Once you know what you have to work with, you can outline a strategy that is aligned with both your goals AND your resources. For instance, if you’ve got more time than money, you can do a lot more networking (online, in-person, or both).

If you’ve got more money than time, you’ll want to find the most cost effective way to get yourself noticed. And that will depend on who your ideal customer is and where they hang out (See? it all goes back to your research).

Create smaller, bite size goals that (when you reach them) will help you reach your larger goal. And then, once you’ve found your ideal customers, build relationships with them.

Here’s the Big Secret

Honestly, most of the time people fail at marketing because they don’t actually do it. I’ve done numerous surveys of my own, and repeatedly people tell me they know what they need to do. They just don’t know how to get it done. Some times it’s a lack of technical knowledge.

In that case, you’ll want to consult with an expert who can teach or coach you through the process. But often, it’s just plain scheduling. (If you need some help eating that artichoke, here are a few tips you might find helpful.)

I know you were probably looking for a magic bullet or secret recipe, Karen. But there isn’t one. It’s just plain old, hard work. Oh, and lots of research!

Speaking of research, here’s Karen’s second question:

Are people more interested in digital images for Facebook or are there more people who would like a finely crafted wall portrait?

Be helpful and let her know what you think in a comment below. Oh, and if you’d like some help with your marketing, let’s have a conversation.