Have you ever found yourself feeling totally overwhelmed by the prospect of finding new customers, without spending a ton of capital?

If so, you’re not alone.

We recently surveyed our email list and found that the biggest challenge facing most of you, is finding new customers.

In response, we’re bringing you 12 ideas you can use to drum up new business without draining your budget.

…In fact, most of these tips don’t depend on a marketing or ad budget at all (though if that’s what you’re looking for, this is the post for you).

12 easy and cost-effective ways to find new customers:

1. Start with who you know

You’d be amazed at how your network can expand when you put yourself out there. To begin with, make sure that your family and friends all know what it is you do. Be open and direct: tell them you’re looking for new customers and ask if they know of anyone who may be a great fit for your services. Your aunt Barb may not be your ideal client, but chances are her accountant or hairstylist knows someone who does! You’ll never know if you don’t ask—so don’t skip this obvious but important step.

And remember, sometimes your friends and family members want to help you out but just don’t know how to get started. Be sure you have a nice website or LinkedIn profile they can easily point people to, or leave a few extra business cards for them to pass out if the opportunity arises. Make it easy for them. And when they do connect you to a potential client, don’t forget to thank them for talking you up!

2. Join the right Facebook and LinkedIn groups

Whether your business caters to brides-to-be, cooking enthusiasts, outdoorsy types, or local entrepreneurs, ask yourself, “Where do they probably hang out online? What are their interests, and which groups might they be part of?” Find the Facebook and LinkedIn groups built around those interests, and be sure they’re a good fit for both your personality and your business offerings.

For example, a local plumber may join neighborhood or community Facebook groups, a personal trainer may join local workout and outdoor-oriented groups, and an accountant may join an entrepreneurship group where she knows a lot of small business owners likely hang out. And as you’re joining interest-oriented groups, don’t overlook the obvious: like your college alumni network!

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When you join a group, take the time to gauge its activity level and overall atmosphere—how are people interacting with one another? Once you’ve done a little observing, introduce yourself and what you do for a living. Keep it friendly, informal, and stay away from blatant self-promotion (which can get your post removed in some groups).

Check in with the group regularly to respond to people’s requests for advice, help, and recommendations—especially if they’re around your area of expertise. You can also use the group to ask questions and get feedback from members.

3. Use Twitter to find clients in real time

If you’re a busy small business owner, you don’t have all day to hang out on Twitter. But you can make time for the instantly rewarding Twitter search function. Just type in a few keywords, and voila: you tap into a stream of potential clients actively looking for your services!

Here’s an example. If you’re an accountant, you can run a search with these phrases:

  • Looking for an accountant
  • Need accountant in [city]
  • Need tax help
  • Hiring an accountant

…and so on. Try out a few relevant phrases that include your profession or service (e.g. accountant, wedding planner, dog walker, financial advisor) and your city or town. You’ll get real-time results from people who probably need your help ASAP.

(Pro tip: If you’re like us and you love automating business tasks, try out Warble. It can run regular searches for you and pop them in your inbox each day.)

4. Contribute a guest post

Since you’re already thinking about where your audience hangs out online, go a little further and come up with a list of blogs they’re likely to read. You can start simply by asking your Facebook and LinkedIn groups about favorite blog recommendations. You can also do a little research via Alltop to discover the top-trending blogs in a variety of industries.

Once you’ve got a few blogs on your radar, reach out and ask if you can guest post. This can be a win-win for you and for the blog owner: they’re often in search of fresh ideas and content, and will appreciate a thoughtful pitch from an industry expert. And you, of course, can build your audience (and attract possible customers) by tapping into theirs. Be sure to provide a brief bio blurb to go along with your post, and a link back to your website to help with SEO.

5. Work LinkedIn like a boss

If you already know exactly who your target customer is—whether it’s general managers at mid-range hotels or purchasing managers at manufacturing companies—you can hone in on relevant leads using LinkedIn. LinkedIn lets you search for potential customers by geographic region, job title, and degrees of separation from you. This is a great (free) way to start building your list of potential customers.

To take things up a notch, you can also subscribe to LinkedIn Sales Navigator. It gives you more focused search features, like the ability to find companies that are growing, zoom in on zip-code specific leads (rather than just those in a general geographic region), and search for people based on interests you have in common. Sales Navigator also does some of the legwork for you by suggesting new leads based on your search history.

6. Ask (don’t wait for) referrals

Don’t just sit and wait for referrals—ask for them. Chances are that you have plenty of delighted customers and clients who’d be pleased to pass your name along to friends and colleagues. But life is busy. So people who otherwise love you may not always remember to show it.

Give them a gentle nudge by asking for a referral. You can say, “Hey, if you loved what we did for you, we’d love it if you could pass our name along. Do you know anyone else who could use your product/services?”

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Sometimes people just need a little prompt to remember that actually, they do know someone who’d love doing business with you, and they’ll usually be happy to pass your name along.

7. Seek out fellow alumni

School spirit is a powerful thing, which is why so many people are happy to connect with others who attended the same college or university.

Your alma mater likely has a thriving network of alumni who’d be happy to support you, so take a look through their alumni database to reach out to people in relevant industries. Just don’t overtly pitch your product or service: that can feel spammy. Instead, ask for advice or relevant feedback.

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For example, maybe you’re a fledgling startup targeting companies like the one they work at. In that case, you could ask if they’re willing to give you a few pointers on how to better hone your pitch for that industry.

8. Team up with another business

Think about partnering with businesses that already serve your ideal customer. For example, if you bake wedding cakes, you could partner up with a local florist or wedding photographer to help send more business to everyone. If you train young athletes, perhaps you could team up with a local sports supply store. Or if you offer SAT tutoring, why not work with other tutors and teachers in your area—from violin teachers to Spanish tutors—to help increase everyone’s network?

At the simplest level, you can send referrals each other’s’ way. But you could also partner on promotions. For instance, a baker might offer 10% off wedding cakes for customers of that local flower shop, or an SAT tutor might offer a complimentary session to anyone referred by other teachers and tutors in the area.

9. Give people the answers they’re looking for

Sites like Quora and Clarity are full of people who could be your potential customers, all asking questions you could be answering. Take a quick look at what people are talking about on each site, and if their questions overlap with your area of expertise, take a moment to craft a well-considered answer. It’s a helpful gesture right now—but it could turn into a lucrative business relationship later.

Speaking of which: Be sure you fill out your profile and include a link to your website so that people who appreciate your answers can easily follow up with you (and possibly become your newest customers).

10. Google your business

Google My Business makes you extra-attractive to people who are already looking for a business like yours, especially via Google Maps. This is a must-do step for any small business with a physical locale, like an attorney’s office or a dog grooming parlor.

Think about how often you search for businesses in your area using Google Maps. Now search for yourself: what do you see? If you’ve already got Google My Business set up, congrats! But if you don’t, take a few minutes now to make your search result shine: you can add photos, opening hours, and reviews from around the web.

11. Make your community a priority

We recently gave you the scoop on how to network within your community, effortlessly surfacing leads and potential opportunities while also making a genuine contribution to your local area. Whether you host a community fundraiser, support a local sports team, or get out and grill during the neighborhood block party, don’t overlook these simple (and often fun) ways to get in front of people, meet new friends, and possibly even strike up new business opportunities.

12. Let the press come to you

You may not have a dedicated PR person or budget, but you can still sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and keep an eye out for the occasional opportunity to be mentioned in the press.

HARO was originally set up as a way for journalists to find sources for stories. Here’s how it works: when you register for a free HARO account, you’ll get media opportunities sent to you via three daily emails. If a journalist is doing a story relevant to your industry, you can then get in touch and potentially be a source. For example, if they’re looking for someone to weigh in on new tax laws (and you happen to be an accountant), you could get a little press coverage in return for your expert opinion.

Note that the basic HARO subscription is free, but it sends you all the media opportunities out there. To fine-tune what you get each day, sign up for an upgraded version. You can then set up keyword alerts to filter out relevant opportunities.

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Irena Ashcraft

Irena Ashcraft

Irena Ashcraft is a freelance writer who helps brands connect with their biggest fans in ways that are fresh, relatable, and fun. She loves people, tech, education, and the creative hustle.

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