When you’re an online seller, you have the ability to reach people all around the world from the comfort of your home, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever leave your home. On the contrary, getting out into the world, meeting potential customers and networking is still one of the best ways to grow your business.
One of the reasons face-to-face is so powerful is because it requires the other person to pay attention and engage. A customer visiting your website might be pulled away by an email pop-up or a real human being calling them away from the computer. When a customer visits your craft booth and you engage her in conversation, she’s not likely to pull out her phone and start answering emails. (I hope not!)
Another reason in-person meets are so powerful is because it’s a chance to put your products into a customer’s hands. You could be the world’s greatest photographer but seeing an image on a website doesn’t come close to the experience of trying on a necklace, feeling the weight, seeing how it looks against your skin. Closing a browser window is easy, but handing an item back to a seller with a “no thanks” is a lot harder.
Since most of you are crafters and artists, you’ve probably already had the craft fair / art show experience. That’s great. Schedule more shows this year, they’re important but don’t stop there. If you want to grow your business, you need to widen your circle of non-virtual friends.
From Save the Whales to Stop the Show
As soon as you’re done reading this post, head over to Meetup.com and search for groups in your area. If you find a group for small business merchants, join but don’t stop there. Think about your ideal customer then target groups that match. For example, if you make environmentally friendly products join the group that raises money for environmental charities. If you create and sell high-end jewelry or works of art, look for groups that engage in luxury activities or take regular trips to museums and galleries.
One word of caution, you’re not joining these groups with the express purpose of selling to the members, that’s like real-life spamming. The goal is to widen your potential customer pool by making connections with a wider variety of people. Let’s say you make one-of-a-kind vases. At your third meetup, a member mentions that she’s a decorator and she’s working on a house for client with impeccable taste. That’s an opening. You hand her your card, say you’d love to talk business then let it go. Chances are, she’ll check out your website when she gets home and then your work has to do the rest of the talking for you.
Last week, my husband started a conversation with a stranger in a parking lot because he liked the man’s SciFi movie jacket. Incredibly, it turns out that they had actually met online a few times because they had similar interests. . .interests that led the man to hire my husband not a week later. The conversation in the parking lot wasn’t what sold him. The man made his decision after he reviewed my husband’s work online but he wouldn’t have even seen the website if they hadn’t met in person first.
I’m not saying you should stand in a parking lot and hand out your business cards to everyone who walks by. But you do need to open your eyes and your mind to the possibilities all around you. Your next customer could be the woman you see every day at the coffee shop, the bank teller, the moms at the soccer game, the neighbor you’ve never spoken to. Starting a conversation can be scary but it can also lead to amazing things.
Capturing the Crowd
Here are three quick tips to help you make the most of those face-to-face contacts.
- Always have a business card on you with your web address, email address and a line or image explaining what you do.
- Start with a compliment or a question and keep it short. Let the other person decide if they want to keep talking. If not, just move on.
- Look the other person in the eye and smile when you talk. It’s incredibly disarming.
I want you to speak to one new person this week. It can be a brief encounter with a stranger or coffee with a meet-up group. Just take that first step and learn from what happens. I can’t promise that you’ll find a customer the first time out but there’s always value in meeting someone new.