Drawing attention to your business is tough! Or at least it can seem that way if you’re not well-versed in the art of outreach.

We talk a lot about customer retention, customer experience, and consumer behavior. But none of that means anything if you can’t acquire customers in the first place!

Speaking from personal experience, getting your first handful of customers – or even just gaining new ones – is one of the toughest things to do. Going from 0 to 1 is a more formidable task than going from 1 to 10. (And I say that with respect to how tricky it can be to scale a business too.)

In this post, I’ll talk about some outreach techniques to help you grow your business. Master these techniques and you can:

  • Gain new customers
  • Increase revenue
  • Expand your network
  • Find new sources of inspiration, and
  • Gain a competitive edge
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Outreach: the basic idea

Let’s start with a quick definition of outreach. Simply put, outreach is a method you can use to build relationships with people. That includes influencers, content marketers, and the media. It also includes other businesses and potential partners. And, of course, it includes potential customers and the community at large.

An introvert myself, my natural inclination is to build my business like a hermit kingdom. Yet isolation is dangerous in all contexts, not the least of which is business! It’s dangerous to go alone, and you need to build a community not just of fans, but also peers, mentors, and media mavens.

Why outreach matters

The idea of building a community sounds nice and utopian, but what does it actually mean for your financial statements? Will it put money in your pocket in the long term?

Yes, it will, if given enough time. Here are some specific reasons that outreach matters.

It’s good for SEO

A lot of your outreach is going to be taking place online. Being communicative and building links on the internet is a time-tested way to boost your rankings in Google, which in turn pulls in leads for your business.

It increases your reach

Sure, the end goal of business is ultimately to get conversions. Getting seen by a lot of people is a benefit in its own right, though, and it positions you well to get the sales you desire eventually.

It expands your network

Having friends and colleagues you can rely on is good for business and for life in general. You can always trade skills and work together for each others’ mutual benefit. As a natural outcome of well-intended outreach, you will build a network.

It sustains momentum

When your business is starting to grow, don’t take it for granted! Everything slows down and stops at some point. When organic sales are coming in fast, it’s a good time to do outreach too. Your outreach efforts help you keep pace.

It helps you gain a competitive edge

Having a robust network is a really good competitive advantage, because your competitors cannot copy it without a tremendous amount of work. That which is hard to do in the first place is hard to copy!

It opens your eyes to new opportunities

By taking the time to talk to others, you will get a feel for what is going on in your industry and society as a whole. That means you will hear about new opportunities early enough to take action.

It improves your reputation

We’re social creatures. When you know someone personally, you don’t see their business as a business. You see their business as the product of an individual’s hopes, dreams, and effort. The same principle applies to you – by merely reaching out to others, they will be predisposed to see you in a more positive light.

It educates you on how to make a better customer experience

By talking to both your customers and industry professionals, you can see weaknesses in your business offerings and improve them.

It makes you less vulnerable on social media

Neil Patel made this point on his blog, and I think it’s a good one. Companies that take the time to give back to their community will be a lot less likely to see mean comments on their ads and posts. In others words, if you reach out to others, they won’t see you as some uncaring, unfeeling brand.

First time marketing your small business?
We know marketing can be confusing. Download our free marketing checklist for advice.

Why outreach isn’t talked about as much as you would expect

With all the wonderful benefits of outreach, you would expect to hear its praises sung far and wide online. In my research, though, that’s just not the case.

So what’s going on here?

Well, for one, outreach is just plain complicated. That makes it hard to write about and talk about in a meaningful way beyond just saying “network with people.” That’s great advice, to be sure, but it veers into the cliche.

Another piece of the puzzle is that outreach does not directly increase revenue. It sets the stage for making sales, but it doesn’t actually make them. Hence, it’s easy to ignore.

Lastly, outreach consists of both online and offline efforts. Yet if you go to the search engines and look for articles about outreach, how-to guides for online-only outreach will outrank the others. That’s because the folks writing those guides are well-versed in SEO, link-building, and all the other important techniques needed to rank high.

This last point is complicated but worth remembering. It’s unfortunate that most tutorials focus on link-building and content marketing to the exclusion of other tips.

5 elements of good outreach

As outreach is essentially about building relationships, the way you will do it depends on your method of communication. Means of communication frequently fluctuate based on technology, social norms, and circumstance. My advice to you is not to get hung up on which app or social media site is best. Focus on the evergreen basics first!

1. Figure out who you want to reach out to

Before you conduct any kind of outreach activities, take a moment to think about your intention. There are four basic categories of people can reach out to – media, businesses, customers, and society at large. Decide which category you want to focus on with a given effort.

Next, think about the typical individual you would be reaching out to. If you’re reaching out to journalists, think about what kind of pitch a journalist would find intriguing. What would make their job easiest?

Likewise, if you’re reaching out to a business, make sure you have a solid offer for them. Decision-makers in business won’t just help you out from a spirit of altruism. You need to scratch their back for them to scratch yours.

If you’re reaching out to customers, take a moment to make a buyer persona. That means basically imagining your typical customer as a real person with a name, age, income, personality, hobbies and interests, fears and loves. In short, you’re making a D&D sheet for your ideal customer.

2. Do something worth paying attention to

The world is overflowing with corporations doing garbage things that nobody cares about. Don’t be like that!

There are two elements to doing something worth paying attention to. First, you need to create value for the person you’re reaching out to. You need to make their life somehow better for having met you. Second, you need to be interesting. Everybody gets interrupted approximately a billion times per day, so you need to stand out for long enough for the recipient of your messages to give you the bare minimum attention.

If you’re sending emails, use catchy subject lines, get to the point, and offer something of value. If you’re talking to people in person, be friendly, have an idea of what you want to say, and – again – offer something of value.

Value is a funny concept here. It can mean offering convenience, a way to make money, or simply being funny or interesting. It’s also dependent upon who you’re talking to.

3. Personalize your outreach

This advice goes hand in hand with points 1 and 2 here. What gets attention and what is seen as valuable differs based on who you’re talking to. Always personalize your approach to the one you’re reaching out to.

4. Always have a call to action

It is very important to make sure that you’re offering value to the people you reach out to. Yet you also need to make sure that your business gets value out of the interaction as well. That means you need to always have a clear call to action.

Think about what you want to get out of the interaction. Are you trying to make a sale, or get someone to visit your website? Are you trying to get someone to give you their email address?

Whatever it is that you want, make sure that you include some kind of call to action in your outreach. Give the recipient of your outreach efforts something to do.

5. Track your efforts and follow through

As with all things in business, track what you’re doing and pay attention to the outcomes. Some outreach methods will necessarily be more effective than others. Make sure that you are collecting data that will allow you to know what works and what doesn’t.

For some kinds of outreach, you will have multiple chances to interact with the same person. A lot of times, you won’t get a response the first time. Make sure that you have a plan to follow up and keep interactions ongoing. Otherwise, you risk your outreach efforts becoming ephemeral and forgettable, not to mention fruitless.

First time marketing your small business?
We know marketing can be confusing. Download our free marketing checklist for advice.

9 proven outreach methods to grow your business

I’ve covered the purpose, benefits, and core concepts of outreach above. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow my own advice and give you a clear call to action!

If you want to grow your business, here are some time-tested tactics that you can start using right now. Experiment with these tactics until you find what works for you.

1. Cold outreach on social media

If you’re looking for a way to reach a truly massive amount of people in a short period of time, social media is a good way to get started. While advertising on social media works pretty well when done properly, that’s not the only way you can reach people on the platform.

Many platforms such as Twitter and Instagram allow you to direct message large numbers of people. Sure, you need to do so one person at a time, as automation is dicey on these platforms. Still, once you have a boilerplate message in place, you can swap out the first name and first sentence or two to make it custom to your recipient.

What does this look like in practice?

A few years ago, I built a Discord server of over 2000 board game developers. I did this primarily by sending messages on Twitter and Instagram to people who were interested in designing board games. My message was only a few sentences and it usually looked something like this:

Hey [First Name], I noticed you’re working on a board game! [Give a specific compliment based on what I can see in their profile.]

I’m building a Discord server of game developers like you and me, and I’d be happy to share the link with you. Send me a message if you’re interested, and I’ll send the link your way!

This worked because I took the time to speak to people as individuals. It also worked because the call to action was clear and the offer of a free chat room for like-minded people in the industry was valuable. About 10% of people who received the message signed up (and this was before Discord’s widespread adoption).

2. Find influential people and build relationships

Of course, reaching out to individuals can be slow and time-consuming. It just doesn’t work in all scenarios! So you an approach outreach in an entirely different way, and focus on reaching influential people.

If you want to gain massive exposure in your industry, find the top 5 YouTubers or podcasters in the field. Reach out to them and see if you can get on their show. Spend considerable time thinking about your initial message to them so that you will be an attractive candidate for their show.

If you do this right, you can reach a lot of people for relatively little effort. Sure, reaching out to bigshots is often a long shot, but it often takes only one yes to make a huge difference!

(This is a pretty deep subject – check out this post for further reading.)

3. Focus on link building

If you’re a blogger, YouTuber, podcaster, or any other type of content marketer, you will probably get emails that read something like this:

Hey Name!

I know you’re a fan of X, and I wanted to share this thing with you.

Here’s the link: [URL]

Could you please add this to your article here: [URL]

Thanks,

Clueless Marketer

The basic idea behind this email is good. “Add my link to your post.” But, of course, if you get something like this, you’ll just delete the email and move on. What’s in it for you?

Take this concept and do it better. Give sincere and specific praise, and proactively link to the person’s article on your site. Then ask if they will link back to you.

The worst case scenario is you don’t, and you improve your website by linking more useful material on it. The best case scenario is that they do, and you end up establishing a good relationship and improving your SEO.

If you get enough backlinks, not only will you see people come to your site from other sites. You will also see them come from search engines as well.

4. Make content for others

This is really straightforward. Content marketers of any kind are constantly on a treadmill, trying to create new stuff that their readers or viewers will read. If you offer to write a guest post or send a well-crafted pitch sheet to a podcaster who could benefit from your presence, they will be inclined to take you up on the offer.

You will still get far more nos than yeses, but even still, creating guest content for others is a simple, valuable thing that you can do right now to get more traffic and links, and build connections. This is probably the strongest tool in my arsenal for consulting, next to plain old PPC advertising.

5. Set up referral agreements

Some businesses have mutually compatible business models. For example, one client that I work with provides shipping services for people who run Shopify stores. They were smart and wanted me to help break the ice with an agency that helps people go from Amazon to Shopify.

So the end result of this? We send the agency leads, and get a small cut of it. He sends us leads, and we get a small cut of it. It’s a very good arrangement and one that you can easily set up with your own business.

Nothing quite gets a businessperson on your site like the possiblity of making more money for doing next to no work.

6. Go to local networking events

Networking events get touted as a panacean fix for all career woes by many colleges and business books. If you’re skeptical of them, then, I don’t blame you.

Still, you never know who you’re going to run into at these sorts of events. If you go in with an open mind and a minimal agenda, you can stumble across people with amazing skillsets and an openness to working together.

Even if you go in with no attempt to hard sell, this counts as outreach. You could end up meeting a supplier who helps you cut costs, a distrbutor who helps you make sales, your next talented employee, or a bigwig media person looking for something to talk about.

7. Ask for referrals

One simple and automatable way to conduct outreach is to look to your current customers. Ask your happy customers to refer new people to you, and give them a reward for doing so. A cash incentive can motivate your customers to talk to their friends.

8. Stage events

I talked about this some in my post about public relations.

As we found out in the long year of 2020, people love going to events. Taking the time to stage or even participate in an event can bring your business a lot of attention. At the most basic level, you can go to trade shows and exhibitions.

If you want to go one step further, though, thing about what kind of events your customers would like to participate in. You could throw a party or start a sweepstakes. I even one time created a board game design contest in which participants had 48 hours to create the best board game they possibly could. We got a ton of attention from this simple idea!

14 Easy Ways Your Small Business Can Handle Public Relations
9. Give back to the community

Reaching out the public at large might seem like a big task, but it doesn’t have to be. Corporations have a frankly well-earned reputation for not behaving well. One way you can avoid looking like just another money-grabber is by giving – truly giving – to your community. That could mean money, time, products and services, volunteer hours, and so on. The idea is to give up something out of a spirit of altriusm and kindness.

How do you do this? The possibilites are limitless, but here are a few just to get your wheels turning.

  • Give money to a charity you care about.
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, or any other institution that helps people when they really need it.
  • Donate your products or services when people need it. (Like the distilleries who made hand sanitizer when it was most needed.)

Final Thoughts

Outreach can be a great way to get your name out there and to grow your business. Think about what others need, and try to give it to them. You can create win-win situations in unexpected places with creativity and persistence.

Commit to an outreach plan for your business. It’s important to your long-term success, and the benefits are diverse and abundant. I hope these tips help you get started!

First time marketing your small business?
We know marketing can be confusing. Download our free marketing checklist for advice.

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