In Part One of this series, I discussed what new writers can learn from small businesses as they begin their careers as authors. In Part Two, I discussed the inverse: What small businesses can learn from authors about getting noticed and remembered.
This final part discusses things both authors and small businesses can do attract and retain customers/fans.

What Aspiring Authors and Small Business Can Both Do

Few people react well to the direct “Do you want to buy my book/product/service”? Conventional sales wisdom tells us “Always be closing” and “You have to make the ask,” but in the age of online shopping and dozens of sites offering reviews, the customer has more and more power.
So, acknowledge this situation and give customers/fans what they want: information, not a sales pitch.
Blogging is a great way to attract new customers (in this section, I’ll lump a business’ clients and an author’s readers into the term “customers”). You don’t need to write a newspaper article or column. Just write what you know using terms and structure you’re comfortable with. This kind of honesty will attract a readership you want—the reason you want them is because they want you.
As to what to write about, avoid purely self-promotional messages. Rather, write about topics that interest you and/or you are knowledgeable about. Stay close to topics related to what you do, but don’t limit yourself to just one thing (nor stray too far into unrelated topics). If you’re an author who writes Victorian steampunk, you can write about steam technology—real or otherwise—people or events in the Victorian era, costumes, do-it-yourself gadgets, other steampunk books or authors, etc. If you clean swimming pools, write about risks of certain chemicals, how to take care of your pool at different times of the year, when to do-it-yourself and when to call a pro, etc.
The reason for this is two-fold.

  • First, by covering a lot of topics, you’re likely to be found in a search for those topics. And since search engines put more recently updated pages higher in their search rankings, you’re further increasing your odds of being found.
  • Second, remember that no one wants to be pitched to, especially online. The user is in charge and selected you—they can just as easily leave you behind. If your blog is “Here’s why I’m great; buy from me” you will lose readers as quickly as you attract them. But, if you are providing valuable information and every once and a while say “By the way, I have this for sale,” no one will feel like their being sold to. That is, don’t say “Buy This” but rather treat it as an FYI. Those who are interested will buy, those who aren’t will read the message and move onto the next one because they recognize the value in what you’re writing about.

Free Giveaways
This is a basic one, but can be often overlooked. It can also be done in a why that does not get you noticed.
Trust is a major element of doing business, whether it’s buying a book or hiring a dog sitter. People want to be sure their money is well-spent. To assure them, give them something for free so they can evaluate what it is you’re offering.
For new businesses and authors, there is often a fear in this. More established names can afford this, but those new to a market often don’t have any financial margin with which to gamble. But remember, you are fighting to get noticed in a crowded market and nothing attracts attention like the word “FREE”. You have to be noticed before you can build trust.
For writers, this is easy. You can post the first three chapters of a novel on your site or even the entire manuscript under a creative commons license. However, these are common tactics, so if you really want to get noticed, be creative. Post the first and last three chapters. That’s right, give away the ending and dare people to read them, then the hook is what happened in the middle. Or, if you’re writing a series, post each chapter of the next book as it’s written, but only make one chapters available at a time.
For business, this can be tricky. If you are a car dealership, you can’t give away a car. But can you giveaway what the car offers? Do you sell luxury cars? What about a way to insert a photo of someone so it looks like they are behind the wheel of you car and allow them to take it home: Here’s how you’d look in a Mercedes at an exclusive country club. Do you sell economy cars? Find out what car the customer has and print out a side-by-side comparison of what they’d save on gas week after week.
And since the offer is a free, don’t start closing immediately. Don’t say “Here’s what you can save. Now, let’s talking financing.” You are giving them something for free, so be genuine. With today’s educated consumer, you’ll meet more success if you don’t start a sales tactic by building a trusting relationship.
If you offer a service, go to where the service might be needed and give it for free. Do you cut hair? Giving away coupons for a free haircut might attract a few new clients, but what if you made a deal with a tuxedo rental place around prom season? Bring a chair and some supplies and give free touch-ups? And there’s no harm in saying where your store is.

You Have to Get Notcied for the Right Reasons

Both writers and small businesses face the challenges of finding new customers in a crowded marketplace. The first step is to be noticed, and be noticed for the right reasons. For both writers and businesses, professionalism and trustworthiness are paramount to convince people they can do business with you, but before this happened you have to be noticed among the others that already do what you do. While it may take some creative effort to stand out from the crowd, take care in just how and why you stand out. A very noticeable first impression may forever turn out a potential client, but there may be times when it’s worse to not be noticed at all.