Businesses should always be on the lookout for new customers and you can connect with new customers or clients in the most unexpected ways. So, to help give you some out of the box ideas, the CarolRoth.com contributor network of experts, advisors and entrepreneurs have provided their own unusual places that they found new customers. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Rest in Peace
A unique place to meet new customers is at the funeral home when someone you have done business with (or a close relative of theirs) is being waked. Before you acted shocked, ask yourself, what better place is there to meet people that you don't know who have one person in common - the person in the casket. The conversation begins with how you know the recently deceased and leads into how successful the business relationship was. Voila! A new client relationship started.
2. Off Leash Customer Relations
Yes, you can meet new customers while taking your dogs to the off leash park. When I wrote a book about our dog Toby, I had no idea that the off leash park would become a place to meet prospective clients and market our book. Think about where your clients go, what activities they participate in, where they shop and what they might do in their down time. Be creative; ask your clients and customers what they like to do when not working (this is also great to know for client seeding).
3. Auto Accident = New Account
We won a piece of new business after one of our client's representatives pulled a late night, DUI, hit-and-run at my home (the rep smashed our garage door and left his car nearby). Upon finding the rep's car, I saw a piece of letterhead on the passenger seat. I called the company, talked with the president and asked about his business. Our agency had once launched a product similar to his. The president and I became fast friends and he awarded us his business. We've had the account for 5 years.
4. Compliments Get You Customers!
Because I coach women on their Total Image (Visual, Verbal, Vocal) I am always observing women when I'm out with family or in the evening. I intentionally hand out compliments to women that I feel are 'doing it right' no matter what their age or size. The smiles I receive are part of my payment; the other part is that I can ask for insight on why they do what they do and what areas they want to do more with. I've made friends, added clients, and gained inspiration from doing this. Win-win all around!
5. Substitute Speaker
The one unexpected place I gained customers was when I was asked to fill in for a speaker on a panel who cancelled at the last minute. I was just there to see what I could learn from the topic of the event. After being on the panel, I gained some clients. I was just there for personal development and to enhance my skills; this was an unexpected occurrence.
6. Get Dramatic... On Stage!
I love performing and have involved myself in community theater and performing arts projects for years. Invariably, because of the close quarters and months of rehearsals, new relationships develop and often turn to the topic of "So, what do YOU do?"...
Aside from all of the great new friendships I've made, I've also built new customer relationships through those shows either directly with my fellow performers or through their referrals.
7. Take a Vacation!
I recently got my scuba diver certification in Belize and got an opportunity to host retreats for writers. I didn't pitch anything. I just told the proprietor that I show entrepreneurs how to raise their profiles to attract the visibility they need to pull publishing opportunities without pushing too hard. Along with lodging and food, they also offered to promote my retreat on the island to local expats. I didn't push and have a great location to hold retreats for my new and current clients.
8. Where Do They Hang Out?
The more you know about your prospective clients, the better. Along with who that is (and it is not everyone), what are their interests and where do they spend time. Understanding who your ideal is helps you to find them.
Going where they are instead of waiting for them to come to you is the next step. Attend conferences where they go for deeper learning. If you're gonna go fishing, fish where the fish are and know what bait they like best.
9. Linkedin Jump Started My Biz
When I first began on Linkedin, I honestly thought it only served the purposes of branding and networking. I could not have been more wrong. I have received at least ten leads and at least five clients from using Linkedin effectively.
10. Coffee & 2 Big Sales Over Easy
Whenever I'm a delegate or exhibitor at a trade show, you'll NEVER catch me at the hotel, on the bus or in the coffee shop without my badge and a catalog in my bag. My two biggest book sales came from a bus ride to McCormick and the table next to me at coffee shop in LA, respectively. I'm a solutions person. If I overhear something I might be able to help with, I politely observe, then strike up a respectful conversation, ask for a meeting, and make sure that I don't oversell in that moment.
11. A Haircut Away
I was sitting at the hairdressers waiting my turn, reading a paper when I heard the barber talk about his problem with sciatica and shoulder pain. Do I let it go? Or do I offer my service as a shiatsu therapist? New business was a haircut away.
"When you close, I'll come back and treat the pain!"
I'm not sure what you can do, but I'll try anything."
One treatment after work lead to four more visits, a visible improvement, a testimonial and referrals to his other customers- great business from a haircut!
12. Nursing Home Virtual Kiosk
When my mom was recovering from surgery, a care provider at a nursing home wrote me: “I purchased your book, “The Power of Miracle Thinking”, from your mother. She’s set up a virtual kiosk in her room and prefers to discuss you and your accomplishments, rather than her own gains in rehab.” I kept the note!
13. Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open
You can find new customers anywhere, if you keep your eyes and ears open. I've found customers at the gym, church, network events, etc. When you meet someone, ask them what they do and if they fit into your target customer profile, hand them a business card and call them later. Don't be pushy; instead be helpful and who knows, they could be your client someday.
14. Talkin' Over Tacos
I was at my favorite local Mexican restaurant and ran into someone that I hadn't seen in a while. She asked what was new with me. I shared a bit of what was new with our family and then a little about what I was doing in business. The owner of the restaurant over heard me and came by to ask more about my services. It hasn't closed yet, but he's an interested hot prospect who came to ME! It pays to talk over tacos!
15. Recreational Venues are a Plus
When one of my clients was looking for a unique way to reach out to male customers for a line of aromatherapy products targeted for allergy relief, I sent her to a series of gun shows. Not only was she absolutely mobbed with sales- many of the men bought other products or gift certificates to her spa. Perhaps there was a little guilt going on there! Needless to say she had little competition at the show- and a lot of attention!
16. Unusual Places
The most interesting place that I found a customer was as I was getting off of an airplane. This gentleman spotted my Disney watch and Disney shirt and admired them so much, we got into a conversation and before we left the airport, I had a contract. Amazing!
17. Fruit Anyone?
I was presenting at a conference and at the break, noticed they had gooey, sweet things to snack on. I muttered loudly to myself, "this is foolish, give me fruit, people will fall asleep in the next presentation." A woman heard me and smiled. I introduced myself, apologized for my outburst and ended up with a six figure training contract for a large conglomerate in the Midwest. We had many laughs subsequent to how we met, and I, of course, was delighted with meeting her and the business.
18. The Most Overlooked Option
One of the most unexpected places I've met new customers, partners and such is meetup groups (meetup.com). These are local and most meetups are extremely targeted - you instantly get access to potential customers who trust you faster. And you can always create your own meetup. I seldom see it mentioned in any 'social media mix' yet it's really a hidden gem. Of course, like all social media, a subtle approach is required - build relationships first and soon, you'll get customers and evangelists!
19. Your Business is Always w/You!
When you own your own business, you ARE the business - no matter where you are! I've gotten clients and referrals just by being ready and willing to talk about coaching wherever I am - at yoga, at my daughter's school events and even at another child's birthday party. We always need to be ready to talk about the pain we solve for folks and the reason why our business is the best solution!
20. At the Check Out Line
It's true. Really anywhere that there are people, there are customers. And, you never know who someone is until you start connecting with them.
21. Catch Me Now!
My unique client was found at the library from the pin-up board.
22. Indian Princess Networking
Perhaps it is shameless to admit this, but as an investment banker, I will accept bona fide referrals from any source, even through my children! Years ago, I was in an Indian Princess group for Dads and our 3rd grade girls. Sure, it was adorable to bond with my daughter through macramé and smoke signals, but that a Big Law Attorney in the group referred a sizable fairness opinion to me - that kind of memory is priceless! Moral: Some good deeds do get rewarded in unusual ways!
23. Teach a Class-Find New Clients
I was a solopreneur who provided training services and products to Fortune 100 firms and federal agencies. I'd been adjuncting at National University in Los Angeles while working full-time for a property management firm. The Department of Defense (DOD) apparently called the university one day and asked for a recommendation: they needed someone to teach business writing. Soon after, I received a call, asking me to submit a proposal. And thus, was launched a new career and a new client base.
24. Ladies Only!
All women know that we solve the world's problems in the ladies room. That's why we go together...and stay longer than any man.
I stopped in a ladies room at Embassy Suites in Cary, NC on my way to a corporate client's office. Karen was a former happy client who was attending a business meeting. We reconnected...and she then decided to recommend that her company's CFO attend my "Fast Track Fridays" seminar. Her recommendation made all of the difference. Nothing like womens room power!!
25. It's Everywhere You Look!
I have been amazed that we have found so much business in the most obvious yet unthought of ways. It's the people that we talk to every day such as Fedex, our cable supplier, credit card rep, Netflix, insurance associate, post office worker, etc. When we let people know that we make a whole line of celebrity rubber ducks they are amazed. In fact, 75% of the time, they ask us first... what is CelebriDucks! This has led to all kinds of business. Who knew? Everyone is a word of mouth opportunity!!
26. Join a Charitable Organization
Not only does joining a charity give you the opportunity to help out with wonderful causes, but it also allows you to meet community leaders. Business people are often found in groups like these and joining in to lend a helping hand can be a great way to network with these folks.
27. Central Park Connection
I was a runner living in NYC. I saw a group of runners every morning in Central Park the same time I ran. I found out that they were the "World Runners" and for every event that they were in, they got pledges for The Hunger Project and a food bank in the Bronx. They were all excited about a national effort with 24-Hour Relay Marathons in 20 cities. But they were still looking for a Race Coordinator with Fund Raising abilities. That's what my company did. Magic! It was like a walk in the park...only faster.
28. Community Forums
Engaging with like-minded people in your industry is a great way to build relationships and discuss topics that revolve around your business. It's important to remember that people buy on relationships, so wherever you can build that relationship -- even if it's online through a keyboard, do it. The results are rewarding.
29. To Find Customers Find a Niche
I've found that the best place to meet customers is at tradeshows or events with like-minded people. But sometimes, even that can be too broad. I find that honing in on a cause or niche helps bring focus to my lead generation. This week, for example, I am speaking at Latinos Unidos in Tampa, an annual conference organized by the mayor, with proceeds going to a scholarship fund for Latinos. The people I meet there are usually engaged and looking to make a difference in their community and business.
30. Working Vacations
Ok, I admit it, it drives my wife crazy, but I do it anyway. I ALWAYS take business cards with me wherever I go... even on vacation. You would be amazed at the people I have met and been able to connect with in a meaningful way, because they are out of the office and relaxed. When standing in line for an hour at Disneyland, what else are you going to do other than talk to people around you? Having an open ear and a casual manner goes a long way to finding out where the business is.
31. Full Disclosure
In the sauna... naked. I would have to say that in 26 years of business and having worked with 808 different clients, this was the most unusual and unexpected place where I have landed a new client. The gym is for working out and relaxing, so I usually try to leave business outside of the sauna, but there I was when a guy I recognized, but didn't really know, came in. We did the "guy nod" and started chatting; an hour later, I had a new client. It turned out to be a great client, too.
32. Drive By Advertising
In a parking lot--more than once. I got those car magnets from Vistaprint (cost less than $25) and got a $1,000 + sale and a great client I loved working with.
Sometimes low cost, passive advertising can do wonders. I drive my car everywhere. It's not fancy, but it doesn't matter. People often go to my website from there and like what they see.
33. In My Own Back Yard!
I found a great lead from my neighbor when I was complementing her on her wonderful flower bed. Often our friends, family, and acquaintances are rich sources for potential customers. We may tend to think that since they know what product or service we provide, they will tell everyone they know. However, they need to be reminded occasionally that we would appreciate them spreading the word. That is still the best advertising there is.
34. I Was Their Customer First
I love doing business with people I know, I like, and I trust. When reviewing my current list of advertisers, I discovered that for many of them, I was their customer before they became my customer.
As part of my own business plan, I love to stay in touch and re-connect. Eventually, you will hear your prospect's pain and I love being able to offer a solution, whether it's my own services, or a referral to someone I know.
35. Let the Media Do All the Work!
The most unexpected place I found new clients was on CNN - I was interviewed live last week and there was also an article on CNN Money that accompanied the piece. While I was still on the air being questioned about the intricacies of web content writing, my phone was ringing and people were leaving messages requesting proposals. Larger agencies came calling and we ended up getting a ton of work out of the coverage.
36. Get a Massage and Earn $
I've been pleased that more than once I've gotten clients while taking care of myself. Self care is part of the process of business ownership, and contrary to what you might think, it can also be a time to connect with some potential customers. I've booked a new client while getting a massage (the therapist) and with my hairstylist. I like the informality of the conversation that happens at casual times like these and they lend themselves to being able to really open up with your listener.
37. Cemetery Chooses Rock Guy
A few years ago, White Haven Cemetery asked me to become their TV spokesperson. I turned them down. I explained that my family was at White Haven, but I would not arrive anytime soon. I had given a eulogy for my mom at the cemetery and they liked what they heard. I'm a TV and advertising guy who plays in a classic rock band. The president of the cemetery kept calling. I agreed with one condition. I would mention our band "The Invictas" in the ads and they agreed. The campaign is a success.
38. Tap into Your History
We've all heard of joint ventures where a company agrees to email its list about your product or service, usually for a hefty percentage of the revenues. They make money; don't compromise their mailing list. You get sales and legally, ethically add the buyers to your list. But it doesn't always have to be a company. Organizations, associations, and even your fraternity or sorority are good resources to contact.
39. You Never Know Who You'll Meet
At a networking function, I connected with a gal involved in a national competition for recognition in her industry. I told her she had my vote and wished her the best. We kept in touch and when she won the contest, I asked if I could pitch a story on her venture. She was delighted – and so was my editor! The woman’s business continues to thrive and she now sends me solid story leads based on people she’s met through her endeavors. So, sometimes it really is who you know, rather than what.
40. Get Me to the Church on Time!
Church is one of the best, most unusual places where I find new clients (or rather, they find me)! This makes sense because if people know you through volunteer work and also share your values, they will like you, trust you, and be curious about what you do for a living. It is also amazing how many times new clients get in touch because they know someone who goes to my church. A great spiritual community is like a big loving family, so let your family help you by sending you like-minded clients!
41. Submit Articles on Suite101
It's always important to ask customers how they found your business, a tell-tale sign of marketing that works. Recently, I asked a new customer how she had found my business. She said she had read several articles I wrote and published on Suite101.com. The articles demonstrated both my writing skills and expertise. What a great no-pressure marketing tool! Write articles about your product or service that will help inform and educate. You never know where your future customers are lurking.
42. It Was Staring Me in the Face
The place I found was sitting inside my 2 sons. On more than 1 occasion, they insisted we bid certain gov't contracts that I insisted were not the way to go. After all, I had been doing it successfully for decades. What could these 2 youngsters, who knew nothing about the bidding process, know? That's the very point...fresh eyes, without concepts, were free & I was stuck in old ideas. Well, that brought in several million dollars of business.
It's always where you least expect it - young eyes!
43. Giant Spine Doctor
I built a 100 ft long foam spine to promote my chiropractic practice. I use it yearly in my community's 4th of July parade. We are always a hit and even made the front page of the local newspaper! This has made me "thee" town chiropractor and it brings in lots of new customers. Now when I'm around town, I get lots of fingers pointing at me "Hey, you're that doctor with the giant spine!"
44. A Dog's Life
At the park walking my dogs, I saw a woman staring at us. Thinking she wanted to meet the dogs, I waved and started a conversation. She did want to meet them and then the "get to know you" part started.
She's a life coach and told me about all of the seminars that she does and how much time that they take in her schedule. I asked her if she had products to sell and the answer was no.
The new answer is yes. We went through her tapes, etc. and now she has a new revenue stream in her coaching business.
Do you know an unexpected place to find new customers that wasn’t included? If you do, please share it below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!