Great business builders are fanatical about growing their companies. They spend time every day thinking about how to engage new, loyal customers to replace those who have vanished. They also concentrate daily on ways to find new clients to increase the pool of shoppers who will increase topline revenues.
Each year, American companies must replace, on average, about 10 percent of their client base for various reasons, including customers who move, customers who find new solutions from competitors or customers who no longer need a given product.
To remain viable and profitable, business leaders must regularly increase gross revenues by adding more and more buyers who will purchase their solutions.
Recently, I spoke about entrepreneurship to a gathering of small-business owners and aspiring dreamers over age 55 at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Ed O'Brien, owner of Bountiful Eatery, a healthful-food restaurant in Chicago, asked what he should do to increase the number of customers. He estimated that he needs to find at least 30 more regular customers to break even.
I asked him to define who his customers are and to tell me everything about them.
"They are typically females, from 26-45 years in age, married, with small children, educated, living in nearby apartments, healthy, and they love yoga classes," he said.
"In addition, they like to eat nutritious food, and they tend to eat at my restaurant once a week."
But there were some things he didn't know: what they watch, listen to and read; whether they use the Internet and Facebook; and if they tweet.
At my suggestion, he hosted a focus group to learn more about how his customers think and act. I spoke with him recently about what he learned.
"We asked about our current menu, our home-delivery service, their favorite meal, kids' food and new food items (we actually served them these new offerings), and asked what they would want us to add to the menu," he said.
"We asked how they discovered us. We asked if they are pleased with our business and what they would change, if anything."
Most of the answers were very positive, he said, but customers did have suggestions for menu items and seating in the restaurant.
"I now have a feeling for what people seek and how I can best serve them. I have also learned the high value of using social media with my customers. ... It's clear to me that I can readily reach out online to current and new customers at any time and on any subject through social media," he said.
"I recognize that I can keep and add new customers by listening and responding appropriately and by inviting my current customers to tell their friends about us.
"Everyone I spoke to said they were willing to talk to their associates about Bountiful Eatery. How easy was that? Based on what I now know, I am confident I can open a second restaurant in the next year."
And lessons learned from the focus group will be incorporated in the new restaurant.
Ed is like you and me, constantly looking for more business. I am thrilled he walked away from my speech with a new growth strategy that will work for him.
If anyone is interested in connecting with Bountiful Eatery, you can find the business on Facebook or on Twitter at @bountifuleatery.
Here is my own list of 10 steps to building a strong future customer base:
* Start by knowing your current customers and everything about them. Develop a precise profile of shoppers, including age, education, gender, marital status, employment, hobbies and the places they visit, online and off. Once this is complete, it will be very clear to you who your true clients are.
* Know their needs and wants. Take time to visit with them. Ask pertinent questions. Listen and learn.
* Know what they think about your solution and what they think about the competition. Look for problems and opportunities.
* Know what they watch, listen to and read.
* Recognize that your customers have friends who are like them.
* Ask your customers to invite their friends to engage with you. Entice them to connect with these friends via the Internet on your behalf.
* Invite these prospective buyers to try your offerings.
* Provide a special introductory offer to them and likewise reward your current clients who helped.
* Ensure a splendid buying and user experience. Go out of your way to take care of these new shoppers.
* Ask your new customers to also make referrals. Don't be shy. It's how business grows.
What are your own best strategies for finding more customers? I welcome your ideas. You can reach me at @AskAlanEHall or my personal website, www.AlanEHall.com.
This article originally appeared in Hall's weekly Forbes column.