How To Make Friends And
Turn Them Into Customers


by Tom Egelhoff

This article is inspired by a women from Arizona who wrote telling me she was having trouble attracting customers to her home-based business because she was new in town and didn't know many people.

All human beings are creatures of comfort. We will go a long way to avoid any feelings of discomfort. As many studies have shown, people have a greater fear of public speaking than they do of death. One of the hardest things for all of us to do is to meet new people...strangers. It's even harder to turn them into customers. Is there an easy way to do it?



How Easy Does It Need To Be?

We've all seen the images of New York construction workers, taking a break, and yelling and whistling at female office workers passing by the site. Do you believe that these guys would act the same way if they were sitting up there alone? Some maybe, but most would not. Why? They don't have the protection of the group. They can "hide in plain sight" in a group. Mobs collectively do things individuals would never think of doing alone.

Some of you may have taken the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course. They don't force you to stand up in front of everyone and speak at the beginning of the course. If there are 25 people in the class they make a group of 15 get up in front of the other 10 and just recite their names. After all participants give their names, the entire group sits down. You are not alone. You share the scary experience with others.

Each week, as the class goes on, your group gets smaller and smaller until eventually you have developed the confidence to speak in front of the group by yourself. Then the class is asked to list all the things you did RIGHT. Not what you did wrong. The more you speak, coupled with positive reinforcement, the more confident you become and the easier it gets.



Pick Your Group

You can adapt the same teaching of Dale Carnegie to your small business. The first step is picking a support group to help you over the rough spots. Few people move to a city or town where they don't know anyone. You may have relatives or someone you went to school with.

When I moved to Bozeman, I knew one person. The man I would be working for. For this exercise, let's assume you don't know a single soul in your new town. We will start from scratch.

In order to find a place to live you are going to have to meet a realtor or landlord. When you find a job you will be forced to meet the people there. Attend city council meetings and local functions. I have a "50 Butt" rule. If there are more than 50 butts in a room, my butt's in there with them. Even if you just sit you will eventually be noticed and approached by someone who is interested in your views on things. You will hopefully want to find a church. People at work and people at church will want to get to know you. Let them!



Relationship Building

Build on these relationships. Build on the strength of the group. What do they do in their spare time? What groups do they belong to? Find the friendliest person you can and build on them. Drop hints that you would like to get involved in the community or the church but aren't sure how to do it. Your local United Way is always looking for volunteers help them out and meet other committed people at the same time.

When I moved to Bozeman the first two groups I contacted were the local Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis club. I volunteered to join the Business Support Committee of the chamber and joined Kiwanis. I began to build my business on these two groups. Within three years I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of the Chamber and the United Way. I am also a past president of Kiwanis. I began teaching adult ed classes and writing business articles for the local newspaper. All these activities produced potential customers that I had helped in some way.



How To Turn Friends Into Customers

The great thing or the worst thing about small towns is you can become well known very quickly. It's very important that your first impression is a positive one. Become an asset to any group you become affiliated with. Don't take over, but take on responsibility and make sure you follow up on everything asked of you.

We all want to support our friends. As people become more comfortable with you, you can begin to develop a business relationship with them. One of the tips I give to all my marketing classes is: Everyone within walking distance of your home or apartment should have your business card. In fact, give them two cards, one to keep and one to pass on to their friends.

These people are your neighbors. We want to support our neighbors. We have a common existence with them. They are in the same boat we are. Similar challenges and successes. Job, mortgage, kids, bills, etc. Let them know what you're doing and even more importantly, ask what they do and become a customer of theirs.

Don't erase all your hard work by selling a bogus product or service. Your friends, more than anyone, expect and deserve honesty and quality for their hard earned money. Your product's quality should reinforce the relationship, not detract from it. If something is not right, make it right...immediately.

Your friends are going to know people you don't know. Who do they know who might also need your product or service? Build a new relationship with the referral and start the process all over again. I certainly make an effort to send any business I can to my friends and hopefully they will do the same for me.



The Last Word On Making Friends

The major challenge to overcome in making new friends is fear. You must come out of your comfort zone. You have to meet people half way. If you need to practice, go to a coffee shop, and just say "Hi" and "Thank You" to the waiter/waitress who brings you your coffee. Start talking to people...even if it's only "Hi."

I stopped at our local Costco store last week. While standing in line, a couple came up behind me and they had two shopping carts crammed full with towels. I made the comment, "You must be really clean people." They and several other people nearby broke out laughing. The ice was broken. We started a conversation and I discovered they are opening a chiropractic clinic in a nearby town. We exchanged business cards and I met one more couple I didn't know. And...a potential customer.

Something to think about: What if I had said, "You must be really dirty people." Would the end result be different? I think so. Pick your opening line carefully. The difference between friends and enemies may only be one word.

There are two books that should be required reading for every student in every school. The first is, "How To Win Friends And Influence People" by Dale Carnegie (Simon and Schuster - ISBN # 0-671-42517-x). It's available at every library. This book was written in 1936. It's as timely today as it was then. No matter how electronic we get we will always have to deal with each other. You and every employee should read this book twice yearly for as long as you are in business. That's not a typo. You should re-read this book every six months. I bought it on tape, made copies, and wear out the copies.

The second is, "The Magic Of Thinking Big" by David J. Schwartz, Ph.D. (Simon and Schuster - ISBN# 0-671-64678-8). This is a great confidence builder and a must for the small and home based business owner.

Add my book, "How To Market, Advertise And Promote Your Business Or Service In A Small Town" and you have all the tools you need to be successful in any business anywhere.


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