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21 Modern Lead Generation Strategies to Grow Your Business (and Not Waste Money)

Brian O'Connor

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Brian writes about finance, business strategy, and digital marketing. He has worked at Morgan Stanley, Foreign Affairs magazine, Student Loan Hero, and as a partner of a small consulting firm, too. Combined, these experiences allow him to offer a unique perspective on the challenges small business owners face.

One size doesn’t fit all for most things small business, and that’s the case with lead generation strategies, too. Even knowing that, though, many small business owners still struggle to determine which lead generation strategies work for their company, industry, or for business size. But why?

Well, paralysis of choice, for one. In this era of digital marketing, there are just so many lead generation tactics. Some are impactful for sure—but many are gimmicky (or, worse yet, expensive and unproductive).

The truth is that successful lead generation strategies really differ for each business—and to figure out what works, you’ll have to know both your own business inside and out, plus what you’re really hoping to accomplish. Some industries are just better suited for social media lead generation tactics, while others still rely on word of mouth to generate new business.

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The point is, if you don’t understand what lead generation strategies are the right fit for your business, you risk trying to make the wrong ones fit. And finding out that you’ve sunk time and money into lead generation tactics that don’t yield results is painful—not to mention a hit to the bottom line.

Take a look through this guide to modern lead generation strategies to help you find the right fit for you business—whether you run a brick-and-mortar boutique or a digital-only enterprise:

Modern Takes on Traditional Lead Generation Tactics

1. Build an incentive-based referral system.

Word-of-mouth advertising is still as important as it’s ever been—even if the ways in which people spread the good word about your company has changed with tech. If anything, referral systems have become even more useful among modern lead generation strategies, since they’re easier than ever to quantify and track.

The best possible thing you can do to harness the power of referrals? Get granular with your details.

Sell a product or service online? Create customized referral codes for individual clients and prospects—a new client gets a discount for their first purchase, and your loyal client will get a referral discount, too. This works particularly well for online retailers.

This way, you’ll be able to know exactly who is sending business your way, and which leads are converting to clients. Smart!

2. Broadcast advertising to your niche audience.

Don’t worry—we’re not talking about buying an ad slot on your neighborhood easy listening radio station. However, podcasts have stolen lots of listeners from the AM and FM dials.

And content creators still need advertisers, so you can still turn listeners into leads, but with even greater potential. That’s because with podcasts, as listeners self-elect downloads, they signal what they’re interested in. Which means you can identify where your audience is captive.

No matter how niche the industry, there’s likely to be a podcast out there that tons of potential clients are enjoying regularly. Own a homebrewing shop? There’s a podcast (actually, lots!) for that. Offering custom, injection-molded parts for airplane engines? You’ll find an audience out there for that, too.

Best of all, you’ll take comfort in knowing that you’re not taking the shotgun approach to advertising that comes from radio spots, where a good part of your audience might not be interested in your product at all.

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3. Take a new approach for direct mail.

It’s easy to write off the legitimacy of direct mail in an article about modern lead generation strategies. We know.

But direct mail lead generation tactics in 2018 aren’t postcards addressed TO CURRENT RESIDENT offering an unsolicited coupon for free sock darning or bespoke roofing shingles. Direct mail doesn’t have to be synonymous with junk mail, particularly if you know how to do it the right way, like:

  • Mailing out compelling flyers with valuable offers
  • Using data-driven referral codes
  • Hitting smaller, more tuned-in audiences

By being selective with your direct mail efforts, you can invest more in the physical item you’re sending out. Plus, you can offer better discounts, coupons, or other enticements to get new leads to take the next step. Think of direct mail as your first foray into getting someone to go to your website or call you, rather than your final step in getting new clients.

4. Create lead-swapping relationships.

Sharing leads with related (but not competing!) businesses is another one of those lead generation tactics that’s been around for ages, but is still super useful when modernized.

If you’re on friendly terms with a company that attracts the same clientele as yours, consider swapping leads from time to time.

But to make this tactic work now, you have to digitize these swaps to make the most of them. Use a great small business CRM to keep track of each individual lead and what kind of returns you’re getting from the companies that are providing you with leads. Taking a “big data” approach to beneficiary relationships will help you go far beyond having a big pile of telephone numbers to cold-call.

5. Rethink deals and discounts.

Of course you’ve considered—if not held—sales in order to incentivize new customers through your door. But with so many different deals and discount sites, it might be worth considering seeing if your product is a fit for any national or local opportunities.

If you’re a little hesitant, you could also look into partnering up in a package with other complementary businesses that are more familiar with the deals territory.

Since these sites are all about reaching new customers, they’ll do the legwork of finding the eyes for you to get your product or service in front of new customers. And with a budget and reach you likely don’t have.

A heads up that margins on deals sites are pretty thin, so this isn’t a permanent solution. But you certainly can generate new leads on them who can hopefully convert into loyal customers over time.

Modern Lead Generation Strategies for Improving Your Digital Footprint

6. Build—and maintain—a modern website.

You can’t afford to have a lousy business website.

Gone are the days where only digitally focused businesses, media companies, and tech organizations needed to impress with beautiful websites. Whether you’re building apps or building bagpipes, you need a website that marries elegant, smart design with speed and efficiency.

A website that gives visitors the clear who, what, where, and why behind your company is your best asset. A good website is like your digital business card. And you don’t need to know a line of code! Here are some ideas to easily overhaul your small business website.

7. Learn search engine optimization.

Interesting: Only 10% of search users go past the first page of search results when looking for information. That makes it difficult for any business to get their website in front of potential leads, no matter how well designed or informative it is.

That’s why great search engine optimization (SEO) is an awesome lead generation tactic. Basically, it puts your website in the best position to get on that first page of results.

SEO might seem like a mystery to all but the most digitally savvy business owners, but the core tenets of search engine visibility actually boil down to three fairly easy-to-grasp ideas:

  • Provide good information
  • Give answers to frequently asked questions
  • Make sure that your writing is clear and concise

Here’s a basic crash course on understanding SEO strategy.

Learning SEO best practices yourself is free—but if your business is in a particularly competitive market, investing in a consultation from SEO experts could provide extra value to your lead generation tactics. But for most, investing in good content and digital-savvy writers should be enough to provide you with a clear advantage.

Lead Generation Strategies in Content Marketing

8. Try content-based lead generation.

As long as we’re talking about SEO, let’s talk about content, too. A content-based lead generation strategy—as long as that content is well optimized, that is—allows you to increase your presence in search. The more high-quality content you produce, the more you’re rewarded by search engines.

Search engines give preference to websites that help answer questions quickly and simply. For instance, if you create a blog post that provides the who, what, where, and why of something your company is an expert on, you’ll reap rewards by ranking well in search.

Plus, as search becomes increasingly local, you’ll benefit from lead generation tactics that tie your content into your physical location. Then, you might be on your way to dominating local search.

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9. Look beyond organic social-media lead generation tactics.

The days of free social media publicity are all but over. That’s unfortunate, sure, but the good news is that small businesses can invest in paid social media advertising. It’s not that expensive—and it generally goes further than organic posts to a handful of followers.

Most social media networks offer robust tools that can help enhance any lead generation strategy. Platforms including LinkedIn and Facebook offer one-click email submission. That allows users to submit their information at the click of a button, and gives businesses a simple way to collect info on potential leads with minimal hassle.

Other channels, like Instagram and Twitter, let companies purchase in-stream ads. These appear just like a regular post from a friend or fan page, but with the added bonus of pointing directly to a page or signup that you pick.

Best of all, these advertisements usually cost pennies on the dollar if you build your audiences to be the right size and specificity. You can get there with a little practice!

10. Begin a business newsletter.

Email marketing lead generation is similar to content and social media lead generation strategies.

Think of it as a content strategy smushed together with social lead capture techniques. If it works out, you get a lead generation tactic that delivers a captive audience with a stream of updates from your company or industry. They get updates right in their inbox, and you’re not fighting for attention in a sea of social media updates!

To make the most of newsletter lead generation strategies, it’s important to provide compelling reasons for people to sign up. The promise of exclusive sales, experiences, or knowledge are great draws. But make sure you keep those newsletters coming—if you can, the rewards of targeting a captive audience can lead directly to the acquisition of highly valuable leads.

11. Create white papers for download.

Are you an expert in your subject area? Then your knowledge is really valuable—so capitalize! You can offer free white paper downloads featuring your expertise (and, of course, your small business) to generate leads.

White papers let potential leads get specialized knowledge on-demand in exchange for their contact info. So, it’s a really beneficial exchange for everyone.

Best of all, white papers also serve a dual purpose of acting as an informative, additive sales pitch that extends beyond industry jargon and advertising copy. Offering white paper downloads in exchange for contact information makes prospective leads comfortable exchanging their details in order to receive something of value. That makes the transaction more hospitable—and who knows, you might even see your white paper passed around the industry.

12. And create a downloadable ebook, too.

Some topics demand a little more depth than white papers—and that’s where ebooks come in.

With a high-quality, downloadable ebook, you can show off your company’s subject-matter expertise and acquire contact information in exchange for downloads. Ebooks help establish a company’s voice within its industry while also fostering goodwill with potential leads. Plus, they can end up being shared among peers. That’ll expand your brand name and reputation far beyond your own on-site marketing efforts.

13. Provide an assessment or report.

Another email-for-knowledge exchange is a five-minute lead generation questionnaire. If your business provides a professional service, you can set up a quick quiz, and then provide feedback or tips based on a respondent’s answers.

This is great for a few reasons: First, it’s hard for many decision-makers in an organization to resist the temptation to get fast insights or assessment. But also, this lead generation technique provides potential clients with a first impression of your company’s work.

Best of all, you get to learn quite a bit about the respondent in the process. These surveys don’t need to be overly customized to deliver results, either. A simple questionnaire can lead to the creation of several pre-packaged results that offer just enough insight to be used repeatedly while also serving as a teaser of your company’s broader services.

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Experiential Lead Generation Strategies Through Events and Seminars

14. Hold topic-driven seminars.

Although more expensive and time-consuming, experiential lead generation tactics can really build deep, meaningful relationships with potential customers.

One way to do this is to hold a seminar on the field that your business or service specializes in. You’ll be able to appeal directly to potential clients and customers by emailing them with something far more valuable than a cold sales pitch.

Not only can attendees learn something from you, but they can also network with each other, your own employees, and other existing loyal customers!

15. Throw a happy hour.

When was the last time you turned down a happy hour invitation—especially on someone else’s dime?

Think about throwing an intimate happy hour with potential clients or vendors. When people can casually connect with colleagues and friends, you can spotlight your offerings while sparing everyone in attendance with the hard sales pitch.

Even if you work from home or don’t have an office space to welcome tons of guests, you can always scope out local haunts for opportunities to rent out full or partial space. Local breweries are great for these kinds of events, and will sometimes offer discounts in exchange for the guarantee of a group.

16. Create a conference add-on event.

Every big industry conference has lots of side gatherings that occur alongside the main event. And there’s good reason for it: Rarely can you ever get that many potential clients in one place at one time.

Plus, people are ready to make the most of their attendance and usually need to report back to their higher-ups about just how much work they did in order to validate the cost of attendance. And it’s always really nice to get out of a big convention center!

Creating a side event that piggybacks on a larger conference doesn’t require much more than advanced preparation, an interesting angle, and enough money to set up space at a nearby location.

Do plan carefully, though, as your potential audience will be strapped for time, evaluating other similar offers from rival companies, and might flake despite RSVPing. So, be prepared for less turnout than your roster might suggest.

Interactive Lead Generation Strategies

17. Encourage online reviews.

Stepping out of your own business-owner shoes for a sec, what do you do when you’re considering trying something for the first time? A restaurant, a hotel, even a book? Reading reviews, most likely.

And 85% of respondents to a 2017 survey are with you, suggesting that they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Plus, 68% were willing to write a review when asked to.

This second statistic is where you can really capitalize. If you aren’t already asking your happiest clients to review your business on Google, Facebook, Yelp, TrustPilot, Better Business Bureau, and more, you’re not maximizing the cultural capital of your best relationships.

Encouraging these key customers to talk about their experience with your business (without suggesting what you want them to say!) is a great way to boost your online reputation, which can attract new clients. You can simply ask, or motivate them with incentives like discounts.

18. Add a live chat feature.

In a recent study, 44% of respondents viewed a website’s realtime chat function as one of the most important features of an ecommerce page. Better yet, 63% said they were more likely to return to a site that had a live chat function, and 62% were more likely to be a repeat customer.

And that means what for you? Well, live chat can be a great lead generation tactic to pique interest from new customers, and encourage repeat business by being accessible in real-time.

Live chat functions allow site visitors to reach out to you directly without having to pick up a phone or write an email. New customers benefit from being able to ask questions whenever they want, and then you can reach out directly to answer questions and help close new sales. And in this case, a little touch—such as a “Chat Now!” button on a business website—can go a long way toward establishing relationships with new customers and leads.

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19. Host an expert chat.

Whether through video on Facebook Live or Instagram, or even a live-tweeting session on Twitter, show off your authority in your space. Choose an expert to represent your company, whether it’s you as the owner, one of your employees, or a guest. Then, host a live session to teach a certain tip or skill, or answer a question that you know there’s a need for.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to get some social media traction with sharing (ask out some friends, family, and employees to help get the ball rolling), which will get your session out to new audiences.

And if you’re doing a video session, don’t forget—good lighting. And. Speak. Slowly.

20. Answer questions.

It’s a big internet out there—and lots of people are looking for answers.

Dedicate some time to answering questions on a site like Quora, where you can share your knowledge as a subject-matter expert in your business field. Not only can you proactively expose your brand to people you never would have otherwise, but you’ll do it in a tone you want to, providing the exact service that a potential customer is looking for.

Plus, on platforms like Quora, it’s easy to gauge customer intent—something that’s much more difficult on other social media networks.

21. Lean on influencers.

Depending on your business, you might also want to consider establishing relationships with well-known people in the industry. Otherwise known as “influencers.”

They can help you bring attention to your company as a trusted third party’s voice. Influencer marketing is one of the largest markets within digital advertising. And 67% of respondents to one recent survey said that influencer marketing campaigns helped them reach more specific, targeted audiences.

Working with influencers can be as simple as sending products and services to industry thought leaders with social media presences. Some may look for payment in order to promote your company, so be prepared to know what it is you’re looking to accomplish—and how much money you’re willing to spend—before you get started.

Final Thoughts on New Lead Generation Strategies

The bottom line on modern lead generation strategies?

  • One size doesn’t fit all, so if at first you don’t succeed, try something else.
  • Old strategies still work—but with a new twist.
  • Expect to spend at least a little cash, but new lead generation tactics don’t have to break the bank.
  • Get creative, because this is just the start!

See a great idea we’re missing? Let us know.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Brian O'Connor

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Brian writes about finance, business strategy, and digital marketing. He has worked at Morgan Stanley, Foreign Affairs magazine, Student Loan Hero, and as a partner of a small consulting firm, too. Combined, these experiences allow him to offer a unique perspective on the challenges small business owners face.

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