Is it possible to get new customers in this topsy turvy time? Here’s a story about a little kid who not only did it but created a winning nine-point formula.

new business development tips

My son, Nate, was nine years old when I was laid off from my corporate publishing job. The business had not bounced back from the Great Recession, and the printing industry was struggling to recover.

“I’m going to start a business,” he decided. 

The next day he came home with his first customer.

“There’s a family that needs someone to take their dog out for a run every day,” he said. “I’ll help buy groceries with the money.”

“You don’t have to do that…” I said, but he was out the door to take care of Client #1.

A few weeks later, he had Client #2.

“The family doesn’t get home until 7 o’clock so their dog needs exercise and play.” 

After that, he had Client #3, who was friends with Client #2. Client #4 was a bank teller who chatted with Nate each week when he made his business deposits. She was a busy dog owner as well. 

He had four new customers from networking! A little kid! 

Meanwhile, I was deciding whether to find another corporate job. Looking at Nate’s system for getting new customers gave me hope for starting my own business during challenging economic times. 

Here are 9 tips for getting new customers — from a nine-year-old: 

  1. Knock on doors to find your best customers. As best you can in our contact-free environment, get face to face online or in person with folks. There are always people who want what you’re selling and who will pay for it. You have to put yourself out there consistently because people won’t pay attention — or remember you — until they need you. 
  2. Figure out what you’re really selling. Nate wasn’t selling dog walking or dog exercising. He was addressing the guilt that people have in leaving their dogs inside all day. 
  3. Know how to describe your ideal customer. Ask “Who needs a dog walker?” and people will say “I don’t know.” Nate asked: “Who’s the busiest family on the block?” If the entire family was gone all day, there were no kids at home to take the dog out. A family was more likely to have an active dog. He asked for THE busiest family, not a bunch of busy families.
  4. Don’t muddy the “ask.” Nate didn’t ask for busy families with dogs. He could find out if they had a dog. That’s called qualification. 
  5. Go where the best prospects hang out. On weekends he went to the dog park with his best customers and energetically played with the dogs. He knew his best prospects were there, trying to compensate for what they perceived as neglect. 
  6. Don’t confuse introductions for prospects. Nate researched every introduction before pursuing it. Did the family treat the dog well? Did they understand that active dogs have special needs? Did they live nearby? Did they have the means to pay promptly? He didn’t chase people who were a poor fit. 
  7. Educate yourself. Because he was a dog exerciser — not a dog walker — he spent a lot of time learning about dog health for the breeds he worked with. He trained the dogs on habits and behavior so customers would notice the improvements. He learned how to give medication and treat common physical issues. His depth of knowledge was an asset, and it showed in his conversations with prospects. 
  8. Give prospects a taste of what it’s like to do business with you. Even though Nate has an impeccable memory, he made a point to take down a prospect’s contact information to display his attention to detail. He would promise to follow up and then kept that promise. He always took responsibility for the next steps in communicating because his best prospects were busy. Before ever working with him, prospects understood what it was like to work with Nate. 
  9. Pay attention to your image. You didn’t have to wonder if Nate was doing well in business. He wore name brand all-weather gear. He purchased quirky hats, sunglasses, and shoes. He exercised the dogs in interesting ways and in interesting venues. He courted challenging work. He worked on holidays. He volunteered. He introduced himself as a business owner. Visible success attracts attention. 

After almost a decade of running his dog-exercising business, Nate headed off to college. He put the business on hold and thanked his customers with a half-page, full-color ad in our local newspaper. He kissed the dogs goodbye and parted with his clients on the best of terms.

Nate never went without business and felt empowered to find new clients whenever he wanted. He had a formula for sales success that worked in any economic climate. 

I hope these 9 tips help you find new customers in this challenging time. If a nine-year-old kid can do it, so can you! 

P.S. Here’s a bonus tip. When times are tough. leverage your network. There are so many generous, smart, kind people around us who are willing to help. Be sure to join Deborah Corn’s Print Production Professionals group on LinkedIn for a supportive community. Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter. We can get through this together. 


Sandy Hubbard has been author and contributor at Print Media Centr since 2011. She is a Marketing Strategist and Business Consultant who serves print, publishing, and media businesses. Sandy helps clients build their businesses using solid, proven techniques and a systematic approach. She hails from a long line of printers, publishers, authors, and newspaper owners. For 22 years she published PrintersNWTrader, a magazine for the printing trade, counseling her readers about how to make better business decisions and grow in the evolving print landscape.

Connect with Sandy on LinkedIn and find her on Twitter at @sandyhubbard every Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, leading or co-hosting #PrintChat with Deborah Corn of @PrintMediaCentr — It’s social media’s most popular chat for the global print industry!

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