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How to Recruit New Clients Using the Ones You Already Have

Be careful: There's an art to this

When the recession decimated the corporate-gift-market accounts of the Goulet Pen Company, founder Brian Goulet sought out new ideas--and customers--at a fountain pen show near his Richmond, Virginia, home.

"It was a revelation, seeing all these fanatical people in fishing vests with pockets stuffed with fountain pens," says Goulet, who quickly realized that pen fans represented a community that he'd missed. He wrote a new business plan, going from pen maker to online fountain-pen retailer. He began to participate in online message boards and forums, and also created a large social media presence, a newsletter, a blog, and more than 1,800 how-to videos, along with interactive, live-stream ones, generating hundreds of comments daily. With revenue in the low eight figures after growing 25 percent in 2018--his wife, Rachel, is co-owner and COO--Goulet has simple advice for companies eager to generate positive consumer comments: "Go where the conversation is happening, solve problems, and add value."

Unsure of how to make the Big Ask? Many entrepreneurs are bold types, but in seeking help, "they basically cede their authority" to customers without giving them a reason to act, says Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at University of Texas at Austin and author of Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others. There's an art to converting customers into your evangelists.

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