As any business owner will tell you, finding those first ten or twenty customers is always the hardest. For one, you are not an established business – so there is no credibility to showcase.
Strategies to find your first customers
Big questions must be answered about your business model – is your offering definitely what people want?
What your business does, how much you charge, and who you target are all fluid at this stage. It is understandable if you do not find your first customers quick enough at this stage.
There are a couple of advices that successful startuppers always offer to upcoming businesses : 1) Fail fast, and 2) Validate everything. The first advice is controversial and there are a number of detractors to this. But it’s a good advice to keep in mind. The basic idea is this – do not have too many variables when you first launch your business. Go to the audience directly and sell the concept – if it is successful; great. Otherwise, quickly pivot and move on to the next idea. The reason why this advice has caught on is because startup entrepreneurs have little resources to waste. By failing early, one could ensure they still have sufficient bandwidth to pivot their ideas to find the right business model and marketing approach.
‘Validate everything’ is one of the best advices one could offer to an entrepreneur who is just starting up. When you launch a business, you have certain notions about how good your product is, how one channel of marketing could get you hundreds of recurring customers that you too could be one of those overnight success stories. But that rarely happens, even to the best of us. The solution to this is to validate every hypothesis you have about your business and its revenue model.
There are several things you could validate about your business and to find your first customers.
But one of the most important things to validate is whether or not your business actually has a successful model. You could do this by testing if you actually find paying customers for your product. The catch here is that you cannot find paying customers until you have a successful product. On the other hand, a bootstrapped entrepreneur should not invest too much money in building a successful product till they know they would have paying customers for this. How do you go about this? Here are a few strategies that have worked for start-ups:
Pretend & Advertise : This is by far the most successful strategy to validate your business model. What you basically do is that you pretend to have a finished product that solves the pain point you are trying to address. Build a landing page for your website that describes your product and advertise this on Google. You do not need to actually build your product at this stage. Advertise this page on Google for the related keywords to reach your target audience.
As a matter of fact, you can also test the various pricing points by creating multiple pages at various prices and study if people actually click on the ‘Buy’ button to checkout. At this stage, you could throw a standard error message (in order to abort the transaction). This strategy will help you understand if there are people interested in your product, what prices they are comfortable with and most importantly, if you should go ahead with the idea.
This strategy does not cost a lot – advertising on Google can be done for less than $100-$200 while building a website is extremely easy using landing page creator services. The additional benefit is that you also get to capture the email addresses of the interested audience so that you can send out an email announcing your launch when your product is available.
Cold Outreach :
The above strategy is useful when you actually have people searching for your product. What if you have an innovative new product that your target market is still not aware of? In such cases, the best strategy forward is cold-outreach. LinkedIn is a wonderful tool when it comes to building a list of contacts who could be using your product. Once you build this list of email addresses or phone numbers, draft multiple email and call scripts that you could use to reach out to them.
There are several reasons why a person may not respond to your email or call – and they all do not imply that your product sucks. For emails, you could make use of email analytics from services like GetResponse to understand how a recipient responds to your email depending on the time and day you send the emails, the subject lines, how they use the social sharing buttons inside the emails, etc. As for cold calls, it is a good idea to test multiple scripts to see what works and what doesn’t. One objective you need to keep in mind is that you are testing the market for your product and not actually gathering feedback. So, pretend to have a finished product (or at least mention that it is in the works and should launch shortly) with a price – this way, the prospects will give you actual feedback on whether or not they have a need. Again, more than half the sales happen through follow ups. So do not hesitate following up with your prospects.
These two strategies on how to find your first customers should help a startup entrepreneur gather a list of dozens of high value prospects who are hungry for your product. Reaching out to them when your product launches should help you find your first customers. Once you have this initial list, it is just a matter of scaling the above strategies up further to find an even larger audience and market for your business. It is at this point that word of mouth referrals begin to land on your business website.