Anyone who has been involved in a startup business will be familiar with these concerns – every new business shares them. Fortunately, there are some useful tips to follow to get you those all-important first few customers.
From there, word of mouth, properly targeted marketing strategies and a continued belief in what you are doing, as well as the knowledge of how you will do it, should see you through to more affluent times. That first year is make or break for every startup which has ever been, or ever will be.
There is one more challenge. It used to be that funding could be secured for startups, especially through venture capitalists, with just great ideas and a vision of what you want to achieve.
These days, you already have to have business rolling in. So, it’s all about securing those first few customers: they are the key to future funding, and survival.
With all this in mind, and budget a serious constraint, every startup needs to follow practical, and cost-effective, steps to securing its first few, valuable customers, who pay the initial bills. Here are those steps:
1. Attend trade shows and conferences
Unless you are travelling halfway round the world (which will be totally unnecessary in most cases), attending trade shows and conferences relevant to your product is a great, cost-effective way of getting your business seen.
It’s all about exposure, so while you are there, talk to as many people as you possibly can – everyone is a potential customer, or can put potential customers your way. Forge relationships, and tell anyone who will listen about your company and what you offer.
“Before you attend any trade shows, make sure that you have rehearsed exactly what you will tell people. Never deviate from the mission, and each time you communicate, make the delivery sharper and more concise. Find out what people are looking for, and adapt your pitch to their needs. Just get yourself out there, period, but you need to know exactly what you are selling too,” suggests Bob Franks, a senior marketer at Personal Statement Writing and Paper Fellows.
2. Utilize paid ads
You may balk at the word ‘paid’ – you have a limited budget of course. However, paid ads through the usual channels of Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, for example, are really useful because they can deliver you all kinds of metrics that you can use moving forward to really adapt your content and target it correctly.
And you really don’t need to spend much at all – even a $5 ad will give you some modicum of data which can be analyzed.
“Analytics really are a key consideration here. The companies that really do well are those that have the best handle on who their audiences are, and what those audiences want. What type of content engages them initially, and what kind of content ultimately pushes through conversions? It’s a trial-and-error process for absolutely everybody at the beginning, but the point is you do need to speculate (a little bit) to accumulate here,” says Tash Fellowes, a webinar expert at OXEssays and Academized.
This is another tried-and-tested tactic, and avoids having to reinvent the wheel, which is timely and costly.
There are a number of examples down the years of massively successful companies who started out by piggybacking onto another platform (Airbnb’s utilization of Craigslist’s user base is now legendary) and all this really needs is an understanding of who your audience really are and where they already hang out.
It’s the same concept with social media – don’t be using LinkedIn when your potential users are the teen market who are all hanging out on Instagram.
4. Free samples/trials
This is a slightly riskier strategy, depending on what it costs you. Often the most valuable commodity a startup has is time, so delivering something for free may end up setting you back just too much to proceed.
However, don’t rule this out as an option, it’s just you need to be very careful who you offer this too.
If there is a potential customer who you know can offer you a truckload of subsequent work, and can also spread the word regarding what you are doing, then offering a free trial can be a great way to get the exposure you looking for – remember that world of mouth is still the singularly most effective means of promoting your business.
Be wary of those who are just looking for a free lunch, however, of which there are many.
5. Cold calls/emails
This is an often-overlooked strategy in this day and age of technically-advanced marketing tactics, but it still works.
First of all utilize your existing contacts, of course, but from there, as long as you do your research right, you can start a cold emailing process which is cheap to execute and might just get you one or two hits, which is all you are looking for from any one source.
Cold calling is also an option, and again in modern business is not the expected route to follow: who knows, that surprising human conversation on the phone may just be the in that you were looking for.
It may take a little courage, but if you believe in yourself and your product, take that opportunity to tell people about it, wherever they may be.
6. Double down
It is important to realize that you will almost never get all of your conversions from one source: it is about tapping as any channels as possible to improve those numbers.
Once you have those first few users on board, you can double down on the most successful channels (as long as you are measuring) and then repeat the trick. Scale up with that incoming revenue, and never look back.