How to find the first 100 customers for your startup
How to find the first 100 customers for your startup

How to find the first 100 customers for your startup


What makes getting a startup off the ground challenging is the fact that no one knows if the offering has value until it has generated revenue. Every startup faces the challenge of acquiring its first few customers.

Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all step by step guide to finding your first 100 customers because there are so many variables to contend with.

So how do you get from “no one knows you” to “your first 100 customers paying you for your product or service”?

To help you get your first customers we also set out to investigate how startups have gone through the process. We found that they don’t really rely on a single channel to bring in lots of users. Rather they explore different channels and sources. By doing so they build up their user base.

What I found to be interesting is that the startups that were successful used a laser-like approach to focus in on their ideal client profile.  This approach to gain better odds would be similar to the example below.

Let’s say you have a high-end PR service for businesses.

Advice you would most often get on acquiring business would include “mass marketing” techniques like: blogging, SEO, social media, and even paid advertising.

Doing that is like going fishing with a huge net. Sure, you will catch a LOT of fish.

Trouble is, you’re going to get a lot of little fish for every 1 big fish that you land.

The problem with that is all those small fish will keep you so busy and eat up your attention. So much so that you won’t notice the big whopper flopping around on the deck until it manages to flip itself over the side.

A better way to do things would be to follow what clever aboriginal fishermen used to do.

They’d quietly paddle their canoe to where they knew the big fish hung out.

They’d then wait poised on the prow of the canoe with their preferred tool of choice. It wasn’t a fishing net but a well-balanced fishing spear.

There they’d wait poised until a big fish swam past and ….

WHAM.

With one deft motion – Lunch is served.

Very efficient.

For a startup, the equivalent of this is finding small inlets or lakes that have much a bigger concentration of “big fish”. These groups will likely have a smaller overall audience size.

Businesses on Facebook alone for example are a very large market. Anyone who sells a necklace or prints on Etsy will probably get tagged by Facebook as a “business.”

In reality probably about 1 in a 10,000 would be a real business. Of those perhaps 1 in 200 would make the kind of money that would be a fit for your services.

So to reach your target audience I’d recommend hanging up the Facebook dragnet. Instead go on a spearfishing expedition.

Look for where professional businesses hangout. Perhaps its trade magazines, professional associations, unions or trade conferences. If it costs money for them to read, belong, or attend then they are likely to be a good fit for your services.

What you do next depends on the types of organizations you’ve discovered.

You might be able to get access to a list of members that you can contact personally. Perhaps you could pay for an advertising spot on the organization’s emails to its members.

At the very least, they’d probably be delighted to have you write content for their newsletter, blog, magazine etc.

Yes, you’ll only get access to a much smaller readership. In other words the pool of prospective clients you’ll be able to reach will be much smaller.

But you might find that 1 in 6 fit your ideal client profile.

MUCH better odds.

How to get your first 100 customers

Now that you know how to improve the odds of reaching your target market, you need a process and methods to get your first 100 customers.

The methods described below do not scale but are great for tinkering, testing and validating. Also having a process that allows you to validate the offer and the customer group you wish to target is essential.

The process you follow should run along these lines –

  • Solve your customer’s problem – to solve their problem you first need to clearly define their problem.
  • Listen to what they say and get feedback – Find people who have the problem, listen to how they describe the problem and get feedback on your point of view and proposed solution
  • Find where they hang out – Find out where people who have such a problem tend to congregate and how they deal with the problem currently.
  • Test the waters – Propose solving the problem for a few people to see if the solution is viable and what price point would work best.
  • Get feedback – Solicit and listen to feedback on the process and experience for the customer
  • Get validated – Get validation in terms of people willing to pay for the solution and also in the delivery of the solution
  • Cover them before expanding into other groups – Ensure you are able to market to your target group and get them on board as customers before moving on to another group.

The techniques listed below offer quite a few options to get you started. Start with steps 1 and 2 as they are fundamental to building out the process outlined above.

Once you have completed step 2, you can try any of the other techniques that you feel comfortable using. Add more as you master the initial techniques. You can use the table of contents below to find techniques you’d like to try.

1. Define your customers/ Define their problem

2. Craft your message

3. Ask for introductions

4. Engage with influencers

5. Cold call/email and automate follow ups

6. Sponsor groups or events

7. Keep your online presence simple

8. Create reliable sales documentation

9. Connect via LinkedIn

10. Learn from snipers

11. Fish for leads on Twitter

12. Increase your ROI with email marketing

13. Scout meetups in your local area

14. Share your expertise on other blogs

15. Look into forums and Q&A sites

16. Hustle online and offline or hire

17. Use your existing user base

18. Test with ad networks

19. Reach out to newsletter owners

20. Reach out to complimentary startups

21. Watch your competition

22. Use data research tools

23. Leverage your alumni network

24. Finance your idea

25. Ask in offline spaces

26. Get started with video

27. Run mobile ads

28. Use your product

29. Use free trials or freemium offers

For now, let’s dive into the methods.

1. Define your customers/ Define their problem

Start by solving a problem that you have or you notice others have.

Take Emma for example.

Emma was already sweating as she blustered into the gym’s changing rooms on Monday morning. She sat down heavily on the bench and unzipped her gym bag. All the things she had hastily stuffed into it tumbled out.

Emma stopped for a second, realizing she hadn’t replaced the three-day-old sweat towel that had been in the bag over the weekend. She gingerly picked it up and sniffed it. With a deep sigh, she returned to spraying deodorant on her feet.

Emma’s story is a galaxy away from the perfect fictional narratives used to sell the latest fitness course, product or gym membership. She will likely never become the woman represented by their avatar. And yet here she is, large as life with unmet wants, needs, hopes and dreams.

We can find opportunities for business growth when we meet our customers where they are in the real world, instead of where we think they should be. So define your customer and their problem.

To help with this the Lean canvas provides a framework on how to approach your marketing

lean canvas

Tips to help apply the lean canvas:

  • Split broad customer segments into smaller ones
  • Chances are you already have an idea of possible customers that your product addresses in your head so put them down on the canvas. Then split broad customer segments into small verticals.
  • Each of these verticals represents a different business model canvas
  • Distinguish between those on a free trial and customers. Focus on customers as they will pay because they want it. Free trial users may switch to alternatives if asked to pay.

How to apply this:

  • Survey your audience using the checklist available as a free download below.
  • Pick one customer segment. These are people who are also in your strongest customer segment. They want your service or product. They know the most about the issue you are trying to address and they exist on your strongest channel.
  • Narrow down your early adopters to those who need your product/service the most.
  • When in doubt always build a product that is a painkiller rather than a vitamin. To do this get to the root of your customer’s problems, not just the symptoms.
  • Describe your customer’s current reality and the job your customer is hiring you to do.

2. Craft your message

Avoid marketing promises instead keep it simple, clear and relevant to your audience by being specific about the benefits.

To get started use a formula like –

End result customer wants + Specific/Time/Money + Address Objection/pain = Clarity

Examples of this would be:

  • Hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or its free
  • Not more numbers but actionable metrics

How to apply this:

  • Use the customer persona worksheet to help craft your message (see download below)
  • Keep the focus on your customers
  • Be specific and create clarity
  • Test, learn, tweak and iterate

Free download: How to run a successful audience survey + Customer persona worksheet

3. Ask for introductions

When starting out it is generally easier for people to reach out to family and friends. But also consider expanding out to previous customers and investors. Ask for introductions to people in their network who would be interested in your venture.

For example Chargify CEO Lance Walley says in his blog post that what started as a Twitter connection with another motorcycle rider led to an introduction to Mark Cuban. That introduction then led to Mark investing in Chargify.

How to apply this:

Over the next day (24 hours), reach out to 10 people and ask them to be your customer. The point of this is to get into the habit of building action. So it doesn’t matter who they are or what they say.

4. Engage with influencers

Typically, when people talk about reaching out to influencers, it involves emailing or meeting up with them during a conference, attempting to build relationships and then asking them to spread the word about what you are doing.

Another approach would be to start a blog.

There is a lot of competition in the blogosphere so to make your product stand out you need to do something different.

What made the Buffer blog stand out from others was the fact that they were very transparent in how they operated and forged ahead. Buffer cofounder Leo Widrich took to blogging when starting out. He published 150 guest posts in the company’s first 9 months. This resulted in 100,000 users.

So use your blog as a means to engage with influencers by inviting feedback or even guest posting.

How to apply this:

  • Write a blog about what you’re solving. If you know about key problems in the marketplace, then write about it and how they can be solved. If it resonates with the marketplace then they will share, link and even sign up if you have a clear call to action.
  • Leverage the content you write about on other sites like Reddit where groups of people with similar interests hang out.
  • Update your about page: Like we have said before it doesn’t hurt to state what you are looking for. Engaged readers of your blog almost invariably click through to your about page and if they see this may be inclined to help.
  • Start a blog to talk about your industry: Talk about your industry and why you address the issues you do. Offer a perspective that is unique to your brand and rally people around your cause. Most importantly provide an opt-in form for people to sign up for updates.

5. Cold call/email and automate follow ups

At some stage in growing your business, you will probably need to approach potential customers and pitch them your services or products. That’s where cold calls or cold emails come in.

Cold emailing is the practice of organizing email outreach to potential customers that fit your target customer profile, but don’t know you yet. The aim is to offer your product/service directly to your prospects.

When sending a cold email it helps to have a mutual connection you can refer to. If not you will need to take the time to research them.

Check out the “cold email” Zapier co-founder and CEO Wade Foster sent Andrew Warner after doing a bit of research and finding a question Warner had posted on a forum. Foster’s new product could provide a potential solution to Warner’s question, so he decided to email Warner. Notice the tone is light and conversational:

andrew warner email

In a reply email, Warner says he found a solution to the problem Foster emailed him about. He then asks if Foster has an integration for Wufoo and Aweber. Foster didn’t have one but they built one within a few days. He then emailed Warner back, and Warner became Zapier’s first paying customer:

Having said that, the conversion rates of cold emails is low. In fact lead conversion rates on average tend to be at 3-10% but could be increased with re-targeting.

So to increase your conversion rates try to connect with your prospects on a more personal level.

How to do this:

  • Getting the attention of the recipient is all about being specific in your subject line. In other words provide value up front without being too sales-y. So use a tight and directed subject line.
  • Once you have an approach and a tight subject line, make an impression. How? Provide value in the first one-to-three lines of the email.
  • Provide the “ Crux” in the email. This is where you leverage the good will you’ve created to get something in return.
  • Include the ask. Include an ask which goes something like: “I’d like to follow up on this with a quick phone call. Can we schedule a 20 minutes call for next Thursday at 10am EST?”

6. Sponsor groups or events

If you know your target audience is likely to attend an event, then consider being a sponsor for it should your budget allow. It is a proven way to not just reach your target audience but also to increase brand awareness.

Sponsoring an event entitles your business to exclusive face to face time with attendees as well as other branding opportunities. However, you need to pick events to sponsor wisely. Why?

To have any sort of return on investment to your business – it needs to be relevant to your target market and allow you to be on message. You want to learn from and avoid PR disasters like Nestlé’s sponsorship of a health conference in 2014, which led to the event being cancelled after senior NHS figures urged a boycott over the company’s promotion of infant formula in the developing world.

PAX Prime, a video gaming conference, for example, pays special attention to the way it promotes its sponsors. They provide value for its sponsors using innovative event technologies.

pax prime conference

In order to promote its sponsors the organizers created a QR code scavenger hunt through their event app. Every attendee that came across a QR code throughout the event space received points that led to prizes. With over 6000 participants the game generated over 2000 tweets and social media impressions for sponsors alone.

If sponsoring an event or group is not really in your budget then consider doing piggybacking on the event.  Use a tool like Socedo or Mention to find people talking about a major conference, and that fit your customer profile. Follow them and send them a direct message to let them know that you have a solution to help with their problem along with a link to a landing page.

How to apply this:

  • Define your target-audience aka who your clients are
  • Define what kind of events your target audience attends
  • Select the right sponsorship opportunities aka the events
  • Make sure you like how the event is run
  • Define your strategy and key message. Ensure it adds something meaningful to the event.
  • Secure your sponsorship spot and get involved with the organizers
  • Don’t just cut a check; make sure you can (and plan to) engage.
  • Follow-up: there’s always the day before and after the event. Don’t overlook these opportunities to get clients.

7. Keep your online presence simple

You need an online presence when starting out, but you don’t need to invest time, money and energy into building a complex high-end website.

Instead keep your initial website simple. It could be as simple as a landing page with essential elements on it.

How to apply this:

Ensure you have these 3 key elements to your initial landing page when starting out.

  • An opt-in form: The goal of your page should be to turn visitors into leads. You can accomplish this with a simple web form that allows visitors to submit their name, email address, and any other relevant information that you require to onboard them.
  • Social media links: Your visitor’s almost certainly will hang out on social media platforms. So make your business available to them by including relevant social profiles. Don’t go overboard. Just use the 2 or 3 ones your audience prefers.
  • Start a blog: A blog allows you to gain credibility and presence within your market for the long term. You don’t have to be a great writer. People are more interested in what value you provide than in how you provide it.

8. Create reliable sales documentation

Research shows that salespeople spend about 41% of their time selling. The rest of their time gets eaten up doing other tasks. So, creating sales documentation to make the job of your salespeople easier can only help increase productivity and their conversion rates.

The more you sell, the more you’ll notice patterns and trends.

For example, you’ll notice that the vast majority of customers have the same objections and questions or that they react in a similar manner to the words you use, your replies and sales tactics.

So, document these proven pitches and responses. They’ll help you and others on your team with future sales opportunities.

How to apply this:

Remember sales documentation should be a constantly updated. As you experiment and evolve be sure to update your scripts and templates. That way you always have a relevant, effective response to any situation. Here are 3 critical pieces of sales documentation that every startup needs:

  • Call scripts and email templates: Instead of using ad-hoc conversations every time you make a sales call or send a cold email, use proven ones. Test a few pitches to see what works well and then stick to them. You can create scripts and templates for situations like cold emails, follow-up emails and calls, and closing calls.
  • Frequently asked questions: Most of your prospects are likely to have the same questions, issues, and concerns. Compile these in an easily found area along with responses that effectively answer them.
  • Create an objection management document: An objection management document is a collection of the most common sales objections in your market. To create one start by writing down 15-20 common objections. Then provide a 1-5 sentence response for each.

9. Connect via LinkedIn

LinkedIn offers great networking opportunities with professionals and key people in businesses you may wish to target. Why?

Because LinkedIn is a professional network that users use for business. When people sign in, they are not thinking about being social and catching up with family and friends.

It can, therefore, be a great channel for generating leads. Vertic for example, got a 17% conversion rate on LinkedIn for their lead generation campaigns.

While you can find prospects through the advanced search, it is best to develop your reputation on the platform to make long-term connections.

So, make a list of first-degree contacts on LinkedIn. Join a community, participate and get exposure.  For example, when opportunities arise, talk about your solution/product and check the overall interest. If there is interest, follow up with a user interview and get qualitative data and feedback.

How to apply this

  • Join groups – Join LinkedIn groups for your target market. Reach out to those that post relevant ideas and questions and engage in discussions.
  • Search for connections – if you know who you want to reach out to consider searching for them and ask for introductions via your existing network or use InMail to message them.
  • Keep tabs on your existing connections – Fact is people change jobs and move on to other things so keep tabs on your connections to see who you may be best placed to help.
  • Post – Post updates that are relevant to one or more of your groups on LinkedIn. Also, consider building your credibility by publishing on LinkedIn Pulse.
  • Run ads – If you have a budget that allows for advertising consider targeted advertising on this network.

Click To Enlarge

How to Use LinkedIn to Connect With Your Ideal Customers

Via Salesforce

10. Learn from snipers

With a daily active user base of 1.13 billion (1.03 billion on mobile alone), you know Facebook can help you reach new audiences. Using Facebook can help create a community around your business, promote the content you create, and develop a strong brand identity.

But what about using Facebook for lead generation? Attracting new leads using Facebook — leads that might eventually turn into paying customers is also a good reason to use Facebook in your marketing.

One of the early principles snipers learn is to focus in on their target alone. This is a key principle that can be applied to using Facebook effectively. To maximize your ROI, you need to identify your target audiences and hone your message and offer specifically for them.

How to apply this:

  • Reach out to friends – As with the suggestion above, reach out to your existing network and see if they can refer you to someone they know or become a customer.
  • Look for fan pages – There are fan pages for just about everything so reach out to the moderators of those fan pages that are closely related to your industry or niche. Ask if they would post something on your behalf to their page. It could work out cheaper than advertising via Facebook ads.
  • Leverage influencers – Look up to hashtags and Facebook pages on a particular topic via graph search to find the influencers your audience looks up to.
  • Run targeted ads- if you know your audience demographics then consider running a small-scale test of Facebook ads to a specific landing page.
  • Retarget visitors – You can install a tracking pixel and retarget people who visit your website without engaging with you.
  • Find similar audiences – Consider using your existing email list to find audiences that share similar characteristics (lookalike audiences) and advertise to them.
  • Discover where customers go for answers – Use Facebook’s graph search to find what news sources your ideal buyers rely on. Perhaps they do something similar like a hashtag and topic search on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Discover the platforms they favor and be visible on them.

11. Fish for leads on Twitter

Twitter can often be a platform where people like to call out companies. So it can be a great place to find people experiencing problems with a service.

For example, running a search on Twitter for people experiencing problems with Zendesk shows tweets like this –

Reaching out to such folk helped Groovehq steer clear of potential problems when building their solution.

How to apply this:

  • Ask your followers – Tweet about who you would like to talk to and ask your followers for referrals.
  • Search for relevant hashtags – Find accounts using relevant hashtags, follow them, reach out to them and join in the conversations. How do you find relevant hashtags? Use a site like Hashtagify.me or hashtags.org or ask people?
  • Use Twitter lists – Create Twitter lists of people you would like to connect with or who meet one of your customer profiles and join in on conversations with these folks regularly.
  • Join a Twitter Chat – Some groups and businesses run Twitter chats. Look up Twubs or Tweetchat for schedules and join in on the conversations. Keep in mind the hashtags you need to use for specific conversations
  • Search for people talking about problems you help address –  Like in the above example you can search for people talking about their frustrations, with a product or service. These are, generally speaking, people who would be happy to talk because they’re excited someone is going to make things better.
  • Run ads – Twitter ads have been around for a while. If you have an engaged audience on this platform, it could worth a try.

12. Increase your ROI with email marketing

Email is a powerful way to help you both acquire customers, retain them and drive referrals. Research shows that email provides the best ROI for marketers with them making $38 for every $1 spent.

Take Basecamp for example. Getting customers into the habit of using their project boards and using the app daily is the ‘lock-in’ that gets their users to become paying customers. They know that once you invest in your project boards and shares you are unlikely to leave.

The fact that Basecamp is good at this, is the reason they continue to grow so rapidly. Check out this welcome email that helps to point a new user to resources yet offers a personal touch by making their CEO available to me.

basecamp email

How to apply this:

  • Reach out to contacts – Invest the time to send personalized emails to each of your contacts making it relevant to each person. You will see better results than one large mass email blast.
  • Start a personal newsletter – Consider setting up a newsletter that your existing network and contacts can sign up for. Then send them regular updates on your startup journey and ask for help if you need it.
  • Start an industry newsletter – Consider starting up an industry newsletter that addresses the concerns and issues in your industry. For example, Startup Soda started out to address the startup space in Australia and curates content from a variety of sources.
  • Use targeted cold emails – Know of people you would like to chat to but don’t know them personally. Look up their email addresses using a tool like Rapportive and then email them a personalized offer or ways in which you can help them. James Altucher for examples did this with 40 people to kick things off and had a couple of people who responded and then signed up as clients.
  • Use your signature to ask for help and intros – Use your email signature to get people’s attention and let them know what you are up to or what you could use help with.

13. Scout meetups in your local area

There are meetups around the world on a variety of topics so browse meetups in your area. Join a couple that are in your category. Go to meetups to get a sense of what they, how they do it and to meet organizers before you start pitching people with your business.

Troy Dean of wpelevation got his first few customers this way when starting out with his web development services.

How to apply this:

  • Ask organizers to message the group – if you have gotten to know the organizer for a meetup ask them to reach out to their group on your behalf like you would Facebook group or fan page owners.
  • Ask for permission to speak to the group at a meetup:  Consider reaching out to organizers to get in on their speaker’s list. Ask if they have topics that they are wanting to be covered or if they have a need for topics you have already covered. Alternatively, you could ask the organizer if you could address the crowd for a few minutes after the main event.
  • Mention what you are looking for: You can make mention of what you are looking for on your meetup profile. It is a passive move, but people do read the profiles of new members in a group. So, include your best contact details.
  • Message users – Not everyone in a meetup group will attend every event. So consider reaching out to each member by sending them a personalized message.
  • Create a meetup group – If you find a need isn’t being met by existing groups don’t take it as a sign of a lack of interest. Instead, ask them and if there is interest, start a meetup group. Then build the trust and relationship with attendees.

14. Share your expertise on other blogs

Reach out to other blogs that may be interested in your voice and the potential problems, but you’re trying to address. These bloggers can be quite knowledgeable and offer insights that you do not yet have. They could also make great customer insight candidates and point you to places where your desired audience hangs out.

How to apply this:

  • Reach out to other bloggers for interviews: There are bloggers on just about every topic. Chances are, other people are writing about the market and solutions of the problems you want to solve. These people are usually very knowledgeable on the market, and so they would make great customer interview candidates. They might also be able to share more places to look for people in your market.
  • Ask to write a guest blog:  See if they will be willing to accept a guest blog post or guest article. Bloggers often want more content and are therefore quite willing to publish good articles. This can also be a great way to increase your audience exposure.
  • Run ads:  Do you know of a blog in your industry that receives quite significant amounts of traffic? If so chat to them and ask if they’d be willing to run an ad that would drive traffic back to your site.
  • Use blog lists:  Not sure who to reach out to? Use sites like Alltop to find top blogs in your industry and influences you can also find influencers by sites like Klout and Klear.
  • Reach out to those who comment:  Scroll through blog posts or forum posts and make a note of any passionate comments. On some platforms, you can explore the person’s details behind the comments. The details might include a link back to their blog.  In such instances reach out to them personally and build relationships with them.

15. Look into forums and Q&A sites

Forums and Q&A sites like Quora, Quibb, StackExchange etc, can be great places to find your target customers depending upon your niche. To start off, you may want to monitor questions and answers but then follow these tips to begin engaging with your target audience.

How to apply this:

  • Reach out to those that ask relevant questions: Certain sites may allow you to see the contact details of its members. So reach out to those who ask questions related to your solution. Use any methods the site allows to see if they will do an interview.
  • Answer questions about the problem you are trying to solve: Answer open questions as the people who ask them. They can be great to talk to and are more likely to be responsive if you helped with your answer.
  • Ask questions: Join the conversation by asking questions and reach out to those who answer. Most sites will notify you of anyone who answers your questions.
  • Put Calls to Action in place: Sites like Quora allow you to put a subheading below an answer. So mention something about your startup there. Also, mention in your profile what you’re doing so anyone that looks you up can find you and potentially reach out.

16. Hustle online and offline or hire

Approach people in native environments: Approach your target audience where they are likely to congregate in the real world. Perhaps it’s a coffee shop or mall.  No matter where it is you will need to hustle and be creative in your approach to people.

How to apply this:

Attend industry and non-industry conferences: Just about every industry has a few conferences related to it.  You should be there too as you’ll never find such a concentration of people in your industry. Take advantage of attendee lists to figure out who you want to meet with. Offer to volunteer or just ask for a discount ticket because you’re a startup and you’ll be surprised what you may get.

Attend trade events and other potential venues: Depending on the business you’re in there may be regular events where your target customers may meet up.

For example, if you have a boat share solution. Then go to your local marina to find boaters to talk to.

Need to talk to golfers? Then head out to a golf course or driving range.

Similarly, if it were frequent fliers, you are after head to an airport.

  • Timing plays a critical role in the process. So be aware of when a person is approachable and willing to talk. Also, don’t cut your conversations short to hurry off elsewhere.
  • Ask people as you commute: I’m always amazed by the kinds of people I meet when riding trains or flying. Don’t be afraid to tell people you meet on your commutes what you’re working on. You never know what connections or insights they can provide to help you out.
  • Post an offer in public spaces.  Bulletin boards still exist in many places and people still put up signs for all kinds of things from meetings, to garage sales and guitar lessons and more. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get attention. All it requires is a little creativity. Do you know places where your target audience will pass by? Then consider posting something to get their attention.
  • Use handouts or flyers. Consider using handouts or flyers. For example, if you had an app for paid parking you could place flyers under the wiper of a car parked in a paid parking zone and expect a good conversion rate.
  • Buy someone’s services. If for example, you have a B2B solution. Then consider buying a service and take a few minutes to talk to them before or after the service. For example, you could discover the hassles of accounting/invoicing for small businesses by using one or more of their business services and chatting to them afterward.
  • Hire someone: If you think you would be better off hiring someone to handle your sales then do so but hire with caution. For example, as a startup, it may be best to avoid hiring someone with a lot of experience. Instead hire someone who is likely to be more resilient and can handle rejection.

17. Use your existing user base

An important way to attract more customers is through your existing customers.
What most startups often overlook is the value of their best and most vocal customers and their ability to refer new clients to your business.

Your happy customers can become excellent representatives for your business.

How?

By using testimonials, referrals and press coverage. A good case-study or testimonial will substantiate your sales pitch. So, you actively want to seek out fact-filled success stories and share them whenever possible.

How to apply this:

Offer a user Referral Program: Offer an incentive to your existing users when they refer other users to you.

  • Use feedback like the Net Promoter Score to determine when you have achieved product/market fit.
  • Choose the right incentive structure.
  • Your customers will likely know where to find more customers via their social graph, emailing friends, etc.
  • Understand where referrals are taking place. Then make the conversion event as seamless and easy as possible.

Ask your users via email: Especially in the early days, you should regularly talk to your users and update them regularly via email. As part of those updates ask for referrals to more users or people to talk to.

Listen and query your users when you talk: Natural opportunities to talk to customers include: customer development interviews, usability testing, and support cases.

  • Ask if they know who else would also be interested in your startup.
  • Ask where they would find people with similar needs. It might be a meetup, a Twitter chat or something else that you would not have known otherwise.

18. Test with ad networks

There are conflicting opinions on using paid advertising to acquire customers. Some argue that it is for those who have an established service or product while others would argue that it is a quick and easy way to drive traffic to your site.

Tim Ferris advertised on AdWords to test his book title – The 4-hour work week. While the objective wasn’t to sell, it did help him get the feedback he needed for the book title which then went on to be a best-seller.

Perhaps the best way to determine if this is a viable way of doing things is to –

  1. Think about where you go most often when you have a question or an issue. Most people turn to Google or YouTube.
  2. Depending on the competition and your ad budget, it may be possible to target search terms related to the solution your product provides. Your product ad which offers a solution your product provides can appear before organic search results on Google.
  3. You can also try running ads on Bing and Yahoo, which are frequently less expensive than AdWords because they receive significantly less traffic. This may also be the case with social media networks.

How to apply this:

  • Run ads to landing pages: Consider running ads on Facebook or via Adwords to a landing page. It is a great way to build an early user list. However, remember paying to build a list does not validate your product. It is in using the list to talk to people and asking them to pay for a product or service that does.
  • Run ads on lesser known networks: Google and Facebook may be thought of as major platforms to be advertised on but consider other social networks, Bing and Yahoo to advertise on.
  • Get your SEO basics right: What’s better than advertising? Showing up in the organic search results. So, ensure that you get your SEO basics right to give your landing pages the best chance of being visible in the search engines.

19. Reach out to newsletter owners

Talk to people who run newsletters. You might be able to initiate the conversation by just replying to the email address.

Often these owners are thrilled to hear from readers. Chat with them about issues that are of interest to them. If there is a good fit, ask if they would consider featuring you or your solution in the newsletter.

How to apply this:

  • Buy ads: Consider reaching out to newsletter owners to buy ads in the newsletters which can drive traffic back to your landing page
  • Ask for mentions: Reach out to newsletter publishers who run weekly Roundups in your industry. If your product or service or blog post is of interest to these publishers, you could reach out to them and ask for a mention.
  • Start your own newsletter: Consider starting a newsletter to address gaps in the market. It may take time to build up your list but is a great way to put all those email addresses you’ve been collecting to use.

20. Reach out to complimentary startups

No matter what your industry is, there will be others in the market who could potentially complement your business with their products and services. For example, a Gym could reach out to health food bloggers, health food stores, and organic clothing stores to compliment a person’s healthy living lifestyle.

To ensure success with this method target businesses of a similar size. In other words, target companies of a similar size mailing lists and user base to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.

How to apply this:

  • Ask to guest post on the blog: The challenge for most industry blogs is fresh content. So reach out to someone in big blog sites to propose topics that would be of interest to them and offer to write it up for them in exchange for a link back to your site.
  • Find their customers and reach out to them: If you think your idea or solution would be helpful to a company’s audience, look for people actively engaging and discussing the business and reach out to them. Remember to use tact so as not to be viewed as being spammy or offensive. John Meese did this with people who used Michael Hyatt’s blog theme. He offered his prospects ways in which they could better make use of the theme.

21. Watch your competition

Chances are your competition has figured out a few things that work well for them, so keep an eye on what they do. If they have been around a while, then they would have also found at least a few places where your customers congregate.  So follow them on social media and enter the conversation when appropriate.

How to apply this:

  • Monitor social mentions: You will almost certainly have people talking about your competition on social media. Monitor social mentions for relevant conversations and complaints about your competitors. Join in on these conversations to build relationships and ultimately bring these people over to your business.
  • Monitor their advertising: Use tools to monitor your competition. Tools like Spyfu and SEMrush can help uncover keywords, advertising spends and provide inspiration for any online advertising you wish to engage in.

22. Use data research tools

You have probably heard it said that understanding your audience is key to having success with online marketing.

It makes a lot of sense.

After all, the better you know your audience, the better you’ll be able to serve them. Which includes delivering the kind of helpful content and updates they are interested in.

So what are simple and efficient ways of understanding an audience?

There are a number of useful market research tools that can help deliver insights into your audience.

How to apply this:

  • Heatmaps and mini surveys – Tools like Hotjar allows you to see where on the page your readers are looking so you can tell if your copy, design, and calls-to-action are getting seen. The survey function allows you to insert a mini survey on any page or to people who take certain actions.
  • Surveys – Tools like Survey Monkey have a huge list of features for surveys of all sizes.
  • Polls – Need feedback on an idea for an app, tool, product, or service? Proved.co allows you to post your idea and the community at Proved will give quick feedback on whether it’s worth pursuing.
  • Monitor conversations – Tools like Mention and Google Alerts can update you on conversations around topics that are related to your industry or business. This would allow you to keep an eye on the competition and join in on conversations.

23. Leverage your alumni network

Whether you belonged to a fraternity or sorority, you’ll be amazed at what people may be doing after school.  So don’t be of afraid to reach out to your alumni for help.

How to apply this:

  • Ask your professors. Some professors live vicariously through their students are happy to help them out as well. If you have a strong relationship with a professor that is relevant to your startup, reconnect with them as they may have industry contacts and can help you with introductions.
  • Use your alumni directory. Many schools have searchable alumni directories that allow you to track down contacts in powerful positions. Often, the shared experience of going to the same school is all you’ll need to mention to get access to someone who would otherwise be inaccessible to you.

24. Finance your idea

If you have validated your business idea, consider running a crowdfunding campaign. It’s a great way to validate your idea and finance the operation.

For example, Foundr magazine crowdfunded their coffee table book after realizing there was a lot of interest in their content and interviews. The campaign on Indiegogo was 401% funded. Their campaign on Kickstarter raised $200,589 for a goal of $50,000.

foundr indiegogo campaign

How to apply this:

  • Look for products funded in your industry. People who have funded their products in your industry could provide knowledge and experience on how to run a campaign. You could reduce your learning curve from what they have learnt from interacting with their new customers.
  • Ask complimentary funded projects for help. Look for a crowdfunded project that has finished their funding campaign. The people behind it may be busy trying to deliver their product to their supporters but may be willing to send a message, tweet or post on your behalf. If they are still seeking funds, then they may be open to the idea of swapping promotions to your respective audiences.
  • Reach out to users that back the project. Every Kickstarter has a tab for backers which includes their profile. You can click to see what they have backed.  If they are a good fit, then consider reaching out to them. You could find the contact information via Google search for social media profile search.

25. Ask in offline spaces

Bulletin boards still exist in many places, and people still use them for all kinds of things. So, if your product or service is something that consumer can use then consider posting a notice or offer on bulletin boards available in and around your neighborhood.

It could be a great way to test out a concierge minimum viable product idea.

How to apply this:

  • Handouts, flyers: Handouts and flyers can also work. For example, placing handouts advertising a paid parking app under the windscreen wipers of cars parked in a paid parking lot could get a great conversion rate.
  • Buy someones service: If you are looking to provide a B2B service then consider buying a service to discover more about their challenges. You could take a few minutes to chat to those providing the service before or after the job to learn more. It, for example, would be a great way for a bookkeeping firm to be able to provide a custom service to freelancers.

26. Get started with video

There are plenty of opportunities for businesses on the world’s largest video sharing site.

 

Get this: YouTube has over 1 billion users.

You can find any type of audience on YouTube. So just about any business can find a way to benefit from marketing on YouTube.

But why use YouTube? Because while other video sites have decent levels of traffic they don’t have quite the audience YouTube does.

In truth, few businesses invest in video marketing on YouTube.

Why?

Because it’s difficult. Compare a video and a blog post about the same topic and of similar quality levels. The video will cost more. However smart businesses know that the cost can be worth it, but the higher barrier to entry scares away the rest. Check out the strategies below to see if you can leverage this platform even if you don’t want to create videos.

How to apply this:

  • Run your ads: YouTube leverages the Google ad network to run targeted ads. Consider investing in this as you only pay for ads that people watch in full. Ensuring that your ads are targeted to the content that your audience would like to watch is crucial.
  • Start your channel: Test out video as a medium to communicate to your audience. If it shows promising results, then consider leveraging it further by starting your channel. It can be hard to get things off the ground, but once you have built up an audience, it will begin to pay off in the long term.
  • Talk to channel owners: YouTube provides content for all kinds of topics. Just go to the channel search to look for content related closely to your channel. Reach out to channel owners and interview them to learn more about their audience and how they got started. You could get ideas for your content, channel or potential promotions.
  • Ask channel owners to promote: If your idea resonates with a channel owner then consider asking them to have you on as a guest or feature your product or service on a video segment. If they share your target audience, then you should get a good conversion rate.

27. Run mobile ads

With the increased use of mobile apps, they are several advertising opportunities within apps that are available. Consider these statistics

  • Mobile devices account for 53% of paid search clicks
  • Google drove 95% of all US paid search ad clicks on mobile

AdMob, Tapjoy, and Chartboost are a few examples of companies that provide access to their advertising networks. If you have an app, you could also create advertising opportunities within the app.

How do you apply this to your business:

  • Work out who your perfect user is.
  • Use laser focused targeting for your ads.
  • Narrow down the demographic targeting as much as you can.
  • Be specific with your interest targeting.
  • Target users who are interested in your competitors.
  • Look at your competitors to get an idea of what’s working.
  • Make it relevant and use images that are bright, eye-catching, and interesting.
  • Don’t use low-quality images.
  • Capture the click with great text and calls to action.
  • Always test different images/videos, titles and text for your ads.

28. Use your product

If your product is likely to be seen by others then place your brand name on it. After all, it is a quick, easy way to get free marketing just by getting users to use your product. Hotmail started this way as have a few email marketing companies.

How to apply this:

  • Making sharing an option: Chances are that if your service has metered usage, then you will have customers who may be unwilling to move to a higher usage plan for an increased fee. You could instead get them to add a badge on your website footer like Mixpanel used to do.  They allowed customers to get up to 200,000 data points and 25,000 customer profiles just by placing the Mixpanel badge.
  • Build a product worth remarking about: Consider building a minimum viable product (MVP) that is worth remarking about. Whether it is being featured on Product Hunt or being mentioned by an influencer like Rand Fishkin, there is something to be said for solving a problem for businesses or people in a delightful way that causes people to rave about it.

29. Use free trials or freemium offers

There is a difference between free trials and freemium offers, but the idea of attracting your first customers with these offers is the same.

Such offers tend to be less expensive than setting up traditional sales teams and ad campaigns.

While working at a startup, I used to call those who signed up for a free trial within the first 5 minutes of their sign up. Users would also get a welcome email sent to their inbox. It worked well in acquiring the first few customers, understanding business needs and in being able to deal with any onboarding issues.

So, consider using a free trial or freemium plan to attract potential customers initially and then convert those who want to use your premium features into paying customers.

How to apply this:

  • Having a good onboarding experience plays a crucial part in this. You need to help users realize the value of your product in terms of being a solution to their needs, being easy to use, provide great customers support.
  • To succeed in converting users to paying customers, there needs to be enough value in the free product for users. So much so that they love it and tell others about it. But there needs to be more value in it to persuade customers to upgrade.

Find the first 100 customers for your startup

To get started pick one of the 29 methods listed above. Whatever you pick, ensure you can measure it and that it won’t consume too much money and time. Then just do it – implement it and review the outcome honestly.

Some of the methods might seem obvious or silly because of how elementary it is. Nothing any of the startups we researched did anything magical to get their first 100  customers.

It simply took a lot of hard work. And it’ll likely be the same for you.

No matter what stage you’re at, whether you have a product or not, you could take the methods in this post and apply them to get that initial traction and growth your business needs.
How to find the first 100 customers for your startup

Vinay is the content marketing manager for Easil. Follow him @teameasil

2 comments on “How to find the first 100 customers for your startup

  1. Felicity on

    Great content, thank you. Starting to implement some of these and really loving using Easil as a graphics tool too. So quick. Looking forward to learning more

    Reply

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