One of the biggest challenges for a startup business is getting the first few customers. Heck, it’s a challenge to get the very first customer.
You’re not really a business until you start selling and I’ve read somewhere that you shouldn’t be investing in anything until you have your first three customers.
GBW wasn’t even a glimmer of an idea until someone reached out to me and asked if I would write for their blog. I had been doing blogging on my own and they wanted regular posts for their site, but didn’t have the time to do it. Then I noticed another person that was looking for a writer. And then I looked a little harder and found another person that was in need so I contacted them.
It kind of snowballed from there a little bit, but we still work to get new customers and we do it one at a time just like in the beginning. We still use the following strategies for getting customers and I think they can help your tech startup to get your first few customers.
1. Talk To Colleagues
Sometimes all you have to do is ask. If your have friends that are in business – both in your industry and even those outside your industry – then go ahead and ask if they know anyone that could use your service. Describe what you’re doing and ask if they know anybody that might be interested. When they tell you, give the person a call and mention that your colleague referred you.
You might get a few “no” responses, but keep at it. Getting 1 out of 10 is still not bad for a new business.
2. Complementary Partnerships
When you’re starting out you don’t have any customers. You don’t have anyone paying attention to you.
You need to get some attention and to do that you have to go where your customers are. And many of your customers are using other tech products. Find the companies that share your customer, but that also don’t compete with you. Figure out a proposal for a partnership. Since you’re new you’ll have to really provide some great to the relationship and in return the partner will give you access to their audience along with their endorsement. It could be huge, but remember, you’ll really have to give something worthwhile.
Let’s say you’re a hosting company. You could offer to give tech support to designers if they choose to go with your service for their clients.
Integration is like complementary partnerships, but it’s worth its own mention. Many companies today, especially software companies, integrate their software with other companies. If you’re in software and you can make your product an add-on you can earn business from the other software company’s client base. Again, you’ll have to really make it worthwhile to the existing software users. This could even be a special part of your offering and not your full offering.
For example, a social media software management company could integrate a small, but useful feature into Buffer and get exposure for the full suite or social media products it offers.
Directories are old school, but they’re still very useful. People search directories all the time looking for specific things. Find the directories that best fit your niche (your industry + directory) and signup. Many are free and it’s a start to getting yourself noticed. I know that designers use Dribbble all the time to get new business.
5. LinkedIn Connections
I’ve used LinkedIn as a soft selling tool. I strategically connect with people that I think fit the GBW customer profile. These people will then often see who I am and what GBW does and they’ll contact me for information. I think it’s best to be passive with this. And it’s also good to be really selective with the people you connect with. It might not yield tons of sales, but again, you’re only looking for the first customer.
6. Affiliate Program
Affiliate marketing is old school at this point too, but it’s a pretty basic model. You find people that own websites that have audiences with your target customer and you see if they’re interested in being an affiliate. You pay them for any sale they send your way. Make it really worth their while and they’ll become your best salespeople. And you only have to pay when a sale is confirmed.
This can really work well if you have a subscription model because you can pay a set price to the affiliate, which is great for them and then collect for the lifetime of the customer.
Search for (Your Industry + Blog) and you’ll find potential affiliates. Contact them via their site and ask if they’d be interested.
7. Competitor Social Profiles
This one is a little sneaky. Go on your competitor’s social profile and see who they’re connected with. This will often give you a clue to who their customers are. Once you know who their customers are you can form a plan to reach out and see if those customers would be interested in testing your service. The thing is that you already know they’re interested in a product like yours.
You can do this with complementary businesses too. See who the customers are and reach out directly. Search LinkedIn to find the contacts within the companies you target.
8. Competitor Client Pages
This is similar to the one above. Go to your competitor’s website and look on their “Our Clients” page. You know these clients use a product similar to yours so they might be interested in switching or at least testing a new service. I worked for a big ecommerce company and we were always looking at our options and always open to testing something new if it sounded interesting.
9. Search Twitter
The second GBW customer came through a search on Twitter. A person I was following expressed interest in finding a blogger for their business website. I contacted them and things got going. It was actually pretty easy.
Follow the CEOs, managers and directors of the companies you’re targeting. These people will sometimes express a need. When they do you can reach out with a solution. Make a soft sell with something like, “We might be able to help. What’s the best way to get in touch?”
You could also search on Twitter for keywords related to your business. Keep an eye on it from time to time and see if something pops up.
I always put blog-related strategies at the bottom of these lists so I don’t seem too promotional about my enthusiasm for it, but I feel strongly that blogging can help your business. Starting a blog now likely won’t yield immediate results, but few businesses grow overnight. If you’re looking for long-term growth then a blog is a great asset. Over time, it will bring in people that will eventually turn in to your office. From there you can easily sell a product or service.
For example, Copyblogger started out as a blog and now they have a number of different products.
Best of luck with your efforts to get your first few customers. It’s a big step for any business to get the first few customers that are actually paying you money for what you’re providing. These items here should help. They’ve helped GBW and I know we weren’t the first to use the strategies.