For young startups, acquiring customers is a serious challenge. There are a lot of moving parts involved; it’s not just “business as usual.”
Like most entrepreneurs, you’re looking for product-market-fit, early adopters, and your first customers. These early adopters and first customers can provide the crucial feedback needed to get you to the next step in your product development and marketing outreach.
To gain traction at the outset—that crucial, make-or-break period—you should be engaging with target users, presenting your product and the problem it’s solving, and listening intently for feedback.
Incorporating customer feedback into product iterations, while keeping users engaged—showing them you’ve listened to their needs and solved their problem—is the easiest way to create early adopters and paying customers. Take care of these first users and they can turn into evangelists that will help spread your message.
As you identify and define target users, you’ll need a process for presenting your company, product and service, and turning prospects into customers. The following are some highly accessible tools and general guidelines we use to help startups find their first paying customers.
Launchrock and Squarespace
Creating a website is among the first steps needed to establish your company and acquire customers. Even a basic website can advance your enterprise significantly and allow you to start building your online presence. LaunchRock and Squarespace are two platforms we recommend to make simple marketing websites for early products and services. They offer the basic ability to set up a domain name, tell your story online, and start capturing emails or orders.
Startup Design Framework
The Startup Design Framework is great for building more customized websites, with multiple pages and more complex design elements. A favorite choice amongst designers and developers, the framework helps save time and money by using a block method comprised of multiple components.
With more than a billion page views daily, Craigslist is a thriving marketplace for goods, services, employment opportunities, and more. If any of the Craigslist categories describe your business, there’s a good chance that your prospective clients are already using it to find solutions to their problems. To find early customers, try posting an ad describing the problem you’re solving or replying to ads with problems you think you can solve. You’ll be surprised at how engaged Craiglist readers are.
GrowthHackers has quickly become a go-to method of link sharing for web marketers. Although we joke about the trendy term “Growth Hacking,” we still find lots of value in this growing community. It’s easy to post a link to your product or service and engage with potential users and customers. Combine the outreach with a free trial or discount for the Growth Hacker community and see if you can spark interest from this community of early adopters.
ProductHunt is the newest way to launch your startup. Think Digg, but for startups with new products and services. Post a link to what you’re working on and start getting feedback from potential users who will engage with up-votes, social sharing, or comments. This is another community of early adopters, so have a strategy for how you want to engage and compel them to try your product or service.
Reddit is known as the “front page of the internet” and is a leading source of what’s new and popular on the web. Users up-vote, down-vote, and comment on links or text. They can create their own subreddits focused on specific topics. Subreddits are a great way to find existing groups of people who could be interested in your product or service. Make sure to read the subreddit guidelines before posting, so you know how the community likes to interact. Read about how a startup called PushBullet utilized Reddit to build adoption.
YouTube attracts more than 1 billion unique users a month, and is one of the most popular sites on the Web. Videos uploaded to YouTube are distributed to Google, and other search engines, and are integrated with search results. By creating and distributing video content that’s relevant to your audience on YouTube, early adopters and potential customers have one more way to learn about your product or service. Even simple product demos, concept breakdowns, how-to’s or keyword explanations can help improve SEO and drive direct traffic to your site.
Commenting on key industry blogs with thoughtful ideas is a great way to join the conversation that’s already happening in your market. Use tools like Buzzsumo to find blogs and content that are relevant to your brand. Respectfully engage the people in your ecosystem that you find relevant and add value to the discussion. Include a link back to your site as a way to continue the conversation and share what you’re working on.
Using Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon, et al. regularly will help you find relevant players in your ecosystem. After identifying relevant communities, content, and people; share useful news, information and valuable tips. By engaging in meaningful conversation over these mediums, you can make valuable contacts and build relationships with potential users in your product or service ecosystem.
Regularly Present Your Company & Product
Create a short product or company presentation (no more than 10 pages) that describes the problem your company is trying to solve and how your product makes life easier for those who use it. Our recent post, 5 Key Elements of Pitching a Memorable Startup Story, provides guidance on creating a compelling story for your presentation. Use the presentation as an intro to a live product demo with potential customers. Practice the pitch and product demo and make an effort to regularly present it to potential customers and partners.
Adwords shows your ad to customers as they search for the type of products or services you provide (you’re charged only when they click over to your site). The basic approach to Adwords—combining purchased traffic and a simple landing page—provides a great way to see if people are interested in your product or service. KISSmetrics published this great article, “How to Create a Profitable Google AdWords campaign (from Scratch),” with everything you’ll need to know to get up and running.
Facebook & Twitter Ads
Both Facebook and Twitter ads are efficient, cost-effective vehicles of advertising. They allow you to advertise to specific groups of people based on their interests, geography, and other demographic information. Create a compelling offer for your product or service and use Facebook and Twitter ads to reach potential customers with your message.
LinkedIn Content Publishing & Ads
LinkedIn is the worlds largest professional network and the best place to build and engage your business peers, colleagues, and partners online. Publishing content relevant to your network and audience is key to success online today. LinkedIn supports content publishing with an ad platform, and general sharing features that allow you reach your audience. Target new users and potential customers by combining relevant content with a compelling offer or invitation for your product or service.
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If you any questions or wish to share your stories about how you used LinkedIn, social media, Adwords, etc. to secure those all-important first customers, feel free to leave a reply.