Launching a new business is a thrilling endeavor. And in the beginning, many small business leaders ride that thrill through the process of quitting their old job, venturing out on their own, and building a unique product or service. While all of these are necessary steps in the process, many leaders prioritize these secondary issues while neglecting the most important thing for their business: finding paying customers.
When it comes down to it, a great business is not a fancy website, a well crafted elevator pitch, or even a superior product. A great business is made up of loyal customers who are willing to pay for that product and recommend it to others. As you launch your new business, your goal should be taking the quickest route possible to finding those customers.
Your first customers in particular are even more valuable to the long-term success of your brand. Their interest in your product will validate your idea, showing a demand for the thing you sell. They will also provide an invaluable research opportunity for your brand, as their feedback will give you a good understanding of what worked and what need improvement going forward.
This article will provide 5 actionable steps you can take right now in order to generate your first 5 paying customers. We will also provide a few extra steps you can take in order to multiply those first customers into even more business for your brand.
How to find your first customers
Finding your first customers can be a frustrating milestone for a small business looking to make an impact in their industry. For some, the difficulty in reaching that initial milestone will lead them to abandon their hopes of starting a business altogether. But there are a few key strategies your brand can prioritize in this pivotal time to set yourself up for long-term success moving forward. Before we get into those strategies, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your first customers.
If your business is brand new, it is likely that you do not yet have reviews to give your product credibility in the marketplace. For that reason, you might consider lowering your prices for your first few customers, knowing that their reviews will be much more valuable in the long term than the money you will lose from your first few sales. This will encourage more people to work with you, and reduce the risk they feel in partnering with a new company.
Another important thing to note is the necessity of doing things that might not scale in the long term in order to get the ball rolling for your brand in the short term. Several of the strategies laid out in this article might take more time and effort to implement than you had originally planned. But be encouraged that once you find those first few customers for your brand, momentum will inevitably build, requiring less and less effort to generate each new lead. Oftentimes, those first few paying customers will be the ones whose referrals get you your next customers and so on.
Utilize your existing network
Your existing network of friends, family, old college acquaintances, and former co-workers are all great places to start when it comes to identifying business opportunities.
When it comes to effectively reaching your network and (tastefully) soliciting referrals, we recommend two strategies:
First, craft a concise LinkedIn post updating your connections about this new endeavor, including mention of your experiences that led you to start a business in the first place. Give some information on your offer and the best ways for people to get connected with you if they want to learn more.
Second, choose ten of your connections who could help you the most in getting connected with new customers. This could be an old colleague within your industry, a relative with wide-reaching connections, or a childhood friend. Once you have identified a few people, take some time to write a personalized email to each one, detailing your business and the specific ways they could help you in this new venture. As long as you do not ask for money, many of these connections will be happy to oblige your request for referrals.
When starting your new venture, it might seem risky to put yourself out there in this way, but this can be a great catalyst for launching yourself into this new phase of business ownership.
"We used our network and personal resources to collect referrals. From there, we first reached out to the first couple of customers. We offered them the best-in-class customer experience as these customers are the special ones." Jonathan Merry, Moneyzine
Engage with the community
Once you have reached out to your existing network, start expanding that network by making new, strategic connections. Everything from industry events to online communities can help build your rapport in the beginning.
The key to finding your first customers quickly is putting yourself in the right position to be discovered by those customers. In all likelihood, they will not be knocking at your door to try your product. Instead, take the initiative to find them and demonstrate the value of your offer. If you are confident in your product or service this should not be a difficult thing to do. And the more you can practice talking about your business and pitching your product in the beginning, the better.
"Local events are gold. I attended a few, chatted with people, made genuine connections without shoving my product down their throats. If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: keep it real, be genuine, and people will naturally gravitate towards you and your business." - Sudhir Khatwani, The Money Mongers
For brands looking to reach an even wider initial audience, advertising online can be a great way to promote a product quickly.
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google advertising are all great places to start with your advertising. Focus on one of these channels and even consider hiring an expert to help you run your campaigns in the beginning.
Not only is online advertising one of the best ways to cast a wider net, but the data you will get from these campaigns will help to inform your growth moving forward. Pay close attention to the messages, images, and offers that prospects respond best to and keep those in mind as you continue to promote your product in the future.
"Utilizing Instagram ads is one of the most basic, yet effective strategies I’ve utilized to acquire my first customers. These ad campaigns helped me maintain a low customer acquisition cost as I determined what ads would work best for my business. A/B testing ensured I could find the better-performing ad for my target demographic and could then curate a campaign around them. This helped keep the marketing budget low while also targeting the intended audience." - Saad Alam, Hone Health
Partner with other businesses
A creative way to expand your customer base is by partnering with other individuals who serve the same customers but offer a different product or service. Strategic partnerships can help you reach a wider audience and give you the opportunity to build relationships with other entrepreneurs, something that is vastly important for small business leaders to do.
The key to perfecting this strategy is determining an agreement that will satisfy both parties involved and deliver results for each. Research a handful of businesses who could be a great partner for your brand and reach out to them with the goal of helping rather than selling to them. If you have an offer that is truly beneficial for both parties involved, they should jump at the chance to work with you as it will mean more revenue for their brand as well.
"A not-so-common strategy is building and nurturing partnerships with other businesses. Being a small business, partnering with an established brand or complementary businesses can drive customer growth mutually. For example, I'm a growth marketer, and when I started out, I collaborated with a lot of design/development shops to refer me to clients. Some said no, but some of them did say yes, and brought in hundreds of dollars of business over the years." - Abhi Bavishi
Cold call or email
If all else fails, cold outreach is an option that has benefited many small businesses in the past. This strategy can be difficult to scale, not to mention the fact that it is also intimidating for the vast majority of people. But as we mentioned in the beginning, if your goal is simply finding a few initial customers this could be the fastest way to reaching that goal. Beyond that, this is also a great way to practice and refine your sales pitch, an invaluable skill for any small business leader to master.
The key with this strategy is to make it as personal as possible. These people are probably inundated with countless messages a day, and for yours to make a difference, it has to be unique and personalized to their specific needs.
"Never be afraid to reach out and pitch. As a small business owner, building a customer base is one of the most critical elements of success. Leaders need to be comfortable reaching out to potential customers directly, regardless of whether they're a B2B or B2C company. Getting your first customers requires persistence, luck and business savvy." - Kelsey Bishop, Candor
The key to exponential growth
Your first customers are not only great for getting the ball rolling and validating your business idea, but they are essential for multiplying your customer base in the years to come. In order to make the most of these first few clients, there are a few things you can do to convert those first paying customers into more business for your brand.
With your first few customers, your goal should be giving them the greatest experience possible. This will establish a solid foundation for your brand moving forward. And once you have completed the work for these initial clients, your main priority should be collecting referrals from them. As we mentioned before, this will greatly increase your credibility and give other clients confidence in working with your brand.
Set up a website
If you have not done so already, setting up a website is imperative to the growth of your brand. While you can manage without a website for booking your first few customers, an online presence of some sort is key to reaching more people with your message. This is a great way to showcase your work, positive reviews, and any information that might be helpful in leading your prospects to purchase from you.
Your first few clients will be the first to "test drive" your new business. As such, their feedback will be the first outsider's perspective to inform your business decisions moving forward. This is a great opportunity to send a survey asking them about their experience with your brand and their thoughts on what worked well and what could have been better.
In the beginning, starting a business is all about the small investments you make. Meaning, you might not see returns immediately, but your efforts will pay off as long as you continue pressing in, meeting new clients, and eventually closing more deals.
Amidst all the uncertainty of starting a new business, there is one thing that you should prioritize above it all: taking action. Even if you feel like your business is not quite "finished", taking action will get the ball rolling and ultimately lead to more sales, the lifeblood of your brand.
There will be plenty of time to refine your product in the future, but finding your first few clients should be a goal that you pursue relentlessly if you want to see lasting success for your brand.
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