Gaining your initial customers is daunting and scary.
Getting those first 10 customers feels like fighting sharks, climbing a mountain with your bare hands and no harness, and running a 10k marathon all at once.
How do you actually do it?
How do you get your first customer?
What are the ways that can help you do the heavy lifting required to gain your early users or customers? How do you get your first client?
If you’re like every startup founder or business owner, you’re also wondering – how do I get customers fast?
The pace to which you get your clients is not based on the available ad spend you have or how perfect your website looks. Those tactics are for the later stages of your business. Don’t get distracted by these strategies.
The speed of getting customers is based on your time dedicated intentionally to organic outreach, you create a sense of authority, and your intentional marketing practices.
You don’t need to be liking photos and DM-ing around the clock. You need to reverse engineer your goals and affirm your schedule to work less while attracting more.
Scroll to the bottom of this article to learn more about reverse engineering your sales goals, from my friend, Denise.
Below are the practices that land you your first – and following 99 customers, based on tried and true strategies that have worked for the early-stage startup teams that I’ve worked with.
All of these tactics are immediately actionable and actually get you out in the field to connect with clients and customers straightaway.
Outline your dream customer.
This tip feels SUPER basic, but hear me out…
It absolutely warrants saying this again because of how important it is. Don’t skip this.
Distinguishing your target customer is crucial, especially when it comes to startup companies and really finding your product-market fit.
- Who are you selling to?
- What big, hairy problem are you solving for your customer?
- Is your customer the key decision maker, or do they have external people or factors influencing them that you need to also influence?
- What are the traits of your ideal customer?
- What are the habits and demographics of your customer?
- Do you need to educate your ideal customer on the problem you solve, or are they already problem-aware?
- Do you need to educate them on your solution, or are they solution aware? Does a competitor have a concept out that’s similar to yours that people are gaining knowledge of? Have people seen your approach before?
If you need help in creating your ideal customer or ideal client avatar, I share more tips and client design templates here.
Use beta testing platforms.
There are many areas of the internet to beta test your product with early adopter users. I go in-depth on this in my list of beta testing sites that product developers and founders need to check out.
There are many companies, like Airbnb, that surged in initial customer signups because they were “Featured” products on the home page of these websites. For some, this is where the success story has its start.
The important note with these sites, is they are mainly geared toward B2C or customer-focused products. If you sell to businesses in enterprise sales, you’ll benefit from another avenue on this list.
Send stone-cold messages.
Many tips you’ll see online on gaining early customers are toward gaining traction with your warm community. This doesn’t mean that cold emailing or messaging doesn’t work or is not working in today’s marketing world.
This also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of your community, (see the next tip below).
On the contrary, you can sometimes see more conversion potential than warm connections via Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
Your close friends and colleagues are massively supportive and can generate conversation and sales potential. However, they might not be your ideal customer or in the right niche for your offer to attract.
In which case, cold outreach is ideal and not something to be feared.
Send out cold messages that reflect timeliness, employ scarcity, and create a beneficial win-win relationship.
Start with 1-on-1 messaging. Send a handful on a daily basis to people who ARE your target customer.
Scale up to sending a handful to a group of key decision-makers at a company with your refined pitch.
Treat your customer like a business partner and focus as 1-on-1 as you can to learn what messaging sticks.
Show your target user how you benefit them without sounding “salesy”. Personalize your message to them (and don’t spend hours on small talk that you don’t care about). Get to the point and be valuable to your customer.
I share an example template of how to do this without sounding gimmicky and desperate in this post.
You can apply that template to so many other cases, even if you’re direct-to-consumer or more individualized in marketing.
Take advantage of your immediate network.
Now that you understand the Arctic zone of messaging, let’s get you versed on the group that’s easier to approach.
These are your family, friends, local community connections, colleagues, mentors, and others you have strong relationships with.
You understand from the strategy above that not all members of this group will be your customer for various reasons.
However, your immediate network gives you more market share. This means that they give you an instant connection to their audience and everyone they know that you don’t.
If you have 20 friends who each have 20 friends who watch their Instagram stories, you have the potential to reach 400 people on social media if you asked your 20 friends to share a blurb on your product or business.
No ads are necessary. You just reached a greater share of people utilizing what you already have – your connections.
This is a great way to spread the word and gain early traction, customers, and validation of your concept.
On focusing on this route, you can test your warm market for several months while building out your offer or MVP and gain feedback, before you start cold outreach and expensive development.
Create a network of affiliates.
Building an affiliate marketing system can work well in your favor. You get a number of people that can help work with you to sell your product.
You benefit in gaining greater market share in awareness of your product, and your affiliates benefit from commissions.
Additionally, your website and landing page gather good SEO ranking power in Google from getting juicy backlinks from affiliate websites.
A good affiliate to target is bloggers within your niche. They are committed to building a powerful, well-ranking website.
This means that if you have a business product, target a blogger that writes about business. If you’re a SaaS product, target a software blog that can do your product justice in technical “shop talk”. If you have a subscription box, target a lifestyle blogger.
The blogger will craft a blog post that ideally, explains your product, is optimized for search intent, has specified keywords, headers, and a strong call-to-action to check out your site. This blog post lives on their site and compounds over time in attracting organic traffic on their site.
Many bloggers make the majority of their money from affiliate sales. They are just as motivated as you in making a conversion on the product links they embed in their posts.
If you’re a startup founder, send me a message to connect here on the subject of feature posts on this site. Let’s create a win-win.
If you’re looking to create an affiliate system with your customers, check into Growsurf – which is a high-rated, and less expensive affiliate platform, compared to some referral platform competitors. (We hate expensive products in the early stages.)
Finally, if you are creating online programs or MVP products in ed-tech (or are coaching), take advantage of affiliate programs that are pre-built. These can be found in LMS platforms like Thinkific and Teachable.
If you’re doing consumer products, check out sites like Awin and ShareASale where users can search and apply to be your affiliate – or you can invite accounts and publishers. (Awin is my preferred as it’s less clunky to use.)
Do guest posts.
This is similar to the above in relying on the power of blogging to attract early users.
This means creating posts on other relevant websites in your niche (that are not direct competitors) to educate on a topic that is a cornerstone of your product or offer.
This approach can be a good way to improve SEO, gain market share in visibility from other website audience bases, and build strategic relationships.
This tip is a great alternative if you don’t have time to focus on blogging or in-house SEO each month and wait 3-6 months for SEO traction to get customers.
Search websites in your niche and check to see if they are accepting guest posts.
In Google, you can use the following search phrase: Replace “X” with your niche.
“X websites guest post guidelines”
“X websites accepting guest posts”
From there, follow any guidelines in order to submit your post concept for approval to the site that fits your niche and product focus.
Make sure to read some published blog posts to inform the style of your guest post to fit with the site tone and theme. And be sure the post you share adds value that isn’t already published on the site.
Not every submission will result in a “yes”, and not every site will allow you backlinks.
Prioritize sites that allow backlinks to your site and, perhaps, an offer to be included in your post.
Not all sites will allow promotion, but a link to you or your site is still a way to gain awareness and residual traffic.
Altogether, you should aim for a published guest blog post every quarter. Don’t spend too much time in this area, but know that it can result in passive traffic, courtesy of influential websites that have done the search engine optimization (SEO) work for you.
Be active in social channels.
Be present in the social channels where your ideal customers actually post and engage.
If you’re B2B, LinkedIn is your place. I have a post here that offers some tips on how to attract and generate hot leads with LinkedIn best practices from experts.
If you’re B2C, engage in platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Participate in groups across these platforms, whether they’re alumni networks, challenge groups, product groups, or niche-related groups.
Comment on posts to respectfully share your viewpoints and establish your authority. Don’t comment with emojis and an “I totally agree!” statement. This doesn’t tell anyone who you are and what you’re about.
For example, here’s how you would get your early customers on Facebook:
If people ask questions in their captions or posts, answer them.
Comment on posts to help people find a solution, especially for posts that are more specific and don’t yet have anyone sharing an answer, or you’re able to be “early” in comments.
If people are trying to solve a problem, respond to their posts with a high-level answer on the “what” and the “why” and encourage a DM conversation with you for them to learn the “how”.
The more active you are in these practices – the more likely your potential customers will like your Facebook page, connect with you on LinkedIn, follow your Instagram or join your email list.
Use market research practices.
By market research, I mean determining what your ideal customers want by directly asking them.
This means posting surveys to Facebook groups or emailing them to your email list. You can also post individual questions that you’d like to know on people’s habits, problems, or preferences in product or offer building. Great places to do this include Quora and Reddit.
If you’d like a sample market research survey to give you an understanding of the questions you should ask, click here to access my Founder Research Survey.
(If you’re a founder, I’d love to see your submissions and talk win-win relationship building.)
The beauty of market research is that you get to get more in tune with your audience. From there, you can build a product on the backend that suits their needs and open the door to collaborative partnerships.
Beyond that, you get magical copy for your direct response marketing in your future emails, ads, and posts. You have the words of the customer in your hand to market to future customers.
When you do market research, you establish a base of people that you can reach back out to update or gather additional feedback.
For those who are willing to answer your questions, consider offering a discount on your product or service Ask them to be a VIP Trusted Tester, or offer to introduce them to someone in their network
Market research is a give-and-take relationship that, if done the right way, can be a win-win for everyone. Get creative in the value exchange.
Give away your product to earn more buy-in.
It sounds counterproductive, but this can actually be your Willy Wonka ticket to getting more customers.
This is important in the B2B landscape in targeting companies and groups of decision-makers you’re reaching out to.
Allow 1-2 people freemium access or free product to be able to experience your offer.
This allows them to be able to share their experience with peers and team members. In this approach, you get more push and momentum on your product’s implementation and rollout.
Hint: This works really well in both attracting customers and bartering with partners and exchanging programs and services.
Use your time to create relationships with your customers and prospects.
If you have people following your social media, signed onto your email list, or have very early customers, take the full time to interact with them.
What you have as an early company…is time. You have the same number of hours as any big corporation in a 24-hour day. However, you have the ability to connect with your prospects, trial users, and early customers in a 1-on-1 format.
Take this time to interview early users. Share surveys in your product experience and schedule meetings to touch base with the billing owner and key decision-makers. Share reporting for how users are progressing within teams.
This is your time to give your customers the “white glove” experience.
Sure…this won’t be the way you scale forever. However, the lengths you go to now in order to connect with your customers will foster future scaling efforts.
Connect with customers and give them the attention and value-driven experience they need. They will then be more likely to share their positive reviews for your app, website home page, or social media.
If you have customers who aren’t enthused or even willing to purchase, you have the opportunity to see why.
- Why is your product not a fit?
- How can you make your minimum viable product more in tune with their needs?
- Why is your product not worth their investment?
- What features do they want to see and which features do they wish were removed?
Ask the good, bad and ugly questions now to prioritize development and reworking your offer down the line.
Make the first sales as a founder.
Overall, you should read this list and consider these points to attract early users as the founder.
You shouldn’t aim to hire a sales employee or contractor too early in the game. If you or your cofounders have sales expertise, then that’s a bonus in the beginning.
As a founder, you are the best person to speak on what you do, why you do it, and what problems you solve.
As you go through the process of telling and selling, you can then hone and refine your specific buying process. Then you can onboard a sales representative (SDR or BDR).
Don’t complicate your process. And, don’t burn too much funding early on in trying to hire a VP of Sales.
Hone your pitch, ideal customer and buyer process in early sales. Once you have that down, you can scale your customer base with clarity and purpose.