The best way to validate your startup idea is through actual customer acquisition.
It often may prove an extremely hard thing to do given the fact that your brand and company are still relatively unknown on the market. In that case, the ingenuity of the founders should come to play. Oftentimes during the early stages of the idea commercialization, the entrepreneurs themselves will have to do the selling by reaching out to old connections and even asking for help from friends and family.
Get that first sale
There are many things that could be done to execute your first sales. We listed here some tips that could help you with acquiring your first customers:
1. Focus on a market niche
Many founders say that their product covers a wide range of customers. In the early stages of startup development, this will often be an exaggeration.
One of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make is the lack of focus.
They try to put as many features in their service/product as they can, only to find that there is no sufficient need for it in the first place. Due to this, startups are encouraged to find a niche and test whether there is a demand for their offering. If you are wondering how to find the right market niche, here are some ideas:
- Search through your interests – people usually perform better if and when the job that they work on is in line with their passions. We know that it is easier said than done, but if passion and work are properly aligned, then a miracle may happen.
- Find a problem that your skills and ideas may solve – If your mindset, skill-set, and experience in a certain area are in a high demand, you may base your startup idea around it. Find a business model that proves scalable and go from there.
- Do not try to cover too many markets – Some founders get so excited by their product/service that they start putting more and more features into it, and they try to cover as many people as possible even before they have made the launch. That may prove a fatal mistake, and may also spread the startup’s resources extremely thin. Focus on few things only, and once your idea is validated, improve upon it.
2. Offer free trials and free products
Freebies offer the first taste of your capabilities. Your potential clients can see that you really have the capability to deliver a great service or product (why not both). Those freebies may be as simple as free information (entertaining, educational, or just plain informative) or as sophisticated as a fully free finished product/service. This freebie should be served as a compliment from the company, and in some rare cases, you may ask for data or something else in return.
3. Always search for referral marketing agents
Work hard to increase your network so you may get enough people from your referral marketing programs. This will help spread the word about you much faster. Find the influencers that may bring the biggest impact and offer them to collaborate with you in exchange for nice commissions. You may even find resellers of your offers, and work with them to get your services out there in a more rapid manner.
4. Talk with your close ones
Your friends, family, and relatives may also be good targets as potential first customers, but be careful not to ruin any relationship while trying to convince them of the trustworthiness of your offers. Your close people might be ideal first customers because of the following few reasons:
- You may be extremely open to them about your business (and they will be too)
- You will both measure the value provided and the return on investment from the business
- They may introduce you to their professional and personal network
5. Try to reconnect with your current network
Get in touch with everybody that may help with spreading the word about your work and your offers. You will be amazed to see how many people are willing to share a bit of their time to increase your chances of survival. To sum it up – you will never know who will be able to help you, and in what ways until you start talking with your current network about your ideas, and how you plan to develop them.
6. Expand your connections
As much as it is important to reconnect, it is even more important to keep increasing the number of your new connections. This not only has the potential to bring clients but can also get you some great business connections. Visit industry events, join groups of interest, or ask for a warm introduction to somebody you think might add value to your startup endeavor.
7. Build partnerships
This point starts where the previous one finished. As you keep increasing your network, you will stumble upon amazing connections that will have the potential to skyrocket your growth. However as with all human relationships, quality comes with time and dedication. Try to make the newly created partnerships a win-win situation for all of the sides.
8. Try to get featured
Get your name out there on every possible instance – media outlets like blogs, vlogs, newspapers (digital and/or paper), magazines, and others can do a great job of increasing the awareness of your brand. Making connections with journalists and industry writers may be a good idea.
9. Do community services
Doing work for the greater good without asking for something in return is a good way to prove that you are a reliable part of the community. Organizing small charity events and/or just cleaning the local river might help spread the word about your company which in turn might give you enough attention to get your first clients.
Do not underestimate the potential for making new important connections while working to improve the quality of life of the local community. Many companies and their employees participate in charity marathons which help them build their professional network. Keep that in mind.
10. Start your own blog
Content is king, they say, and that could not be truer in the case of startups. Regularly creating content shows that you have great knowledge in your field and that helps build a rapport with your target market. Giving first before getting something in return is a sure way to create the needed connection. Creating a blog is only one of the ways to do that (and perhaps one of the cheapest).
You may start a blog by yourself if you have a knack for creative writing or hire a freelancer to run for you. Websites like Fiverr, Upwork, LinkedIn, and others can help you in your quest to find one.
11. Google Ads
Google is the most popular and the most powerful search engine on the planet and every respectable marketer out there is using it. This makes it a good idea for every early-stage startup. Google Ads can guarantee you a good exposure if properly handled so make sure that you do your research before starting to use it. Finding the proper keywords is essential to target your market niche and it is well worth working on.
12. Use the power of social media and search engines (Google, Facebook, Twitter, and so on)
Social media websites are among the most visited ones and every powerful brand is pouring billions of dollars over there in an effort to get a better engagement with its target audience.
Although many startups do not have great budgets to fund expensive marketing campaigns, there are ways to win the hearts of the people without spending a lot. This may be done in many ways – creating viral videos, telling inside industry jokes, sharing insightful infographics, and others.
Search Engine Optimization is another method that can be used to improve your brand recognition. Optimizing your internet presence (website, blog, social media pages, video channels, and others) can improve your ranking in the search engines in general.
13. Create a great story about your startup
Humans connect via stories. Our brains remember facts and figures if they are connected with some kind of emotion – be it good or bad. Well-crafted stories may be charged with many different emotions which makes them easy to remember and assimilate. If assembled well enough, the startup story that stays behind your offer can attract numerous people.
As we mentioned, humans are storytelling creatures. Use the power of a great story to make your brand well known and easily relatable. If you are not a good storyteller, you may need to hire a person to take care of it for you. However, if you decide to do it yourself, keep in mind the following tips:
Be honest – do not try to make things up. Tell people how you came up with your idea and how everything started. You may need to add some additional emotions to the process, but try not to overdo it.
Keep it human – add humor to the story and do not try to look overly superficial while explaining it. That will help you connect with your audience much more easily.
14. Use the phone
Cold calling might not be effective in the long term, but for sure it can do miracles when it comes to getting the desired first customers. When you lack the budget to do a large-scale marketing campaign picking up the phone might be worth trying. However, bear in mind that conversion rates for that activity are rather low so you have to arm yourself with a huge amount of patience.
Even though cold calling is usually done on contacts that have not been contacted beforehand, try to research them well in order to filter out those that might not be interested in your offers. You will save a lot of energy and nerves afterward.
15. Test your product or service and iterate
This is the principle behind the Lean Startup concept. Do not wait until your offer is perfect, put it on out there so you can see the feedback from your potential customers. For some products/services, it may be even necessary to do that for free. Validating your idea is of extreme importance in the early stages of your development. If it goes well and you get constructive feedback from the market, then you will be free to add more features.
As we mentioned before, a lot of founders make the mistake to wait too much before testing their concept. That waiting can waste a lot of resources only to show that there is not enough demand for the product.
16. Build KPIs and constantly monitor them
Your performance indicators will show how well you are doing in terms of attracting people to your brand. Try to create a few most important ones (both quantitative and qualitative) and discuss them regularly with your startup team to make sure that you are going in the right direction. However, try not to get into the extremes and rely only on them when it comes to making decisions.
An example of a KPI that can help you with your first sales can be given the number of followers on your various social media pages. This number shows your brand’s online popularity and is a direct result of your team’s digital marketing efforts.
17. Do not get discouraged by the low numbers
This one is related to the tip above. You may get low numbers for your Key Performance Indicators, but that does not necessarily mean that you are not getting it right. Startups usually have a J curve when it comes to growth and development so this implies that your beginnings will be rather humble. Do not allow that to bring you down. Months may pass before getting the first client, but with the right persistence, this will definitely happen!
Do not forget to celebrate even the small wins like getting recognition for an event or achieving a nice number of followers on your social media pages. All of those are steps in the right direction for your company. Remember, getting the first customers can be a long game and so don’t get discouraged.
Once you get your first customers, treat them remarkably well
Your first clients are of extreme importance to your company because they will be some of the first advocates for your brand. This means that you will have to make the relationship extremely personal and well-crafted. You have to make sure that their impression of your company and offerings are enormously positive.
The key to any good relationship, regardless of whether it’s personal or business, is great communication. Promoting your brand is important, but taking the time to listen and understand what your customers desire is even of greater importance. Asking questions regarding your service will help you satisfy that desire better. The positive responses could be used as testimonials and once you have enough good ones, you can use them to build up your startup.
First-time entrepreneurs, especially the ones with a technical background think that once they have their amazing product, people will flock to buy it. Disappointment comes rather sooner after they put it out there on the market. The truth is that the sales process has to start long before you have your working prototype ready. MVPs should be tried and tested to see whether the audience will be responsive to it. Once you have the data from the market tests, you can proceed to prepare the actual product.