Business Development · Growth

How did you get your first customers?

Danny Schaffer I help startups find and convert better prospects through LinkedIn

Last updated on March 2nd, 2017

I came across a great article that details a few nice ways to get your first 100 customers. Included my favourite methods below.

Nice theory, but I'd really really love to know from the community - How did you land your first few customers?

A few of my favourites from the post:

  1. Ask for introductions - Over the 24 hours, reach out to 10 people and ask them to be your customer, and if they say no, ask if they can introduce you to someone who may benefit from what you’re offering. The point of this exercise is to get you into the habit of taking bold action and putting yourself out there. So it doesn’t matter who they are or what they say. Ask your buddies, ask your mum, ask anyone who’ll listen. From there you can put together a hitlist of ideal customers to reach out to.
  2. Engage with influencers - Instead of reaching out cold, start creating content that industry influencers would like to share, then reach out and ask for their opinions on the posts. You can find influencers with tools like Buzzsumo. Look at what they’re sharing right now for content ideas. You can even open up conversations with influencers by including them in your post. Or just write about what you’re solving. If you know about key problems in the marketplace, then write about them and how they can be solved.
  3. Connect via LinkedIn - Join LinkedIn groups for your target market. Reach out to those that post relevant ideas and questions and engage in discussions. Search for connections if you know who you want to reach out to consider searching for them and ask for introductions via your existing network, or invite them as a friend or use InMail to message them. Post updates that are relevant to one or more of your groups on LinkedIn. Also, consider building your credibility by publishing on LinkedIn Pulse.
  4. Forums and Q&A sites - Sites like Quora, Reddit, Quibb, StackExchange etc. can be great places to find your target customers depending upon your niche. To start off, you may want to monitor questions and answers but then follow these tips to begin engaging with your target audience. Reach out to those that ask relevant questions. Answer questions about the problem you are trying to solve. Add a signature that includes a call-to-action or link to one of your posts.
  5. Use your existing customers - Offer an incentivized referral program to your existing users when they refer other users to you. Use feedback like the Net Promoter Score to determine when you have achieved product/market fit. Ask if they'd be happy to give you a testimonial. Ask if they know someone else would also be interested in your product or service.
  6. Reach out to complimentary startups - Ask to guest post on their blog. The challenge for most industry blogs is fresh content. So reach out to someone with a big blog to propose topics that would be of interest to them and offer to write it up for them in exchange for a link back to your site.
  7. Watch your competition - Monitor social mentions. You will almost certainly have people talking about your competition on social media. Monitor social mentions for relevant conversations and complaints about your competitors. Join in on these conversations to build relationships and ultimately bring these people over to your business. Monitor their advertising with tools like Spyfu and SEMrush. They can help uncover keywords, advertising spends and provide inspiration for any online advertising you wish to engage in.
  8. Cold email – Cold email has a bit of bad rap, but it’s probably the most powerful marketing channels there is. When used effectively, cold email can land you major clients. The key with this strategy is narrow and deep. Instead of spamming anyone who may or may not be a good fit for your company. Find 10 ideal clients, do seriously in depth research in them and their needs and approach them with a genuine, relevant, helpful message they’ll want to read.

Henry Daas Coach-Approach Strategic Advisor

March 5th, 2017

I my experience, sales comes down to one simple construct - TRUST. People do business with people they trust. Period. So the salient question is 'how do I engender trust'? Think about how YOU make buying decisions and the answers will come.

When I started my first company 25 years ago, my partner had a thick rolodex of folks in his network where trust was implicit. They were our first clients. Once we proved we could deliver (that was MY job), they trusted they could refer us and it would reflect positively on them. And so on...

Daniela Entrepreneur, tech lover, Crowdfunding advocate

March 5th, 2017

In my experience, depending on what product you are selling (B2B, B2C...) you have to work on both fronts: introductions on one hand and social media contacts on the other one. Keep in mind that US buyers are bombarded with offers from all over the word, so your value proposition has to be very compelling to make them interested.

Lauren Schlicht Start-up Veteran WIll take you to Market

March 10th, 2017

Most of the above answers are about finding POTENTIAL customers. The way I make them into our first CUSTOMERS is to get them involved in the definition of the product. You need info and market buy0in, so why not make them feel they are involved in the design. All of a sudden it becomes, "when is my product" or "our app" going to be available.

Rob G

March 2nd, 2017

Just to clarify, the steps above (and more - i didn't read the article you reference) should be done BEFOE you develop you MVP as you develop your ideal prospect profile (customer persona), not in the first 24 hrs after launch as item #1 above implies. Also re #1 above, whether their response is 'no' or 'yes' you should get in the habit of asking for an intro to 2 or 3 others whom they feel might be a good fit for your product. Also, the above steps seem to be rather slanted to consumer or SMB products. Understand that there is an additional layer of strategies and tactics to getting your first x b2b customers (M to enterprise).

Shel Horowitz I help organizations thrive by building social transformation into your products, your services, and your marketing

March 3rd, 2017

My favorite ways to get clients are through my writing and speaking, and through being referred by complementary businesses. But my first clients (back in 1981) came because they saw posters on physical bulletin boards. It sounds so quaint now!

Langston Richardson Founder of Startup for Jobseeking Tools + AI

March 3rd, 2017

Here's my story: The early part of our pilot had us bootstrapping travel around several major cities to do user research on the needs our product, once built, will eventually solve. Once we refined the experience, we invited those early testers to try the product and ask if they were willing to buy. We expanded further to a beta release to get customers directly. It was initially a dud/failure until we had one of the bright ideas to place direct mail/direct response... from printed classifieds. A mix of old-school and new school, for sure.

Giorgio Serbanescu Serial Entrepreneur Looking For Business Partner

March 4th, 2017

Thanks, I've got some ideas. What would you recommend to an Italian company that wants to enter the American market, in the fashion and design industry. At the level of strategy in the crowdfunding industry?

Jose-Luis Bretones-Lopez Global Strategic Sourcing & Supply Chain

March 6th, 2017

For me, (consulting and professional services) currently is all about sponsors and introductions from people who trust me and clients who loved my work.

Keeping the business development strategy focused (versus shotgun approach) on your areas of expertise and a few individuals and companies at a time.

Anand S Stratup Enthuse | Love People | Solution Finder

March 10th, 2017

Your customer means he trust you and so the business.

Hence it is so important to keep up the trust they have on us by being flexible for their demands