It’s a major milestone for any aspiring startup. Early adopters are notoriously difficult to come by, so getting 100 of them is more than just some badly-needed money in the company bank – it’s an initial proof of concept. With that in mind, here’s our list of 21 ways to acquire those first 100 customers, and get that much closer to being the next Uber.
1. Treat them like royalty
Those first few customers should get all the attention in the world, complete with a personal thank you from the CEO and an early-bird gift certificate. It takes courage to try out a brand new product, and you should do all you can to reward their loyalty and grit.
2. Start out free, then go paid
Many SaaS startups choose to take this route. By offering your service for free in beta, not only do you amplify demand, you also gain some crucial feedback about your product. That way, when it’s time to switch to paid accounts you already have a viable user pool that are (hopefully) not just used to, but in love with your product.
3. Start out paid, then go free
A popular strategy for app developers. Everyone loves a good discount, and will jump on an opportunity to download a ‘premium’ app, even if they don’t necessarily need it. This also gets you featured on various ‘apps on sale’ websites and apps.
4. Always fish for referrals
Every new customer is a gateway to another one. Once you’ve impressed them with your service, be sure to ask if they know anyone else who could benefit from what you’re selling.
5. Annoy your friends and family
The easiest network to tap into. Even if none of them have a direct interest in using your service, they likely know someone that might.
6. Exhaust your existing networks
Call your past clients to catch up, and let them know about your new venture. Send an email to that blogger or newspaper reporter that you kinda know, and pitch them an article. No name in your contact list should go unused.
7. Expand your existing networks
Attend industry events, trade shows and local startup meetups. Make a conscious effort to actively engage with people relevant to your niche, be it customers, influencers or potential business partners.
8. Form alliances
Is there a group or a person your target audience already trusts? Offer them a strategic partnership. You can sign an exclusive sponsorship agreement or give them an opportunity to use your services for free. Either way, aligning your brand with influencers and established industry players can work wonders early on.
9. Get featured
Unless your idea is unlike anything on the market, it’s hard to get press attention early. Finding someone who knows the columnist to make the introductions works best. Otherwise, be sure to personalise every email pitch based on the writer’s previous work.
10. Focus on your niche first
Too many startups try to get featured on HuffingtonPost and TechCrunch from the get go. Not only is that difficult, it’s often ineffective press. Sure it brings short-term traffic, but the conversion rate is terrible. Relevant coverage from small-to-medium industry blogs usually does more for your business than any major publication will.
11. Get involved in the community
There’s a subreddit for pretty much anything these days. Find out where your community gathers and join the conversation every day. Try and be genuinely useful though, rather than shamelessly self-promoting. Answering questions on forums and sites like Quora is an excellent way to position yourself as a community leader.
12. Start blogging early
Content marketing is the new startup buzzword, and for a good reason. Providing useful content for your readers is a great way to generate relevant free traffic over time. Make sure to use Google’s Keyword Planner to identify high-volume keywords with little competition.
13. Try Google Ads
It costs money but it’s effective, and the results are immediate. Start small and play around with bids and keywords. Much like with blogging, aim for high-volume keywords with low bids.
14. Then try Facebook Ads
Facebook has become a savvy marketer’s dream, due to just how specific your ad targeting can get. The platform is still an enigma for many businesses, making it a great place to gain a competitive edge.
15. Use social media unlike anyone else
Every business has a Facebook page and a Twitter account nowadays. But social media is much more than a free banner space for your service. For example, you can set up email alerts anytime someone mentions they’re unsatisfied with your competitor on Twitter. That’s your cue.
16. Get good at storytelling
One of the best ways to set yourself apart from the competition is by having a kickass origin story. Maybe your product is far from unique, but you’ve creatively addressed a particular challenge, or came up with a brilliant new growth hack. Having an uncommon business narrative is what makes early adopters swoon.
17. Don’t forget the call to action
Every web page should be an opportunity to capture new leads. Even if they’re not ready to buy yet, you can still ask people to sign up for a weekly newsletter or special daily deals. Building a dedicated landing page to grow your email list is the first step to converting your site visitors into loyal customers.
18. Pick up the phone
Many entrepreneurs dread cold calling but it’s often necessary, especially if you’re running a B2B service. Try and build a rapport with the prospective client, and identify what he dislikes about his current solution. Remember, even if they say no, you still got some invaluable feedback.
19. Don’t be afraid to A/B test
20. Monitor and adapt
Whatever you’re doing to acquire new customers, make sure you consistently measure its success rate. Create weekly or monthly reports for each marketing channel – how much you spent on it, how many people signed up etc. From then on, frequently tweak and revise all your marketing efforts to maximize their reach.
Subscribe for entrepreneurial & small business advice
Subscribe to our newsletter for advice and insights on starting, managing and growing a small business in the UK.
21. Embrace the low conversion rate
Finally, it’s imperative not to get discouraged if some or most of your marketing channels prove fruitless. Advertising to early adopters is hard, which is why it’s so important to reach as many (relevant) people as possible. That way, even a painfully low conversion rate guarantees a new influx of business.