How to Get the First Customers to Startups: a Proven Get-to-Market Guide
How to get clients for a startup company? It's a good question, but let's make things clear. There is no magical recipe that would bring you a hundred customers overnight. And if your strategy is "wait the product will sell itself", we need to talk.
Startups have always been risky: grow fast or fallout. So how to get the first customers to startups? Well, most of the early-stage customer acquisition strategies rarely scale well. Yet, there are a handful of tactics and tricks that will help you reach the right audience.
To shake up your strategy, we hand-pick 7 approaches to get the first customers aboard. Most of them suit a small marketing budget (or no budget at all.) Spoiler alert: you won't find here any earth-shattering revelation. So keep on reading and you will find out the viable practice and few tips.
How to acquire the first customers?
Let's take the first launch iteration of your product as a starting point. The processes seem to be chaotic. Think about pulling together a timeline and to-dos to clear things out. Even if you aren't sure about the dates, you still can set rough estimations. That can be like "make a website live" 20 days before the launch. Just don't plan anything in a vacuum. Share it with the team to keep everyone on the same page.
Focusing on how to get your first 100 customers, you can
- analyze your competitors
- seed in social media groups
- answer on the Quora questions
- get some customers and traffic from Reddit
- have second thoughts on blogging
- run cold campaigns
- strive to hit the first page of Product Hunt
Looks like a lot, right? Although, some tactics may not stick with your product. If it looks like there is no audience you want to target, try another approach.
7 Tricks for Getting Your First Customers
This go-to-market guide is supposed to incorporate the resources that you are already using. Even so, business listing and blogging may come with extra expenses. Be ready that every step has its pros and cons. But let's take everything in a bite-size way.
#1 Have You Analyzed the Competitors?
You'd got an existing idea and worked it out into the product, app, or service. Great! But don't get upset if you find a nearly similar product on the market. Think about it as an opportunity. How is it possible? Well, you can figure out what marketing approaches work.
For example, check the competitors' backlinks, read the customers’ reviews on their features. Basically, you can find out
- a list of approaches that don't work
- the idea of what content they share and what channels work best for them
- the list of influencers they collaborate with
- if they run any affiliate programs
- the drawbacks in the app or service performance and remove it in your product
- their backlinks and pitch those websites to mention your product too (use Ahrefs, Mangools or Semrush, or any other tool)
There are dozens of templates available on the internet. Here is an outreach sample:
Subject: A quick question about your website
My name is John Doe and I'm the founder of [product name]. I recently came across your post [a topic of the post], and noticed that you’ve listed [competitors’ name] but not us.
Can you mention [link to your website] too? The update will add more value to your content. I will also be glad to share your post on my social media channels.
Let me know what you think!
Special comment: Once you download a .csv file, you are better to filter it. Choose web pages that are 'live' and have a domain rate between 21-70. Don't send your pitch to the customer support email. How to get email addresses without violating any laws? Use tools like hunter.io or snov.io to collect emails available on the web. Both tools got free plans. And if you want to save your time on sending out, check out Mailshake. Though, it has only paid plans.
#2 Test the Waters with Social Media Seeding
Social media like Facebook and LinkedIn work well for identifying and reaching customers. The how-to is simple.
- Search for the groups that cover topics or areas your products work in.
- Join these groups. Interact with the audience and look at how other startups promote themselves. Besides, you can take as an example the promo posts that ask group members to test the app or service.
- Ask the groups to test your product. Note: don't be spammy. Be polite and reply to questions and comments.
Social media seeding may bring first-hand feedback without vague generalities. That also drives potential customers to your product.
Special comment: This approach suits nearly all types of businesses. In case, your startup is a marketplace, you can try it as well. Or check out a detailed guide on kicking off the marketplace.
#3 How to Master Quora Environment
Have you ever thought about Quora as a place for finding startup customers? Now you know it is a good option too. Here are 3 to-go steps for working in Quora:
- Register the account. If you happen to have one then check the topics and answer the questions on them. Your profile should be reliable.
- Collect all conceptually related questions and problems that your product can solve.
- Don't go head over heels into spamming your product. But provide genuinely helpful answers.
Special comment: We don't overclaim the value of Quora seeding. You may not reach the desired traffic or number of users. But you'll get backlinks to your website that improves its ranking in Google. That proves to be a good time investment too.
#4 Exploring Reddit: Get Traffic and Customers
There is no doubt a high-karma Reddit profile is a useful tool to have in your drawer. Here you can find out the real user issues and present your tool as a solution.
The action plan reminds a bit of the Facebook and LinkedIn seeding. You look for the subreddits that cover the topics and troubles your product can help with. Learn how the discussions go there, what are the community rules. Comment or ask for tips here and there, and then push a post about your app or service.
Special comment: Before posting in any subreddit, make sure you don't violate their rules. The subreddits with a large and quality audience follow their rules strictly. Here are two types of posts that work: a video and in a comment add more information or a clear copy.
#5 Blog: Should You Jump into Content Marketing?
The fact: content marketing brings value to any business. The SaaS blog is the perfect way to find potential customers online. And that's the most traveled path. On a similar note, your content should be valuable and informative. The stuff with keywords posts won't work for you. The same story is about the topics covered in the same manner dozens of times out there on the web.
To put it simply: your content, either articles or visuals, has to be unique and helpful. Such content marketing costs more, but it also works better. Having the quality posts, you can pitch other websites to mention you in their posts. That brings you backlinks, you get higher in the Google ranking, and your reputation grows too. And that's the point, your potential customers can come across your product faster.
Despite the stage of your product, guest blogging is a good way to get mentions and backlinks. Strive to the websites with domain authority 21-60 points. Why? Because it is easier to follow with their demands to guest posts. The websites with higher domain rate usually have more strict editorial requirements.
There are dozens of guides and best practices for business blog running. Check out the blogging for business from Ahrefs. It is free and covers all the key aspects of effective blog management.
Special comment: It is better to set a blog in the second iteration. Why? The budget you have on a blog is better to spend on paid ads on Reddit or Facebook or LinkedIn. Choose the platform where your targeted audience spends more time. Blog posts take more time to get visible in Google and drive leads. And the paid ads will bring customers faster which means a lot on this stage.
#6 Cold Emails to Get Sales
Declutter your mind from the concept that cold emails don't work. This technique is least-favorite of those marketers who use it in the wrong way. Let's be honest: the copy-paste outreach isn't an efficient lead generation method. The aggressive pitch and one-message-fit-everybody message don't work. While personalized and informative emails got more attention.
So how to get sales for a startup with cold emails? Work on your ideal pitch.
- Dig into the background of your prospect: either it is a company or a certain audience.
- Make your message personalized.
- Describe the offer and benefits without being pushy.
- Test a few variants of the pitch.
- Match the subject and body of your email.
- Prepare follow-ups. Some customers should be asked three times before they say 'Yes' to youra offer
The competition is severe and your offer should be craftier than a competitor's. However, make sure you incorporate the startup sales best practices:
- Provide short, free trials
- Give value-focused, personalized demos
- Follow up potential customers
- Set fair price, but give no discounts
Special comment: Spam compliance is another important aspect to think about. Include a real name, contact information (a job title, a website, social media profiles), and specific requests. Besides, there are many tools (i.e., MailTester or SendForensics) that allow checking if your email is spammy. Also, you can check up the playbook on emails that convert from Mailshake.
#7 How to Succeed with Product Hunt Listing
Product Hunt is a unique place for promoting your product and gaining customers. Listing here is more like a race: you have almost 24 hours (from PST 00:00 to PST 23:59) to get upvotes. The more upvotes, the higher your position on the main page. If you manage to spot on the top list, you'll get promoted in Product Hunt's Twitter and get into the next day's newsletter.
The Product Hunt launch in quick-fire checkpoints:
- Find a Hunter or an Influencer
- Prepare copy and visuals for the launch
- Launch your product
- Post the maker's comment
- Announce on your network that you are on Product Hunt
- Be polite and answer comments, be open to discussing the pros and cons of your product
Longer answer: to have a successful launch, plan every step ahead. You will deal with a 3 stages plan. Here is how Hotjar made it.
Find a Hunter who will post your product. Write Hunter's Kit (copy, thumbnails, images, video, GIF, and the like). So your product posting took less than 3-5 minutes.
Collect the upvoters list. That is a tricky one and it should be done, roughly speaking, a month ahead. The quality of your ranking depends on the upvoters you have. Look for people who have both Twitter and Product Hunt accounts.
Create promotional content (posts and visuals) to be sent out on the launch day. Even better if you set an automated sending out to your social media channels.
Prepare a timeline of your actions on the launch day. So you will be organized and know what to do next.
Define the actions and timing:
- get the link
- post a maker's announcement
- get a banner or other message on the website for your visitors
- send newsletter
- send social media announcements
- reply on the comments and so on
Despite the results, send 'Thank you' messages on social media channels. Remove the banners and other messages from your website. And don't forget to unschedule the promo posts that weren't sent yet.
Special comment: Go to Product Hunt with the almost fully-functioning product. If it is 'a bit better than an MVP', then take time to advance it.
The guide on how to launch on Product Hunt is a good point of reference. Definitely, you should play the game by the rules. But make sure you check other case studies of successful launches. And don't miss your competitors’ Product Hunt pages too. Never underestimate the competition.
Why does business fail to get the first customer?
Getting startup customers takes a lot of investments. But the more remarkable aspect is how you organize your work. Unfortunately, a lot of startups - either in B2B and B2C areas - fail. Their number varies but the ballpark estimation is around 80%. Check out our post covering startup failures in more depth.
There four most oft-repeated reasons for why startups can attract customers:
- Little or no market for the product. Roughly speaking there is too little audience for the product.
- Product problems and complicated UI create a bad first impression. And potential customers headed to the competitor who works properly.
- Poor management and an inexperienced team lead to a strategy failure. The ill-distributed investments. Quite often the offer and business vision explained are too complicated. All that doesn't resonate with the targeted audience.
- Limited investments. This is always going to be a case of 'lack of resources, lack of specialists, lack of suitable tools'.
Let's draw a quick conclusion: getting your first 1000 customers requires a strategy. You just let the competitors get ahead with your no-strategy-approach. Plan your actions, interact with the community, share the knowledge, and respond to comments.
Our guide will help you to set off your customer onboarding journey.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a good customer base for a startup?
A good customer is a customer you had in mind when developing your product. The clients you reach in relevant communities. Those who tried your product and left comments. (That may be far from flattering ones.)
How are telemedicine apps divided by purpose?
Finding a market for any startup is a mix of science and art. One thing you should never do is to market your product to everyone. That is the money burnt for nothing. On the other hand, you need to define your target niche considering such aspects:
- market size (How many customers can you have?)
- market financial capabilities (How much money your targeted customers can spend?)
- Gcompetition (How many competitors do you have? What do they offer?)
- value proposition (Can you convey your offer clearly through the noise?)
How many users can a startup get in the first year?
Well, it depends on the business model, price, and go-to-market strategy. As the question is really broad, the answer will vary from 10 to 700 paid users.
How does a new business get its first client?
Customers don't come from thin air. You should reach them out. The simplest way to get your first client is to promote your product to:
- your social media network
- Facebook or LinkedIn groups
- Slack channels or subreddits
- paid ads and remarketing campaigns