So you have set up your own business and you have a great product or service, now what?
Getting your first customer. Your first sale will always be the hardest but ultimately the most satisfying. The realization that someone is willing to spend money on your offering is a great moment.
Unless you have an incredible, innovative new product that will go viral in hours you will have a lot of work to do in getting your first customer and start bringing in a steady stream of customers as you grow.
Whether you are opening a new restaurant, a consultancy, a software firm etc... it is always gets easier to gain new customers when you already have many customers, happy customers. Nobody wants to eat in an empty restaurant, clients want to know who you have worked with before and firms want to know who else is using your product. So how do you get your first customer, if you need customers to get your first customer?
A lot time will need to be spent on the computer spreading the word and on networking to get those first few customers to set you on your way. Remember word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools, so make sure you don't forget to provide a quality customer service as the first few customers trickle in, they can help you grow your initial user base the quickest, especially with the advent of social networking and the role it plays in influencing large numbers of friends, which can help spread the word like wildfire. That leads me nicely on to my first point:
Social Networking - Set your self up on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any others you can manage. These tools have given startups a great way of marketing their business for free. Take time to interact with others and offer value. It may be advisable to offer special introductory offers to entice your first few customers. Make them feel special and they might sure the experience with their friends, followers, network whatever you want to call them.
Give it away - That's right offer your product or service for free! Now this might not always be possible but if you can it's a good way to build up users. You can integrate this with your social networking strategy and offer your first 20 followers or fans your product/service free. This also builds up your social network.
Now I know giving your product away for free doesn't make you money but you can offer your product free to gain users. I personally count a customer as someone who has paid for the product or service. giving your product away for free will increase its users and help you gain your first proper customer.
If you are an online software company for instance you might even offer a basic free version or free trial in the hope of upgrading them to a paid package at some point, therefore creating a profitable ROI over the lifetime of that customer.
Think a little closer to home - Friends, family, ex colleagues may all be potential customers. They would also be more inclined to buying your product as they may feel obliged to help you out. They can also be perfect in helping you see potential problems, where you might be going wrong. Spotting these and fixing it before you get too many customers from further a field who find problems, which may harm your brands reputation, is a benefit of selling to those closer to you.
Network - This is an important step in making your business known. It also gives you the chance to learn and meet potential influences that can help spread the word about your business. Attend networking events for those in your industry, social meet-ups for small businesses and conferences. All of these will help you widen your network and help get yourself out there as well as your business. Bear in mind that you yourself are a brand also and this has a direct influence on your company.
The Paid way - If you have some money to spend, putting it into a marketing budget can help you branch out. Whether you spend on marketing online, offline or both depends on your business. A local restaurant may use both local newspaper ads and Google local ads. A software firm may use only online advertising in the form of PPC (pay per click) such as Google adwords or may pay for banner placement on a targeted website.
This can help get your product/service seen by many people but may not always be effective in terms of ROI especially on a small budget. Online marketing is much more quantifiable but depends on more factors than the ads, converting visitors to your site is the most important aspect.
Last but not least, make sure you have an elevator pitch. A 30 second summary of what need your business fills, with what you offer and the benefits that that will be given. You never know when you might bump in to a potential customer or someone who can benefit you and your business.
The above are just some ways that you can gain your first customers, any other ways let me know in the comments.
Remember even if you don't like sales, to be a successful entrepreneur you will need to be able to sell.
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