Getting the first 1,000 customers will not guarantee your success, but it will you give you a chance to get some real-world feedback — and maybe even pay some bills at the same time!
As a startup, your biggest challenge is to get customers on board and getting the first 1,000 always takes the most work. You’re still learning what works while building up repeatable processes that scale. Getting the first 1,000 customers will not guarantee your success, but it will you give you a chance to get some real-world feedback — and maybe even pay some bills at the same time!
Here are a few tips on how to reach this goal:
1. Set up a waiting list
A waiting list is a great way to build early buzz as people always want to be first in line for a new product. This works extremely well for online services and mobile apps, particularly if you offer incentives for people to sign up, such as a free account for three months.
Look at the masterly work of Mailbox, which managed to build up a huge waiting list of over 800,000 people. Their secret? They used a clever user interface to tell people how many others were in front of them and how many were behind them in the line to use the app. This addictive interface gave people a hit of dopamine each time they checked the app and saw they were closer to the front.
2. Use your personal network
Traditional word of mouth is still powerful way to get new customers on board. Tell your family, friends and colleagues about your product and ask them to spread the word. Don’t be shy — there’s nothing wrong with asking for a favor. If you have a consumer-focused product, there is no easier or quicker way to get your first 30 customers than just asking people you know!
3. Target online publications
Just like bloggers, online publications can help you reach a huge new audience. Pick one or two relevant publications that make sense for your business. Spend time selling them on your product and offer them something unique, such as exclusive coverage of your product launch.
A great tip is to follow journalists on Twitter for a while and get a sense of the type of content they write. Then you’ll find clever ways to connect your product to a theme that interests them. Attentiv did exactly this, and got a great launch story in Fast Company.
4. Get bloggers on your side
Bloggers and other online influencers have huge audiences. Even better, their readers trust them. Reach out to bloggers on sites such as mine Tomoson and ask them to review your product. You can drive huge numbers of new prospects this way. Online reviews can often keep on driving sales for years into the future, as people track them down in search results. Even small blogs can often drive hundreds of sales over time, particularly when the review is thoughtful and well written.
5. Build suspense
Suspense is an excellent way to build excitement before you launch. Create a drip feed of information about your upcoming product. This will make people curious and want to know more — particularly if you reveal the details a little bit at a time. The more you give away, the less interesting it becomes. Try to get people excited, but without giving so much context that people are bored and move on.
6. Work with early adopters
Your first customers are the most important. They bought your product for a reason, so you can learn a huge amount from them. Create a personal relationship with them and listen to what they say. You’ll get great insights you can use, and they’ll tell other people about your product. Early adopters usually have smart opinions about products and have a good sense of the market, so always be sure to pay careful attention to them.
7. Create high-quality content
Content marketing is a great way of acquiring new customers. By creating genuinely useful content and giving it away for free, you can drive visitors to your site and also establish yourself as a thought leader. If you have the budget, hire a good writer. Buffer CEO Leo Widrich managed to get 100,000 customers just from writing guest posts on other people’s sites. Those same articles will still be delivering hundreds, maybe thousands, of new customers each month — with no additional effort.
8. Offer a free product option
Many successful online startups use a “freemium” model to get users on board. This lets people try your product with no risk, which can encourage them to sign up for the paid service or product. However, make sure you strike a balance. Don’t cripple your free option, but keep enough back to make people want to upgrade.
Dropbox is one example of a product that gets this right, giving you enough free storage to get you invested in its ecosystem and invite your friends to join and collaborate. Before you know it, your Dropbox is full and you’re handing over your card details.
9. Incentivize customers to sell your product
Customers can be your best salespeople – they already know the value of your product. Give them a reason to get other people to sign up, and you can drive impressive growth. You can even make this work with a “freemium” model: offer a free upgrade to your paid service for three months as an incentive.
10. Speak at conferences
It may seem a bit old school but speaking at conferences is an excellent way of getting exposure and customers for your new startup. Become an expert on your subject, and then contact event organizers and offer to speak. Just make sure to get in touch early, as conference agendas are usually locked down six to 12 months before the event.
Neil Patel spoke at 239 conferences and discovered that the best strategy is to avoid speaking to your peers and speak to potential customers instead. If you’re an SEO, for example, don’t go to an SEO conference where everyone is already an expert in what you do. Instead, go to a gambling event and show them how to get new customers. In the case of Neil, this led to a $100,000-a-month contract.
11. Online advertising
Online advertising can be an effective way of driving traffic to your startup’s website. It doesn’t have to be expensive — $1,000 with Google AdWords can go a long way. If you don’t have experience with this, then hire a pro: keyword selection and ongoing optimization are incredibly important.
12. Test, test and test again
Once you do start to drive significant traffic to your website, then it’s time to focus on converting visitors into customers. Many different factors can affect your conversion rates — ranging from website design to pricing. Try out different things and see which ones work best. For example, you can use Google Analytics Content Experiments to try out different landing pages.
13. Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is where you get other websites to promote your products in return for a commission on sales. This typically works best for information products, such as online courses, because you can offer affiliates high commissions without any product cost. There are sites that make this easy – such as Rakuten Affiliate Network, Commission Junction or ClickBank.