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How To Find Your First Customers

Louise Ramsay has some top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs How To Find Your First Customers

You might have a brilliant start-up idea, but without customers it isn’t going to work as a business. A knack for coming up with great products or services is fantastic, but you also need to know how to sell these into your market.

Even if you already have a natural flair for sales, there’s always more you can do to get your first customers through the door. It’s important, too, to remember that there’s no one magical approach that will attract customers, but that success will usually come from using a number of different methods.

Do your research

Finding out if there is a market for your product is a great way to find potential customers. Social networks such as Twitter are particularly good for this.

Essentially, you need to find the people who have problems you are able to solve. For instance, if you’re setting up a children’s party business, you could tweet something like ‘Need to organise a party for a five-year-old girl - anyone got any tips?’ and see what responses you get.

Hopefully, people will respond with stories about how parties they’ve been involved with have gone, with all the trials and tribulations, which you can use not only to hone your product and work out what the demand for it might be, but also to build a potential client base.

You can be very honest - once you’ve got a conversation started, explain that you’re starting up in business and would be happy to organise any future parties for people who’ve got in contact.

Utilise your existing network

People you know make the best first customers. Friends, family and colleagues are a network of people who are all potentially in need of the products or services you have to offer - and if you’re new to business, asking people you know makes the process a lot more comfortable. Just by telling them what you’re up to is a great way to get a potential sale.

You can also expand your network by approaching customers you’ve worked with before as part of another business. Also, ask any investors working with you to spread the word about your new venture.

It’s important as well to ask people in your network to introduce you to anyone in their network who might be interested in your products of services - word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools.

Give yourself a deadline to get started. For instance, in the next 24 hours approach at least 10 people in your network. It doesn’t matter if they become your customers or not - the important thing is to take action.

Cold calling

It might send a shudder down your spine, but unless you can drum up enough business through your existing network, chances are you’re going to have to pitch your products or services to strangers. If you have a mutual contact, use this as a way of introducing yourself, but if you lack any kind of shared connection, research prior to contact is essential. For instance, by joining forums where potential customers congregate you can find if people are having any problems you can potentially solve.

This gives you a great reason to get in touch - but keep the tone of any contact, whether by phone or email, light and conversational. Even if you can’t help out on the original issue, the conversation can lead to other products or services you offer.

Targeted contact like this is far more useful than an unsolicited email. Just think about how many of these you get in a day, which you just automatically delete. Remember too that in the age of texts and emails, phone calls are actually a novelty - so can help you to stand out from your competitors.

Paying for advertising

Chances are that in the age of digital media, as a start up you’ll gain a lot more by marketing yourself though online social networks than paying for advertising.

In general, paying to advertise in any sort of media is part of an expansion strategy once your business is up and running. However, advertising your products or services through the use of leaflets that you drop door to door or pin on community noticeboards can be an effective way of drumming up customers, depending on the kind of business you’re running.

For instance, if you’ve set up a cleaning business, this can be a brilliant way to let locals know that you exist and what you offer.

It’s crucial your leaflets are professionally produced and eye catching - an attractive design will encourage people to keep it. Ensure all grammar and punctuation is correct and include as much useful information as you can without overcrowding the design.

It goes without saying that you should include contact details, including any links to social media, and your website, if you have one. A leaflet is also a great way to promote an offer or discount for new customers.

Give stuff away for free

People love free stuff - but it’s only useful to a degree. How much good it will do you depends on the kind of business you’re running.

For instance, if you’re setting up a cafe or food delivery service, offering free samples in your target area brings you into contact with lots of people, which not only helps to spread the word about your product, but also gives people a chance to try it out.

However, if you’re running a painting and decorating service, this is less likely to be an effective marketing strategy because providing a free service to one person isn’t going to give you the reach you need.

Lower introductory rates can work well for start-ups, but only if they’re likely to lead to repeat custom.

For instance, a hairdresser or gardener can entice clients away from existing businesses by charging customers less, with the aim to keep those clients on board even when you put your prices up.

Again, this is a less useful strategy for painters and decorators, who most likely won’t win repeat business until the person next wants work doing, which could be years away. Read more like this

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