Nov 6, 2014

How To Get Your First 100 Customers

Getting paying customers is a critical goal in your new business. But is it the first thing you should start working on?


What’ve we’ve learned from hundreds of businesses & events

Our company is based in one of the largest start-up co-working spaces in the Southern Hemisphere – Fishburners. Fishburners is a Google sponsored non-profit which helps power the entrepreneurial engine of Australia. Optus, News Corp, PwC, Amazon, Xero and BigAir are also sponsors.

Here we are exposed to over 200 businesses and 300 events a year in relation to start-ups, new business and growth.

Our company itself helps establish businesses. This year alone, we’ve created thousands of new companies. They get off to a great start, but all too often we see many stall in their customer acquisition efforts:

I’m just still building and researching, I’m not ready yet to start selling 3, 6, 9 months on…

I’ve sent out 200 emails and only had 5 replies. Nobody returns my calls.”

I’ve got a regular blog and am heavily active on social media, but no one is signing up or buying. “

You might be busy every single day from 8am till 8pm but still your business just isn’t growing. Getting the attention of your customers is a huge challenge and it’s harder today than it was just 2 years ago. Many of us jump straight in with little planning or research.

Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spent the first 4 sharpening the axe.

  • Abraham Lincoln.

Your first step:

Your first step should be to understand your target customer. If you don’t understand who your customers are how can you expect to successfully sell to them? The better you understand your customer, the more successful you’ll be.

Before you’ll reach 100 customers you need to know:

  • Who you’re looking for?

  • Where to find them?

  • How you’re going to help to them?

In a sentence, you need to know the WHO, WHERE and HOW about your customers. It’s surprisingly easy to skip over and think it’s not that important.

Let’s look at a quick example:

I’m a struggling photographer. I take excellent photos for a very reasonable price. But no one knows about me and I can’t convince anyone to give me a shot (no pun intended). In this situation what would you suggest? Print some nice business cards and hand them out to everyone? Work on my portfolio? Maybe my website?

If we start with the WHO, WHERE and HOW, we have a simple framework we can walk through step by step:

1. Who are you looking for?

It’s easy to start broad, but when you’re a jack of all trades, you’re a master of none. So pick a niche and focus. I’ve been to a few weddings recently and photographers are always in demand. So that’s where I’ll specialise.

Focusing on a specific segment is important. I’ve decided on wedding photography. Try to pick something you will enjoy. For instance if I’m not passionate about shooting at weddings I could instead specialise in extreme sports and sporting events, shows or sport stars. Once you focus you can begin to narrow down your target customer and proceed to the next steps.

With weddings I can now define my target customer: couples getting married. Or more precisely: newly engaged young couples aged between 25-35. Think about how precisely can you define your target market.

2. Where to find them?

“A problem well defined is a problem half solved” - quote adapted from Charles Kettering. 

With an understanding of who you’re looking for it now becomes much easier to find them. Now that I know who I’m looking for it’s much easier to figure out where to find them.

Without thinking too hard I know that young couples aged 25-35 are always announcing their engagements on Facebook. So that could be a good starting point once I know how I will help them.

Getting specific helps you think tactically about how to reach your audience.

3. How you’re going to help to them?

Interview, don’t sell.

The quickest way to failure is to go out directly asking for people to buy your product or service. Why should they? Do they know, like or trust you?

We are exposed to over 2,000 advertising messages per day. 99% have little to no impact. We filter them out or ignore them as a mere matter of survival. Customers are increasingly time and attention poor. Unless you do something to stand out, to add value to their life, why wouldn’t they ignore your efforts?

To avoid the SPAM filter you need to think differently.

There is really only one way you can cut through the clutter today. You have to genuinely help. It really does need to be genuine. If what you’re doing isn’t genuinely helping people, then this strategy doesn’t work.

When you come with the attitude of honestly wanting to help it comes through in your messaging, on the phone call, on your website - it cuts through.

It may take a few iterations of your approach or your message. But an agenda free consultation or expert interview where the potential customer gets to talk about their problems is an indulgence for most people. You just need to work on the right approach for your target market.

Customer interviews

What would this approach look like? It’s different for every target customer. But for a wedding photographer? Here is something you could send to a potential lead to interview.

Hi Jane,  

Congrats on your engagement! I’m a photographer that specialises weddings and I’m reaching out to get feedback on a new photography service that isn’t yet available. I know you’re probably super busy planning for the big day, but I’d appreciate the opportunity for a brief chat and given that I’ve been to a few weddings for previous clients, I’d be happy to help you out with any hurdles or contacts you might need.  

Are you available next week for a quick coffee?  

This is just a quick example. I have no idea how it would go as I’m not actually a wedding photographer. But a simple test would quickly determine what kind of response rate you could expect.

Once you know your response rates and you simply need to build a list of people- more about this later. First we need to discuss the interview itself.

You might think a wedding photographer’s job is simple. Stand, point and click. But it’s not until you sit down with young couples, months before their weddings, do you realise the challenges going on and how you can help.

This is the biggest day of their lives, there is immense pressure and often conflicting interests from different sides of the family and a huge race to get things organised in time. The photographer’s job is to make sure you capture the beauty and magic of the day.

But in speaking with potential customers you might also discover other opportunities. For example, like putting together a 2 minute video reel to be shown on the wedding day that you can make as a surprise for the bride on behalf of the groom. You might also be asked to put together a hype reel of the day. You might arrange for disposal cameras on each table for everyone to play with or a photo booth from one of your suppliers and so on…

This is why its’ so important to sit down with your potential customers, clients and partners and interview them. Understand their world. Find out their problems, challenges and how you fit in the picture. Let them talk. Ask them open-ended, probing questions.

It might sound like daunting task but it’s surprisingly easy once you get started. Here’s an opening to kick off the discussion:

"Hey Jane, thanks so much for taking to time to see me. I’m interested in getting your thoughts about [wedding photography]. It’s really just a casual chat, but I might take some notes because I have the memory of a gold fish. So, tell me about your [wedding plans…]"

What you learn from customer interviews

When you ask potential customers all about their problems and let them talk about themselves at length a few things happen.

First, you will build fantastic rapport and trust. People are not used to others listening so intently and genuinely to them. Most people come with an agenda. If you’re genuinely listening without an agenda you’ll be refreshingly received with enthusiasm and engagement. They will talk at length about your subject.

Secondly, you will discover golden nuggets about your area. You’ll uncover ideas that you would never have otherwise discovered. For example as a wedding photographer, you realise after an interview that the first activity that people need to do is book a venue almost a year in advance. So to get ahead of other photographers, you approach venues with an affiliate relationship to partner with special deals for clients who use popular venues and your service. All of sudden, now when the venue gets booked, the venue recommends your photography service and you’re ahead of everyone.

Finally, and most importantly, if you listen to someone who talks about their problems, ask questions and listen. By the time they are done telling you their issues, surprisingly they will presume you have the answer. At this stage whether you have the solution or not doesn’t matter. What matters more to them at this stage is how much you care.

How do these interviews lead to sales?

Something happens during the interview. You’ll notice it when you sense things are going well, when there is a steady flow of dialogue and you’ve built rapport and trust. At this point in the interview you’ll have the license to ask almost anything you want. For example: where would you look to find a wedding photographer? Do your friends recommend photographers to you? How much would you expect to pay? Do you know anyone else that might be worth interviewing? When I launch in a few weeks would you mind if I sent you a link? Etc. etc.

This is giving you permission to market to their friends, to themselves, what price to sell at and also clues on how to sell in the future. So when you send an email and say:

Hey Jane,

Thank you so much for your time last week. As a special thanks, I’d like to give 30% off my normal rate if you decide my services would be helpful.

Below is a link to my portfolio.

You make the decision super easy for Jane to say “YES”.

Getting interviews

Once you’ve answered the WHO, WHERE, HOW questions above, your challenge is to get 10 customer interviews. More is better, but not essential. 10 allows you to get an understanding about whether there is any need whatsoever for your product.

If you cannot convert a single person from the 10 then you have problems with your offering. Even if your product is still in idea stage you still need to receive a solid intention to purchase. You need at least one “Yes, I would definitely buy that” otherwise alarm bells should be ringing and you need to go back to the drawing board. All the tactics in the world won’t sell mouldy bread. Figure out what’s wrong, pivot and adapt.

Getting interviews isn’t hard when you look closely at how many people you’re actually connected to. The average Facebook user has over 300 friends. LinkedIn is another useful platform with a focus on business connections. Our 2nd connections on LinkedIn is often in the hundreds of thousands. I just checked mine (from approx. 600 connections I have 270,000 2nd connections). I can search that entire network for the right people and ask for an intro.

For more ideas on how to generate a the right list of people in your network click here.

Keep conducting interviews until your getting enough positive feedback. If you’re getting a 3 or more yes’s out of the 10 customer interviews then you’re getting somewhere. In this scenario, worst case, you know that you simply need to speak to 300 people to get to 100 customers. Fine. It might take a few months but it’s very do-able.

But the reality will be, if you do a good job, you’ll get referrals from that job. If you create partnerships, you get referrals. If you’re genuine, you’ll get recommended. You’ll also improve and learn as you go. So the 100 will come quicker than having to speak to each person individually.

It all starts with a little sharpening of the entrepreneurial blade. Without that, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to cut through the clutter. Understand the WHO, WHERE & HOW and follow through with customer interviews. This upfront preparation can save you a huge amount of time and effort later. A bamboo tree grows underground before it’s ready to shoot up 90 feet in 6 weeks.

Be like a bamboo tree. Plant a strong foundation rooted in customer reality. Then shoot for the sky.

Let me know in the comments below how you’re going!

This information is of a general nature only and does not constitute professional advice. You must seek professional advice in relation to your particular circumstances before acting.

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