Start-up companies tend to be most vulnerable at inception, assuming they are bootstrapped. Armed with an excellent idea but sometimes challenged by funding, the founders are always walking a tightrope and trying to prioritize development, recruitment, sales and marketing among other things, all on a frugal budget.
Getting the first customer is always the challenge. Finding someone who believes not just in the concept but in the company can be daunting. In this context, it becomes all the more imperative to take baby steps to propagate the product or service to the market.
There are three routes that can be taken – all in a “do-it-yourself” model. The first, build sufficient content – content that helps sell the offering – this could be simple leaflets, decks and promotional material that position the product in the context of the buyer and the market. Positioning is paramount because unless you know whom you are targeting with what, it will become difficult to construct any promotional material.
As a start-up founder, if you can write at least one blog every alternate day for the first 90 days, you should be able to build up some good content for your website. Focus on building a website that talks directly to the customer. Prioritize content over design. Design templates can easily be bought online and fixed quickly.
Building effective social media profiles and connecting with influencers and groups is a good start. But don’t make your communication too salesy or you will lose out on your following. That said, don’t hesitate to tell your influencers about a new blog, event or any other piece of relevant information.
The second route is events and meetings. The most robust lead pipeline comes from meeting people. If you can identify two or three events where your prospects congregate, it’s a good place to begin. Now events can be expensive to sponsor, so the best option is to attend as a delegate. Network as far as possible and start building your contact base. Also, go through your rolodex and check how many of your contacts could be potentially targeted. Nothing like already knowing someone well to implement a proof of concept.
Once you have more cash, you can consider sponsoring an event – a booth is a good option as also a speaking slot but again consider giving the speaking slot to a satisfied customer. Nothing like a converted customer in evangelizing your offering.
The third route is working through influencers. In my mind the best type of influencers are your customers – build case studies and quotes from them which can be effectively used to win other customers. Ask them for references. Also make some friends in the media – cull out a list of media people and bloggers who write regularly about start-ups and start engaging with them actively. Even if the story is not an exclusive one, just being quoted in a larger article goes miles in building a brand. Look out for influencers on your social media contacts – especially Linkedin and Twitter. The other great source of positive influence is analysts who cover your space. While getting analyst time may be difficult, don’t hesitate in putting them on your mailing list so they get updates.
In the first year of your operations, dedicate some time to doing all these activities – I would reckon content development takes no more than 3-4 hours a week as also updating your website and social media profiles. Apart from just telling people about your business, sitting down and writing about your business improves clarity.