How to Reach Your First 10,000 Customers Without Spending a Penny on Marketing


It’s always the first question on a startup’s list – How do I get my first X number of customers? Your first customers are usually the hardest, the ones you have to invest the most effort in and usually whilst having a very restrictive budget. They’re also the most satisfying and the ones that will determine the future success of your business. During my time at Kits4Causes we had to come up with ways of enticing more and more people to support what we do without ever spending a penny on marketing. Amazingly it was much easier than you’d think. Here’s my guide on how to reach your customer targets without spending a penny.

Your Foundation:

  • Make a great product/service! – Your product/service must help solve a problem or get a job done in a better/quicker/more convenient way. If it doesn’t then what are you trying to achieve?
  • Make something remarkable – The marketing genius Seth Godin preaches about this when he talks about the Purple Cow. Make something that people notice and talk about – watch this video to find out more.
  • Start small! – Create your beachhead. Your beachhead is your core market segment that you need to defend with your life and make as secure as possible. It is your foundation. If you start too big trying to target too many people with different interests and motives you’ll be on a hiding to nothing. See how Facebook became successful by starting small.
  • Fake it until you make it – When a user starts using your product/service they are investing in you. Like any investment, you want to ensure what you invest in isn’t a dud. The trick is to have the look, feel and activity of a successful business (ie. one that you would buy from/sign up to). Perception is hugely powerful.

Some Marketing Rules I Follow:

  • Create a quantitative plan of action – Plot out how you are going to reach your target. Here is a great guide to get you going.
  • Create a story around your product/service – Capture your users’ imaginations, make them attach feelings to your product/service, guide them into visualising your product/service making a positive difference to them. The power of story telling is widely known – find out more in this great article.
  • Focus on super connectors – Super connectors are those with massive influence. You can determine influence via job role or even better, through the amount of followers on social media. Get them onside and they could potential give you a massive influx of new users.
  • Be personal to your users – Especially true to your first 1000 or so users. Try to be as personal as possible. Talk to them, help them out and give them an experience that they will truly love. Not only will they feel valued but they can give you priceless feedback.
  • Set up a Pre-Launch page – Start to leak out what you’re doing. Create interest through mystery – hook them into the idea and get them to sign up to eventually find out more. Check out http://launchrock.co/ for creating awesome launching soon pages.

Channels to Market to:

  • Networks and Partnerships are your friends – From your networks create mutually beneficial partnerships. Get people to spread the word for you; get businesses to talk about you to their followers. Partnerships are brilliant ways to expand your user base. Do remember that with any partnership you’re also investing and become representative of each other, so make sure who you partner with represents you well.
  • Content Marketing – Blogging has become a free, really easy and very effective way of not only reaching your current users but also attracting new ones. All you’ve got to do is write about something that interests your users, just like the guys at Buffer do. Use Technorati, Reddit, StumbleUpon as well as social media to promote your blog.
  • Be active on related content – By being active on related content (leaving comments etc.) you are promoting yourself to the right market. Target blogs, social media and even Youtube. Remember to be fun, pleasant and most of all helpful.
  • Learn a little about SEO – Google is hugely influential in driving traffic if you can get on the first page of a related search term. Here’s a list of really good SEO tips to get you started.
  • Set up contests or give away stuff – This could be anything, from something tangible to a how-to guide. Linking the contest to social media is a great way of spreading who you are.
  • Snatch dissatisfied users from your competitors – Social media, and especially Twitter, has been used as great place to complain about bad companies and poor customer service. Find them and make them aware of your product/service. I would recommend this comes across as a recommendation from a personal-looking account rather than your official company one.
  • Use less popular channels – Less popular channels are usually great for those starting out because there is usually less competition and a greater chance for your voice to be heard. Check out Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest etc to drive traffic.
  • Be Newsworthy – Do something positive that makes the media want to write about you. Be active and contact these media companies yourself – journalists are always looking for a story, and even if it’s a small piece it’ll also boost your SEO.
  • Email Your Existing Users – Never be afraid to ask for a helping hand once in a while from your users. Ask them to spread the word and recommend your product/service to their friends.

Do you have any suggestions that could be added to the list? Put them in the comments section I’ll add the best ones to the list.

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