The early days of a startup are the hardest. There’s no doubt about that.
You have a killer product, a shiny new ecommerce store, a brilliant plan, and intense energy about your business.
But now you’re thinking, “Okaaaay. Where are the customers?”
In this article, I will explain how to go from 0 to 100 customers in a short amount of time. This is practical, tactical information. This is a hacker’s guide to gaining some initial traction fast.
Ten minutes from now, when you’ve successfully read every point below, you will possess a plan that will take you there.
100 customers, here we come!
First, some theory: This is about traction.
If you’re scratching your head, wondering, “Okay, how do I get the first customer?” you are definitely not alone.
Startup founders, marketers, and entrepreneurs the world over have asked the same question. It’s the whole point behind digital marketing — how do we get those first few customers?
Forbes contributor, John Rampton, said it clearly, “The first customers are the hardest.”
What you need is not just customers, but traction.
What the heck is traction?
One glance at the chart below, and you’ll understand.
“Number of Sales” refers to the number of customers. The red line is traction — the change over time, as in how quickly or slowly you’re gaining those customers.
Your ecommerce sales might not have that hockey-stick curve, even though that would be nice. The point is that you should see that red line move up as time goes on. The sooner that happens, the better you’re doing.
So, what exactly is traction?
“Traction is growth,” as Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares wrote in their book, How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth.
A more sophisticated definition comes from Naval Ravikant: “Quantitative evidence of market demand.”
Brendan Baker, in his Quora comment advises to “use specific numbers” when you set traction goals. For our purposes, that number is 100.
Now, a little more theory: Tactics alone won’t work.
We understand the problem, but we still don’t know how to overcome it.
Don’t worry, the tactics are coming, but first, there’s something else you should know.
Tactics alone don’t work.
Yeah, we all love tactics. They’re like candy. They taste good; they’re addicting; we pop them one after the other.
But candy won’t nourish you. To get the nutrition you need, you have to eat something other than Snickers and Skittles.
This is the nutrient dense section of the article (to stress the metaphor a little more).
Without understanding this critical section, you’re going to sink into the tactic mire.
And guess what? Those tactics won’t work!
Because you tried to use the tactics without the right foundation. Let’s get some of these foundational building blocks in place.
Understand your customers.
Who is the best person to tell you how to get customers?
How do you find out?
When you understand your customers, you’ll be much better at reaching them.
Create your funnel.
Every ecommerce site has a sales funnel. It’s crucial to understand how this funnel works.
It’s also important to create your own funnel. The funnel doesn’t merely happen to you. You create the funnel yourself by developing systems, leads, email captures, mailing lists, marketing automation, and other techniques.
To get customers, you have to give to them.
I’m not just talking about your physical product in exchange for their money. That’s the transaction, the logical endpoint of your marketing efforts.
That all starts with value. The customer must realize and experience this: You provide value.
For example, let’s say a customer is searching for a sweater. You sell sweaters in your shop.
Good enough, right?
Instead of just showing the customer what they can buy, inform the customer how to buy.
Provide value by sharing an article with them on Three Steps to Choosing a Sweater That Will Last a Lifetime, or by validating the customer’s purchase: “Want to make sure you get the right fit? Pay for one, but order three. You can send the others back at no charge!”
However you communicate it, value must be part of the equation if you want to attract those first 100 customers.
The goal is to connect with the customer deeply — on the level of real trust and appreciation, not simply a quick transaction.
Pretty soon, 100 customers is going to be ancient history. Keep setting the bar higher and pursuing new goals.
You’ll struggle with the traction issue initially. Whether it’s going from 100 customers to 1,000 customers, or 10,000 customers to 1,000,000 customers, you’ve got to keep pushing on.
The most growth-driven startups are those that set milestones along their path to revenue and valuation.
Goal after goal, milestone after milestone, you want to dominate your niche and own the market.
Okay, enough theory. Give me the hacks!
Here’s the part I love: Bottom-line growth hacks that will turn your zero customer base into a raging waterfall.
Hack 1: Sell on Amazon.
SEO, SEO, SEO…
Majority of ecommerce entrepreneurs focus like to focus Google SEO, but they forgot about the largest physical product search engine, Amazon. It’s one of the most under utilized acquisition channels for ecommerce businesses.
Amazon has 270 million active customer accounts, and 40 million Prime customers.
So there’s your customer base. If you sell a product on Amazon, you’re sitting on top of the most valuable, ready-to-buy, eager customers on the planet. However, you’ll still need to put in some effort to get your first customers.
The two biggest factors that affect your Amazon product listing are
- Purchase rate – How fast you’re products are getting sold tells Amazon that your product your product has a demand, and the more you sell, the more money Amazon makes, as a result, it will boost your rankings.
- # of review – This shows other customers’ opinion of your product. The more positive reviews you have, the more credible your listing is and the more your listing converts.
To speed up your purchase rate, you can do a promotion with Amazon and give a huge discount. This way, you’ll get a lot of sells in a very short amount of time, which will boost up your rankings.
A quick hack to get reviews for your Amazon listing is to use the platform Honest Society to give away your products for free or at a very low price on Amazon to the reviewers in exchange for their honest review on Amazon.
This will save you a lot of time and best of all, it’s compliant with Amazon’s terms of services.
Hack 2: Take advantage of events and meetups that have your audience.
Picture this. You’re starting to sell organic gourmet dog treats.
You then start going to the local dog park meetup where other dog owners bring their dogs for meet and greet.
You then start feeding your dog these delicious treats. Then other dogs wants to have some too.
Then other owners start to ask you about your treats and show interest, then one thing leads to another, they become your customer.
This is just an example. It could look much different depending on the niche you’re in. You may be a sponsor for a local business networking event, a small conference, or a trade show. Whatever the case, becoming an event sponsor or host draws potential customers to you. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hack 3: Get your friends and family to buy it.
It’s poor form to beg from customers, but your family and friends hopefully won’t mind. And assuming you have a great product, why wouldn’t they use it?
All you need are a few sales to get the ball rolling. Once the snowball starts, it grows.
If they invest a few bucks to buy your product, then you might become successful one day. Tell them that if you make $1 billion someday, you’ll buy them their dream house.
That’s not a bad ROI for their purchase of your $20 product.
Think beyond your brother, sister, and mom. Think like this:
- Your personal friends
- Your friends’ friends
- Your former or present colleagues
- Your teachers
- Your classmates
- Your club peers
- Your neighbors
- Your charity contacts
- Your distant friends that you haven’t spoken to in years
- Your golf buddies
- Your lenders
- Your hairdresser
You probably know hundreds of people who are prime targets for this. Take a few minutes to reconnect with them and say, “How are you doing? And oh, by the way…”
Most people love a good startup story, and they enjoy seeing a scrappy entrepreneur scramble her way to success. Shoot them an email. You don’t have anything to lose.
Hack 4: Milk the social media opportunities.
It’s not exactly a novel idea, but you should be using social media relentlessly.
Start tweeting about your startup and don’t stop. Once people realize you’re a track on repeat, they’ll get curious and come sniffing around.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn — everywhere you are, start spreading the word.
Opportunity – I’m confident you have more than 100 connections among all your social media accounts. What’s keeping these people from becoming your customers? Nothing but your hesitancy. Go get ‘em!
Opportunity – Look for people tweeting and complaining about a problem that your product can solve. Then tweet at them and recommend your product.
Opportunity – Join Facebook groups that has your niche audience. Let’s say that you’re selling Eczema creams. There are many support groups that supports this issue. You can join and start engaging and indirectly promote your product and get some low cost sales.
Hack 5: Give it away for free.
You’ll have to spend something on marketing. So why not spend it on the product, and give it to customers?
If you can’t afford to give it away for free, then at least discount it so much that people’s minds are blown and the product becomes irresistible.
Once that happens, turn your first few customers into evangelists. Twitter, Facebook, and Dropbox all grew by the power of virality — one customer telling his or her friend about the great product and steep discount.
Turn your trickle of customers into your own marketing team.
Hack 6: Persuade a major influencer to market for you.
You might not be able to afford the services of a Guy Kawasaki as your brand evangelist.
But you may be able to persuade an influencer to give you a shoutout on Twitter or Facebook. This is a great way to light a spark among a huge community of potential customers.
Ask the right influencer in the right niche, and you could have 100 new customers overnight.
Hack 7: Get on HARO.
Here’s a simple hack.
Sign up as a source on HARO, Help a Reporter Out.
It takes one minute to sign up. All you do is check a few emails and reach out to reporters when you find a good opportunity.
HARO can give you free publicity on places like Fox, ABC, Reuters, and more.
Hack 8: Buy some super targeted ads.
A great way to gain those first few customers is through hyper-specific ads. Facebook is probably the best way to create ultra-specific advertisements. Target a few people who are guaranteed to be together — colleagues in a company, for example — and relentlessly promote your ad.
If and when they buy, it generates a buzz that will produce even more customers.
Hack 9: Guest post on a targeted blog.
I’m a huge fan of guest posting. Content marketing as a whole is the smartest growth hack ever invented. One method of content marketing is publishing a blog on another company’s website.
You’re not selling your product. You’re just providing value. The referral traffic and potential customer acquisition process, however, is enormous.
Hack 10: Partner with another brand, manufacturer, or business.
If you have zero customers, find a brand that does have some. Partner with them, and share in their customer base.
You have very little to bring to the partnership at first, so don’t get greedy. All you need is a few customers to give you a few more.
Your partners don’t have to be companies like Apple or Nike. Look in obvious places — your service providers, manufacturers, etc. They may have existing marketing materials. A simple mention or CTA in one of their newsletters could give you the first few customers that you need to make a splash.
Hack 11: Hand out flyers.
Hey, whatever works, right? This is what Homejoy did, the Google-backed startup. They eventually switched from handing out flyers to giving people bottled water — value, remember?
Adora Cheung confessed, “We just guilt-tripped people into essentially signing up for cleaning services,” but it worked. (She also guilt-tripped friends and family into buying.)
These first 100 customers are incredibly important. According to successful startup founders, you should “spend 50% of your time on product and 50% on traction.”
Once your product is in place, focus on traction. Focus on those customers.
Your first customers are extremely valuable, and not just because they are buying your physical product.
They are valuable because they can teach you how to grow. They show you what your future customers want. They demonstrate how the funnel works. They are the guiding light to future success.
Thank them, and then go out and get your next 100, then 1,000 more, 100,000 more, and 100,000,000 more!
How did you get your first 100 customers?