Finding your feet and your first customer
Your first customer is critical. They don’t just bring in your first revenues but legitimise you’re offering and prove there’s a market for what you do. How well you do in the future depends on how good is your start.
I was once employed in a high-tech industry where there were only two providers, one of which had 98% of the market and the one I worked for that didn’t. Yet within that 2% we found customers wanting something different, not provided by the main supplier. There was life there. So before worrying about where to find your first customer understand what they might want, what problem needs solving, and make sure your solution really fits this. The key is in the research you do, matching your offer to someone’s possibly niche problem and grow from there. Just don’t try selling cars to people looking for bicycles!
So where do you find your first customer?
Friends and family – is where many new businesses begin their journey. Talk to them. Get them to approach their friends, work colleagues and other contacts. You can always buy them a pint if it works out. Make sure you get their honest feedback, as these insights are invaluable when starting out, which you can learn to leverage for future reference.
Work colleagues – if you’re leaving employment to start your own business, get around as many people before you leave (not just your mates), tell them what you are doing and if they can help. Get their phone numbers and keep in regular contact as they will undoubtedly lead busy lives and new leads rarely roll up on demand.
Networking – go where do your prospects (potential customers) go. What groups might they attend on or offline. Finding new customers is a numbers game, the harder you try the more success you’ll get. The more you network the more opportunities will open, often from referrals. Cambridge has over 200 network groups and like the members of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, there’s something for everyone. Don’t sell, listen. Hear what the other party is saying as this can open surprising avenues. Be interested in them and clear on your offer.
Online – create a quick, dirty, little website. It doesn’t need to win a design award (unless you’re a graphic designer!) and the content doesn’t need to be Shakespeare. Your website is your communication hub and all else revolves around it. People expect to see a website to create authenticity (go to WP-sculptor.com for a step by step guide to building your first WP website) and web content should carry a clear message with a strong call to action. Add it to Google Local (Search). Show that you can be trusted to deliver a great job. This is not the time to be meek!
But you need more than just a website. Prospects have to find your website. Help them using social media. Facebook, Twitter, and whatever works for your customers. These channels are great for joining conversations but you must keep at it – and just don’t sell! Think about your first date! Was it a selling job or did you begin by getting to know each other better?
Increasing your reach – If you’ve got some resources available, you can try renting a locally based, niche email list or take up Google’s £50 Adwords offer (warning – only if you know how to use Pay Per Click) – but whatever you do, and I can’t emphasise this enough, integrate your networking, your social media, and your website, so they all pull together. There’s plenty of free information online on how best to go about this.
Planning – don’t work in an ad hoc fashion. Work on your short and longer-term goals but remember that your spreadsheet has to work on the ground as well as on paper.
Summary – to find a customer, leverage your strengths and contacts. Communicate regularly. Be confident, but be flexible and firm. Understand your fee structures and avoid free pitching. Get a % of your charges up front.
Remember, your customers are the reason why you are in business. They are gold dust to you and if you want their repeat business, read my next blog.
Gerry Westwood. 18 August 2017. CambridgeSpace Blog
Finding your first customer, authenticity of your offer, quick dirty websites, networking in Cambridge,