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For many entrepreneurs, the thought of acquiring the first or next paying customers is an advertisement click away. Automation drove down many costs over the years including the cost of reaching an ideal customer. Today, many entrepreneurs strive to build a fully automated business where paid ads bring customers while the product is powerful enough to let the users serve themselves. But ads cost money and even if you have the funds, the return on investment may not make sense especially for a bootstrapped founder seeking to validate an idea or acquire the first paying users.
At a high level, you have two options: push your product or service to the customer through paid marketing or let the customer find you through referrals or resources you create such as articles and educational videos they find valuable. The earlier is costly financially while the latter is time consuming especially for an entrepreneur looking to quickly validate or reject a business hypothesis.
In between these two approaches, there is a simple and yet effective strategy for acquiring the first or next 50 or more paying customers relatively quickly. Follow these five steps no matter the product or service you offer.
- Identify Three Active Communities
Assuming you know your target, list three active communities they belong to. Those communities don’t necessarily have to be online on Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack or other groups. One of the biggest untapped acquisition channels is in-person groups through Meetups, local chamber meetings and other organizations.
- Engage Regularly
Chances are you are currently part of a community and aware of administrators’ strict promotion rules. Do not break those rules. Instead, help the administrator or group owner accomplish what they created the group for: engagement, branding and acquisition. If you focus on the first, you will indirectly help them accomplish the other two while building a brand and an acquisition channel for yourself.
Invest a minimum of two hours each day commenting on members’ posts, answering questions, sharing valuable content, facilitating discussions, inviting new members, etc. Soon, your contribution will be noticed by members and administrators and then, do this.
- Offer Help
Don’t ask for feedback, offer to help. For group owners, a post by a new member under the title, “reply to this post if you need help with X,” is a red flag. Asking to help is another way of saying, “I offer X, let me know if you’re interested in buying.” While this may also be true for members who have established their value in the group, it is well earned and administrators will help you reach more people especially if you ask for permission to “ask.” Many responders will seek your help and a few will hire you or use your product after talking to you.
- Rinse And Repeat
Follow the same process by leading with value and closing with an ask. Get creative in your “ask” and don’t do it too often. For instance, you can offer to review members’ strategies, critique their plan, answer their questions, solve them a problem, etc. Anything that will help you strengthen your brand in the group and give you opportunities for one on one conversations with your ideal customers. Just like any marketing funnel, the more of the right people know about you and your products, the more leads with interest you will have.
- Build Your Own Community
Leveraging established communities to build your own is the quickest way to start yours. Running an in person and/or online community can be of great value for many reasons. First, it brands you as an authority in the room. Second, with only ten people that love what you do, you can easily build a network effect whereby your audience becomes your marketer. This network effect can quickly turn into a snowball effect thanks to their promotion and word of mouth. Third, it’s a great channel to test ideas, gather feedback and launch new products and services in addition to boosting revenue for existing ones.
Above all, remember, to start a successful business, you only need a few customers that truly need and care for what you do. To find those customers, first, you have to show the same level of respect and care. Leverage relevant and established communities to find them and then go above and beyond to help.
May 27, 2019 at 05:45PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs