It is of course exciting and exciting to start your own business.
However, this time also costs a lot of nerves to many business founders. Because there is one thing that many founders of a new business find very difficult: the acquisition of their first customers.
In this article, which is my contribution to the Blogparade ?Tipps for the first customers? is, I would like to give Tipps, how one can find the first customers as independent in the net.
Naturally I let also own experiences flow in and list likewise, which did not function at all with me.
As already described in detail in my article series “Step by step into self-employment on the net” in the 3rd article “Idea and analysis”, it is first of all important that you are optimally prepared yourself.
The own business idea must not only be clearly formulated, it must have above all a clear customer use. We don’t want to sell or persuade anyone to buy our own products or services.
Instead, your own products or services should be so useful that you don’t have to persuade a customer for long. The advantage of this is that we now “only” have to inform potential customers about our products and services. Because nobody has waited for you and runs the door for you, if you have made yourselves independent.
Further tips for the optimal preparation for the independence
Who are you looking for?
Most business founders have a rather blurred picture of their potential clientele. That leads to the fact that the own marketing activities for customer production aim at ?all?
And that leads rather to the fact that one does not reach anybody, since one remains too general and does not address the special requirements of certain target groups.
Therefore one should look first exactly, who the possible customers are. Which industries do I address and which needs and priorities do they have?
For example, a web designer could offer a blanket range of websites for SMEs. That would be the classical way, which I honestly also went.
Or he specializes in certain industries and offers e.g. websites for care services, restaurants and/or pensions. This limits the target group for the time being, but it has several advantages:
If you address companies from a specific industry, you can of course become more concrete and highlight certain features and services that are really important for this industry. In addition, one should always make clear what the concrete customer benefit is for exactly this target group.
Since I only address a certain target group, I don’t have to use watering can advertising. You could advertise in a particular industry newspaper instead of in the general regional daily newspaper.
This also makes it cheaper, of course, because I have less wastage and have to address fewer companies.
Experience has shown that this approach is also more promising than the “All companies are my potential customers” tactic.
Once you have decided on certain target groups, you have to align all your marketing instruments accordingly:
These are the classic advertising measures. So one goes then only to certain fairs and meetings and switches e.g. in certain industry papers advertisement. Or you can focus your website on specific search terms.
The features and advantages of your own products and services no longer have to satisfy everyone, but “only” the selected target group(s). This gives you much more special offers than the competition, which wants to serve everyone. And it is also more effective than equipping your products and services with all possible features.
By tailoring your products and services to specific target groups and thus no longer being so comparable with your competitors, you no longer have to participate so strongly in the price war.
Although sales no longer play the strong role of traditional brick and mortar companies for many self-employed people in the network, it should be borne in mind that a larger regional catchment area may become necessary as a result of greater specialisation and the associated reduction in the target group.
7 Tips on how to find your first customers
After the preliminary considerations, let’s move on to the practical tips.
The following 7 methods to win customers for start-ups are mainly based on own experiences.
Therefore one should regard these neither as compellingly necessary, nor are these the only possibilities for customer acquisition.
Instead one should let oneself be inspired by it and test and modify gladly also with oneself.
The following tips for customer production are not ordered and represent thereby also no priority list.
Potential customers not only want to know what they are getting, but also that they are really getting it. One of the biggest problems for many entrepreneurs is that they have nothing to show. However, references are extremely important and often sell their own services and products better than all feature lists and advertising texts.
Therefore, you should make an early effort to implement services and sell products. In the ideal case before the actual start of self-employment.
Who starts without references into the independence, gives away much potential and time. And at the end with it also money.
In business, contacts are worth money in the truest sense of the word. Therefore you should use your own existing contacts and do a lot of self-marketing. Friends, relatives and acquaintances should know what you are doing and you should be able to explain it to them clearly and briefly (elevator pitch).
By using your own contact network you can use the advantages of word of mouth, which can be very effective similar to the recommendation by satisfied customers.
You should also constantly work on establishing new contacts during your self-employment. I have received many website orders from companies to which I have previously established contact in other ways. E.g. on the Internet via Xing.
Business card parties and Co.
Even if you are self-employed on the net, you should go out and get some fresh air. 🙂
An important tip for new customer acquisition is that you should go where your own customers are.
This can be in the business environment, e.g. at business card parties, business start-up meetings, trade fairs, conferences, business start-up courses, etc.
But you can also meet potential customers in your private environment. Thus astonishingly many orders in (sport) associations, in the Sauna etc. come off. However, it is very important not to fall into the house with your door, but to make contacts (see point 2).
Bundles and bonuses instead of discounts
Start-ups often try to get a foot in the door with massive discounts. This can work, but often leads to the fact that you ruin the price level in the long run and you often get the wrong customers.
Instead, one should try to make one’s own prices appear more attractive by, for example, offering additional services or combining several services at a lower price. This does not destroy the individual price of your services or products and also avoids comparability with the competition.
I started my own business 5 years ago and during this time many entrepreneurs have discovered the Internet for themselves. Of course, this is a subjective impression, but as far as I can see, many more companies use the Internet to search for services and products. Therefore one should use its firm Website straight with regional achievements and offers massively and fill with creative and useful contents.
Public relations can work quite well, but it’s also a special discipline that you can’t just do between the door and the hinges. But especially in the regional sector, newspapers are always grateful for good stories and interesting news, and this also applies to specialized industry journals.
Using the Web
With the Google Branch Center or Google Places as it is now called, you can advertise very well and free of charge for your own business.
And Google AdWords can also be very worthwhile in the regional area to operate regional online marketing.
3 further professional tips for customer acquisition
Somewhat more unusual are the following 3 tips. You have to have a certain affinity to the methods, because they require passion and fun. If you like such a method and have fun with it, then it can bring a lot.
Anyone who wants to speak in front of others should offer lectures about the adult education centre, about start-up projects or even self-organised lectures. Many entrepreneurs see such speakers as experts and those who like it can not only quickly build their own image, but also make many contacts.
Even blogging must suit you. While I know many entrepreneurs who have meanwhile recognized the importance of a website and maintain it well, I know only a few who like blogging. But who writes very gladly and with a loose and nevertheless competent style a management blog leads, that can provide thereby for large attention and new customers. And one can start such a Blog also already very well before the beginning of its independence.
Why not cooperate with other self-employed people who have been on the market for some time. For example, I have cooperated with several graphic designers, because they had many customers who wanted websites, but could not offer them themselves. And so I got many orders, where I had to convert a layout of the graphic designer into a website. And if you are personally good with the cooperation partner, then that is also a worthwhile thing.
The following 3 acquisition methods are controversial and should be used with caution.
I have already written something about this above. There are certainly areas where discounts can be a good way for the first customers to get their foot in the door. Especially if follow-up services are associated with it, which you can then offer at the normal price. But you should be very careful and always think about what long-term effects this can have. It goes also without price war.
You can get references and polish up your image by implementing projects for non-profit organizations. That’s what I did. However, I also experienced a case where you wanted the whole hand instead of my finger. That’s why you should think carefully about who you’re working for free.
Cold call (phone)
I’m no friend of cold calling at all. And certainly not over the phone. But there are also many who swear by it. In the end, you have to know for yourself whether that suits you. In my experience, however, there are enough other methods to win customers, so you don’t have to rely on them.
2 things that didn’t work for me
Finally, I would like to share a few more experiences. The following 2 customer acquisition methods did not work for me. It doesn’t necessarily have to have been the method, but of course also me or my special situation.
On the one hand, of course, I tried to write directly to potential customers. I got the addresses of certain industries from the region via the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and then designed suitable cover letters. The response was really not good and the time was not worth it. It may be natural that this works better with other business start-ups and you should try it out. For me it was definitely the wrong way.
Here I invested a lot of money at the beginning of my independence. And the response was also very bad. You also have to be very careful, because there are some print newspapers that specifically go “start-ups hunt” and talk this longer-term advertising contracts up. As described above, one should address one’s own target group as specifically as possible and then agree on test placements of advertisements.
What experience have you had with direct mailings and print ads? Of course, I’m also happy about positive examples.
Attracting new customers is one of the biggest and most important hurdles for start-ups. There are a lot of possibilities for self-employed people in the net to stir the advertising drum at a reasonable price.
Which methods to use in the end, one should align on the one hand with one’s own preferences and strengths, on the other hand one should test naturally also different. And often it is the combination of different methods that does the trick.
And don’t forget that customer acquisition is a permanent process.