FINDING YOUR FIRST CUSTOMER

The ways that you can promote your business are endless, and no doubt you al- ready have some ideas of your own by this point. Over the years, in the businesses that I have been involved in, we have tried all kinds of different methods of getting our name out there. In this chapter I want to share with you some of those that have worked best for us, what I’ve learned from them, and how you can use them to attract your first few customers.

With Awesome Oats, I will try to find different types of customers – one retail store and some online customers – to give you an idea of how you can approach those two different channels. Of course, what is likely to work best for your busi- ness will depend very much on what you are selling, so I will also touch on a few other channels that you might find lucrative.

CRAFT MARKETS 

If you are making a product at home, just as I am, a super-obvious place to start is to find out about your local craft fairs and farmers’ markets. These can be a great test-bed for your new product and usually don’t cost that much to participate in. Simply get in touch with the organisers, and let them know a bit about your prod- ucts and why you think you will be able to bring something new and exciting to their market.

They will usually want to make sure that you have a food hygiene certificate – you can actually complete the necessary training online and print off the relevant doc- umentation quite easily. Your premises will probably also need to be inspected by a government official and you will need as well to provide a copy of your public lia- bility insurance. In the UK, by joining the National Market Traders Federation you will be covered by their insurance policy and qualify for various other benefits.

My advice would be to invest in creating an attractive stand – maybe get a cloth banner printed with your logo on it, along with some tote bags and fliers about your brand. Invest in some attractive wooden crates or other furnishings to display your product in an interesting way.

FACEBOOK 

Unless you’re one of the few strange people who doesn’t have a Facebook account, you probably already have some idea about how Facebook advertising works. Based on people’s ‘likes’ and other data, advertisers such as you and me can show ads for our products to groups of people that we think are most likely to buy them.

Setting up a campaign is very easy; you can literally have something online, being displayed to prospective customers, within minutes. When you set up your campaign, Facebook will invite you to define how targeted you want your ad to be. You can select the location, age and gender of your target customer and then also select which pages you think they already like.

My advice would be to start out as targeted as possible – there’s a temptation to cast your net too wide, but it’s actually quality over quantity that counts with this type of campaign. Given that you’re just trying to get your first few customers, it’s a good idea to show your ads to people who are genuinely likely to buy – otherwise you’ll be pouring money down the drain. Target people whose ‘likes’ show an inter- est in your competitors’ products, in the overall thrust of your business, or maybe in complementary products.

The only other thing left to do is to upload some eye-catching images that really sell what you’re trying to do. I suggest uploading as many different images as you can and then closely monitoring which ones perform the best – it can often sur- prise you!

Once you have built up a good customer database, you can use Facebook’s ‘Lookalike Audience’ feature to serve your adverts to people whose profile is sim- ilar to that of others who have bought from you in the past. We always find that this works well, so long as you have a reasonably large database of previous cus- tomers.

LINKEDIN 

Depending on what you are selling, you may be able to find customers by using LinkedIn. By upgrading to a premium account (which you can do for one month for free), you will be able to search for possible prospects and contact them either through the site or, preferably, by guessing their email address (it’s usually something like firstname.lastname@companyname.com).

LinkedIn also has an advertising platform, which would be useful if you are sell- ing a product or service for the corporate market. LinkedIn groups and events can be used to promote what you’re up to.

PRE-SALES

I come across a lot of smart designers who create a prototype of a product very quickly and then, before committing to the first production run out of their own pocket, wait until they find 1,000 people – or however many they need to cover the minimum first production run that their third-party manufacturer demands – to place advanced orders. This way, they know that their product is sold before taking the risk of producing it.

You might think that this model would annoy consumers, by making them wait a long time for their delivery (or potentially not even delivering it at all, since, if insuf- ficient pre-orders are made, the designer might decide to scrap the project entirely and refund those who’ve ordered). But what’s amazing is that they actually tend to think it’s kind of cool – to be supporting a new product into existence, helping a new designer get their idea off the ground and, of course, being one of the first people in the world to own it. It seems that the inconvenience of having to wait a long time for delivery is far outweighed by the novelty of being first.

There are lots of companies that have successfully built their entire business on this model. One good example is Made.com in the UK. They design ‘high street style’ furniture but sell it online at a discount, not having to pay the considerable overheads of having physical city-centre showrooms for their customers to view the furniture they’re buying.

It might amaze you that people are willing to order something like a sofa over the internet without actually seeing it but, remarkably, they are – and they’re even will- ing to wait a few months for it to show up. Some online furniture companies don’t produce the furniture until they’ve got enough orders to produce a batch and ship it economically in containers all in one go.

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