I know what you're thinking: Building a customer base without pitch decks, an office, collateral, a website, etc. is impossible. But "impossible" isn't a word I like to use. Some people might have said that Russia and the United States working together to build a space station would be impossible, but it's happening. Just about anything is possible if you take the right approach.
The right approach for building an initial customer base off of nothing more than a concept is to engage in what I like to call hand-to-hand combat. I don't mean punch potential customers in the face – go out and physically find them. Track them down and talk to them in person. You'll be surprised at the response. Face-to-face conversations are the key to a gold mine of eager customers without spending a dime on marketing. In fact, face-to-face meetings are 34 times more effective than emails, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Don't believe me? Read on to find out what steps to take to build your customer base when your business is still in the idea phase.
Step 1: Find out what it takes to get people on board.
It sounds simple enough to get out there and make it happen, find those customer leads and go at them, no holds barred. I know this can be challenging for some, and can even seem counterintuitive. In reality, what it takes to get a customer to commit to you may be a sacrifice on your part.
Here's a secret: It doesn't matter what you have to offer customers to get them committed to your company. It really doesn't. You're in the initial growth phase. This isn't meant to be a scalable process; it's meant to help you discover what problem your solution can solve that will get people to enthusiastically pay for it before the product or service has even launched. It's a combination of market research and selling.
You should offer all the discounts, money-back guarantees and custom modifications you can think of to help you figure out how much people are willing to pay for what you're offering them – as long as you get them to open up their wallets. Sacrificing a little now can reap big rewards later. Doing whatever it takes to get the customers committed is your sole focus right now.
Step 2: Engage and re-engage, face to face.
Now that you're not afraid to lay it all on the line to get those customers coming back for more, you need to up the ante. It's not enough to talk to one or two customers a week, get a good-faith commitment, and then sit back and bask in the glory of your victory. You need to hustle and get that money in hand.
Set a goal to have one conversation with a customer every day. That's 30-plus conversations per month (work extra hard in February). Remember, we're talking about conversations here – no advertising, nothing flashy, just one-on-one chats that dive deep into the heart of what your solution can do for your customer.
If you can have those chats with 30 customers in a month, you only have to close one-third of those deals to have your first 10 customers committed to nothing but your concept. Stay passionate. Power through. You can close those sales.
Step 3: Hunt for prospects, not marketing advice.
The sky is the limit as far as what you can use to entice customers to commit to your company and how often you can approach various leads. Now you need to know where to draw the line when it comes to investing in things like SEO, online ads and email campaigns.
Remember, at this point, you're not focusing on scaling. Don't waste your time on things that distract from your main objective of finding customers. Why focus on marketing if you don't even know who you're marketing to?
Face-to-face conversations will prove to be far more valuable at this stage than any amount of money or time you could spend on marketing. Don't just take my word for it. The founders of iFunding, a $40 million business with more than 7,000 customers, spent almost nothing on marketing. If iFunding can do it, you can too.
When you notice yourself focusing too much on marketing the product you don't yet have, stop. That comes later. For now, focus on your goal: building a customer base.
Your first 10 customers will prove the value of your product. Until you have that, nothing else matters. You don't have to spend money. You don't have to come up with a robust marketing strategy. You just have to hit the pavement, put in the hours and build those relationships.