You’ve got an idea and you’re sure it’s a winner. You’ve read Eric Ries’s, The Lean Startup, have started figuring out your minimum viable product and are getting ready to test your assumptions. But, how do you build a base of customers from nothing?
If you’re like most founders, you’re likely bootstrapping your business from your own bank account or credit cards and trying to build it in the little spare time you have after your day job. You’re also likely to have a background in anything other than marketing. Starting your own business can be daunting, but a lack of money, time and experience shouldn’t keep you from succeeding. Here’s a list of inexpensive, easy-to-use resources that’ll help you reach out to potential customers and validate your idea, even before you’ve developed your product.
1. To Quickly Set up a Web Presence to Attract Customers: Launchrock
Launchrock is probably the quickest, easiest way to set up a website intended to start building an audience. The site builder is simple and intuitive – you describe your idea, upload a captivating image and point your domain name to the site. Launchrock then provides a simple form asking potential customers to sign up to be notified of the pending launch of your product. In less than an hour, you can have an attractive site that helps you build a list of eager customers who are eager for your launch. As you get closer to launch, consider transitioning to either a WordPress site or, if your product warrants it, a completely custom site on your own web host.
2. To Build and Communicate with Your Audience Through Email and Social: VerticalResponse
Who else would I recommend? You can download the list of customers who have signed up on your Launchrock site as a CSV file, which can be quickly uploaded as a new list directly into your VerticalResponse account. As soon as you get your first sign up, you can begin sending out emails/newsletters – no less than once every two weeks – describing your progress, sharing related news and information and providing value for your customers to stay top of mind. Take full advantage of the VR Social tools to automatically promote your Launchrock site on your Facebook and Twitter feeds and share related information to help you build your social following.
3. For Inexpensive Marketing Assets: Fiverr
The odd jobs listed on this site go from the incredibly useful (“I will create a logo for your needs for $5”) to the insanely ludicrous (“I will juggle a chainsaw and knives while yelling anything you want for $5”). If you’re in the need of graphics for your newsletter, simple site designs, short promotional videos or other marketing assets, Fiverr is a great place to start. The quality may not be ideal for more permanent branding purposes – for example, a logo I requested for a personal project was clearly created using an amalgamation of clip art – but, for quick and dirty marketing materials, the price can’t be beat. Once you have solid revenue rolling in though, you may want to hire a professional designer.
4. To Rapidly Drive Traffic to Your Site: Google AdWords
It can take as long as three months for some sites to get listed on Google. Even then, it can be difficult to crack the top results page of your most targeted keywords. Google AdWords provides an affordable way to target specific audiences by keyword and tweak your message to maximize signups. Spend about an hour researching keywords using the Google Traffic Estimator or the SEO Book Keyword Tool, focusing on relevant words and phrases that drive the most clicks for the least amount of money per click. Then create an ad to drive that traffic to your Launchrock site. You can build an audience this way for as little as $5 a day.
5. For High Quality Swag: Printfection
What’s a startup without a cool T-shirt? You have a ton of options for swag, including Zazzle, Cafepress and even VistaPrint. But the folks at Printfection really understand startup culture. They’ve developed a system that allows you to order small quantities of a variety of high-quality branded items at reasonable prices. Swag is a great way to reward your most valuable – and most vocal – customers, and it gives them the feeling that they’re part of the team. Customers often share the gifts you give them on social media through pictures and posts, providing valuable word of mouth marketing.
6. The Most Important Resource For Any Startup: Hustle
I’ve only just scratched the surface of the fantastic tools and resources available to you as a new startup owner, and the landscape is constantly changing. Despite the web’s ability to remove barriers to get you started, there’s one tool it can never replace – your own ability to hustle. Go talk to people on relevant web forums, press the flesh at tradeshows and meetups and never stop finding new ways to reach and talk to your customers. Share the passion you feel for your business with your customers and they’ll reward you with their loyalty and help spread the word with you.
© 2012, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.