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Landing Your First Customers

Once you identify your target market, explore these shoestring ideas for making contact.
November 23, 2004
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/74266

When I raised money for a dotcom start-up a few years ago, potential angel investors would say things to me like, "Your business concept seems sound and your marketing and PR plans all look well and good, but tell me: Where are you going to get the first five customers who will actually pay for your product? Because until you have them, I don't see how you really have a business here."

Strong words, but how true! We can talk about writing press releases, taking out ads and sending out mailers. Yet, think about it. In tangible terms, how are you going to get those first few customers? Your first customers are so critical to your success because they:

Tapping Your Warm Market

Where do you find your first customers? Well, ask yourself this question: Who are the people most likely either to buy from you or send you good referrals? Yep, those are the people you know-your "warm market." How do you approach them and get the word out? The first step is to build your initial list of warm contacts. Here are 10 questions to stimulate your thinking:

  1. Who are your personal friends-and their friends?
  2. What about your school connections? Brainstorm a list of classmates, teachers, fraternity brothers, club members and so forth.
  3. Who are your business connections? These include former employers, employees and customers.
  4. Who are contacts within your civic activities? Are you a member of any civic clubs like Optimist International, Rotary or Kiwanis? What about fellow church or synagogue members? Think of all the organizations you belong to.
  5. Who are your contacts in trade associations you've been a part of over the years?
  6. Who are the tradespeople you know? Include folks like your lawyer, pharmacist, doctor, dentist, plumber, insurance agent, hairstylist, mechanic and even your babysitter or nanny.
  7. Who are your neighbors-both past and present?
  8. Who do you know through your sports and hobbies, such as hunting, fishing, running and golf?
  9. Who are the people you know because of your home? These contacts include your mortgage lender, real estate agent, builder and so forth.
  10. Who are the contacts you have through you and your spouse's families?

You know quite a few people, don't you! Now, how do you leverage this list to land your first customers? Here are a few cost-effective ideas to get you started:

Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.