Entrepreneurs are do-it-yourself types, and while the path of raising venture capital funding to support your endeavor is a thrill ride, building a company without outside money is a special and exhilarating kind of accomplishment all its own.
Our company started with no money. The first server was under a table in my home, doubling as a footrest. In growing our business without teams for sales, marketing or customer support, we discovered several very effective things you can still do if you make your product do those things for you.
1. You can market with no money.
Starting out as a new entrant in a highly competitive marketplace, marketing can be your only chance to spread the word about your product and survive. With no money, it’s time to get resourceful and use what you do have.
If all you have is your product, barter. Find places online where you can buy traffic in exchange for free software. Find the relevant forums and social networks to help grow your initial base. Building up positive feedback gets the ball rolling and leads to additional attention and referrals.
2. Offer a free version the right way.
When offering free and paid versions of your software, recognize the careful balancing act you’re performing and give it the thought it requires.
Making your free version too limited can increase conversions from free to paid, but will also reduce the user base trying out the software and recommending it to other companies, thus slowing your new user growth. However, if the free version includes too much functionality, fewer users will upgrade to the paid version, reducing your revenue.
There is an optimal balance between growing your user base and revenue that you should always be mindful of achieving. The features and functionality of your free version are your control levers.
3. Design your product to support itself.
The best way to grow without a dedicated support department is to make your product do the work. Design your product so that customers can get the most out of it without any support from you. Even at the expense of product functionality, a reduced load on your help desk provides business efficiency that a young company needs.
Pay close attention to your user interface, and include clear, specific instructions. Nobody reads tooltips longer than four lines, and if users don’t understand what button to press? Well, it isn’t their problem, it’s yours.
Keeping the product simple not only reduces support costs, it also affects sales at all stages. A simple product is more likely to be tried out, and clear benefits of the different versions increase paid conversions.
4. Make your product your sales team.
When optimizing for conversions, treat your interface as a salesperson. Develop every page or segment of your interface to provide motivation to upgrade to the paid version. With each visual or piece of text, consider: how are we showcasing the paid features?
It is possible to sell without salespeople if you place information about your feature set and the benefits of your paid version properly.
5. Employ an email robot.
Automated emails can be very helpful in sending repeat invitations to upgrade to the paid version to every new customer. If a user hasn’t upgraded after a couple of months, a good tactic is to send them a discount coupon. Testing and optimizing your mailings as you gain more understanding of your user base should yield improvements.
A product designed to sell and support itself can grow your company organically, and, of course, offers the advantages of simplicity and cost-effectiveness. This model can help you preserve your independence, grow fast and keep keenly aware of your customers’ experiences as you adapt your product to their needs.