Marketing Bootcamp

Couch to 5K? No Way. To Get Traction for Your Startup, Get Out There.

Gaining traction as a startup or entrepreneur is one of the biggest challenges you will ever face. Check out this video by StartupGrind featuring business owners, investors and mentors dishing up some of the best advice for going “from couch to small business owner” ---hurdles and all.

Related: 5 Ways to Market Your Startup on a Dime

“We got the first customers through handing out fliers," says one entrepreneur in the video, Adora Cheung of the house-cleaning and home services company Homejoy.

Are you putting in a lot of time, money and legwork the way Cheung did? Often, these old school tactics still work. “It’s funny," Cheung says, "because the first time we did the fliers thing, everyone just ignored us.”

Cheung's conclusion was that people were likely wondering who these “kids” were. The next time? She took her laptop out on a really hot day and brought along crates of bottled water to hand out.

In short, Homejoy got off the ground because Cheung literally made her customers come to her. Hers was a guerilla tactic of passive marketing, and it worked.

Bill Marris of Google Ventures (Google's VC arm) also used a guerilla approach. “Our first customers were tough, because who wants to pay $19.97 for a website from someone they’ve never heard of, [when] most [customers] didn’t have websites,” he says today. Who, indeed?

Baiting the hook

So Marris went with an alternative to Cheung's bottled water approach. He too offered something for free.

“What I did was, I went door to door and said, ‘If I build you a website and host it for free, can I tell other people that you’re my customer?’” Free is an excellent incentive for consumers. Marris says he made his offer to 10 to 15 people, which in turn kickstarted an influx of paying customers. Sometimes you really do have to give in order to receive.

Patrick Lee of Rotten Tomatoes credits search engine optimization (SEO) with starting his entertainment website. Like any follower of good SEO, Lee knows the things you can do to improve your SEO and that the latest tactics are always changing. Bottom line, he says: “The important thing is to make a good page.” For any business, whether completely online or not, a "good page" is critical. Word of mouth was another big player for Lee.

Related: How to Turn Your Startup Into a Lean, Mean Marketing Machine

Reeling them in

Archive.ly’s Perri Gorman says it was networking within a small niche of the right people that got her business -- which does people research -- off the ground. “When you get to know an influencer in a space, they end up introducing you to a core,” she says. Today, Gorman says, she knows everyone in her space, whom she met through both digital and in-person networking events.

“I didn’t have to go out and find this this huge market. I started with what I call 'pre-seeding of my customer base.'” 

In the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for gaining traction. It depends on you, your business, your influencers, your customers and a whole lot of timing. Try a few different approaches, build on what you learn and don’t be afraid to try something new.

If you’ve done quality pre-work for your business, you'll find that your customers are out there. Sometimes, of course, it’s just a little challenging to find and engage them.

Related: 3 Ways Your Startup Marketing Can Outmaneuver the Big-Budget Competition