Running out of cash is the worst thing that can happen to your startup. It is almost impossible to build a successful business without a product or service to sell.
Most startups fail because they run out of cash before they could generate any revenue.
We have seen this story many times, and we want to help you avoid that fate by giving you 5 ways to acquire customers before you have any budget for startups.
1. Leverage your network
The first and the easiest way to acquire customers for your startup is by leveraging your network.
You might not have any budget at this point, but who said it would be difficult for you to reach out to people in your network?
As a matter of fact, reaching out to people in your network wouldn’t cost you anything (aside from time).
This will also help you validate whether or not there’s potential in what you’re building.
If people in your network are willing to pay for what you’re building, then there might be something there, but if no one wants what you are offering, then perhaps thinking about pivoting your product is the way forward.
For example, when Upwork was starting, they had no marketing budget, and they didn’t have any clients.
2. Share your content
The next way to acquire customers is by sharing your content. This can be in the form of a blog post or a video on Youtube or social media (Facebook and Instagram).
If you have created anything of value, you might share it with the world because you never know who will benefit from it.
This will also help you build your personal brand and establish yourself as an authority figure within your industry which will lend credibility to you when it comes time for people to buy from you.
For example, when Buffer first started, they didn’t have a product or any customers.
They just built an awesome tool that people could use to schedule their social media posts, so they don’t have to spend time doing it manually every day.
Their product was so good that people started telling others about how great Buffer is; before they knew it, they had acquired their first customer.
3. Reach out to bloggers
The next way to acquire customers is by reaching out to bloggers in your industry.
This will help you create relationships with influencers in your industry, helping you in the long run.
As a matter of fact, influencers can be your biggest allies if you treat them right because they have the power to make or break your product.
To start, reach out to blog owners and offer them freebies or discounts on your product or service and see what happens; this is called “content marketing,”
It’s a great way for startups to acquire customers before they launch their product or service.
For example, when Buffer was starting, they were still in their “idea” stage, but they didn’t want to test out the product without any risk involved fully, so they reached out to Chris Winfield, who runs a blog called “Blogging From Paradise” which is all about blogging tips.
He agreed to try out Buffer for 14 days for free if he could write about his blog experience, and it worked; Buffer got its first customer before it even launched the product!
4. Offer your product for free
The next way to acquire customers is by offering your product for free.
This might be a bit risky because you’ll need to give away something that you spent a lot of time building, but if you’re confident that people will eventually pay for what you’re offering, then this might be the right way to go.
I know what you’re thinking, “but how do we convince them to pay in the future?”; well, it all boils down to the value that they get from your product or service.
If they want more of it, they will eventually upgrade as soon as possible, but if they don’t see any value in what you are offering, they might walk away without paying.
Either way, this is a risk, but it can be an effective strategy, especially if you have nothing to lose at this point.
For example, when I was just starting, I wanted to build an app.
I didn’t have any money, so I decided to offer the app for free and build a community around it (which would eventually lead to paying customers).
So what did I do?
I started by reaching out to people in my network and offering them access to the Cudy web app’s beta version.
This gave me access to their email address, so once they had signed up, I immediately send them an email asking them if they would be willing to pay for the app in the future.
The results were amazing; almost 95% of people said yes! They wanted more features, and they were willing to pay a commission when they were successfully matched with a tutor when it goes live.
After that, I started to reach out to influencers in my industry and free access to the product.
5. Reach out to your network
The final way to acquire customers is by reaching out to people in your network and ask them for their help (this can be in the form of donations, a paid partnership, or anything that you think will be mutually beneficial).
Reaching out to people in the same boat as you is a great way for startups to acquire customers before launching their product or service because it saves you time and money.
This strategy will also help you build relationships with people who have more resources than you do, so when it comes time for you to launch your product or service, they will be willing to help you out because they already like and trust you.
For example, when Buffer started, they had no marketing budget, so they reached out to every person in their network and asked them if they were willing to donate $5 per month for six months.
They ended up getting over 100 paying customers before Buffer even launched its product!
I hope the 5 ways to acquire customers before you have any budget for startups is helpful; if you found this article useful, please share it with your friends and family.
If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to leave me a comment.
About the Author
I am the Founder of Cudy Technologies (www.cudy.co), a full-stack EdTech startup helping teachers and students learn better. I am also a mentor and angel investor in other Startups of my other interests (Proptech, Fintech, HRtech, Ride-hailing, C2C marketplaces, and SaaS). You can also find me on Cudy for early-stage Startup Founder mentorship and advice.
You can connect with me on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexanderlhk) and let me know that you are a reader of my Medium posts in your invitation message.