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How to find your first customers

Finding your first customers can be difficult. In this article, we run through some of the best ways to access your audience and find potential customers.

8 min read

So you’re starting your own business in the UK. You’ve come up with a killer idea, sorted out your financing and ticked all the boring boxes involved in registering with HMRC.

Now comes the really hard part. A business is nothing without customers, but how do you get them in the first place? In this article, we’ll quickly run through your options, hopefully giving you some ideas on how to find your first 100 customers – and then go even further.

1) Network

Tap into existing networks

Networking is crucial to running a successful business. It’s what helps potential customers and collaborators know about you in the first place. It’s especially useful if you’re entering a niche sector, as it’s likely that your existing network will include people with just the right set of interests to become potential customers.

Tapping into existing networks can include:

  • Using LinkedIn to reach out to people you know (or know of) in similar sectors

  • Reaching out by email or text to anyone you know personally

  • Interviewing potential customers to learn about what your target market wants

Get yourself out there

Another way to expand your reach is to ask for introductions from people in your network. You should also keep an eye out for organisations and events relevant to your field; simply turning up and mingling can be incredibly helpful.

Use physical items to promote your business

Of course, networking isn’t useful if no one can remember you after you’ve gone. Avoid this by producing physical materials displaying your brand. Business cards are a must. Include your name, contact details, website and social media accounts to ensure that whoever you’re talking to can find you again. Flyers are also good; you can do a lot with a striking design. Finally, assorted goodies such as pens and mugs can be great ways to get people to remember your business.

2) Share your expertise

Workshops

Framing matters. When searching for customers, think in terms of what you can do for them rather than what they can do for you.

Your end goal is to access paying customers, sure, but it’s far easier to do that if you can convince people that you can help them out. One way to do this is to run events where you share your skills. The precise sort of workshop you run will of course depend on your skill set and sector. Be creative! If you’re struggling for a topic, look for something that you struggled with earlier on but have grown to master.

Webinars

We’re all intimately aware of how difficult it can be to run or access in-person events. Be sure not to let unforeseen issues stop you. If a workshop isn’t possible, webinars are a great tool to build and maintain relationships and to spread the word about your business much further.

Training

You could also share your expertise in a different way with a more formal training programme. There will always be people hungry to get into your industry, and working with an up-and-coming business can be a really enticing prospect for them. Offering training not only expands your network but also gives you another set of hands to help with customer outreach.

3) Use social media

LinkedIn messaging

In addition to contacting your existing network, you can use LinkedIn messages to reach potential customers. You get a limited number of free InMails each month, and you can also pay to send sponsored InMails to thousands of people at a time. In either case, you’ll be able to reach out to people you’re not connected with. Before you do, though, you’ll want to consider a few things:

  • Who are you targeting? Especially with sponsored InMails, you need to make sure you’re hitting the right people. Look for things like current position and industry to increase your conversion rate.

  • How personal do you want to be? Sponsored InMails help you reach many more people, but they run into some of the same problems as cold-calling, as they can feel impersonal and even spammy. Direct InMails, by contrast, have the personal touch of being tailored to the individual you’re contacting.

  • What do you want from the interaction? Especially if you’re paying, you should set clear goals to ensure your investment is worthwhile.

In addition, you get unlimited free direct messages to your connections; don’t be afraid to connect with someone you don’t know to take advantage of this.

Social media advertising

While LinkedIn is second to none in the world of business social networking, it still has only a fraction of the user base and engagement that platforms such as Facebook and Instagram enjoy. While marketers remain divided on just how much good paid social media ads actually do when searching for initial customers, it’s clear that most social media platforms offer great tools for targeting specific groups of people.

4) Offer free samples and trials

Who doesn’t like getting things for free? In addition to getting your business name out there and proving you can deliver, free samples and trials can be a great way to generate goodwill and word of mouth among potential customers.

5) Invest in search engine marketing

Optimise your website

How do you find something online? You Google it. The company is so successful that it’s become its own verb. It’s so ubiquitous that many businesses make search engine optimisation, or SEO, a key part of their marketing strategy. While you might not be able to get into the top spots for popular keywords, keeping an active and easy-to-use website full of up-to-date content can help boost your search positioning significantly, especially when you target niche or ‘long-tail’ keywords.

Run paid search ads

While an optimised website is crucial, paid advertisements can be a godsend when it comes to getting new customers quickly. As always, make sure you have the budget for it and set clear goals for what you want to achieve.

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6) Create content

Blog posts

More and more businesses are using their own dedicated blogs to keep their content up to date. Good, useful content can attract potential customers to your site and put you in a great position to get more customers in the future.

Guest posts

In addition to your own blog, running posts on others’ sites can help you expand your potential customer base by tapping into another site’s audience.

For best results, ensure you’re keeping an eye on things like:

  • page views

  • likes and shares

  • traffic to your own site

  • conversion into paying customers If you’re patient and post on the right sites, guest posts can pay off hugely.

Social media posts

On top of your own and others’ sites, you should keep up regular posting from your social media accounts. While you should take care to avoid spam, you want to hit the sweet spot where your existing customers aren’t forgetting about you – and where they’re keeping up to date on any exciting new developments.

7) Find your community

Community events

As we noted above, things like workshops and webinars can provide great opportunities to reach new audiences. In addition, you should keep an eye out for other events for businesses in your sector or area. Doing things like sponsoring a local fun run or helping out with charity campaigns can be great ways to raise your profile.

Online communities

Online communities can be similarly useful. From Facebook groups to more dedicated sites, they can enable you to find a pre-existing group of people who are interested in what you have to offer. That said, it’s important to remember a few crucial pieces of advice:

  • Don’t ‘hard sell’. Spamming a group early on is a great way to get banned.

  • Don’t rush in. Build trust and relationships gradually.

  • Provide value. Start by showing the community what you can do for them.

8) Answer questions on forums

Quora

The most popular question and answer forum on the internet, Quora lets you browse, ask and answer questions on a truly staggering range of topics. Responding to questions here is a great way to get noticed by potential customers you’d struggle to reach otherwise.

Industry forums

You should also look for other online forums that address topics relevant to you. A simple Google search for issues relating to your sector can help you discover untapped networks.

9) Build an email base

Cold emails can seem spammy, but they can be a great way to access new customers at relatively low cost. You can also reach out to other businesses that you’d like to partner with, again giving you access to their networks. Finally, you should be sure to use email to follow up with existing customers or those who show interest. A free sign-up to a good content proposition on your website can be a great way to turn a one-time stop into a longer-term relationship.

10) Ask for referrals

Don’t just sit back and wait for word of mouth to pick up on its own. Instead, actively solicit referrals from satisfied customers. Many social media sites let users leave reviews, for instance, and directly asking for referrals can help generate some real buzz.

11) Partner with complementary businesses

Finally, you can team up with existing businesses to help each other grow your reach. While direct competitors are unlikely to be interested in giving you a boost, those offering linked products or services in the same or a similar sector can be great candidates for a mutually beneficial relationship. Just be sure to go in with a clear pitch on what you can provide for them.

You’re ready to get your first customers now

We hope this post has given you some ideas on how to find your first customers. Our guide to starting your own business in the UK can help you grow your business further - simply fill out the questionnaire to find out where you’re at in your business journey and what your next steps are.