If you want to have a successful company, start by having customers for what you sell. For example, someone who has worked for two decades in preschools understands parents and knows several hundred of them. When that person starts a business that targets the parents of preschoolers that business is very likely to do well.
For those of us creating products and services for target markets we don’t know as well, and don’t have much contact with, marketing before the product or service is commercially available can dramatically increase our chance of success.
The following 5 tools and techniques will help you reach out to customers in the earliest moments of your company’s development. They don’t cost much and they do work quickly. The information and insight you gain by pre-marketing your products this way can help your company start out in the black which is the best possible way for a business to begin.
Build a website that presents your product or service as being available for sale. Create all the images and text you would need to create if you were actually selling what you plan to deliver. Instead of a Buy button, create a Pre-Order button that lets people sign up to get the product or service at a discount when it is delivered. Promote the website as you plan to promote it when your product or service is for sale. Modify the text and graphics on the site as required to ensure that everyone who visits clicks the Pre-Order button. The result? Hundreds of people who are prepared to buy what you sell when it is released, a great understanding of which features and benefits matter most to your customers and which don’t, and a website that you know will sell when your product or service is available. If you can never get people to buy what you sell before it exists, you probably won’t be able to get them to buy when it does exist.
Start running ads on Google, Facebook and LinkedIn about what you sell. Drive them to your website. See what headlines maximize clickthru to your website. You only have to run ads for a few days before you can see which “promises” or ad text make people visit your site. You’ll also know what keywords your customers seem to prefer. These text and keywords will work when you market your site through twitter, free press releases, free articles, etc.
Set up networking or hobby meetups where you reach out to your target market. Make the events simple, fun, relaxed. In this environment mention the product or service you offer and ask people, in social conversation, if they have suggestions for you. You’ll find that this is the easiest and cheapest way to meet lots of potential customers and interview them face to face.
Go to fairs, trade shows or open markets. Buy a booth, hand out something free that is related to your product, and then chat up the people who drop by the booth. Make the booth reflect what you plan to sell, and be prepared to answer questions, and take pre-orders if you’re in a position to do so, even before your product is available for sale.
Create a free PDF or other resource that targets those you want to sell to. Use a service like Google Adwords to send people to where they can download what you’ve written. Have the page you direct them to show a poll with two or three question you’d like answered then ask if they want to hear about your product when it is released. If they say “Yes” collect their email address. Make sure you give them give them the file they came for when all is said and done.
Is this ethical? Big companies have used pre-marketing for decades. We are all familiar with pre-ordering books that have yet to be published and reading advanced reviews for movies we can’t see yet.
Generally speaking you should always make sure that everyone who comes in contact with you or your website can point to some benefit they’ve derived from the experience. A free download, access to useful information, a chance to provide feedback on a product being designed to meet their needs, a chance to get a discount on a future order are all viable benefits. If you find lots of potential customers complaining bitterly because your product or service isn’t available . . . that’s a good sign that you should get on with building what they want.
For a few hundred pounds you can start acquiring potential customers and those willing to pre-order what you sell. You can use the information and insight you gain from figuring out how to market to these people in creating a product that has all the features and benefits they want. You can use the success of your marketing campaign to prove to potential early stage angels that your product or service is worth supporting.
Marketing what you plan to sell before it’s built should be something you do every time you start a new business or launch a new product or service. It is one of the key skills that successful serial entrepreneurs have that most new business owners lack. You’ll be surprised by what you learn, and how much you benefit from early contact with your customers.
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