50+ Early Stage Marketing & Growth Strategies For Startups

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Helena Ng’s Picture

Helena Ng

Look no further than this post for 50 tried and tested tactics to grow your business.

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We’ve updated this guide to include strategies for 2018 🚀

As a small business or startup owner, we know it’s difficult to gain traction when you’re competing against big players on the Internet. It’s never been easier to launch a business, but how do you cut through all the noise and reach those first users that are instrumental to the growth of your company?

In this guide we’ll share over 50+ tactics that you can use to grow your business from the ground up (including some that were particularly successful in the early days of launching Gleam).

So make a ☕️, grab a comfy seat and strap in 🚀

Bonus: See how Vinci 2.0 scored massive growth on Kickstarter in our mini case study 🔍 (at the end of this post)

Marketing Strategies By Topic

    Reach Out To Potential Customers

    Building a product is hard work, you spend months (sometimes years) crafting the best experience before you decide to launch.

    Whilst we’re not exactly going to touch on what happens during the building phase of your business, it’s important to understand that at some point you’ll need to start reaching out to potential customers.

    Then at some point, you’ll need to start providing a good customer experience for the people that use your app or buy your products.

    So it goes without saying that in the early days, you should be spending as much time as you can trying to prospect potential customers, talk with friends and generally absorb as much feedback as you can – this will help you much more than what you think might be the best way to tackle certain problems or features.

    Remember – building a product is all about helping a customer solve a problem. The better you solve that problem, the more attractive your business will be to potential users.

    So what are some of the things you can do early on to start interacting with people and finding what your ideal customer looks like?

    Discover People & Groups via Meetup

    Meetup helps you connect with others who share the same interests and passions. It’s like Facebook Events, but focused on gathering the right people in the same room.

    Meetup has thousands of different types of interests that users can create events for:

    Discover People & Groups via Meetup

    Meetup allows you to host or find communities of a specific interest.

    You can then drill down into the specific events in your city (or a city that you’re targeting).

    Bitcoin Meetup Group

    In fact, this is exactly how our co-founders of Gleam – John and Stuart met, at a Ruby on Rails meetup in Melbourne!

    Stuart searched for Ruby on Rails meetups in Melbourne, filtered the attendees and just hit them up via email:

    Stuart's Email to John

    Spending time in your niche can give you a better understanding of what your users need. It can also help you build the necessary connections you need for your business to succeed.

    Reach Out To Your Competitor’s Customers

    Find out who is talking about your competitor’s products, it can give you great insight on the type of customers who may use your product. If you think your product can add more value to them, it never hurts to reach out and offer them a free trial. Why not shoot them an e-mail or a Tweet?

    Riot was using a Competitor platform so we reached out via Twitter:

    This was also one of the tactics Gleam used in the early days. We found businesses using a Competitor via Twitter and reached out offering to duplicate their campaign on Gleam for free:

    We sent 10 emails like this every day for 3 months until we had 100 customers.

    Scout For Customers On Social Media

    I know what you’re thinking – how do I know who my competitor’s customers are? Well, one way is to look for the conversations they are having online.

    Platforms like Quora and Twitter offer insight into issues and opinions of different users. Tuning in to the right people can give you ideas on your target market and potential users. You should also pay attention to any feedback about your competitor’s product.

    If your product helps users fix a certain problem, set up a few automatic searches for users that share that frustration. Get in touch & offer them a solution – this is a fantastic way to acquire users.

    Here’s a search result we found with the term anyone know an alternative to that we could potentially jump into:

    However, we generally prefer to play nicely with competitors and let real users give their own opinion.

    Utilise Your Network

    Compared to the cold outreach, it’s obviously much easier to talk to people you already know. Try starting with your personal network – friends, family members, or even other business owners you have met on your journey. And don’t forget to get your co-founders to do the same!

    Even if the majority you have spoken to are not in your target market, you can still get plenty of great feedback. Who knows, you may even score a referral to someone who needs your product.

    How can your network help? Ask them anything! Maybe you need some feedback about your logo, or a colour scheme for your branding. You could even ask for their time to test new features you have. But remember to say thank you 😉

    Here is a list of potential networks you can focus on:

    • Close friends (think about who they may know)
    • Family connections
    • Educational/alumni connections (e.g. school, university & clubs)
    • Friends on Facebook (including any relevant groups you might be in)
    • Twitter Followers
    • Linkedin connections
    • Email contacts
    • Users of previous products

    Soma Water, which is one of the most popular Kickstarter campaigns of all time sent emails to their friends and family:

    Then also created a special landing page that made it easy for those users to share:

    Tap Into The Startup Ecosystem

    The startup ecosystem continues to thrive in Melbourne, we’re seeing more incubators, investors, co-working spaces and startup companies call Melbourne their home.

    If your product can help solve problems for these people, the startup ecosystem might just be the perfect place to find your early adopters. Startups typically like working with third-party solutions that make their life easier, why build it yourself when you could be working on your core product?

    Our co-working space has a bunch of partnerships and perks that members can take advantage of, this can be a great way to get your product (or service) in the hands of users:

    In our early days at Gleam, we made efforts to reach out to local business owners – we offered them to use our product for free. We also offered incubators and investors to use our products on their entire portfolio for free.

    By leveraging your initial traction with this strategy, you acquire more users and iterate on your product much quicker. After all, your users may literally be in the same co-working space as you.

    Already Have A Product/Market Fit?

    If you’ve built good customer segments, then knowing the value of your product for each should be straightforward.

    An important tactic for growth is to learn how to tap into different verticals to show how your product meets their needs. You might know this upfront, or you might suddenly notice similar businesses all using your product in a specific way.

    eSports Campaigns

    Get Listed

    Listings like Product Hunt, Beta List or Show HN are perfect for attracting evangelists and early-adopters. These listings give you a little extra exposure and can give you the necessary exposure to early adopters.

    Product Hunt

    Product Hunt

    Product Hunt features the best new tech products on a daily basis. Products are featured on two lists- ‘Newest’ and ‘Popular’. ‘Popular’ features products with the most community upvotes. If you are launching a web app or some content, Product Hunt is the perfect place to start.

    A good listing is like an extension of your landing page – it will communicate your brand, your product, its importance and how it will solve certain problems for a user.

    Unlike Kickstarter, Product Hunt is focused on short and sweet listings which aim to help bring users to your landing page as soon as possible. That means your value proposition has to be well-defined in 3-4 sentences. Product Hunt does allow you to add all your associated social accounts, screenshot previews and other related media in the listing. So take advantage of that.

    Based on Product Hunt’s launch guide, we found a perfect example:

    Resume.io on Product Hunt
    Resume.io on Product Hunt.

    Resume.io communicates the value of their product with a 1 minute video and point-form description. Because the listing is also within a tight community, the language is very informal and friendly. The most eye-catching offer is their referral perk – 80% off first year membership for Product Hunt users.

    Even though the listing is simple and informal, it packs a punch.

    Early Adopters Love A Sense Of Community

    Maker's Message from Resume.io
    Maker’s message from Resume.io.

    Alexey, the maker of Resume.io communicates his ‘Why’ in the maker’s message. Based on his own experience and pain points, he built a product that he hoped could address a pain other people has too. That human-to-human relation sells far better than a full-blown list of all the product’s features.

    User Feedback from Resume.io

    Early adopters are eager to try new products and provide contructive feedback.

    Don’t forget to respond to comments on your product! It’s important to build a relationship with your users as soon as possible.

    Getting Listed On Product Hunt

    Product Hunt submissions can only be done by contributors (‘Hunters’). If you’re not yet a contributor, submit a request here and check out Product Hunt’s advice on how to launch on Product Hunt.

    Share More Content

    Inbound marketing is all the rage now. In a modern Internet business, it’s common for users to expect quality content and great customer experience before they commit to making a purchase.

    To acquire more customers, make sure you are providing value first. Using different channels to share your content also helps drive more traffic and engagement from users. You stand a higher chance to get noticed.

    Storytelling Wins

    Social media marketing platforms are increasingly popular with consumers. Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat, and now YouTube are offering live videos or ‘stories’ for users to share ephemeral content. This opens up a whole new opportunity for content marketing.

    Video marketing used to involve contracting a team to shoot about your product launch or branding advertisement. Now with the popular ‘Story’ format, it’s much easier to just whip out your phone and start shooting! Take advantage of this new medium to power up your customer acquisition.

    By sharing stories or live videos, you create a sense of urgency which encourages higher engagement. Storytelling allows the viewer to get to know your business better. Focus on creating content that not only tell your story, but your customer’s story as well.

    Use Instagram to…

    Promote Your Other Channels

    Zendesk used this technique on Instagram to promote their Snapchat account. They featured a Zendesk employee and paired it with some fun humour. What a great and unintrusive way to market their other channels.

    Notice that they have also incorporated a lot of Zendesk schwag in the video to increase brand awareness!

    Provide Social Proof

    Collect stories and content from your customers and show them off on your website and other social channels.

    Our Gleam Gallery app allows you to display this content on your website.

    Promote Your Products

    Promoting your products doesn’t always mean a hard sell. Snackfood uses Instagram Stories to create awareness around the products they carry. They post daily about:

    • Product features
    • Customers Walking In To Make Purchases
    • Posting Products To International Customers
    • Unboxing New Arrivals

    The goal here is to bring the products closer to your viewers. Keep your brand and your products in their mind – all the time.

    Promote Product Updates

    Another way to keep users aware is to post frequently about your product updates. For E-commerce, this could mean new season arrivals. For software products, this could mean major software updates or overhauls.

    Share Your Startup Journey

    In the process of learning more about a product, it’s likely people will also want to know more about the team behind it. That’s why it’s important to introduce yourself (and your co-founders) as people, not just businessmen.

    Again, storytelling wins. Use this as an opportunity to sell your ‘Why’, not your ‘What’.

    Share Topics Your Customers Care About

    Finding customers is only the first step, the next is finding out what and where they like to spend time on. Curate your content on the topics they care about. Often times, they are topics you care about too.

    Frank Body's Blog

    Frank Body identified 4 niche topics they know customers care about. They share blog posts based on those topics.

    Frank Body achieved great success from using the character ‘Frank’ to build a first-person narrative to communicate with customers. The content they share is conversational and is built around the topics their customers care about.

    Case study from the people who built the brand shared that they focused on ‘user-generated content, an original tone of voice and influencer outreach‘.

    Think about what your ideal customer cares about. What is on their mind a lot? Is there an outlet for them to explore and feel like they are part of a community? What can you offer to make them feel like they can connect with you?

    If you’re a startup founder, blog about your struggles and successes. If you’re selling beauty products, share tips and tricks that you love. Share your great taste in fashion, your favorite brands…there are endless subtopics here to explore.

    Opinion pieces are highly sought after because users love a second or third opinion. Turn this into an opportunity for you to drive value.

    Share Your Customer’s Story

    As a startup founder, you’ll be spending a lot of time getting to know your customers and trying to find their common traits. Take advantage of the stories you hear – and share them! Your customer’s story is a blueprint for your ideal user persona, but it also acts as an ideal persona that the viewer wants to associate with.

    For example, the post above from TransferWise is targeted at people who are abroad a lot, hence the need for an easier option to transfer money abroad. A viewer can feel the need to associate with the brand simply because the community is full of other like-minded folks.

    Notice how TransferWise didn’t focus on the customer’s testimonial, but rather the customer’s personal story.

    Ready To Craft Your Own Stories?

    Think about the content that is relevant to your business – whether it be about your products, your people, your passions or your causes. Come up with a list of content you would like to share, then categorize them and schedule when you would like to share them.

    Tools like Later can help you schedule and visualize the look and feel of your Instagram feed ahead of time.

    Tip: Grow your Instagram Business account to 10k followers and make use of the link feature provided in Instagram Stories.

    Use Canva To Make Stories Attractive & Engaging

    Canva templates page

    Canva has a rich library of Instagram Stories templates you can use to bring life to your content.

    Cold Mailing

    While cold mailing may not be scalable in the long run, it could be extremely beneficial for early traction. Cold mailing helps you cast a wide net over a potential consumer base, the ones who respond could be your early adopters.

    It’s Important To Be Personal

    Customer experience goes hand in hand with personalisation. Campaign Monitor shared that personalisation is a very effective e-mail marketing tactic. Simple things like addressing the recipient’s name in the subject line can significantly boost open rates. Remember, the recipient on the other end is a human too.

    You probably have received an e-mail where your name was addressed, were you more encouraged to open it and read intently?

    Show Them What It Means To Them

    One approach we use here at Gleam is to mock up a Competition for our prospects – it only takes 5 minutes. To do that, we just need a brief idea of what channels or actions drive the most value for the prospect.

    Then, we run the competition using a bookmarklet on the prospect’s website so it has a personal touch. When they run it, they will have a good idea what it could look like for their brand.

    Imagine, when the recipient opens the e-mail and finds the product nicely prepared and personalized to their needs – there’s a lot of incentive for them to convert.

    Get Creative, But Don’t Spam

    Looking for creative ways you can show off a customized version of your product to users? The people over at Ramp took it to the next level. They developed an automated process that generates images of their CEO wearing a T-shirt with the potential customer’s logo on.

    You guessed right – Ramp makes customized T-shirts for teams.

    Then, they e-mailed 50,000 companies with the title: I’m wearing a [logo] T-shirt! This tactic is both funny and eye-catching, they were rewarded with >50% open rates.

    What do you think you can come up with? 😎

    How To Target Cold E-mail Leads

    First, you have to understand that cold-mail is not spam. Knowing who to target is essential before you reach out to the masses. Think about your ideal user persona and how a potential customer fits into it. If you’re targetting a B2B audience, you’ll also have to figure out who from an organization is best for you to speak to.

    Hunter is a good tool when you have a good hunch on who you’re targetting – just enter the address of your target’s website:

    Hunter.io - search tool for emails
    Hunter’s ‘Search’ feature allows you to find e-mails based on a domain name.

    Writing A Relevant Cold E-mail

    1. Think of a catchy headline that will interest your target (you can A/B test this). When possible, use their name in the headline.
    2. Find out what the person has been up to recently, see if you can make a compliment or a passing remark. Try to find something in common so you can entice the recipient to connect. Remember, it’s the human touch.
    3. Think of what the person needs for their organization right now and how you can provide a solution. Don’t worry about getting it wrong, just give your best guess.
    4. Introduce yourself and your product briefly.
    5. What can you offer them as an incentive?
    6. Offer the option to opt-out.
    7. Say thank you and provide relevant contact details.

    Learn To Write Effective E-mails

    In the early stages of your launch, you’ll be wearing many hats – an important one that you should master sending e-mails effectively.

    Tip: Use a data-driven approach. You should be monitoring the following metrics:

    • Open Rates: Which types of subject lines get the best open rates? Knowing this information will allow you to test ideas & see what works for your product. Use CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to test out your best subject lines.
    • Clickthroughs: Do people click on your call-to-action once they read your mail? This metric will help you understand if your message is compelling enough to the reader.
    • Responses: What percentage of people actually respond? Getting someone engaged enough to reply to you will greatly increase your chances of conversion.
    • Closes: Which email types actually help you close a sale?

    Here at Gleam we use a nifty Gmail plugin called YesWare to collect the data described above. We’ve seen an increase in efficiency and it’s also great to see how prospects respond to different strategies you come up with.

    Tip: Your content is just as important as the list of people you reach out to. If your e-mail list is not focused (i.e. you are barking up the wrong tree), even the best media will not sway the person.

    Build A Landing Page

    Regardless of where you market your product, make sure your users always arrive at your landing page. Your landing page is important because it describes the how, what, and why of your product.

    The landing page is the start of your funnel. If you are selling a product, you need a sales funnel. If you are trying to drive value by providing content, you need a marketing funnel.

    You want to design a funnel where you can guide the user’s buyer journey – awareness, consideration, and decision.

    Think Of A Good Headline

    A catchy headline can gain your user’s attention and awareness. The headline should include the core benefit of using your product – the unique value proposition.

    CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer grades your headline based on searchability and readability. Use this handy tool and come up with 25 headlines to choose the best option.

    Headline Analyser tool by CoSchedule
    CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer grades your headline based on searchability and readability.

    Decide The Outcome Of Your Call-to-Action

    A call-to-action is the transition from awareness to consideration. Users click on the call-to-action for a desired outcome. Some common CTAs include:

    1. Learning More About A Product
    2. Signing Up For A Free Trial
    3. Subscribing To A Newsletter

    All of these actions brings you one step closer from converting the lead into a customer.

    Check out TransferWise’s landing page:

    transferwise

    TransferWise’s call-to-action highlights the end result and the core benefit of using their product.

    TransferWise offers quick demonstration of their product by immediately highlighting the end result and core benefit of using their product. The ability to choose amount and currency also allows an extra layer of personalization. Users can immediately view their desired outcome which makes it much more attractive to click on the CTA.

    If you don’t have a product that can easily do that, consider displaying screenshots of your product so your users have an inside look at the product. That way, users are already placing one foot in the door.

    Actionable Call-To-Actions

    leadcooker

    Leadcooker allows users to sign up with their Google account, cutting out the boring sign up process.

    houzz-app

    Houzz’s Mobile App page brings users to their app as soon as possible.

    In order to minimize the steps required for the user to download the app on their phone, Houzz has implemented this CTA to assist in the downloading process. Smart way to make it easier for users to get to their app.

    Use High-Quality Images

    beardbrand-landing-page

    Beardbrand uses stunning imagery on their landing page to attract users.

    One of our earlier customers, Beardbrand used this high-quality photo of three well-groomed men looking in the user’s direction. From the distance they are seated and the direction of their gaze, it seems to suggest to the user: ‘Come join in!’.

    Ready to find a photo that can tell your story? Refer to our list of stock image sites for commercial use.

    Landing Page Examples

    Here are some good example of pre-launch websites:

    Viral Loop Landing Page

    Fishtripr's Waiting List
    Fishtripr’s pre-launch campaign uses viral loop marketing to attract users.

    Viral loop marketing is a powerful way to attract users – it works by incentivizing users to share to their own network. Fishtrpr does this by offering an incentive for referrals, the more they share, the better chances to win a prize. Notice that their prizes are also highly relevant to the target user.

    Targeted Discount Landing Page

    Handsome Illustrations
    Craftwork Design offers a special discount for Product Hunt users if they arrive from Product Hunt's website.

    A creative way to reward users is to offer a special discount to target groups, increasing the feeling of exclusivity. Here, Craftwork Design is offering a special 30% discount to Product Hunt users.

    Early Access Landing Page

    superhuman-ph-landing-page

    Superhuman's landing page generated by Product Hunt's Ship tool.

    Product Hunt's new tool Ship allows makers to connect their product at the pre-launch phase with a pool of early adopters and beta users who would be keen to try out new products.

    At the pre-launch phase, this is essential for you to start getting feedback from early adopters and fix underlying bugs before going public. In Superhuman's landing page, they used words like 'VIP access' to suggest exclusivity as well as mentioniong names of peers to encourage like-minded users to sign up.

    Driving Traffic To Your Landing Page

    One of the biggest challenges for a startup is to drive traffic to their landing page. This is why listing yourself on websites and running ads are all so important. We’ll share some tactics on how to get users to your landing page:

    Use Paid Media To Measure Conversion Rates

    Paid media is a good choice for early-stage startups because it allows you to track conversion rates effectively, at the same time find out which platform works best for your product. Some options for paid media include:

    For a budding startup, you may not where your target market is and which platform they are on. A good way to test that is to post ads on multiple platforms and see which source converts the best (we’re talking about the conversion rate from your landing page’s CTA). Once you have identified your target market and where they are, then you can increase your advertising budget effectively.

    Two metrics to care about:

    • Landing Page Conversion Rate
    • Traffic From Source

    Of course, the effectiveness of your landing page CTA still depends on your value prop. For the sake of this section, we will focus on how you can measure your conversion rates via paid media.

    URL Tagging: For each platform you are advertising on, you will want to use the Google URL Builder to create a tag, which looks something like this:

    http://www.yoursite.com/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=cpc&campaign=ads
    

    The CTA on your ads should have a tag associated with it so Google Analytics can help you track which source is performing the best.

    Related Article

    Setting Up Google Analytics For Startups

    Learn how to setup Google Analytics to get the data you need to make growth-based decisions for your startup. Read More...

    If you’re using paid media to drive traffic to your landing page, make sure your ad illustrates that so you incentivize users to click on your CTA and visit your landing page.

    If your landing page goals are more towards e-mail collection/brand awareness, you could feature a story of why you built the particular product.

    If your goal is to drive sign-ups on your landing page, then illustrate what your product is about and how it will benefit the user.

    Offer An Incentive

    You can offer an incentive for users to convert on your landing page. The incentive could be in the form of some exclusive content (e.g. book, podcast episode, webinar) in exchange for signing up for a trial or subscribing to your newsletter. Our Rewards app allows you to redirect your user to your private page upon completing the required actions.

    If you’re an E-commerce site, you can also offer discount coupon codes to users:

    local-supply-rewards

    Blog To Build Hype

    We previously covered sharing more content with your audience, but you will need more than 500 words to drive organic traffic. In the early days of Gleam, we relied on blogging a lot to drive traffic to our main product page.

    Blogging can help build hype when your product is not yet ready. We recommend blogging at least 3-12 months before your product is even ready to launch.

    Groove do a great job of writing about their product vs writing about their startup journey. It really helps add a personal touch to their product (and no doubt drive more customers).

    GrooveHQ Blog Post

    For starters, you can post on third-party platforms like Medium so you can get going before having to consider setting up Google Analytics or a blogging platform. Eventually, you can move on to your own domain and tailor your own tools.

    Here are some blog post ideas:

    • Guides For Topics In Your Industry (Evergreen!)
    • Startup Journey & Progress
    • Case Studies
    • Product Use Case: ‘How To Use X To Achieve Y’

    Run A Giveaway

    We know this is a great way to acquire customers because our own customers have used competitions to gain massive growth. In fact, they managed to reach out far beyond their existing customer base.

    The ROI for running a giveaway is huge, here are some pointers before you start:

    Your giveaway prize should align with the ideal user that you have in mind.

    Imagine you’re trying to get customers to purchase your physical product. Giving away iPads or AirPods may be a very attractive prize, but it might not be the best approach to get targeted entrants. Think about the types of products or services your users might want before incentivizing them.

    In fact, consider giving away your own product as part of a competition! We ran a giveaway with Boosted who were giving away their own boards:

    What do you want out of the campaign?: When you’re giving away something for free users are much more receptive to specific actions. Do you want more social followers on Instagram? More Likes on Facebook? Perhaps you want people to tweet about your product launch? Or perhaps you want people to give you feedback about something? Anything is possible.

    How can you leverage these users in the future?: Using a competition to get users onto your list so you can re-market to them in the future is a great way to increase the value you get from running competitions.

    Embrace Freemium

    Giving away something for free can either be advantageous or detrimental to your product. If you give away too much of your product, you could potentially devalue it when it’s time to start charging some money. Here are some example of pricing pages from 50 top startups.

    Tip: Give away enough to make the product useful, but make customers feel like paying for your plans could add enough value to make the upgrade worthwhile.

    The holy grail example: Dropbox. Their viral loop marketing tactic earned them tremendous growth. Users start the free trial with a comfortable amount of storage, but they can always get more by referring to their friends. This presentation Dropbox founder Drew Houston gives great insight into the types of things that helped them grow:

    Free products are also useful for the beta phase. For example, we let new users at Gleam run their first 3 competitions absolutely free. Then, we analyze the usage to figure out the average value each competition could bring to a customer. At the same time, we didn’t have to rely on closed, invite-only betas but still received adoption and feedback.

    Today, Gleam offers options to run completely free competitions, plus paid plans with added features.

    For free and Pro users, we show our own branding on the footer for each Competition:

    This simple Powered by Gleam link drives 30% of our sign ups and is essentially free marketing. Intercom’s success is attributed to this ‘powered by’ tactic too:

    Powered By Intercom

    Another business that does freemium well is MailChimp. On the free tier, MailChimp allows you to send 12,000 e-mails per month and maintain 2,000 subscribers – a substantial amount for gaining early traction. You can use MailChimp for long enough to grow comfortable with it and eventually convert.

    mailchimp-pricing

    After reaching 2,000 subscribers, MailChimp knows it will drive substantial value for the user to convert to a paid tier. You wouldn’t want to switch platforms and leave that window to missed opportunities, right?

    Pros Of Freemium

    • More incentive for users to try out the product.
    • Less barrier to entry.
    • Blogger are more willing to review it, thus creating opportunity for referrals and more content.
    • Easy to segment users and create tailored drip-campaigns.
    • Opportunities to tap into existing customer base for upselling.

    Cons of Premium

    • High number of users will probably not convert.
    • Scalability issues when there are too many free users.
    • Hard to balance value between free and paid tiers, thus giving less incentive to convert.
    • Free users will behave like ‘tourists’, resulting in lower perceived value of your product.

    Use Data To Make Decicions

    Data is only powerful if it allows us to make good decisions. Which means, we have to be careful how we set up our data collection. Some metrics you should pay attention to are:

    Funnel Conversion Rates

    Knowing about inefficiencies in your signup/purchase funnel can make a huge difference to conversion rates. We once worked with a client that asked for tax and drivers license information on their signup form (which resulted in a 99.9% drop off rate) – not good when you’re spending 6 figures a month on inbound advertising.

    Funnel drop offs are missed opportunities.

    Funnel analysis is important because it allows you to identify your customer’s journey and how to make that experience better. Think about it – if they’ve already clicked on ‘Buy Now’, what else could be stopping them from finishing the process?

    Perhaps you are asking for too much information during the sign-up? Things like address or credit card information could discourage the user from signing up. Users could be wary of data protection issues or, it simply takes too long to take out their wallet and type in their credit card information.

    Coupon Magic

    Once you’ve setup your funnel, monitor it and study which stage has the highest drop off rate. Experiment with the elements on that stage to debug what’s going on. We will cover more of this in the next section. Is a page taking too load to load? Are the image file sizes too large? You can test your website’s speed with free tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

    E-mails

    E-mails can help you understand how new users interact with your application. What percentage come to the site from personalized e-mails or reactivation e-mails? Do your monthly newsletters generate significant revenue? What types of e-mails work best at achieving a certain outcome?

    Take a look at this simple shopping cart abandonment email from Casper:

    Casper's Cart Abandonment Email

    Depending on the results, you may want to fine-tune your e-mails to serve your audience better. For example, if your reactivation e-mails are not getting enough conversions, consider offering a discount code or a freebie. For retailers, free shipping is often a very attractive option.

    Conversion Rates By Source

    Having goals or E-commerce tracking set up in Google Analytics will allow you to break down conversion rates by traffic source. Have you been working with third parties to help drive traffic? Getting mentions from other blogs? You can instantly see which sources are most valuable for driving conversion. Use this data to contact similar sites or to optimise your relationship with existing partners.

    Do you also write a lot of content? Find out which pieces drive the most SEO traffic and conversions. What type of keywords works best for your business?

    If you already have a launch page, then you should already have Google Analytics set up. Check out this separate post on setting up Google Analytics.

    Tip: We find that our Google Analytics post works best if you have a preliminary understanding of Google Analytics. The structure of our post is pretty similar to Analytics Academy’s beginner course, but we have added real Gleam examples to help you better understand what we can achieve with Google Analytics.

    Test The Efficiency Of Your Sales Funnel

    Your site should have a specific outcome that is important to your business. It could be making a sale, capturing leads or some sort of action/event. Your sales funnel is comprised of the steps that precede your intended outcome. It’s up to you to make sure the friction or value at each step is high enough to get people to complete them.

    Some elements that could affect your funnel include:

    • Too many CTAs on the same page, which can be distracting.
    • Offer on the CTA is unclear. Is this supposed to sign me up or subscribe me to something?
    • Feedback from website. If I added an item to my cart, I would like to know that it worked. Don’t make me question what is happening on the site.

    Here are some examples of businesses that do a good job of reducing friction on a particular action point:

    Instagram: Have you ever wondered why Instagram photos upload so quickly when you hit save? This is because they start uploading the photo as soon as you’ve taken it. By the time you fill out any captions or details, hitting save button is really just saving the metadata. This is a simple example that greatly improves the user experience of their application.

    Instagram Uploading

    Beardbrand: Beardbrand has a buttery smooth checkout process that accommodates to the user every step of the way.

    The primary CTA for this page is in a striking colour not used in anywhere else of the page, which makes it easy for the user to locate and click on.

    Upon scrolling down the product page, a sidebar with the product and the ‘Add to Cart’ CTA follows you so you remember which product you’re currently browsing. Kind of like having your item in a shopping cart as you walk around and continue considering.

    We like that the checkout cart also has a ‘recommended’ section that encourages upselling. Note that it is also greyed out to avoid confusion.

    Beardbrand’s checkout page.

    There are a lot of things we like on this checkout page:

    1. The top header continues to encourage the customer to make the purchase towards the end of the journey. It’s a personal touch that packs a punch.
    2. Paypal Express checkout option is still available at this stage in case the customer changes his/her mind.
    3. Subscription to newsletter is auto-checked to encourage users to sign up.

    Tip: If your business is region-focused, consider using a payment or checkout system popular in that region. For example, most merchants in the South East Asian region use AliPay as one of their payment gateways. This helps establish credibility and trust. Besides, it also makes the target market much more intuitive to the user.

    Link Your Blog Back To Your Sales Site

    Startups often make this mistake: put a huge amount of effort into writing high-quality content, but fail to mention their product or at least link back to their product site.

    How to mention your products on your blog:

    Include A Blurb In The Sidebar

    Tell the reader about your product in the sidebar, make it compelling but short enough to digest.

    Basecamp’s blog – Signal vs Noise on Medium does this by sharing their roots in the blog description. Notice they have subtly added some anchor text that links back to their main product site, the CTA being to sign up for a free trial.

    signal-vs-noise

    Link Back To Main Site In The Header

    A rule of thumb is to always link back to your main product from the logo in the header. It should be a standard site-wide experience.

    Evernote’s blog page has a logo on the top to bring users back to the product site, and also a ‘sign in’ link on the top right corner for users to jump back into it.

    Have A Customer Development Process

    The art of customer development provides a framework for collecting customer feedback and converting them into valuable insight for reaching product/market fit. Conversations with your potential customers could help you in a number of ways:

    Validation Of Core Concepts

    We previously covered on reaching out to potential customers. It’s always a good idea to reach out early and validate that they have a problem you can help solve. You should always be validating that there is indeed a market for what you are building – make sure your solution makes people’s lives easier one way or another.

    When GrooveHQ first started out on their journey, they were already fond believers of customer development. Leveraging on their existing network, they asked relevant people about their major pain points in customer service software in order to validate ideas.

    They took 10 minutes of each prospect’s time and asked simple questions: the How, What, and Why.

    One takeaway from their experience: at the early stage of your startup, you are asking to learn and not to sell. We particularly liked how they used reverse psychology to ask for user feedback. By simply stating ‘feel free to say no, this has already been helpful’, GrooveHQ was surprised that most people they spoke to were willing to give feedback whenever their product is ready.

    Valuable Feedback

    It’s easy to bury our heads in the sand and build what we think are the right features. However, there is nothing better than having clients tell you exactly what problems they have.

    The trick here is to balance between customer feedback and your product direction. Let them pivot each other but never let one side take over the other.

    Pioneer of customer development, Steve Blank wrote about how you can kill your own startup by trying to do everything your customers want.

    Another thing you have to be aware of is to collect feedback from your core target. Feedback from armchair critics will not get you far if they don’t have a stake in your product. If a person has a problem you can help solve, then they probably have a stake in your product – they want you to succeed because they want their problems solved.

    armchair

    The armchair – an essential tool for the armchair critic.

    Canny had an exciting journey discovering their core target. Initially, Canny built a platform for consumers to submit feedback to their favourite products. Those suggestions could then be upvoted or downvoted by the community. Although there were a lot of users, retention was weak – they realised the product was not something consumers would pay for.

    That’s not to say their core concept was invalidated, they realized they were talking to the wrong group of people. They switched over to businesses and interviewed product managers. What they discovered was a larger problem than they had started with.

    They realised that business users had a larger need for their solution and they would be more than willing to pay for it, because product managers rely on feedback as a form of guidance to product roadmaps.

    canny-feedback-widget

    Canny’s widget prototype after receiving feedback from business users – image taken from blog.canny.io

    By identifying the correct audience and pivoting based on user feedback, Canny went from $1,000 MMR to $3,500 MMR within 5 months of their MVP launch.

    Testimonials

    Testimonials matter. Andrew Warner did a fantastic interview with Victoria Ransom from Wildfire and she revealed their success – having Pepsi as their first client. Having a client such as Pepsi opened doors for Wildfire and allowed them to do more business with clients of similar size.

    Use this opportunity to let customers use your product for free – in exchange for a testimonial, or an honest review of the product. Wildfire used the same technique and provided their services to Facebook at a low cost. While it was painful for them cost-wise, having that referral at the end of the day made it worthwhile.

    …you really really had to find someone that you could get the attention of, and then being willing to really, frankly, give away a fair bit of value on those earlier clients, because they’re worth a lot to you.

    Victoria Ransom from Wildfire

    Steps To Customer Development

    If an investor asks you:

    Where are you getting your first 5 paying customers from?

    Do you think you could answer? Here are some steps that could help you make your customer development process much more fun:

    Use Your Own Product

    There is nothing better than eating your own dogfood, how can you be inspired by your own products if you don’t use them yourself?

    Phil at Close.io wrote an inspiring post about having co-workers as your first customers. Since Close.io is essentially a product for sales people, and they are also running a sales-related business, Phil was able to get his co-worker’s feedback in real-time to speed up their development.

    Segment And Build Customer Profiles

    It’s rare for a product to fit completely with one customer profile – understand that there will be varying segments that your product will serve. Having a good understanding of your multiple customer profiles allow you to:

    Target them better: Ever run an e-mail campaign? Then you will know the importance of sending the right e-mail to the right audience at the right time. Segmenting allows you to ensure that you communicate with them in the most effective way to win their business.

    Influence their decisions: Different people are influenced by different things – price, features, support, ease of integration or reputation are all potential factors to consider. Knowing which factors influence certain segments will help you close more business.

    Check out this beautiful pre-launch subscription e-mail:

    Verve's Launch Email - taken from reallygoodemails.com
    Verve’s e-mail to early subscribers provides a lot of value even when at the prelaunch stage. Image taken from reallygoodemails.com.

    Diving deep into the early subscriber’s mindset, Nguyen created this stunning e-mail with attractive imagery to give an idea of what subscribers can expect in due time. It’s built to create hype.

    Then, she provides links for a number of blog posts she has shared over time (probably her best performing ones) to keep users ‘on edge’. She even offers the reader to ask her anything and provide them with a discount code for the product launch. A+ for sincerity and building trust.

    Mini Case Study: Vinci 2.0

    Inspero Inc’s Vinci 2.0 (wireless headphones) gained massive traction on Kickstarter. They managed to hit funding goals within the first 6 minutes, and then $100k USD within the first 4 hours. In fact, the project is 3,961% funded at the time of writing!

    Art of the Kickstart did an interview with Cathy Cao, Business Director of Inspero Inc. to discuss about the tactics they used to gain massive growth. Apart from leveraging their existing community of Vinci 1.0 users to market Vinci 2.0, here are some tactics they used:

    E-mail Marketing

    Cathy revealed that e-mail conversions were the primary factor for their pre-launch success. Their team replicated previous campaign efforts and made it much more scalable.

    …before launch, it’s definitely important to know what is maybe an average rate for your certain industry and what you’re looking to get there, so that you can have a good estimate of about how much you’re able to acquire that day from email…

    Cathy Cao from Vinci

    Create Hype With A Launch Party

    Inspero Inc. won a lot of media attention by throwing a launch party in New York City. They took the opportunity to show off their product sample and got attendees to try it.

    Getting Testimonial From Early Adopters

    Build An E-mail List

    Between the launch of Vinci 1.0 to Vinci 2.0, Inspero Inc. grew their e-mail list from 5,000 to 100,000, that’s 20x growth! This was partly due to:

    1. Viral effect from the launch party
    2. Leveraging on the lessons learnt from launching Vinci 1.0

    Tip: Gleam’s Capture app helps you capture e-mails from potential customers. Embed one on your landing page to grow your e-mail list.

    Build A Pre-Launch Page

    vinci-landing-page

    Before their launch party, Inspero Inc. set up a teaser launch page to build momentum.

    …try to get as much momentum as possible there, prelaunch, to be able to have this big bang, this big boom, on launch date.

    Cathy Cao from Vinci

    Notice that Vinci 2.0’s landing page is also long and concise, featuring top product features, various use cases, integrations and product colors. Unbounce shared an article suggesting that longer landing pages (depending on the goal) can increase conversion rates.


    Phew! So that’s been a long ride and we’ve covered a lot of topics here to help you find your first customers. We’ll talk more on customer retention strategies soon, please leave a comment and tell us what you’d like to hear more about! 🎉

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