Manuel Brandt

Guide: Acquiring First Users With a Small Budget (+ Case Studies)

First 100 Users

When starting a business, one of the most difficult challenges is acquiring your first customers. This is especially true when you are bootstrapping and have limited resources to invest in marketing and advertising.

In this article, I will share some tips and strategies on how you can acquire your first customers, and what I learned after achieving this with multiple companies I founded or advised.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Identify Your Target Audience & Key Benefits πŸ”Ž

When I built my first company, I wanted to jump right away into acquiring customers. However, I learned that it’s way easier to acquire customers if you have an idea who they are, and actually thinking this through doesn’t take much time.

So, before you start thinking about through which channels you can acquire your first customers, spend a little time thinking about who they actually are, and what key benefits your product offers them. Once you understand this, it will be easier to pick the right channels, focus on discussions with the right customers, and increase the chances of winning those customers.

Step 2: Have Something Well to Present to Them πŸ“¦

You won’t be able to acquire customers if you have nothing to share with them. Usually, this should be a website, but it could be as simple as a PDF explaining your product. In most cases, I would recommend taking the time to create a website. It can simply have one page with a contact, sign up, or a waitlist form, but that will increase your success rate to winning customers significantly.

For your website, it will help as well if you already did the first step. Knowing your target audience, will help you to create a converting web presence. Same for the benefits: The key job of your website is to communicate your benefits to your potential customers. Being clearly aware of them will help.

Step 3: The Top Channels to Reach 100(0) Users πŸš€

The channels to acquire first customers are what most founders want to learn about. So, here’s my list of channels that I used in different startups to acquire our first users. Again, before you jump into those channels, make sure to do the steps above first.

1. Use Your Online Network

This is the quickest way to acquire your first customers. Share your product with as many people in your surrounding as possible. This can be:

  • Family & Friends
  • Colleagues & Business Partners
  • Clients
    • When I started Blogtec, I converted lots of my clients as a freelancer into Blogtec customers.
  • Social Media Connections
    • LinkedIn
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • Instagram

2. Find People Complaining About the Issue You’re Solving

Find a place where people are sharing about the issue that your product is addressing, and introduce your solution.

  • Forum Posts on Reddit, Quora, and Co
  • Twitter Posts
  • Testimonial Platforms

3. Talk to People In-Person (Incl. Events)

There are many great examples of companies who have used this strategy. If you look at Y Combinator and their startup’s stories, many of them literally went on the street and talked to people there. Or they drove to offices or stores and presented their products in person. You need some confidence to do this, but it will be effective and provide you with plenty of learnings how potential customers react to your product and presentation.

Another way, which works better if your product is in a small niche, is to go to events. There are tons of events for almost every niche. You don’t need to rent a stand, as these often are costly, just go there, network, and introduce people to your product.

4. Post on Deal Platforms

There are countless platforms that advertise special limited deals of digital products. The first that come to my mind are AppSumo and Stack Social. Basically, you can create a special offer, let’s say 40% off your product for 1 year, or lifetime access for $299. Especially the lifetime deals work well, and it can bring you a lot of cash upfront, which you can then invest in finding a scalable channel.

I myself regularly check for deals on these platforms and find interesting new software this way. There are many others who are just waiting to get to know your product!

5. (Mass) Cold Outreach

Reaching out to people through cold emails or social media DMs (e.g. LinkedIn) is a really common channel that many early-stage startups try. I’m personally not a big fan of it. First, I myself get plenty of cold outreaches, and I always archive them right away. Moreover, we tried that at Blogtec, and it didn’t work at all, only when I myself reached out to some existing connections for potential partnerships, but that’s a different thing. For the completeness of the list, I still added it here.

6. Paid Advertising

Usually, paid advertising channels are not considered by early-stage startups, especially when bootstrapping because they’re known as being expensive and needing a lot of budget to master them. However, from my experience, this doesn’t have to be the case.

I’ve tried lots of different paid ad channels such as Facebook and Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Ads, or Reddit. Most of them indeed didn’t work, or took a long time to work, however, sometimes they can work just about right away without a big budget. Also, when acquiring first users, it’s not about having an outstanding CAC or so, it’s about getting users to collect first user feedback.

So, if you do have some budget, you can try to choose a few paid ads channels and put ~500 EUR in each of them and see what the results are. For some channels that ‘s not at an option, though. I would not recommend that for LinkedIn, for example, but get a (freelancer) expert to give you some advice on that. The best experience I made with Facebook and Instagram. Google performed a bit worse, but wasn’t bad as well.

7. B2B Partnerships

Partnerships with businesses can be really effective, especially when bootstrapping. There are many ways of B2B partnerships, so there’s no step-by-step guide for this.

Example 1:

At Blogtec we partnered with Deel and some VCs who collect special offers for their customers and partners. Currently, you get AWS credits from all kinds of places like this. If you have a good product, you can look out for places giving away these kinds of offers, contact their partnerships manager, and try to get listed.

Example 2:

Another example is a company I worked with that was selling courses in the IT space. They reached out to schools and sold the courses to teachers for their classes or students directly.

8. Influencer Marketing with 0 Budget + Affiliate Marketing

Yes, it’s possible to get posts from influencers without having to pay for it (at least not if they didn’t generate revenue).

I wrote a full blog article about this, which you can find below. I highly recommend you to read it, as it can be a super effective channel to scale up to even 1M EUR ARR without a budget if done well.

Case Study: How I Acquired the first 100K in ARR at Blogtec πŸ“–

When I started Blogtec, I asked myself where I could find people who have the need for our product as pre-filtered as possible. Blogtec is a platform for SEO and content freelancers. People who are looking for those are… on freelancer platforms. So, what I did in our early days was that I created freelancer profiles at Upwork and Co, applied for projects there, and then shared about Blogtec and our benefits compared to a typical freelancer platform like Upwork.

People saw the benefits we had and were unhappy with Upwork because they didn’t find promising candidates there or were unhappy with the freelancers they hired in the past, so they were open to trying our solution. This brought us ~5 clients a month, each spending on average 500-1000 EUR/month.

Step 4: Improving Conversion When Acquiring First Users❗️

Credit for the image to “My Future Business”.

Most (early-stage) founders only look for the best channels to acquire their customers, and forget about everything else, which I already mentioned in the beginning. However, even if you have a good strategy, a good presentation, and found high-potential channels, there’s still a fourth step, which is finding ways to increase conversion rates. And this can be a total game-changer!

1. Work Heavily With Discounts

A way that basically always works to drive conversion is to work with discounts. Especially in the beginning when you just want to generate your first users to collect customer feedback, and profitability is not the main goal yet, you can use this strategy. Giving a 30% early bird discount is a good way to do this.

If you like, you can use another Marketing trick. You can consider increasing your non-discounted price to make the offer more attractive. Let’s say your product costs 99 EUR/year, you can sell it for 49 EUR/year and mark the original price as 199 EUR/year to advertise with a 75% discount. This isn’t sustainable long-term, but okay to consider in the early days.

You also have the option to go one step further and offer your product for free to initial users. Especially if your product is still really early, and you have competitors which are way better, this might make sense.

2. Focus on Yearly or Lifetime

Especially if your product is early and churn is high, you will make your money with yearly subscriptions, so try to focus on them. You can combine this perfectly with the discounts by offering your heavy discount only for the yearly plan, and no discount at all for the monthly plan.

Considerable is also a lifetime offer (as I already spoke about in the channels part). If you’re in your early days, and you need some money on hand to hire people, run experiments, and so on, this will help you to get some cash quickly.

3. Offer a Free Product or Trial

Another option is to offer a free product. Let’s say you’re running a platform with 50 courses and charge a monthly subscription fee to access all of them, like Master Class. You can consider offering people free access to one course to get people’s email addresses, and then try to upsell them to your main product (with your awesome 75% email offer 😁).

An alternative is, of course, a free trial, so letting them try your complete product for free for usually 1-30 days.
Or you can offer limited access. Going back to the course example, you could offer access to all courses, but just the first lesson.

4. Offer Another Kind of Guarantee

A free trial is a great way to give people the guarantee that they can only win by trying out your product. They don’t have the risk that they spend money on your product, and then it turns out that it doesn’t work for them.

My so far favorite working book, “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business”, even goes so far and says that every good marketing strategy needs a guarantee for the customers, and I do think that it makes sense. There are many other ways to offer customers this. The most famous probably being the 14-days money-back guarantee.

5. Strong Email Marketing

Depending on your funnels, email marketing can be a giant drive for success. At my first startup, we made an immense amount of revenue from this. We collected tons of emails through lead magnets on our website and blog, usually a free course, as well as from free trial signups.

Every few months, we ran a big sale with a 70% discount offer, and nurtured it by the people on our email list and leads coming from our affiliates, who we always asked to promote our sales.

Note that then you need to adjust your normal discount. So, coming back to my previous example, you would usually need to offer your annual plan for 99 EUR instead of 199 EUR on your website (so still 50% off), and for the sales you increase that to 49 EUR instead of 199 EUR.

Conclusion πŸ‘¨β€πŸ’»

This guide definitely doesn’t include all possible acquisition channels and ways to improve conversion rates. Therefore, use this as a list to start with and add more ideas, which you can then evaluate and prioritize with your team.

Moreover, the key is to follow the four steps I shared. Don’t make the mistake and only focus on step 3, as I’ve seen it with many early-stage founders (I’ve been there as well).

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