How to Get the First Traction for a Startup?

Published on December 14, 2019 by Ivan Dunskiy, CEO

If the first thing you thought after reading the title was “What is startup traction?” here is some information for you. Early startup traction is the first wave of customers. If these people see value in your service or product, they will become your first ambassadors, and that’s where word of mouth will come in. Early traction is not only a seed from which your client base will grow but also a sign for your investors that your project is worth their attention (and money). 

But how do you acquire that much sought-after startup traction? Quit Googling how any startup can achieve explosive customer growth and going through dozens of links because we’ve gathered everything you need to know is in this blog post. We collected it from launching our own startups, and from what we observed working with many clients from all over the world. 

Find the Real Demand 

Finding the real demand for a startup to get traction

Too obvious, perhaps, but the first step to gain early traction for any startup is to ensure that your product or service offers real value to your clients. According to Everette Taylor, VP of marketing at Skurt, failure is inevitable if your startup can’t attract the first batch of customers without paid advertising or word-of-mouth marketing strategies. The main recommendations on how to lure that very first wave of users without launching a costly marketing campaign are:

  • Find your audience and identify their pain points

  • Effectively ‘treat’ those pain points with your product

  • Develop story-driven branding that appeals to your customers

  • Design quick, user-friendly UX (a slow website or app increases bounce rates dramatically)

  • Ensure impeccable customer support.

When it comes to picking up early traction in a startup, it’s best to start small. Bea Arthur, In Your Corner founder & CEO, recommends having ten clients from the get-go. When approaching these clients, she says, it might be a good idea to offer your product for free and ask them what they think about it.

As soon as you have your first ten clients, move on toward one hundred. At this stage, you can start charging people. Still, don’t try to hit this number at once — take small, smart steps and be sure to reflect at each milestone. Ask yourself: why they visited your website, why they signed up, why some of them left your website without buying anything, etc. It’s critical to adjust your strategy at each milestone in line with your answers.

Use Undervalued Channels

Use undervalued channels to get early startup traction

To gain early startup traction, do use all the channels at hand to reach your first customers. Even those that won’t allow you to scale. Instead of waiting for your product to attract crowds, give it a little push. 

For example, you can leverage your email list. With a bunch of emails, you’ll be able to communicate your unique selling point to your potential customers and bring them to your website. To get the most out of email marketing, make sure that your clients will be interested or even intrigued to read your content. Don’t push promotion right from the doorstep. Make your content more attractive and useful to your reader — from the headline to the CTA button.

Cold emailing is not the only way to gain initial traction. You can also take advantage of online communities like Twitch did. Before turning into the world’s leading live streaming platform for gamers, Twitch used an organic gaming community from Justin.tv to attract its first portion of customers. 

A mailing list and online communities are only a couple of examples of what you can do to give a slight nudge to your business. At first, things might move slower than you’d like. But as soon as you get your first customers on board, you can proceed with bigger channels. 

Share Your Expertise in a Blog

Share your expertise in a blog to get early startup traction

If you are looking for budget-friendly ways to drive traffic to your website (even before the actual launch of your product), try blogging. According to the recent report, about 80% of companies successfully attract their customers through their company blogs. In case this doesn’t sound convincing to you, there are a couple more good reasons to launch a blog about your startup: 

  • SEO. Google algorithms give preference to fresh, relevant content. By creating engaging posts on a regular basis, you are constantly feeding the search engine with new content to index. Plus, it is a great chance to use all those high-converting keywords, which you just couldn’t squeeze into your website. 

  • Building trust. Blogging is a great way to communicate with your customers in a conversational manner. By responding to their comments, you’ll be able to demonstrate that they can trust you as a brand. 

  • Showing your expertise. By creating engaging, useful content, you can show your customers that you are a true expert in your niche. 

  • Sharing opportunities. Blogging creates opportunities for your readers to share your content on their social networks. Your posts will go viral before you know it. 

Certainly, you won’t be able to reap all the blogging benefits without SEO-friendly, relevant content. To make sure that your posts address your audience’s needs, we recommend creating an Ideal Customer Profile. Here is a link to a blog post where we explain how to shape an Ideal Customer Profile for your product/service. 

Attend Specialized Events

Attend specialized events to get early startup traction

Is your startup geared toward a particular niche? Whether it is healthcare, retail industry, or agriculture, there are many specialized events that bring together people from this or that industry. Take advantage of these venues by pitching your startup to your early customers.

For instance, if you are building a CRM system for the agriculture sector, it is a smart idea to prepare a pitch and to show how your business helps (or could help) industry professionals. But remember that a successful pitch can’t be sketched on the back of an envelope. To design a pitch that will win the hearts of your prospects, follow these steps: 

  1. Learn as much as you can about your audience. You should understand what motivates your prospective clients and what challenges they face. Instead of rattling off your product’s features, explain to your potential customers how they can address their needs. 

  2. Create a strong presentation. Offer something more than a classic PowerPoint presentation. Give your prospects a unique chance to own your product before buying it — according to behaviorists, it is a powerful way of closing sales. If it’s a website, create a prototype. For a physical product, designing a beautiful 3D rendering is a great way to go.

  3. Create a convincing pitch deck. Make sure that your pitch deck has an attention-grabbing intro. Explain to your customers why your product is the best option out there. Keep your pitch deck short. And remember that you are talking to your customers, not investors — try to avoid any business or marketing issues.

  4. Prepare for tough questions. Remember that your pitch doesn’t end with the last slide. Get ready to answer the trickiest questions and rehearse before going on stage in order to speak confidently.

Even if you’re not making a presentation, take advantage of the conference setting: mingle with the crowd and talk to your potential customers in person. Tell them about your product. If that is something related to their work, ask them what they think. And if they are interested, note down their contact information and schedule a call to demonstrate your product. 

Create Events

Create events to get early startup traction.

If there are no relevant events coming up, host your own one. It needs more effort, resources, time, and connections, but it is a great chance to make a splash. If you already know some people from your industry, invite them to discuss the topics of interest. It could be a discussion panel, a conference, or a meetup, you name it. For example, if you are building a SaaS for nursing homes, try to invite decision-makers from these institutions and choose specific conference topics. When necessary, make a brief introduction of your product or service. 

The key point here is not to sell directly but to build trust around your brand, doing a kind of “offline blogging.” Steer clear of aggressive advertising. Instead, meet people, talk, and show your expertise. People who understand the value of your product will reach out to you on their own. 

Show Off Your Expertise on Niche Websites & in Magazines

Write in niche resources to get early startup traction.

Blogging is a powerful way to attract your first clients, but it’s not enough. Take advantage of guest posting on the websites popular with your target audience, in particular, niche magazines. 

When it comes to guest posting, the hardest part is to convince editors to publish your posts on their websites — they receive hundreds of pitches daily! To make it less daunting to you, we’ve cherry-picked a few tips on how to make your pitch stand out: 

  • Do your research. Explore the website where you want to guest-post, look through their social profiles, find information about the editor-in-chief. You will instantly grab the editor’s attention simply by addressing them by name.

  • Focus on your value. Just as your customers, the editor isn’t interested in all those fancy features of your product. Tell them instead what value you can bring to their audience.

  • Don’t undervalue your subject line. 85% of editors open emails based on the subject line. Make it compelling and provocative.

  • Appreciate their time. Keep your pitches short and add visuals to make them more digestible. Also, give your editor at least one week to email you back.

Involve Your Former Colleagues

Involve your former colleagues to get early startup traction.

Moving from one workplace to another, we grow our own network of industry experts. These connections shouldn’t be underestimated, and it is extremely important to stay in touch with them. Some of them might well become your first clients.

Try to stay connected with ex-colleagues, people from university, and even former classmates. Don’t hesitate to tell them about your current projects and plans — unlike strangers, these people trust you and won’t question your expertise. When somebody asks them about a product or service in your niche, your project might be the first one to cross their minds. And they will make an intro for you.

Even though this approach won’t allow you to scale, it’s still a smart move to start building your client base on top of your personal network.

Conclusion 

What is startup traction? How can any startup achieve its initial traction? These questions are pretty common for a budding entrepreneur. Things are not as daunting as it seems, though. There are quite a few ways to gain initial traction that go beyond traditional paid advertising. These include blogging, using undervalued channels, creating or attending niche events, showing your expertise on specialized websites, and so on. But what’s more important, these tips won’t work unless you create a compelling product that solves a specific problem of your target customers. 

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