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What are some practical methods startups can use to land those all-important first clients when they don’t have any “case studies” to point prospects to?

Landing your first customer or client as a startup is highly valuable beyond the obvious benefit of generating revenue.  It puts your internal and external processes in motion and often produces critical feedback.  But landing that first customer can be a challenge…  it’s similar to the catch 22 for job seekers.

Companies want to hire people with experience, but how can people get the experience without having the job?  So we asked a group of founders for their thoughts on ways to find that first customer when your company is new and doesn’t have a proven track record yet.  Here’s what our group of founders had to say:

By demonstrating additional knowledge and value even though they don’t have case studies to point to. More specifically:
President and CEO

Generate a competitive analysis to demonstrate to the prospect that you know about strengths and weaknesses that exist among their competitors.
Create a campaign or new business pitch that directly provides a solution to the problem you identified as a key pain point for the prospect based on the competitive analysis.

Utilize video. If you can get buy-in from the prospect by showing a visually captivating concept, or a speaker (i.e. TED Talk) who validates your approach, it will help to support your pitch.

Provide dynamic references. Instead of listing contacts on a Word document, secure video testimonials from contacts you have worked with in the past. Even if they can’t speak to your work at this new startup, they can speak about your integrity and work ethic based on their prior experience with you.
Call on someone in your network. The lowest hanging fruit is someone you are connected with through a mutual contact.

The first customer in a group is the hardest, but then you can leverage this first customer

People will be attracted to your services/product if they see that other people who they respect are buying your services/product. For example, If you want to attract a big business to buy your services, the best way to do it is to show other big businesses, preferably competitors of theirs, have bought your services.

The first customer in a group is the hardest, but then you can leverage this first customer via their logo, testimonials etc to get the whole group.

Use any and all existing business relationships

One way that startups can land their first clients is for the entrepreneur to use any and all existing business relationships to land new customers. It might be a fellow small business owner or it could be someone you met at a networking event.

Friends and family members are possible options as well. It's hard enough to get customers to a new small business, but when you use folks you already know, that process gets a bit easier.

When speaking with potential new clients, be sure to focus on the positives of your venture and not necessarily that you're essentially a rookie. You might have a product that intends to carve out a new niche, or you might have some heavy hitter employees on staff.

Anything you can do to position your company in a positive light will help get those valued first customers. You should also create partnerships with more established businesses in your industry.

Maybe you establish a guest blogging initiative, or possibly even a sponsorship relationship. The next strategy to employ is to become a thought leader in your niche. Maximize your blog by showcasing your talent, skills, and expertise, and be sure to market this content on your social media accounts.

Do the necessary research to increase your knowledge level so you're seen as a "go to" individual on trends and topics of interest in your realm. Volunteer for local speaking engagements as well to further get out the word that you're a knowledgeable and well-respected individual within your business industry.

Build rapport
CEO & Founder

Go and do some free work so clients can see your skills and build case studies. For example, I specialize in web design and graphics, so in this position I would find the top accounting companies, salons, construction companies, etc. and find out what they're missing and provide them with value. If they have an amazing website, don't offer them a website, offer them social media designs or graphic designs, show you're dedicated and then you might win them over or they'll think of you if they ever want to redesign their website. Provide value to receive value in return. Once you've got your case studies, ask for referrals, normally they'll be happy to do that.

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