Growing your startup carries a similar principle to growing your net worth. The first million is the hardest.
What about your first 1,000?
For founders without a marketing background, it can be a massive struggle to get to that first 1,000 user milestone. After giving advice to over 100 bootstrapped founders on Reddit over the last 6 months, I decided to compile the big eight, common elements I found that really pushed the needle for those founders.
#1. Startup List Sites
Betalist, ProductHunt, HackerNews and many others are available for you to freely post your SaaS product and promote quite blatantly.
Betalist is a great option if you have a private beta or beta product. Back when I started with Sean Fee & Mak Sok with Player.me, ProductHunt didn’t exist. We relied on Betalist to bring in our initial seed of users, and they delivered!
They get a very good reach (much better than when we worked with them over a year ago) and there’s a very good chance that you can get your first 200 to 500 users almost immediately from their email blast or if it gets traction and gets featured.
Two of the very best ones in terms of reach are ProductHunt and HackerNews.
ProductHunt is almost exclusively an audience of tech people, but it’s a big audience. With ProductHunt you’re almost guaranteed to get a few hundred users if you’re on the main daily list. If you reach the top 3, you’ll blaze past 1,000 users in no time – assuming you’re product is good.
Similarly with HackerNews if you end up in the top 3 you’ll have a similar result. But with HackerNews if your product isn’t good, you’ll hear it loud and clear.
Some tips to make your experience with these sites better:
A) Make sure you have friends ready to help you by upvoting the post – a vote could be the difference between a few hundred visitors and a few thousand coming to your site, so every vote counts
B) Engage and answer comments, the last thing people want to see if a bunch of questions on a post with no answers – it turns people off and leads to less organic upvotes
An alternative to all of this is PromoteHour. They have a list of all of the startup submission sites you’d ever need, but for a small fee they’ll do the promotion for you.
#2. Get Some Press Locally
Local newspapers love hearing about local startups and local businesses. All you have to do is reach out to them with a relatively unique story about what you’re doing with your business. Focus on the mission of your business and the pain killer – you can leverage this later on for more reach through radio stations, local TV stations and more if it’s compelling.
#3. Get Some National or International Press – The Traditional Way
If you’ve taken the time to get local press, then leverage that to get national or international press. If some other publication found you interesting, you have a better shot at a national publication.
The alternative is a press release. It may seem like a really old school, outdated way of doing things, but they flat out work (same as direct mail). Write a simple press release highlighting your key disruptors or your pain killer and submit that to multiple press release distribution channels. There’s a bunch of free options here and paid options here.
For free channels it’s all about hustle, there’s about a dozen good ones that can get you some reach and even Google News placement.
For paid distribution, there’s many, many ways you can go. SBWire and PRWeb are the two I’ve used most often. Every single press release we shoot out gets Google News placement and lots of traffic – great for SEO backlinks. But the cool thing is both of these paid channels can also send that info to national TV and radio stations for you, along with a bucket of magazines and newspapers.
#5. Get Press The Hacky…Startup Way
Use Google news to find journalists that are already writing about companies in your market. Build a list of 100 to 200 of those journalists, whatever contact info you can find and the article you found them on. Now that you have some details, it’s time to enrich that data and get their email addresses and Twitter handle (if you haven’t already).
Now that you have some contact info, reach out to each journalist individually. Point out something you liked in their article (or make some type of rapport building one liner) and give them the simple, bare bones pitch of your company with everything they’d need to take action on it.
Here’s a GREAT guide by Justin Wilcox that dives deeper into automating this.
#5. Reach Out On Social Communities
Look for relevant groups of people that would be your target market in Facebook groups, Google+ communities or Linkedin groups. What you want to do is interact and build some trust in these groups. Then you’ll be able to leverage that trust and authority to reach out individually to those who have engaged with your post.
To get started, simply start replying to questions in the group. People love to ask questions that can often be found with a simple Google search, just copy their question, paste it into Google and return a reformatted result. Nice, easy and simple authority building.
Once you’ve got some trust built up it’s time to start posting and engaging. A simple way is to offer value in a simple text or video post and at the end offer a mini-content upgrade that is only sent out one to one via private message.
After you’ve delivered the promise in the private chat, you can continue the conversation to try and get them on your platform, introduce them to the company and see if they are ready and willing to come on board.
If you’re already at a stage where there is a paid version of the SaaS product, you can go for a joint venture.
The way this works is really simple, you can reach out to the group owner and ask them to do joint venture or partnership. The works best if you’re able to and willing to do a revenue split with the group owner based on the number of users they bring into your product. Think of it like a very simple MVP of an affiliate program.
It’s a really simple process. You’re really just reaching out and saying, “Hey, I have this awesome product. The revenue model on it is _______. What I’d like to do is partner with you and leverage the audience that you already have, who are my ideal customer, to bring them into our platform. What I’m going to do for you is I’m going to make it really easy for you by doing all of the work. You just have to copy and paste some messages and then I’m going to give you a percentage of revenue based on what sells.
Really simple, really easy.
#6. Reach Out To Communities Offline
Look at sites like Meetup.com and the classified ads (or just search Google – I’m sure someone’s made a market relevant post) to find groups who hold events where your target market would be.
Once you’ve found your events, research the attendee list and identify key people that you’d like to meet at those events. Then, talk with the event organizer before hand by email or through on-site messages and ask if you can greet them at the event.
When you arrive at the event, you want to greet the event organizer and leverage his influence to get introduction to the people that you actually want to meet. It’s going to make it really easy and it’s going to make that transition process really quick for you. Aim at a five minute conversation where you learn about them and their work first, then related their answer to your SaaS to make it sound like a perfect fit.
For example, if they’re a real estate agent, and you provide a better way to capture seller leads – when they ask you what you do, you’re answer would sound something like this: “funny you should ask, I run a software platform that helps realtors capture 30 – 50% more seller leads from their existing social media audience. If you’re up for giving it a shot, I can email you a link to get 30 days on the platform for free. What’s your email?”
Even better, make a mini-landing page that asks for the basic info you need. Then you can just whip out your phone and tell them to enter their info to get the link right to their email instantly.
#7. Content Marketing or Blogging
Many SaaS companies have grown from blogs, simply because it’s a really easy way to build an audience, identify a problem and immediately monetize the solution.
If you’re consistent in outputting content, meaning you’re putting out content on regular schedule (ie. twice a week or every Monday), and you’re really consistent about delivering value – you can build an engaged audience.
What you’ll want to do is write long form (+2,000 words), high value content (teach something) that’s actionable and you’re bound to build a really engaged and attentive audience. The type of audience that tells you their problems, gives you feedback and can be the seed you need to build a profitable SaaS business in no time.
If you’re going to go the content marketing route, a super quick way to promote your content is on social media, in the same relevant groups that you reach out to in step five.
Some other easy steps to promote your content are: reach out to influencers when it make sense, if you’re able to mention them in your post and ask for a share. Alternatively, you can simply promote it to your email list, as you build your content you build your recurring audience.
A key with content marketing is you’ll want to leverage email opt-ins and content upgrades to build your email list. As you build this list, be sure to on-board every single person to learn about them, their struggles and where you can provide value (through content or otherwise). If you learn about your audience, you’ll have an engage audience that will actually buy stuff when you want to sell stuff to them.
Check out the banner to the right, or this link to learn everything you need to know about content marketing for tech companies and entrepreneurs.
#8. Leverage A Good Viral Loop
It should be one of your first priorities after the MVP features you need to go live. If you’ve worked out the referral or growth engine for your SaaS product, once you seed the engine with any of the above strategies, you’ll have a snowball effect on your hands.
Ensure you’re making the referral process really, REALLY easy for people. Make it simple for them to tap into or invite their entire network into your platform. If you can incentivize them, do that.
Your goal with this growth engine is to make it as easy as possible, and as appealing as possible for people to take action and let you tap into their networks.
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