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Brand New Business. No Customers. What Do I Do?

Mar 27, 2017   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Blog, Business  //  5 Comments

Empty Party

What if you threw a party and nobody came?

My wife and I love to entertain.  We throw lots of parties, and are famous in our town for certain themed parties we do every year.  The parties are always well attended and we have met many new people as our friends bring their friends to the parties.

But one thing happens every single party.  If the party was supposed to start at 5pm, I’ll be standing there, looking at my wristwatch, seeing it’s 5:10 or 5:15, and there’s nobody at the party yet.  And I will genuinely be afraid that this time, for the first time, nobody is coming.  I just can’t seem to shake that feeling.  By 5:30’ish, the first cars are pulling up, friends are starting to come in, and by 6 I’ve forgotten all about it as the place is really starting to hop.

It’s MUCH worse with business, and I go through the same anxiety.  Not just with every business I start–thank goodness I don’t do that very often.  But with every new product I launch, or major new content focus of CNCCookbook, I worry–will anyone care?  Will anyone notice?  Will anyone be interested?

Finding enough customers is the number one problem every single business has for most of, if not all, it’s life.  Whatever stage your business may be at, this concern is there, at least a little bit, and usually it looms so large as to be an almost debilitating fear.  How am I ever going to get enough customers to make this work?!??

But it’s hard, isn’t it?

If you’re here reading this article on CNCCookbook, you’re probably not in marketing or sales.  You’re a CNC’er, Maker, Engineer, Woodworker, or Artist.  In short, you’re a Product Person.  You may throw great parties and have lots of friends, but if you’re like me, you don’t think of yourself as the smooth talking swaggering sales guy you met last week.  Everything comes so easily to him, but you’ve got to work for a living.  And, none of that matters awfully much, until you decide you want to start your own business.  Then you have a question to answer.

What to do to get enough customers?

First, take a deep breath.  Second, you need to understand that we live in a unique time that is absolutely ideal for your needs.

When I started as an entrepreneur, I used to think of sales and marketing as being like the Madison Avenue Mad Men:

Madison Avenue Mad Men.  So cool.  So aloof.  So, “I know how to market and you never will…”

It’s a compelling image and stereotype of marketing and sales.  So cool.  So aloof.  So, “I know how to market and you never will…”

In my first startup, we were even working with Ogilvy and Mather, one of the original Big Time ad agencies.  At 23 years old starting a new software company in Houston, Texas around 1984, we were something of a sensation.  This was the heyday of Compaq Computer, Lotus 123, and of course, Bill Gates.  People in Houston loved the idea of a young kid doing some high tech something or other nobody could understand.  Ogilvy took us on because we were hip, we were the thing to do.  We even had the same creative team that was doing all the work for Compaq.  We couldn’t afford it, but it didn’t matter.  This felt right.

But, it wasn’t, really.  We ran a bunch of cool magazine ads.  They were great.  When I got a chance to meet Bill Gates some years later as we were selling the company, he still remembered those ads.  But despite being so memorable, and having been developed by one of the top ad agencies and by one of their top creative teams, they didn’t actually sell all that much software.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiippppppppppp!!!!  (That’s that sound of a phonograph needle scratching off the edge of the record suddenly)

That’s how marketing used to be done.  You hired these awesome creative people, scared up a big budget, and you threw the dice to see what might happen.  Even giant companies with unlimited budgets could screw it up.  Remember New Coke?

Today, we live in a unique time–everything is Tragically Knowable if you will just take a little time to measure and develop it.  And that’s a very good thing for individuals that want to start their own businesses!

I love that expression, “Tragically Knowable.”  I tell the story way too often, but basically, I was at a big software company, and the CEO was very unhappy that a multi-million dollar marketing program had utterly failed to produce a result.  We’d spent most of the period’s budget and had little to show.  He was going around the room trying to understand what happened.  Eventually, he asked a man named Marc Randolph, who was fairly new there what had happened.  Why had it failed?

I will always remember Marc’s response, “I don’t know, but it was tragically knowable that it would fail.”

Tragically Knowable.

What he meant was that we could’ve tested the idea on a small number of recipients and relatively cheaply.  If it had failed, we would be out very little money, and if it succeeded, we could double down on a larger group.  Marc Randolph, BTW, is the guy who came up with the idea for an originally founded Netflix.  And, after we both left that Big Software Company, we had a chance to work together for one of the software companies I founded:  Integrity QA Software.

That’s the difference in the world we live in today–it is Tragically Knowable.  And best of all, as a Product Person, you have exactly the right kind of skills for that kind of world.  You don’t need to know what the best hair cut is or how to wear a custom tailored silk suit.  What you need to know is how to troubleshoot and optimize a process.  Even if you don’t think you know that yet, you have the sort of mind that can think that way, so you can learn it.

Think of modern digital marketing as being like optimizing a production process for a product you want to make on your CNC.  It’s not exactly the same thing, but there are a surprising number of parallels.

What you have to do is to create what I’ll call a Growth Hacking Framework for your business.  It starts with some basics that you will need to have a presence on the Internet that is a suitable vehicle for growth.  Once you have that, and we’ll talk more about what that means over time, you can begin to do a series of Growth Hacking experiments:

  • You get an idea.
  • You figure out the cheapest fastest possible way to test that idea, and do the test.
  • You measure the results.

If the results are positive, you move forward.  If they are negative, you learn what you can from it, discard it, and move forward.

Growth Hacking works because it keeps adding little spurts of growth in a continuous fashion all along your journey.  In that sense, it’s like compound interest.  And ideally, the work of earlier Growth Hacks continues to deliver value for a long time after the initial hack is completed, hence the compounding effect.

growth hacking cycle

You see how this can make sense to a Product Person like yourself?  We really do live in a unique and wonderful time for starting your own business!

Now, Growth Hacking is definitely NOT a  get rich quick scheme.  If you are expecting to generate huge growth overnight, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Frankly, I’m skeptical about those kind of schemes.  I like the idea of a model that takes small steps, is measurable every step of the way, self-corrects for mistakes, and leads to steady growth over time.  I understand that growing a business can take a little time, so I don’t start one unless I’m prepared to invest in it for the long haul.

Now obviously that’s grossly oversimplified.  And there are some important details:

  • What does that basic vehicle suitable for growth look like?
  • Where do I get all of these ideas?
  • How can I implement them and measure their results quickly and analytically?
  • What exactly am I really doing–this is all so high level?  I need step-by-step recipes!

I get all that, trust me.  I’ve been there too, at the beginning, trying to figure out what others much further along are talking about.  I have the answers to those questions in the form of the system I developed to grow CNCCookbook and multiple other companies before it.  That system is what I’m going to be teaching in our upcoming Business Course.  If you’re interested in starting or growing a business, and you’re wondering how you can find enough customers for your product, get on the Mailing List for the Business Course.

We’ll be providing that list with some freebies along the way that will not be available from any other source.  You’ll also get a lot of preview information about the course as I describe my journey creating it.

One other thing, and this is important: the Course is going to include direct coaching and question answering involvement from me.  As a result, we will have to limit enrollment and provide the course on a periodic basis with limited-time enrollment periods.  I want to keep the course quality high and I want to make sure I continue to deliver for CNCCookbook too.

Bottom Line:  The sooner you sign up for the course, the higher on the list you’ll be, and we will give preference to folks higher on our leaderboard for each enrollment cycle.

 

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Brand New Business. No Customers. What Do I Do?
5 (100%) 1 vote

5 Comments

  • Awesome article; thanks for the background on The Man Himself.

    I’m curious about the word “works” in the cycle diagram.

    Do you have advice on a set of thresholds, or even types of measures, that might be suitable? Even just an example and how you’d apply it would be helpful.

    For example, one metric I loosely use is that selling price should be 10x material costs (for a nominally-machined and finished part, in my case), or that shipping needs to use some standard set of package sizes.

    How to apply criteria like that, used as the gating decisions for “what works” versus “what gets cuts” has always been an area of fascination for me. Many of the gating criteria are subjective in nature; comparing between multiple alternative solutions complicates it even more.

    So…how do you construct that “it works” function; any advice?

    Thanks for the top-notch post, as always.

    Thom

  • Hi Thom. “Works” has a whole lot of answers, because we’re going to apply this growth hacking methodology to almost everything involved in reaching potential customers.

    Here are some examples:

    – Open and click rates on emails. Let’s say you have a newsletter. If you send it, but nobody opens it, then it isn’t doing you any good. So, you want to try to do what you can to maximize the likelihood it is opened and read. This generally involves testing different subject lines on small subsets before you do a big email blast.

    – Getting them to click that free trial button. We’ve got buttons I’d like you to click all over this darned site, LOL. But all buttons are not equal. Most of them are either green or blue. I tested a couple of dozen colors before learning that those had the best click through rates. What the button says is another thing I have tested to death to try to get more people to click through.

    BTW, my colors and button labels will not necessarily work for you. It isn’t a winning plan to just go find a very successful company and copy all their stuff. Instead, find many very successful companies and test the ideas they give you to see what will work with YOUR audience.

    Your examples are interesting too. Sometimes we can tell what works without needing customer feedback. My favorite tool for that is a spreadsheet. I will try to model a situation, such as you idea of shipping using standard boxes. Or, to take it to another level, I know ProtoLabs has standard raw material sizes–they don’t cut them up specifically for a job. Instead, they match the job to the available workpiece sizes.

    You can use a spreadsheet to figure out the economics of all that given a bunch of job history from the past. Would we have been better or worse off? How much waste would there be?

    But Growth Hacking is more about figuring out those things where you need to involve the customer before you can know what works or what doesn’t.

    In the course, I’ll show you how to approach this. One thing that’s invaluable is to know where to start. What’s important and what can wait? Testing is time consuming and you can get mired down in a blizzard of testing things that won’t matter right away if you aren’t careful. So, you need to learn how to approach problems this way, when to approach problems this way, and also which problems are most important to approach this way at the start.

  • What an interesting article addressing marketing on an even more interesting venue. My hat’s off to the person (Bob I believe) who warranted the need for this article as usually the the technical side of a manufacturing services business never addresses the sales side of the same business (unless you’re the owner or manager). More posts like this would be definitely welcomed. Thank you.
    Bill

  • […] Perhaps most of all, I wasn’t used to the idea that most marketing-related things can be Tragically Knowable at relatively low-cost and low risk if you go about it properly and test them.  That was a big part of the story in my last entrepreneurship article, “Brand New Business, No Customers, What to Do?“ […]

  • […] Perhaps most of all, I wasn’t used to the idea that most marketing-related things can be Tragically Knowable at relatively low-cost and low risk if you go about it properly and test them.  That was a big part of the story in my last entrepreneurship article, “Brand New Business, No Customers, What to Do?“ […]

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