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The No-Nonsense Guide to Marketing Your Microbusiness

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This post is part of a series called Kickstarting Your Online Microbusiness.
10 Step Launch Blueprint for Your Online Microbusiness
The Day-to-Day Realities of Running a Successful Microbusiness

Your online microbusiness has launched. At this stage, some of you will be endlessly refreshing your email/analytics/PayPal account as orders, visits and customers roll in. If so, congratulations! But for many, our launches may only bring a handful of visitors, customers, or orders. What’s next?

First, don’t be disheartened. The effort to acquire each new customer for your microbusiness decreases exponentially with each new, happy user. So, in a pattern that someone much more mathematically gifted than I could probably model, your first customers are worth 100 or even 1,000 of your later customers. Your earliest customers are the vectors that begin the word-of-mouth process that will happen if your business is truly contributing something valuable to the world.

But how do you get them?

Write Email, Click Send

Once you’ve checked that your business is functioning properly, that payments are going through, that pages are loading, that services are being provided, the next step is to write some emails and click send. This innovative marketing strategy was coined by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. It’s based on the premise that if you'd like people with the audience you want to send some of them towards your microbusiness, you should email them and ask. Derek explains this revolutionary strategy in the below video:

It might seem obvious, but it's amazing how often this simple step is overlooked. There's no marketing strategy more powerful than personally reaching out to someone and asking for what you want.

Traction Shouldn’t Feel Like Pulling Teeth

If your online microbusiness is something special, if it’s something your audience will love, then getting coverage shouldn’t actually be too hard.

If it feels like no-matter how many people you tell about your microbusiness that still nobody will mention you, then it’s time to talk to those users and visitors you do have and find out whether your microbusiness truly is as special as you wanted it to be. Find someone in your target audience, email them and ask them to give you honest feedback on what they think of your microbusiness.

If you’re regularly ignored, or if the response is lukewarm, you may need to gain a better understanding of your target market and whether your microbusiness truly solves a real need or actually makes their lives better.

Chicken and Egg Problem? Create Fake Chickens

Some microbusinesses, especially those that rely on a thriving community, suffer from a chicken and egg problem in the early days. I’ll call it the Reddit problem. Though Reddit is now one of the top 50 most ‘important’ websites on the internet, it started with only a few users. The value provided by the website relies on a large community of users submitting and voting on links. The end result is a rich selection of curated articles, images and video. At launch, however, this seemed impossible. At three users, or even ten, how could the website be awesome enough to grow to a size that would make it fun?

To solve this problem, the founders of Reddit created multiple ‘fake’ accounts and used them to submit and vote on content, creating the illusion of a community and website that was more vibrant and dynamic than it was in reality. In doing so, they helped create a user experience that was so fun for those early members that soon the fake accounts were no longer needed. The fake accounts had also helped set the tone for the type of content and behavior the founders wanted. Watch the video below for a more in-depth explanation from one of Reddit’s founders, Steve Huffman:

Do what it takes to make your product good from day one, even if it requires some white lies.

Expect to Build Your Audience One by One, Until 1,000 True Fans

One of the articles that has influenced me the most over my years involved in internet business is this article: 1,000 True Fans. The basic premise is that if any producer (of art, of products, of writing, of technology, of anything) can gather 1,000 True Fans, that is enough to make a living.

If you can create a microbusiness worthwhile enough to garner 1,000 true fans, you can make a living from it.

A true fan, in the original article, is someone who is passionate about you and what you produce, so much so that they would give $100 a year to help you do what you do. In this context, I want to switch it up a little bit. A true fan of your microbusiness is someone who is passionate about your microbusiness and what it provides them. They would pay $100 a year to keep using your microbusiness, either through subscription fees, donations, buying products, or purchasing services.

  • For an online retail microbusiness, a true fan might be someone who visits your store regularly and makes multiple purchases per year.
  • For a self-publishing microbusiness, a true fan might be someone who buys everything you publish, and raves about it to friends.
  • For a blogging microbusiness, a true fan might be someone who checks your blog every day, shares your content with friends, and purchases every product you release, or membership you sell.
  • For an online training microbusiness, a true fan might be someone who buys all your online training, actively participates in the training, and writes glowing reviews across the web.
  • For a web application microbusiness, a true fan might be someone who buys year-long access, convinces other people in their industry to sign up, and eagerly checks the app’s blog for updates about new features.
  • For a niche website microbusiness, a true fan might be someone who checks your website every day for new content, buys your products or eBooks, and recommends your website to friends.
  • For an affiliate website microbusiness, a true fan might be someone who checks back every day for new content, makes purchases that you earn an affiliate income from, and recommends your website to friends.

In each case, someone won’t be a true fan unless your microbusiness makes their lives better or has helped them solve a real problem. To get 1,000 true fans, you’ll need to improve the lives of 1,000 people. If you can do that, it’s no surprise that you’d be rewarded with a successful, thriving business.

Once you know the value of even 1,000 true fans, you can do the math. Gather just one new true fan every day and you could earn a living from your microbusiness within three years. Instead of the usual marketing strategies, how would your efforts change if you challenged yourself to gain one new true fan per day? How many more people would you reach out to individually? How many more customers would you talk to on the phone? How many more emails would you send?

Always remember that your very first loyal users or customers are like gold. Treat them as such.

If Your Microbusiness is Great, Your Traction Should Surprise You

If you’ve created something really special and have built up a base of 50 to 100 regular users/visitors/customers, your traction from this point should surprise you. It should feel like your own marketing efforts have been superseded by those of your customers. You should have new users or visitors or customers coming to your microbusiness through no deliberate effort of your own (besides the toughest challenge of all: creating a great product).

If it feels like the only person cheering for and promoting your microbusiness is you, you may need to re-examine whether your microbusiness is solving a real problem or truly making people’s lives better. Instead of throwing more time and effort into marketing, take your foot off the gas for a minute and talk to your target market about how to improve the product. Make the product good enough that your users, visitors and customers will market it for you.

Often, the answer is in the product, not the marketing.

How to Get Your First 100 Users (or Visitors or Customers or Subscribers)

  • Look for people who want something like what you’ve built. You may actually be able to find discussions or blog posts online where people are asking for a product exactly like what you have created. You can jump into these discussions and let people know about your microbusiness. These people are your ideal customers because they are literally asking for your product/website/service/app to exist.
  • Look for places where people are discussing competitors (preferably negatively). Perhaps you created a personal accounting app that is ten-times better than the nearest competition. Look for places where people are discussing your competitors and throw your hat into the ring. If your solution really is better, these people are ideal customers.
  • Send personalized invites. Google makes it incredibly easy to find people who could become your first customers, visitors, or subscribers. Reach out to these people and invite them to try your product via (individualized) email. If your microbusiness truly is awesome for them, these emails will be met with a positive response. If your response rate is less than 20% you should double-check that your emails aren’t spammy (and that your product really is awesome).
  • In the beginning, the traction and feedback you get from your earliest users/customers/visitors is more important than the revenue they generate for you. If your microbusiness really is only at the beginning of its growth curve then your revenue will increase exponentially, making your early revenue seem less significant. Don’t be afraid to give discounts or give away your product for free if it will lead to more visibility and traction in the long-run.

What’s Next?

In the next post in this session we’ll talk about the day-to-day realities of running a successful online microbusiness. Now that your role has switched from maker to marketer and manager, what kinds of tasks will be required to keep your microbusiness growing and running smoothly? Because of its small size, a microbusiness can require you to wear many hats at once. Some love this, others loathe it. Regardless, there is a way to run your microbusiness the way you want.

Photos by: Robert S. Donovan, Gina Pina, Riebart, and LollapaloozaFest.

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