15 Ways To Find 10 People Who Will Pay For Your Product [Idea]

I’ve started a product before because I wanted to play with new technologies. It’s a superlative way to learn a new technology. It is a terrible way to start a business. Don’t rationalize or theorize about who will buy your new product before you build it. Find those people.

Find Your Buyers
It is sure to change the world, but who will buy it?

Again, before you build anything: find people who will buy your product. You can use a mini-sales site or take a check from customers in person. In either case, you should try that before you build something. Look for customers that are willing to pay real money for your idea. Cash money is the only evidence that you are building a business and not engaged in a hobby.

There are lots of ways to connect to potential customers. These techniques will help you find evidence that your company isn’t bullshit. Many of these tactics are best combined with a fine persistence. In no particular order:

1. Sales Websites

Create a sales and marketing site devoted to your product. Make it as realistic and compelling as the vision you have for your product. Use the language and jargon you have learned talking to prospects. You can use a fake checkout process, fake ‘buy now’ button, or simply capture contact information. Rob Walling’s book is an excellent place to learn more about these types of sites.

I have built several using VPS servers and also Unbounce. I would recommend Unbounce to start. It will do what you need with less time investment. Maintaining a VPS with a WordPress installation is more overhead than you need at the outset. It may help to run the site by people as close to your niche as you can.

2. Forums or Community Sites

Do research on where people in your market hang out online. You may be able to inject yourself into the conversation. Search Google, Blog Search, and Google News. Use the AdWords Keyword Tools to discover how others are searching.  Setup Google Alerts for your keywords to find topical and active sites for content.

I have tried this tactic myself. I think it can succeed when there are very high quality communities that you spend significant time contributing to without self promotion. The real win here is to get a feel for what the community talks about. What words do they use? If they talk specifically about the pain you are trying to solve…engage them on the subject.

3. Friends and Family

Ask a few favors from friends and family to give you a warm introduction to someone in your target market. If you have friends and contacts in the industry, use them. End each such conversation with a request for additional contacts. Ask for an introduction.

You don’t want your ten people to be family and close friends, but it is okay to start there. I met a nearly a dozen entrepreneurs at MicroConf who built some software for their brothers-in-law or someone similar before turning it into a successful business. You don’t want the business to be based on what your mom thinks, but if she is in your target market, you’d be silly not to start there.

4. Events

Find a local event that your prospect will attend. A chamber of commerce meeting. A lean startup weekend. A beauty pageant. People attending these events are already invested in your market. Find a few that also like to chat. Going it alone at an event can be a struggle, but it will force you to start conversations. Go to the event with a goal in mind such as, ‘I will speak to 12 people.’ Don’t talk to one guy and go home feeling good about all you accomplished unless he handed you a check.

5. Colds Calls

Pull numbers off the web, buy a phone list online, or track down key prospects on social networks. Try to find a way to warm up the call. Have something they want to offer them. You can make talking to you a win-win.

I have made a lot of cold calls compared to most software engineers. I still don’t relish the idea. It was a serious fear of mine before I tried doing it. I put it off for days. Sometimes I still put it off for days. I’d say this is good practice to build up your resilience and persistence in the face of rejection. It will come in handy. Another bonus is just creating more contacts that might think of you if they develop the problem you are trying to solve. I’ve had people that I cold emailed or cold called get in touch with me 9-12 months later and ask if I had solved the problem yet.

6. Cold Visits

Stroll up to their place of business with a smile and a lot of patience. Have a name in mind for who you are there to see. Don’t expect a warm reception and be open to returning another time. Use any site visit as a way to learn more about your prospects. Having a positive, confident, but unassuming attitude can earn you a lot of goodwill.

7. Competitors

Research their back links for customers and promoters. Search Twitter and Google for places where the competitors are mentioned. Reach out to the afflicted.

8. Free Seminars or Webinars

Put on a free seminar that interests people in your market. Education-based marketing is effective. Read Chet Holmes’s Ultimate Sales Machine for more on education in marketing. This type of marketing establishes credibility, adds value for people, and costs only your time.

9. White Papers, Reports, and Ebooks

Write a 10-page report that can help prospects solve a problem. Give away value…for an email address.

People are a lot more likely to listen to you if you establish that they stand to gain something from talking to you and you have some basic credibility. Writing can do both. Learning enough about your niche to write a meaningful report will also make you a lot more likely to engage people when you start conversations.

10. Trade Shows

You can attend, buy a booth, or sponsor a clever piece to get people talking.

I have both attended and run a booth at conferences. At an early stage, you should attend and not run a booth. Keep metrics on who responds to which pitches you use. Be active in starting conversation. Focus on the social events. Get a feel for the problems and concerns of the people before you attend. Plan a specific number of people you will speak with at the show.

11. Magazines

Find the most focused magazines and learn what you can from reading them. If you don’t have enough insight to pursue another avenue such as an article or op-ed, consider a classified.

Pull the rate cards for the magazines to understand more about the demographics for your market. People who make magazines are in the business of providing access and content to your niche. Learn from them.

12. Craigslist

Post an ad looking for a particular type of person. Someone at MicroConf recommended this and has had success with it. I have not seen success in any niches I have pursued. I expect you would have the best chance of success in a technical or  especially web-savvy niche.

13. Professional Organizations

Join up and attend some events. Or crash an event where possible. Many professional organizations have directories that you can use to call or email others.

I have had mixed experiences with this option. I joined an organization with a directory that mailed it about three months after I had moved on from the idea and more than six months after it was promised. They were the most popular and credible organization in the market. Be careful that your expectations of membership are in line with the reality.

14. Direct Mail

Direct mail is most successful as a tool used consistently. It also helps to use an education-based approach. Bring something to the table and make the experience a win-win. This can also be a tactic that gets you a warmer phone call or a bridge past a gatekeeper. Tell them you’d like to talk to Bob (the CEO) and that you had a question about a letter you sent him.

15. Luck

Most people quit too soon. Many won’t try at all. If you try a lot of these tactics and you still can’t find anyone interested in your product: consider a new idea. It’s a lot easier to sell something to excited people that want you to remove their pain.

Choosing tactics depends on your contacts, skills, market, and more. Combining certain techniques increases their power. That said, my top five looks like:

  1. Friends and Family
  2. Events
  3. Writing a Report
  4. Calling People
  5. Mini Sales Site

Finding people who will purchase your product before you build anything is the only real way to gather evidence that your idea is worth pursuit. It’s depressing to start with no contacts in a target market with a goal of finding 10 people who will hand you money. People tend to wilt when faced with a challenge like that. Change the internal conversation. Set goals to use these techniques for a specific period of time or on a specific number of contacts. Look at action items like ‘Call Bob at XYZ Inc. with script #4′ or ‘Write a 5 page report on X Ways You Can Improve Your Business in Y Industry.’  It isn’t always fun to hear about why your idea won’t work. Think of it as someone saving you time spent on an idea that you can’t make work. Thank people for positive or negative input.

5 thoughts on “15 Ways To Find 10 People Who Will Pay For Your Product [Idea]”

  1. You mention finding people who will purchase your product before building anything but as nothing is built yet, this doesn’t truely indicate that they will purchase, they of course cant purchase because its only in the idea stage.

    And someone giving you their email for more information might be all that they are looking for.

    It will show interest but theres no proof that they will purchase.

    I’m reading this type of suggestion many times on blogs but no one is saying what happens after they collect emails, do they contact you asking whats going on? Do you contact them and explain that there is no product yet? Do you just keep quiet for a while and hope that they remember once you have something for them to test?

    Theres a risk of over promising too if people say yeah i will pay you for this if you build it.

    1. Actually you can get someone to write you a check for a product that doesn’t exist. That is exactly what Jason Cohen advocates. You don’t have to cash that check and handling the steps after getting the check are tricky. I’m sure you can poke some holes in why this still isn’t the same as someone paying for a product and you’re right, but do you have a better way to validate?

      Usually you cultivate an email list in order to sell to it. You’ll probably try to connect this with a coherent launch strategy. Watch the Mixergy interview with Ruben Gamez from BidSketch or pick up Rob Walling’s Start Small Stay Small ebook. They can answer these questions. I’m always happy to talk about it directly as well. My address is on the about page.

  2. Hi Robert, i will check out the book and the mixergy interview that you suggested, i guess that i should try some of these suggestions myself, i might be pleasantly suprised by the outcome.

  3. Unbounce is pretty pricey for $50/month. Moreover they don’t do much to bring qualified traffic to your site – which is my biggest problem with “landing sites”

    But you’re right, deploying wordpress for stub landing sites is quite overkill. My approach now is to use SandVox for my stub sites and I can deploy sites for as little as $17/year/site.

    1. Great tip! Unbounce can definitely be pricey for testing ideas.

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