Looking for your first 500 customers? Rand Fishkin knows how to find them.

In last month’s FFA Forum, Rand Fishkin, Co-founder and CEO of SparkToro, gave us some invaluable insight into a strategic marketing approach that really works – especially for early stage startups who need to make a meaningful impression, get traction, and create a buzz about their world-changing idea.

Here’s your roadmap – 5 steps you can take to grab those first 500 customers, and keep them coming back for more.

1: Identify Right Customers

How? Think about this as a spectrum from ‘easy to reach’ from ‘hard to reach’.

On the easy side, you’ve got people who already know and like you, who follow your work, who have susbscribed to your mailing list and therefore know and care what you’re up to. On the harder end of the spectrum are people who have heard of your company, visited your website at least once, and who would appear in targeted ads on social media.

The best strategy starts with people who have shown an interest. You want to learn more about and expand this group, the garget customers in your personal network.

2: Gain a Deep Understanding of Your Audience

Where do they hang out? What do they care about? How do they engage? Step 1: Interview 15-30 early customers who will use, love, and amplify your product. Survey your email list and social media followers (asking influencers to share), and research to get more intel about what your potential users follow and how they engage.

3: Nail Your Market & Product Positioning

Here, it’s best to focus on Customer-Centric Positioning. For a great explanation, Rand recommends April Dunford’s book, Obviously Awesome.

4: Select Channels and Tactics

With myriad options for places to put the things you have to say, the ‘shoulds’ can get really overwhelming here. But here’s a simple way to think about it:

Don’t do all of the tactics at once, choose 2-3 before you launch your product to create a pre-existing community who already loves and supports you when you launch! Don’t worry though, even if you’ve already launched, this strategy still works.

5: Experiment, Learn, Improve, and Repeat

Here’s where you create your flywheel (Rand made a whiteboard video about this very subject a few years back – you can watch it here!). There’s content marketing, PR & Advertising, Events & Sponsorship – you want to create a flywheel that sparks demand – and this seems like a lot of work (it is), but it gets easier at scale!


A word of warning; beware of advertising addiction. If you’re not already well-known, liked, and trusted your ROI will be minimal at best. Focus on organic and brand marketing first, then when you have amassed useful analytics and data, move to paid.

Want to watch the a replay of the forum? Click here!
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