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30 successful entrepreneurs reveal exactly how they gained their first 20 customers

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What do new dog walking businesses, dry-cleaning companies and digital agencies all have in common? They all find attracting their first customers challenging.

With the explosion of both offline and online marketing and advertising techniques over the last two decades, the natural assumption would be that attracting and retaining new customers would be easier now than ever. But this is often far from the truth.

The new channels often bring with them added complexity for the new business owner. Which channel(s) do they choose? How much money do they allocate to each channel? Which is actually effective for their type of business?

To compound the issue, with every passing year the business landscape becomes more competitive and cut throat, regardless of the business type or industry. As the barriers to entry for starting most new ventures fall precipitously year on year, there are more companies than ever out there, many of them using every marketing and advertising channel at their disposal, desperately and aggressively vying for the same eyeballs.

The result? The modern consumer is bombarded with approximately 5,000 ad messages per day. Cutting through all of that with your offering, and on a budget, is, understandably, challenging.

But, gaining initial customers in 2019 without breaking the bank is possible, as this long form piece will demonstrate.

We reached out to over 30 businesses, across multiple industries, and asked them how they secured their first 10-20 customers.

The responses were illuminating and highlighted the fact that by being creative, experimental and persistent you can still attract high-value customers without spending a fortune.

NOTE: We recommend you use the contents table below to filter and navigate the responses. Clicking any of the table entries below will take you to that specific response in the article.

Contents Table

Mathew Porter, Co-owner and director – Kumo

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Briefly explain who Kumo are and what you do?

Kumo are a dedicated online marketing agency that provides search engine optimisation and pay per click services. These services are provided to service sector businesses and online retailers. Each client’s strategy is data-driven, ever evolving to maximise ROI and engagement with the target audience.

The company has been in operation since 2011, growing from a part-time pipe dream to a full-time business and employer. Multiple partnerships with industry providers including Google, Bing, PayPal, SagePay, BrightPearl and MailChimp.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers?

During the business’s infancy, the business was a part-time pursuit that was being developed whilst our founder was still in full-time employment. Due to this, the initial client base consisted of 3 to 5 very small online marketing projects that were gained through referrals from friends. It was clear that the small client base and small referral network would not allow the business to scale and become sustainable that would allow the founder to leave full-time employment.

[read more]A strategy that would allow immediate growth was required to quickly establish a sustainable client base to develop and drive the business forward. Of the many ideas, the knowledge from working within the industry at agencies spawned the most viable. Many agencies had started to focus their service offerings, providing a single or select group of related services.

As Kumo would be offering two core online marketing services a strategy was developed to connect with agencies that did not provide these services, namely web design and development agencies. These agencies would generally have a large client base that was served on a one-off basis, delivering a project and occasionally charging for future developments.

By connecting with these providers to offer online marketing services to their already established client base, the agencies would be given a percentage of any recurring marketing fees. This was an attractive prospect to agencies as they would not only have a new revenue stream, but also a recurring revenue stream. The final advantage would be the ability to retain clients that may have sourced online marketing from competitors that were multi-disciplined and would take away any future design/development works.

This pitch that would craft partnerships and allow project referrals for both parties was exceptionally well received and case studies from the infancy stage of the business proved that results could be delivered. Overnight the partnerships provided an immediate client base of 17 companies, that transformed a part-time pursuit into a fully formed business with employees in under 4 months.[/read]

Seb Dean, Owner – Imaginaire Digital

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Briefly explain who Imaginaire Digital are and what you do?

Imaginaire Digital is a web design and digital marketing agency that has been established for 5 years. We specialise in working with small/medium sized businesses to help them get found online.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers?

When I first started the company, I did what most new entrepreneurs do and tried a bit of everything when it came to marketing, including leafleting, going to networking events and even dropping in on businesses in the local area.

Our best return came from a combined effort of sending direct mail to business owners with hand-written envelopes to explain how our services could benefit them specifically (we did this by focusing on specific industries) and then following up by phone with any businesses that didn’t respond.

[read more]In terms of tactics that didn’t work: networking events were a waste of time for us. We’re in the premium bracket in terms of our services and a lot of the micro-businesses we came across couldn’t justify the higher level of spend.

Nowadays we’ve been lucky to practice what we preach and a lot of our work comes through Google. Despite this, we still carry out regular direct mail campaigns as they tend to put us in front of businesses that don’t necessarily know they have a need for a new website/marketing.[/read]

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Ross Cutting, Owner – Jana Reinhardt Jewellery 

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Briefly explain who Jana ReinHardt Jewellery are and what you do?

Jana Reinhardt is a jewellery company that designs and makes fine jewellery and bespoke commissions. Established in 2006, our target market is women aged 25 – 45. We are unique in that despite being partnered with large online sites, like Not on the High Street, all our jewellery is still handmade by a small team of goldsmiths – we never machine manufacture.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers?

Which marketing/sales techniques didn’t work:

Advertising in magazines never increased our customer base. It’s very expensive and hard to measure success.

Big large scale PR firms (again very expensive) also had very little impact on sales or customer numbers, just the prestige of getting into big-name publications.

[read more]SEO firms didn’t work for us. It was very expensive and delivered results initially, but then we discovered the firm had used unscrupulous techniques, so one day our web positions and traffic all bombed.

In hindsight, we were too trusting and weren’t ready for this kind of investment. We should have been investing a little in lots of different things on a smaller scale. Nowadays, I would only hire an agency for a specific short-term project and learn from them.

Which marketing/sales techniques did work:

Our first customers were friends, family and existing contacts. We did lots of bespoke jewellery work for them and focused hard on providing a 5-star service, which meant we benefitted from word of mouth advertising, to increase our customer base.

We wholesaled our jewellery to shops early on and although this doesn’t suit our jewellery now (we are more about direct sales and customisations today) it was good to build the brand. Prestigious boutiques and galleries selling your work give your brand a good name.

Well established trade shows are great for making contacts even if they are pricey. We focus on big, well advertised retail shows now. They are expensive, so it can be a gamble, but have always given us lots of new customers.

A quick line or two on which are the main techniques the company uses now you are a bit bigger (are they the same techniques as when they started?).

Partnering with Not On The High Street and other well established online websites was a big move for us. We piggyback on their huge marketing budget and if you engage with them you get great results.

We are busy on social media, especially Instagram, as it’s visual style is great for designer-makers.

Our Shopify website gives us the stability that we never had when working with small web companies who can go out of business and take your website with you.[/read]

Darren Hockley, Managing Director – DeltaNet International

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Briefly explain who DeltaNet International are and what you do?

DeltaNet International was founded in 1999 and today provides online learning services to more than 750 organisations across the globe. We specialise in the development of engaging compliance and health and safety eLearning courses designed to mitigate risks and improve employee performance. Our in-house developers use a mixture of interactive video and 2D/3D animation to bring important legislation and best working practices to life.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers?

When the company was first formed – before we had a single customer – the board had already signed us up to attend an industry trade show: World of Learning Conference and Exhibition (WOLCE). For a start-up with a limited budget, spending upwards of £4,000 on exhibition materials and space was very high risk, but one that thankfully paid off. We signed up our first customer at the show in a contract worth £20,000! We find trade shows and exhibitions are still a very worthwhile investment to this day and regularly attend several both overseas and in the UK.

[read more]It wasn’t all success stories in the early days, though. I tried my hand at cold-calling/canvasing organisations in the early days, using industry journals to find training managers’ contact details. Apart from being incredibly slow progress, this method is obviously time-consuming and on-boarding our first few customers was painful to say the least.

To this end, we attempted to outsource our telemarketing to set more meetings I could attend with potential new clients. Although this appeared to be a better use of my time, it ended in disaster. In fact, the telemarketing company were so unbearably pushy, I’d often turn up to meetings only to be told the person didn’t want to meet with me but just couldn’t get the marketer off the phone any other way!
As our client-base slowly increased, we allowed them to help us sell simply through word of mouth. For example, a lot of our early customers were Local Authorities who were only too happy to recommend us to other Authorities, or invite us along to talks and meetings with their constituents.

Although we still use referrals from customers, nowadays our business model is very different. Growth has allowed us to focus our sales and marketing efforts almost entirely to the digital sphere. Using a mixture of Digital PR/Marketing and SEO, our efforts now generate c. 70 warm inbound calls per month – a number that we’re always working on increasing.”[/read]

Yvonne Lam & Noreen Khan, Founders – MY BAKER

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Briefly explain who My Baker are and what you do?

Noreen (29 yrs old) and Yvonne (36yrs old) both worked at Deutsche Bank although hadn’t met until they discovered their love of cake and found each other on Instagram. The two business soulmates sat down, talked through their business plans and in 2017, MY BAKER was born. With 100 bakers and over 1000 cakes sold, MY BAKER has established itself as the ‘go to’ platform for personalised baked goods, with delivery in as little as 24 hours and always within 3 days. Their model is based on Airbnb and Uber and they are aiming to go global in 5 years’ time. Some of their bakers are making £10,000 a month through the platform.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers?

Which marketing/sales techniques didn’t work 

Facebook paid ads were great for brand awareness and getting people to talk about our business but this didn’t lead to order conversions for us.

Which marketing/sales techniques did work 

Google Adwords has been fantastic as we are capturing a large proportion of people who are ready to purchase. We have worked with an SEO agency to determine popular search terms and from that, we have put money into keywords on Google paid search.

[read more]Instagram has also been a fantastic non-paid channel for us for both brand awareness and gaining new customers. Posting seasonal cakes and using hashtags has allowed us to reach a wider audience and create a buzz about our network of bakers and products. Foot canvassing to attract B2B business has worked well too. Daunting at first but picking business populated areas across London and walking in to speak to receptionists has worked very well – never underestimate the power of old school methods – they work too!

Which are the main techniques the company uses now as they are bigger (are they the same techniques as when they started?). 

The main channels we use now and that have worked consistently for us are google ads, foot canvassing and the power of social media. As we grow, we have dedicated a larger budget to our SEO strategy to increase our organic search ranking and also bring our cost per acquisition down. Things in our pipeline to retain and reward customers is a loyalty scheme, which we will be rolling out in the next few months. Customer retention is a key marketing tool for any consumer-facing business.[/read]

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Cas Paton, Founder – OnBuy.com

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Briefly explain who OnBuy are and what you do?

OnBuy.com is the UK’s fastest growing online marketplace, operatingas thee UK’s alternative to Amazon. OnBuy.com offers a variety of products from reputable sellers across hundreds of categories. The company was launched in 2016 by entrepreneur, Cas Paton.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

OnBuy.com gained its first 20 sales through online advertising, shared between paid search and comparison websites. Paid search was the fastest route to market that we could achieve and we managed this in the first few hours of our website going live (with only a couple of live sellers). All other forms of marketing took much longer to result in sales, so paid search has always been the fastest way for us to get new listings to market. We now have over 18m paid search ads, and 30% of our sales are still made through paid search.

Marc Trup, Founder & CEO – ArthurOnline

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Briefly explain who ArthurOnline are and what you do?

Arthur Online is a cloud-based platform that enables property managers to respond instantly and solve problems fast from anywhere in the world, be it with tenants, contractors, property owners or letting agents. Since launching in 2015, it has helped thousands of property managers like Marc run their portfolios in the cheapest, most efficient way possible by using the full potential of new technology and cloud computing.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

In a start-up, nothing happens automatically. You make it happen. This is something I quickly realized at the beginning of Arthur Online’s customer development journey. Every business is different, so it’s important to try out different methods and see what works for your business and what doesn’t.

[read more]When I started Arthur Online in 2015, I had already been in the property industry for almost 20 years, so I was able to use my pre-existing network to grow our client-base. It’s important in the early customer-development stage to talk to the people you know and the people they know. It may not yet be a huge amount of people, but there should be a few interesting connections among your friends, family and past colleagues.

While technology is a fantastic tool for interacting with potential customers, it was important for us, in the beginning, to get our voice across in-person to our customers, through trade shows. By taking a more personal approach, we were able to be face-to-face with our target client-base and explain directly to them how our product can help save both time and money. Some were attracted to our product straight away and some weren’t, but even for the ones who weren’t, at least we got the chance to communicate our product which they might consider buying in future.

One method which didn’t really work for us, in the beginning, was Pay-Per-Click advertisement. Initially, we saw this as a cost-effective and easy way to drive traffic to the Arthur Online website. However, what we soon realized was that clicks and visits don’t aren’t always the ones you want; it’s important to convince the user to convert once they research the site, something we have worked on over time. Blogging has become a very useful tool for us, particularly as the business has grown.

While blogging does demand real hard work, and it’s unlikely you will see significant results straight away, it’s certainly still worth it because blogs have the unparalleled ability to slow-cook an idea into the heads of your readers. Creating clever content with popular keywords can really boost your Google results and grow your online network, which can lead to a range of potential opportunities.[/read]

James Crawford, Founder – PRAgencyOne

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Briefly explain who PRAgencyOne are and what you do?

PR Agency One is an award-winning PR and digital agency. The agency’s Communications team provides consumer and business-to-business PR, thought leadership, digital PR / SEO PR, internal communications and event management.

The Digital team provides web design and development, content production, social media, search engine optimisation, paid search, and app development, and the Reputation team provides consultancy on brand development as well as tools that measure and track an organisation’s reputation and benchmark against that of competitors.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

When PR Agency One was founded, I had a lot of convincing to do to prove the value of my measurement offering – having previously had it flat out rejected by my own employer.

In an industry that had traditionally worked off the incredibly outdated AVE (advertising value equivalent), I had to approach businesses cold, convince them that the way they were currently measuring the value of their PR was wrong, and then tell them that they should be using my somewhat untested (at that stage) method instead.

[read more]Today the business is in a fortunate position whereby it more or less grows itself. We get a lot of inbound prospective new business calls, which we put down to having a really strong website with good SEO – As well as our brilliant reputation as professional communicators (of course!)

Our measurement offering really is our USP – I still haven’t seen anything out there like it.

Our clients speak to their networks and share how they are finally seeing the business impact and value of PR in a format that speaks to their board and voila, we get another inbound approach.

Our methods for actually winning these new customers are still very much the same as they were all those years ago when I was setting PR Agency One up. We still go into the business, do a full analysis of where it’s currently at from a reputation perspective and then present to them on how we can improve on it and add value.

It also helps that we now have eight years of solid case studies behind us. Being established is certainly a lot easier than trying to establish yourself.[/read more]

Alister Esam, CEO & Founder – Process Bliss  

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Briefly explain who Process Bliss are and what you do?

Process Bliss is an easy to use process management tool that helps small businesses stay on top of their everyday processes and tasks. It empowers employees to focus on what is really important and gives reassurance that tasks will be completed – smartly, efficiently and on time. Founded in 2018, it works with small businesses in a variety of industries and sectors all over the UK.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

Process Bliss is my second major venture, having built up governance software firm eShare over ten years before selling it to a US firm in 2018. eShare had grown substantially and had a marketing function that reflected that – lots of events, content marketing, PR, digital marketing – we covered most bases and had good brand awareness and recognition in our industry. So starting again with Process Bliss has been really interesting and has involved utilising a number of tactics to get those early customer wins.

[read more]Initially, it was a question of maximising my online and offline networks. I’m a member of the Vistage CEO network, and used that to present the concept and initial designs for the product to my closest Vistage colleagues and then took the product to a Vistage event to effectively launch it. This was supported by a lot of LinkedIn content, to help create brand awareness and product understanding.

Digital acquisition was and remains our biggest source of new customers. We use Google Ads to get sign-ups and use specific SEO content to drive traffic through our website to the sign-up page. Providing a really good standard of personalised customer service is important too and plays a strong role in our early customer acquisition. As we are a product company, talking to clients and getting to the real process problems they have is key.

So whilst all those marketing activities can drive sign up we need real discussions to understand why the customer journey does or doesn’t work. Vistage was great early on but now we have a regular flow of sign-ups it’s about reaching out to everyone one of them and asking why they need a solution. I always try and do this personally and it’s highly valued and appreciated by those early adopters.[/read]

Mike King, co-founder – Eleven Hundred Agency 

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Briefly explain who Eleven Hundred Agency are and what you do?

Formed in 2018, Eleven Hundred Agency is a new boutique business to business PR and content creation agency, based at The Business Design Centre in Islington, London. It focuses on working with technology and professional services companies with a particular emphasis on innovative, fast growth firms. It Is the brainchild of Claire Ayles and Mike King, who have been working together and leading award-winning B2B Agency teams since before the millennium bug was a thing.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

By far the most fruitful source of new business for us is recommendations. Before we started Eleven Hundred Agency, myself and my fellow co-founder Claire Ayles spent 20 odd years building a similar PR business that we sold to a large American firm so we’ve been around in our industry for a while which really helps.

[read more]With any business, the hardest clients to win are the first ones – no track record and small size equal a perceived risk. We overcame some of these hurdles because we’ve been there, done that.  Our industry contacts, reputation and expertise in our sector are what enabled us to get going and start winning clients from day one.  A year in, and we’ve won 13 clients. We gained three clients in our first month, a better start than we expected – two were through people we have worked before and one was a recommendation from an ex-client.

Beyond word of mouth and industry contacts, there are a number of important basics that we have to have. A decent, well designed, informative website is essential to show we are a professional, credible outfit. Raising our profile with press coverage, social media activity (blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn updates on how our business is evolving) really helps us to build a personality for the business.

We tried commissioning a white paper written by a well-known journalist and, although this type of thing has worked well for us in the past, we made the mistake of making it available only to people who register their details with us first.  That was a mistake and lead to very few downloads. In future, we’ll need to make white papers available openly via a link on our website.

We’ve also put a lot of effort into building relationships with other firms that provide services that complement our own and this has provided a good source of new business leads. We do this in a fairly informal way, on the basis that we can each recommend each other rather than a financial arrangement.  Our business ethos is very much built around doing excellent work and we only recommend others that we consider to do the same.[/read]

Nikolay Piriankov, Founder and CEO – Taylor & Hart

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Briefly explain who Taylor & Hart are and what you do?

Taylor & Hart is a luxury London-based jewellery brand specialising in bespoke engagement rings. The company was founded by Nikolay Piriankov in 2013; during this time, he was planning on proposing to his girlfriend and wanted something more special than what could be bought straight off-the-shelf.

After contacting an old school friend who worked in the diamond industry, Nikolay custom-designed the ring of her dreams using elements of their relationship and soon realised there was a niche in the market for this service at an affordable price-point.

Today, the brand is moving the jewellery shopping experience into the 21st century by merging the best elements of online shopping with a traditional jeweller’s personal-service offering. Customers are able to express individuality through custom jewellery design, whilst being assisted by friendly experts who are able to assist both online and in-person.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

Which marketing techniques worked, and which didn’t?

One of the first marketing techniques used was to collaborate with bloggers to create content on Taylor & Hart and their ability to create bespoke engagement rings. Taylor & Hart used guerrilla tactics to form relationships, making contact through phone calls and emails to the desired bloggers. The content created by those who took part linked back to the website and assisted in building SEO, resulting in the company being organically pushed to the first page of Google.

 

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The business saw that other competitors were investing in paid searches, however, Nikolay realised that as an emerging brand, this was not a beneficial marketing technique. This was because as a new business, brand equity had not yet been established and therefore it was very difficult to convert customers through PPC.

In addition to this, PPC advertising itself had inflated in price due to the number of competitors attempting to use it.

 

Another successful technique Taylor & Hart employed was visiting and speaking at various industry events. The networking from these events helped them with fundraising, further investment and marketing opportunities. The ROI of these networking events was later seen when a customer would make contact with the brand and explain they had seen the brand at these events and wanted to learn more.

What techniques does the company employ now they are bigger?

Today, the company uses a number of marketing channels. They have employed an agency to assist with social media strategy, hired a PR agency to increase presence in trusted media publications and actively put themselves forward for industry awards, winning a prestigious ‘Best New Jeweller’ title and nominated for ‘Best Online Jeweller’.  Recently they have also employed schemes including mystery shop reviews to measure the quality of service, the foundation on which Taylor & Hart was built.

The business has also moved away from solely digital marketing and ventured into out-of-home advertising.  One of the most recent examples of this is a tube ad campaign that ran across a number of hotspots across the London underground. The campaign was so successful, website visits rose by 50% in the first few days. As their budget was limited, the business decided to go bold with the tagline reading ‘Are You Wearing Someone Else’s Engagement Ring’? which clearly resonated with consumers due to the increase in website traffic.[/read]

Ed Foy, Founder – PRESS London

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Briefly explain who PRESS London are and what you do?

PRESS London are a renowned health food brand, known for delivering the finest cold-pressed juices, juice cleanses, soups, snacks and supplements.  Founded in 2014, PRESS now works with over 450 independent stockists and has opened in three bricks-and-mortar locations, including world-renowned department store Selfridges. Selling to 100,000 customers a month, last year alone PRESS sold over 1,000,000 cold-press juices.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

We opened our first little shop in an old clawfoot bathtub in Old Street tube station. Not only was it cheap to buy, paint and brand the bathtub, it also looked unique and fun, and customers felt interested to come and see what the bathtub was all about.

British consumers don’t like interacting with sales staff, unlike the US (where I have spent much of my career). As a result, anything you can do to lower the intensity of the moment where the customer first enters your store, café, or walks up to a stall, helps them feel more comfortable. The bathtub made it fun to look at and acted as a talking point, before the customer felt any pressure to purchase, or we felt the need to start selling.

[read more]Asking customers how their day is going is such a great opening. Most people like talking about themselves and, just like being a good dinner conversationalist, asking questions about a customer’s work, holiday, life etc. gets them feeling comfortable (obviously without being intrusive).

Asking the customer a broader question, not directly related to the product you want them to buy, such as “Have you heard of PRESS before?”, means that whether the answer is “Yes” or “No”, the sales team member can freely talk about, and promote the product.

Knowing your product is obviously key, but never over promise or lie when you don’t know how to answer a question. It is an opportunity to go over and above. If you don’t know the answer to their question, take their email and send them a comprehensive answer later in the day.

As PRESS has grown we have tried to maintain the same ethos; regardless of whether someone comes in to buy something, is asking directions, or needs to use the bathroom, our job is to help them and leave them having a better day than before they walked through the door.[/read]

Alan & Juliet Barratt, Co-Founders – Grenade

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Briefly explain who Grenade are and what you do?

Grenade® is a high-growth active nutrition and healthy snacking brand. Its full range of high protein, low sugar offerings including shakes, spreads, brownies, bars, capsules and powders, lead the way in great tasting, healthy snacking products.

Founded in 2006 by husband and wife Alan, they spent the following four years perfecting recipes in the kitchen. The brand survived the recession and launched in 2010 and were left shortly after with just £27 in the company bank account. Grenade grew at an accelerated rate and in 2017 a majority share was sold to Lion Capital, valuing the business at £72m.

Grenade was subsequently named one of the UK’s fastest growing companies, including features in The Sunday Times’ Fast Track Top 100 in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Grenade now has over 60 staff, and retails in more than 80 countries around the world.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

They gained some of their first big customers by driving 16-tonne army tank to the Birmingham NEC for a fitness expo. It was one of their first trade shows and the tank helped to catch people’s attention and get them talking – even though at the time they couldn’t even afford a booth at the event.

As word continued to spread, Grenade grew and grew, and its customers became natural brand ambassadors. Even now, almost a decade later, people still ask them about the tank!

[read more]Originally for Juliet and Alan, there was no planned global growth strategy – it just happened! Their focus was always on growing the brand and the team on the ground in the UK before considering other markets. They always recommend ‘nailing’ your core market before looking elsewhere.

As the brand name began to spread and the demand grew overseas, Juliet and Alan were able to naturally explore foreign buyers. They secured their first international deal in the US, and from then on, it was a case of when they got demand, they made sure to service it.

Once the wheels were in motion, they set out to replicate the successful business model they had in the UK around the world (with the support of local partners).

Juliet and Alan advise other businesses to start off small when selling your product. Pick a test market and hyper-target these customers to see if they are willing to buy your product. Once satisfactory results are obtained, distribute larger quantities and sell to other markets elsewhere.

This trial and error approach proved to be a fruitful way for Grenade to develop from 10-20 customers into a multi-national, £multi-million business.[/read]

James Woodall, Co-founder & CTO – IntoWare

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Briefly explain who IntoWare are and what you do?

Intoware is a human process improvement platform that solves workflow problems for business, no matter the industry. It has created software that allows large organisations with maintenance and logistics needs – to digitise processes and workflows onto mobiles, tablets and wearables. It’s the Minority Report for Ind 4.0.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

Being open, curious, available and with no ‘agenda’ are the key facets of how we secured our first customers. Our earliest conversations with prospective customers informed us that digitising workflow was a big issue but that there were lots of ‘unknowns’. We knew we had a product to address this – but it wasn’t as polished as we would like so we took the decision that it would be in the best long-term interest of the company to not drive through the sale. We did not want to be remembered as ‘the wrong decision’.

[read more]We didn’t try to ‘guide’ the prospect to a certain solution, that was the experience they seemed to be receiving already and we wanted to be different. While highlighting the clear commercial benefits for both sides, we also allowed our prospects the space to think and evaluate without the fear they were being ‘sold to’, which is critical in arriving at the best solution. This meant they came to us under their own steam, and prepared to close a deal.

This approach, combined with the right partnerships, events and social media has proved successful. We may have accumulated customers slower than others in the market, but those we do have trust our ability to deliver. This has led to the renewal of contracts and projects, while a halo benefit is that our earliest customers are happy to work with us to communicate the sector-specific benefits to others, which is a powerful combination and one that is working.[/read]

Nimesh Shah, Head of Marketing – Feel Good Contacts

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Briefly explain who Feel Good Contacts are and what you do?

Feel Good Contacts is one of the UK’s largest online retailers of contact lenses, eye care products and designer sunglasses. With many years of experience in the business, we have built a reputation of being the most reliable and cost competitive retailer in our sector.

We offer a Price Match Guarantee against all leading industry competitors and rival them on delivery service, customer satisfaction and believe in rewarding our customers. We also put Haribos in every order which always makes our customers smile.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

Like most business, we started with who we knew needed our products and relied heavily on word of mouth, positioning ourselves as exceptionally different to the current competition.

While the internet has given our business the power to reach customers around the world, most people still trust the word of family and friends above all else and are more likely to make a purchasing decision based on a trustworthy recommendation.

[read more]Early on in our growth, we tried offline marketing strategies such as insert swaps with other brands. We found this did increase brand awareness and helped us to get our name out to consumers, it did not have any measurable effects on sales.

We have invested heavily in faster and more efficient order processing and delivery times. We are currently the only company in our sector that has an 11:30 pm cut off time for orders made within the UK, and this has allowed us to grow and utilise a USP in a competitive market.

We pride ourselves on being able to deliver our products faster and for a cheaper price than high-street opticians and our online competitors.

Our primary marketing angles centre around the convenience of purchase and value for money. Highlighting the differences between ourselves and high-street retailers, across all marketing channels, has been a consistent benefit allowing us to grow and gain more customers since our first 20 customers.

By far, our most successful marketing campaign has been the launch of our mobile app. It is currently the only one of its kind in our sector, allowing us to further differentiate.

In the last year, we have also executed a number of offline marketing activities including working with micro-influencers who have been shown to have a greater level of trust from their followers and invited influencers to what was our first ever press event at the luxury department store Harvey Nichols, in Knightsbridge.

We also began advertising on the London Underground and in football stadiums, as well as revitalising our social media to create a more engaging tone of voice.[/read]

Lana Elie, Founder – Floom

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Briefly explain who Floom are and what you do?

Floom is an online floristry website that offers quality and beautiful bouquets from a curated selection of local independent florists, delivered same-day; a go-to place where you can find bouquets you are actually proud to send. We have built the software to simplify the process of finding and purchasing from the best florists for the customers, and want the florists to take centre stage.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

I sent personal emails to business contacts (particularly PAs & EAs) I had throughout London, clearly explaining the service and why it would change the way they order flowers.

[read more]For those who did order, we ensured excellent customer service was provided – it was extremely important (and still is) when starting out, as providing a new service in an industry with a reputation for extremely poor customer service left us no margin for error. Word of mouth from these first few orders quickly facilitated more orders – particularly with us launching around Valentine’s & Mother’s Day, peak times for the flower industry.

A lot of initial traffic also came from interviews I did, as well as blogs who reviewed our service (including those who placed us in lists such as ‘best online flower delivery services’) – as they provided some external verification for the brand to those who hadn’t heard of it.

Three years down the line, providing best in class customer service is still absolutely at the forefront of our offering. We ask our customers to leave a review after purchasing, asking them to review us as a service, as well as the flowers they receive.

Thankfully they are mainly positive reviews, but on the occasion that there is a negative review, we contact the customer to see what we could have done better – and where possible to address the issue they experienced. We think it’s a vital part of reputation management for you online – showing potential customers that you care just as much when things go wrong.[/read]

Daniel Long, Founder & MD – Clearabee

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Briefly explain who Clearabee are and what you do?

Clearabee is an on-demand waste management business providing same day rubbish removal services to domestic and commercial customers across the UK. We do everything from getting rid of bulky junk and food waste for major supermarkets to entire house clearances for domestic customers.

We founded the company in 2013 because we recognised an opportunity to improve on the traditional ‘man and van’ junk removal model by introducing a more professional, responsible and technology savvy approach at scale nationwide.

Now we employ 250 people, operate a fleet of more than 100 vehicles, and complete thousands of junk clearance and rubbish removal jobs every week.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

When we first started the business, we tried various methods, including local magazines and newspaper advertising. We found that Google AdWords was particularly effective for winning simple, ad hoc jobs with domestic and small business customers. Most of our early work came directly from that route and we could directly attribute it to specific sales.

[read more]Google also gave us greater flexibility, cancelling and changing campaigns that didn’t work, and also allowing us to pause the really successful ones when they were at risk of generating more work than we could handle.

Google has become less important to Clearabee as we’ve moved more into working with corporate customers such as retailers and insurance companies. We have an ongoing PR campaign to ensure we are better known by business buyers and a dedicated sales team working on landing major accounts.

As we have grown and moved towards large national account customers, we’ve found we need to go to them. We spend less time now simply letting people know we exist, and more effort building a reliable, trusted brand image and demonstrating how our service compares to traditional operators. Once people start trialling us they really start to see the difference.[/read]

Lee Biggins, Founder and CEO – CV-Library

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Briefly explain who CV-Library are and what you do?

CV-Library is one of the UK’s leading job boards, boasting the largest independent CV database of over 13 million CVs, and expanding by 198,000 new CVs every month. We work with tens of thousands of employers, offering the most competitive range of packages with comprehensive recruitment solutions for businesses of any size.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers?

When I set up CV-Library back in 2000, I didn’t have a huge amount of funds to run an expensive marketing campaign. Instead, I roped in my family and friends to help get the business off the ground by putting out flyers on every car parked outside of Fleet railway station, which is right by our current head office. Unfortunately, this wasn’t particularly successful and I was forced to scale up our marketing efforts by paying for adverts on Google and other search engines.

[read more]Of course, now that CV-Library has established itself as the UK’s favourite job board, we run our marketing campaigns quite differently. Social media is a fantastic tool and is something that wasn’t around when we first launched CV-Library. It’s incredibly accessible and we’re able to easily advertise our services through sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

One thing that has stayed the same though is that we continue to advertise to commuters – just not with flyers on cars! You might have seen our bright blue posters at train stations or on the tube. We also advertise on coffee cups and even have Ad Vans driving around London on the odd occasion. What I’ve learnt is that it’s important to adapt your approach depending on your business’ growth.[/read]

James Lintern, Co-founder – RotaCloud

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Briefly explain who RotaCloud are and what you do?

RotaCloud is an online rota-planning tool for businesses. It was founded in 2013 by a group of three friends, and is used by more than 2,000 companies with between 2–2000 employees

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

We started RotaCloud without any kind of outside investment, so were very strapped for cash in the beginning. However, in many ways, this worked to our advantage, as we had to be a little more creative and resourceful when it came to our marketing.

[read more]In the beginning, we trawled Twitter for conversations about staff rotas and the frustrations managers were having, attempting to join in and introduce RotaCloud. This didn’t have much impact, though, and wasn’t the best use of time. Similarly, we set up a page on Tumblr which we populated with rota and work-related memes, but it never gained any real traction.

We also used cold email back at the beginning. We manually created a spreadsheet of about 1,500 local businesses who could be a good fit for the product, and emailed them all manually. Ultimately this wasn’t as fruitful as we’d hoped, though we did get a handful of businesses signing up — some who are still with us today.

The three of us pooled around £500 and put it into Google Adwords, which immediately gave RotaCloud visibility and credibility at the top of Google search results. As a result, we started getting plenty of leads as people signed up for free trials of our software. A few even converted into paying subscribers, which gave us more capital to invest in Google ads.

Another highly successful approach we took was to partner with other companies within complementary industries (in our case HR software) who already had a large and growing customer base. This cost us nothing other than our time, and gave us immediate visibility within a market of highly qualified prospects.

Then, with a little more revenue, we gradually started investing in content marketing. We knew this was a long-term investment, but  SEO now accounts for a large majority of our traffic and lead generation.[/read]

Martin Port, CEO and founder – BigChange

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Briefly explain who BigChange are and what you do?

Launched in 2013 and based in Leeds, UK, BigChange provides a range of mobile workforce management technologies that are trusted by over 20,000 mobile workers and back office personnel at more than 800 organisations. BigChange employs 100 people and signed over £16m worth of new contracts in 2018.

BigChange’s five-in-one system combines CRM, job scheduling, a mobile app, vehicle tracking, and an on-demand booking app. It eliminates paper record keeping and automates manual processes undertaken by back office and mobile workers. JobWatch can be used to simultaneously manage both in-house and sub-contracted operations through a single system.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

When we launched BigChange there was just three of us working from a small office at a University enterprise incubator. Between us, we had to do absolutely everything and didn’t even have a marketing budget.

To acquire our first customers, I relied on the many business contacts I had built up over my previous business career. It helps that I had worked in the mobile workforce technology sector for many years so we worked hard to rekindle those relationships from the past.

[read more]We worked smart, doing careful research to identify potential customers where we knew there would be a great fit with their business. Times had changed, cold-calling didn’t really work anymore, so we turned to social networks like LinkedIn to spread the word about our new system.

A key part of our strategy in the early days was offering small-scale trials to a select number of our prospects. We had so much confidence in our product, we knew that after trying the BigChange system to plan, manage, schedule and track their workforce, they would quickly want to sign for long-term contracts. And it worked.

Now BigChange is scale-up rather than a startup. We have over 20,000 subscribers using our system across a wide range of industries. Plus, since we started, the business has grown consistently by 80% each year. So our marketing and sales strategy has certainly worked.

Now we’re bigger and more established, we have a large field-based salesforce who visit prospective customers – after all an online demo or webinar is no substitute for a real person coming and showing you the technology.

For us it’s all about the personal touch. Of course, social media and content is a growing part of what we do – and more than anything, with a great product, our customers recommend us to their peers.[/read]

Suzie Cregan, Co-founder Jimmy’s Iced Coffee 

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Briefly explain who Jimmy’s Iced Coffee are and what you do?

Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is a family-owned beverage company making awesome iced coffee on the south coast.

My brother Jim had his ‘lightbulb moment’ after he became hooked on the drink during a trip to Australia and returned to the UK to find supermarket shelves lacking in a thirst-quenching equivalent.

Following a few rounds of taste tests in the back of the café I owned at the time, Jimmy’s Iced Coffee was born.

Eight years on, we’re stocked in over 4,000 stores nationwide and selling one carton of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee every four seconds.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

We gained our first customer, Selfridges, by simply calling the main switchboard and miraculously getting through to the buyer! Woohoo! Let me tell you life’s not always as easy as that.

Jim and I have not got any trained sales background, we would give away our last penny to be honest. We were pretty innocent during buyers’ meetings which I think they took pity on.

[read more]The only technique we had under our belts was being bold, brazen and not taking no for an answer. We went into every meeting with so much passion they could hardly move.

Jim dressed up as a life-sized carton and pitched to the Tesco buyer in it – the next thing we knew we had a meeting with them. Result.

We attended trade shows like everyone else, but we always dressed the stand as if we were sampling down the beach. We even took an inflatable crocodile to one of them to keep up our lack of corporate enthusiasm. We never wore suits or shiny shoes and people noticed us for that. I think everyone has a deep-down dislike for ‘corporate.’

It took 7 years to get a qualified sales team in the Jimmy’s fold but now we do it is such a relief. We have waterfall charts and KPI’s now (whatever they are I still don’t know but it sounds good). It is a very hard role and I find it too hard to separate my emotions from reality, so I’m glad not to be doing it anymore. I’m the one that’s like ‘WHY NOT! LET’S DO THIS!’ I don’t like rejection and I’m not afraid to say that.

Nowadays I’m very happy to circle around the office annoying everyone and hearing what they are up to.[/read]

Victoria Hart, Managing Director – The DCB Group

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Briefly explain who The DCB Group are and what you do?

The DCB Group is a family of companies made up of print management company Print Search, creative and design agency Caspa and print on demand company Aspen. Using our collective knowledge and experience, our team is able to integrate a brand across multiple channels to enhance customer experience.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

Marketing techniques that were trialled at the start but did not prove to be fruitful in creating business leads and ultimately new customers were attending trade shows, E-Shots and Telesales via marketing companies.

[read more]Success came from the work speaking for itself in the form of word of mouth. By our clients recommending us to other businesses. We also kept great relationships with clients to ensure we were their number one print provider.

We also found success in direct mail and CSR which increased our profile within the local area. We also improved our SEO and found this also contributed to receiving more direct leads.

Our senior team members continue to network throughout the year, making connections within large and small businesses, these connections may not always directly lead to business but many times they will. Because of connections within larger businesses we saw departments recommending us to other departments within the same company which helped us to grow the work we did.

The main techniques we use now as an established business, are social media, LinkedIn, a PR company who profile our CSR, continued networking and tenders. Finally, we place importance on constant development within our team, which allows them to become more confident in their own new business outreach.[/read]

Merlie Calvert, Founder  – Farill.io

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Briefly explain who Farillo are and what you do?

Farillio is changing the way small businesses do law – it’s now simple, quick and affordable. Our platform brings together the resources, guidance and experts that SMEs need to empower their businesses.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

Test test test –To gain our first customers, we tested and tested and tested – and we still do! We chose to build within a cowork community of committed, dynamic entrepreneurs and freelancers. We’re super close to our target audience every single day and have a willing group of guinea pigs; like us, they actively use Farillio, and their feedback helps refine our offer as our customer base grows.

Be your own customer – We ARE our audience. We created Farillio to solve a problem we’d faced ourselves – access to fast, simple law. We curate all that into guidance that empowers people – just like us – to run their businesses more simply, happily and cost-effectively.

[read more]Create a customer community – Building a customer community that’s confident and empowered through Farillio’s platform was prioritised from the outset. It’s essential your customer community is aligned to your brand, service or product. For us, this meant identifying those tribes of freelancers, small businesses and startups who we can help the most.

We hired a digital marketing and community executive to help us do this – they tap into entrepreneur’s emotions, listen to the issues our community care about, and engage with customers by having real conversations that build trust.

Offer value through content – Because customers need to find value in the community, brilliant, relevant content was essential. We invested in hiring a head of content to create creative, authentic, exciting content from the start. We then built up a content team to enable us to create even more.

We also launched our #FarillioFeelings campaign, which connects a monthly theme with our entrepreneurial audience – e.g. inspiration, positivity, collaboration – to build conversations, promote current content and to inspire new content.

Collaborate –Brand partnerships really helped us reach our first customers. As a startup, we bring energy, ideas and creativity to our partners who, in turn, have the resources and reach of an established customer base. Aligning your business with the right strategic partner safeguards the value of your brand. Equally, the right partner brings endorsement for young businesses breaking into a market.[/read]

Richard Hayes, Founder – Mojo Mortgages.

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Briefly explain who Mojo Mortgages are and what you do?

Mojo Mortgages, is a free online mortgage broker. It uses cutting-edge tech and expert in-house advisers to make getting a mortgage feel less like the 1980s and more like the 21st Century.

That means no taking time off work for appointments in a stuffy broker’s office, no waiting on hold for updates, no piles of paperwork and, most importantly, no fees.

Customers can compare thousands of deals from across the entire market in under a minute, then get a personalised mortgage recommendation and a Mortgage in Principle in 15 minutes – all from a phone or computer, whenever they have time. What’s more, Mojo handles the entire mortgage application – making all the necessary phone calls and arrangements for customers until their mortgage is in place.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

Mojo already had a very large addressable market once it launched so acquiring small numbers of clients was never an issue – we also had a sizeable amount of seed capital which meant we were able to assign a decent level of budget to the acquisition. So, the first 10/20 customers were less of a “marketing” challenge and more of a “product” challenge.

[read more]Mojo’s first customers were generated via paid search on Google and this channel is still heavily invested in today by Mojo’s digital acquisition team. Mojo’s focus has broadened as we have expanded, trialling paid and organic social, PR, organic search and content marketing. Most of these channels are working great for Mojo, although growth differs greatly from channel to channel.

One area Mojo has found challenging since we launched has been awareness. Although not entirely tied to an acquisition and also hard to measure, we had an early focus on driving greater awareness of Mojo’s brand and the proposition itself. It is safe to say that using an agency to support this work, while Mojo was still evolving, was a mistake.

Our main focus this year from a digital acquisition perspective will be around delivering highly relevant content, increasing our organic search ranking and increasing our reach from a paid search perspective. We will also start to expand our affiliate channels having run successful tests with a variety of affiliates over the past 3 months.

We will also continue to hone in on how we can evolve our product to ensure we are creating the best possible mortgage experience for all of our users. The Mojo team are very product centred and our biggest gains from an acquisition perspective will come from new features and existing product enhancements to better serve our existing traffic. Thus, just increasing our marketing budget alone will not drive the growth targeted throughout 2019.[/read]

Ricky Kothari, Founder – T Sticks

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Briefly explain who T Sticks are and what you do?

The humble tea bag has been around forever. Most people encounter them every single day and it would never occur to them that the design could be drastically improved.

Ricky Kothari however, was frustrated by the way that it’s nigh-on impossible to use a tea bag without a teaspoon, and even then it’s tricky to avoid drippage. So Kothari came up with the idea for a teabag that is also effectively its own spoon – also known as the ‘T-Stick’. The product consists of a foil tube encasing loose tea leaves that infuses when dunked in hot water.

Due to its straw-like shape, it effectively acts as container and strainer, all in one. The product outstrips the traditional tea bag for convenience too, as it’s much easier to use when you’re on the go.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

In 2015 Kim and I packed our bags no clothes just prototypes and samples of tea full in a suitcase.  Paid for an exhibition stand in Shangai and presented the products to the Chinese and got an overwhelming response. Within two weeks of the exhibitions, we secured our first 10 clients in ASIA!

Back home we presented to some lovely hotels and a hotel called us in the old England football teams home The Grove Hotel in Watford! To this day we supply the 5* golf London Country estate.

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Which marketing/sales techniques didn’t work

Sales agents, when never closed a deal unfortunately sometimes they just don’t really have the passion behind the product to drive the final points to a deal. Cold calling rarely works, its usually a warm lead for every decent opportunity.

Which marketing/sales techniques did work.

Doing up a pop up in Spitalfields and getting just the general public to try at fayres and tea festivals.

– A quick line or two on which are the main techniques the company uses now as they are bigger (are they the same techniques as when they started?).

Online advertising using digital ads, via Facebook and through the Chinese platforms like Alibaba’s huge TMall and Wechat. Plus larger trade show stands bring in the larger partners we are looking for.

To give you an idea, examples of techniques could be trade shows, online paid marketing, handing out flyers, blogging, friends and family etc.

Nothing beats word of mouth by consumers and Guerilla marketing technicians , when Stelios founder of Easy Jet was not feeling well giving him personally a Teastick for his top pocket, like bursting in to Sir Richard Bransons office to show him tea sticks, presenting Deborah Meadon, Dragons Den Investor with a box pack, getting Piers Linney from DD also to be a tea tester!

One way was to attend pitching competitions and presentations taking along samples to hand out. Not only do they understand how the innovation has developed but also get a chance to sample and experience the products. One of the best opportunities to date was presenting T-Sticks to HRH Prince William, see attached.

This year we are trying to focus on collaborations and find the right partners to work, with. We partnered with Virgin companies which has given us a new audience and set of customers.[/read]

Massimo Buster Minale, Creative Director and Founder – Buster + Punch

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Briefly explain who Buster + Punch are and what you do?

Buster + Punch is a London-born home fashion label. We started life making custom motorbikes in an East London garage and now we work with solid metals to transform ordinary home fittings into extraordinary details.

To date we have reinvented everything from the light bulb to the light switch and the door handle to the cupboard knob. We started life in 2012 and now sell globally to 75 countries with a focus on the UK and North America.

Our target market is split equally between B2C and B2B and we have created the world’s first ‘horizontal’ functional home fittings range aimed at the fashion savvy.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

With “The Rockstar Bar”Buster + Punch were launched straight into the public consciousness, thanks to articles in prestigious magazines like Vogue, Elle Décor and Rolling Stone. The piece was completely different to anything the interiors market had seen before, so it was a risk, but the public were crying out for more edgy interior products.

Some of our first customers were rock stars, fashion designers and film stars, who further promoted the product on their social channels. The ball kept rolling from there!

[read more]How the business attracts new customers now

We now attract customers by creating what we like to call an ‘off-brand’. Through creativity and emotion, we constantly challenge and ignite consumer perception, rather than giving them what they would expect. We achieve this by reinventing boring home fittings and transform them into exciting lifestyle pieces, the contrast has helped us attract a devoted following.

To help understand and attract these customers, we have an amazing online platform, supported by Oracle NetSuite, that is as trendy and exciting as our customers and products, aligning with the brand and offering a seamless shopping experience.

The platform has helped us launch into new markets, including Western Europe, where we’re able to attract new customers who have an equal love of exclusive innovative home décor.[/read]

Tim Holt, Owner – Plastic Card Services (PCS)

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Briefly explain who Plastic Card Services are and what you do?

Now entering its 25th year of trading, Plastic Card Services (PCS) has a proven track record of continued growth and an enviable reputation as one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of plastic cards and associated services with typical products including loyalty, gift, membership and hotel key cards.

Based in Macclesfield, Cheshire, the 30,000 square foot manufacturing campus has the capacity to manufacture and process 160 million cards per year, and comprises of 2 separate production facilities (one lithographic and the other digital), both of which house state-of-the-art card production and finishing equipment, a bureau to facilitate personalisation, mailing and fulfilment, a secure warehouse, as well as the companies offices to handle the administration side of the business.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

When the business first started back in 1993, the sales and marketing techniques used were very different from today!

By far the most successful was the telephone, however, the call itself was the culmination of the work preparing to make it, therefore we had to research who was using our product and who were not.  This effectively gave two opportunities for sales, one for existing users and one for potential sales within the same sector. The rest was enthusiasm, tenacity, good luck, poor service from incumbent suppliers and of course hard work.

[read more]Marketing was simple, a brochure and samples, Yellow Pages, Trade Magazines, lists, or ……..the Fax!

It was difficult to measure the success of any of them other than the telephone call, in terms of did they work, it would be fair to say with hindsight it would not be deemed a good return on investment. All were time-consuming and labour intensive to get them right, the role of marketing then has no correlation with the marketing of today. Lists were costly and inaccurate, trade magazines were expensive and limited, Yellow Pages expensive and dormant and fax campaigns were seldom worth the cost of the call. Mailshots were difficult to target and pull together with any precision.

Today, we use the same method of the telephone but only 10% of the time, simply due to the many other routes to market available to us. All of which are quicker and more efficient than 25 years ago.

Marketing is an ever-growing role within our business, especially with the increasing ways to engage potential customers via the internet and social media. Our main source of advertising today is via our website and then Google, plus other media platforms. Given we were spending £20k on Yellow Pages back in 93, that spend today is far better allocated and probably more importantly monitored.

The role of the Marketing team grows daily with along with the technologies we continue to develop so quickly. For all this development, it remains my opinion that speaking to people will always be the best way to sell and market both your products and services and of course yourself.[/read]

Amanda Walls, Sales & Digital Marketing Director & Founder – CedarWood Digital

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Briefly explain who CedarWood Digital are and what you do?

Cedarwood Digital is a digital marketing agency based in Manchester. We specialise in paid search (PPC), SEO and digital strategy.

After spending over a decade leading digital marketing divisions in competitive agencies, I founded Cedarwood Digital in 2016. The agency was born out of the idea to create an honest, transparent & personal approach to digital marketing by working closely with clients to enhance their digital potential.

I like to think of my agency as an external digital marketing team for my clients, rather than the typical client-agency relationship. I speak to our clients daily and Cedarwood is closely aligned to our clients goals, so we’re heavily invested in their success.As a result, I’ve worked with many of Cedarwood’s clients for 5+ years. Clients include Hayes Garden World, Patient Claim Line and Elmwood brand consultancy.

How the business gained their first 10-20 customers?

Which marketing/sales techniques didn’t work? 

When I first began working in the industry, outbound sales calls were a common tactic to secure new business wins. This essentially involved cold-calling business to offer them a free review of their website or digital presence.

[read more]Whilst this method did help secure new clients, it was incredibly time-consuming and I was often met with disregard by marketing teams – people didn’t want to be chased over the phone, even if it was for a free SEO or PPC audit. In hindsight, the amount of time it took to research companies, create review documents and pitch them, wasn’t the best use of time when the success rate was so low.

Which marketing/sales techniques did work?

Leading free training courses, speaking on panels at industry events and networking have all been my most successful sales tool. When you speak at a conference, you immediately position yourself as an expert. And you immediately place yourself in front of a room of people who are interested in what you offer. Digital marketing is a competitive industry and in-house teams are inundated with adverts for services, so I think these real-life connections cut through the noise.

After I’ve run a course or spoken at a conference, I usually always find attendees either approaching me in person or adding me on LinkedIn to inquire about my services.

Which are the main techniques the company uses now as they are bigger? 

Networking is still a crucial part of our sales strategy. However, we’ve scaled up this technique and I’ve partnered with several leading training groups to offer a variety of digital marketing programmes on a larger scale. Agency partnerships have also been useful in generating leads and we have work-share relationships with agencies in London which are mutually beneficial to complete multi-channel client briefs.[/read]

Frazer Fearnhead – The House Crowd

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Briefly explain who The House Crowd are and what you do?

The House Crowd is a secured peer to peer lending platform that enables investors to lend directly to home buyers and property developers. Investors can earn up to 10% p.a. depending on their choice of loan, with a minimum investment of just £1,000.

The company originated in 2012 as the world’s first property crowdfunding platform, and since 2017 has been FCA-authorised to offer peer to peer lending services. The House Crowd’s mission is to help investors of all ages, financial backgrounds, and levels of experience to build a better financial future for themselves through investments that deliver reliable and consistent returns.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

We were the first company in the world to do what we were doing, so getting the branding right was key. We needed to not only let people know what we offered as a company, but to educate them on what property crowdfunding actually involved. We created a brand that stood out from the traditional ‘blues and greys’ used by investment companies, and it got us noticed. We started attracting those who liked our anti-corporate attitude and irreverent sense of humour!

[read more]Initially, we targeted property market investors who were frustrated by the lack of available options. We offered an attractive solution which enabled them to invest simply in property with just £1,000 – and earn good, reliable returns in the process.

PR was crucial to getting us off the starting blocks: the fact that we were breaking new ground helped us secure some major pieces of press coverage very early on. This really helped to kick start the whole business – early brand exposure was essential, as we needed to maximise our first-mover advantage.”

Now that we’ve successfully built a 27,000+ strong customer base, we still hugely value tactics like PR, marketing, and networking – anything that can effectively help us relay our core brand messages to our prospective customers. We’ve also found that presenting at key events like the London and Manchester Investor Shows is particularly important – we should never underestimate the value of meeting and talking with prospective customers face-to-face.[/read]

Simon Hill, CEO & Founder – Wazoku

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Briefly explain who Wazoku are and what you do?

Wazoku’s idea management platform is a global home for all ideas, giving a voice and role to everyone in the innovation process. We enable organisations to engage and collaborate with their workforce, ecosystem, customers and the world – to generate new ideas as part of a wider innovation strategy.

Wazoku was founded in 2011, and is used by organisations such as Waitrose, HSBC and UK central government to help them embed innovation as a core, strategic, everyday capability and change the world one idea at a time.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

Idea management is much more established now, as organisations prioritise innovation and seek out the best tools to capture that innovation. But that wasn’t the case in 2011. We were early adopters of test and learn marketing, and so our first hire wasn’t a developer, it was a digital marketing expert.

We tested landing pages to see what would resonate and explore if there was any demand. In those days search results for what we do were very low, so we had to be creative and look for ways to build the market without having much PPC budget.

[read more]In addition to inbound marketing, we also relied on some old fashioned smoke and mirrors to win early clients. With new technology like this, no one wants to be the first to use it and no one wants to be last, so you need to sometimes work around that with potential clients.

The BBC was a major early customer for Wazoku, and at the time we were in discussion with them and ITV. We alluded to each of them that the other was a client (although both were only in pilot and evaluation stage). When the BBC selected us they asked for a reference call with ITV as a client and so we had to front up to ITV and ask if they would do a reference….they did and we won the contract! We only did that once, but sometimes you have to be creative.

Our early clients knew they were buying an early stage product. We offered heavy discounts to those early clients but in exchange for open feedback, references and an ability to tell their story.

We wouldn’t have the product or business we have now if we hadn’t taken this very open and collaborative approach. In 2019 we have a sophisticated marketing engine and a team of highly-skilled marketers and salespeople but had to think a bit differently in the early days.[/read]

John Attridge, CEO – BBX

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Briefly explain who BBX are and what you do?

Established in April 1993, BBX is the largest business community of its type in the world. BBX is a community of like-minded individuals who do business together on a preferred supplier basis to gain more customers, increase revenue and offset cash costs. BBX work alongside businesses to guarantee them sales locally, nationally and internationally that translates into effective working relationships.

Every customer of BBX is monetising their spare capacity, for example, unsold stock, empty spaces or unfilled diary time. That means that all of the profits generated go straight to the bottom-line of the business with no extra overheads or infrastructure costs.

How did you gain your first 10-20 customers? 

We gained our first customers by offering added value. As we wanted to go national, we offered the first 365 that joined the community a “Grandfather” offer where they got a gold package worth £1497 for just £1. This also gave them recognition as a “founding customer” with a unique trading card so that when they buy and sell the other party always knew they were a founding customer.

[read more]They also received up to £25k interest-free credit line on the proviso that they agreed to complete sales at least equal to that amount in their first year trading with us. This guaranteed a certain level of income for our business in its first year.

We did lots of sponsorship promotions, PR, advertising, marketing, exhibitions and networking which we found very effective and measurable. The key for us was having working capital which included a marketing budget which a lot of start-ups fail to plan or budget for.

We also implemented a referral/introduction scheme called BBX Ambassador which still encourages customers and staff alike to refer a friend so that they can gain a percentage of the fees that the referral pays BBX for the duration they are with us.

What has never worked for us personally are adverts on social media or print. Firstly because it’s costly, secondly it’s hard to measure and thirdly as we are B2B we want to target solely business owners rather than the consumers that use social media for their personal lives.

Now we are bigger we still use all the old successful methods. Plus, we are actively franchising to continue our growth.[/read]

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