May 7

Don’t fret. Here’s how to get customers for a new business


I remember the day I set up a pop up store in Claymore Connect in Orchard, almost as if it was yesterday.

I had stupidly decided to take a bus that Friday morning.

Armed with 4 bags of huge items, I got onboard the bus.

Yes, sometimes it seems like there’s just way too much to do. But it’s vital that you focus on sales, for there’s no better salesman in your company than you.
Yes, sometimes it seems like there’s just way too much to do. But it’s vital that you focus on sales, for there’s no better salesman in your company than you.

Then I realised there was still an even longer way to walk from the bus stop.

And when I finally arrived, I was ashamed to say… that I was embarrassed.

I plonked down the 4 bags at this tiny table, looked around, and started fiddling with my phone.

I didn’t dare to set my store up, although it was already 1120am.

All I knew was that I needed someone to do something. And that someone wasn’t me.

Finally, my partner came. He was experienced, and had done this many times. He finally instructed me on what to do.

Being embarrassed of getting customers

I’m ashamed to call myself a business owner, because that day, I didn’t behave like one. I behaved like an ashamed, scared person who was scared to sell.

Fast forward to the end of 3 days at the Christmas popup store.

I had finally learnt the art of the cold call. As I reflect on that experience, I often wonder how I had moved from being a self-respecting ‘founder’ to someone who would walk up to anyone to ask if they wanted to try some ice cream.

But it was a good lesson in realising that if you didn’t sell, you would never have a business.

We had sold all of $143, and none of the items that we had originally intended to sell. We had wanted to sell our children’s resources, like the kitbag. We had brought along a gelato ice cream stand so that we could get children onboard.

But in the end, we saw all $143 of ice cream, and none of the children’s resources.

Things like the kitbag, and the confident $3000 that we thought we were going to hit in revenues for the weekend, looked hopelessly optimistic.

Having customers can be one of the toughest things to do as a new business

If you’re a new business owner today, getting new customers and clients can be one of the most distressing things to do.

You’re prospecting, giving people your namecards.

You’re sending messages to random acquaintances, asking them if they would like to get some of your items. Or you might ask them to refer you to someone who might need your service.

And slowly, you begin to lose hope as the revenues don’t pick up. You wonder if you’ve made the stupidest decision ever, opening a business.

Yes, sometimes getting more sales can feel like this
Yes, sometimes getting more sales can feel like this

As a young 18 year old, one of the most painful memories came when I saw a friend sitting at his shop everyday, waiting for customers to walk by. His was a shop off the beaten track, selling one thing only.

Chocolate cakes.

When I asked if he’d like us to help him to share the word to get more media in, he shared that he didn’t like the media.

And it wasn’t long before he eventually had to close down his business.

Seeing that hopefully reminds us that it’s not only the product that matters, but the attention on the product.

It’s product, and marketing

One of my first business partners (who has now exited our business), always insisted that she wanted a quality service before she was willing to sell us to her leads and contacts.

Often as founders, we can make the mistake of thinking that the most important thing is our product’s quality, and how great it is, before we are finally willing to go out there to hustle for customers.

I really don’t think that should be the case.

If you’re not willing to sell your product, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Your product will never be perfect. If you’re always waiting until the product is ready, you are eventually going to be in a losing position.

Grow a thicker skin

You may just have to grow a thicker skin, and be less embarrassed, even when in places you don’t enjoy
You may just have to grow a thicker skin, and be less embarrassed, even when in places you don’t enjoy

Unfortunately, if you want to get customers, there’s no easy way beyond pounding the streets, and talking to leads and potential customers about your product.

Part of that involves a mindset shift away from “I’m selling something for money”, to

“I’m providing value”.

This reframe can help you to see the good in what you do, rather than in a pure, cut-throat manner of “I want your money!”

Give me or I will beat you with my stick!

I’m kidding, but you get the idea.

Your skin needs to be so thick that you hardly blush when people ask you about yourself.

Come on, get over yourself

Business, is serious… but not that serious. Sometimes when I hear founders talking about themselves, and how big the valuation of their business is, I just wonder how they fit the size of their ego in the room with their colleagues.

But I know you’re not like that.

What I do want to say, and what may be more important is that you take some time to realise this.

You are not your business.

You are not defined by your business.

So even if your business fails, you haven’t necessarily failed.

Dissociating yourself from your business can help you to make more rational and objective decisions, and also be willing to put yourself out there to hustle for business.

Track every lead

Some questions you should ask yourself.

  1. Do you know where’s the highest converting leads from?
    1. Referrals from people who know you?
    2. Cold emails?
    3. Networking events?
  2. Do you know what is the stage where most of your leads fail to convert?
  3. Where is the weakest part of your lead funnel?
How you should start looking at your sales roadmap. Credit: SOCO Academy
How you should start looking at your sales roadmap. Credit: SOCO Academy

Tracking it is vital, so that you can keep track of progress.

As someone who’s only been in business for 3 years, one of the most distressing parts is thinking that one doesn’t have enough sales to cover the cash burn (or how much cash you need for your operations per month).

But if you closely look at your lead funnel, you may realise there are certain untapped leads that you can re-engage for sales.

Getting more customers is generating more leads

We were once on a call with Salesforce to understand if we could use their Salesforce Essentials to improve our tracking.

One thing that struck me was how they distinguished between leads and opportunities. For them, leads were people who they knew the contact of, but which had not properly been nurtured into an opportunity, whom they classified as someone ‘qualified’.

This meant that the lead had the

  1. Budget to buy your product
  2. Authority to make the decision
  3. Need to be served by your product
  4. Timeline for implementation of your product

And here, Matt Mochary, who wrote ‘The Great CEO Within’, once interviewed Aaron Ross, an early employee of Salesforce.

Aaron Ross’ most important insight is the following: most executives think that the way to grow revenue is by adding salespeople.

However, most often the main obstacle to growth is not growing the team but generating more leads.

Only once you can predict your lead generation can you achieve predictable revenue. Only once you achieve predictable revenue can you achieve true scale.

Hear that?

Generating more leads can mean:

  1. Going for more networking events with the right leads in the room
  2. Asking for more referrals

Pitch for more projects

Beyond just generating more leads, you also have to optimise for inbound projects. One of those is through open tenders on the likes of Tenderboard and GeBiz.

Tenderboard tends to have smaller tenders that are more reasonable for those that are initially starting out.

If your yearly revenues are under $30,000, this might be a better place for you to look than GeBiz. Our experience with GeBiz was frustrating because the projects there tended to call for many different parts.

For example, if you’re a training business (which we were), we found it difficult to organise training sessions for 14 different classes across the secondary school cohort.

But when you go to Tenderboard, the projects there tend to be smaller in scale, and more manageable.

tenderboard sales opportunities for tenders
Whatever your business, opportunities are aplenty on Tenderboard.

After opening the lead, go for the close

Generating leads and closing deals are distinct functions that must be split.

Aaron Ross, early employee at Salesforce

Often we may think that lead generation and lead close is part of the same sales function.

But they involve very different skills.

Generating leads is a game of breadth: it requires emailing and talking to a lot of different leads to filter out the non-qualified ones as fast as possible.

Closing deals is a game of depth: it requires building deep relationships and understanding with the qualified leads in order to close the deal.

Lead generation is more transactional, whilst lead closing is more relational. It involves you knowing how to angle the deal so as to make it win-win for both.

Holding onto hope

Remember, you got this.
Remember, you got this.

In John Steinbeck’s famous book, The Grapes Of Wrath, he shares the story of a family who goes across the country looking for work.

But they are not just looking for work. They are looking for dignity.

And if you look at it through the lens of business, it’s what we are looking for as well when we are looking for business.

We are looking for ways that we can add to society. But when we keep hearing no after no, then it becomes really difficult.

We need to be willing to be patient. To have enough cash in the bank to go on.

To realise that we are not just selling something. But that we are adding true value to the world, in our own little way.



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