23 Business Owners Share How They Found Their First Customers

Erin,

When you start a new business, there’s a lot to figure out as you go. Crucial among these challenges is how to get customers and keep the momentum going after your first sale or contract.

To give you ideas on how to find early-stage customers, we asked 23 small business owners (and Logojoy users!) how they broke into their respective industries. Read on for inspiration and actionable steps to grow your business.


“I’ve always wanted to run my own software company. I figured if I wanted something to happen, I had to be the one to do it. My first clients turned out to be owners of businesses I frequently visited and got to know. To get referrals, I try to post on relevant websites or communities. Simply adding your product to a list of available products on a website that serves your desired community can drive tons of traffic.

– Mason Payne, Masonite Studios 


“Having watched many programs and read reports about how plastic is damaging the environment, I was inspired to launch a company that aims to reduce plastic by using biodegradable materials. I gave samples to close friends and family, and they helped spread the word. I also spoke to small retailers who were happy to stock a product that was similar to what they already stocked but with the added bonus of being less harmful to the environment.”

– Matt Vincent, Ecolunchware


“I got my first clients the old school way: a business card! But now repeat business is number one and referrals a close second. If you work hard and help your clients, they’ll get you the best referrals. It’s also about putting in the time to work with really nice people. Good people surround themselves with good people.”

– Deborah Beck, Haight Fitness


“Businesses that you already have experience in — or where you have existing relationships — are the best place to start finding clients. Then you expand from there. Whether side hustle or full-time, don’t forget about the hustle part. Even in an online world, many of your opportunities are offline. A few phone calls can make you thousands.”

– Chris Erickson, Spikefly


“I quit my real job to found a startup. Through a series of coincidences, I wound up working with craft breweries. When I’d get an appointment, I’d explain my backstory, which included my (then) side hustle of trademark law. A couple of brewers hired me on the spot. After I got to know the industry, I was able to get a nice reputation in the brewer community — that helped my startup get more customers. Our speaking activities also seem to help. The more I’m out of the office, the faster it all seems to grow.”

– Seth Gardenswartz, Blackgarden Law


“I’ve worked in the doggy daycare industry my entire life. I saw the need for smaller playgroups, better staff training, and public education. My first clients were clients who followed me from my previous job. Word of mouth keeps me going.”

– Tracy Pritchard, Fido F.I.T


“I was a real estate agent, so I started doing my own listings. From there, I started doing my broker’s listings, and from there it’s been a combination of online marketing and referrals. I constantly network and let others know that I’m a real estate photographer. Once I’ve done a few jobs for a client, I ask for referrals. I also rank well for some keyword phrases, which brings in a steady amount of requests.”

– Tom Poblano, Big Island 360 Media


“I was in radio for 27 years, but that ended in 2014, so I decided to take a chance and go out on my own. I had a nice base of clients already built up from my years in radio, but each avenue of voice-over work required new clients. ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), for example, was my primary starting point for audiobook narration.

– Scott Thomas, Scott Thomas Voiceovers


“I first worked for a small publisher, then realized there’s a huge market for people who self-publish their books, so I tapped into that. I got my first client through a professional organization’s job listing. My advice would be to join a professional organization for support and guidance.”

– Erin Liles, In a Perfect Word Editing


“My partners and I have been working with ill senior adults for a long time, and we became interested in how technology could be deployed not merely to help sick people, but to help seniors stay well. We got our first pilot customers from referrals. We’ve been doing a lot of LinkedIn connection to find groups or facilities that serve seniors, and then networking from there.

– Jim Evans, Well.Said


“My first clients were mainly my close friends and family. They helped spread the word and share my images. I’ve found the most effective strategy has been my online presence through social media sites — I’m able to reach others, that I normally wouldn’t. I’ve also partnered up with a few other photography companies throughout my time to help market me and my business.”

– Joe Pearson, Piehouse Six Photography


“I’ve been working in the security industry for 40 years and knew several clients who had a hard time getting good service. Our first clients were referrals from the manufacturers I’ve partnered with. The repeat business is from providing outstanding customer service. My advice to others would be to build a good reputation and great partnerships.”

– Larry Bond, Active-Security & Investigations


“I’ve always been interested (and self-taught) in health, wellness, and nutrition. The purpose of getting certified was expanding on my interest to lead to a career. I used Thumbtack for finding my first few clients and then word of mouth keeps me going.

– Crystal Connelly, Plantiful Delights


“I started my [photography] business because I felt good doing it and I love seeing the happiness on people’s faces when they see the finished product. I found my first clients through friends and family — most of the people who I’ve already had some type of relationship with. Keep it simple and don’t overthink it.”

– James Parker, SeeYouOnTheWest


“I realized the need for holistic therapies in a geographical area dominated by conventional medical systems. Our first clients were some of the clients from the business where we have our office space. We’re also using word of mouth, our website, and Facebook to facilitate maximum exposure.”

– Juliana Norris, CP MedSpa – Lotus Wellness Center


“Concise Closets was born out of my experience as a personal stylist and my own transformative experiences with minimalism. My first clients have been referrals or people who know I’ve been using a capsule wardrobe for myself and my family. I love talking about how much a capsule wardrobe has improved my life, so the odds are high that it will come up in casual conversation.”

– Meredith Young, Concise Closets


“My team and I had been working on helping merchants with customizing their online stores on platforms like Shopify for some time. Cartfunnel started as a side project for our team around October 2017. We launched with a pre-launch email list from our existing customers and people who organically reached out to us for help with their online stores.

– Simon Chiu, Cartfunnel (read more about Simon’s startup journey)


“After working as a full-time bookkeeper for a construction company for years, I realized that bookkeeping was my true calling, and the only way to reach the income level I wanted was to expand and take on multiple clients at once. I got my first clients from browsing Craigslist ads. A lot of times people think they need to hire an employee for bookkeeping when they can hire an independent contractor, spend less money, and have far fewer errors in their system. From there it was just word of mouth.”

– Sarah Williams, Bookkeeper By Trade (read more about Sarah’s startup journey)


“I took a six-month online course through the Health Coach Institute and launched TruBody as an online platform. I sent out a personal email invitation to friends and family letting them know my new credentials and what I was doing with them. If they wanted to have a breakthrough session to talk about what was slowing them down or keeping them from the goals they want in life, I could help them with a step-by-step plan. I got a great response and got my first clients by getting in touch with people I know and love.”

– Tina Haskim, TruBody Coaching (read more about Tina’s startup journey)


“To run a business as a wedding photographer, you need exceptional communication and organizational skills and lots of planning! To get my first clients, I asked friends to recommend me if they knew of anyone getting married and went to a lot of wedding fairs.

– Annie Park, Park Photography


“Insurance isn’t something that pays huge upfront money — it pays a bit for every policy, each year. We found our first clients through Facebook blasts to our friends. Some did as we asked and shared our website with at least five others and then asked them to do the same. [We also used] business cards, of course.”

– Dan Kepple, Einsurancediscounts.com


“After being in the finance industry and becoming a stay-at-home mom, I became certified in interior decorating. My first client was a close friend of mine. I believe that is where everyone should start because there will be mistakes and lessons learned with every project, and having them happen with a close friend can soften the hardship of learning. I’ve received my other clients from marketing through Facebook groups and local paint stores.”

– Maria Bowers, BDesign’D


“I started my blog for fun but decided to turn it into a business after becoming a single mom. I enjoy cooking nutritious meals, and I want to spread the love by being an in-home chef and teaching cooking classes. My business has been very word-of-mouth, but I’m planning on gaining exposure through classes, workshops, and local networking.

– Taylor Calvert, Clean Food Clean Plate

 

p.s. Want more ideas about how to find your first customers? Read our ultimate guide to starting a service-based business!

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