Customer Acquisition: How to Get to 1,000 Customers

Customer acquisition doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are 5 ways you can grow your business to 1,000 customers without using much capital.

Is your subscription business hovering around a few hundred customers? Can’t quite seem to crack the code on customer acquisition?

There may be a few simple, cost-effective strategies you’re overlooking. “Customer acquisition” relates your strategy of finding and attracting new people to your business, ultimately converting them into a paying customer. Developing a robust customer acquisition strategy is probably the most important element of your business, as your customers are your single greatest asset.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, Google/Facebook Ads, dedicated newsletter placement, and a PR firm can help scale your business, but they aren’t the only means of doing so, especially when you’re trying to avoid spending cash:

Method 1. Start Strong & Develop a Prelaunch Buzz

Let’s start at the beginning: your launch.

Starting strong is one of the best moves for your subscription business. You build in the customer base better able to appeal to vendors (making it easier to procure products and make your pitch) and you provide yourself with the cash flow of a healthy business. This also means you’re able to get valuable feedback from your customers early on, identifying the key areas you need to develop in your business to improve retention and increase conversion rates of new customers. How do you do this? Build a Prelaunch Buzz!

  1. Create your social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc
    • By proactively growing an audience on these channels, you’ll increase the amount of eyes on your advertisements down the line. Fortunately, building audiences on these channels can be completely free. A culture of reciprocity exists on most social networks (just like in real life!), and by following people of your target audience and interacting on their posts (ie. liking their pictures, commenting, reposting), is an easy way to gain followers and post interaction.
    • Make sure your profiles have a clear call to action: “Join our community at: url.com.” or “Reserve your subscription: url.com.”
      • Getting customer information, or early payments, is essential to getting the most of your early work on social media
  2. Make early social media connections: Bloggers, reviewers, shout out pages
    • Even if you’ve only got a launch page/simple landing page for email gathering, you can still begin to build media relationships. Start by either building a comprehensive directory of your media contacts, organized by channel, size, and type, or actually reaching out to them, preparing reviews/giveaways for your first month’s launch.
      • Remember that you’ve chosen these influencers for a specific reason: they’re compelling and relate to your brand! Don’t be afraid to compliment them and point out a few things you love about their channel/blog. I always suggest building a strong rapport with influencers, not just for media purposes, but because they often are great people who will really value your brand and can be a great source of feedback and inspiration.
  3. Stay in touch with presubscribers!
    • As you build up your prelaunch list, remember to keep in contact with them. That means weekly emails, status updates, sneak peeks of box, and fun ways to keep them engaged (giveaways, free months, etc).
      • Push your prelaunch list to interact with you as much as possible on social media. Getting involvement up increases the amount of user-generated content around your brand (this is content users create themselves) and it’s something prospective customers love to see.

Read the full guide launching a subscription business.

Method 2. Stay Active with Monthly Promotions

With your launch a success and (hopefully) a few hundred customers in your pocket, now comes the real battle: you vs. attrition (aka. churn).

What’s churn? Learn about KPIs for Subscription Businesses. 

While I suggest you read more deeply into churn rate and how to calculate it, the basic message is that you need to gain more customers than you lose each month to truly have growth. This may seem obvious, but if you’re not diligent with monthly promotions, you’ll notice that your subscriber base creeps down each month. To combat this, I suggest the following:

  1. Nuanced Promotional Campaigns:
    • There’s a lot you can do with your robust social media channels, and one of them is to share compelling content that is actually an advertisement for your business. These only cost your time.
      • For example, if you have an art related subscription box, considering creating ~20 custom shareable images or “memes” that profile an artist, a fact, and your logo in the corner. When this is done well, you can increase brand awareness, improve the authenticity of your brand, and reach new eyes because your followers will repost it.
  2. Giveaways and Contents:
    • Giveaways and contests are great ways to engage with customers and prospective customers.
      • Giveaways: Consider holding giveaways for  boxes, months, or bigger prizes, like vacations. Make entering easy and fast, and make sure as many people can enter as possible. This keeps your brand in their mind and when you announce a winner, infuses your community with a positive narrative.
      • Contests: To get people a bit more engaged, consider running contests (note: be aware of social media platform rules, like Facebook’s) that get your followers to engage and work for your brand. Maybe it’s by reposting/sharing something, or maybe it’s just them answering a question on your page. Like giveaways, this keeps your brand in mind and is a great source of positive commentary when you choose winners.
  3. Blogger Campaigns
    • Bloggers/Vloggers/Influencers are incredible sources for new customers, and they often do not charge for reviews (other than the cost for you to send the product)
      • Incoming Requests: You’ll probably start to get incoming requests once you launch your business. These are the influencers who email you asking to do a review. Implement some best practices to make it easy for your team to organize and handle these requests with speed.
      • Proactive outreach: I strongly recommended organizing a few dozen reviews that you set up personally each month. Use those connections you built during your prelaunch phase, but also find new communities to tap into. Take time to build rapport with influencers. When you do, results are greatly improved.
      • Thresholds: Set thresholds to ensure conversions that make it worth it for you. For example, I’d suggest only working with social influencers who have a following over 5,000 members. Looks at post interactions, though, as this isn’t always the best hard and fast rule to follow.

Method 3: Enable Your Audience to Market For You

Studies show that when customers recommend a product to others, those new potential customers are both more likely to convert and more likely to have higher lifetime values (that means they’ll be your customer longer). If you should take away anything from this lesson, it’s that you need to enable your customers to work for you:

  • Create easily sharable graphics (like those nuanced marketing campaign graphics)
  • Incentivize sharing through an affiliate program (cash, free months, prizes are good incentives)
  • Use this element in your contests, ie. “Tag a friend who needs a monthly surprise!”

Learn more about building a referral program that works.

Method 4: Content is King, Use it to Your Advantage

There’s an incredible currency that exists on the internet: content. The more you have of it, the more eyes you grab and the more chances you gave at acquiring new customers. There are some best practices you should follow, but in general, the lesson here is to create a source of content, written and produced by you, that drives organic traffic to your subscription business. More traffic means more customers. Best of all, content is extremely affordable when you create it yourself.

First, think about your niche.

What’s my niche? Check out the 5 Concepts You Need to Know as a Subscription Business Owner

When you understand your audience and place in the market, you should be able to pin down a type of content that attracts to a certain type of reader. For example, if you’re running a gourmet food subscription, having a blog with recipes, thoughts on cooking, or even reviews of kitchenware would attract readers interested in this type of content. It’s a reasonable assumption to think that these types of readers would be more likely to also want your subscription box, and that means you’re in a unique position to market your service.

When thinking about content, keep these things in mind:

  • Develop content that closely relates to your target market
  • Understand Search Engine Optimization and the proper ways to use your content
  • Plan on marketing and pushing your content to readers through your social media and newsletters
  • Finally, consider this exercise: List your main selling points (aka value propositions) to customers, and then come up with examples of related subject matter you could create content around. For example, in the case of the gourmet food box, let’s say you deliver 4-6 gourmet food items, 1-2 pieces of kitchenware, and always source local foods. Your list would look something like:
    • Gourmet Food –> Articles on baking, ingredients, professional chefs
    • 1-2 Pieces of Kitchenware –> Articles on how to care for cutlery, design and purposes of difference kitchenware
    • Local Food –> Articles on local business, interviews with local business owners/artisans

Over time, you can build a strong base of content that draws new eyes to your website. Plus, as a nice added bonus, increasing the amount of time your existing audience spends with you brand (now reading your recipes and thoughts online) helps foster a stronger relationship, adding value to the customer experience.

Method 5: Find a Partner and Offer a Deal

Another option is to partner with a deal site, such as Living Social or Groupon. There are a number of these types of sites with differing sizes, some with specific niches that may better suit your subscription service. Essentially, you’ll be negotiating a split between you and the deal site, and offering a deep discount to their members to an effort to grab customers quickly. You may not make any profit on some of the deals, and you may even have to “float” the costs of extended subscriptions, depending on how long it takes the deal site to release the funds, but this does provide great exposure and help boost your numbers fairly quickly.

Keeping Costs Down to Grow Your Business

By employing these above techniques and committing to their daily operations, you’ll better position your subscription business to hit the 1,000 member mark in short time. What’s more, most of these methods have long tail beneficial effects when properly executed, meaning operations become easier over time.

For example, monthly promotions can be refined and templatized (use of templates), customer evangelism will become more natural, content will be easier to produce, and deal sites will be easier to negotiate and plan with due to existing experience and relationships. From there, your business is now likely better able to afford more costly forms of marketing, and scaling by the 1,000s becomes the new goal.

Cratejoy includes all the tools you need run a subscription box business: secure checkout, shipping tools, analytics, marketing, and listings optimized to bring you sales.

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About Jesse Richardson

Jesse Richardson is an author, educator and co-founder of several successful subscription businesses. He focuses on building engaging communities and has been described as "insanely customer centric." Find him in the Subscription School group or at his blog.

4 Responses

  1. Hi Jesse, thanks for the pointers, I always love reading your blog and am following them word by word. I’m in my pre launch phase and getting some likes but little sign ups. A feedback was to have pictures of the actual products and the box. Should I go about buying my initial products and investing in packaging with little signers? Or how should I continue to promote other than to ‘sign up’? Right now I’m posting quotes related to my field.

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