Micro-SaaS Marketing: Getting your first 10 and 1000 paying customers

November 22, 2020

Wow, we have made it this far already. That means you have already found a micro-SaaS idea, validated it, and built a MLP and decided on a simple pricing strategy to launch.

Excellent, we are now ready to acquire paying customers. But before that, let's understand marketing a SaaS product on a fundamental level.

What is SaaS marketing?

Marketing is the set of activities you perform or strategies you execute that help build awareness of the problem you solve and the solution you provide in the minds of your target audience. Lol, that's a boring definition.

Marketing is when you tweet, when you post on LinkedIn, when you wear your company's branded t-shirt before going on a podcast or video, when you run Google or Facebook ads, or if you write an article answering the specific pain points and questions faced by your target audience.

In the context of SaaS marketing, what you need to understand deeply are

  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
  • Lifetime value (LTV)

You might be selling a $50/mo SaaS product. So should you spend time or money equivalent to $300 to acquire 1 customer? It depends.

If your average customer stays with you for 1 year, then $300 is a perfectly fine CAC. Marketing experts have figured out that having a 3:1 ratio of your LTV:CAC is perfect, but in the early days you just need to know whether you are spending less than you are earning, LTV adjusted.

This is possible due to the recurring nature of business - your customers don't just pay you for this month, they pay you for the next, and the next, and hopefully the next after that as well. While the short term returns are tiny, the long-term results absolutely add up and compound.

Know where your customers hang out

A pre-requisite for any marketing strategy is to know where your customers hang out. By now, if you've followed the process, you would have identified at least 1, if not several, places where your customers hang out and can be found.

Here are some common places where you might find your target audience:

  • Niche Facebook groups
  • Niche Slack communities
  • Twitter (tweeting about certain topics, or following certain accounts)
  • Reddit (subreddits related to topics)
  • LinkedIn (certain designations that make them identifiable)
  • Instagram (follow certain accounts and hashtags that you can target)
  • YouTube (kind of content they watch and channels they follow)
  • Google Search (search for specific "keywords" on Google)
  • App marketplaces (Shopify, Atlassian, Intercom, Slack, Salesforce, etc.)
  • Email outreach (use tools like BuiltWith for finding a targeting list)

and so on.

All of these avenues are freely accessible. You don't have to pay a gatekeeper for access. You just need to be genuine, approach it from the mindset of providing value, and craft clear messages or posts that draw out the attention of your target customers.

How to get your first 10 paying customers

Ideally you should have already talked to 10 or more people who are willing to be customers of your MLP. In case you haven't yet done that, then you should at least have identified where your customers hang out.

Reaching the first 10 customers is a manual and relatively straightforward process.

  • Make a post on LinkedIn about the product, and then manually reach out to people.
  • Tweet about your product, slide into existing tweet threads, DM people who engaged with those threads directly.
  • Make a genuine post in a Facebook group or Slack community. Message people 1:1 who show an interest.
  • Make a post in a related Subreddit (eg. r/Shopify for a Shopify app) and DM people who engage. Or search for existing posts that match your keywords and reach out to people who engaged.
  • List on marketplaces - Even if you do the basic optimization for a marketplace (correct naming, description, listing page, screenshots), and if the problem you are solving has established demand, then you should get your first 10 customers from there.
  • Cold email outreach to companies that match your parameters, using data sources like BuiltWith.

By now, you get the gist. Be methodically manual in reaching your first few paying customers.

The purpose of this exercise is not just to get your first 10 customers, but to also understand well where they hang out, which channels they respond well to and which ones they don't.

A marketing strategy to get to 1000 paying customers

You've got your first 10 customers, you probably even got 50 customers by following the manual outreach processes.

That's great! That means you have a repeatable process to continue acquiring customers.

If you are patient and don't have a desire to hit some revenue targets within a defined timeframe, you could continue the manual outreach process for 1 year and easily build a $10,000 MRR business.

Or, if you're lazy like me, you would want to invest in building a system which initially doesn't produce strong results, but over time grows and brings in way more customers than you manually could, while you sleep.

Building a marketing engine is different from the manual outreach process, in that you want to perform activities that draw out customers and bring them to you.

And if you have understood your customers deeply, where they hang out, what kind of content they like consuming or discussing about, or the kind of help they frequently seek, then your marketing strategy will be very easy to formulate.

Let's take an example - If you were building a product for founders of other SaaS products to collect feedback from their users.

There are a few ways to approach this.

  1. You could write extensively about all the problems that are directly related or in the peripheral of this exact problem. Example "How to talk to your SaaS users", or "How to collect user feedback for your SaaS". If it works, keep writing more posts, gradually expanding to more peripheral topics.
  2. You could create a Slack or Facebook community for people who are building SaaS products and help them out with problems related to customer communication, understanding user's needs, collecting feedback, prioritizing feature requests, and communicating those to their users. These are all activities that are related to what your product does, and hence it will attract the right kind of audience.
  3. SaaS founders hang out and are very active on Twitter. Which means, you could become an authority source of building and growing a SaaS business, either via writing tweets or threads, sharing useful posts, or writing your own posts. The following you build will become a funnel for customer acquisition.
  4. You could host a podcast which interviews SaaS product founders, talk about their pain points, challenges, how they overcame them (give value to listeners) and also talk about the customer feedback loop.

Experiment with various channels until you find one that works for you. Any of the avenues in the list of places people hang out can be turned into a repeatable channel.

And once you have a repeatable channel that's working for you, it's highly likely that you end up building a sizeable business. You're now limited by the factor of time.

On Product Hunt, Show HN, IndieHackers, and other "one-time" launches

I see a lot of bootstrappers, indiehackers, makers and micro-SaaS builders focus too much on a Show HN, or Product Hunt launch.

And while that's not a bad thing and it can certainly work out for some (whose product's audience overlaps with the audience of HackerNews or PH), I think equal if not higher thought should go into "how do I acquire customers everyday, for the next 1 year".

So if you're someone who makes a huge splash on PH or HN and then goes back to product building until the next big launch, I urge you to reconsider your approach. Do your launch, but then continue working on marketing your product everyday.

Split engineering and marketing 50-50%

If you spend 1 week building features, take the next week in writing a blog post, or creating a series of Tweets, or value-adding posts that you can share in a related Facebook or Slack community.

You got this!

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