How to Get Your First Paying Customers

With $0 spend, no expensive websites, SEO, logo or other expensive stuff.

A Post by Red RobotPublished March 18, 2019

One of the most daunting things about starting a new Photo Booth business (or any business) is getting the most critical thing right – paying customers and getting them fast. In all my years helping people do this I have often seen the fear of not knowing when or how to do this brings so many potentially great businesses to come undone before they even start. Maybe you’ve started a few businesses before or this is simply an add-on to your existing business – you might be a little more thick-skinned about this but the fear is just the same. Having done this many times over I can attest to the pang in your gut that says:

“What if no one buys?”

Like everything in life there are the obvious ways to do things – which aren’t that effective – then there are the less obvious, infinitely more powerful and free ways to do things! And I’m going to share some of the most effective ways to get your first paying customers below.

But just before we get to that, let me tell you about the common way people attack this and how it usually unravels. In my experience, the most common things I see people do is a classic trifecta that can potentially suck all of your entrepreneurial spirit away in a matter of days.

  • Logo – You don’t need an all-star logo just yet. Too often I see people spend vast amounts of time trying to design a logo, or worse spending lots of money designing a logo before they even begin to start their business. There is a rule in business based on the famous quote by Sheryl Sandberg that “done is better than perfect”. The problem with focussing on your logo (and by extension your brand), is that you can’t possibly know who your customer is yet. All the time you spend trying to make this perfect will delay your income, and, you will most likely be way off the mark anyway. So you may as well just pick something that works for now and get on with more important things (keep reading to find out).
  • Website – This is another one that can stunt your business growth in exceptional ways. Some of the greatest and most profitable businesses I’ve seen recently have existed and grown exponentially for 3 years or more without a website – they work purely on social media and word of mouth. You don’t need a website just yet. This is another way to doom your start-up to perfection hell be focussing on building the “perfect” website.
  • SEO and Adwords – The buzz words of digital marketing – like, 5 years ago! Just like everything else in digital marketing, things that worked even 3 years ago don’t really work that well anymore. They get less effective and more expensive as time moves on. SEO and Adwords used to be the things that you would throw cash into to drive traffic to your website and show up at the top of the Google search game. But now they’re so expensive that it can suck your finances dry within days. Again you really need to know your customer before throwing cash at this.

So what’s the alternative?

If you’re starting your business or expanding your existing business on a shoestring, then you should start with a bootstrap mentality. The rule is to use what you’ve already got. Being resourceful is one of the most beneficial and powerful entrepreneurial skills you can possibly develop and it is one that will make you insanely profitable while others around you are hitting the wall (financially and personally). Being resourceful in this sense means using what you have to get the job done while also coming up with clever new ways to achieve more with less.

Start with who you know

It’s mostly free (apart from your time and effort) and completely avoids the trifecta trap detailed above. First, start with who you know. Write down a list of everyone you know, friends, family, workmates, and acquaintances – anyone who might be able to help you.

Start with friends and family. Of course your friends and family want you to succeed, and if they don’t then you have to ask yourself why they are on that list! And yes before you say it, you totally can choose your family 😮 These people are naturally going to be your biggest fan club. Aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, distant cousins, they all know someone who is having a wedding this year, planning a 50th birthday party and presumably, most of them work at a workplace that will be planning a Xmas party in December. Maybe they know someone in a marketing agency or someone who works for a brand that could use your services.

Spread the word

The easiest way to do this is to first let everyone you know on Facebook and/or Instagram what you are doing. Make some calls or send some text messages. Spread the word, maybe even plan a launch at your home so people can come and experience it while you get some marketing images for your socials and website when you finally have a need for this. The goal is to get their creative juices flowing so that they start subconsciously start looking for opportunities for you. Give them the vision, paint the goal and you’ll end up with an army of salespeople spruiking your new business. Remember this – people are 90% more likely to buy something based on a recommendation from someone they know over things marketed to them in traditional ways.

Ask people for referrals

No it’s not creepy and if you don’t ask you don’t get. Because of the statistic above, referral business is one of the most effective ways to generate more business with little to no financial input. Always be thinking referrals. Start asking people you know about other people they might know who could potentially be a customer of yours.

As a side note: Try to avoid the freebie trap. Family or friends of friends might expect a free hire of your Photo Booth at their event by virtue of the relationship or because they think they are doing you a favour, ie “I’m having 150 people at my event who could potentially be your customer”. While it’s ok to do SOME free events in return for exposure, ultimately there’s only so much benefit in doing this. The level where it starts to become unbeneficial for you is very low so that why I recommend only doing maybe 1-2% of events like this per year. In the first stages, yes it can help but you need to make sure you position yourself to get the utmost benefit out of it ie, prime signage at the event (if it is a public one), brochures, shout outs, business cards, take names and email addresses etc. If you’re doing this for exposure, you can’t pay the bills with exposure so don’t feel ashamed for saying no, or if you do the event, pushing hard for something in return that you can convert into dollars – leads!

Use what you’ve got

Then move on to what you’ve got. Most likely you are looking for customers in your geographic area. It’s a known fact that when engaged couples plan their weddings, one of the very first things they choose is their venue. They want to make sure it matches the image they have in their mind and they also want to make sure that all of their family and friends can travel there to experience it. So make a list of the closest venues to you, pick the ones you want to work with and contact the event organiser at each one. Make an appointment to meet with them, buy them a coffee and chat about ways that you can help each other out – you can also offer to show up to their Xmas party for free, in return for the right arrangement.

One of the things they might ask is to put your details in their event package that they hand to prospective customers. This is worth doing as it gets your marketing material in front of your ideal customer before they even begin to start searching for a Photo Booth supplier. But on the downside, you might be lumped in with a bunch of other suppliers inside that package.

Another way you can work with the event organiser is to offer a mutually beneficial arrangement. Things such as a wholesale rate or kickback might be attractive to them. This is where you would offer your service at a reduced rate (think ~30% less) so that the organiser can bundle your service in and make a profit. This makes sure you are recommended and you also have a person actively selling your service.

You can also offer a white label service which means you show up to the event as XYZ venue’s very own Photo Booth. For this, you might want to charge different rates because you won’t be getting the brand recognition from the events. For all intents and purposes, you are presenting as a part of their business and this restricts the amount of advertising and referrals you can do.

Start making links

Also, start making links with local suppliers in the local industry. Other suppliers such as wedding gowns, event stylists, furniture hire, celebrants, wedding decorators, DJs, Photographers etc. They all have the same customers as you so you can make friends and offer the same kinds of mutually beneficial arrangements to further each other’s businesses.

One of the things I do highly recommend is making friends with other Photo Booth operators in your market. Initially, they might feel threatened by you so don’t take it personally if they don’t respond well. Try to look past it and see if there is a way you can help each other out. In all my years in business, making friends with competitors has always been the best policy. You can offer to help them in ways like passing overflow work to each other, offering a subcontract arrangement, sharing leads and offering technical help to each other in times of need. Customers are far more likely to trust businesses who are collaborative, honest and open rather than ones that are negative, greedy and Scrooge McDuck-like – and customers can smell that from a mile off!

After you have started doing these things, you can then work on increasing your network and applying the same systems to get even more reach. Start looking for and attending local business and social networking events to make more links with people that you can genuinely help out. That last point is very important, the “help each other out part”. I’m not going to cover networking techniques here because it’s a big topic but from experience, there is nothing worse at networking events than someone who only talks about themselves and their own business. To build a good relationship there really has to be mutual benefit, a two-way street otherwise there is no point. Be prepared to listen first and then find a way you can work together.

Always think referrals

When you attend your first event you want to make the absolute most of the opportunity. As stated earlier, this means going in with a mindset that everyone there is a potential customer. If there are 150 people or 500, they’re all potential customers and they all know someone who is getting married or planning an event of some kind. So think referrals – hand out brochures, business cards, take names and emails addresses. Impress the pants off everyone that comes into contact with your service. And don’t be ashamed to ask “do you know anyone who is planning an event?”

These types of exercises are incredibly effective and cost you almost nothing apart from your time and effort. More importantly, they are heaps easier to implement and it doesn’t involve you spending heaps of time guessing about what your customer might want, spending heaps of money on websites or AdWords and being wrong. Nothing can be more soul-crushing than dropping a couple of grand on advertising and getting zero results. Start by talking to people, making links and growing relationships. What you learn about your customers will be infinitely more organic, real, far less expensive and will help you grow your business in the right direction from the outset.

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