Whole Foods started from one natural food shop in Texas.
Amazon began selling books out of Jeff Bezos’ garage.
ASOS took off by building a small group of loyal followers, who loved its celebrity inspired products.
All three focused on serving a tiny niche before growing into some of the world’s biggest companies.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a large user base to grow a digital product.
It can be expensive and demoralising to sell to a large audience group. And selling to everyone often leads to confusion. You end up constantly changing what you’re doing, yet pleasing no-one.
We think the secret (as with all things product) is to start small.
In fact, all you need to do is find one person willing to exchange money for your service.
Once you’ve found that person, you can find a few more like them. Growth will follow organically from there.
Detective work: Four places to find your one paying customer
Finding your core niche audience and serving these users really well is the leanest way to grow a product or turn a service into a real digital offering.
Serving one tiny niche extremely well will help inform your website, your marketing, your sales process. Everything you do.
But it requires detective work.
You need to listen for similarities, follow the customer path a little, and gradually find bigger and bigger handfuls of customers.
The genius of thinking micro is that small interest groups often have similar wants and needs.
If you listen, you’ll get excellent feedback:
- What are the common character traits?
- What are their common interests?
- Do they all like a type of TV?
- Do they all love takeaway curry?
Find out, and all of a sudden you’re building a vivid picture of your next group of customers.
Here are four places to start doing your detective work and finding your niche audience…
Option 1 – Go Local
Go after one vertical, provide one service, do it in one location, and do that really well.
If you’re going after a particular industry segment, start by physically looking around you.
We’d even suggest picking an area of a city near you, the smaller the better.
Let’s say you’re building a fitness product – start with your local gym.
Go down there, talk to members about what they do. You’ll quickly learn about your users’ needs and the directions your product could go in.
Be careful that you don’t lead the conversation with your target audience. If you ask open questions about problems, you’ll get far more honest answers. Check out our podcast on user research for more guidance on this.
But what if there aren’t any local interest groups for your product?
Option 2 – Use Online Forums
Online forums are another great portal into finding out more about your niche.
Start with Meetup and look at relevant groups for your customers. Meetup has the added advantage of bringing people together for face-to-face meetings.
Or, search on platforms like LinkedIn for pre-existing groups, listen to the chat room discussions and join in where appropriate. Facebook is also very useful for finding relevant niche topics.
A quick Google will often bring up groups and forums for all sorts of interests.
Start with the platform, then narrow by location.
The easiest location to begin with is your own! Find online groups in small subsets local to you. You’ll get much quicker results this way.
Option 3 – Facebook Ads Manager
If you want to explore how large your potential market reach is, then use Facebook Ads Manager as a tester.
Go into Ads Manager and look at various traits of audiences; Facebook will tell you the size and potential reach for these traits, giving you free market insights.
Let’s say our running club all love naan bread and David Beckham.
It’s easy to look on Facebook and map those three interests together. There might be 8,000 people in London that are into all three things. You can gauge how big your market is, based on Facebook’s data.
Option 4 – Stalk your competitors
The fourth and final way to leverage the power of one customer is to lurk around your competitors’ social media.
On Twitter, users have conversations with brands all the time, making it a fantastic way to gain niche market insights. What are the common issues? Common likes or dislikes?
Listening to your competitors’ groups, social chatter or website information can give you a great starting point for building a superb digital product or service.
The classic trick is to find their social accounts and then reach out to everyone who recently (or ever) followed them. This is a quick way to find people who will already be interested in your product.
Especially if you find the idea of starting with one customer daunting.
Congratulations! You’ve found them. Now what?
Once you’ve found a potential audience for your product, here are some easy ways to go about turning them into actual paying customers.
Launch a ‘Wizard of Oz’ product
If you don’t have a fully formed product, it’s not the end of the world.
Why not get an MVP together, and improve as you go? It’s a faster and smarter way to start collecting money.
Build a snazzy prototype
Nothing beats a simple prototype if you want to sell and demo your idea. In just 24 hours, we can help you through the barriers towards having something you can put in front of your end user.
Drive traffic to a landing page
With tools like Squarespace, it’s easy to build a one-off landing page for little cost. Send some ad traffic to the page, add a ‘buy’ button and test the results.
Start with offline only
With an offline service, you can deal directly with the customer.
Take manual payments, like our pals Headliner, who ran their service as a phone-based agency, learning about their customers before they built their tech platform.
Pitch to a room and take sign ups
Whatever you do, get out and talk about it.
Host workshops, offer yourself up as a speaker, or attend networking events and collect sign ups.
Run a webinar
Share what you know in a webinar. They’re easy to set up and they enable you to ask for manual payments as a follow-up.
Look in your customer’s fridge
The more you know about your customer, the more likely you are to be able to offer something of value.
The Lean Startup famously shares a story about a startup for foodies. These guys actually visited their customers’ homes and examined everything in their fridges so they could email them relevant recipes. That’s research!
Think about marketing like a laboratory.
Use insights from online forums and groups to run tests.
See what resonates and iterate based on what works.
Now you can talk to your customers about issues they really care about and build a product that they will genuinely love.
If you want more help on this, check out how to conduct expert user research.