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Everyone always says that you should look to friends and family for your first customers, and that you can spread your company message via word of mouth, but it feels to me like I would end up alienating a lot of friends and family members if I'm constantly plugging my business trying to get people to help me with it.

I've been trying to think up ways I can get people I know to be excited about what I am doing, and so I thought about giving out the product for free...

well that's great and all, but I sell physical goods, so I would then be taking a loss, every month, on each friend or family member who I'm giving away goods to.

I've also sent cold emails in the past, but it seems like this rarely resolves into anything interesting happening because the relationship is, well, cold.

I've thought about printing flyers with free trial offers, but I don't feel comfortable using the services of other businesses (such as bulletin boards) without providing value in return.

I've been working with AdWords to promote, but that is also expensive, complicated, and time consuming. I spend enough time coding and developing the project. There has to be a more human way to spread the word.

SEO is something I work on, but it takes months to establish good SEO, so I just try and work on it a little bit each day.

I've been trying to brainstorm creative ways to promote myself that provide value for value, as opposed to just spamming or plugging.

Any suggestions as to how I can find the target market to offer value to? I guess another way to put this is:

How do I find the people who consider what I'm doing valuable?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

I just want to be very clear here --

As a business owner/founder etc., it's your responsibility to design a product that somebody needs.

That being said, what are you building and who are you building it for?

Clearly, if your business is designed correctly, you won't have to be obnoxious because your product is beneficial. The whole goal of marketing is to cast your finite-sized net and catch as many fish as possible. But if your net is too big, you'll just find that all the fish swim through it.

As far as I'm concerned, if you don't have a target market, you don't have a business.

Go back to the drawing board. If you already have a product, think about who your market is. If it's not built, consider building it specifically for that crowd.

That's the whole point.

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Before I go to actually answering the question itself you have stated:

I've also sent cold emails in the past, but it seems like this rarely resolves into anything interesting happening because the relationship is, well, cold.

Yes this can lead to sales but if not it is at best obnoxious and at worst a punishable offense. For example in Canada the act colloquially known as the CanSpam Act although it deals with a lot more than spam, effectively renders cold email advertising illegal (although it only applies for Canadian businesses/individuals sending to other Canadian businesses/individuals) - with possibly hefty fines. So I suggest using cold email marketing very carefully if at all.

and now on to my actual answer...

Your first step is to determine who your target market actually is; you can spend a billion dollars promoting yourself to a non-target market and get very minimal return whereas it takes a lot less if you focus on what is actually your target your return will be maximized. (Also as @jdero said make sure to investigate demand - you can create demand but that usually takes very deep pockets to get you started; for example the 'Coffee Break' - but generally you definitely want to go for the existing demand/want).

What your next steps are depend largely on what your target market is:

  • Is it locals? then advertising on bus stops may be ideal.
  • Is it online only? then some advertising solutions specifically targeted to your market may be your best solution. One good option is to find a popular blog or something on the topic and see if the owner would be willing to review the product.
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Be authentic.

Provide useful information to your target audience.

If you don't absolutely love your product, and know it will solve a problem in your audience's life, then yes - it will feel like you're pushing them. Some people are great at sales, and ignore their customer's needs, but you don't have to be that way if you really believe in your product.

Your family and friends might be willing to help you out even if they aren't your audience. Be honest and upfront with them - you're asking them to help you engage your audience.

This means, though, that you must have a firm grasp of who your audience is, and that your friends and family can get to them.

Lastly, if you can provide interesting, relevant, or useful information, then you aren't pushing a product, you're sharing your expertise or experiences. People are a lot more likely to share something they found immediately useful, and this may also help you feel less like you're pushing a product.

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Care should be taken when engaging friends and family. Here's what I'd do:

1) set up your website (probably already done) 2) set up landing pages for your marketing effort 3) set up a facebook business page as a landing page 4) announce your facebook page to your FB friends and family with strong positive "just launched" vibe and ask all your FB friends to like and spread the word (just once, mind you) 5) After seeing who liked and shared your page, go through your email list of all friends and family and segregate into close friends and distance. 6) send a targeted, personalized email to each of those on your close/personal friends and ask if they'll do you the one-time favor of sharing a link to your landing page. Provide the email/verbiage for them to easily cut and paste to send to their friends.

On your landing page, funnel your site visitors to sign up via email with some sort of enticement. You don't have to give away the product. You can write an e-book with useful info that they'd really want to have (assuming you've correctly identified your target audience). Alternatively, you can entice them to sign up and get a discount code emailed to them for the product.

Now, with the new users, start a drip campaign to give them more great info and tout the benefits of your product (until they buy). Always give them an easy way to share your emailed content. Invite them to follow you on twitter or FB, etc. Remember, at this point, you have a captive audience, not friends and family.

You'll almost definitely get some sort of interaction from these folks. Simply be helpful. Answer their questions. If its a great question, esp. one that highlights a general concern or problem your product solves, blog about it in long-form and post answer to FB fan page and Twitter. If they send you great positive feedback after purchasing, turn that into content to post on FB fan page or Twitter.

The key thing is just being helpful while looking for opportunities to turn interactions into more helpful content on your site or in your social media engagements.

Pleading definitely doesn't work and does lead to feeling like you're being obnoxious. But helping people out or telling a great story provided by someone who's bought and used your product actually engages as long as its not overdone in the "look-at-me" department.

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