Starting a business is risky. You are taking a leap of faith that you will be able to create a product that people will give you money for and you are going to invest many, many hours before you make that first dollar. It is hard work, the stress can keep you up nights, and there is no guarantee. But you do it because you love it.

There are ways to reduce the risk and increase your chances of success (not to mention let you sleep easier at night). One of those is to <raise money> for your startup but that has its own stress and is time consuming. Another is to build up your customer base before launching which is what we are going to talk about here.

Email Lists

For many businesses a mailing list is the best way to build up a customer base. They are great for a few reasons. Everybody has email and this allows you to get your message right into their inbox. Secondly, because mailing lists are “opt-in”, meaning that the person chooses to give you their email address, they have expressed desire for you to contact them. Finally, the mailing list is something that you own and you are not subject to the whims or policies of another company such as with Facebook or Twitter.

You can create a mailing list for free with software such as Mailchimp. There you will set up your list and create a form to use on your website. That form is how people will submit their email address to join their list. The words you use on your form is called “copy” and the text on the button is called a “call to action”.

There are a few methods for getting someone to join your mailing list. Content marketing is where you provide articles, videos, or other types of content that the readers find valuable. Commonly you use a blog to do this. On the sidebar of the blog or at the end of each article you include your mailing list form. With it you invite the reader to put in their email address for even more great content.

Another way to get somebody to subscribe is with what is called a “lead magnet”. This is where you give something away in exchange for the visitor giving you their email address. This could be a guide, a checklist, an ebook, a download, a coupon, or even something physical that you would send through the mail.

Lastly, a giveaway is a guaranteed way to grow your list as everybody loves getting something for free. When you do a giveaway you want it to be relevant to your target market. Do not give away a $50 Visa gift card if your product is an iPhone recipe app. You will get many people entering that will never have any intention of buying your product. (Amazon Giveaway is a really simple way to run a giveaway to collect email addresses.)

If you really want to take advantage of a mailing list you can look into “marketing automation” and learn how to use the the advanced features of your mailing list provider to move people through your “sales funnel”.

Social Media

For consumer oriented products social media is an important way to build a customer base. Start by creating Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram profiles for your business. Link to each of them from your website.

Using Twitter you can search out and interact with your ideal customers as well as influencers who are people with a lot of followers and that might influence them to buy your product. Sharing links to articles, blog posts, videos, etc. that you like and commenting on what others share will help you establish your company.

Instagram is great if your product is at all style related or has design as a major component to it. People love looking at great photos so utilize those photography skills!

Facebook is another great avenue for interacting with potential customers. You can use the same sharing and commenting strategy as you do with Twitter. Additionally, you can host virtual meetups where you chat with your audience. Good topics might be ones related to your industry (e.g. if your business is sneakers then host chats about basketball) or an AMA (ask me anything).

Reddit is unique in that it has a niche for pretty much everything including whatever one your product is in. However most subs tend to frown upon self-promotion so there it is better to engage in conversation rather than straight sales. Provide value up front and then casually mention your product.

Cold Calls and Direct Email

This might sound old-fashioned but cold calling and emailing still works. The key to it is to make sure you are limiting your outreach to people that might be interested in your specific product. Do not be the guy calling about your auto insurance when you do not even own a car.

Use Google to find a list of companies that might be interested in your product. With shoes you could maybe try searching for “basketball academies in Chicago” and then repeat for every city near you. Go to the websites in the search results and find the contact information. Send an email introducing yourself and then follow that up with a phone call a few days later.

Hard Work Gets Results

Every method we just went over involves a lot of time and effort. (You will find that with business nothing comes easy.) What they do not involve is a lot of money. So putting in the effort up front will help you increase your odds of success.

“An overnight success is ten years in the making.” -Tom Clancy