As an entrepreneur, you're in the business of solving problems. Whether it's figuring out how to make payroll when cash is tight, deciding when to convert your contractors to employees, or wondering whether you should "blockchain" your business (probably not), the entrepreneur's journey is void of dull moments. 

One of the biggest challenges you may face early on is how to win your first client when you don't yet have a reference. It's a bit of a conundrum--but solvable.

First, ask yourself this question: would you rather struggle to sell one deal now, or close several deals with ease soon after? If you desire the latter, you'll need a stellar reference.

So what's the fastest, easiest, and most efficient way to get one?

Offer your product or service for free to your first client--and deliver.

Five years ago, I conceived of a service to help entrepreneurs better market their Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. Previously, we had run digital marketing campaigns for indie films that were being distributed on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services. 

But we had never run a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign.

One day as I was perusing Kickstarter, I noticed a newly-launched campaign for Vox Populi, a political talk show hosted by the one and only Sean Astin.

If you grew up in the 1980's like me, you know Sean as Mikey from The Goonies. If you're in your 20's, then you know Sean as Bob Newby from Stranger Things, and you might also know him as Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings.  

I could go on, because Sean Astin is my childhood hero. I was eager to get his attention, and intuitively, I knew I would have to offer him something valuable to pique his interest.

My strategy: I backed his campaign for $20, messaged him through Kickstarter, and offered to help optimize his marketing plan and assign dedicated resources from our company in the spirit of his success--at no cost.

About an hour later, Sean messaged me back with his cell number. It was a surreal moment. While some people will always remember where they were when they got engaged, I'll never forget where I was when Sean Astin gave me his number (Kushiyu Sushi, in Tarzana, CA).

After meeting Sean in person (surreal moment number two), we designed a comprehensive paid, earned, and owned marketing plan, and executed. One of our winning strategies was to convince Sean to give fans what they wanted, including a signed Lord of the Rings trilogy, as a perk. 

When it was all said and finished, we helped Sean raise $65,000 from nearly 1,000 backers; a solid outcome for a political talk show campaign.

Sean was thrilled with the result, and became our first reference. We even held an event shortly after which generated additional buzz for both Sean's talk show and our company. 

Our next few deals were easy to sell--after all, we had just delivered a successful campaign for a celebrity, and Sean gave us glowing quotes to use in our marketing materials.

If you're just starting out, you should consider using a similar strategy to earn your first reference. If what you're selling has value, then you shouldn't have any problem convincing someone to use your product or service for free. Once you get their buy-in, give it everything you've got, and over deliver.  

The tradeoff will pay you back in spades. 

Published on: Jul 25, 2018