Build your customer base one bite at a time

Now, don’t get offended...but I need to tell you something that will seem very basic: if you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business.

“No duh!” you’re thinking, right?

Stay with me.

New entrepreneurs often over-estimate their potential market share. Can you relate? Do you see your idea as so universally awesome, you can’t bear to leave anyone out? Big mistake. In going after everyone, you aren’t actually going to appeal to anyone.

Even if your product is mainstream, you need to start with a specific user in mind. The Lean Canvas is a great tool to hone in on your ideal customer(s), something we’ll dig into in more detail in our next blog post.

For now, just remember: if you can’t find the people who are going to pay for your big idea, you, my friend, do not have a business. You have a personal project. I hope it was satisfying, because that warm glow is the only payback you’re going to get.

Harsh but true.

It’s like that old saying, about how do you eat an elephant? You know the answer, right? One bite at a time. It’s a gross mental image, I know. But that’s how it is in business. I know your goals are sky-high lofty, and that’s good. Don’t lose that. But you need to bring your understanding of your customers and markets down to earth. Because if you try to take too big of a bite of the elephant (i.e. your market), you’re never going to reach your goal of a steady diet of sales.

Heck, I’ve been there myself. When I started the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge I wanted it to be epic. I had super-grand visions of every student at every school in New Brunswick getting involved. My goals were ridiculously large, especially since we were starting the program from scratch. Lo and behold, six years later we don’t have every student in the province involved, and I understand we never will. And that’s OK. I now know our “customers” are youth who are creative and innovative, who are leaders who want to create change in their communities.

For the YEC, the first bite was getting some – not all – of the students. From that initial group, a steady diet of manageable nibbles has grown into something elephantine: a movement of youth entrepreneurship in New Brunswick that includes hundreds of students starting dozens of successful ventures.

In our next post, we’ll drill down into some ways to identify customer segments and get hyper-specific about who your people are. I’ll give you some tips on how to create a refined profile of the complex human beings who may be willing to part with their hard-earned cash for whatever you’re selling.

When you’re done, you’ll know your customers so well you’d recognize them in the street. For your business to work, you need to get into their heads, their hearts and their minds. You need to know where they hang out, in the real world and online, and who they follow. You need to know their lingo, their aspirations, their fears.

Meanwhile, what is your elephant? And what is the first bite you're going to take?

Talk soon,


EnglishSarah Short