Congratulations! You have community, a product, and a hundred customers. That means you’ve arrived at product-market fit, which I define more specifically for minimalist businesses this way: repeat customers. Repeat customers mean that your business is able to persist without ongoing sales efforts, so you can start to focus on scaling. First comes scaling your customer acquisition and sales strategy, then your company, then your ambition.
So where does marketing fit in?
Marketing is sales at scale. Remember that before we built a minimum viable product, we had a manual valuable process. And before you can have marketing, you need to sell to your first hundred customers; that’s because sales is the process upon which you build marketing. While sales is outbound and one-by-one, marketing is inbound and about attracting hundreds of potential customers at a time. Sales got you to one hundred customers. Marketing will get you thousands.
But do not confuse marketing with advertising. Ads cost money, and minimalist entrepreneurs only spend money when we absolutely have to. We do cover ads later in this chapter, because they are a part of marketing, but in true minimalist fashion, we’ll start with the free stuff. Because it’s only once you’ve learned enough from sales—like you did with the manual process for your product—that you’re ready to spend money on marketing.
It’s much better to start by spending time instead of money. Blog posts are free. Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Clubhouse are free, too. Instead of spending money, let’s start there, by building an audience.
What’s the difference between community and audience? While your community is a part of your audience, your audience is not a part of your community. Instead, an audience is a network of everyone you can reach when you have something to say.
That may include your followers on each social media platform, your business’s followers, your email newsletter subscribers, the people who walk by your retail store window every day, and more. If you needed to tell as many people as possible that the world was ending in an hour, how many people would you be able to tell? That’s your audience.
Selling allows you to test the waters with these new people because it forces you to leave your bubble and convince them one by one, improving your product along the way. Marketing is harder, because instead of going to your customers, you have to make them leave their bubbles and come to you. People have lives and things to do, and using your product today is unlikely to make an appearance on their priority lists.
But if you can figure out how to bring customers to you, you’ll have a much easier time scaling your business on all fronts. Hiring becomes easier, sales becomes easier, growth becomes easier. Everything about building a business becomes easier when you have a group of people rooting for your success that grows larger by the day.
People do not go from being strangers to being customers in one step. They go from being strangers to being vaguely aware of your existence to slowly over time becoming fans and finally to being customers and then repeat customers who help you spread the word.
The journey of each customer will be different, but it always starts with someone having no idea who you are or what you’re selling. Eventually, they will encounter your product somewhere in their Instagram feed or in a forum post or in a tweet a friend shares. They will almost definitely forget about it. One day, even though they’ll forget who posted it, they may “like” it. They may engage a few times.
Eventually, they will get interested—not in your product, but in what you or your business has to say. They’ll hit that big “follow” button. Maybe they’ll click through to your website and check it out. If they like what you think, what you say, and how you say it, they may like what you’ve built too.
Most people will not be a fit for your business. That’s okay. Your audience will grow much larger than your customer base—but your customer base is a subset, likely the most passionate, of your audience.
If they are a fit, they’ll start to consider your product. Then signal their intent by signing up for an account, let’s say, and then evaluating your functionality, pricing, and more. One day they’ll purchase.
While you may be tempted to cut as many steps out of this funnel as possible, you may also want to add steps to it, like a free trial. But you can’t shorten this process, no matter how much you’d like to. Every customer will engage, follow, research, consider, and finally buy (and hopefully buy again!).