Get to Know Your Customer Before You Start Your Business
Malla Haridat, WE NYC Mentor

It’s easy to start a business when you have a passion. Maybe you enjoy baking, so you start making sweets for parties. Or you enjoy photography, so you talk to friends who are getting married or hosting kids’ birthdays. Or you worked for years as an interior designer and decide to start your own business using the expertise you’ve gathered.

I never worry about women starting businesses and educating themselves on their craft or trade.

I do worry about what may happen when they try to bring their businesses to a wider audience. When you’re ready to do that, consider rolling up your sleeves to become as familiar as possible with the people you’ll be serving.

  • What are their likes and habits?
  • Why do they buy the product or service you are offering?
  • Why won’t they buy?
  • How do you move from being an “Oh, that’s nice” to an “Oh my goodness, I need you!” product or service?

It was easy to find clients when I first started my business. I worked for a few years developing youth entrepreneurship conferences and events. Word of mouth and a small network made it relatively easy to find clients.

Before you create your first website or brochure, spend time interviewing 20 to 30 potential customers.

Malla Haridat

However, after a few years, I opted to shift my focus. The market was changing and I saw an opportunity to start working with new populations. It was definitely an adjustment. I had understood the needs of my prior clients, but now I had to start over and learn the buying habits of a new group of people. They had different budget cycles. They wanted different types of services. They had different expectations during the sales and delivery process.

So I adjusted. I listened very closely and focused more on their needs than on what I thought they might want.

I’d like to share two tips that can help you learn more about your potential customers. Many entrepreneurs start the business plan process by learning about their target clients. But if you are scratching your head over how to understand them better, I have some ideas to get you started.

Your friends and family are not a true reflection of your customers.

It might be fairly easy to find your first customers when you start to tell your friends and family about your new business. Usually, they are happy supporting you by buying your product.

Don’t become too comfortable.

You might find future sales are tougher. This wider audience is not as familiar with you as your friends and family. They buy to meet their needs. And they might have objections that friends didn’t tell you about earlier. Why? Friends and family often are reluctant to provide feedback. They want to support you and have to look at you across the table at Thanksgiving. So it’s easier to gloss over possible objections in favor of preserving your relationship.

Keep in mind that you may a learning curve. You might have some early easy wins. However, you might have to be patient and open to feedback to land future customers so you can offer the products or services that people really need and will pay for.

Listen to your future customers before you start selling

Before you create your first website or brochure, spend time interviewing 20 to 30 potential customers. Learn their pain points. What they did like about the businesses that they worked with in the past? What was missing? What would better help them solve their problems? This may even lead you to make some adjustments to your product or service.

Also explore where potential customers spend time online. What websites and social media channels do they frequent? Ask deeper questions so that you learn what keeps them captivated and buying. For example, a woman recently engaged to be married probably has hundreds of photos pinned on Pinterest. If you dig deeper, you can start to figure out what brands she will probably purchase based on the specific styles she pins more frequently. Her pinning habits offer clues to the type of service providers she values. Once you know that, you can better strategize about how your company might or might not serve her needs.

Take your potential customers out for coffee and ask a few questions that focus on them. What problems do they have? What problems do they wish could be solved? How much would they pay to have challenges addressed? You’ll learn very specific facts that will help you better market your product or services.