first customersLet’s start with the basics: You need your first 100 customers—like, now.

Sales—the one word that most employees fear, but the only word that co-founders think about. It’s safe to say that if any startup could master the art of sales, then cash flow and most other problems in business would be minimal.

This is an in-depth article that will give you a full blueprint as to how we were able to grow our unlimited graphic design service, Penji to our first 100 customers.

It’s not a glamorous strategy that has an overwhelming amount of confetti, unicorns, and rainbows; it’s hard work and a lot of it. It’s hours of fine tuning and thinking. But at the end of the day, it’s a strategy that has worked well for us.

Set goals

To grow a company, you need to stick with the fundamentals, and the fundamentals start with setting goals for yourself and your company. At Penji, we have the luxury of having a staff of 23. (If you’re a solopreneur, you might have to be crafty to turn this idea into your own.) Goal setting can get tedious and sometimes it’s difficult to make sure that everyone in the company knows exactly what they need to do to continue to move the company forward.

Initially, we used a combination of different project management platforms like Wunderlist, Trello, and even Google Sheets. None of them worked well for us. And so, we decided to create our own custom goal-setting platform.

The objective of the platform is:

  • To allow the entire team to submit their daily goals
  • Understanding what your team is focusing on
  • To award points for completing any and all tasks
  • To hold our team accountable daily, weekly, and monthly

Let’s say you don’t have the proper resources to create your own goal setting software; that’s cool.

Here is how you can do it yourself using any task management software mentioned above:

  1. Create a point system that rewards completion of each task (we recommend to organize tasks in increments of 15, 30, 60, and 90 minutes)
  2. Allow team members to set weekly and daily goals
    1. DO NOT set monthly goals for each person—only set goals for daily and weekly
  3. Tally points and reward team members that complete all tasks in a day
  4. As the head of the company, be sure you review each team members goals, ask questions if you’re confused, and add onto your team members tasks if you believe they can accomplish a particular goal on a daily or weekly basis

Hold your team accountable

You’re probably wondering, why is the next topic about accountability? Well, you are only as strong as those around you. As a leader of any company, it’s critical that your team understand what is expected of them and they know the goals of the company.

Once your team has set their goals and is used to the idea of setting daily and weekly goals, it’s now time to find out how they are doing and what they can be doing better to continue to make sales for the company.

At Penji, every single employee, regardless of their position, has a sales function. It may not be a direct sales (cold calling, cold emailing, or similar), but they are all able to do basic sales functions.

This may include:

  • Sharing a social media post
  • Writing a blog
  • Taking pictures for future ads
  • Coming up with ideas for content
  • Recording videos
  • Being a part of our weekly Facebook live sessions
  • And more!

There may be times where some team members are not hitting their goals. It happens—even co-founders have this issue. This calls for a conversation. This is by far the most difficult part, because it welcomes the opportunity for feedback.

If a team member has not met their goals, here are some preliminary questions for you to ask:

  • What was your setback with not completing your goals?
  • Why weren’t you able to complete your tasks?
  • Is there anything you wish you could have done differently this week?

The conversations may be hard to swallow in the beginning, but it’s necessary to continue adding to your customer base.

The Penji team.

Create an unscalable sales process at first

We need to emphasize how important the words, “at first” are. This has been our greatest success to date and also our Achilles heel. Here’s why:

At first, when we started our sales process, the main objective was to get a sale any way possible.

We used marketing tactics like:

  • Surveys: We surveyed over 125 people who became our initial customer base.
  • Events: We hosted local events to grab emails and raise awareness about our business.
  • Social media and emails: This ultimately led to a Facebook messenger conversation or a phone call. We only met with about 5 percent of our network.
  • Advertising using social media ads: We used Google Adwords and Facebook/Instagram ads.
  • Video content: We created content on both Youtube and Facebook Live.
  • We participated in podcasts
  • We sent cold emails: This was a critical piece of our early sales, but it’s hard to scale because most emails need a phone call.
  • Cold calls: We made cold calls—and it was hard to make this work for a SaaS company.

Although we do still use just about every single one of those sales strategies, I can say that we experienced several setbacks once we achieved our first 100 customers.

Creating an unscalable process allowed us to soar to new heights, but for a brief period, we plateaued due to pure exhaustion of the executive team and our internal networks. All these tactics required a lot of continuous, manual effort.

Become a data-driven company

If we had to do it over again, we would become an even more data-driven company. In the beginning, we told ourselves that we would be a company that takes data and numbers into account for decision-making. Although we did maintain our data, we fell short as far as tracking our numbers consistently.

The understand your sales, you need to find out a few things about your customers:

  • Why are they buying?
  • How are they finding you?
    • Search engines, social media, email, blogs, events, and so on.
  • How long are they staying?

What worked well for us was using a detailed Google Sheet. Although to some technology experts, an old school sheet isn’t ideal, it worked well for us in the beginning.

The Google Sheet had the following measurements that tracked customer success and outreach:

1. Customer success

  • Customer information
  • Date joined
  • Where they found us
  • Coupon code used

For customer success, the Google sheet that we used was a great way to visualize where every customer was coming from. We knew which marketing tactics were and were not working. It allowed us to make smarter decisions for the future of our business.

2. Outreach

  • Publication contact information
  • Last three topics discussed on the website

With our outreach strategies, things became more complex. A lot of people that we pitched either did not respond or the contact information we found was outdated and did not work. We used a color system to track who reached out to whom. We also tracked how many people each team member was able to find and contact on a weekly basis.

Maintain consistency

Like everything else in business, you must maintain a consistent sales effort. Figure out what works best for your company and keep doing it over and over again. Once you figure it out, make sure you find a way to make it your own.

I cannot stress this enough: When you’re creating a company, don’t be tempted to steal ideas or be overly influenced by those who are more successful. Find a way to make everything that you do 100 percent authentic to your company culture. Penji does a good job by showing off our quirky attitude; at our core, we are a group of nerds that love video games, anime, and food. We show that off through our social channels and also in our marketing.

To close, it’s important that when you get a customer that your product or service offering is top notch. It will take time to become great, but by following these steps, you will not only be able to create a sales driven company, but also a company culture that is fun and motivating.

AvatarJohnathan Grzybowski

Johnathan Grzybowski is a rogue risk taker and serial entrepreneur. He is the cofounder of Penji, an unlimited graphic design service, that helps agencies, marketing teams, and startups, all while providing jobs and internship opportunities to Camden students and residents.