Just like Scooby Doo needs the Mystery Inc. gang, like Batman needs Robin, like Bill Murray needs the… uh… you know, other Ghostbusters, you need allies for your startup. An ally is a supporter, someone that wants to help you if they can. Some of your startup allies ideally would be interested in utilizing your product or service once it’s ready to roll too.
Why should you be gathering allies, let alone 100? You need people that are going to be honest with you and give good feedback as you are building your business. Sprinkle in some peers with interest in utilizing your product, some veteran entrepreneurs, cheerleaders that will offer support and more! Having many allies means you have many opportunities to gather feedback from people of different backgrounds.
How do you build up a list of valuable allies when you’re just starting out? How can you grow your group of existing allies? We’re here to help you do just that! Whether you are an introvert or extrovert we have some suggestions on how to build up your very own horde of allies.
1. Ask your friends, family, and coworkers
This first one is probably the easiest (and most obvious place to start). You should leverage your existing circles and let them know about your idea. Keep them in the loop by word of mouth, your personal or business social pages, newsletter, you name it. They’re the people closest to you and will be the first to help out if they can.
One word of caution is that having mainly friends and family as allies can give you skewed data. They’re likely to be kind and say sweet things about your idea, even if they aren’t being wholly truthful. You might be able to get more valuable and honest feedback if you vary who you have in your allies. The key to getting reliable information from any ally is to
2. Meet new peers through networking
Another way to gain allies is by good old classic networking. Get out in the community and attend networking events or conferences. Depending on the type of event you may be able to get a table to present your startup, be a speaker, or sponsor the event itself. This might be your big break to get in front of allies that are specifically fellow entrepreneurs. They offer valuable insight and have been in your shoes before.
If you’re an introvert, this tip might have you stressing out. Luckily, there are more online events than ever before. Stay in the comfort of your home and chat with online peers and learn from speakers. Another nice thing about the rise in online events is that you can access niche groups of people without traveling to a large conference in another state. Putting yourself out there can prove extremely valuable in the end and gain you some amazing allies.
3. Ask for referrals from your close circle and network
If you’ve established a base of allies to talk with, there is no harm in asking if they know someone that could be a good resource for you. If you meet someone with strong connecting skills while networking, don’t be afraid to ask them if they know anyone that would be interested in your project. If you ask just ten people for a referral, you have the opportunity to connect to ten (or more) new allies! Sometimes one single meeting can change the entire trajectory of your business.
4. Social media campaign
We’re sure you probably know one of the easiest ways to market these days is on social media platforms. They are usually free to join and all you have to put into it is a little of your own time and sweat. Mixing of types of content (text, images, graphics, and video) while keeping things informational will catch the attention of potential allies. You can schedule out posts for most social platforms ahead of time, sort of a “set it and forget it” deal! Okay, so don’t forget it really. Make sure you’re engaging with your fans that comment and follow. They’ll continue to engage if you keep things personal.
If you’re a little lost on what you want to do for your business on social media, take a look at other brands’ social presence. Scope out your peers, competition, and idols online. Take notes of what they’re doing that you like and don’t like! Take what you like and give the posts your own personal spin. See what gets the most interaction and engagement and run with it! Social media is a great way to create conversations around your product and get it in front of everyone and their mother.
5. Ads on social media
Another way to gain allies via social media that does cost some coin is running ad campaigns, if you’re willing and able to at this point in your startup. Using this strategy is one of the less hands-on and less personal ways to gain allies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad venture. You’re leaving some things in the hands of social media algorithms, hoping that the right person is on at the right time and they get fed the ad. A neat thing about creating ads on these social platforms is that you can get uber specific about location, age, interests, etc. of who you want to target. There is always the chance that people might ignore the ads in the sea of posts, but you’ll likely at least gain some followers with casual interest in what you’re doing if you are targeting the right demographics.
One note to doing an ad campaign is to be prepared for your ad campaign to work. Be ready for an influx of followers and interaction. Do you have social posts scheduled out and ready to keep interest in your brand? Do you have time to keep an eye on multiple social platforms and answer direct messages? Don’t be shy, ask someone if you need a hand. More supporters and engagement on social platforms makes you more visible online to potential customers and allies!
6. Make a website
Having a website, even just a single landing page for people to check out could increase your allies. Give them the rundown of what your idea is all about, include a sign-up for an email newsletter, and links to your social media! Having a page further cements that you are serious about your startup. Your credibility is validated by having your own home base for people to visit. It’s also a place where you can completely customize how your ideas are presented unlike on social media pages.
Paying attention to your site’s search engine optimization, or SEO, can help it appear in people’s searches online. Having quality content posted regularly can help your site list higher in searches. If you have just a landing page, there are still things you can do to increase your chances of being found in search engines. Make sure you’re utilizing strong keywords and descriptive metadata. Another great thing you can do on your site is to make it more user-friendly for visitors with disabilities, especially those that utilize screen readers. Some things that take only a little additional time are adding alternate text to describe images and video as well as using descriptive links (instead of the classic “Read More” or “Click Here”). Not only are you helping people with disabilities enjoy your website, it also helps search engines locate your pages out of the sea called the world wide web. Putting in a little extra effort on your site can open up the door for allies to find you on their own!
7. Reach out through email
Cold reaching out with a personal email to potential allies is definitely a strategy that you have at your disposal. Put time aside to write something concise and catchy. Don’t forget to double check (maybe even triple check) your grammar and spelling before sending. We may have sent out an email or two with a spelling error or incorrect hyperlink before if we’re being honest. It’s a bit embarrassing, but totally avoidable, especially if you have a friend (an ally, perhaps!) check it over as well.
A great way to keep in touch with your established allies is through email newsletters. If you aren’t keen on running multiple social media channels yet the avenue of the email newsletter is a good resource. Getting feedback and keeping your allies in the loop works well in an email newsletter because it goes directly to your allies’ inboxes. Unlike social media where if your fans will see each of your posts is up in the air, this always gets in front of them.
8. Join online communities
A strategy that has gained more popularity in recent years is networking virtually. Joining online groups on Facebook and LinkedIn can be a great resource for learning as well as making connections. You’re able to use the power of the world-wide-web to open doors and connect with people in different countries (probably not people you’ll find at your local networking event)! Interact and reach out to group members that post relevant ideas and questions and engage in discussions. They show great potential to become allies for your startup!
You can find very specific groups on other sites as well. Forums on sites like Reddit often have fans of things that are dedicated and insightful. A platform that you may not know of is called Discord. It’s original use was to allow video game players to message and voice chat in groups called “servers”, but now has seen an increase in other unique communities gathering. You can find servers dedicated to programming, robotics, politics, art, mental health, and more. If you find a forum or server dedicated to a topic that relates to your idea it couldn’t hurt to check out! Ask questions and get involved in the chatter, you’ll start recognizing usernames and form friendships. Adding some exceptional, knowledgeable allies is never a bad thing.
Shameless plug, but our very own Founder Community was built to not only help teach entrepreneurs, but to help them connect with peers. Members have the same awesome passion as you and can be great allies for your startup.
9. Leverage others’ networks
Let’s talk about another avenue: Leveraging others’ networks. Similar to asking for referrals, you would be talking to people that you know have a lot of connections. Let’s chat about an example to help you visualize what this looks like; Say you have an idea for an app that helps alert people about local lost and found pets. Go visit a local shelter or veterinary clinic and talk with whoever runs their online presence. Asking if they would be willing to share posts about your new idea to help get the word out is not a huge lift on their end, and it also helps you immensely by having your startup shared to an established group of fans. Not to mention that you know they’re already passionate about animals since they follow the shelter or clinic’s pages. A variant of this strategy would be to contact an influencer that has an audience you’re trying to target rather than a traditional business.
Offering your time can be a great way to get your foot in the door to new connections as well as in front of an established network. Is there a blog that you love that posts all sorts of content that relates to your startup? Shoot an email their way and ask if you could write a guest piece in exchange for a link to your app’s website. Do you have a favorite podcast that a local creator records? Call and see if you can be scheduled to be a guest! This content gets your name and startup in front of a group with specific interests.
10. Offer free/trial version
We know, you might be scared to throw out free products or free access frivolously. Have no fear, it can be a unique tactic that attracts allies that have potential to become paying customers. Vinay Koshy, founder of Sproutworth, notes that offering a free or trial version of your product can be powerful to bring potential allies closer to the project. He shares that “Having a good onboarding experience plays a crucial part in this. You need to help users realize the value of your product in terms of being a solution to their needs, being easy to use, and providing great customer support.” Being hands-on with your product for no charge makes them feel appreciated and gives them the opportunity to give you notes about user experience. People with the problem your service is fixing will want to check it out and become an ally, so why not give them a little sample? Later on they’ll become your first paying customers if they love what you’re doing! Not to mention that offering early access gives off a feeling of exclusivity for your allies before it’s available to the general public.
Now go forth and start working on gathering your first 100 allies! Don’t be afraid to keep going after 100; before you know it you’ll be at 200, then 300! Having a large, supportive group of allies will help lift you and your idea to success.