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How to build a customer base?
Particularly for a start-up

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Ken asks, "I am currently developing a business plan for a SOX 404 Consulting Company. How would you initially develop a customer base, if you have not worked in the industry?"

This is always a challenge for any entrepreneur even if you have been in the industry for years. How to find customers for your new business? In fact even well-established businesses struggle with finding new customers when they pursue a new business opportunity.

The easiest thing to do is to hire a salesperson(s) (or who is commonly known as a "rainmaker") who has all the right connections to get business for you. These folks tend to be expensive (if you hire them) or may ask for a significant stake in the company if you bring them on as partners but as long as their compensation is tied to performance, it is a worthwhile investment. The other advantage of having an industry insider on board is that you acquire credibility. No matter how strong your skills are, if you do not have credibility, you may not even get your foot in the door. A good rainmaker gives you instant credibility and access.

What are other ways to reach out to the community of potential customers? 

Concluding remarks

The key is to get your first client because that can be used to drop a name around, use as a reference, and to learn what works and what not. If you really are desperate, I would even suggest that you work for free for the first one. Now I hate to recommend this since when you work for free, people take you for granted and the strategy may come to hurt you later. The way to present this is that you say that you have developed a new methodology and before you roll it out to your customer base you want to test it with a real company. Most established companies work with startups as long as they know the risks and rewards. Some of them even pay for it. If you present it the right way, most clients will buy the idea.

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