This may be similar to a previously asked question ( What is standard marketing practice for a niche SAAS product? ) but I'm hoping that by providing a bit more detail, others will have additional thoughts.
I've gone through the process of qualifying (via surveys and meetings with folks) a need for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product I'm currently building that targets a niche within the "work from home" market. And while I've gotten great feedback/support from 50 or so folks looking to sign up when we launch, its the other thousands/millions that I want to reach, but am struggling to do so.
Essentially I have discovered a workflow problem (opportunity) that most work from home-rs have, but most seem not to know that they have the problem and therefore are not actively searching on the internet for tools that provide a solution...so keywords/adwords/social media seem to be of little return for us. We've been able to leverage a very small amount of word-of-mouth marketing, as once these workers are made aware of our product, they want it, but its been slow going.
The "work from home" market is fragmented, with a few forum sites here and there that I've been able to target, but most won't permit you to post sales/marketing info, and I don't want get our product misconstrued as spam. We've been able to source the contact info (mostly emails) for about 5000 folks by grinding through the web, but we don't want to mass email them and have little ROI.
The problem thus far has been that with so few places to go to target a larger audience all in one spot, its going to be difficult and resource intensive to go from 50 to 5000 to 5 million customers. Its been suggested that we do everything from postal mailings, to bus stop ads, classified ads in newspapers, to radio...all very costly, and I'm not certain of the ROI...especially since we are bootstrapping this.
Any thoughts/advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time.
It sounds to me like you've developed a "nice to have" product. If your potential users don't know they have a problem, and they're not searching for a solution, it's probably not a big enough problem for them to spend money on your product.
That said, nice to have products can also be lucrative - but as you're finding out, marketing them is much harder and usually much more expensive.
If your potential users aren't looking for you, you need to go to them. Find out where they are, online and offline and talk to them. Sooner or later, you'll find a way to promote your product.
Dude you have 50 people! You are lucky, don't take those people for granted. Release the smallest version (Minimal viable product) if your SASS product to them and keep finetuning your software and keep improving it. Also, set up some split testing and find and neutralize the smaller kinks from the software you already have. I hope you have not already developed the full version of app. If you did already then you already made a big mistake, you should not have 100% of your vision made and then launched, you should launch just about 10% of what you think a customer wants (heck I am going to only do 1% for my own startup) and let the customers tell you what they want. This will omit any time and money you have to put in by not making features your customers are never going to use.
Also, some people (probably many of those 50 people) like to be the early adopters, people who are the first to try stuff out. If your product is too polished, they will think they are not a very exclusive group and you probably will not get too much of success out of them, hence I told you to make only 10% of your product and let those 50 people give you ideas and tips on how to make the full version. This will make them feel special and they would likely turn into long time customers plus will bring in way more customers.
There is no point of getting 5000 or 5 million customers if you have nothing to show them and have nothing for them to convert into. Sometimes I see websites that have a lot of "customers" but only have a page that describes their upcoming project. I look at it, tell my self, "oh that's cool!" and never look at that site again (as will everyone else).
To sum it up, make a smaller version of your app. If you already have a lot of it done, strip it down into bite size pieces. Release that to your smaller group, get feedback, fine tune, add more to that piece. Rinse and repeat. Keep doing split testing. The site will grow on it's own.
If you want faster growth, on the side do some social marketing. You probably do not need to do any advertising on Adsense this is because most work-from-home people do just that to make money! They are smart enough not to Google for their solution as they know it's just going to be another product affiliate article! Goto social sites and start your marketing there because it is the most likely place for your customers to be, on Facebook and Twitter. Because they are home and have no one telling them not to go on those sites, they most likely spend most time there than anyone else who works away from home.