What should a single individual do to promote a startup?


I am a programmer and have been developing a web app to facilitate appointment scheduling in my spare time. My target customer is a professional or a small business owner working on a well defined schedule and wanting to automate appointment scheduling.

I have finished implementing the features I feel necessary for the first version of my product (site is currently online but not launched), but I have no idea how to promote it to get that fabled "first customer". As most of the information on the subject seems tailored to companies with at least a small group of employees (I seriously doubt I'd be able to blog, maintain personas on Twitter/Myspace/Linkedin with frequent meaningful updates, do SEO and Adwords campaigns and more), what should a single guy trying to go at it alone do?

Marketing Promotion

asked Apr 26 '11 at 18:43
6 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll

3 Answers


In my experience you will want to start out with the target market. Get involved in that community in some fashion.

The easiest one from my experience is Twitter. Utilize the Twitter search function and get some conversations started with people who have a need for your service. By conversation I mean talk to them, don't just hard sell them your service. Build a reputation as the go-to guy for time management in the small-business world.

By doing this you will get an idea of what your customers are looking for in the product and how to perfect any future marketing campaigns. It takes a little leg work and getting in the trenches with the customer, but its worth it in the long run.

Good luck!

answered Apr 26 '11 at 20:17
61 points
  • Thank you for your input. How can I build a reputation without being a business owner myself? I got the idea as a customer, after getting my MBP fixed at the Apple store: I loved being able to schedule the appointment online and thought it would be great if my hairdresser (or any other small business) could have a similar system in place. Or, by "starting a conversation", do you mean something along the lines of "I have created a web app to schedule appointments online. As a small business owner, would you like to try it out and tell me what you think? I can give you free service in return!" – Lollercoaster 13 years ago
  • You see a small business talk about missing appointments or how they wanted a simpler way to get their clients to schedule out their appointments with them. You would initially responde with "Hey, how about if you had them do it online." Business Owner: "Thats a great idea." You: "I have a service that can handle that for you, maybe you should check it out." This is a very simple conversation you could have thats not going to sound spammy or forceful. – Yock 13 years ago
  • As far as your reputation, that will need to be built over time through these conversations you will have via twitter/facebook/website. Obviously the best method is word of mouth. Hopefully customers really like you're product and how knowledgeable you are in the field of time management services for small businesses, that you will be the logical choice. – Yock 13 years ago


You already have the answer, the things that you say you are not able to do are the things that you need to do because no one else will!

"Blog, maintain personas on Twitter/Myspace/Linkedin with frequent meannngful updates, do SEO and Adword campaigns and more"

Good luck!

answered Apr 26 '11 at 22:37
4,815 points
  • Thank you for your reply. I understand no one else will do promotion for me, what I meant is: can a single individual with a 9-5 job successfully do all that is needed to promote a startup while also continuing development, especially considering I don't have any marketing or social media experience (I don't even have a Facebook or Twitter account)? Should I look into finding a partner? – Lollercoaster 13 years ago
  • Looking for a partner is a good idea. However, you can start yourself by creating a Facebook and Twitter accounts. I am married, have 3 kids, a FT job, and I am also working on my own startup and two blogs... It is doable, I don't even cut on family time, just cut on computer games and TV and that gave me some valuable time ;) – Ricardo 13 years ago


Try attracting regular users by offering the service for free... Seriously. Because it is a web-based app the marginal cost of supporting users is very low, so the model I would adopt is start off free.

Word of mouth...
If you cannot gain traction by offering the service for free, you'll not be able to do it by charging 60Euro a year. Often awareness of a good app is spread by word of mouth - so it follows that if you get hundreds of users on your platform using it for free, you will have a base of people that (if the product is good enough) will rave about it to other people. And personal recommendations are the strongest. Hand out free accounts to the first 100 people and see how you get on.

Guinea pigs...
These early guys will also be invaluable in providing you with feedback on what part of the app they like, and what parts could be tweaked. You may find that they are requesting some really neat features, and that actually the way to do this is by...

Adopting a freemium model ... You've heard of it before - a product in a basic form is given away free and then to access some of the neater or enterprise features you have to subscribe. The reason this works well is that you gain a large base of basic users (getting it for free) and they do three things:

  1. They tell other people about it
  2. They tell you all their ideas on how to make it better
  3. Some of them realise they need a little bit more and pay you for your next-level-up package

Then it all becomes about giving the free users just enough functionality that they are happy (and raving about it) but then not too much that you are scratching your head for what to put in the premium (paid for) version. There has to be something really compelling about the paid for version for this to work otherwise nobody would shift from the free version.

If you can afford to try freemium... it's a good way to go. It is much easier to market and gain PR; get people blogging about you etc if the service is compelling and free. Once you have a good critical mass of people using it and enjoying it, then start thinking about monetizing it. By then I'm sure you'll have a good idea as to how much of a money-spinner this is.

Good luck.

answered Apr 26 '11 at 23:04
2,333 points
  • Thank you very much for your input. I thought about starting off free and then switching to a paid subscription model, but feared the ill will generated by such a move (users would feel ripped off) would have eclipsed the value of the early sign ups; I also thought advertising the service as subscription based from the start was more honest to prospective customers. Would it be equally suitable to offer a lengthy free trial period (currently is one month, I could extend that to 6 months or one year) to my first customers instead? – Lollercoaster 13 years ago
  • The first people that sign up are taking a risk - a risk that the website/service/product isn't going to succeed and you really do need them. So it is my belief that rewarding them by giving them lifetime free accounts is worthwhile in the long term - as I said before as long as the marginal cost of supporting a user is low (which it should be otherwise you're in trouble) then keeping their goodwill by offering a lifetime free account is a cheap way to earn loyal fans. The users that sign up later (and pay) know what they are signing up for which by then is hopefully a successful product. – Edralph 13 years ago

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