Last updated on October 8, 2022
It’s the toughest phase of any early stage SaaS company: getting your early SaaS adopters. Your early adopters will spread word of mouth, help you build features and craft your first GTM strategy.
Here are 17 tactics (ranked by priority) that can help you acquire early SaaS adopters and set your SaaS startup up for success.
#1 Get your positioning right (by creating a website)
Founders make this mistake all the time. They focus all of their time and energy on the product until it’s time to launch. And then they’re in a spot of bother because now they have to “figure out marketing, have a proper website, work on positioning, improve our messaging” and they need customers IMMEDIATELY. 🙂
The best time to work on your positioning was the day you started building your product. The next best time is NOW. Seriously, get your positioning right to make any of the tactics work below. If you’re not clear about who your ideal customer is, who you’re competing against and how you differentiate against them – you’ll like make a lot of mistakes when implementing the below list of tactics.
The best way to work on your positioning is to build your website. You’ll be forced to answer questions like:
- What is the core problem that buyers face?
- Who is your buyer? Who is the messaging for?
- What is your product’s core value prop? How much does it cost?
- What makes it different from the competition? What’s your point of view?
- What’s your story? Why did you build the product?
- How does your product look like in action?
I’d highly recommend listening to this podcast episode below on the importance of positioning.
Once you have clarity on these questions, you can build your homepage, product pages, use cases (if you’re selling to multiple personas), pricing page & your strategic narrative page.
Setting up the website in itself isn’t difficult, but you’ve got to make the right choice on what CMS (content management system) you want to build your site on. I use both WordPress & Webflow, but I’ve seen Webflow sites load much faster and look better in general.
And once you have that ready, you’re officially ready to sell and start testing messaging that resonates with your buyers. The learnings from your messaging will help you execute the tactics below in much more effective way.
Get your positioning right by building your website and then work on the tactics below.
Recommended resources: A quick-start guide to positioning (also by April Dunford)
#2 Start blogging
Blogging is one of the best ways to acquire early adopters IMO. I’ve been able to network with thousands of people/companies, grown a SaaS business from $100k to $4 million ARR and been able to build decent organic traffic from it over time.
Topics that tend to do well when blogging:
- Personal anecdotes from your own journey building your SaaS product. For example – if you’re an HR tool, you can write about “How we built employee friendly HR policies in our team?”
- Thought leadership content in the industry you’re in. For example – if you’re a sales tool, you can write about “How to build a good commission structure for your sales team?”
- Statistical study in your industry. For example – if you’re a live chat tool, you can do a study about the salaries of customer support executives in SaaS and publish the results.
Not only will you build great organic traffic over time due to SEO compounding, you’ll also build an audience of loyal readers who rely on you for insights. Someday or the other, they will either want to try your product or recommend your blog to someone they know.
Tip: Writing an article all by yourself can take a day to a full week to complete. Good content takes time to write. I'd highly recommend using an AI writing assistant or hiring a freelance writer to help with blogging.
That’s how you build a really solid content engine that repeatably gets you early adopter signups. 🙂
Recommended resource: Ahrefs Blogging for Business Course (free)
#3 Start posting on social media (esp. LinkedIn & Twitter)
Social media is a great place to start, especially if your company is B2B or B2C. If you’re selling to businesses, LinkedIn should be your first social platform. It has more users than Twitter and generally better engagement rates. If you’re selling to consumers, then Twitter should be your first choice since it’s easier for people there to find and interact with you. But this is not a hard rule to follow.
Some tips to be successful on social media:
- Create a good profile with a very clear positioning. Profiles with good positioning tend to build their audience quickly.
- Post regularly and consistently. Find a schedule that works for you and post regularly. You can even schedule a bunch of posts in advance using tools like Feedhive. Feedhive also helps you generate ideas for social media posts.
- Thumb rule of promoting your product only once in 10-15 posts. If you go over that, people will start unfollowing you.
- Engage with other social media creators (comment on their posts, give them a shoutout etc.) and you’ll likely get some exposure to their audience too.
Tip: Use Shield App to track what LinkedIn content works and what doesn't work for your audience. Here's a brief walkthrough of Shield.
#4 Ask in niche communities – Facebook groups, Subreddits, Quora & Slack channels etc.
The next place to find an audience of early adopters is a niche community.
There are several places you can start looking for these communities:
- Facebook groups have become a good place to find early adopters, but it can be a bit spammy if you aren’t careful.
- Reddit is also a good place for finding early adopters but many sub Reddits are hostile towards marketers (and many marketers don’t know how to avoid being banned!).
- Quora has a lot of people looking for new solutions so it should be included in your list of places to find early adopters as well.
- Slack communities are a great place to find early adopters. There are Slack communities for a lot of niches now, so find one that’s relevant, join it and be helpful in the community.
- There are a lot of questions/threads that people ask on Twitter so that’s another option to find early adopters.
To find more communities for your product, try Googling “[your industry] + community” or “[your product type] + community”. These are the kinds of places where early adopters hang out and where you can get in front of them to introduce your solution.
Note - Please don't misuse communities. Give more than you get. Be helpful and pitch your product only when it makes sense. Otherwise, you'll spoil the community and likely get banned. Once you're banned, that's it. You don't get a second chance (speaking from personal experience of getting banned in 30+ communities and then changing my approach)
#5 Cold outreach prospects
These are people who you might not be able to find on your own. Either they don’t exist in your network, or they don’t know you well enough to consider using your product.
That’s why it makes sense to do some cold outreach to prospects. Cold outreach is the art of reaching out to people you don’t know and asking them to trust you. It’s a great way to expand your network, grow your mailing list, and find early SaaS adopters.
This is quite scalable depending on your target market size, but you have to make sure that it’s done in a proper way. If not done properly, you run the risk of pissing off a lot of people.
Here are some tips on how to reach out:
- Build a prospect list quickly using Apollo (free). They have the highest quality and most updated data of leads available.
- Start cold outreach in a non-scalable way. Individually reach out to every prospect and send a personalized email to them. Don’t automate anything until you figure out a messaging that gets a good open and reply rate and you see some signups come in. Cold outreach is a skill that only comes with practice.
- It makes sense to reach out to your prospects across channels. So don’t contact them just on email, try contacting them via LinkedIn & SMS too. You can automate this using MeetAlfred.
- Follow up! If you don’t receive a response after three attempts (or if you get a response but don’t feel like it was positive), let it go and move on to someone else.
- Use CopyAI to write the intial draft of your email pitch to save time.
There are a lot of awesome guides out there that can help you create a good cold email that receives responses and signups. So definitely read up on that. (I’ll try to link to any good resources I find here so bookmark this post)
Recommended reading: The What, Why, How & When Of Founder-led Sales
#6 Get listed on early adopter platforms
This one is an easy one. Launch your product on platforms that are popular among early adopters. Here are some tips:
- It’s important to have a product or MVP before you submit it to any of these platforms (obviously).
- The way in which your product will be received is highly dependent on how you present it so make sure your positioning is crystal clear.
- An incentive will get them to take action. Maybe offer a limited time promotion or extended free access to the product in exchange for them signing up.
These are some of the most popular early adopter communities to launch your product:
- ProductHunt (highly recommend) is a site where people share new products, websites and apps. It has an audience of early adopters who can provide valuable feedback for your product.
- Betalist allows you to submit free or paid startup products, get exposure from investors, journalists and other early adopters.
- HackerNews is the place for developers to discuss technology news on Reddit’s style platform for programmers. Being featured here will attract all sorts of startup folks (mainly developers) interested in your product who are also potential users or even contributors!
- IndieHackers is another great place to discover new products and connect with hackers interested in launching startups (just like you!).
I’m sure there are more, so do your research.
#7 Co-promotion partnerships with other SaaS companies
It’s likely that there multiple non-competing products targeting the same ideal customer. A good way to reach a relevant pool of ideal customers is to partner with a company that serves the same set of customers with a non-competing tool (otherwise why would they partner with you).
Co-promotion partnerships need to be navigated carefully. For example, why would a company with 10,000 customers partner up with a company with 5 customers. For the partnership to make sense, both parties should get similar value out of the partnership OR the other party should get more value out of it because you are the one reaching out.
Here are some ideas for partnerships:
- Cross promote each other through your email lists
- Guest post on each other’s blogs
- Do an industry study together
- Organize a giveaway together
- Promote each other on company’s social media handles
- Integrate with each other tools (high cost)
Here’s how you can structure it:
- Co-promotion with a company smaller than you. Give the same as what you get. Eg – We guest post on your blog, you can guest post on ours.
- Co-promotion with a company of the same size as you. Give more than you get. Eg – We guest post on your blog, you can guest post on ours + we’ll promote you via our social media.
- Co-promotion with a company bigger than you. Give much more than you get. Eg – We’ll do an industry study, we’ll do the data collection and we’ll publish it under your website’s name. OR if we integrate with your product, you’ll promote us via your newsletter, blog & social media.
The basic principle of any partnership initiative is give more than you get back.
Getting started is easy: just reach out by email or social media. For best results, try to find a contact person on LinkedIn or Twitter who works at the other company.
Recommended reading: How we used integration partnerships to drive 10% of our revenue?
#8 Partner with micro-influencers
Micro-influencers are individuals with a small but very targeted audience. They are not celebrities and do not have millions of followers on social media, but they have a stronger bond with their audience than traditional influencers do. It’s always better to go after an influencer who has 10,000 followers who match your ideal customer profile vs an influencer with 100,000 followers who creates content for a much broader audience.
Before you find a micro-influencer, you should be very clear about your ideal customer profile and where they typically hang out. The reason is that if most of your ideal customers hang out on LinkedIn but you work with a micro-influencer on Instagram, it’ll just be a waste of money.
Here are the types of micro-influencers that you can contact:
- Podcast hosts. You can find them by searching on any podcast player for topics related to your niche. For eg – Search for “lead generation tips for B2B SaaS companies” on Google Podcasts.
- Creators on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram & TikTok. You can find them by searching on each platforms and then see who they follow etc. You can also use tools like Buzzsumo, Sparktoro & Followercount.
- Bloggers ranking for key search terms on Google. Just search for the search terms that your ideal customers might be searching for and spot the blogs ranking on the first page for those terms.
- Video creators on YouTube. Use Youtube search to find those creators. There are tools to find YouTube creators too.
- People running their own newsletters (via Substack, Medium, Tinyletter or on their own). You can search for them on Substack, Medium or just read people’s articles on Google. Sometimes bloggers have their own newsletters too.
Here’s how you can get them onboard:
- Offer to pay them a one-time or recurring fee for promoting you to their audience.
- Support their creator efforts by becoming a sponsor.
- Offer them an affiliate deal where they get a commission from customers they refer you.
- Offer them advisory shares to their tool.
Sponsoring micro-influencers who have a smaller but targeted audience is also an effective way to get your product in front of more people. Micro-influencers don’t need to be celebrities or even well known on YouTube; they just need enough followers (or subscribers) who will listen when they recommend something new for their personal use.
All it takes is one podcaster with 10,000 listeners talking about how great your product is before being inundated with new customers!
#9 Guest blogging
Guest blogging is an excellent way to get your SaaS product in front of a relevant audience and get some early adopters.
The best place to start is by searching for other people who have similar audiences and content as you on sites like Buzzsumo, SEMrush or a simple Google search.
Once you’ve found some potential sites, it’s time to find their contact details and pitch them! Make sure that each pitch includes:
- A brief bio of yourself (this doesn’t need to be too long)
- A list of topics that might be relevant for their audience (and where you can fit your product subtly as well). Use CopyAI to generate topic ideas.
- Why their readers would benefit from reading the article (or why they should accept your guest post)
By guest blogging on a variety of relevant sites in the industry, you can build a reputation as an expert in your field, get some early adopters and improve your domain strength too.
Also, it’s easier and cost effective as ever to write a guest post using CopyAI.
#10 Offer a 100% free plan
An early adopter is much likely convert if they can try the product for free and explore if it makes sense for them. That’s why you should almost always offer a free plan or a free trial.
A free plan allows users to try out your product and get a feel for whether it’s right for them, without having to commit to paying money.
The idea is that if they like what they see, they may pay for additional features or functionality at some point in the future (or upgrade from their free account).
This also gives you an opportunity to make money while building up your user base—you can have users start with the free version and then encourage them later on when they become more invested in your product by offering paid upgrades or add-ons.
#11 Ask for referrals from early adopters
(This one only works if you have some existing users / early adopters)
Asking for referrals is a proven, effective way to get more customers. In fact, companies have gone viral because of their referral programs.
Your existing users can lead you to more similar users. Referral programs are the best way to make it work. In a referral program, when a customer refers another customers, they usually get some incentive for it.
Incentives can be:
- Free months of your paid subscription
- Hard cash ($25 Amazon Gift Card)
- Access to the lifetime deal giveaway
The CAC is amazing on this one if it works.
Recommended reading: How to design a referral program?
#12 Paid ads
The first step to running ads is ensuring that you’re targeting the right audience. You should know your audience and what they’re looking for, so that you can make sure that the ad is relevant to them. This will help increase the likelihood of getting clicks on your ad.
You should also optimize your campaign for early adopters only, as opposed to converting more people into buyers later on in their buying cycle (like with a mid-funnel or bottom-of-the-funnel campaign). This means having a clear value proposition up front so that users immediately understand why they should sign up for your product or service.
Finally, when it comes time to set aside money for paid advertising campaigns, make sure that both how much money and how long you want these campaigns running are clearly defined so they don’t get cut prematurely due to financial constraints
#13 Contact competitor’s customers
You’re not the first person to have this idea, so don’t be surprised if your competitors have already done it. It is very likely that a percentage of your competitor’s customers are unhappy with their current solution.
- Check their list of followers on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. You can also look at who is liking their posts on LinkedIn and find a customer from there.
- Monitor mentions of your competitor on Twitter using an app like Mention (paid) or Warble (free).
- Look at software reviews on G2, Capterra, GetApp etc.
- There are some tools like Apollo that can even get you a list of emails of customers using your competitor. I’m not sure how accurate or updated that list is though.
This is a great way to get some highly relevant early adopters who can help validate your product before trying it out with others. Make sure you’re ready to explain how your solution is different and better than what they’re already using though so they’ll want to switch.
Even if you’re not able to find the exact customers, you’ll still understand the demographics of your customers. That will allow you to narrow down your focus on who to contact as an early adopter.
#14 Get covered by media by issuing a press release
PR is another great way to bring in early adopters. In fact, a good press release can bring you thousands of new users at a very low customer acquisition cost.
Here are some tips:
- Try using HARO (Help a Reporter Out). This service connects reporters looking for expert sources with experts like yourself who are willing to be interviewed by them. With just a few simple steps, you can get your expert status verified and start receiving requests from reporters within days!
- You can also reach out directly to the media outlets that cover your industry. Search for journalists that have covered similar stories in your space in popular media sites like TechCrunch, Forbes, BusinessInsider etc. and contact them with your pitch.
- Finally—and this goes without saying—a professional public relations firm specializing in your niche will probably be able to get better results than trying it alone! (if you have the budget)
Recommended resource: How To Write A SaaS Press Release & Get Featured On TechCrunch?
#15 Ask your investor for an introduction to their portfolio companies
If you’re venture backed, consider asking investors to introduce you to the companies in their portfolio that fit your ideal customer profile.
This is a super powerful way of getting access to early adopters/first customers without investing in sales development. You can also do this if you’re self-funded or bootstrapping by leveraging your own network – if one of your former colleagues works at a company that fits your ideal customer profile, ask them for an introduction to the buyer!
#16 Launch a lifetime deal in a marketplace
A lifetime deal is a one-time payment for a SaaS product. They’re a great way to get early adopters.
There are a lot of lifetime deal marketplaces out there like Appsumo that have a HUGE community of early adopters looking to snag a lifetime deal in exchange of giving some valuable feedback to improve the product.
There’s also the added benefit that a lifetime deal gives you the extra cash upfront to grow your business during the early stage (without giving away any equity). For example, Frase raised nearly $1 million in upfront cash while giving away 0% equity because of their lifetime deal on Appsumo.
Legend says that Zapier offered a lifetime deal once on Appsumo. 🤯
Why do I keep saying Appsumo? It’s the #1 lifetime deals marketplace out there with the largest audience of early adopters. There are other lifetime deal providers too like:
Here’s what you need to do:
- Create a lifetime deal offer.
- Pitch Appsumo about your lifetime deal.
- While you wait for Appsumo to respond, pitch other lifetime deals sites too.
- Once the lifetime deal gets approved by Appsumo/any other marketplace team, craft a deal landing page.
A quick note to say that lifetime deals aren't sustainable over the long term as support costs outgrow the initial upfront payment by the customer. Only use them as an acquisition tactic to get early adopters.
#17 Launch a Founding Member program
You can incentivize your ideal customer profiles to join your beta by launching a Founding Member program which is limited to a small group of people (to bring in that exclusivity).
Being a founder member, you can offer them special privileges:
- Grandfathered pricing or special discount when you start charging.
- List them forever on Founding Members wall (like Hotjar did). Make it enticing for them to list that on their LinkedIn profile. Bring this exclusivity
- Some swag to the first 100 early adopters (tshirt, mug, socks etc.)
- Enter them in a giveaway to get a lifetime license of your product
Early adopters are critical
Early adopters help you spread the word, figure out what feature do customers want, give their feedback via surveys, and most importantly, they are your first customers. Use these tactics well!