Considering starting a subscription-based business? You’re not alone. Subscription business models are projected to grow from a $650 billion market to a $1.5 trillion market by 2025. It’s a booming opportunity for entrepreneurs, like you, to take advantage of the new market demand.

Selling subscription services offers big business benefits, including predictable revenue, easier inventory management and enhanced customer retention. Launching a new business, though, can be daunting.

If you’re in the process of ideating or even launching your subscription based business, you might be wondering how to start selling subscriptions. This guide will equip you with the fundamentals to target potential subscribers and land your first customers. 

Tips to attract your first customers

Your sales strategy will be influenced by the subscription business model you’re following. The most common business models include:

  1. Box/curation – One of the most popular types of subscription services, wherein a customer receives a selection of goods on a regular basis.
  2. Access – Customers get additional access to your products or services when they subscribe, usually in exchange for a monthly fee.
  3. Replenishment – A delivery of items customers use regularly, such as razors, diapers, toilet paper, etc.

Below, we explore some customer acquisition strategies which are applicable to most, if not all, subscription-based businesses. Together, they will help you figure out how to get your first customer (or customers).

Understand your customer

Your target customers are out there right now looking for businesses to solve their pain points. To get their attention though, you have to understand their pain points.

Defining your customer persona is one of the first steps toward starting a successful subscription box business. There are different ways a new business can collect customer data but one of the failsafe methods is using a survey. 

You need to understand:

  • The way your customers prefer to shop
  • Their interests
  • Their motivations for purchasing or pain points
  • Their average income
  • Any nuances which could either repel them from or attract them to your product

You should continue collecting and analyzing customer data well after your subscription box launch so you can continually improve your service offering.

MOFU, BOFU, TOFU - Master the marketing funnel

No, we aren’t talking about dinner. The marketing or purchase funnel represents your customer’s journey through the sales process. 

TOFU (Top of funnel)

At this stage of the funnel, you will likely have a large number of leads. These customers are likely in the research stage of their purchase decision. 

To optimize your TOFU marketing, consider using SEO content to drive website traffic, growing your social media presence, and using lead capture/expression of interest (EOI) forms.

MOFU (Middle of funnel)

Once potential customers reach the mid-funnel stage, they have a clearly defined need or want. They will likely not be ready to purchase yet, so it’s important to continue building trust and nurturing your leads.

To strengthen your mid-funnel conversion, prioritize serving the right kind of content (like whitepapers, email campaigns or case studies) to establish your business as credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable.

BOFU (Bottom of funnel)

Once they reach the final stages of decision-making, your leads should now be highly qualified and almost ready to convert. Your goal should be to streamline the customer journey to purchase with clear CTAs, simple forms, an easy sales process, and an effortless checkout experience.

At the bottom of your sales funnel, make use of product or conversion pages, including online forms and sign-up pages.

Understanding the funnel and what marketing channels and tactics are needed at each stage will help you guide potential customers from just being interested to converting.

Ensure your website is fast and UX friendly

The design of your business’ website should do more than just look pretty — it’s an invaluable tool in helping you attract and convert your first customers. Your website design should be fast and easy to navigate, making it effortless for potential customers to find what they’re looking for. 

This includes all customers need to know about your product, payment and shipping options, and a clear CTA. Here are a few pointers to creating a great website experience:

  • Prioritize whitespace to make sure your webpages aren’t overwhelmed with content and elements
  • Optimize your page speed. One quick strategy is compressing your images before uploading them, but this free tool by Google can also help make your load times speedy.
  • Use a color palette and CTAs that are based on psychology. Different colors evoke different messages, so consider how you want your subscription business to be interpreted.
  • Use headings and sections to make your content scannable.
  • Don’t forget to optimize for mobile. By 2024, there are expected to be 187 million online shoppers in the US. If your mobile experience is subpar, you will struggle to attract those early customers.

Get an online presence

The overwhelming majority of customers use the internet to find businesses. Without an online presence, your business is missing out on a lot of potential subscribers and revenue. Your online presence helps consumers find your brand and learn about your reputation, making them more likely to purchase.

Your first few customers will likely find you through online communities, social media groups or referrals from their existing networks. Without an online presence to verify your business credibility and service offering, your target audience may not consider you a viable solution to their want or need.

SEO

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process by which your website is optimized for search engines so it ranks higher in searches. The first page of Google captures 71% of all web traffic, according to Moz, so ranking highly is important to even be seen by your first customer and more potential customers.

When optimizing your SEO, there are a few factors to consider, including:

  1. Technical SEO, which includes behind-the-scenes components like page speed, XML sitemaps, TXT files, and meta directives.
  2. On-site optimization, which adds context to content — for example, breaking a blog up into sections with headings, adding a page title, accurate meta description, and having alt text for images.
  3. Link building, which entails the process of acquiring links to your website from other websites — as if other articles reference information found on your blog, it indicates to the search engine that it’s a reliable source. 

Paid Ads

When you hear ‘paid advertisements’, social media is probably the first thing that comes to mind, but there are many more avenues you could be using to amplify your brand. Consider video channels like Youtube or TikTok, audio routes such as podcasts, and print or digital magazines.

Your initial customer research should inform the types of media they consume regularly. Generally, the more specific the media is to your niche, the more it will resonate with your target audience.

Social Media

It’s wise to launch your social media accounts before officially launching your product to start building a following in your niche and build excitement. Social media ads allow you to target customers based on their demographics, behavior and interests.

At the same time, your social media feed shouldn’t just be a stream of product pitches. It’s an opportunity to humanize your brand, show customers the team behind your company, and share some fun, relatable content. 

Publish guest posts on relevant platforms

Guest posts are a proven way of gaining publicity and brand recognition for your business. This is a form of content marketing through which you can establish yourself, or your business, as an expert in your field in front of potential customers.

When writing a guest post, you should aim to strike a balance between delivering valuable content which adds value to the reader’s life, and promotional material which links back to your company. No one enjoys reading a sales pitch.

To find the right platforms for your guest post, look at the largest knowledge hubs in your niche and which ones accept contributions. There are also plenty of lists online with websites open to guest posts.

Develop an expert blog to attract potential customers

You have probably chosen your subscription niche based on your own interest or experience with it. Putting this into words in the form of an expert blog, hosted on your website, is a great way to attract your first customers.

Don’t underestimate the power of a regular, well-written blog post that tackles some of the biggest challenges facing customers in your niche. If you’re seen as a valuable source of information, ideal customers will return and likely subscribe.

Consider influencer marketing

Collaborating with social media influencers can boost customer acquisition. Influencers post a review or testimonial to their (usually large) networks and online communities, significantly increasing your brand exposure in exchange for money – or sometimes a free product. 

You can definitely approach ‘mega influencers’ with 500,000+ followers, but it’s important to note that working with them is often costly. A micro influencer with between 1,000 to 100,000 followers, on the other hand, may not give your brand the same wide exposure, however, if these influencers strongly align with your niche, the chances of conversion are higher than a post to the general masses.

Investigate referral marketing

Did you know 74% of customers say recommendations from people they know influence their purchasing decisions? Referral marketing is highly effective and, what’s more, it costs virtually nothing. 

A referral program encourages your existing customers to advocate for your brand. HelloFresh does a great job of this by offering their members free or discounted boxes which they can distribute to their family and friends. 

Run a contest to drive leads

Brands often use giveaways or contests as a method to build their mailing lists and boost their sales. Giveaways boost your traffic organically. Hosting the content on your website means potential first customers (or anyone else) has to visit your site to enter. You could choose to showcase popular products on the contest landing page or on the completion page.

Moreover, contests generate lists of customers who are interested in your service within your target market. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have entered the competition. These people are ‘warm leads’ because they’re already qualified and are more likely to convert with email marketing.

Offer a special launch promotion

When your subscription business is gearing up for launch, consider debuting with a special promotion. This could be a special discounted price for the first 10 customers, or a value add like an additional add-on product. 

An introductory offer for a customer could involve a ‘buy one, get one free’ deal or, if you offer an access-based service, you could offer double loyalty points or one month free. 

Key takeaways

While acquiring your first customers might seem daunting, there’s a virtually limitless box of tools at your disposal to help you convert target customers to paying customers.

While it might be tempting to skip initial research, understanding your target customer is fundamental to optimizing your marketing efforts and driving acquisition. Make sure you have a solid website and platform in place before you start broadcasting your business offering. Early customers will quickly be turned off by poor usability and a clunky customer journey.

With solid foundations in place, you can start leveraging tools including social media, paid ads and referral marketing to bring in your first customers, which combined with an all-in-one platform empowering you to run everything from the same place, will make you see quickly that the sky’s the limit! Start your 14-day free trial on Subbly today.

By Zaki Gulamani
Сontent creator at Subbly