Bootstrapped startups and the shit I learn in therapy

When you can't rely on inbound, get really good at outbound

We’ve always relied on inbound leads to grow Krit.

Someone hears about us from a friend or discovers a blog post we wrote. They have an app idea they want to build, so they fill out a form and schedule a call with me.

Inbound leads are great because they want to be sold to. If someone is coming to you, then they have a problem and they’re ready to buy.

So we’ve spent most of our time over the past 4 years investing in channels that generate inbound leads. We’ve invested heavily in content, to the point that it now makes up more than 10% of overall spending. And I’ve spent time building relationships, through casual meetings and by volunteering with our local Startup Grind chapter.

So far it has worked. We almost doubled our revenue from2018 to 2019 and were able to do it while remaining profitable.

Then a global pandemic hit.

There are 2 problems with inbound leads

1. Inbound leads take time to build up.

Building relationships and creating quality content both take a lot of time, and you often don’t see the results for months or years. Two of our biggest clients last year came from one of my best friends from high school. He and I have been talking about working together since 2014. Another client came from someone who had been subscribed to our newsletter for months.

2. You have no control over the flow of inbound leads.

To some degree, you can control inbound traffic. You can produce more content, build more links, shake more hands, buy more lunches. You can improve average conversion rates on your website.

But ultimately, inbound leads are out of your control. Average conversion rates are, well, averages. There will be peaks and valleys. And even the traffic can swing wildly from month-to-month, affected by circumstances you never would have predicted. Like changes to Google’s algorithm, or… say… a global pandemic.

So what do you do when you’re staring at a lot of capacity a month from now and you can’t rely on inbound sales? Or when you’re a new SaaS company trying to get your first customers and you need sales now?

Let’s ask my friend Baird.

When you can't rely on inbound, get really good at outbound

Baird Hall is one of my good friends in Charleston and the founder of Wavve, a SaaS tool that helps podcasters share their content on social media. I met Baird when I moved to Charleston 4 years ago, and when he was just trying to get Wavve off the ground. Now, the company is making over $90k in monthly recurring revenue, and the core team is still just him and his co-founder.

How did they get over that initial period that kills so many SaaS startups, before content marketing has time to work and when you desperately need customers? Lots and lots of cold emails.

Baird recently went on the IndieHackers podcast to talk with Courtland Allen about his journey building Wavve.

It turns out he spent all of his time in the early days sending cold emails and handling customer support. That’s it. Over time they started to write content, build out an affiliate program, and more. But they got their first customers with cold email.

We’ve written before about how to send sales emails the right way, but Baird had some more tips that were super helpful for me.

First, you don’t try to sell in a cold email. You just want to get permission to have a conversation. This completely changes the tone of your email (and makes it a lot more fun in my opinion).

Second, your email should be 2-3 sentences max. He gave an example of how he would pitch Courtland:

Hey Courtland,

I really liked ______ episode of your podcast.

What are you doing to promote it on social media right now?



That’s it!! He doesn’t mention Wavve once! Because he’s not selling Wavve, not yet. Right now, all he’s trying to do is start a conversation.

I talked to Baird some more on my own, and he shared one more piece of advice that really helped me. I’ve always struggled with outbound sales because it feels pushy. And the reality is you’re going to deal with more rejection than success, so it’s easy to get dejected.

Baird’s trick for staying motivated is to imagine you’re showing up to save the day. If what you’re selling can really help people, and you show up in their inbox at just the right time to help them out, who’s going to be upset about that? They’ll be thrilled. But the key is you have to sell something meaningful, treat them like a human, and find someone who has a pressing problem right now.

What this means for Krit and (more importantly) you

I’m taking Baird’s advice and testing outbound sales for the first time since we started Krit. With so much up in the air right now, outbound sales gives us another channel we can leverage to grow our business. One we have more control over.

We’re also investing in paid advertising, to increase traffic and test our messaging, while we continue building organic traffic. The goal is to leverage outbound sales and paid advertising to generate business now but eventually have organic growth outpace both.

If you’re starting a SaaS company, we’re still big believers in content marketing for long term growth. But if you’re trying to find your first customers, or if you’ve found your traffic dipping because of the current climate, cold email is a powerful tool to have in your toolbelt.

Keep these tips in mind to send a great cold email:

  • Your first goal is to start a conversation, not to sell
  • Do your research on the person you’re emailing
  • Keep it short

If you do it right and get a little lucky, you could save the day for someone.

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