Ok I realize I usually and generally deal with and write about brands that are way beyond their first 100 customers. But, I figured with so many startups popping up plus the fact even the biggest of brands had to start somewhere — now was as good a time as any to share insights and words of wisdom from those who have lived and breathed the experience firsthand.

Anyone with experience with startup companies and sales and marketing knows how hard it can be to engage those first 100 customers. It can take a great deal of groundwork and preparation, not to mention money and sweat, to locate and capture them. If those first 100 customers are not assimilated quickly, business failure is a distinct possibility – although nowhere near the “9 out of 10” businesses fail in the first year” urban myth that has been circulating for years.

The Washington Post put that one to rest in a recent article: “Basically, after four years, 50 percent of the businesses are open. As time goes on, the success rate decreases, but it never gets to a failure rate of ‘nine out of 10.’”

So whether it takes a month or a year to achieve the holy grail of 100 customers, there are many other road signs to success in a new startup. But since Americans love to think big, we’ll concentrate here on the holy grail of getting those first 100 clients.

Margarita’s Story

Margarita Hakobyan is the CEO of MoversCorp.com, an online sourcing company that helps clients locate professional movers in the United States.

Here’s how she tells her story:

“It was in the summer of 2009 when I was shopping for a hotel and a flight to California on one of the online booking sites. And I loved the idea of comparing and booking in one place. I wondered if there was a similar website where I could list my moving services with a truck for online booking, but there wasn’t one. That’s how the idea of creating an online marketplace for movers came about.

One thing I struggled with is finding new customers. I didn’t have a big budget to advertise in yellow pages (they were popular back then) or on the Internet.

The first actual customer was in California, I believe in Orange County. The lady found us on Google and after comparing a few companies she made the reservation online. She was very excited when we called and congratulated her for being the first customer and winning a $50 gift card at the time.”

Use Strategy

As Ms. Hakobyan mentions in her story, that first customer was treated like gold. She got a personal call, and a gift certificate. That’s one strategy to ensure a customer base that eventually grows to 100 and beyond; give each customer, and potential customer the personal touch – and don’t be afraid to reward loyalty. It’s not a bribe; it’s just good customer service, and good customer retention.

But Wait, There’s More!

Here are some other surefire tips to help reel in those first 100 customers:

Ray Silverstein, a successful business author, insists that getting referrals from current customers is one of the best ways to gain new customers. He says that when a customer gives you a referral they are offering you the highest compliment they can; that they trust you. People like doing business with people they know, and that they know of. Never let a current client out the door without asking who else they know that would like your product or services.

•Business coach Brad Sugars suggests forming strategic alliances with other companies to not only increase business but cut advertising costs; an example would be a web designer allied with an ad agency. By producing streams of referrals for each other, they are in a win-win situation when it comes to gaining new customers.

•Social media has never been easier, or cheaper, to use for advertising. Setting up a blog and feeding it daily content requires, at most, an hour each day. You can have your social media marketing done in-house by a part-timer, or you can outsource it.

The bottom line is of course always the bottom line. Obviously for any business or brand to succeed it has to have customers and those customers have to have ways to find said business or brand.

Ok, no breaking news there, Steve.

However, not every business or brand however has the bottomless pockets others do. Fortunately for these particular businesses and brands we live in a world where opportunities abound online and off for a startup to make its proverbial name and yes, get to its first 100 customers.