When you’re starting any business, getting your first customer is probably the hardest and the most important step in getting going. Until you get a customer you’re not a real business.

Now, this may not always be a paying customer mind you; several startups may need to get freemium customers for feedback before they can monetise their product/service. Nonetheless, the general rule still stands; a customer is someone who values what you’re offering.

Having worked in the land of startups for over 8 years now – both my own and with other entrepreneurs – it’s interesting how often I see new businesses avoiding the sales plunge.

Beyond reaching out to your friends, family, and existing network, one of the most common and cost-effective tactics to get started towards getting your first customer is Outbound Email Prospecting. It’s virtually free and only costs you the time you’re willing to put in. That’s right, this is hustling 101. Leet Digital got our first customers this way and we still use outbound prospecting to this day, both for us and some of our clients.

However, hustling doesn’t have to be as hard or disheartening as you might think. In this article, we’ll be sharing the processes and techniques we use to make hustling just that little bit easier.

Disclaimer: before we get started we have to emphasise that some of these tools and methods may violate the terms and conditions of the site, so use these tactics at your own risk.

Finding leads in your target market

The worst thing you can do is send emails to people outside your target market, they’re gonna be annoyed and the reply conversion will be upsetting. So, let’s begin by defining your target customer and where they are online.

If you haven’t already, map out a profile of your target customer in as rich detail as possible. You can use tools like the Value Proposition Canvas to help with this. From here you can start searching for online sources of where your target customer congregates online.

There are a myriad of databases and sources of sites online where you can find a large number of your target customer’s contact information. Some examples of these include:

  • Linkedin
  • Yellow pages
  • Craigslist
  • Gumtree
  • Google maps
  • Yelp

Depending on your business, you will also likely be able to find niche websites where your target market may congregate.

Admittedly, this is easier for B2B businesses as most businesses have some sort of information online. But B2C is also possible. For example, we’ve seen businesses targeting landlords use Gumtree and Craigslist as a source for finding landlords listing their properties here.

Some sites may require you potentially sign up for an account with them before you can access their databases. Wherever it is, find your list and then deal with collecting the data.

Collecting The Data

Once you have the source, we can begin collecting the data. There are several tools available online that can help you do this in volume depending on your data source.

Phantombuster is great for Linkedin and social media, there is also:
Linkedin Sales Navigator

If you can’t find the tool you need here, worry not, a simple google search will likely help you find the right tool for the right platform.

Clean Your Data

After this, you should have a nice list of prospects you can hit up. It is important that after you collect the data about your target market from your sources that you verify the data.

You can do this by running your data through platforms that verify your sources such as ZeroBounce, Snov.io, Hunter.io, and DropContact.

These tools will check whether or not the email addresses are still valid and whether the domain addresses are still active and are relatively easy to use. You import the data and all you need to do is wait to export. This will reduce the risk of your email becoming marked as spam as you’d be sending to valid email addresses and will also reduce your email bounce rate.

Drafting what to say

Once you have your list of prospects and their contact emails, we need to figure out what to say to get their attention and interest.

In order to do this, we’re going to put together an email sequence. Most people don’t reply to the first email. They reply to the follow-up. Hence the importance of putting together a sequence; be disciplined with the follow-up.

We’ve experimented with this for a long time and we’ve found that four sequences seem to be the sweet spot:

  1. First email
  2. First follow up
  3. Second follow up
  4. Break up email

Any more and you’re being overly annoying, any less and you may be losing opportunities. Of course, it may vary depending on your business.

Before we get into what to say, let’s look at what not to do from some real emails that I’ve gotten:

Where do I start?! Let’s ignore the grammar because obviously this person’s first language isn’t english. The biggest gripe I have with this email is the self-centeredness of it all. “I would like”, “We hold” “We are”. It even goes on to tell me the things I can do, sending my requirements in reply to this email. I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, I CARE ABOUT ME! What can you do for me? Bah never mind, moving on.

The sorry not sorry email

Straight off the bat, this person is apologising. No confidence at all. But then they go immediately into their spiel, making the whole thing come off totally insincere. But the positives are this person is concise and to the point. Although I’m not sure what he’s saying is ‘actually quite amazing’, is it that they do their work for hundreds of companies or that their product is good? I’m confused.

Getting better

There are actually a few things I like about this pair of emails. Firstly, they followed up, well done. Next, this person has actually tried to customise the intro a little bit so at the very least it feels personalised.

Beyond that, there are the typical errors such as, email structure making it unpleasant to read and a bit too much humble brag to close on the first few emails.
Anyways, enough of me whining here is what you want to do:

Keep it short, sweet, and focused on your customer, not on you. I don’t care about you I care about me, so always keep this in mind.

Let’s break it down email by email through the 4-step sequence we have planned:

  1. First email
  • The subject line: it should be short, concise, and personalised. We usually try to include both the name of the company or person, and where we found them.
  • Start with a quick greeting and intro. Keep it human and personal. Don’t act like a salesperson. You can mention how you found the person, the context for the email, or just a simple greeting. Talk to them like you would any person on the phone or in-person.
  • Next, get to the pain point from the customer’s perspective. What pain are you solving of mine that will get my attention.
  • Value prop; tell me how you uniquely are position to solved my problem.
  • CTA; what action is needed to talk further. Don’t ask for too much here, don’t try and close the deal here, just offer a simple non-committal call to action. Keyword here being to ‘offer’ don’t ask or demand or assume.

Here’s a couple emails we use:

Generic email:

For when we see them in the news: [ screenshot]

2. Second email (Wait 2-3 business days before sending)
The second email should just be a quick follow up with a short summary of pain and solution

3. Third email (wait another 2-3 business days)

At this point, if the prospect still hasn’t replied, it’s time to ask a different question. It’s likely whatever you’re offering is not resonating with the person so acknowledge this and switch it up. In our case we like to ask if there’s someone else we should talk to

4. Breakup email

If you still haven’t got a reply it’s time to break up. You want to let the person know you’ll stop bothering them to protect your brand, but also leave the door open for the future

Ultimately you’ll have to test out different copy and sequences that work for you. But don’t get disheartened when things don’t work out straight away. This is a low conversion game so get started and keep looking to improve.

Sending your emails

Once we have email copy we can start sending emails.

The simplest and slowest way to do this is through your normal inbox one-by-one. However, statistically outbound emails probably get a 1% response rate, so this is a numbers game.

We need volume. So we’ll use tools to help us get the numbers up. There are a bunch of different tools out there, but be careful to distinguish email marketing tools such as mailchimp or active campaign. Versus what we need, which are mass mailers. Some of the ones we’ve tested include:


It is important that you start slow with your email marketing campaigns, with increased spammers and scams, there are spam defences set up by ISPs to protect their own customers. These are algorithms and in some cases, reputable organisations have been flagged. So that this does not happen to you, you need to start slow by sending maybe 10 a day, and then gradually increasing this number by 10. This process may take 4-6 weeks before you reach your expected number of emails sent per day. Tedious, but essential.

It is also the case that your specific email provider has enforced sent email limits. For example, Google’s Gmail may allow for up to a maximum of five-hundred emails per day because your account may become flagged and then emails are filtered to spam folders instead of primary or promotional folders. It is a good idea for you to research this limit prior to starting any campaign.

Managing Replies

Once you start getting your emails out you’ll typically get 5 types of responses

No reply
Don’t email me/unsubscribe
Or a Bounced email

Make sure you manage each reply accordingly and don’t forget to follow up through the whole sequence till you get a reply or end the sequence for each prospect.

There are cardinal rules that you must follow when you do these outbound emails
If the lead asks to be removed/unsubscribe, remove them. This is a legal requirement!

If you receive a reply, then remove them from the sequence so you don’t send unnecessary follow-ups and hurt your brand.

For any no replies, thank them for letting you know and let them know you’re there if anything changes.

For yes replies, reply promptly and don’t try to sell too much to quickly, one step at a time!

It’d be helpful to use some sort of CRM to help manage replies. These could include:


CRM’s make it easier to manage high volumes of prospects as well as track your metrics. Find one that works for your workflow, then make sure you actually use it!


Measuring Success

You’ll definitely want to measure what kind of results your emails are getting. This is where that CRM tool will help. Typically, for outbound, some KPIs for outbound to track are:

  • Successful sends
  • Open rate
  • Click rate
  • Replies; yes/no/unsub

It’s from these metrics that you can then look to improve your numbers.


Once you’re measuring success you can start looking to improve through period reviews of how the campaign is going. Use your data to help you to come up with solutions for helping improve performance. For example, successfully sent and opened emails, but no responses means that you should potentially be either changing your email content to engage customers better, or even that you may be targeting the wrong customers.

Work through to test out different assumptions till you find the combination that works for you. Remember, this is a numbers game, but we can always look to improve the numbers.

There are several factors that go into your success with outbound:

  • Quality of email
  • Quality of targeting
  • Time of day/week
  • Is your website reflecting you well for prospects that click-through, how about your social media? Make sure you got these in check.

As well as external factors which you can’t influence, such as the prospects mood, or just timing in general.

But focus on improving what you can and testing different factors of influence.

Hopefully, this guide has given you a detailed overview into processes that you can utilise to acquire that first customer. Have a go for yourself and don’t be scared of rejection or failure because everyone starts somewhere!

Lastly, don’t forget that these emails are just your initial touchpoint. Once you get interest it’s still on you to work on closing the deal or nurturing the customer through to purchase. But that my friend, is for another day, another article!