Last summer, I had an idea for a business or side-hustle. That idea was building custom-made websites for driving instructors around the country.
It was born out of my own painful experience trailing through instructor websites when wanting to learn to drive.
Almost all of these sites mimicked the same ugly templates. And many instructors I could find on Facebook, or through directories, didn’t have a website at all, which wasn’t very helpful when I wanted to read their reviews and find out their pricing.
Unlike most of my “good ideas”, I actually put this one to the test.
I pitched the idea to my then driving instructor. Very interested, he paid me to start building his site straight away. I wrote about the experience from conception to execution in one of my very first blog posts.
While it was a great achievement, I sat on the idea after that.
My brother loved the concept and wanted to get on board but he was busy with his final year of university. Only last month, he graduated.
This month, we have picked the project back up…
How We Got Our First Customer
Although he was technically our first customer, I am not counting my own driving instructor as our first “proper client”. This is for three reasons:
- The idea to make a business out of instructor websites wasn’t fully fledged at this point. I saw it more as a one-off freelance project.
- My brother wasn’t involved yet and we are now very much in this together.
- The instructor knew me. Him giving me his business was influenced by our familiarity. In my mind, it didn’t completely prove the concept.
To validate the concept, I told my brother we would need at least 3 paying customers. While we were both excited about building our own site and diving into marketing it, I knew there was little point until the idea was truly validated.
As I designed the initial website and came up with the idea, I challenged my brother, who now had a lot of time on his hands, to go out and land our first customer.
If I’m being honest, at this point, I wasn’t overly motivated.
Could he really convince a stranger to pay us over £300?
Facebook Groups and DM’ing
The idea was simple: use Facebook to search for instructors who were running businesses on Facebook pages, without having an accompanying website (or at least a very good one).
Using social media in this way for lead generation is something we had learned from Gary Vaynerchuk. In this post, he outlines DM’ing on Instagram, a practice I have applied to my 9-5 marketing with some success on Twitter.
To make life easier, my brother had the brilliant idea to find these instructors in Facebook groups. One in particular was very active with over 7,000 members: our prime target audience, all gathered in one convenient place.
For a while, he simply used these groups as a quick way to make a big spreadsheet of prospects to message. The message itself was constantly refined and tweaked depending on the response (or lack of response it received).
Often it was far too long. Gradually, he trimmed them down.
This tactic of iteration is highly recommended and replicable.
Do make sure you keep track of who you have messaged, when and how it went. It will make staying on top of leads a lot easier. Some idea of a conversion rate further down the line is valuable (e.g. 50 messages tends to generate 1 lead).
Staying quiet in these groups as “a fly on the wall” proved the right approach. Other people were spamming the groups and earning a bad reputation. There became notable hostility towards those that weren’t “genuine members” ie. instructors.
The lesson here is engagement has to be authentic. You have to provide value before you go in and ask for something. This is especially true for an outsider.
To his credit, my brother DM’ed over 300 instructors, probably a lot more. Perhaps a couple dozen replied. The vast majority gave polite “thank yous”, a few were more to the point. Never discouraged, he persevered.
The reward for his efforts was 4-6 promising leads.
When A Cold Lead Gets Warm
The next step was to speak to the instructors on the phone.
This is always a crucial stage as a physical conversation takes you from being an anonymous stranger on Facebook to a real human being.
Fortunately, my brother can talk to anyone about anything.
So far, he has managed to organise two phone calls. With others scheduled for the future, accommodating the busy schedule of instructors, especially now at peak period over the school holidays.
Considering my brother’s limited knowledge of websites (he won’t be offended, having never built one himself), the calls went remarkably well.
The first lasting an incredible 90 minutes on a Sunday evening.
While this prospect was making all the right noises, he started to drag his feet. The deal went cold (for now). The second call, however, proved a winner.
This to-the-point character asked direct questions, predominantly interested in the cost. We must have come in well under budget because he chose us, two 20-year-olds with one driving website between us over other freelancers.
A mental note for the future: charge more.
To seal the deal, we required a contract of sorts.
The last time I needed to draw up a freelance contract, I found a web design template online (good idea), covering every conceivable term under the sun from media ownership to a precise delivery schedule (not-so-good idea).
While well-intentioned and sensible, in hindsight, it proved completely overkill. As did the long, jargon-loaded proposal document that preceded it.
This time we acknowledged the prospect’s more direct character… And the fact that driving instructors were busy people.
We skimmed the proposal down to a neat and concise 2-page PDF with pricing outlined and a list of “next steps”. It took an hour to put together. Time well spent as we can edit this template in the future for other leads.
What do you actually need in a proposal?
Basic information like the project overview and aims, the pricing (usually the main point of interest) and, crucially, the next steps – a clear call-to-action.
Oh and somewhere for them to sign (we forgot that).
It was just professional enough to appear legit, while casual enough to seem authentic considering its 20-year-old authors…
In it, we also asked for half of the payment upfront. Never do any work without at least some kind of monetary commitment from the other party. They need skin in the game or they can drop the project and you have wasted your time…
Within 24 hours, we had the money in our bank account and our first customer. A stranger on the other side of the country has trusted us… That’s a cool feeling.