Developers: David Colgan helps you escape 9-to-5 employment by building an effective freelance business you'll love to run.

How to "Just go talk to business owners" for customer research

Also, how I built this mailing list so far as a shy introvert

In the process of learning how to better conduct my freelance business, I've heard many many people give the advice to "go talk to business owners" in order to vet your business idea before spending a lot of time implementing. I've recognized the value of doing this, especially for software products that take a long time to build.

But "just go talk to business owners" has always been mystifying to me.

"Just go talk to business owners?" How in the actual world do I, socially anxietous and mostly nerdy many times introverted David even find these "business owners", much less talk to them? Do I have to walk door to door and intrude on somebody's morning coffee and say "HAY will you tell me about your business problems?" I surely hope not.

Well, in the process of building this mailing list over the last year I realized that I've indirectly stumbled upon a way of doing customer research that is not only less stressful, but I'd argue ultimately more effective anyway, with minimal salesiness or pushiness.

In short, provide value first

As we've discussed previously, if you can provide real life actual business value that solves an actual business problem to your clients, your services become an investment and not an expense.

But value doesn't have to be a full scale software engagement. Value can be anything that helps the business owner in their ultimate goal to make more money.

It can be as simple as a helpful answer to a question.

So instead of cold emailing people and asking to "jump on a quick call" to do customer research, here's what I've done:

  • Consider who your ideal customer is
  • Find a location online where they hang out
  • Find those people asking questions your service answers
  • Provide in-depth answers to their questions
  • Offer further help over email or in a call

Now it's less of "will you, oh business owner, give unto me yourn time to help me" and more of "here's some value, and I'll provide more if you want to talk over email or get on a call."

These emails and calls also happen to be some of the best product research around.

You've already proven that the person you are talking to is interested in the problem you are solving, because they responded to your initial value providing answer.

And because you are legitimately interested in helping the person solve their problem, you can act as an advisor instead of a salesperson looking to extract as many dollars as possible.

I've been using this strategy on you, dear reader

How do you build a mailing list? Well, you could take out Facebook ads or send out cold emails saying "hey, would you like to join my mailing list?"

Instead, I've been doing what I described above. For a while now I've been posting answers to freelancing questions I find on Hacker News. The super nifty HNWatcher sends me an email any time someone says the word "freelance" anywhere on Hacker News. If the question is something I can give input on, I'll swoop in and give as helpful an answer as I can. If the person specifically was asking for help, I'll sometimes add, "Happy to chat more about this, my email's in my profile."

I've had a number of people contact me. I think this is how a number of you subscribed. It's been really fun and thanks to all of you who have sent me emails!

I don't consider this to be sleasy or salesy (or scary)

And that's why I'm not really worried about just telling you upfront letter about this strategy I'm using.

If you are going to do anything on your own in your own business, you have to "sell" in some capacity. That's how business works. And people won't know what you are doing if you don't promote yourself somehow. But "promoting" doesn't have to mean being obnoxious.

The abundance mentality for getting clients and also enjoying your work

My goal first and foremost really is to help you solve the problem of feeling stuck in your job.

Having a mindset of service can make "selling" into something you don't even really have to do. Make your services known and seeable, and focus the rest of your time on providing as much value as you can. People then come to you, having already been helped once.

Clients become friends and co-conspirators instead of targets of a cash-extraction racket. Not only is running a cash extraction racket harder and more stressful anyway, it also just doesn't seem to work very well.

You can use this technique yourself! I'd love to know if anyone is doing something similar - you can reply directly to this email and I'll get it.


I send everything I make first as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!

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