7 Sneaky Ways to Turn Your Startup Into a Real Business


Isn’t running a startup fun? Well, it is for a while, but unless you can figure out a way to make money, you won’t last very long.

Whether you are venture-funded or self-funded, you have to figure out how to turn your startup into a real business. Although it my seem inconceivable, it’s not impossible.

Download this cheat sheet of 7 sneaky ways to turn your startup into a real business.

Here are 7 tactics that will help turn your startup into a real company:

Never climb the corporate ladder

If you are trying to turn your startup into a real business, you need to increase your revenue. The best way to get money for your startup is to convince large companies, typically sitting on piles of cash, to pay you.

Whether you know someone at these Fortune 500 companies or not, you can get in the door and make a sale. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Go through this list and see which companies you can sell your product or service to.
  2. Once you have determined who would be a good fit, look up who the CEO of that company is and Google that person’s name with the word “email” in it so you can find his or her email address.
  3. After you have the CEO’s email and name, shoot him or her an email that goes something like this: “Hey John, I know you are busy, but if you could forward this email to your VP of marketing, that would be great. I have a few ideas how you could be making a lot more money.” The goal of this email is to get in touch with the decision-maker of the department you are trying to reach.

Although you’ll rarely get a reply from the CEO of these large companies, I found that well over 20% of the time, they’ll forward your email to the person you are trying to reach. When they do, you’ll get a call or an email from that person who will hear what you have to say because when the CEO forwards him or her your email, he or she will assume that you know the CEO.

If that person assumes that you know the CEO, there is a much higher chance that you’ll close a deal. The funny thing about this is that the person you are talking to will rarely ever ask you if you actually know the CEO.

Make competitors fight for you

When you are pitching a deal to a company, it’s hard to close it because you want their money more than they want to pay you. So, you have to figure out a way to turn the tables.

The best way to do this is to pitch to that company’s competition at the same time. This way, they’ll have to fight for you, and you can tell them that you are only going to work with one company in that industry.

For example, if you were pitching both Sam’s Club and Costco, you could tell each company that their competition is interested in working with you. This will cause both companies to get defensive, and they will actually take the time to look at what you are offering. Plus, it will make them move a lot faster.

For this to work, all you have to do is shoot an email over to someone who works for the competition and pitch them what you have to offer. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be a decision-maker; you just have to find someone to talk to. You don’t want to lie when you tell a company that “you are talking to their competition,” so make sure you actually talk to someone at the other company.

Create a sense of urgency

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, you have to convince companies to move quickly. Whether it is a business development deal, sales deal, or just a write-up about you, you have to get everyone to move faster.

The easiest way to get someone to move quickly is to give him or her a solid deadline. For example, if you are trying to create a business partnership with another company, let them know that you need an answer by an X date. Of if you are trying to get press from an online magazine, let them know that they have to publish information about your company by an X date as that is when you are launching a Y feature.

When you feel no sense of urgency, what do you do? You take your time, right? Well, that’s what happens when you approach other people too. Especially if they are busy, they definitely will move slowly. So to solve this, you need to create a sense of urgency.

Convince bloggers to blog

Convincing bloggers to blog isn’t hard, but convincing them to blog about your company is. The more of them you can convince, the more links you’ll get. And as you already know, those links will drive referring traffic as well as help boost your search engine rankings.

The best way to convince bloggers to blog about your company is to build a relationship with them. You can do this through an email conversation. Your first email should look something like this:

Hey Neil,

I have to say, I’m a huge fun. I love Quick Sprout and the great information you provide on business and marketing.

I know you are a busy guy, so I’ll make it short. I just recommend that you write a blog post on “advanced SEO tactics” as I feel it will benefit your readers.

Have a great day!

After you send you first email, wait for a response back. If you don’t get one within a few days, move on and email the next blogger. If you do get a response, build the relationship by commenting on that blogger’s blog and even shooting him or her an email with some more ideas on how the blogger can improve his or her content, blog design, or anything else that you can think of.

Finally, after a few back and forth emails, you should shoot the blogger an email like this:

Hey Neil,

When you get a quick moment, I would love to get your feedback on my website kissmetrics.com as it would really mean a lot to me. And if you like it, feel free to share it with your blog readers. 😉

By the way, if there is anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask.

Hope the weather’s nice in sunny Orange County. It’s raining here in Seattle. 🙁


Don’t list prices on your website

Who says you have to have standardized pricing? Don’t get me wrong, having pricing on your website makes things simple, but if you are selling big ticket stuff with high margins, it’s typically best if you don’t mention prices.

I’ve found that the best price to pitch a customer on is the highest one they can afford. You usually can find this out by asking them “what’s your budget?” Sometimes they won’t have one, but if you ask them for a budget range, they should have something.

Once you figure it out, you can come up with a price that you want to pitch them on. Just make sure that you can offer them a low cost solution or product if you get some push back on the price. This way, you won’t lose the deal if they decide to spend less.

Follow your competitor’s followers

Chances are your competition is on Twitter. Whether it’s the people that work at that company or the company itself, someone within the organization uses Twitter.

One way to reach more potential customers is to see who is following your competition, and follow them. If they are following your competition, they would probably also be interested in what you have to offer.

Once you start following them, you’ll notice that 20 to 30% should start following you back, assuming that you are tweeting good content. After you have some relevant followers, every once in a while, you can tweet about your company and what it has to offer. This will increase your chances of taking customers away from your competition.

And if you are too lazy to do this manually, you can always use one of these tools to help speed up the process.

The best recommendations are 3rd party recommendations

If you want to move upstream and land larger deals, have your customers get them for you. One thing that I always offer my current customers, which I find very effective, is a promise that if they help me land a much larger deal, I’ll give them my product or services for free.

For example, if someone pays you $5,000 a month, you won’t make that much off the deal compared to a deal worth $100,000 a month for the same product or service. Believe me, people will pay a lot more money for the same thing if they are a big company.

So, if your $5,000 customer tells his or her friend who works at a big company how great you are and that they have to hire your company, there is a good chance you’ll get the deal. It’ll happen because you aren’t pitching. You now have a 3rd party screaming at the top of his or her lungs how great you are.

Keep on moving upstream and have your customers pitch your products and services for you. It is a good way to grow. This is especially effective if your current customers have graduated from a top MBA school like Harvard. They’ll typically be connected with other powerful executives.


Who says you have to be a startup forever? Isn’t your goal to make more money and create a “real business”? Well, if you use the sneaky tactics I mentioned above, you’ll start seeing your revenue go up, and you’ll be on your way to creating a legitimate business.

Do you know of other sneaky ways to turn your startup into a real business?

P.S. If you want help turning your startup into something bigger click here.

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  1. Ha, you’re one of the first to say “don’t list prices on your website.” We currently don’t, and sometimes, I get flack for that from other vendors and the occasional prospect. But over all, we get a lot of inbound leads (calls, emails, etc.).

  2. One thing that I’ve been experimenting with in my company is performance pay for good outcomes, for all of my employees. If a referral from a customer turns into business, developes working on the referring customer’s project get a sizeable bonus. It encourages good communication and work, and it encourages them to keep me accountable on sales.

  3. Great post. I specially like the email CEOs directly part. I think because of the fact that people are reluctant to talk to those CEOs, those who do can rip the benefits 10 fold.

    There are a lot of CEOs that (I hope) are interested in hearing from passionate young employees/entrepreneurs

  4. “I have to say, I’m a huge fun.” Not sure if self-brag would help building initial rapport 🙂

  5. I think this post truly reflects how creativity, problem solving, and outside-the-box thinking are the backbone qualities of an entrepreneur. It is the path less traveled, thus the ways and means are emulations of the saying, “Work smarter, not harder”. In regards to climbing the corporate ladder; I think this is a symbolic mistake that most out of college kids believe they need to do. Work your way up and get to the top. Why? If you have the ideas and the ways to accomplish them, you should be working “with” people, not “for” people. I like Neil’s strategy on asking the CEO to forward the email onto the appropriate department head. Very clever. I am going to experiment with a similar tactic, but in reverse. I know the department head of a major purchaser of supplies my new business sells, but I want to have a good relationship with the CEO as well. So I took my friend out for some drinks and told him to bring along anyone else in his company he thought would like to come. After making a good impression, I am sure my company will begin getting some of their purchase orders. However, I want most or all of their purchase orders. To do this, I have to get in good with the CEO. So I will write a similar email as Neil’s to my friend and have him forward it to the CEO.

    On listing your prices on your website: My website is still under construction, but will launch fairly soon (we have a lot of products). It seems that a lot of you are in similar businesses as Neil (online marketing, web design, consulting, efficiency experts, etc.) and you shouldn’t list your prices. Your price will vary for each customer. However, I am in a business where the prices should be listed, but are in constant fluctuation depending on our selling power and the negotiations I have with my suppliers. At first my partner and I did not want to put set prices on the website, but the public really needs to know this information. So to solve this, I added another function to the product description. There are X amount of products Y’s available at price Z (the amounts and prices are pre-negotiated with vendors). So this keeps me at my set margins and doesn’t bind me into long term pricing. It also allows me room to show value of a product. Someone could say, “Wow product Y was X amount before, but now it looks like it’s on sale. But there are only a few left at that price (Creating Urgency)”.

    One more thing I’d like to add is make sure that people and businesses know that they are lucky to be working with you because of exclusivity. Not that you work exclusively with them, but that they should work exclusively with you. Manufacture a bidding environment around yourself. Perception becomes reality. “Well Mr. Patel we reviewed your proposal and your consulting rate is a little higher than we expected.” “No problem. I totally understand. Unfortunately I was cutting you guys a deal because I would rather work with you than the other guys who are going to pay me more than my offer. I wish you luck”. “Oh, Mr. Patel, one more minute please”.

    All in all, good post on developing a start-up into a business. Everyone is the world has an idea and some are even good ideas, however if you don’t know how to make them happen, then it’s only as good as the dream you had last night.

    Why was the Gatling gun so effective? Because once you started firing, you just kept firing.


  6. This is absolutely pure platinum advice Neil –and you’re giving it away for free. Thanks!

  7. In addition to not stating your prices on your website, I remember that this one tactic sales people always asked for, which was: Don’t explain everything possible about your product or service on your website. It’s much better to have visitors be left wondering and asking questions, and nudging them to call in to qualified sales people where they can answer their questions and close deals. If you let potential customers answer their own questions through your website copy, you have a higher chance of them leaving the site and never becoming a lead.

  8. I must agree that third party recommendations have given me a lot of business and it is one of the best strategies for any start up.

  9. Great post Neil. Thoroughly enjoyed.

  10. Very informative Neil, I have been using a couple of techniques you mentioned above for a bit now and found that they work particularly well. One is following my competitors followers on twitter. When deciding who to follow I researched some companies in my area and found them on twitter. I then followed their followers knowing that they would have an interest in what I do since they follow my competitors. Another way to find the right people on twitter is to search for a specific tag or keyword, for example if you have a dog walking business you could search for “dog” as a key word. Anyway thanks for another great post.

    • Thank you, happy to hear they have been working for you. That is a good one, it will give you a better idea of what they have going on. Good, sounds like you have got a few good ideas of your own. Thanks for your added input.

  11. Yet another post where us readers know that Neil has probably done all or most of the above. Love the softer approach of not pestering the CEO and instead asking for a bump down the ladder. Less confrontational.

    As for prices on websites, I agree that it depends on the product and price point. We’re currently working on launch whose space demands pricing. Makes it simpler for the consumer. Then again, it’s not high dollar.

    Thanks again for the words of wisdom, Neil. I’ve got a vodka soda with your name on it.

    • Yep, these are tips I do myself. It is a gentler approach I guess. While in a way it is taking a step down it still gets you high up.

      It definitely does. Glad you feel the same way. If the price range can be flexible, it is easier not to set it.

      Haha thanks, my favorite.

  12. Again created nice work piece by Neil. I was following you for years and now i have totally become a fan of yours.


  13. Those are great tips Neil, and you are quite right about emailing the highest up you can find in the corporate chain, it usually gets the work done faster than having to run behind middle and lower management.

  14. Hi Neil,

    Very interesting article, it was really feel fun and energetic to read it. I really like your point to contact directly CEO and ask them to forward your email to VP…. that’s really tricky and once it happens you almost got the deal. 😉

    BTW all points are great. You’re a true marketer I’ve ever found online, your points are real which can work for all business units. Keep it up dude!! (Y)

  15. Ok Neil,

    This is realy really good and practical stuff. I follow a couple of competitors on Twitter, I also follow a few who I would be competing with in a few years. Helps me know what they are thinking.
    The CEO idea, I have the link open and I might just try it.

    Oh allow me to add one more thing, answering questions and taking part in discussions on a premier professional site like LinkedIn can work wonders. It is starting to work a few wonders for me as well.

    Best wishes

    • Thanks, glad to hear it. Smart, following potential competitors will certainly be of useful information to you. Do it, see what happens.

      Definitely, I myself use LinkedIn and am a big believer in using sites like it.

      Same to you.

  16. But everyone says you should list prices, otherwise people are unsure of what to do. Prices help making quick decisions too.

    • It just depends on your personal preference. If you feel that way then list prices. However for me it has worked best when prices are able to vary for each customers and it seems to work for those customers too.

  17. We’re a start-up company. For us the cash flow and ongoing business is very important. We’re showcasing pricing on our website and we’ve received very good response, we’re busy and busy.

    I know margin won’t be high but yes with this approach we’ve built a team with extremely talented team and worked on good verticals. We’ve built this digital assets and once we’ve this digital assets at very good shape we will not go towards war price and surely think about you suggested “Not to display pricing”

    • I still think displaying pricing gives you an edge, but doing it in a way that you don’t give out too much information.

    • Cash flow is important to everyone. Great if that works for you then stick with it. Definitely do think about, possible try it out later on and see how it works for you.

    • Showing your price seems to work well if your prices are low compared to your competition, because you will pick up a lot of the price shoppers. By not showing your prices it does say “more expensive,” so it is important that your presentation, in this case your website screams “quality work.” Personally I would prefer to have the fewer number of clients that are willing to spend money, than a bunch of clients I booked because I had the lowest price.

  18. I like that you practice what you preach – you respond to most of the comments! Way to go!

  19. great article, incorporating social dynamics and marketing tactics however i don’t agree with 2 points 1st the tactic to close the deal saying that their competition is also interested in them; it rarely works for a company that are ground rooted and have their own mechanism secondly your recommendations to not put price over website, i have found mentioning prices increases sales and immediate payments; may be profit margins are less; however for a company whom you are taking huge profit margin, if they are convinced by other talented person and is willing to sell services at much cheaper cost; so it is short term business thinking; in that case drinks will also not help you..!! cheers… 🙂

    • It depends, if you are in consulting business then Neil’s recommendation is worthy but if you are targeting mass market then scenario changes. 😉

    • Sometimes it doesn’t, true. For the most part though if you can manage to show interest in others services, especially the companies competition they are more likely to jump at the chance to keep you from their competitors. I see where you are coming from, but in my opinion it is better to wait for those willing to give you a price that isn’t set. It really depends on each individual and their preference, so if listing your prices and is working for you then great. These are just suggestions as to what I have done and has worked for me.

  20. E-mailing the CEO has actually proved very effective, I actually managed to get a call with wedding dress giant Vera Wang just by utilizing this tactic. Great stuff as always Neil!

  21. Always trying to follow the competitors to see what they are doing and who they are pitching too. Gives me an idea of where we can offer our service.

  22. This has got to be one of your best articles, Neil. The section about not listing one’s prices on a website, however, was a head-scratcher to some degree, even with your elaborate rationale. Sometimes when a company is searching out for businesses, and doing so on the fly, they readily eliminate the ones whose prices are not immediately available. Don’t you think that in doing so (not listing prices) some startups hungry for new business will miss out on such-like opportunities?

    • Thank you, it may seem like an odd idea but it has worked for me in my business. That can happen, but typically the bigger businesses won’t care as long as you are providing them with what they need and you want those bigger companies. It is possible, in the long run though it may be worth it to try. If it doesn’t work out then you can always go back to listing prices.

  23. Hey Neil

    You got a great blog here on business and startups.. Just stumbled across it today.

    Looking to become a regular reader.



  24. Astrologer in Dwarka :

    We have just started our business and we are thinking to market it on internet. Your tips are really helpful. Thanks Neil

  25. Craftila is my latest business venture started with two high school friends of mine. Craftila offers unique collectibles and accessories for buying and gifting purpose.

    Started in July 2011, Craftila is currently at a stage where we are operating a number of projects. There is a commerce portal which allows site visitors to purchase any of the products featured on the website. Craftila is also partnering with gift galleries for shelf merchandising (image) and taking enquires for corporate gifting. A whole lot go gulp, but the questions remains should startup like Craftila burn its fuel exploring different avenues or run down a straight lane.

    As young and motivated individuals, we are passionate about our venture and also realise the importance of doing business smartly. One of our biggest concern is focus and working capital. As our company account approaches RED, it is extremely important for us to seek funds.

    I am currently writing a business plan, which is the hardest thing I am finding these days. Not only explaining what I said in my first paragraph on paper is anything but easy but also creating a sustainable and profitable business comprising of all the three functions is a herculean task for an engineer.

    WIll appreciate your comments or advice.

    • re craftila.. I thought you did a good job of describing what your business does and soon enough your business plan wording will come together. I think you are right to focus on ‘focus’ right now. Prior to getting the business plan perfect, you and your partners have to make a choice. Focus on diverse methods of generating income or on straight sales? Personally I think you are rather smart to diversify into hire of products! I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. Of course now you just need to clarify how you are going to effectively incorporate this additional offering into your business plan. Its doable, it wont be easy but nothing worth doing ever is!

    • It sounds like you are really starting to get your business rolling.

      I think you should work on getting your business stable and producing revenue. Yet still be open to other avenues of possibilities.

      All you can do id sick to a product you believe in and give it your best efforts. You just have to have a set plan and goals. If you can manage to get everything into place then it will become easier over time.

  26. Hi Neil,

    Does this mean that I can too shoot an email to you and request you to write a blog on something which I want to know from you?

  27. Hi Niel,

    I have been reading your blog for more than 2 years now and this is my first comment here. Reading your blog has always been enjoyable and informative. I always have dream of starting my own business (in small way) and reading your blog always give me more motivation.

    All I want to say is very big Thank You, please continue writing to inspire us.

    Thanks a ton.

  28. Hi Niel,
    I am a big fan of your blogs i really learn many things from your blog. ii want to start my own business online and you are my source of inspiration keep it up i will following you…

  29. I am of the older generation and your brain blows me away! I am also a noob Im`er. I am so lucky to have stumbled upon your site. You are hereby bookmarked for future training for me! Thank you so much!

  30. I’ve been preparing personal income taxes for years now for friends and family. I have just a couple of dozen clients or so. I really want to develop this into a real business. What are some good ideas on how to market the service?

    • Find some related sites and or blogs and see if they will be willing to put your link up o their site. Also put yourself out there by utilizing different social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook.

  31. You’re definitely come from an enterprise consultant perspective. It pretty much only makes sense for you to sell to high-ticket enterprise clients since you have that network in place. Not taking anything away from you. I know that was built with blood, sweat & tears.

    How about a person with a less impressive entrepreneurial network? Do you suggest they go for enterprise like you describe here or take the 37signals “Fortune 5000000” approach? It seems you guys took the latter approach with Crazyegg.

    I’m fully aware that either can work. You just didn’t mention the latter. Was that intentional? If so, why?

    Also, slight tangent – do you prefer business models that focus on obvious

  32. Alex @ Easy ways to make money :

    I like your advise especially the one about convincing a blogger to blog something about your company. I think this is true, you really need to build a good relationship with them. So, to add a few more tips on the content of the email you’re sending. It would also be convincing if you really specify a topic or a title on the blog site of your respondent, giving you the credibility that you’re really reading his/her site.

    • Definitely, if you can get some blogs to mention your company it will get you a long way in networking. Yep, showing that you really follow and enjoy their work should get you much further.

  33. It does baffle me no end how some people spell your name wrong Niel, I mean Neil 😉

    In regards to the post, you da man Neil!! keep it up!


  34. What i am thinking “whatever the business and ways to improve it…if you get more money while applying any new idea on it, then that idea is called best way for business ” 🙂

  35. This post is great. One question, what would you call the subject for the email going to the CEO.

  36. Make a nice smokescreen!

    If you are going to approach the best, you’ve gotta dress sharp, and make sure you don’t have a mustard stain on your shirt. Same applies for websites. Don’t expect to be taken seriously if you don’t present a professional front. Design and simplicity go a long way, as well as all the little things that make the user experience less of an experience and more of a natural sequence of actions.

    • Definitely!

      You want to certainly make sure you give off a professional and successful appearance in order to have yourself taken seriously. As well as your business because that is what you are ultimately representing.

  37. Alena Lichtenberger :

    Does your website have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some creative ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

  38. Hi Neil
    I am so lucky to visit your site. will bed bookmarked for future smart information for me.. Thank you so much.

  39. What if you are looking for funding? I just registered a company and is in need for funding to make your project go through, show should i tweak your “methods/steps” to achieve the desired results?

    • You could try that. Funding is something you have to go out and network for. Try attending events and emailing different companies. It can be difficult to get people invested but if you are confident and have a solid plan eventually you will get people interested. You just have to be persistent.

  40. I like number 2. Make them think that their competitor is interested in you is a very good strategy. You will definitely get their attention by doing so. After all, competitors are their enemies 🙂

  41. Fantastic post! I’m going to personally try to reach out to a few bloggers using this technique as well as email a handful of CEO’s (not hopeful on this one) and will report back on the results…

  42. I have little doubt whether this strategy will work, will try it Neil…:)

  43. Nice strategy u have given but am not sure will its sure for my business

  44. I have paid for worse advice than this. I really appreciate all of the knowledge you share for free Neil. I think in some aspects, small companies and start-ups have an advantage over big companies.

    Another sneaky way to help establish your start-up is to build relationships with similar businesses. You may be able to offer services that they can’t provide to their clients and split the profits. This can help to ‘legitimize’ you and decrease risk. You also will get a good education and build revenue in the process.

  45. i think the real approach towards a business is just compare it with what you really love, than apply the same strategy in the business

  46. Neil, Your idea about pitching fortune 500 companies is really sneaky 😉 I think I’ll try and then I’ll tell you the outcome

  47. It’s kind of sneaky to secretly follow your competitors, but I have found out a lot by doing that and it really works.

  48. Wow, Neil.
    My name is Zach, from MTPG, a small studio dedicated to photography, graphic design and a bit’ of marketing. To tell you the truth this is my first blog comment on any ones blog, so congratulations on taking that in first. I’m am absolutely amazed at all your blog posts. I have been reading them fot about a day or two now. Non stop stories of success.
    That should be your next blog post because I have to give it to you, you’re a smart man and I’d like to have a talk with you sometime personally.

    As for this blog. I will give the tactics a go and tell you how I go. Thanks for providing great content.



  49. Neal these are great tips for any business, even established businesses!

    One question though, if you are in an industry where it is standard practice to list pricing on your website, do you still not recommend listing prices on the site?

    My concern is that some potential customers may move on if they can’t find pricing on our website but it is easily found on our competitors sites.

  50. About creating sense of urgency, sometimes its better to let thing stay still for a while, so other side thinks that they have to catch you and your service.

  51. hey neil,
    you have stated very helpful pieces advices over here. and i really liked all the contents in this post.



  52. Very informative Neil, I have been using a couple of techniques you mentioned above for a bit now and found that they work particularly well.

  53. Hi!,,That is a great point I didn’t think about it that way, it give you more of a chance to sell the product later when you get them on the phone.Thank you so much!

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