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Pre-launching a new product or business

Many business owners work for months or even years to reach the point they’re finally ready to launch their new business or product, and then suddenly realise they have no clear plan on how to reach people who are ready to hear about it. This is where a pre-launch comes in!

Guide

12 min read

1. Why pre-launch?

Different businesses have different aims of what they’re trying to achieve after they launch. These could be testing the viability of your idea by launching your most basic offering (a minimum viable product or service), testing your operations through a soft launch, building your capability and cash flow with a phased launch, or even making a statement and surprising the competition!

(You can find out more about setting launch goals in this article).

However regardless of your specific aims for launch, to successfully pre-launch you need to know:

  • who are you going to tell that you’re launching
  • where to find them
  • how to present your business or product in a way that appeals to them

It can take months to build up an audience who are interested and, ideally, excited to hear from you. That’s why pre-launching is often an important part of business or product launch preparations, as it helps to create interest and anticipation as well as cultivating a database of email addresses and social media followers who you can reach as soon as you’re ready.

You might be wondering - if I haven’t actually got a business ready to trade yet, what can I talk to people about? The good news is that there’s lots of ways to reach out and build a relationship with prospective customers and we cover some of these here.

2. Setting up your digital presence

There are a few things to have in place up front, before you start your pre-launch activity. These include:

  • deciding the platforms you need - e.g. landing pages with a sign-up form and/or full website, the software for setting them up, and preferred social media platforms
  • choosing your business name, domain name and social media handles (do this in unison - there is no point in choosing a name and then finding you cannot obtain any relevant domains or handles)
  • designing a logo and favicon
  • setting-up your business email and choosing an email marketing platform
  • decide how to gather and store customer data and subscribers and how you will comply with GDPR

This article gives you more detail on how to set up your digital presence.

3. Use your connections and generate awareness

Who do you know

Once you have mapped out personas of who your ideal customers will be (location, demographic, attitudes etc.) begin with contacts - look through your little black book, link with social media friends, reach out in any related social groups you are in (if appropriate to do so) as well as in networking groups, and post on your LinkedIn profile.

Look at who you already know who:

  • as an individual, fits the profile of your ideal customer
  • is a member of relevant groups on social media that include potential customers meeting your target profile
  • is an “influencer” with a following on social media or well respected in a field that’s relevant to your business and products, perhaps with their own blog or podcast (here, quality over quantity is the main thing, and even a “nano-influencer” with around 1,000 followers can be of real value if those followers are a close match to your target audience and are highly engaged)
  • has previous experience in the same sector you’ll be launching in (and won’t be a direct competitor)
  • has launched a business or product locally before

Reach out

It is time to contact those people and ask for a few minutes to chat over your plans. See if they can help you find the groups you need to be a member of and if they can recommend anyone else you can speak to. Link in with new people and ask for feedback on your ideas and send them samples to review (or images and video if that’s not possible).

Connect

Once you’ve had some direct dialogue and you’ve had a positive response (or adapted your approach based on their feedback) invite them as followers on your new social media presence. From there you can keep them updated with short news posts and images about the activities you’re doing to prepare for launch (whether that’s signing the contract on the lease of your premises, taking delivery of your first prototype, or finishing designing or filming the first section of your new digital product).

Respond

Always respond and thank people for their comments and their time – even if they can’t offer much information or assistance right now (or even tell you things you don’t want to hear!).

Have confidence

Many start-ups have to force themselves to do this. It might be a case of overcoming “imposter syndrome” - where they are plagued by self-doubt that they can actually get to launch stage - or lack of time. To deal with this very common hurdle, it is a case of constantly reminding yourself that you’re more likely to launch if you’re able to recruit others to support your word-of-mouth marketing and that often people are flattered if you are asking for their opinion or advice.

Another block is people fearing that competitors will copy them. There will be some businesses and products where that could be a risk, but more often the critical success factor is being able to sell quickly once you launch properly, and most other businesses are flat out trying to do their own thing and don’t have time to adapt quickly to copy others. You need to use your judgement on this.

4. Grow your followers

Select your primary social platform(s)

Once you’ve built up a small following on social media, it’s time to grow this further with a more organised content plan and some advertising budget. Although it’s worth having a profile on all relevant platforms, don’t be afraid to focus your effort on one platform first (the one your audience is most likely to spend time on) as you’ll be juggling all other areas of setting up your business or developing your product at the same time.

When selecting social platforms you need to think of the best fit for your customers and your content. Do your research, but as a starter for 10:

  • LinkedIn: if you’re in a B2B market then LinkedIn could be the obvious choice
  • Instagram: a very image led or lifestyle focused product can lend itself to Instagram
  • Facebook: Facebook is a good “catch-all”, particularly for local businesses or those with a wider target market
  • Twitter: Twitter may also be a good fit, depending on your audience and objective - for example if you are seeking investment or are a tech start up this platform could work well for you

Post engaging content

Once you are active on your chosen platforms, you will need to post engaging and regular content, and may well need to put promoted budget behind these posts to reach a wider audience. You will need a varied content calendar, with lots of engaging content, for example:

Consider running simple surveys to gather opinions but also raise awareness of you and your business. Ask for opinions (e.g. using Facebook polls in groups where you are an active member) and often people will expand with comments. Use these to:

  • understand customer needs to shape your offering: “Which is a bigger problem for you – a or b?” or “What would make your life much easier x or y?”
  • refine features: “Which colour would suit your home best?”; “Which of these should I launch first?”, “Do you think this shelving or those units are better to display products in my new shop?”

Provide news updates on progress such as photos of your freshly decorated premises, your new signage going up, or “sneak peaks” for image-led products and services using Instagram or Facebook stories.

Share blog posts or video stories about who you are and why you’re launching.

Run competitions and offers, such as a chance to win your own or related products, early bird discounts, etc.

Consider wider advertising

At this stage most new small businesses will not have much budget for social media advertising or for paid-for influencer marketing, however depending on your goals you may need to run ads, even in the short term, to reach a wider slice of your audience. Do your research and consider whether working with an expert could help.

For established businesses launching a new product or service, then it could be worth investigating what’s involved with influencer marketing, how to identify relevant influencers, and likely costs (may be a supply of a free product, or fees from £80 per post for influencers with a following of up to 10,000, with costs increasing for higher numbers of followers). Spend time on social media platforms, or consider using an influencer marketing platform to identify possible partnerships with people who can reach your target customers.

Provide news updates on progress, such as photos of your freshly decorated premises, your new signage going up, or “sneak peaks” for image-led products and services using Instagram or Facebook stories.

Share blog posts or video stories about who you are and why you’re launching.

Run competitions and offers, such as a chance to win your own or related products, early bird discounts, etc.

5. Build a database

Ensure all content you create in any channel links to a landing page where you can capture email subscribers who are willing to hear more from you and will, in effect, be your “warm leads” when you launch properly. You need to offer a reason to subscribe and this moves you to the next stage of your content creation and some simple promotional activities:

  • being the first to hear news about your launch
  • receiving a small discount for their first order once you launch
  • entering a competition to win a free product or service
  • accessing giveaways such as a free consultation or digital downloads of high-quality content

Remember that you must ensure that you comply with data protection regulations and adhere to all rules and regulations regarding privacy laws and GDPR.

6. Test your messaging and analyse

Remember to spend time analysing engagement, reaction, and click-throughs from all your pre-launch emails and social posts. Look at the reach, likes, comments etc. of your social posts in your social platform’s ‘insights’ section and look at any email data, such as open rates and click-throughs.

Test different ways to explain what is unique about your product and how to use imagery.

  • Does it work best if you explain the problems it solves or the benefits it brings customers or the various features?
  • Think about tone of voice – does your audience seem to respond more to natural or conversational or formal and authoritative?
  • What sort of images work best – diagrams, infographics or photography?
  • Does using video increase engagement and if so, how long works best?

This is a great stage to experiment and learn.

7. Begin taking pre-orders

Once you’re only a few weeks from launching properly, then going out to your email database and social media followers to invite pre-orders on an exclusive basis can be a great way to make your initial supporters feel rewarded. Set up the bare bones of your online shop (for example with one or two key products) or offer your primary service on your website or social business page.

Benefits of pre-orders

There are a number of reasons why taking pre-orders could be beneficial for your business.

  • Verify there is demand. Pre-orders help you check that there will actually be enough demand for your product or service. Even if you’ve done a lot of market research there can still be a gap between what people say (“yes we like the product and we’ll buy it”) and what they do (actually committing to a purchase).
  • Test your processes. It will give you an opportunity to test the logistics of operations for the early days of your business, including your order process, payment processing, fulfilment and returns policies.
  • Smooth cashflow. If you are having to buy a batch of materials for making your product, or invest in technology to deliver your service, then you can be confident that income will follow soon after.

Considerations

However, before you start taking pre-orders, here are a few things you need to consider.

  • Careful communication. Ensure that customers know that these are pre-orders and make any long delivery times very clear to avoid any frustration. Keep your customers regularly updated on progress. Many customers will be patient and understanding that as a new business or with a new product, not everything can be expected to run perfectly. But remember at this point to manage expectations of when your orders will be delivered, don’t overpromise, and advise of any changes as soon as you’re aware.
  • Offering incentives. It may be worth offering a small incentive to pre-order - such as a discount on the product or free-shipping.
  • Taking payments. Decide whether you will take full payment up front, take a deposit with balance on shipment, or only take payment when you dispatch the goods (if you are using an online marketplace, rather than your own ecommerce site you will be required to follow their policies)
  • Financial projections. When working out financial calculations remember that out of your pre-orders of any standard products or services, you will have some cancellations and inevitably some returns and refunds - it’s best to overestimate this than underestimate it and plan a clear policy for managing this. The policy will vary according to whether your products are standard or bespoke created to order. To build goodwill in the early days you’ll need to be as flexible as possible.

8. Final launch

As already mentioned, there are several possible aims you could have for launch.

  • You might want a big splash and as many sales as possible as quickly as possible, in which case organising an event, and generating some local press coverage would be a great approach.
  • Alternatively, you might want to soft-launch and start trading more gradually to make sure your operations are set up to cope. To achieve profile without being overwhelmed, you could use any limitation as an asset. For products, you could release a limited first batch - once it’s gone it’s gone. Or, for services, take a limited number of appointments.

Once you’re up and running, encouraging reviews and word-of-mouth recommendation will be an important part of successful organic growth of your business. If you have a stand-out offering you deliver well, sometimes this can happen without you doing very much!

For more complex products and services, asking for customer case studies can be very useful. Many businesses support this by using review sites and encouraging customers to leave reviews to help a new business or product establish credibility quite quickly. Our guide to managing online reviews will help you get started.

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