Ask HN: We have the expertise but no clients. How to reach them?

Lots of condescending negativity in the comments here. Although a lot of it is true, it’s not necessarily helpful.

I’ve been through this exact frustration, read everything there is on the topic, and have discovered things that work and things that don’t.

First and foremost – DO NOT go hire anyone to do this for you. No one can. You MUST learn to sell your own products and services, there is no way around it. And no one can do it better than you.

Second, avoid paid advertising before you’ve learned how to generate high-ticket sales WITHOUT it.

Paid ads and sales people are for scaling only, once you’ve got your offer and your messaging down to a proven working system.

The good news is, you can get started easily and you can see results quickly, without spending a fortune on anyone or anything.

If you’d like some hand-holding through this, ping me at

This is good advice. When you are just two people doing consulting services then you need to do your own sales probably starting with a bunch of cold calls.

This is an incredibly common story among people in tech who learn the skills to build great things and believe that’s enough to start a company. Being good at building tech is only half the story. You can write the best code, build the best apps, and design the most amazing UX, but if you can’t market your business and sell to people you won’t make any money. To run a successful company you need to be good at getting your message in front of people who buy what you’re selling.

I don’t have an answer beyond the advice that you should always be marketing, generating leads, and selling even when you think you have years worth of work in the pipeline.

Not to mention that it’s a common misconception in technology that a company creates value by shipping increasing complexity to the customer. I.e. “this is what we have built, this is how we know how to extend it with more features, now let’s figure out how to sell that.”

Starting with an idea and trying to market it is the opposite of what to do. Instead, figure out what problems your potential customers have (by talking to them!) and then set about solving those problems with as little technology and ceremony as possible.

Once you’re done with that, your potential customers are practically already lined up, because they were the ones who ordered your solution in the first place.

Edit: The key thing is that in the initial exploration of the problem space, you are not selling anything. Those discussions are all about the potential customer. You have to put yourself into their minds and view yourself from the outside.

They will be really insecure. Both because they are not ready to buy something any time soon, and because they don’t want to reveal sensitive information to an arbitrary third party.

You know that you care about them and their business deeply, so it’s easy for you to assume that everything you say comes from a good place. They don’t know that yet – and worse, they’re used to awful salespeople that just want to trick them into buying more complexity – so they will interpret everything you say in the most dismissive way possible. You have to show that you’re different and that you’re not in it to sell stuff, but that you have a genuine interest in understanding their business, in which they are the expert.

This is seriously hard but something that can be practised.

That is an option, but that person could walk away at any moment and you’d be left with no one in the business who has relationships with the companies or people that you build things for. That represents a high level of risk. Ideally you need someone at a founder level who will maintain those relationships. For most tech startups that means one or more of the technical people is going to have to take a step back from technical work and move more in to marketing and networking.

When I hear founders talk about starting companies so they can “give up the 9-5 grind” and “spend more time coding and less time in ‘pointless’ meetings” I hear alarm bells. Someone in the business has to actively enjoy meeting customers and discussing what they need for any tech company to succeed.

Yes Marketing is the main challenge as you say, not technology ( for us ).
Searching LinkedIn is our only bet which is difficult.
Also we think posting google ads won’t be of much use. Am I mistaken?

Funnily, the reverse is not true:

You can write the worst code, build the worst apps, and design the most terrible UX, but if you can market your business and sell to people you can still make money.

Talk as much as you can to your potential customers about their problems in your area of expertise & try to best align. Try to identify, understand and solve points-of-friction from these conversations.

Where to find potential customers? I’d try in following order:
– Talk to existing customers / contacts for referrals
– Talk to your past colleagues / friends for referrals
– Quality cold emails with decent research & pre-work
– Hang out on social wherever your potential customers hang-out and engage in meaningful conversations.

You may not strike success right away but do persist & keep identify what’s working / not working. Follow-up regularly. If above gets tiring once-in-a-while – write content that can market your expertise.

Background : Been offering website speed / scalability services expertise for 3+ years.

I am going to be blunt. If you can’t get the people you used to work for to hire you or recommend you to their contacts then you are going to fail. Get on the phone to everyone you have ever worked for (assuming you left a good impression) and chase those leads.

Our existing client is very happy with our quality of service. However we never approached them directly about referring or providing us leads. Show we do that?

You should ask for referrals and you should also ask if you can use them as a case study for your website. After referrals and case studies you should probably divide your time between sales calls, cold emails and content marketing, i.e. white papers on technical topics, blog posts, short videos on your topic of expertise. Better badly produced videos that a potential customer can find than planned well produced ones they can’t find. If you’re confident enough in your skills as a trainer giving classes/courses in person is a wonderful way to build a name and helps a great deal with the book. It is very good to have a book you authored on the topic, even if it is a slim book. Slim books can be the basis for expensive courses, which both make money and serve as advertising.

Exactly. For the past decade, we have been in a declining economy with no upward mobility for individuals.
So anyone who has money now already has an existing network of suppliers to keep their business running smoothly. They don’t need new suppliers.
Those who have money by now don’t need your expertise. If you don’t have connections by now, you have no chance.

The game of capitalism is over and the results are in. If you’re a billionaire, congrats, you won the game!
If you don’t have your own successful business, you lost the game!

The existing big players have all the customers. But the reason for that in this niche is the clients are hospitals, clinics etc., who are not always willing to search for better and affordable alternatives than what everyone around them is using.

That’s the reality in every industry right now. The financial structures and power structures have interlocked. Companies will use inferior products because their business relationships are not based on merit but on personal connections between company directors.

Companies everywhere are using inferior products and inferior processes. It’s obvious even in academia. Social networking is the only force which drives business nowadays. Social networks are not based on skills, they’re based on kin selection. If you want to get business from psychopaths, you need to be a psychopath (or act like one).

Faking psychopathy worked for me. My bosses didn’t like me for years when I was a nice guy trying to make things better, never promoted me then one day I blew up and quit the company in a really bad way which probably scared the crap out of them, then they ended up indirectly helping me with my next venture. Maybe they did it out of fear but it worked.

It’s not about value creation, it’s about being an asshole. Assholes respect assholes.

I’ve never been in your exact position and won’t claim to be an expert but I have a fair bit of sales experience and a few close friends who’ve started their own businesses. One thing that stood out to me is that if I were to stumble across your website I’d have no idea what you’re actually providing or looking to provide. It could easily be my personal lack of healthcare industry knowledge and not an issue for your target market. My advice would be not to try and rethink the strategy that seems I see as “if you have a tech need in the medical field, we can handle it” and create something specific. Find a specific problem, create something that solves it, and sell that. Once you have customers for that you can move on to try and grow your business with them. The other big thing is with a field with such sensitive data as the medical field, you need to establish some level of trust and a relationship before a business like a hospital is going to take a gamble like that.

Meta-advice, don’t take all the advice here too seriously 🙂 People here don’t know you situation as well as you do, and following too many different advice will lead you to not have any consistent direction.

So here are my humble thoughts on the website. I have no expertise in healthcare technology, so maybe that’s the reason, but I could not understand what types of problems you are solving and what you are doing from your website.

1. For example, ‘Reimagining Healthcare’ is an empty phrase. All your sentences seem vague to me: “Comprehensive Healthcare Solutions and Integrations with FHIR, HL7 and SMART”, are you consulting on how to create these solutions? are you developing these solutions? are you selling a created solution? Are you integrating somebody’s else solution?

2. There is not a lot of connection to your company in your texts:
> Healthcare Data Interoperability and Analytics
> Standards like SMART and FHIR allow healthcare providers to store and share data in an interoperable manner which enables organizations to derive insights to provide effective care efficiently.

This is a good description of these standards and why they are important, but what is your connection here? If you are using these standards, then mention it directly. Maybe something like this is better:
> We use standards like SMART and FHIR to allow healthcare providers…
All other texts in Services section have the same problem.

3. I don’t understand the Solutions section. It looks like a collection of icons and slogans. Let’s take one example: Cloud. So I can guess that you are developing your solutions to be deployed on the cloud. But why make clients guess? Write it directly and mention why this is good. “Our solutions are deployed on cloud. This is good because <...>.”.

4. This is just a suggestion. I would add a section of Problems that you can solve. Client come to your sites with problems. So I would write: “1. You have problem X? We can solve it by doing Y.”

Overall, you have to think from the eyes of the client. What is the client looking for?

But again, I do not know anything about your field. I don’t know who your clients, what problems they have, and what technology you are building. So you should be very quick to ignore this advice if you think I don’t have the necessary understanding.

But regardless, good luck 🙂

EDIT: typos

I do work in a similar space. You need to talk to the safe contacts within your clients who may know other people in the industry who are working on similar things and ask for intros.

I’m sorry to say this but, in my experience targeting very niche needs, a well targeted Google Adwords campaign is hard to beat and gives you the data to help structure the rest of your marketing. If you have the expertise you will learn to get the search terms right.

I had the completely opposite idea and thought google ads will be of little benifit. Thank you for the advice, I will try adwords.

There is a small amount of people searching for what you offer. Adwords lets you be there when they search for it at a relatively low cost in a very short timeframe. Hard to beat really.

Random internet advice (not an expert) is to call everyone you know who might know someone. Also would it be so bad to take a contract from a job site or even a job in the intermediate time. Maybe one of you does a job the other biz dev.

How to get clients.

Or put another way, how to have a business.

The hardest question of all.

As Paul Graham says sell something people want.

The issue is these prospective clients are generally hospitals using an existing EMR system. And when they need some custom solution then they tend to connect to their provider instead of giving us the deal.

Well, what about the decision makers in those hospitals? Do they have accounts on LinkedIn?
If they don’t, where could you meet them, maybe some industry fairs or conferences?

We attend conferences such as FHIR DevDays which is more about the technical aspects and attended by less prospective clients and more market competitors. The decision makers in hospitals are hard to contact. But you are right, probably some conference/fair might be there with better target audience.

The clients we started with are online nutritionist and dietitian providers. The had to integrate with FHIR to get referrals from other medical practitioners.

Similarly potential clients are hospitals, clinics, or EMR development companies seeking solutions on FHIR.

Hey there, just giving food for thought – the closest i’ve worked with healthcare marketing was media buying for big pharma.

This is your website claim.

>Reimagining Healthcare & Digitizing Businesses

>Comprehensive Healthcare Solutions and Integrations with FHIR, HL7 and SMART Digitizing Businesses through Cloud, Mobile, and Automation.

But since you have this insight from your customers:

>The clients we started with are online nutritionist and dietitian providers. The had to integrate with FHIR to get referrals from other medical practitioners.

Wouldn’t it be better to point that you’re helping healthcare businesses get more referrals by making them integrated with standards?

Something like:

>We will help your healthcare business generate more referrals

>By setting you up to standard integrations – FHIR, HL7 and SMART – and make you more effective with Automation, Cloud and Mobile.

This was just something I thought quickly, the point is to show how you’ve added value to other businesses. This is closer to their reality, just like you, they might be struggling to get referrals and their lack of integrations could be costing them business.

Good luck 🙂

Just out of curiosity: why doubling the amount of human resources will fix the issue? What is the indicator that points that they have an HR bottleneck?

Well, a) the textbook answer for not enough sales is to add sales power
b)any important function should have at least 2 ppl (so if one is at a trade fair, sick holiday etc, the other can continue) and also the team can discuss ideas how to progress

Of course also one of the programmers can take over this role. (Aptitude assumed)

that’s one way.

It’s a tricky position as you want somebody with the right mix of tech knowledge, business knowledge and bullshiting ability.

Sadly, in my limited experience, there seems to be a large amount of people that excel at the latter but not so much at the other categories.