People might think that the hardest part of launching your own business is having the courage to do it. While that’s definitely something that challenges you, especially first-time founders like myself, it’s nothing in comparison to the next step you must take: figuring out how to find and recruit your first clients. Many smart entrepreneurs have failed with their important businesses because they didn’t do the necessary marketing work to bring the right people to them. Rather than sit on my hands and hope during that initial era, I decided I had to dig in and get my hands dirty by learning the basics of digital marketing.

As someone with some experience in real estate and finance before I started my own business, SquareFoot, a new kind of commercial real estate company, I thought I knew a fair amount. I could understand an office space or a property or a neighborhood unlike most others. What I didn’t know, however, was how to build a website that would appeal to people and make them want to convert into clients to work with me. I suspected that if I could get in front of them, they’d see the value of the services I and my team of in-house brokers could deliver. But if they didn’t know where to look, or who to turn to, I didn’t have a striking chance.

I turned to Google to help fill in these gaps in my own education. Thankfully, these resources were available for free – which was good for me because I was operating on a tight budget. I invested time and attention toward learning about SEO and inbound marketing, and I took seriously the thought about how to create a site that was a destination. Even if our traffic numbers might not ever compete with the bigger players, I could optimize the site experience for those who I believed would benefit from stumbling across us.

At the time, you could scroll through and search for residential listings online on several sites for available homes in your area. I realized that nothing like it existed yet for commercial listings. So I set out to create it, not only to bring more transparency to the industry, but also to show that technology has a place in the modern era to disrupt the traditional way of operating. My hunch paid off almost immediately; indeed, people were searching online for information about which office spaces were available for them to tour and to sign up for and also what they’d cost. As the clients became more informed on their own, they trusted our resources for information and turned to our team of brokers to help close the deals on their behalf.

More than that listings platform, we rolled out an accompanying blog with additional articles that outlined the process and explained industry jargon to make the whole experience – online to offline – feel more manageable. Our online efforts gave us credibility, and the in-person portion echoed and complemented that standard that had been set. Nobody else in the industry was relying on inbound success to drive the right clients to them in this way. They matched perfectly the fit for what we sought, too, as these companies tended to be along similar models and possessed similar strengths to our own. We saw some of ourselves in their space concerns, celebrating with them the growth they’d experienced to have to seek a new office space at that time. These early clients helped us shape our vision and our value proposition, especially in comparison to others.

As we have grown, we’ve taken on more formally some marketing experts to lead this area of the business. But I remain as involved and as interested as I can be to support the team, as I know how valuable this inbound marketing function has been to get us to where we are. The advice that I’d give to other entrepreneurs first setting out in their various industries is to consider whether there are people at the current time looking for and hoping for someone to capture them and give them the products or services they have long sought but couldn’t find. If they’re searching online for answers, you want to be the first result in front of them. If you can achieve it, high-intent leads will come to you, which will help dilute the costs of acquisition you’re making through other channels. People who walk through the front door are also more likely to turn into clients for you sooner than later.

These days, SquareFoot does more than only inbound. But we are taking what we learned from those early days as we build out the future. It was all possible because I, as the CEO, was willing to acknowledge areas of growth to invest in. More executives should follow suit.

Jonathan Wasserstrum, SquareFoot Founder / CEO, has worked for 12 years in commercial real estate and eight years with digital marketing.