There are many strategies for customer development, and here is another one: start a company blog focused on the problem you hope to solve and the people you hope to solve it for.
In this context, your purpose with the blog is not to get vast amounts of traffic, but rather to help you connect with and learn from lots of interesting people. If you do get traffic and SEO, so much the better, but you need to decide whether you want to allocate the resources required to fully chase those things.
With Aprizi we started The Tail. I interview folks in and around our key sectors of e-commerce. I interview shop owners and indie designers and even entrepreneurs focused on this space. We talk about their personal story, successes and challenges. Now, I might be able to get some of their time without the The Tail, but with the blog I give them something back (publicity and SEO). It helps to build the relationship, and relationships make the world go ’round. If you are trying to help someone, they are more apt to want to help you.
You can also use your blog to learn in areas beyond customer development. I wanted to learn more about small business SEM, so put on my blogger-journalist hat and interviewed the super-smart execs at Clickable for a story that could help other small business owners as well.
To make this work, you need the blog to look and sound very professional. Tee up some good first interviews based on existing relationships, so that the next wave of people can look, as they decide whether to do an interview with you, and say, “it might be a small blog, but the quality is high, including the people they have been talking to.”
For those of us who have never been journalists, it is very time consuming. I post once a week, wish I had time for two, and have a backlog of stories to write up at any point in time.
The last thing I will mention is that your blog can also help your relationships with other bloggers in your space. Having now been part of 3 distinct blogging communities, I have seen over and over again that bloggers are welcoming, rather than competitive, to new voices as long as you handle yourself with grace and generosity. It is harder to build relationships with bloggers when you are an outsider. This cannot be machiavellian — it must be genuine, but I assume since you are brave enough to start a business that your passion is genuine and deeply-rooted.
That’s all the typing i can manage on my iPad (writing from the train). Looking forward to talking at the NYC Lean Startup Meetup tonight!