It depends on the product or service that you're offering. The best way to prove a concept is to take orders. Trycelery.com is a great tool for taking pre-orders online without charging customers until the product is ready.
Otherwise, go where your customers are, talk to them, and identify the need that would make them hand over money on the spot.
There is no sure-fire way. As long as you look for these "shortcuts" or "safe" options you will not succeed.
However, I'd advise tapping into the niche where the targets hangs out:
1) sheltered from mass traffic
2) odds are user knows what you're trying to do (first versions are never perfect)
3) they're willing to pay more than others down the line.
Get in front of your users!
As a startup founder, no matter how far it is outside your comfort zone, the best way to get your first customer is by getting in front of people.
I'd suggest joining your local Chamber of Commerce and attending local meetups. In most cities, you should be able to find at least a small group of like-minded people interested in the problem you're solving. If you can't do it in person, consider doing a webinar or Google Hangout instead.
If you know who your user is, your next step is to make sure they understand what you're selling. The best way to do that is by asking smart questions, and ultimately, testing and refining your elevator pitch.
Not up to in-person networking? Find a co-founder who is! ;)
Need help finding meetups? Want to learn how to quickly, easily and inexpensively host a webinar or hangout? Feel free to schedule a call with me for any questions you may have.
Knowing where to reach your potential customers online is key to your success. Consider the scope of the online marketplace and its valuable demographics.
• One out of every 7 people in the world has a Facebook page, but close to 9% of those accounts have been identified as either redundant or inactive
• Nearly 4 in 5 active internet users visit social networks and blogs
• 25% of all female internet users have a Pinterest account
• 97% of consumers search for local businesses online
I recently authored an article on where the best places are online to advertise... http://mvb.me/s/8cf7cb
Begin by shifting your perspective and find a way of putting the target on YOU (aka on the *want* your product or service fills for the user).
When you've decided on a market - invest your resources getting to know the people in it.
Understand them SO well that you know and can articulate what they really want (on an emotional - not necessarily rational - level).
Once you know what they want - match your product (aka what you have for them to buy) with that want.
(And it should go without saying that your product really must do what you claim it does)
Then craft a message that - whether they find you (inbound marketing) or you communicate with them (outbound marketing) - they'll be irresistibly drawn to what you are offering.
Put your message "out there" (i.e. get to work marketing) and see how the market responds.
If you got it even partially right - you'll make some sales.
Of course this is an oversimplification of the steps you take...
But my hope is that you "get" the essence of the proposed shift which is...
Stop thinking like a "marketer" and start thinking like a "customer".
Consider what THEY want (i.e. a solution to a problem) versus what YOU want (i.e. making a sale and a profit)
Lastly consider that there is no "sure-fire" when it comes to true business success.
A large part of what you get compensated for in business is:
(1) finding a risk worth taking then
(2) figuring out how to profitably mitigate it then
(3) taking action and finding out if you were correct.
Let me know if I can be of any further assistance.