When starting a new ecommerce business, you need to learn how to sell things online—and your first sales are the toughest but most important. They are the sales that get momentum going, help you refine your marketing strategy and iron out kinks in your operation. Naturally though, your first sales will be some of the hardest to obtain.
In this post, we’re going to show you ten ways to go get your very first customers. This will get you started on the right path and most importantly, help you better understand what works and what doesn’t for your online store.
Your goal: Make 10 sales
Your goal is to get ten sales using each of the methods below in the order listed. Try not to skip to the next task until you have received an order from the previous. Your goal beyond getting your initial sales is to understand how each of the channels work for you and your brand, as well as their level of difficulty.
Are you ready to get your first sales?
1. Send an email to your pre-launch list
We’ve discussed it previously on the Shopify blog, but generating buzz and an email list, even a small one, is an important first step to launching your business. If you built a pre-launch list, then you’re going to want to email this list before you do any other tactics. These people will likely be your most qualified leads when starting your online store since these people have already raised their hands with interest and gave you their email to hear more.
You can use a service like Klaviyo or any one of the other great email marketing services in the Shopify App Store to build and send an email to your pre-launch list announcing your launch.
If you didn’t build a pre-launch list, you can move onto the next tactic.
2. Sell to friends and family in person
The most basic tactic for making your first sales is to get a friend or family member to legitimately purchase from you. This doesn’t mean guilt-tripping your mother into purchasing a product she can never use. What you want to do is think about and seek out a person from of your family or friends that would actually appreciate and use your product. Try connecting with them personally, ask them for a few minutes and bring by your product.
If you’re on the Shopify platform, you can use the Shopify POS mobile app and free card reader to create the order and accept payment in person, saving your friend or family member shipping costs.
3. Run a contest or giveaway
Let’s be honest, giveaways have always been a great way to get eyeballs on a new product. Although it can be argued that giveaways mostly encourage interaction from people looking for a deal, if done correctly, the viral nature of a contest can garner a lot of initial traffic and word of mouth, expanding the presence and knowledge of your store and its products.
There are some really great Shopify apps out there that help enhance your giveaways and expand their reach by giving participants contest entries based on them sharing your store/products on social media.
4. Strategically sell to friends through social channels
Ok, so previously you convinced a friend or family member to buy from you in person. Maybe you were hanging out with them, or you targeted one of them at a get-together or party. Now, it’s time to dip your toes in into social media. If you’re like most people, you’re on Facebook.
So how do you strategically sell to friends on Facebook?
First, before you go announcing your store and products to everyone, try taking a smarter, more targeted approach. You can use Facebook’s powerful social graph search to find people that are most likely interested and more likely to purchase your products by searching for keywords related to your products.
That’s exactly what Noah Kagan did when he was trying to validate his idea for a subscription beef jerky business.
"I searched my Facebook graph for people who like paleo, health or jerky. I had a few friends and messaged them."
Once you’ve identified the friends on your friends list with some potential level of interest in your product, you'll want to reach out to them and message them personally.
Additionally, after you've tried the targeted approaching above, you can try the broader shotgun approach and make a few status updates to announce to your Facebook friends your new store. Since these people are friends and family, you'll want to consider also providing a friends and family discount if it makes sense to you.
5. Sell on eBay and other marketplaces
Being effective as an ecommerce entrepreneur means testing everything, this includes testing other channels like marketplaces. Sites like eBay and even Craigslist can be great places to get some of your initial sales. These are ideal when starting because these marketplaces already have traffic and people searching for products. This provides you with a boost when first starting out and while you work on building your SEO and organic search results on Google.
Bonus: For more information on the pros and cons of selling on other marketplaces, check out: The Pros and Cons of Selling on Amazon and eBay.
6. Become part of the Reddit community
We’ve mentioned Reddit before, and for good reason. Reddit is a massive community of smart people, and they divide themselves into niche specific subreddits based on their interests. With thousands of subreddits, you’re sure to find a niche specific community that likely has a high level of interest in your products.
It’s important to note that you can’t just go in thinking you can sell your products in these subreddits. That would be like walking into a party that you weren't invited to and trying to sell people a watch from your open trench coat. To make Reddit work for you, you must become part of the community and contribute. The payoff is not only potential sales to a highly targeted group of people, but also a community of like minded people you can build some great relationships with.
Bonus: Beardbrand became part of the entrepreneurship community on Reddit by providing insights into growing his business and how others could build one. Check out his post on building a brand which garnered a lot of attention from the Reddit community.
7. Launch a few Facebook ads
Stepping in at sales challenge number seven is to use Facebook’s native advertising platform to make a sale. Facebook allows some of the most precise ad targeting features of any platform and is definitely a channel all ecommerce entrepreneurs should try.
Keep in mind that although Facebook ads offer some great targeting options, you really need to spend some time thinking about your target market, their lifestyle, the things they like and the things they don’t like in order to find a good fit with your advertisements. When you first start advertising on Facebook, you’re likely going to pay a considerable amount for your first customers. Expect this, and spend some time tweaking your campaign and monitoring results.
Remember, your first sales shouldn’t be about profitability. They should be about finding your product/market fit, and acquiring your first customers to refine your advertising, shipping, fulfillment and customer service strategy, and experience.
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8. Utilize Instagram Paid Shoutout's
Instagram is a highly targeted visual marketing channel. Increasingly, brands are using influential account for sponsored product posts to get in front of lot’s of eyeballs. The key here is to find large accounts (50,000-500,000 followers) and pay them to feature an image and caption of your choosing.
Pricing ranges based on the account and the number of followers, however, it’s many times cheaper than any other advertising channel.
Bonus: To learn more about how to find and approach large account for paid shoutout, as well as other Instagram strategies, check out: How to Get More Followers on Instagram.
9. Set up Google Ads
Google Ads is one of the most established advertising networks online. It’s search (intent) based advertising so if you have a new product that no one has ever heard of before, you may want to consider skipping this Ads as a viable marketing channel for you. For everyone else, Google Ads can be a little complex and intimidating to get started on, however, there are plenty of guides online that can help.
The key to success with Google Ads is constant monitoring and tweaking on your campaign. Just throwing a campaign up there isn’t likely to be a winning strategy. Remember, just like Facebook ads, you initial costs to acquire you first customer might be pricey, they may even exceed the total price of your product. But again, you goal should be to learn more about each channel and not necessarily profitability at the start.
Bonus: Check out our Google Ads Playbook.
10. Write an outreach blog post
An outreach blog post is a post that usually highlights, quotes or features other influential people in your niche. These types of blog posts are a popular tactic to begin building relationships with influential people that matter in your niche and to (hopefully) get them to share your blog post with their audience.
To start, you’ll want to make sure you craft a blog post with a purpose and that truly adds value. To do this, you’ll want to write a blog post related to your product or niche and include links, quotes or profiles of influential people that are related to your niche.
Keep in mind that when quoting or linking to influencers, you’ll want to start somewhat small, since you're still brand new. Look for influencers with blogs that have influence but aren't so big that your post and Tweets to them will go unnoticed.
Once you've written the post, you'll want to send a personal email to the people you highlighted in your post and let them know that you like their work and have included them in your most recent post. It's usually best not to ask for anything in return (to share it), rather, let them decide on their own regard. If the post was good, there's a good chance they will share it.
As an additional benefit, this blog post will start to become part of your SEO. Remember, the more you write, the more there is for Google and other search engine to crawl and deliver as a potential result to someone’s search.
Bonus: Get just one referral
If you’ve gotten this far, you should have a few sales under your belt. Your final bonus challenge is to get one referral sale. How? First, through each of your previous sales, you should have provided a superior experience that hopefully will translate into natural word of mouth referrals for your store, however, for this challenge, you’ll need to do some hard work.
Your task is to email or call each of your previous sales personally and ask them about their experience with your store. Ask for any feedback on the sale and your product. Finally, ask them if they know anyone else they can refer you to that you can connect with that would also be interested in your product.
Followup with any referrals by email using the subject line: “Referred by (name of person that gave you their name)”.
Your first sales are some of the most important ones. They ignite the engines and get momentum going. The most important them to keep in mind is that your first sales will be some of the hardest while you're trying to find you way and understand the marketing recipe that works for your particular business and niche. Don't be afraid to spend some money and give out a few discounts to get that initial traction. Profitability will come in time as you fine tune your business, your offerings, your product/market fit and your marketing activities.