People think of the first sale as being the hardest. The first sale is actually the most exciting and after you make it, you start a lifelong addiction to growth. The first sale is what separates you from the guys with just ideas. You've built something. And you sold it. You took action. You got to where most of the "idea guys" only ever dream to be.
Here are two things I know:
1) The first sale tends to be the point of failure for many businesses. If they don't make that first sale, they get stuck in a cycle of trying, then failing, then trying, and this goes on for a little bit until they give up entirely. The early fails are motivation killers. This is not where you should get stuck. It would be a waste. I failed several times before I got my first sale, but I kept going.
2) I remember what it was like for me. I tried many things that didn't work and many things that did and I would have loved to have a guide that sort of coached me through the process, helped me think right about my ideas, and kept me going.
So I want this article to be what helps you make that first sale, and then I want you to come back so we can talk about hitting other marks like your first million in revenue, your first ten million and so on until you've outgrown me.
Build Your Setup
The good news is, if you have a great setup, getting the first sale will be easy. The reality is that it's pretty hard to get and sustain sales when you don't have a good setup.
Your setup means 3 things and 3 things only:
- Good product
- Good site design & copy
- Quality leads and good traffic that has the ability to test your setup
Quality Leads & Traffic
Quality leads and traffic will tell you if your site and product are good enough to buy. Will any of those guys you send to your site actually convert?
You know that your leads are "quality" when they adequately represent your ideal customer and you know where to find those leads. I want you to keep in mind, though: ideal customers sometimes reveal themselves after you've made many sales. You don't know your ideal customer right now. Think of them as a rare and beautiful unicorn that you get to meet when your setup is done and at its best.
Why do I say this? Well, many businesses say: "Oh, I know who I want my customer to be. Middle-aged men in corporate America looking for the best ways to save for their retirement" and they build their platforms and messaging based on this archetype, but wind up attracting young teachers instead and this winds up being their most loyal, highest paying, and most successful customer segment. So, bottom line? You don't know your ideal customer yet. You'll figure out who you can best sell it at the best return on investment for your ad dollars… and for now, let that be your ideal customer.
So now we want to get "good traffic." It's people who are:
- Interested in your product
- Don't bounce off the page after they get to your landing page or homepage
- Give you their email address
- Actually buy something or do something else on your site
Your traffic can come from an email list you build, Facebook audiences you target, pay-per-click advertising on the right keywords, and - more rarely these days - display ads on the right sites.
I got started with tons of traffic generation via pay per click. At the time, traffic was cheap, and competition was low - so I had an easy time. Today, not so much. Pay per click has become very competitive for my industry. I got a lot of traffic from affiliates after I launched our affiliate program and started recruiting them. They were finding the best traffic sources and sending me great customers. In any case, you'll need to find a traffic source that lets you get qualified, targeted enough traffic, without breaking the bank.
Qualified traffic can also give you a lot of information about what's wrong with your site. Did I lose my visitors at the ordering wizard? Did they bounce right off the homepage, turned off by an image or some copy? I was testing and trying to figure out this stuff as soon as I could. And you should too. I'll point you in the right direction.
Good Site & Good Copy
I think now is a really good time to check out our video (there's also an article if you'd prefer to read it) called "Your Site Is Ugly." I cover what it means to have a "good" site, give you tons of examples, and show you what good copy looks like.
For now, I'll just tell you that this is critical because whatever visitors check out your site are evaluating it, your copy, and your brand in under 30 seconds. If you don't make the cut because of bad layout choices or generic, uninspiring copy, you've wasted time and money. And you're not gonna get that first sale.
Product | Make Sure It's Great
This is crucial. I skipped this in the very beginning and I paid for it years later. I was selling a product that was good but not great. This meant that I had to compete based on price as I grew and competition caught up. Things got tougher. Everyone can compete on price. It's a frag fest.
So just keep this in mind: it's hard to grow without a great product. Growing with a mediocre product is expensive. You have to pay to say what your customers could be saying for you. Then you have to pay more to get new customers (because your reputation won't be that great) at the same time that you're paying to keep existing customers from leaving.
- Offer a Free Trial (or a free sample) on the basis that you get feedback when it's over. You can make this a link on your site, then email anyone who signs up with a link to a survey about your product.
- Ask your friends. Seriously. Ask them what they think of your products/services. Have real questions for them like, "what do you think the weakest part of my product is?" or, "What would stop you from buying/using/loving our product?" Don't leave it open-ended or you might wind up getting a cop-out answer. Watch them use it. Is it any good? Does it help them do what you promised? What can you improve?
- Look at your competition and be honest. If their product is better than yours, why? How are you going to compensate for it?
Improving your product isn't always about making things bigger and better. Sometimes, it has to do with the surrounding experience. Credit cards are largely similar, and even banks are largely similar but people talk about the responsiveness of their branch, how much they like their agent, and how flexible the payment plans. Or, they talk about whether their card is heavy, made of metal, and that it grabs the attention of the people around them, making them feel better. All this has nothing to do with the card itself and the service it provides.
Site | Analytics
I'll admit it. This section is basically just a Public Service Announcement for getting started early with analytics. GET STARTED EARLY and add Google Analytics to your site now. It's so helpful down the line to know your traffic, your conversions, and trends. If you get used to looking at this stuff now, it'll be second nature when it's time to actually test.
So, what should you be looking at right now, before you even have sales?
Your bounce rate. This is a big indicator of:
a) how good your traffic is and
b) how good your site is.
The average recorded bounce rate for all sites is around 50% (it depends on who you ask, but it's usually around this range). This means that half of your traffic leaves your site before ever clicking anything or exploring what you have to offer. Anything wildly above this and you have a problem.
Make sure that BEFORE you make your first sale, you add Google Analytics to monitor your traffic sources, conversions, and bounce rate.
Leads | Build A List
In order to make a sale, you need leads. When I say "list" here, I just mean email. You know why? People don't change their email addresses. They go in and out of Facebook, they add and drop Pinterest, but their email IDs stay (for the most part).
Your goal right now is to get 100 subscribers. Focus on email until you've reached that goal and you will find yourself getting your first several sales.
Setup an account with something that will allow you to start collecting email addresses, but that will be free for a while. Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers so it's perfect for right now. Mailchimp is good because it has pre-designed opt-in forms and widgets you can use in WordPress.
Give something away in exchange for an email. Figure out what your visitors are looking for and give it to them for free. Relevant eBooks with answers to questions they have or didn't know they had, or a course on things your customers want to do, discounts, and special offers work really well. We've tried this with a free trial of our hosting product, but it was really successful in getting us email addresses and leads. We've started giving away whitepapers on subjects important to bigger businesses (like downtime) in exchange for email and have received several qualified leads this way too.
Start a blog. This is a good idea for leads in general, but it can also be a great source of qualified email subscribers. The better your articles/posts, the easier it will be to interest people in signing up. You either need an opt-in form in a visible area on your blog. These work really well when they are sticky and move with scrolling so that the opt-in form can be seen at all times. You can also try putting an opt-in opportunity right under the title of your blog posts by writing something like: "Get updates & new posts first here." Popups where you interrupt people from reading and ask them to opt-in can work okay, but it's annoying and your content has to be really good for it to outweigh the Nuisance Factor and actually get an opt-in. You can also place opt-in opportunities directly into your blog text at opportune moments.
Speaking of opportune moments, if you like what you're reading here and want to subscribe to our email list, click here. :)
Tweak your site. Your site should be geared toward getting email leads because not everyone is ready to buy when they hit your site. This means that you should have an email opt-in link in your header, footer, menu, and have an "exit pop" that asks people for their email address before they leave your site. You can also do the opposite of an "exit pop" and have a "welcome pop" (also known as a "Welcome Gate") that greets people when they first get to your site. Need help with these things? Optinmonster.com has options for WordPress and standalone sites and SumoMe.com is popular as well.
There are so many more things you can do to get leads. We'll have other articles on this coming up, but for now - just trying these steps will get you somewhere.
Leads | How to Really Get Started With Social Media
It's no secret to my team that social media marketing doesn't impress or excite me. In fact, I think it can be a big waste of time. Many entrepreneurs would debate this with me, and there are exceptions. But most of them run bullshit "lifestyle" businesses and know nothing about really growing a business.
That being said, we're only looking at making our first sale, and social media is a good source for that. It's cheap, accessible, and can help us get that very important first step.
OK. You're going to have a checklist of things you need to do to get your first sale via social media:
- Get your business name across every social media platform you think you'll use (even if you have to put underscores/hyphens/state abbreviations in it to be able to register it). Even though I'm not so into social media, I did this for Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and YouTube.
- Start a blog. We talked about this above a bit in terms of getting you email subscribers, which is good. And blogs also get you traffic - especially when your content is good.
- Take a serious look at Facebook. This is the best way to start and see results without a ton of experience.
Facebook is great for getting the word out about a new business.
The steps below are going to show you how to get qualified traffic to your site from Facebook. We're going to create what's called a "Click to Website" ad, which is the best kind of ad to start with. You've probably seen them before.
Here's an example:
Before I tell you how to set one of these up, let's break this one down.
Call To Action.
This whole ad is clickable. Anyone who's interested can click anywhere and be taken to www.generalassemb.ly.
The headline has a typo, yes, but it's direct and to the point. Lots of people want to learn coding and would love to take a class.
Do I think this is the best image to use? Not really. But if we think about it as trying to attract the guy who wants to learn coding in the privacy of his own home (notice how the guy in the pic is by himself), maybe this is not so bad.
Offers a Trial/Good Deal.
Try 14 days for free? Don't mind if I do. It's important to make the biggest text on the page count and the Ad title works here.
Meh. "Programming for Non-Programmers" is OK because it gives the idea that it won't be impossible, but "speaking like a developer" and "learning basic programming concepts" are not actual benefits. Make sure your ad text gets people excited and gives them promise of an outcome they actually want. They want to make money being coders. They want to be elevated to a more emplo
How to Create a Click-To-Website Facebook Ad
- What you want to do is design a very basic business page. Add an image for your business that represents your products but isn't too-corporately or salesy. Starbucks' Facebook does a good job of this because they show customers actually enjoying their products or the season that their beverages are representing. Their imagery is very relatable.
- Then, you want to invite your friends to like your business page. All you need are a few to get started. You won't necessarily be advertising to them in the beginning, but you'll have their likes padding your page and making it look like there's at least some activity going on.
- Now, you're going to Create An Ad: https://www.facebook.com/business. The idea is to have your first ad be something that gets the Facebook user over to your website. To do this, you'll have to select your ad type as "Clicks to Website" or "Website Conversions."
- Facebook has an ad-creation form where you choose the page the ad will be associated with (your business/fan page) and the Call-To-Action text. The default CTA text is "Learn More" and this will actually work well. Most businesses find that this converts better than other text and also better than having nothing at all. It will also prompt you to create a Headline (make sure that it's easy to understand, exciting to the right customer, and - most importantly - gives something away for free!
- You'll also write the ad text which will show up below the image that you use for your ad. This text should absolutely contain some sort of social proof giving people tangible reasons to care. Talk about the person who used your product and saw a difference, talk about the best feedback you've ever received for your product (even if it was from your mom).
- Select your target audience. There are a few ways to do this. You can use Facebook's Target Audience wizard which will help you select people by location, interests, education, etc. OR, you can go to the pages of your competitors and look at their fans. This might be a lengthy process, but it will pay off if you select the right people who are already interested in the types of products you sell. Just make sure you keep it small, and keep it relevant.
- Some tips: Try not to show your ads to mobile traffic (they are often ignored and hard-to-read), and try to pick demographics that make sense for your products. So, college-aged people are maybe not the best target audience for financial products for retirement. Try and get your click-through traffic to do something. This is where "Welcome Pops" come in handy to collect email addresses and where really great site design and copy pays off. If your site is great, the Facebook user might stick around to evaluate you and your products.
After you launch your ad, you should watch your analytics to see what that traffic does. Do they bounce away? Do they linger on the Ordering Wizard page? Google Analytics won't give you insight into what your traffic is doing as well as a product like ClickTale.com, but it's free and it's definitely good enough for now.
Your next big step will be to work with Website Custom Audiences and track your visitors by pixel, but we'll talk more about that in another article.
Leads | Try Affiliate Marketing
Why to Recruit Affiliates
Ahh, affiliate marketing. It's like having a tiny team of marketer-entrepreneurs making you money and making money themselves by selling your product and sending you customers. What could be better?
We grew largely by affiliate marketing in the beginning and I attribute a lot of our initial growth to a few great affiliates. The problem is that it can be very expensive in competitive markets. If it's costing you a lot to get customers, it will cost your affiliates a lot too.
When to Recruit Affiliates
Start trying to find affiliates right away. Some people might not love this idea because you don't know how profitable your business will be before you have customers, but affiliates help you get customers. You can always adjust what you pay your affiliates and what you charge your customers later.
How to Recruit Affiliates
First go to the sites of your competitors and see how they treat their affiliates. I often go through the affiliate programs of our competitors and make sure that we're still on par or better. All you need to do is either search for your competitor's company name and the word "affiliate" or have a look around the site and see if they have "Sell With us" or "Affiliate Program" links in their footer or around the site somewhere.
Something to keep in mind is that affiliates won't be as excited to sell for you in the very beginning when you don't know what your conversion rate is going to be. Because of this, you might have to pay a little bit more than your competitors do - but worry about that when you actually start the recruiting process.
Design a very basic affiliate program.
- A welcome email letting your affiliates know what you're about and how you pay
- A paypal account (or a cj.com account) that you can use to pay your affiliates
- Basic terms and conditions about what constitutes a "sale
- This can include the length of time a cookie can be active and your payout threshold (how much they need to earn before you pay them. Ours is $50).
- You should also have some protection against fraudulent sales: For example, a customer shouldn't be someone who buys and cancels on the same day, because then you'd lose money paying the affiliate)
- Logos or sales materials you've already developed, and a percentage payout that you feel comfortable with.
Our percentage payout is often higher than 200% (that's 2x what the customer pays up front, straight to the affiliate) because we're in a highly competitive market. Yours might be only 25%. Again, check and see what the other guys are doing and find your sweet spot.
- Go to affiliate forums and ask for feedback.
You can just ask them what they think of your products, tell them about the sales tactics you're trying, tell them that you've started thinking through your affiliate program and find out what they think. Some people will stand out to you and you can recruit from there. You can also get some great advice from the guys in the trenches. Some forums include: Associate Programs, Affiliate Spot, Affiliate Talk and Affiliate Programs.
- Use affiliate sites...to find affiliates.
LinkShare.com, CJ.com, and ShareASale.com are all great places to find affiliates for your products.
- Talk to real, live people.
Find people who are selling things online already (you might even know of a few) and ask them if they'd be interested in partnering with you. Alternatively, if you find an affiliate prospect online, try to get on a Skype call with them. This way, you can gauge their commitment to selling your products and start building a personal relationship with them. We have personal relationships with many of our affiliates and that makes them far more motivated to sell for and with us.
Last Tip: Stay Focused
Don't let Shiny New Object Syndrome mess with you. The way to the first sale is FOCUS. Don't let ANYTHING distract you from what you need to do. If it isn't directly related to a goal that you can trace back to getting the first sale, you don't need it. That means, don't focus on getting business cards, a new logo, or anything that doesn't matter.
There are entire industries built off of taking advantage of new businesses and offering them things they don't need now and probably won't need ever. I spent the first year of my business lonely and looking for support in all the wrong places (advisors, new cars, business tools I didn't need yet), when focusing was the only thing really getting me closer to my first sale.
Spend whatever money you have instead on creating a good setup, and generating traffic to it.
The truth is, of course, that staying focused is tough.
Starting a business is tough. It can mess with your mind. The uncertainty, the doubt. You easily drift of thinking that things will not take off and sustain themselves unless you are very, very lucky. Ignore those thoughts. Focus. Control what you can: getting traffic, improving your site, product, and yourself. And your first sale will happen. And many from there.