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Struggling to make your first sale? Here are 11 tips to help you get started

Making the first sale is an important milestone for any new business. Seeing someone hand over their cash in exchange for your product or service is the first sign that your idea could have legs.

But it's not always a straightforward process. Making that first sale can be hard work and, for many, it takes a lot longer than they had anticipated.

Furniture designer John Norman makes bespoke, high-end furniture. He's set up a workshop and website and built an Instagram presence, but still hasn't had any luck when it comes to sales.

'I have gifted a few pieces to a local interior design blogger on Instagram and had a very good response in terms of compliments and encouragement. However, despite some traffic on the website, I haven't had any orders,' he explained.

'I don't want to come across as impatient. I just want to know what could be the reason for this and how to make the next step.'

It's a question that many people ask in the early days of business and it has generated a big discussion over on the UKBF forum. So we've created this checklist to help you secure those first few crucial sales.

1. Refine your buyer personas

Are you clear about who your target audience is? It's vital that you have a clear picture of who will buy your products or services from the very start, otherwise your marketing and sales efforts could go off track.

Creating buyer personas allows you to plot out your key customers and how you can solve their problems.

Personas are fictitious, but they're based on research and data. They typically include:

  • Demographic information like their age, gender and income
  • Background information, like their family, education, typical job and relationships
  • Their goals
  • Their main challenges
  • How you can help them
Most businesses create around three to six different personas, and there are lots of free templates online to help you get started. Once they're established, you can use them to sense check your marketing.

2. Choose the most appropriate social channels

Social channels take a lot of time and effort to build, so make sure you choose the ones that are the best fit for your target audience - not the ones you personally like the most.

If you're selling expensive, high-end products, the young demographic on TikTok may like the look of them. But customers who can actually afford the price tag will likely be on a platform with an older user demographic, like Facebook.

3. Make the most of online reviews

A simple strategy that's worked for @Marketing Hub is to collect and market reviews from all customers.

'We send people to a pinned Facebook post for them to leave their review in the comments section. Then we promote that pinned post through Facebook ads. These ads convert better than any other ads we run.'

If you run a service business, Google Reviews are also a must. Not only do they give you lots of positive testimonials to share, they help to boost your SEO rankings, especially in local searches.

4. Tell your story

Why should people buy into what you're offering? Think about what sets you apart from competitors and tease this out in your marketing messages.

'Sell a story, not the product. People buy WHY you do it, not WHAT you do. The story needs to resonate with your customer and their values and complement their own self image,' advises @Woody19.

'I'd recommend finding a good branding specialist to help work out a compelling value-based story that you can hone your content and images around."

5. Don't dismiss offline marketing

Your website, SEO and social media needs to be working, but don't forget about the power of offline marketing. This is especially important in the luxury market, when people want to touch and see before they buy.

'It's an old fashioned viewpoint but tactile stuff requires customers to see it in the flesh. If you are going to spend your budget, do it where people will be,' @Gill Courage said.

Think about exhibiting in trade shows, local events, craft fairs, exhibitions and open house events. This approach also allows you to talk directly to potential customers and find out what they want, and any reasons why they might not be buying your products.

Use it as an opportunity to do some market research, then refine your offer based on what they tell you.

6. Generate local interest

Building a profile in your local area can be a good starting point for your customer base. Local magazines and papers are always interested in running profile pieces, especially if you have good images of your products to accompany it.

@Smarter Client Attraction thinks it's a good idea to identify local areas in other parts of the country where your target audience live and shop.

'Research affluent villages and areas of the country, then find out about the local print media publications and e-editions and send them an interesting press release. You may be able to get free publicity from being interviewed and have an article written about you.'

7. Build your prospects

Struggling to build a decent prospects list? Offer people something in return to capture the data you need. For example:

  • Create a useful download guide with tips and insights based on the products or services you offer. Set up a basic form on your website to capture names and email addresses in return for the download.
  • Run a giveaway to win one of your products. This could be on your social channels, in a target publication or as a reciprocal promotion with another company. If you go for the final option, select the partner wisely to make sure it enables you to reach your target audience.
  • Use video to showcase your knowledge

8. Use video to showcase your knowledge

Using video can be an effective way to position yourself as an expert and share what you know.

'Video, made correctly, generates more business. We talk about the trinity: inspire, educate and entertain,' says @Paul FilmMaker.

Taking the example of a furniture designer, he advises: '[He should] educate the prospects about how he makes the stuff, make the videos entertaining so viewers keep watching and then inspire. Because inspiration is the spark to get prospects to buy.'

9. Check your pricing against competitors

What is your pricing based on? You need a decent profit margin, but it's also important to understand your market and your competitors' prices.

If potential customers can find five places to buy a similar product and yours is the most expensive, you may need to revise what you charge. If you don't want to, it's time to do a lot more work on positioning your USP to set your offer apart from your competitors.

10. Widen your sales channels

Setting up a website and waiting for the sales to roll in isn't usually a fast-track strategy to success. To increase your reach and rack up sales, you'll need to consider other sales channels. Again, sense check your choices against your buyer personas to ensure your energy is going into the right options.

Here are a few examples:

  • Google Merchant: Get your product information into Google Merchant so it's available to shoppers when they're searching on Google.
  • Facebook or Instagram shop: If you have a business account on either channel, it's essential to back this up with a shop on Facebook and Instagram. Listing all your products makes it easier for people to browse your products without leaving the app. Depending on what you sell, you could also consider Facebook Marketplace.
  • Online marketplaces: Places like Etsy, Not On The High Street and Ebay are an obvious starting point, but also do your research into more niche marketplaces and apps where your target audience is likely to shop.

11. Try affiliate selling

This involves finding affiliate partners who will promote your business and send potential sales your way in return for a commission.

There are many affiliate programmes that you can join to help you get set up with suitable partners. It works by placing an ad on the affiliate's website and then tracking any click throughs that convert to sales on your site.

This can be a useful way to build brand exposure and generate leads. Just make sure you check the affiliates are relevant to your audience and be clear about the commission rates you can afford as these will vary widely.

What's worked for you?

Have any of these activities helped you to make sales? Or did something else secure sales in the early days?

We'd love to hear what else we could add to this list so share your experiences in the comments below, or head to the discussion on the forum.

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