How To Make The First Sale For Your Products [Chapter 9]
Table of contents
What’s your dream?
When you decided to start setting up your eCommerce store, what did you picture?
Sales showing up while you slept. Money flowing in while you took the weekend off. Building a business that could support you—with having to deal with the corporate world or a micromanaging boss.
You’ve learned how to build a successful store and find the best products.
But an eCommerce store tutorial wouldn’t be complete without selling. It’s time to make your first sale.
Let’s jump in!
Let’s start with one of the first marketing strategies you probably thought of: social media.
I recommend using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to sell. You might also consider Pinterest if you’re in the food, fashion, or arts, and crafts niches.
There are a few different ways to post on different platforms. But you don’t need to spend countless hours crafting completely different posts for each platform.
In fact, you just need to refine your message for each platform.
How to repurpose messages across social media
To start, develop a powerful message you can deliver about the product you figured out to decide what to sell. It helps to focus on the “why” behind your product, so think of something beyond pure promotion.
You might focus on supporting small businesses, buying healthy products, or encouraging artists to continue their craft.
Now, you’ll need to adapt that post for different social media.
Here’s a tweet from Zapier, the company that links different automatic tools for businesses. It’s short and to the point.
Here’s how they expanded it for Facebook. It’s longer, asks more questions, and includes more details with Facebook’s article metadata.
To save time, repurpose your content like this. Here’s how.
Facebook – Ask questions and engage readers. Encourage reactions, likes, and comments. This will make the post more popular and show up in other news feeds.
Twitter – Keep it short, and post different variations of the same thing throughout the day. Include a few hashtags. (More on that in a minute.)
Instagram – Feature a great picture, and consider adding a filter. Include a lot of hashtags, but don’t worry about a link—Instagram doesn’t allow clickable links in the post itself. You can include it for people to copy and paste (few will), include it in your bio, or just leave it out entirely.
Pinterest – Create an image with overlaid text explaining what you have to offer.
Find what works and do more of it
Don’t waste time with techniques that don’t work. The secret to successful eCommerce promotions on social media—especially ones that drive sales—is testing and improvement.
To start, find all the posts you’ve run in the paste. Pull up Twitter Analytics and learn what’s working and what isn’t.
Be ruthless if a strategy hasn’t worked. If it has (meaning more retweets, comments, clicks, or sales) do more of it.
Look for patterns, like:
- Asking questions
- Posting popular products
- Tweeting techniques for using a product
- How-to and action-based content
- Glamorous product pictures
See what works and find ways to do it more often.
By studying your social media once a month, you can create an upward spiral of success for your promotion and make not just your first sale, but convert lifelong customers.
Find the best hashtags
If you want to find and define target customers(and that’s one of the main goals with social media, isn’t it?), you need to be using hashtags.
When people search for hashtags, they’re more likely to find you if you’re using what’s popular right now.
That’s where a tool called Hashtagify comes it. It shows you how relevant hashtags are linked and gives you suggestions for finding new customers.
Let’s say you sell jewelry and want to see what Etsy jewelry sellers are using. Search for #etsyjewelry, and you get this list of connected topics.
Consider hashtags like #handmade, #shopping, or #handmadejewelry for more customers.
Tell a story
You know who likes buying from a mysterious, faceless company?
Instead, tell your story on social media. You don’t have an eCommerce business because you were bored—something encouraged and inspired you.
(And if it was out of boredom, that’s an interesting story by itself!)
Tell that story and show the behind-the-scenes, real-life story of your store. Candid pictures of you working, handling inventory, or just goofing around with shipping supplies can add a level of humanity to your store that sells like nothing else.
Have a message behind your brand
The most successful eCommerce stores don’t just promote products on social media.
They stand for causes they believe in.
Take outdoor retailer REI’s #OptOutside campaign, where they refused to sell products on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Who would do that?!
Clearly, a company that’s truly on the side of those who love the outdoors. The campaign was wildly successful because REI put their customers above short-term profit.
eCommerce stores have a special advantage in the social media world—you can offer free giveaways of your product.
Sure, it costs some money.
But the perceived value of your product is probably a pretty good deal for you. For example, if you price your product at $50 for free as a giveaway, you might be able to acquire a few hundred new email subscribers and perhaps 10 loyal customers.
But your price to acquire those customers isn’t $5 each, because the product costs you only $30—your cost per customer is actually $3. This is a great way to leverage your profit margin to get new customers.
Treat customers with special deals and discounts
If you want to boost sales with discounts, social media is the place to go.
These types of promotional offers can go viral, with your customers sharing with their friends—who then buy from you.
The best part is that you can then use this as a reason to encourage more people to sign up for your social media since that’s where they’ll learn about deals first.
Today, the internet is ruled by search engines like Google.
If your eCommerce store can land on the first page of Google, you’ll find tons of new traffic and build an audience excited to buy.
This process of getting ranked better by search engines is known as search engine optimization or SEO.
Here’s how you can use SEO to start bringing loads of traffic to your store.
Help readers searching on Google
The best way to find new customers is to help them through content you write.
These can be how-to articles that answer questions (and subtly promote what you have to offer), or they can be lifestyle articles your customers would be interested in.
But don’t expect it to be easy. Creating great content is both the most effective and most difficult SEO technique, according to Ascend2.
Here’s an example of a unique article by eCommerce clothing store Zanerobe, talking about photography.
The same brand image and concept are alive in both the article and Zanerobe’s products—even if the piece never mentions the clothes they sell.
True, this can be difficult to pull off.
If you’re more comfortable, you can just write content that complements your products. The best type of content here is how-to advice.
A great example is the Honest blog, which links helpful content for parents with their all-natural products.
Instead of talking about their clothes, this article offers a printable coloring page.
The connection? Those same superheroes are a pattern on their toddler training pants. And they link to the product page in the article.
It helps parents and promotes their product at the same time.
Target competitor’s sources of links for new opportunities
Helping customers with content isn’t the only way to rank on Google.
When other sites link to you, it’s like a vote for your content. It means Google will prioritize your page when people ask questions related to what you have to sell.
It’s no secret that Google values backlinks above nearly every other factor. So, what’s the secret to getting these coveted links?
And one of the sneakiest but most effective techniques is actually targeting your customers.
Let’s say you sell athletic clothes for women. You could look into Lululemon, which is popular with that demographic.
Search through their backlink profile—that is, what other sites are linking to them—by entering their address in tools like Majestic.
You’ll get a huge list of links you can review.
Majestic costs money. If you want to use a free tool, consider Monitor Backlinks. This lets you check one site per week.
It works much the same way as Majestic.
Once you know who is linking to your competitors, you can target them for linking opportunities.
For example, if a popular fitness blog links to Lululemon often, you can send them free samples for review. A backlink from an authoritative site like that will provide more links, and boost your rankings on Google.
Google and other search engines are starting to prioritize mobile searching more and more.
That means you need to ensure your site works on mobile.
The easiest way to do this is with a responsive template that changes based on the size of the screen. UK clothing retailer Spoiled Brat has a large, visual look for the desktop site.
Tablets get similar, but a trimmed-down view.
And smartphones get a different layout and menu, along with rotating images.
If your site isn’t mobile-ready, make it your top priority to make a sale through SEO traffic.
While you might think running an eCommerce store is all about the product, you’d be wrong. The truth is that to become one of the most successful stores you might actually need to position your brand and get your first sales from their content.
How does content work? Well, there are a few different media you can use. The most common for eCommerce stores is the blog, but you can also make videos or even host a podcast.
The secret to making this work is to be consistent and create valuable content that helps users.
Here are three ways to make the three primary types of content—text, video, and audio—work in your favor.
Write amazing articles, and keep them updated
You might think that once you write a post, it’s dead until the next one comes along.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that you need to keep updating your content.
This serves a few purposes. First, it helps with your search engine rankings. Lots of people search for the year to get the most up-to-date information. If you have a recent date, you’re more likely to acquire these customers.
Second, it means you can promote that content again to social media and your subscribers as you grow your email list.
The secret is to take an older post, give it a brief refresher, and re-post it as new content. This helps you because it’s already a post you know is successful, and you might already have comments and other positive feedback.
Plus, it saves a lot of time!
To start, go to your website. I’m using WordPress in this example, but you can do the same with whatever CMS you have on your store site.
Sort recent posts by date.
Look for something published a while back—preferably six months or more. If you’ve just launched your store, that’s okay.
Updating a post from just a month ago can help bring in new traffic without writing something from scratch.
Fix the post with new images, new content, or updating any old figures. If there’s nothing to update, try to add a new section or additional action steps to meet market demand.
Then you’ll hit the edit button next to “Published on.”
Update the date and click “Okay.”
And ta-da! You now have an updated piece of content to promote and bring in new SEO traffic!
Try out live video
Want to start recording videos, but don’t have the time to set up a home studio or buy professional equipment?
Not to worry!
The solution is to use live video. This serves a few advantages.
First, because it’s life, nobody expects it to be perfect. You don’t need professional equipment or even a high-quality camera.
Second, you can create live videos, and build up an archive. If you’re scared of spending too much time on videos without any return, try live videos. You’ll have a library after just a few weeks.
Plus, live video is one of the most popular forms of media right now. Facebook has said that people watch Facebook Live videos 3x longer than those that aren’t live.
Here are a few ways to start using live video to get new customers to your store:
Host a live-stream – Just about anything involved in the eCommerce process can be live-streamed. If you make your own products, do a stream of the creation process. Show how you photograph new products. Demonstrate your systems for making sure orders get shipped as soon as possible.
Have a Q&A session – Customers will always have questions about your products, but they’re often too scared to ask. Host a friendly Q&A session and answer their questions (and encourage sales.)
Release new products – Because live video is happening at the moment, it’s the perfect way to release new products. Announce the video ahead of time, and encourage people to see you unveil it as it happens.
Teach potential buyers – You’re an expert in your product, and you can teach people how to improve their lives with your knowledge. Hold a live teaching session and show how your product can make someone’s life better.
Be a guest on podcasts
I’ll be honest—hosting your own podcast is lots of work.
A far simpler way to promote yourself through audio content is to become a host for other podcasts. Build relationships with podcasters and promote yourself as an expert in your field.
Don’t only focus on big podcasts. Those are usually hard to reach, and sometimes have an audience that doesn’t really stay engaged.
Instead, find small podcasts with a niche community of passionate followers. You’ll make more sales with a committed group than with a giant user base of listeners who don’t have a single focus.
Perhaps the fastest way to make your first few sales in your eCommerce store is to try out paid advertising.
This is difficult to get just right, and it doesn’t always scale. But if you need to bring brand awareness to the market, this is the fastest way to go.
The most common type of ad for eCommerce stores to run is Facebook ads.
Start by understanding exactly who your audience is, and target them in the Facebook Ad demographic category.
Next, you need to make sure your creative is compelling enough to sell products. Use high-quality images and videos to sell, since CoSchedule found that top 100 brands use photo and video 80% of the time on social media.
For your ads to succeed, they need to match this trend. Test a variety of images for the best results.
There are a few different options in the Facebook Ads Manager.
Experiment with what works best for your brand, and try to get as creative as possible. Shutterstock uses carousel ads to show one image across different panels.
Unique looks like this can expand your ad’s appeal and draw in more customers.
You can also use graphs, charts, and data. This is the highest engagement for images, according to research from Venngage.
Facts about your product or the problem it solves is a great place to start.
Another factor to consider is the color you use in your ad. Colors change how people perceive your brand and your store, so use colors that improve your conversion rate.
A clear background with contrast works well, like this ad from Google Cloud.
If you have the budget, want to try something new, or are already skilled, try video. Video ads are even more promising than image ads on Facebook.
Major companies like Red Bull invest lots of money in creative, engaging video ads—like this one with a giant hammock over a canyon.
Of course, you probably can’t pull off these kinds of stunts. Instead, stick with something simpler that you (and your audience) will appreciate.
Short Cuts made a simple video teaching how to create a mohawk braid. Expensive? No. Creative and engaging? Yes!
It might sound crazy, but consider selling offline.
Giant companies like Reddit promoted themselves with stickers posted around major cities. You might be surprised by the opportunities you’ll find with an offline promotion.
Here are a few different ways to promote your store offline.
You can sell your product at flea markets and farmers markets and generate initial interest offline.
A great resource is Flea Market Finder, which will tell you nearby markets, their time and place, and what they focus on.
Sometimes, the best people to buy your product are people with similar interests offline. But the best way to find them that I know about is through an online platform—Meetup.com.
Attend a few meetups and see if anyone is interested in what you have to sell!
This might be a bit extreme if you’re just starting, but if you’re a good fit, it can pay huge dividends.
Find a trade show or conference for the niche you’re in, and talk to people about your product. You might want to even rent a booth if you’d like extra visibility.
Sure, it’s not the most popular today. But sometimes door-to-door sales can give you the real-world experience you need to make your first sale.
Plus, you’ll get plenty of feedback on your product that can help you sell more.
Today’s modern word processors and laser jet printers make it easier than ever to create flyers. While standing on a street corner might not sound glamorous, it could be what you need to make your first sale.
To start, just pull up a template on a program like Apple Pages.
Print off a few dozens and see how far it can take you!
No matter what your product is—but especially if it’s in an outdoors-oriented niche—consider outdoor ads.
These range from billboards, to yard signs, to sponsorships at events like 5K races. Choose your spending carefully, because these can add up. But look into different niches in your area and see if there are any opportunities worth paying for.
Some of the biggest products succeed with public relations campaigns. If you get a spot in a major newspaper, it can change your store—forever.
Start with pitching reporters on Help a Reporter Out, or HARO. This is a free service you can use to answer reporter questions and get publicity spots in everything from your local paper to The New York Times.
Another technique is to send out press releases. These are short descriptions (usually a page or less) that provide a newsworthy event for media.
Focus on creating press releases as a journalist would think about it. Don’t focus on how amazing your product or store is, but on how it would make great news.
A great idea is to focus on milestones and events. Apple became the master of this by creating giant publicity events surrounding their new product launches. This ensures they get free publicity worth millions if they were to pay for it in ads.
You can also create other resources like fact sheets, reviewer’s guides, and video and image assets to help reporters feature your story.
Another idea is to pitch a creative spin on an already newsworthy event.
If you’re involved in an industry that’s undergoing changes or press focus right now, take advantage of it by becoming a spokesperson.
State your opinions and get noticed for news events that affect you and your business.
One of the highest-reward opportunities you can find as an eCommerce store owner is getting influencers and affiliates to promote you.
(While the two are technically separate, I’m combining them. Influencers often get a commission for the promotion, and affiliates are usually influential in their space.)
Before you even think about launching your store, it’s a good idea to provide online influencers with pre-launch fact sheets and product demos.
It’s a good idea to do this even before you source your products.
This can get you testimonials, promotion, and affiliate deals from the most important people in the industry.
You can also reach out to influencers in the space to talk about your product.
Califia Farms teamed up with the band Gravy Train with its new coffee product, Nitro Cold Brew.
These influencers add credibility to your marketing strategy, whether you collaborate with them on social media, blogosphere, or more traditional media.
Ready to start selling with your eCommerce store?
Of course, you are!
And to get your first sale, there are literally thousands of paths to take. You can promote on social media and get traffic from search engines.
You can use content marketing to generate interest and sponsor ads to drive people to your store. You can set out offline, start a PR campaign, or onboard affiliates.
They’re all great strategies, and they all have potential.
But there’s one thing missing—action. Choose one or two strategies, and stick with them until you make the first sale or know it’s not going to work.
(Or add them as you write the business plan for your eCommerce store so you know when to start.)
If a strategy knocks it out of the park, keep using it until it stops working. But if nothing seems to be getting the huge returns you expected, keep trying.
You can’t fail with your first sale—you can only learn.