Your own business: How to make your first sale

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Photo: Getty

Bagging your first customer signals that you’re officially in business. Here are some tips for concluding that first sale.


You might have a great idea for a business, but it will never be more than that unless you start bringing some paying customers into the picture.

The reality of being an entrepreneur is that you are now in sales – whether that’s what you intended or not. Even if you have no background in selling, you will need to learn and hone the skill to make a success of your business.

At almost every stage of your entrepreneurship journey, you’ll need to tap into negotiation and persuasion. You will need to sell your business’ potential to investors and convince employees to join your business and help you build your vision. And, of course, you will sell your products or services to your customers.

Landing your first sale is a major milestone and a learning opportunity. It probably won’t be perfect, but it will be a chance to put your planning into practice and truly test the market for your product or service.

Where to find your first customer

Start with who you know

With no trading history or client testimonials, it won’t be easy to convince people to buy what you’re selling. Your target at this stage is early adopters – people who are willing to risk doing business with a start-up.

These are most likely friends or family, or people from your close network. Think about former colleagues who know your expertise in a field or industry contacts you’ve collaborated with in the past. Even if these people don’t have a need for your product, ask them to connect you with people who they know have the problem your product solves.

Offer specials

Your first sale is unlikely to be at the ideal price point you have in mind – and that’s fine. Getting that first sale is as much about the transaction and relationship-building as it is about bringing revenue into the business. Offering a good discount or hard-to-resist value-adds could be enough to convince someone to take a chance on your new business.

Tip: Be sure to make your first customer’s experience one they’ll share with their contacts. Word of mouth is your most powerful marketing tool to get more customers.

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Be flexible

Because you need that first customer (probably more than what they need you), be open to negotiating on things like the terms and price. The initial sacrifices will pay off in the end.

Keep trying

There’s a Japanese proverb often referred to in sales: "Fall down seven times, stand up eight."

The key to sales is perseverance. You will hear the word "no" a whole lot more than what you will hear yes. But, if you are committed to realising your entrepreneurial dream, you have to keep trying, finding out why you’re being turned down and adapting your approach. If you have a good product, that really solves a problem your target market is experiencing, the "yes" will come.

And when it does, nurture that relationship. Finding a new customer is usually much harder and more costly than retaining an existing one.

Paying for it

Once you’ve hooked in your first customer, have you thought about how you will receive payment? Will they pay in cash? Have you got facilities to accept card payments? Is EFT an appropriate option? Have you explored the payment apps available?

Make it easy for them but safe for you and your business. Large sums of cash attract the wrong kind of attention (not to mention the nightmare you’ll have on your hands when it comes to bookkeeping), while EFT could open your business up to fraud if not managed carefully.

ALSO READ | Your own business: Practical advice on how to grow your company

Also, think about how you will distribute your product to your customers, at what point payment will be due, what action you’ll take if payment is delayed and how you’ll handle returns and refunds.

After you’ve completed the first sale, take time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how you might need to tweak your business model. Then, repeat the process until you find your sales rhythm – maybe at this point you’ll be in a position to hire a salesperson to pass the baton to while you focus on growing your business.

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