Breaking Through: Lessons Learned from My First Sale

April 14, 2021

Breaking Through: Lessons Learned from My First Sale

As the founder of a bootstrapped business, I know what it’s like to put in months of work without a payoff. That’s pretty much the trade-off of doing things without outside funding: on one hand, you have the freedom and independence to do things your way, but on the other hand everything takes a lot longer to get going.

That’s why getting your first sale is such a huge milestone for a bootstrapped business. It’s money that you created from your work - not money created from someone else’s money.

But getting to that initial first breakthrough takes a lot of time and perseverance. Trust me - I just went through it with my first product for Epilocal.

I started working full-time on Epilocal back in November and had my first SaaS product, a connector to bring Mailchimp data into Google Data Studio, ready to sell in February.

Finally I broke through and got my first paying customer last month. So all in all, it was 6 months from the start of working on my project to getting the first customer.

Here’s some of the things that I learned in finally getting that first sale.

Be in Marketplaces

My first sale came from a link in Google’s Data Studio connector gallery, where the data connectors that are approved by Google are posted. It wasn’t easy to go through Google’s review process, but now that my product is there, it generates a small but steady stream of people who are looking to buy.

Don’t expect huge numbers - for me I got about 10 visits in March but 2 of them signed up to be paying customers. This will vary depending on the marketplace of course and Data Studio connectors are a small niche - but marketplaces should be the first place you look for relevant traffic.

In fact, a big part of my product strategy is thinking about which marketplace my product could be suitable for before I even build it. For example, I’m currently working on a Google Docs Add-on that will fit in the Google Workspace Marketplace.

Ask yourself from the beginning, what marketplaces could this fit in? Look for niche marketplaces that you might not have heard of before. And if you don’t find any marketplaces that are a good fit for your potential product, maybe it’s better to start with a different product first.

Find the social network that works for you and your customers

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge personal fan of social media. I’ve been off Facebook for almost 10 years now and I never created an Instagram account. But I recognize the power social media has to drive traffic to your product, especially before you have good SEO that brings in organic traffic.

If you’re like me and not a big social media fan or if you’re just the opposite, it’s important to think of your social media for your business as something separate from how you feel about it personally. You have different goals when you approach social media from a business perspective.

For me, it was difficult to find the right balance between what works for me personally and connecting with people who might be interested in my products. Think of it as where these two things meet -

  • Things you are willing to do and like doing enough to know you will keep doing them consistently
  • Things that your potential customers find interesting and valuable

So even if you have lots of personal followers on Instagram, if your customers aren’t there or aren’t there looking for products like yours, it doesn’t really matter.

The balance that I found eventually was to use Twitter to share more behind the scenes thoughts on what I’m doing at my business and some of the more technical challenges behind building my products. This is content that my customers who are small business owners and people interested in technology will find interesting, yet at the same time it is something that I feel comfortable with and enjoy writing about.

Don’t force yourself to do something you hate because you won’t stick with it. But also don’t do something that’s irrelevant to your business just because you like it.

Keep blogging

I’ll be honest, your first sale won’t come from organic search. The type of SEO that gets significant traffic from organic search engines like Google takes a long time to build up, so at the beginning you will definitely see more traffic coming from social or from referral links like the marketplace I mentioned above.

But that doesn’t mean you can neglect writing blog posts. In fact, this is probably the most important thing that you can do for the long-term growth of your business. Posts that I wrote 4 months ago are just starting to rise up the Google rankings enough to bring more traffic than from social and marketplaces combined.

Just because it won’t get you that first sale doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Your blog posts are going to be what gets you from sale 5 to 10 or 10 to 100 sales… and it takes time, so keep at it.

Be careful with Google Ads

You might be thinking, ok I can just direct some Google Ad spend at my landing page and see what happens, so I don’t actually need to do most of that other stuff.

Maybe, but I was very disappointed with what I was able to accomplish with Google Ads. First of all, since my product is pretty niche, there was a limited amount of search terms that I could choose in Google Ads. Terms like “mailchimp data studio” for example and the few different combinations on them that all have very low traffic.

In fact, the traffic is so low that Google wouldn’t even run my ads if I didn’t allow a “broad match” which means they would run my ads on related by mostly irrelevant search terms such as “data studio amazon” - so I was left with a choice of paying for irrelevant clicks vs. not having a Google Ads campaign at all.

I tried it - I got a few clicks that cost over $20 each and immediately bounced from my page. It didn’t take too long for me to figure out that this wasn’t going to work for me.

Maybe if you have a product that has search terms that get more traffic you will have better results, but don’t count on Google Ads to do everything for you.

Your Landing Page is important, but that doesn’t mean you need to overanalyze

So far we’ve just been looking at all the different ways you can drive traffic to your product, but the product’s landing page is also important. Obviously, you want a page that converts as many of your visitors into paying customers as possible, but that’s easier said than done.

The most common solution you’ll hear from people is to constantly tweak and test your landing page to see what changes result in better performance. The big problem with that is it takes a significant amount of traffic and sales to give you any sort of useful data to actually test.

So how do you build an effective landing page without the luxury of A/B testing? For me, I looked for inspiration in other products that were similar to mine as well as more broadly at landing pages that I found convincing in general.

A word of warning here though, I would recommend not getting too creative and mainly follow the examples of similar products. My first landing pages were very text-heavy compared to similar SaaS products and I think they were not very effective. It’s tough to know since again it’s a small sample size, but if you go a week or two and are getting visitors to your landing page without them buying or getting close to buying (getting to the stage of payment for example), then that’s a good sign you should make a few changes.

Leave the overanalyzing, constant tweaks and A/B tests for when you have enough traffic for it to be worthwhile.

Keep at it and you’ll break through too

Once you have a landing page that puts you on par with the competition and are getting some traffic from organic, social and marketplaces, it’s then just about repeating this cycle again and again:

  • Create organic and social content that appeals to your customers
  • The more interesting and valuable your content is, the more people will come to your product’s landing page
  • If your landing page clearly shows that your product solves one of their needs, they will buy it

So keep creating content, make your content more and more valuable to your customers and update your landing page as you learn more about your customers and how they respond to your product.

The more you do that, the easier it gets - and if you keep at it, you’ll break through and not only get your first sale, but many more after that.

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