14 Ways to Make Your First Sale

If your online shop is awesome, but no one is around to see it, does it make a sale? After taking all the time you need to set up your store, it can be easy to hit a brick wall when you get to the whole how-do-I-sell-this-stuff part. There’s no magic “That Was Easy” button when it comes to making your first sale, but there are a ton of tips and tricks that can help you get there. Here are some 14 tips to help you tackle the “how to make your first sale” part of an e-commerce business. 

Using Keywords to make your first sale

1. Use the right wording

This might not be the single factor that gets someone to buy something, but using the right keywords will make your shop easier for people to findUsing Google’s Keyword Search tool to pinpoint what keywords your niche is looking for will help give you ideas for copy and product titles. If you have a little extra money to spend you can try paying for Google AdWords, which uses keywords people search to connect them to your site. It’s like advertising by utilizing keywords.

2. Optimize your site for search engines

Having rich keywords is part of having a strong SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The better your site ranks on Google and other engines the more opportunity you have for new people to discover your shop. Learn more about making your SEO awesome here.

3. Google Shopping

This is another way to make a sale but you’ll have to add some budget to it. Having your stuff appear to people searching on Google Shopping is a great way to get people finding your product and on the way to your first saleThis is where keywords come into play, because usually with Google Shopping people aren’t searching for “t-shirt.” They’re searching for “Squirtle riding a surfboard t-shirt.” Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make when getting an ad ready to show up on Google Shopping. And read more about how to frugally use paid ads here.
Give stuff away to make your first sale.

4. Give Stuff Away For Free

When people see their friends wearing or buying something cool, they figure “Oh, that looks great. Where can I get one?” Want to try to reach an audience outside your sphere? Reach out to influencers who might be interested in your products and designs and see if you can send them some. In exchange for free swag you might convince them to promote your shop on their social channels.

5. Take Some Pictures

Got a cool brick wall? Have some fun friends who are willing to work in exchange for a 6-pack of beer? Boom. You’ve got models and a set.
You don’t need a photo studio to get some amazing lifestyle photography. All you need is a decent camera, good lighting, and an interesting enough or relevant surrounding. Sell the lifestyle you want to promote – whether it’s living a nerdy life or an adventurous life – and start sharing your photos online. Pro tip: Sunlight is the easiest way to take good photos.

6. Make Your Shop Look Awesome

“Never judge a book by it’s cover” is a great phrase if taken metaphorically, but a crap phrase otherwise. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not reaching for a book with a crappy cover. The better your shop looks, the more enticing your products will look. BTW, Artist Shops makes it easy to set up a site, while still being customizable and comes out of the box looking great.

Take photos to make your first sale


Email your friends, family, people at work, etc., about your shop. Be proud of it! Get excited about your shop and ask others to spread the word. Spread it like the flu in February. 
Another helpful thing to do is use marketing software like MailChimp to create an email list. Email is a great way to let people know about upcoming promos, provide exclusive sneak peaks and to make that first sale.

8. Comment, Comment, Comment

When I first started writing on Medium, I gained 300 followers in my first couple of months starting from zero. A big part of that was commenting on other peoples’ work. I never commented saying “READ MY STUFF.” I got involved with the conversation.
I’ll throw in that quote again, “Don’t be a salesman, just provide great content.” Commenting on forums, groups, blog posts and articles, etc. can spread your name and get online shop noticed. Getting involved in a conversation gives you a foot in the door – people get interested in you which leads them to your first sale. Think of it as that line from Django Unchained: “You had my interest…now you have my attention.” 

9. Post, Post, Post

I can’t stress this enough: utilize. social. media. It’s called social media for a reason, it gains you an audience. You won’t get any sales if you have no one to sell to. So get to posting and growing that audience!

Here are some tips on what kind of content to put on social mediaPost on social media for your first sale.

10. #Hashtags

Using hashtags isn’t a way of being the most #millennial you can be. It helps people discover new things that aren’t in their feed. But there’s an art to hashtagging for your art. Super broad hashtags, like #art, #illustration or #shirt for example, are too general.
Try going through Instagram, looking up certain hashtags to see what comes up, and looking at what your target niche is using for hashtags. You can also throw in a few fun hashtags or jumping onto relevant and trending hashtag trends (think #TBT). All these help connect your product with people who might dig it.

11. Start a Blog

Almost every clothing store or brand has a blog on their site. Look at Jac Vanek; She started as a blogger whose blog became famous, and now she her own clothing line.
A blog is a great way to get your product out there and offer content to people rather than pushing them to buy buy buy. Craig Ballantyne at earlytorise.com said it best when talking about his first sale: “Don’t be a salesman, just provide great content”.
Write about whatever you want to talk about, or put together WIP posts taking people behind the scenes. Doing “Outreach Posts” highlighting cool people in your niche acts as cross-advertising.. You feature them, they share your work through their channels and to their audience. Same goes for doing a guest post for someone else’s blog – it’s content for them, and you get the benefit of their audience.
You can even reach out to relevant bloggers and influencers by emailing them about your blog. Mention your shop and ask them if you can send them some free swag to rep and talk about.


12. Start with Friends and Fam

A sale’s a sale, right? Even if it is to your Grandma. But your family and friends are your biggest fans – sell to them first and have them spread the word. Email them, text them the URL, FB message them, etc., to let them know about your shop. They’re your friends and family – they want to support you, so let ’em do it!
Example: My Aunt sells essential oils, and she’s very forward and salespitch-y about it. Pretty soon, my family unit had dropped several hundred dollars on Patchouli, oils and diffusers. Partly because she sold us on her product, but we also love her, and fam wants to support fam. 

13. Sell Locally

Do you make Yogi-ish designs? Talk to a local yoga studio or teacher and see if they’d like to buy a shirt or pair of workout pants for themselves, or to sell to their pupils. Make geeky designs? Have you checked out your local comic book store lately – how are their shirts lookin’? Have rad hipster minimal designs? You KNOW there’s a garage band in your area that might want to rock your stuff. 
You can even try talking to local business to see if they’d want to team up and collaborate on a shop WITH you. Example: if there’s a local coffee shop that you like, it might be cool to make some shirts for them to get your first sale.

14. Experiment and Don’t Give Up

Don’t. Give. Up. When something doesn’t work, it’s not a failure – it’s an experience to help you figure out what ELSE you should try. Don’t be afraid of something not working – experiment, try different ways of getting your work out there. It helps you find out what works and what doesn’t so that you can build on the stuff that’s working and scrap the crap. 

SOURCES (and, in turn, resources for you!): 

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Don’t have an online store just yet? Try Artist Shops for a free online store.

We’re an artist community built on the power of helping each other succeed — if you’re reading this and have tips of your own to share, please do so in the comments! Thank you!

Illustrations done by the dope Katie Lukes

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29 responses to 14 Ways to Make Your First Sale

  1. Yenika says:

    Very useful tips, I’ve always wanted to write but sometimes it felt like o was distracting myself instead of helping the brand… Now you give me some inspiration to out writing and selling my stuff together!! Thanks!!

    • Carlyn Hill says:

      Thank you for the comment, Yenika! I’m glad you feel inspired! 🙂 And I know that feeling, writing and selling your product/brand aren’t two things that seem like they’d go together at first, but they can really play off of each other!

  2. Mike Pickett says:

    Great article to help new shop owners! Still have some work to do before I open shop here but pretty excited for my debut!

  3. Stephen says:

    Social Media in particular has been helpful. Sales are still slow, but the exposure to my work is well worth the effort of interacting with other artists and my target market.

  4. Jerri-Lee says:

    Great advice thank you 🙂 I only opened my store this week, I feel like a social media addict self promoting every day lol But the blog idea I will look into, it’s probably a great opportunity to post progress pics and share a note on the ‘what/why/how/when’ during pieces I’m working on 🙂 Blogger maybe? Where do people usually start blogs these days? Lol

  5. ZoelOne says:

    Thank you so much for the tips Carlyn. I didn’t know some of them and always good to cycle though on the most recommended ones occasionally. Best!

  6. HyperNolan says:

    Great article!
    I’m so much sure I can do the “Comment, Comment, Comment” and “Post, Post, Post” part.
    I know I can handle easily the “Design, “Design, “Design” part… but the “Promote, Promote, Promote” — I really need to “Work, Work, Work” on that one out though, LOL!
    Cheers for writing this cool stuff!

  7. I love that you offer these tips, and particularly, that they are available to everyone; even before setting up a shop! That’s one of the reasons I decided to create a shop on Threadless. Cheers!

  8. Nasser says:

    Greate article, currently I work on leather shoes store and some times I spend near one hours in Instagram, I think I must do more attention to commenting and responding. Thank you again.

  9. Thanks for the inspiration. Sometimes you can think, I need money for people to see my stuff. But being involved in the right subject and interacting on social media can get you some organic followers. Its a start.

  10. Judy says:

    Really helpful! Thank you. I have a lot of work to do yet but I’m up for the challenge. I’m also going to try a 30 day challenge on social media to attract more people to my 30 day challenge blog. Thanks again!

  11. Simone says:

    Once you know already know on the best way to enjoy that one,
    you can observe a display with a strip of exclusive representations.

  12. Alexis Revamonte says:

    Thanks! I’ll try to follow most of your tips and starting with this comment! 🙂

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