How I Got My First Paying Customers Despite a Crappy Website

Getting sales for a startup is hard. It can be especially hard when your website is kind of crappy like mine.

Here’s what my site looks like as of writing this blog:

To date this landing page has 1,591 unique visitors and 3 sales.

That’s a pretty shitty conversion rate. Luckily, I wasn’t sitting around hoping my landing page would convert people to sales. Instead I was actually AVOIDING sending people to the website because my brand isn’t well known and my website doesn’t have a ton of credibility indicators. I wanted prospects to have to reject ME, not my website.

Here are the exact steps to get sales despite a crappy website

Context: My startup is a monthly beef jerky delivery service called Sumo Jerky. Customers pay me $25/month and then I go find tasty jerky, negotiate a good price, and ship it to members. If I just relied on my website, I’d have 3 customers. Instead I setup a sequential process to bring in sales and build momentum before I had a polished website. Here are the exact steps along with the numbers of sales each activity generated.

Cheap ads on Reddit (7 sales; Cost $55)

  1. Pick a forum that serves your target. For example, I am selling jerky, so I targeted the r/keto forum on Reddit since beef jerky is a great fit with the keto diet.
  2. Write the ad in personal language. Use the word “I”.
  3. Use an interesting or provocative photo.
  4. Turn comments on and reply to feedback (check & respond to comments regularly).
  5. Include a link for Redditors to PAY YOU or EMAIL YOU. Don’t link to your website.

Reddit ad example

Flash sales via text message (16 sales; Cost $0)

  1. Imply that there’s a volume discount and/or time constraint.
  2. Make short but enticing reference to the quality of what you’re offering.
  3. Imply exclusivity.
  4. Write informally.
  5. Don’t force a reference to your business if it’s not needed. Notice how I don’t mention my business in this text:

Flash sale beef jerky

G-chats & emails to get friends and family to join (8 sales).

  1. Tailor each email & chat to the specific person.
  2. Confirm interest before disclosing price.
  3. Address objections and adjust price / terms to meet the needs of customers. One of the great things about this early stage is that you can be very flexible with pricing and terms for your first 50 customers or so. Just get them in the door for now and you can standardize & automate later.

Gmail chat with beef jerky club members

In the chat above with my friend Phil, I mentioned how the jerky would be good for gluten-free dieters because I knew he was trying to follow a gluten-free diet. Phil was sold before I even mentioned the price, so I just requested payment immediately. Sometimes the communication sequence needs to be more deliberate.

Loosely scripted email sequence to GET & CLOSE referrals (11 sales; Cost $0)

  1. Start by asking for feedback on your product / service.
  2. Respond to POSITIVE feedback with a request for referral.
  3. Make it easy, don’t make them think about what to write:

Referral request 1

If they want YOU to send the email, here’s what you can do:

  1. Include name of person who referred you in subject line.
  2. Keep the email short. 3-4 sentences max.  Less than 100 words.
  3. Don’t include the price.
  4. Close with a firm call to action.

beef jerky club email example

Odds & Ends

  • I took over as Sumo Jerky CEO & owner on Oct 18th. I wrote this on Nov 24th.
  • I’m not counting any of the 50+ sales that occurred before I took over as CEO.
  • Most of the things that worked to get sales, I learned in AppSumo’s Earn 1K Course. You should sign up for it if you’re trying to start a business.
  • The new website is going to launch any day now. It’s 4:30PM CST on 11/24/2013 as I write this.

People have been trained to think that successful business = good website. In fact, the 1st thing most people ask when you tell them about your new business is “what’s your website” and how much $ does it cost.

Don’t fall into the temptation of dumping a bunch of cash to build a website. See if you can pre-sell your idea like I did, with email and Paypal.