Antony Chesworth on opening up on the digital high street: how to start selling online



 Antony Chesworth of EKM
Antony Chesworth of EKM

It’s estimated that there are more online shops based in the UK than any other country in Europe.  So it’s arguable that online shop ownership is probably one of the most common ways to become an entrepreneur.


Subscription-based platforms, such as EKM, mean it’s technically possible to set up an online shop with very little capital expense and start making money straight away.


But to make money, you still need to market your shop.  Unlike a traditional bricks and mortar shop, there’s no passing trade.  So you effectively have to take your shop to your customers – literally putting yourself into the palm of their hands.


But if you have set up with minimal capital, it’s unlikely you have capital for marketing to start off with.  Until the revenue starts coming in, it could all feel a bit chicken and egg, right?  Luckily though, there are ways you can tap into your other resources – namely time and effort – that will help you get your shop off the ground, get your first sales coming in, escape the chicken and egg feeling, and start investing in your growth.




Okay so you have just set up your online shop and now you’re waiting for the sales to roll in? Unfortunately, in most cases, that’s not how it works.  It’s up to you to get things started.  There are so many different ways that you can get your first sale, it really does depend on your business and what you’re selling.  But, if you’re prepared to get stuck in and get your hands dirty, there are tried and tested ways to get your online shop off the ground.




This is probably the most simple, obvious and easiest way to make your first sale.  If your nearest and dearest won’t buy something from you then you really have the opportunity to ask them why.  Get as much as feedback as possible.  Maybe they just don’t need or want that something that you’re selling.  But you must know someone who wants your products?  The best way to trial anything is through people you know.  Even if it’s just through people who know of you. Reach out!  It’s never been easier with social media to reach out to friends of friends. Don’t be shy and don’t be offended if someone doesn’t want something.  If anything you need to take it as an opportunity to find out why they didn’t want to buy your products.


>> Top tip: If you have a friend or family member who is willing to buy off your site then don’t sit next to them showing them what to press and how to get the products they want.  You need to leave them to it and find out every bit of detail once the order has been placed.  Remember though that hearing the negatives are way more important than hearing the positives.




There are so many ways that you can make your business spread like wildfire and word of mouth is not only the cheapest but also the most effective way to keep a customer for life.  If you’ve heard how good something is off someone personally then that is much more likely to have an impact on your decision than just a promotional advert popping up all the time.


So how do you make your first sale using word of mouth?  Start talking to your potential customers, not in a sales pitch kind of way, but more in a way that shows you actually care about helping them to get the product that they are after.  Remember though, that if you haven’t got your business set up right, if you are overpriced or if you come across as being even slightly arrogant then it will have the opposite effect on your business and could potentially ruin it from ever getting going. While nobody knows who you are or what your business is, use that time to double and then triple check everything about your business before releasing it for the whole world to see.


>> Top tip: You need to remember that you only really have one shot to impress people when you’re an unheard of business. The wrong kind of word of mouth can destroy your business before it even takes off.  So with that in mind, make sure you are confident in what you’re selling, stay humble and most importantly don’t come across as arrogant.  Confidence is key but remember to stay humble.




So once you’ve generated some money from friends and family, or at least sanity checked your business idea enough to feel confident enough to put in some further cash investment, one of the best ways to get out there to people is to start advertising your business online.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money nor does it take a lot of time if it’s done right.


So how do you get your very first sale from advertising?  First thing first is you need to figure out where you want to advertise. You need to do some research to figure out where your customers are hanging out.  The best way to gain this knowledge is to be a fan of what you’re selling.  There’s no better way to get to know your customers than potentially being one yourself.  If you’re selling the latest fashion items, then your target audience is going to be usually around the 18 to 30-year-olds.  Most of this audience will be on social media so it’s best to put your money into that.  Okay, what if you’re selling a super niche product to over 50-year-olds?  Then try Google Ads.  Google itself and plenty of other sources offer advice on how to get set up and the best approach to take.


>> Top tip: Remember to do your research before doing anything.  You WILL lose money if you target the wrong people and Facebook and Google Ads can really eat into your cash flow if you don’t do it right.




Forums are such an under rated topic when it comes to business.  Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t that hidden gem you’ve been searching for that will make you an overnight success as it’s really not for everyone.  What I can tell you though is that it does work if there is a want and a need for the product or service you’re selling.


So how do you get started?  First thing first would be to do some research and find the relevant forums to your product/line of business.  Next would be to sign up so you can post on the forum or even better to join in with conversations with already made up posts.


There is one massive NO when it comes to forums and it’s to not come across as you’re only there to pitch your site.  You really have to join in the discussion and let people know about who you are and what you do gradually. If you sign up only to post a link to your site, you will more than likely be deleted and blocked from the site.


>> Top tip: Make sure you stay on topic and actually have an interest in what you’re talking about. Only promote your website and what you do/offer when the time is right for the best results.




This is something that is turning advertising and promotion into a new dimension.  I know it seems a bit daunting having to reach out to someone who is more established than you online but you’ll be really surprised how many people want to see others succeed.  If you literally don’t know anyone that can help, then you need to find someone yourself.  Search YouTube, Instagram, Google or anywhere people are talking about the products that you’re selling.  Reach out to them and ask if they want to review yours.  When you do reach out make sure that you are super nice and offer them something in return for doing it.  For bloggers who are just starting out can be happy with just receiving the product for free.


>> Top tip: Most of the time influential people like to charge to review your products (It is their job after all).  Make sure that you really know what you’re getting into.  What they’re going to do for you and will it actually benefit you and your business.  Always remember that just because someone has 10,000 followers on Instagram does not mean they are the right person to be promoting your products.




Let’s dive right in and talk about how you can get customers from platforms like eBay and Amazon to start shopping on your own website.  Now you have to remember how big these companies are and how much trust the customer has in them.  So why would they give your site a go?  Well, really you need to add value to what you’re selling and make the customer have no choice but to give your website a go.


Another big deal is that it’s actually against the terms of conditions of these shopping sites to advertise or even mention your own website in their space.  If you do that you could be banned from the site altogether.  BUT what you can do is – Put a promotional flyer or a business card in with your product packaging.  Offer them something they aren’t getting now through the trusted selling sites.  Think about how many hits eBay get on their site a day?  Millions!  That’s something that you can’t match when starting.  Use the fact that these companies spend millions on getting people to use their sites.


I hear a lot of people talk about how ridiculous the fees are on these selling sites.  Well, you need to do the maths really.  If a site is taking 20% of your sale then how much would it have cost you in advertising to get that customer in the first place?  And even if they did see your site via an advert then that doesn’t mean they will buy it.  The trust and reputation these big selling sites have are ridiculously huge so use it to your advantage.


>> Top tip: Offer the same products at a slightly cheaper price on your website than you do on the large shopping sites (Take the fees off the price and it’s already cheaper). Also, try and offer some products that are exclusive to your website.




No matter what you’re selling you can use social media to find customers. You don’t always have to pay for it too. You can get customers from joining Facebook groups that are in your line of business. Usually, people who join these groups are fans of the content and they tend to join in with the discussion.  Remember though that it’s very similar to how forums work and you don’t want to turn into a spammer.


One of the best ways to get out there is to advertise through the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  You can advertise from as low as £1 a day but do remember that you have to spend money to make money.  Starting on lower budgets is a great idea to see what works, then when you have found that something that seems to be getting better engagement then you need to concentrate more on that advert style.


>> Top tip: Always remember that you need to give your future customers a reason to shop with you and to move away from who they currently shop with. Make sure that you add some kind of incentive for them, which leads us onto to the next point.




You really need to remember how much value there is getting a customer. Not only are they going to buy something off you, they could be a returning customer for life.  You literally never know how important that person could be to your business!  So when offering a promotional discount code, remember that you have now got this customers attention (which is the hardest part) and now all you have to do is keep them interested.  Offering customers extra incentive when starting your business is so important.


>> Top tip: Remember to not undersell your business by offering too much of a discount. If you offer them 35% off at the start and then you never offer them any discount again then that customer will move on. Keep it reasonable and make sure it’s something that will make them want to buy off you.




Sounds obvious right?  But you’ll be amazed at how many people just launch a site thinking people will come to them because you’re 10% cheaper than the competition.  Wrong.  Very wrong.  How can you get out there when nobody knows who you are? Well, the simple answer is to just get up and do something about it and get out there.


You need to know where your customers hang out online and offline.  You need to be everywhere that they are.  Get out there and hand out flyers and promotional discount codes.  You need to find out how your competitors advertise and do it too.  You need to do your research and find out why people shop with your competition.  You need to become the customer that you want on your site, find out everything and anything you possibly can.  The more you learn the more you earn. Remember that you have to be everywhere at the same time so find out what’s worth your time and what’s not at an early stage.  Is handing out flyers worth it if they’re all just getting chucked in the bin because all those potential customers have already been sorted out with products by your competition?  Try everything and I can assure you that not only will you make your first sale you will also find out what works for your business moving forward.


>> Top tip: Always remember to NOT come across like a walking talking sales machine. Your potential customers have heard it all before and they will not want to buy off a business that is only interested in taking their money.  Take an interest and find out exactly what they want and make sure you deliver it better than anyone has ever delivered anything.



By Antony Chesworth of EKM


About the author:


Antony Chesworth is CEO and founder of EKM, the biggest UK-based online shop platform provider.   The Burnley-born entrepreneur set up his first business off credit cards after banks told him his business model would not work.  He now flies himself to business meetings all over the world in his own aeroplane.  He is a prolific vlogger, often on the themes of entrepreneurship and his belief that anyone can do it.]

Share your thoughts with our community of game changers