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1 Question, 3 Answers: What Was Your First Sale?

Author: Katie Truesdell Date: June 04, 2014

Small business owners recall memories of their first sale.

You never forget your first sale. Here, three small business owners share their stories—and the lessons learned.

Michelle MacDonald

Founder, Sweet Note Bakery – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In September 2012, MacDonald, a baker, launched her small business that offered a niche product: gluten-free bagels.

She brought her first samples to a local café. Intrigued, the owner “ordered three…three bagels, not cases. I was a little discouraged, wondering if it was worth it, but it was my first sale, so I did it,” she says.

For three days, she baked a small batch through the night and set out at 3 a.m. to deliver three bagels to Green Line Café in West Philadelphia, an hour’s drive. On the fourth day, the café placed an order for 144 bagels, and orders from other shops started coming in days later. Today, Sweet Note Bakery is averaging weekly bagel sales of 5,000 to 7,000, and MacDonald is expecting to reach capacity of 20,000 bagels weekly by summer’s end.

Lesson Learned: Offer your product to customers ASAP, even if it’s a small amount, MacDonald says.

Bret Bonnet

CEO and Co-Owner, Quality Logo Products (QLP) – Aurora, Illinois

“I remember QLP’s first sale like it was yesterday—probably because we weren’t ready for it,” says Bret Bonnet, whose promotional-products distribution company launched in early 2004.

Bonnet pushed his website live, expecting it to merely help promote his business. It would be weeks, he figured, until someone would buy a product from him. Instead, an email came just hours after the website went live—but before QLP established a merchant account to enable credit card payments.

Not wanting to show they weren’t prepared for the sale, QLP took the customer’s credit card information and rushed to set up the merchant account. In their haste, the social security number of one of the owners was listed instead of the company’s EIN, which for years meant that customers who purchased from QLP had to send 1099 forms to the owner at year’s end. QLP eventually closed the original account and opened a new one under a different name and merchant provider.

Lessons Learned: Be ready at all times, make the customer happy and move a mountain to get it done, Bonnet says. It all worked out in the end, and his first customer is still one today.

Greg Chambers

Owner, Chambers Pivot Industries – Omaha, Nebraska

Chambers was preparing to launch a business development consulting firm in the summer of 2012. To get started, he landed a year-long contract to improve the online marketing results of a clothing manufacturer’s website, followed by two smaller projects from two other clients.

But as soon as he submitted his final notice at his current job, his clients delayed all projects, and his pipeline for potential work was thin.

“With a family that includes three kids (college, high school, junior high) and all their expenses, I waffled between running back to the corporate world or trying to make it on my own,” Chambers says.

Chambers decided to move forward with launching his company. For one week, he called his personal and professional contacts and kept in touch with the clients who delayed the projects, two of which came to fruition months later. He credits the calls that helped launch his business—one-third of the way through the list, his workload increased to projected levels.

Lesson Learned: Be a little paranoid when things are going well and a little optimistic when things are going off the rails, Chambers says. Ultimately, never stop looking for new business.

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