The first sale doesn’t count

People waiting in line to enter a building.
(Flickr: dominicspics)

When I used to do freelance work, I’d focus on getting it done and wrapping it up then moving onto another project. I’d seek out projects that, once complete, had a minimal amount of ongoing maintenance. Basically, once I was done with a project, that was usually the last I’d hear from the client, despite the glowing praise that they’d give me at the end.

In other words: I sucked at sales.

But, how is that possible? I’d find clients, engage them, close the sale and deliver the goods! Sounds like I’m a great salesperson — there’s plenty of sales people out there who can’t even do this much, right? Sure, I might not be the worst salesperson ever, but I forgot the golden rule of sales.

The first sale doesn’t count.

Huh?! “Of course it does,” you’re probably thinking. “You got their money, why doesn’t it count?” Let me explain …

Many years ago, my friend Peter, who I consider to be a master salesperson, when I first started freelancing, let me in on a little secret. He simply told me, “The first sale doesn’t count.” He went on to explain that anyone, willing to do or say anything, can get just about any qualified lead to buy at least once. However, the cost of new customer acquisition makes this an infeasible, unsustainable way to do business. The real money is in continued sales with existing customers.

I totally ignored this essential rule. Basically, I’ve been a wage slave, trading hours for dollars, except this time with only myself to blame. I wasn’t building a business, I was just earning money. And, for a long time, this was okay, because I had steady income and I had no reason to do things differently.

Now that I’m doing doing this full-time, without the safety net of that steady income, I’ve spent a lot more time studying what I do, figuring out what’s working and what’s not. I realized that I have to change the way I operate — the way I do business — and remind myself that the first sale doesn’t count.

So, what do I do, then?

I need to focus on improving my up-sell and cross-sell skills. I need to find ways of turning good customers into sources of continuous, incremental revenues. I need to invest my time in creating products that can generate passive income, so I can stop trading hours for dollars. I have to build a network of reliable contacts who I can hire to do the work that doesn’t necessarily require my direct involvement.

Sure, this all probably seems very obvious, but it’s surprised me how many entrepreneurs and freelancers I’ve talked to seem to have missed learning this vital lesson, myself included. Perhaps you’re making the same mistake, or you’ve moved past it or avoided it altogether. I’d like to hear your story in the comments below!


  1. Very true. I too struggle with selling and understanding the importance of maintaining a working relationship with my customers. It’s hard to do and, for me, is something I’m not that great at. Deep down I think I’d rather move on to something new and not have to worry about dealing with the client again. Plus the challenge of a new design is what I’m really in it for. I guess I should come to the realization that the making a living is my ultimate goal!


    • It’s true that you can earn enough money to survive on, constantly seeking out those “first sales,” but that means you’re constantly having to generate and qualify leads, close deals, and keep that sales pipeline full. That’s a lot of stress and a lot of hustle … it’s hard to sustain at a high volume and isn’t the way to grow your business.

      But, it’s the trap that is so easy to fall into … and one that not everyone gets out of.

      Thanks for sharing your story though — it’s great to know that we’re not alone in all this.

  2. Hi Dossy,

    I have been reading your blog since I get acquainted with AOLServer many years back.

    Recurring sales is a constant challenge for most new businesses.

    In my opinion, the key problem does not lies in ‘salesmanship’.

    For any business, there is always the constant need to grow the customer base (new customer) with a view of getting more business down the road.

    At the same time, we have to do the soul searching moments up front.

    I think, it lies in what do we want to sell ? What services are we providing?

    How can we get recurring business from the customer? Here, we are asking ourselves, what services or products are we selling to the customer such that they are willing to do business with us again.

    And that could be the challenge. Defining your focused market, the product offerings mix.

    I look forward to hear from you. Thanks

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