Over the past couple years I’ve launched many online projects. One of them is Flux Chargers, an ecommerce business selling a top portable charger that has sold in over 90 countries and in Jan 2017 generated over $100k in monthly revenue.
I’ve learned many lessons and techniques in brand building, SEO, reaching out to press, and many more since I launched my first Flux Ventures company. I decided to create this guide to reflect on the knowledge that I’ve acquired creating this ecommerce brand and to see what I would do differently next time I launch an ecommerce store.
I hope this guide serves you well and you are able to use this information to your advantage. If you do, all I ask you is to send this to a friend that could also benefit from it.
If you like to consume content via video, here’s a talk I gave at Ontraplaooza’17 based on the stuff I wrote here.
Basics of an ecommerce business
1. Focus on building a brand not just a store
Ecommerce stores fade quickly. Brands can have a much longer lifespan. Building a brand allows you to foster a long-term relationship with your customers.
A brand is the expectation that a customer has of your business. Think about how many people buy an iPhone just because of the Apple brand. They know the way the packing feels, they love to go to the Apple Store, etc. You should aim for that type of loyalty in your business.
You can either create that loyalty through great personal branding (by which people buy from you because they like you and trust you as a person) or by providing a delightful experience with the product so that the customers are wowed with their purchase.
Given that creating a brand is so important for the long-term success of your business. You should careful think about what it is that you want to convey with your brand. You might associate Apple with its ease of use and elegance. With Flux, we want you to think of sleekness and durability.
An added benefit of creating a brand is that your customers can associate it with a particular product and thus word-of-mouth is much easier to achieve. You should aim to have a name that is easy to spell in multiple languages and that is short enough to be memorable. And please try to get a .com domain, it’s just simply much more trustworthy than a .net or .anything else.
Also, when creating a name and logo for your company think about how it will affect your customers perception of the products you sell. FastCompany indicates that almost 85% of consumers cite color as the primary reason they buy a particular product, and 80% of people believe color increases brand recognition.
2. Start small, test and find a winning product
Every billion dollar store had no sales at one point. Amazon started with just books, Zappos did just shoes. You should approach your sales the same way. Start with just a few things, test different hypotheses like product pricing, product description, the demographic that you’re targeting, etc.
Once you find a formula that works, start doing bigger tests with the bigger budget that you earned from your sales.
But what if you can’t find a winning product?
Then that means you haven’t tested the right hypotheses. Most people think that these tests require a budget but in reality you can test a lot of things for free by asking your network for feedback for instance. You can also do very small $10 ad tests on Google and Facebook to gauge the interest for a particular product.
? A few of my favorite tools are Optimizely for A/B testing and Inspectlet to record what a visitor is doing on your site and have a heat map. Once you find which words resonate better with your audience and where on your site your visitors are struggling, you can optimize your site to make your funnel from cold visitor -> sale much smoother.
Besides that, a big part of whether or not you will be able to scale your business is understanding the size of the market and whether or not you can capture a sizeable portion of it. Finding a profitable niche, requires some research and market testing. If you are interested in learning how to determine if your niche is profitable read what I wrote for the Huffington Post.
3. Wow your customers so they rave positively about you
When I first started Flux Chargers, traffic to my site was hard to come by so I had to make sales through a different channel: in-person. I went to the streets of Santa Monica and sold to strangers during weekends and holidays. Although this was highly unscalable, this helped me put my brand out there and get it known.
Also, the first handful of sales were fulfilled manually by us, we inspected the products and also wrote handwritten thank you cards to the first 500 people that bought from our site. Even to this day, we still pride ourselves for our customer support and try to ensure that every one of our customers gets the experience we envisioned.
Have you ever returned to a restaurant simply because of the way they treated you? You should have nothing but delightful experiences with your customers if you intend for them to come back.
? For your store, try to do something nice for your customers: whether it is writing a handwritten note, a personalized facebook message, or giving a free add-on item. You may think it’s overkill but creating that additional connection with your early supporters will go a long way. Remember that people will trust their friends more than your company when making a purchase decision.
Use SEO and Digital Marketing to get free website traffic
(Ecommerce) entrepreneurs think of a million dollar store and immediately think of high marketing budgets and big ad spends.
However, at Flux Chargers, we actually spent $34 in the past 6 months on ads (which may be good or bad depending on how you view it). All of our sales were made through our affiliate network, our strong brand recognition on the press and inbound leads that come from organic search.
Naturally, I’ve learned a lot when it comes to getting publicity, so here are my takeaways;
- Create content that will SEO to the top for keywords of low to medium difficulty when you’re just starting out. Also, know how to SEO optimize your site. To be specific, you should target keywords that have a keyword difficulty of less than 30-35 and have at least 100-500+ searches per month. My favorite SEO tools are SEMRush and Ahrefs. Learn the basics of SEO.
- Set up an affiliate program that’s enticing for your affiliates and treat your affiliate partners with care. I like to occasionally send personalized thank you emails to our affiliates regardless if they made us 1 sale or 100. If they like working with me, they will perform better and send us more referrals.
- ? Reach out to influencers in your space and negotiate win-win deals. They don’t always have to have money involved. For instance, with a few influencers, I feature them on press sites and they shoutout my product on their pages as exchange. You can also send them free products. Pro tip: These influencer don’t need to have millions of followers, they just need to have a loyal following in the space that you’re working in. Something finding a thought leader on LinkedIn is all you need.
- Find and connect with writers at various publications where your customers hang out. There’s no point in appearing on Techcrunch if your audience is bodybuilders. My favorite way to connect with contributors is Facebook then Twitter then Email. Here are more specifics on how to reach out to contributors.
- Provide value to everyone you connect with and opportunities that you might have not thought of will pop up.
Instead of focusing on multiple channels just scale the ones that are working
I see many people trying to get followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, launching campaigns with influencers and more.
We made this mistake at the start too. We tried to focus on too many platforms and marketing avenues and we never achieved anything meaningful. Instead of spreading yourself too thin and trying to cover all possible social media platforms, figure out which platform is the most profitable and exploit it.
Know your numbers and know the psychology behind sales
Going from $0-100k/mo is all about measuring and calculations. Know your CAC (customer acquisition cost), your conversion rate, the time to checkout, your site load speed, etc. If you can improve in one of those variables you will be able to generate more revenue. The way to get better is by looking at the numbers. Go on Google Analytics, your Facebook Pixel and your store backend and try to see if you can find any patterns. I would also suggest to use UTMs to track more accurately where your visitors are coming from.
Selling is a science, and like any science it can be studied and mastered. Knowing what makes people buy will be essential when growing your business.
Here a few proven selling tricks that will lead to higher conversions:
- ? Include social proofs (video testimonials, verified reviews, screenshots, youtube unboxings, etc).
- Offer discounts that expire. The scarcity and FOMO (fear of missing out) will make bring those customers that are on the fence of buying one step closer to conversion.
- Have an easy return process and great warranty. People want to know if you are putting your money where your mouth is. If your product is as good as you say, why not offer a satisfaction-guaranteed warranty?
- Have your sales copy read or prepared by professionals. People that are in the sales space know the words that will trigger someone to buy, don’t leave this very important detail out.
- ? Use price anchors, price comparisons and bundle products to increase your average order value. If I tell you a product is $49 you might think that’s expensive but what about when I give you two options one for $49 and one for $149? Now all of the sudden, the $49 product looks like a bargain. Similarly, you can bundle and cross-sell items during checkout to bring in some extra revenue.
- ? Encourage customers to add a few extra bucks for a speedier delivery or an add-on or upgrade to their products in the cart.
Become the master of productivity by using tools and scripts to automate your work
I don’t know about you, but I hate doing things twice. Nothing bugs me more than doing repetitive tasks. Having to spend less time in repetitive things will free up your time to do what you should be doing: growing your business.
My top tips to increase your productivity dramatically are:
- ? Understand the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) which states that 20% of your tasks will generate 80% of the results. In other words, if you only focus on the top 20% of tasks that will give you the most ROI, you will achieve far more than if you try to do the other 80%.
- ?? Delegate, Delete or Defer your tasks. If you’re not the best person for the job, give it to someone else, for instance outsource it to Fiverr. If this task shouldn’t be done in the first place, just trash it; and if this task is not crucial or important, put it out for later.
- ? Eat well and exercise. Anyone that is looking to achieve peak performance must also take a close look at their physiology and health.
- ? Find or develop tools and scripts to increase your output 100x. For instance, you can use Buffer to schedule postings across your platforms, use IFTTT to send an email to your list every time you publish a new blog post, get a script to invite all your friends on facebook to like your page, etc.
Join Mastermind groups (and ask questions!)
The best way to learn how to build a million dollar ecommerce business is to learn from the people that have done it. (This principle applies to any industry by the way, not just ecommerce.)
Very early on, I joined a handful of Facebook groups where people posted valuable information for free just as a way to pay it forward. My favorite groups right now are the ? All Things Social Media and the Shopify Ecommerce Group.
Whenever I don’t know something I ask the group for help and someone kindly guides me. I also pay it back by answering someone else’s questions. This free exchange of information is super powerful because it will reduce the amount of mistakes you need to make to get to where you want to be.
Also another great resource to learn ecommerce (or anything!) is Youtube and Google. For instance, If you don’t know how to make a lookalike audience on Facebook, you can easily learn it on Youtube in 5 min. Don’t linger too long on not knowing something, simply search it and learn it.
Which platform and apps should I use for my ecommerce store?
I’m a big fan of Shopify, for its ease of use and the plugins available. Other alternatives are Woocomerce and Magento. The choice is really up to you. Whichever platform you use, you should look into the following ecommerce add-ons and plugins:
- An SEO plugin
- Image optimizer and alt text creator
- ? Live chat (Pro tip: connect it with your facebook page. Even better: make a chatbot)
- ? Reviews management
- ?Bundle sales
- ?Discounts and Coupons
- ?In-cart upsells
- Affiliate marketing software
- Social media share buttons and integrations
Starting an ecommerce business is challenging and time-consuming but if you are willing to put in the time to learn and stick to it long enough, you will eventually achieve success. A great ecommerce store is the crux of great branding, carefully tested products, and amazing marketing. Execution will trump anything when it comes to creating a profitable ecommerce store. Learning something new every day through your support network and constantly re-evaluating your efforts will ensure that you stay ahead of your competition. I hope you are excited to build and grow your ecommerce store!
This article was repurposed for an article I wrote for Inc Magazine.
Feel free to follow me on Snapchat @youngslacker to see behind-the-scenes of what happens at the Flux Ventures HQ.
Don’t forget that I also offer coaching for ecommerce entrepreneurs.