A friend of mine said to me recently ‘people don’t really share where they went wrong do they?‘. ‘They’re happy to share all the successes but not so keen to share the fails‘ (or lessons I like to call them).
And what a shame as there’s probably as much to learn from where someone went wrong as where they went right, if not more so.
So I thought ‘sod it’. Why not share the story of how I decided to run a little experiment towards the end of last year to launch my own ecommerce store and demonstrate to my FB community how to set up, launch and start selling physical products online.
It’s not a fail in the true sense of the word as much as a series of mistakes and lessons learned for anyone looking to create their own ecommerce store and for when I launch my Your Lifestyle Business shop later this year.
At the very least it’s an entertaining read!
I hope it helps!
“F**k right off, I don’t need a T-Shirt to tell me I’m a Legend! I know I’m a LEGEND!’
Said the comment under my very innocent, colorful, playful, empowering T-shirt designs.”
And whilst I’m sure that’s absolutely true, it’s not the most helpful comment when trying to sell a T-Shirt emblazoned with the words “I’m a Legend!’
I’ve never been very good at tactfully dealing with negative comments on social media. It’s my feed, so if you don’t like it, don’t engage with it. It’s not rocket science! (Except the one time someone did actually respond to my indignation to inform me they were in fact a bonafide rocket scientist!)
However, you also know you’re getting a bit of reach with your posts when you start to get negative comments, so in all honesty any engagement is a positive sign!
I gleefully deleted the comment, knowing that by engaging with my post, even negatively, meant that this particular self proclaimed ‘Legend’ would probably be over the moon to start seeing my retargeting campaigns in her feed!
Anyway, I’m not here to discuss the complexities of human behavior on social media.
What I want to talk to you about is my little ecommerce experiment I recently ran which involved picking a niche, a brand, building a site, launching a store and making sales in just a few short weeks.
Amazon is Boring
Myself & my partner run a successful Amazon business which currently sustains our lifestyle and has done since 2015.
But I have to be honest, Amazon bores me to tears. They’re a bit of a pain in the bum to work with, you don’t physically ‘own’ your business as such and we made the mistake of picking a niche based on the popularity of a product rather than something we were passionate about and so I find it very difficult to get excited about promoting our products because I have no interest in them whatsoever.
If you are interested in Amazon as a business model then you can read my ultimate guide here.
However, although Amazon doesn’t excite me greatly the world of physical products does, and I’ve had a hankering to sell my own line of stationary and branded products for a while.
So last summer I had the bright idea of starting and launching my own ecommerce store as an experiment I could then write and make videos about for my lifestyle entrepreneurs in training.
I made a raft of mistakes, learned a lot in a very short period of time and actually put the store on hold in the end to regroup and take a different approach.
What follows below is the story of my experiment and all the lessons learned.
So what is an ecommerce store anyway?
Without any long and boring technical jargon, Ecommerce can literally be described as selling anything online, physical products, digital products, software, services etc. Any online transaction is essentially ‘electronic commerce’ (ecommerce).
But for the purposes of this article, I’m talking specifically about the selling of physical products.
An ecommerce store is simply the website you are selling your goods on. Your own virtual, online shop.
Here’s one I prepared earlier – (see what I did there – you can’t actually purchase anything off the store right now as it’s paused, I’ll get into that later).
Choosing a Niche (and Why I Chose Legends Not Ladies)
Let my mistakes be a lesson to you!
As I was nonchalantly scrolling through Insta one day (as you do), a post by a legend in her own right Spanx creator Sara Blakely caught my eye.
She was wearing a hat that said ‘Don’t be a Lady, Be a Legend’.
I instantly loved the quote.
I was in middle to senior management all my life before striking out on my own and have heard the words – ‘well that’s not very ladylike’, or ‘you’re very aggressive for a lady’, ‘or you should try to be more of a lady’ so many times you get to the point where you just want to punch the fat, corporate suit in the face!
How I wish I had had the words back then to say ‘I’m Not a Lady, I’m a LEGEND!’
Thanks to yet another legend, Stevie Nicks, who was the originator of said quote, I may not have had the words when I was younger but perhaps I could distribute them to other awesome women working their way up the ladder of life and who occasionally just needed a well worded phrase in place of the less desirable but equally as effective ‘Go F Yourself’ which we may have all at some point in life been forced to use.
Hence Legends Not Ladies was born.
However, looking back this is where I made my first clanger of a mistake. Experiment or no experiment, any business venture takes time and attention to get off the ground and my passion & focus was and is on ‘Your Lifestyle Business’. So it would have made sense to create a store around Your Lifestyle Business rather than head off in another direction because I liked the message!
Bright Shiny Object anyone???
The good news is, it gave me so many ideas for my ‘Your Lifestyle Business’ store coming soon! 😎
But, listen closely my friend. An Ecommerce business is not an hour a day part time side hustle.
There are a lot of moving parts and although you can certainly have a store up and running within a few hours to be honest, that’s just the beginning.
To make it work, like any venture you have to put your back into it! So choose your niche wisely and make sure you’re building a brand you’re truly passionate about.
Coming Up With the Brand Design
Last Christmas (I gave you my heart), I was strolling through the streets of Melbourne with my hubby to be, taking photos of all the glorious street art adorning the sidewalks.
It’s truly a magnificent sight if you ever get to go. So many incredibly talented people in the world.
When I had the idea for Legends Not Ladies, the whole street art, graffiti art theme just totally grabbed me and I decided to go on a mission to find some amazing drawings of women to use as the main theme for the site.
Check out – Unsplash
This site is ah-maz-ing.
You can use their photos for free or commercial use end of story. That’s it. And they have the most amazing pics.
Of course if you can credit the photographers that’s just good karma and the right thing to do, but wowee, how awesome is it that you can get top quality images to use at your leisure for whatever you want completely for free!
Thank you Unsplash – you rock! 🤘
So along with some of the photos I took, I gathered together some fabulous wall art images of super cool looking females and set about creating funky designs for my merchandise around the graffiti art theme.
Print on Demand
So I knew the name, had a domain, a rough theme idea and who I wanted to reach with my message, what was I going to sell?
I knew that time was of the essence here so I decided to go down the easiest route to get a site up and running fast. Print on Demand.
“What is print on demand?” I hear you cry.
Well its actually a super cool business model allowing you to very quickly build a site full of exciting products without ever having to lay your hands on any inventory.
Basically there are companies who supply a range of products from t-shirts, mugs, leggings, shoes, journals, phone cases etc.
The products are blank, ie no design whatsoever, just the basic product. So you create your own design, add it to the product, promote the product on your site and when someone buys it, the supplier prints your design onto the product and ships it out to the customer!
Easy peasy right?
Absolutely. The only downside, is that the products are pretty expensive and therefore unless you sell your stuff at fairly high prices your profit margins are going to be extremely low.
As an example, it might cost me $10 for a t-shirt, plus shipping of $5 to US or $10 internationally. So if someone from Australia buys a shirt, it’s already cost me $20 before I even take into account my overheads and marketing spend.
Therefore the only real way to monetize a print on demand site is either to do no paid advertising at all, encourage your potential customers to buy multiple products or charge high prices.
But I’ll get into that a bit further down.
Setting Up Your Print on Demand Store
So back to Legends Not Ladies, it was time to get busy.
Shopify is a purpose built ecommerce machine. What WordPress is for blogging, Shopify is for ecommerce.
But before I signed up I needed to choose the print on demand platform I would use. So I did a quick profit & loss analysis of all the platforms that integrate seamlessly with Shopify.
By seamlessly, I mean, they are built in such way that once you create the product and add the buy buttons, the app company do all the rest for you. They process the order, print the design & ship the product. Bob’s Your Uncle!
That’s what we want! A nice bit of automation making our lives considerably easier!
It turned out that teelaunch probably had the least amount of products but were definitely the cheapest to use, although to be fair there isn’t much in it between Teelaunch & Printify.
For this particular experiment as speed & cost were my most important priorities I chose Teelaunch.
For a more long term approach I would probably choose Printify. But I’ll talk a bit more about that in the ‘What’s Next’ section below.
For now, I wanted the highest profit margins over the shortest selling period and so cost took precedence over everything else.
The other thing to remember of course about print on demand platforms is that you can only sell what they provide on their site.
So when choosing, make sure you also take into consideration their stock lines. As an example after choosing teelaunch I was mightily disappointed to learn they didn’t sell socks, and it isn’t as easy as just installing two different POD platforms.
Doable of course, but not so easy. There are all sorts of manual shipping hacks you’d have to create to make it work, which once again for long term could be done, but for this particular experiment I just decided to step away from the socks.
So with POD platform chosen, it was time to choose the products I wanted to sell on the site and I decided to keep it simple (my partner is guffawing as he reads this part – I’ll explain a bit more down the page) and start with just T-Shirts & Mugs with empowering ‘I’m a Legend messages’ over my graffiti art images.
The Importance of Images
It was getting exciting. But then I made three costly & timely mistakes.
Mistake 1 – I spent $299 + time and energy on 99 designs getting a logo created.
No-one cares about your logo in the beginning except you.
Case in point;
Worry about your logo later when you’re making sales, things are going well and you’ve proved your business has a future. For now, spend 10 mins creating something half decent in Canva for free!
Here is a fabulous walk through of exactly how to create a logo on Canva by Canva! Thanks guys! 😁
I took probably 2 weeks messing around with the logo which cost me not only the actual 99 designs cost but all my time and energy.
Mistake 2 – I spent hours trying to create product images myself for free on Canva & then in frustration paid through the nose for professional images.
Serious numpty moment. I’ll spend 300 big ones on a design no-one cares about and then hours and hours & try and cut corners on the part of the business everyone cares about!
If you are selling print on demand products, the most important part is the design. Contrary to popular belief people, especially women, do actually care about the design of the t-shirt they wear or the bag the carry.
I went back to 99 designs (clearly not the cheapest option out there) and got professional designs done for the products.
So although the product images turned out really well, there are far cheaper options for designers on Upwork.com. You just need to spend a bit more time creating a job spec and then searching through potential bids and picking a designer to work with.
Here’s an article and video on How to Hire an Awesome VA, please note this is quite a thorough process as if you’re looking for a long term VA you want to make sure you get a good hire from day 1, but you don’t need to jump so many hoops to find a good graphic designer, so just take from the article that which is helpful to you.
Also here’s an article from Upwork on how to get started hiring a Freelancer.
But my designs ended up costing me $700 for essentially 8 key designs which is a ridiculous price (and I should know better). On upwork, you’ll be able to find someone decent for $10 / hour and probably get some super nice designs for around $100 – $200.
Mistake No 3 – I got myself all a bit excited over the different products I could offer, and it wasn’t long before t-shirts & mugs turned into, pillows, canvases, make up cases, phone cases, wine tumblers, journals and all sorts of other bits & pieces so by the time we went live, there were 187 products for sale on the site! Not quite as simple as I had planned. 😂😂😂
HUGE GOLDEN TIP
Please take my advice, just start with 1 – 5 products for sale on the site. You can build & launch more lines as you grow, but keep it as simple as possible from the start, prove the concept, then tweak, add, remove etc, based on popularity, feedback etc.
Honestly this was one of those moments where you know what you should do, but to hell with it let’s go and do something completely different anyway!
Building the Store
So I finally got around to signing up to my Shopify store on 5th September. However due to other work & travel commitments it took me almost 3 weeks to get all the products created and prepared.
Now when I say 3 weeks, I’m actually talking about probably 2 – 3 dedicated full days of work to set it all up.
I was a bit of a slacker getting it done in between all sorts of other things going on at the time, so it really does come down to how much time and energy you have to put into a project as to how fast you can get it off the ground.
In this fab t-shirt article by a Better Lemonade Stand Richard Lazazzera got his site, up, running and making sales overnight!
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
There are lots of bells and whistles when it comes to ecommerce stores. All sorts of buttons to press and settings to complete, but the most important things to concern yourself with when looking to get a site live is the following;
1. Do you have descriptive product headlines, descriptions and really good images for each product? We added a graphical version of the t-shirt sizing chart as an example.
2. Have you setup your shipping settings? Are you offering “free worldwide shipping”, “free domestic but a cost for international”, or a “cost overall but maybe free shipping over a certain $ amount”. All of these things can be setup with the help of the Shopify Academy which offers completely free training for all things Shopify!
But you do need to decide what you want to do. (I went for free shipping to keep it easy, but with POD, I would probably opt long term for free shipping over a certain $ order amount)
3. Have you added your payment settings, so people can buy from you and you can get paid? Here’s a great article from Shopify re payment settings – Setting up Shopify Payments
4. Have you setup your notification emails inside of Shopify and an email funnel for list building, cart abandonment etc. (See Day 12 of the 30 Day Training Guide here on YLB)
The last point is so important it deserves a section of it’s own.
So one of your main promotional strategies moving forward with your ecommerce store will be email marketing.
The more of a list you can build, the more of a ready made marketplace you have to announce new product lines, special offers, event discounts etc.
So you need to start from Day 1 building your email list of interested parties.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use mailchimp, it just means you have to create a work around using Zapier and other apps. It’s all over my head to be honest!
It comes with in built email flows for abandoned carts, abandoned product pages, discount codes and all sorts.
It integrates seamlessly (there’s that word again) with Shopify and best of all is completely free up to 250 subscribers.
It is not the cheapest on the market. Once you start building those subscribers in fact the costs can ramp up pretty high, but the time that you save using something that is literally made for purpose I find almost always out ways the costs involved.
However you can of course use any email provider you choose, just do the research and check they integrate with Shopify first as if they don’t you’ve just made your job harder, which is what we ideally don’t want to do.
So what email funnels do you need?
1. Thanks for buying! The email a customer gets after they purchase an item or items from your store.
2. Cart Abandonment. The emails a customer gets when they have added products to their cart and haven’t completed the sale.
3. Product Page Abandonment. The emails a customer gets when they have visited a product page and have left the site. (A bit more challenging due to GDPR rules but still doable)
4. Discount Coupon sign up. You should have somewhere on your site for a visitor to join your newsletter or sign up to get a discount off their first sale – I’ll talk about that more shortly).
Luckily for you, I have all these funnels written out for you using my store as an example, and instructions on how to use them, which you can access on Day 12 of the 30 Day to Ecommerce Success Training Guide here on YLB!
Launching Your Ecommerce Store
My site finally went live on 27th September, but I had yet to finish all sorts of bits & pieces such as; adding a discount coupon pop up, upsells, reviews or review apps and I hadn’t yet gone through my sales funnel to check it was as slick as it could be, so there was still work to be done, but it was live!
This is an important point. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before you get it done.
You are a tiny little website in a sky of millions of websites, some big, some small. No-one knows you exist. So get started and improve as you go.
Get it done then get it right! (Credit to one of the cleverest people I know, Jason Fladlien, for that sentiment!)
I excitedly announced my site going live in my FB Group on 27th September;
Then came……. the gap.
October Week 1 – Went down with a cold and felt sorry for myself all week.
October Week 2 – Working on other projects / Your Lifestyle Business blog
October Week 3 – School half term, took daughter & her buddy to Singapore & Bali for a week – great fun!
October Week 4 – Couple of doctors appts – still not 100% well, so moving at a slower pace. Prep for big Chiang Mai trip, working on YLB
October Week 5 – Trip to Chiang Mai
November Week 1 – In Chiang Mai, 4 days of Loy Krathong ceremonies, amazing! Started to look at site again.
November Week 2 – SEO conference in Chiang Mai and…………..S***t! Only 16 days until Black Friday, better get on it!
Probably best to be a bit more prepared for a major promotional event such as Black Friday / Cyber Monday. Just sayin….
Putting It All Together
So prior to running my Black Friday promo, I wanted to have the following in place;
1. My about page live with the story of why I set the store up and a section about a portion of the profits going to my Kiva lending team.
2. All of my email funnels setup and working
4. Social Media accounts setup – Facebook & Instagram and content scheduled to go out.
5. A discount pop up box for email subscribers
6. An upsell offer added after each sale.
7. A slick super smooth sales funnel between product page, cart page and checkout page.
Golden Tip Coming Up!
Around the same time a long time friend and member of the YLB community (thanks Mike), had introduced me to a chap called Nick Peroni, who is the creator of ‘Ecom Empires’ a completely free membership site dedicated to helping entrepreneurs build their own ecommerce store.
Am just going to repeat that for you – a completely free membership site dedicated to helping entrepreneurs build their own ecommerce store! 😮
I had invited Nick to come on my podcast and we really had a super chat, mainly about his journey, how and why he started his memberships site etc and what it takes to build an audience and become an influencer. Super nice guy, you can listen to the interview here;
In the meantime, I took a bit of a gander at his free training and decided in order to complete No 7 on my list, to invest in the Booster Theme as recommended on one of his videos.
It cost me another $179 but it was so worth it.
What would cost you in time and money to get a developer to add various sales elements to your pages like credibility images, animated buy now buttons, trust badges etc., is all wrapped up in this one awesome sales theme.
I then completed the about page.
I hired an awesome lady called Helen Lindop to setup Klaviyo and all the email funnels for me. In fact I have a podcast episode with Helen coming very soon all about email marketing.
I hired an FB Ads guy from Upwork (Clyde) to help me with the Black Friday ads campaign and he added the privy app for a pop up discount form and the reconvert app for an upsell funnel. Happy Days! (More on him in a bit)
All these little apps just speed up the process of setting this stuff up, but be careful because just like WordPress too many and they will slow down your site.
I setup the FB & IG accounts and organized for my VA in the Philippines to create some quotes & images to schedule and post over the coming weeks.
And lastly I arranged for a couple of test sales so I could check the shipping, product quality and add testimonials.
Important Tip – Now please note, this isn’t my first rodeo. Not only do we already run a profitable Amazon business, I have been in the digital marketing space since 2010. So I already have a VA, have used Upwork umpteen times in the past and naturally lean towards outsourcing as many tasks as possible to speed up the process.
This of course eats into your profits and you must take all costs into consideration when building your business.
As you’ll see in my ‘Here’s What I Should Have Done’ section. If I were starting from scratch over a longer time period, much of this I would have done myself to keep the costs down and ensure the store is profitable as quickly as possible.
But we’ll come back to that. For now we were ready to start the Black Friday promo campaign!
Black Friday Promotion
So here I am 16 days before Black Friday, no content, no authority, no list. The only option in front of me is of course paid advertising.
So I did what any sensible business owner who hadn’t made a penny from their new venture would do. I hired someone to run my FB Ad Campaigns!
Please note my friend, this is both a great decision & a terrible decision all rolled into one.
A great decision because if FB Ads aren’t your thing you’ll spend more time learning than doing and it’s a minefield out there. Terrible because if you haven’t yet made any money, it’s all a cost and particularly if you have a site full of just print on demand you have no profit margin for ads.
However, the ever awesome folks over at Shopify have you covered if you want to do it on your own with this superb guide for Beginners to FB Ads for Ecommerce!
Also, if you want to take it up a notch, then the legendary Ezra Firestone (I talk more about him in the 30 Day to Ecommerce Success Training Guide) has recorded a free video course for Shopify – Facebook Ads for Beginners: Retention & Loyalty
But I needed to move fast and haven’t used FB Ads for a while, so my best option to get campaigns up and running asap was to hire an expert.
Here’s What I Did
Day 16 – (2 weeks and 2 days before Black Friday) – Made sure the site was prepared, email funnels ready to go, sales buttons all worked etc.
Hired a chap off of Upwork to run my FB Ad Campaigns. He was instantly proactive and set about getting Privy installed and a pop up working on the site, and installing an app called Reconvert and ensuring an upsell was in place. (If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, I go into this in far more detail in my ’30 Days to Start & Grow Your Ecommerce Business Guide’)
Day 15 – Started looking for someone to do some 20% Off discount banners for the site and began working out how to add discount codes etc for visitors to claim their Black Friday 20% off!
Day 14 – Golden Tip Coming Up!
Placeit.net What a site. Basically made for print on demand store owners, you can take your designs and add them to real people in real situations. We started to add all our designs to t-shirts, mugs, phones, bags etc and Clyde (my FB Ad guy) was able to create ads from very cool real life t-shirt designs.
Days 13 – Day 10 – Just working with graphics guy to get not only site banners done but also Black Friday 20% off images for ads.
Day 10 – First Sale! Yippeeee! 2 in fact. $90 worth of sales. Happy Days. 💥
Day 7 – Worked out how to create an automatic discount on Shopify. Such an awesome feature. Simply set it up to start and end on a particular day and time. Add in your specific requirements such as , X% off or $X off, or $X off of a particular collection of products or after a certain amount of $$ spent etc., and then let it run.
The customer doesn’t have to enter a discount code or voucher number, it’s calculated automatically at checkout. I love that! Anything you can do to make a sale frictionless, is worth the effort.
Here’s a great article from Shopify all about – Creating automatic discounts
Day 6 – Went through FB & IG accounts to ensure bio’s were added and we were also posting some basic daily organic content to ensure both platforms looked a little more credible and a little less empty. (NB – as I write this, so much more I could have done to FB Page, but more on that later)
Day 5 – 3 – 7 more sales. Plus had a video created to run video ads on FB over the sale period.
Day 3 – Sale Starts
Black Friday – 3 more sales and my credit company suddenly decided it didn’t like FB Ads anymore so all ads were stopped.
Probably a good thing as I’d spent $1200 and only turned over $550. 🙄
Here’s What I Should Have Done (based on the type of marketer I am)
1. Started at least 6 months earlier than I did.
2. Spent 90% of my time building my email list & social media audience. Running giveaways, posting awesome quotes & memes, publishing valuable content and building an audience and list of people who liked the message and the products.
3. Reached out to influencers to review and promote products.
4. Run a solid email & social media based promotion campaign over the Black Friday period.
5. Supplemented with some FB Ads, adding custom audiences & lookalike audiences based on the people who had interacted with giveaways and content over the previous 6 months and of course my actual subscribers and current customers.
And even if I were a data driven marketer who loved FB Ads, I still should have started 6 months earlier. Still should have used giveaways etc to build my email list and then utilized all the FB Data to run super targeted and retargeted promotion campaigns over Black Friday and other promotional events.
Legends Not Ladies is an awesome brand. I really love it and the core message behind it. I didn’t actually expect to fall in love with it as much as I have. But this is where the hard decisions have to be made. I cannot be in two places at once and my focus is Your Lifestyle Business.
But between you and me, I had set myself a little goal of hitting $5000 revenues with an ecommerce store at least breaking even if not making a little (or lets be fair why do it).
So not one to walk away from a challenge, moving forward I’ve decided to add a shop to the YLB site. I loved playing with the LNL store and I don’t want to stop just as I’ve discovered what it really takes to grow an ecommerce store.
My plan is to build a store here on YLB and as I grow my content, my brand and my audience, my goal is not just to hit my original income target but surpass it and of course continue with the education of how I do it as I go!
What About Legends Not Ladies?
I have a beautifully designed, ready made site including email funnels, a sales video, blog posts, images, social media accounts, images, quotes & content online, already selling and literally waiting to be scooped up by the right person who’d love to run with the brand.
If you’re interested in taking it over, then give me a shout, there’s a deal to be done there!
You can email me here – Send Mail
Summary & Action Steps
I do hope this article has been useful to you. I think it’s super important to share with you my mistakes as well as my successes in the hope you don’t make the same mistakes I have!
From this and with the help of some awesome people far cleverer than I, I have created the following free training guide here on the site – How to Start an Ecommerce Business and Sell Stuff You Love
Here you can work your way step by step through the training to slowly but surely build your own Ecommerce store and brand.
The most important thing you can do towards your business venture is simply to get going. Don’t think for too long, don’t talk for too long, don’t go looking for everyone else’s opinion. Just make a decision, create your plan and start to work through it step by step.
Do come and join the YLB FB Community to get involved in the conversations, network with like minded entrepreneurs and ask any questions you may have /share your experiences. I can’t wait to chat with you inside.
Thanks for reading!