The path to financial independence is truly long and full of roadblocks. However, it definitely worth trying and implementing as many things and ideas as you were able to learn. Here are 7 things I learned so far over the last 4 months playing with Shopify stores.
It’s been a while since my last post. Mostly due to my extraordinary ability to procrastinate on something that I don’t consider important, such as this blog. Only sometime later I realized that Clueless Landlord is actually a nice vehicle to record and save informational parts and pieces that I keep collecting every single day, and it might worth sharing with the other people.
Now, let me get the record straight. Although I was able to generate more than $12.000 in revenue on my store, I did not actually make any profit whatsoever and was, in fact, taking good losses on that Shopify gig. That’s why half of you who are more experienced than me might be completely frustrated by the shit I’m about to share, and another half should be skeptical about my advice, due to the fact that I haven’t really made a profit buck yet, so who am I to teach you what to do. With that being said, I will focus more on my failures and hope that this info helps someone not to make the same mistakes I made fucking around with e-Commerce.
Also, this post will mostly cover Shopify, so let’s get into it.
1. Do 10X more product research.
The reason is why I put the product research as the first and the main point of this blog is because there have been times when I skipped this step completely and this became my main reason for the losses I’ve had. The whole idea behind product research is to find not something that YOU like, but something that CUSTOMER likes. As they say, “Customer is always right“, and there’s real truth behind it.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are dropshipping on Shopify, WooCommerce or other similar e-Commerce platforms out there, and you found a product that you liked. Every second you look at it you like the product more, and more, and more. By the time you finished scrolling AliExpress listing, you are already picturing yourself as a CEO of a huge brand that sells these amazing WATCHES or NECKLACES, or whatever the fuck you decide to sell. You are picturing yourself not being able to handle the enormous amounts of daily sales that you generate with it, and your imaginary bank account cannot even stretch anymore because of the amount of cash that is being deposited to it every single day, and you cannot be happier.
You looked through the order count – seems fine. You look through the reviews – seem fine. So you decide to come up with a brand name and buy a new domain so you can set up your store right away. What can go wrong?
Well, several things, actually.
Let’s be real here. If you are an experienced reseller – you already know the drill: ride the hype train or play long term with a brand building. But for all the rookies – will try to explain as best as I can: If you watched all the YouTubers, who show their 7-figures e-Commerce gigs, and you think you can have the same by opening a Shopify store with the product you did basic research at – you WILL fuck it up. You will fuck it up most likely because you are trying to avoid a hype train and also don’t really care about the brand.
And what happens when you don’t roll with a truly winning product is you are selling some shit that no one asked for. Did you find a good pair of watches – sure! You think you priced it good and fair – cool. The problem is – it’s not really a fidget spinner, is it? Do you really expect to be able to just break the social media with your a-fucking-mazing beer holder, that has 4225 orders on Ali? Is this the winner that will get you out of the 9-to-5 and make you crazy rich? Chances are – it’s really not.
Now, product research is an art that requires patience, cold head, and an ability to view things objectively. The actual results you can achieve with the product you are choosing are proportional to your goals. And I BET that there is not a single beginner entrepreneur who does not WANT to have a fuckton of cash in his first month of sales. And that’s exactly why you are failing in product research. You find cool shit, that you think is cool and your mom confirms that it’s kinda cool, but the end customer will disagree because a customer wants a fucking fidget spinner and nothing else.
And that is exactly why as a beginner dropshipping you simply MUST go with the latest HOTTEST trends in order to make some cash. And that’s exactly why you must double down on the product research and make it you №1 priority before doing anything else. You need to see the results that someone else is doing and make that product even better to DOMINATE the market. There is gold for everyone and with the proper marketing skills you should not even think about building a brand just yet, but instead building the skill of selling.
To sum up – the action points I want you to make when you are looking for new ideas on what to sell:
- Disable your adblocker so you can see other people ads, especially on Facebook, Instagram and Google.
- Open your eyes and start looking for those ads everywhere you can.
- Remember, if you see an ad – it’s only because someone on the other side of the monitor is paying for you to see it. And if they are paying – they are most likely making money, so why exactly are you not making the money from the same product too?
- Click on the ads and hit “Add To Cart” in their stores, even initiate checkouts for better results. Facebook will save your actions and from this point, you will be getting different, higher quality ads – those, which are targeting engaged shoppers who often buy online.
- Analyze every product you find through the AliExpress Dropshipping Center.
- Analyze Google trends, and if the product is seasonal – be sure you understand it, and not trying to sell winter gloves in July or at least do not expect huge profits from this.
- Be skeptical about every product. Visualize how you are spending all of your cash on marketing and not making any sales. If this does not happen even in your hypothetical scenario – good, you might go with it.
- Check what other stores sell. Check their facebook profiles and see what ads they run. Do people share and react to the ads? Do they comment a lot? All these things might give you an idea what CUSTOMER wants.
- Use tools to help you with product research. I personally use Intelligynce to scan other stores and pull the data from them.
- Check this website that shows you all the stores hosted by Shopify to find inspiration for a product or a niche.
In other words, product research is KEY to success. This is by far the most expensive mistake that you can make by building a store because you might run with the product you chose for a while, build a strong brand, pay a lot of money on advertising and for data, and at the end – just not be profitable whatsoever… When your neighbor-dropshipper successfully just sells fidget spinners. And that is what happened to me. Lesson learned. Let’s move on.
2. You don’t do numbers – you don’t have profit.
This one should be simple, and this will be somewhat related to product research too. Do your numbers. It IS boring. It IS NOT exciting and not fun. But fail to do so and you might start getting sales, start having progress, and start getting more and more excited, which will eventually lead you towards making completely wrong decisions. What happened to me is when I got my first 20-30 sales, I got so pumped, I felt like I reached the top of the mountain and now it’s the time to scale my business, so I started pouring more capital into advertising spend. However, I did not even know what ROAS and ACOS are, so my success was not measured correctly. And when I DID measure it, I realized that 0.68 ROAS is probably not the one I’m looking for and it was probably the wrong time to scale.
If you have no idea what I am talking about – stop everything that you are doing right now. STOP your ads and run your math. It will require you to read through boring articles on ad spend, revenue, profit margins, etc. But it will let you not to lose money, which is what the whole gig is all about, right?
I won’t go into details on this, but you should really stop and think how sure you are in the profits you are making and how much do you control the spend and revenue. If you feel uncertain – do yourself a favor and stop all the spends that theoretically might be wasting your money. And if you are just starting – do yourself a favor and educate yourself on the accounting basics. This will save your wallet and your nerves short term and long term.
3. Don’t try to sell on a store where you wouldn’t buy yourself.
An obvious one, but not to everyone. To make the proper case, let’s look at the Amazon and why people buy from Amazon.
First of all – it’s a well-established brand. People know it, YOU know it. If you are doing Shopify dropshipping or any other dropshipping – Amazon will always be your main competitor, followed by Walmart, Target, Wish, and other well-known names. And the reason why we all prefer buying goods from these names is mostly trust. We all trust these platforms and these stores because of various factors:
- We know them – for some people that’s already more than enough.
- Great customer service – anyone can hop on a chat or a phone call without any waiting and get their problems resolved quickly and mostly in their favor.
- No bullshit “99% OFF ONLY TODAY” deals. We all know that if you want a discount – you probably won’t get it. That’s how it works – you get what you pay for, that’s why it never looks like a scam.
- Fast delivery in most cases. Amazon has FBA, Walmart is also introducing free 2-day shipping etc.
- Easy returns and refunds. Most of the times – no hidden fees, free labels and no questions asked.
- Physical presence in most cases, which allows you to touch and feel the product you are purchasing as well as the instant help from seller.
Now, look at your store. If you are just starting unless you are a perfectionist web designer – your website suck. Just face it, your store looks like garbage. No consistent design, terrible photos (with other brands logos in the corners, if you import products from AliExpress), those annoying popups, ridiculous 99% discounts all over the place, absence of contact info, “About Us” pages, unclear shipping policies, and just overall mess.
Now look at your store again and think would YOU trust your money with your website. Would you agree to put in your credit card info in that store? If the answer is “No”, you might want to start thinking about improving your marketplace, instead of driving traffic to it.
4. Don’t be smart. Just pay attention.
This is a small addition to the product research block. What I mean by “don’t be smart” is this: do not try to reinvent the wheel. Now, I am not saying that you should make a 100% copy of someone else’s website, products, and ads. But if you are a beginner, who never made a sale, you need to realize, that you don’t know anything about selling. But other people are. If you have time, patience and willingness to learn – by any means I will advise you to start reading as much material as you can find. Good marketing is the key to the success of your store, and even if you have the right audience, but can’t deliver them the right message – you are missing out on potential sales.
There are hundreds and thousands of books and articles written on marketing and specifically digital marketing. By ignoring this information you are going to make the same mistakes other people already made and learned from them. You want to make those mistakes too – by any means, feel free to. But in 2019 it will cost you money because ad cost is going only up. And if you are not a reader, at least watch some YouTube videos who teach you how to sell. And you might think that some parts of it are dumb, unrelated, doesn’t look good or won’t work in today’s culture – chances are – you are mistaken, and years of data will prove otherwise.
And if you still do not want to learn from other people – at least start poking around your competition and see what they are doing. It is okay to take inspiration from other businesses, although exact copying is the matter of ethics and legal details, so if you decide to go full copy-cat – it’s on you.
Personally, I took about 2-3 weeks ignoring this rule and trying to come up with an amazing ad that will drive high-quality conversion traffic, and obviously, I failed and ended up wasting a good amount of money on something that simply does not bring any results at all. Remember, that because YOU like something, doesn’t mean that customer will. And, as I mentioned earlier in this post – Customer is ALWAYS right. What I mean by this is that customer behavior will always be a source of truth and when people do not click on your ads – it’s not because your ad suck, and it is not because a customer is dumb and doesn’t understand anything. The reason because people are not clicking on your ads is only that you are presenting them with the WRONG content. Learn from other people marketing tips and tricks, educate yourself on the practices that worked for the last hundreds of years, and you will start seeing improvements.
5. Test everything.
When I launched my T-Shirt Print On Demand store, I had an interesting conversation with my father regarding the designs and marketing approach, since he has been working in a marketing field for the last 15 years. His ideas of the winning product, that would sell like crazy was to “get an amazing design that everyone will like”. What he suggested was to create a design that I want to print out and ask my friends what they think about it. I disagreed. I do not know if I was right or wrong on this, but my view of this topic is pretty simple: people lie, numbers – don’t.
And what you need is ONLY numbers and NEVER an opinion. Testing definitely might become a much more expensive part of your campaigns at the beginning, since you will be spending money on something that doesn’t work, but this is an essential step that will help you increase your ROAS in a long term.
What I mean by that. I advertise only on Facebook Ads. I tried Google and Instagram and didn’t get good results from it, so I decided to master FB Ads first and leave the rest for scaling when the time comes. In the Facebook Ads infrastructure, you have literally all the tools you need to properly test every single aspect of your marketing. You should never start with 1 ad, you should ALWAYS test multiple things and then go with the winning one. This is the only way you can control and improve your results – knowing what works and what does not.
Numbers never lie. I know exactly how many people out of all like my ad. I know the exact percentage of the people who viewed my video ad or my photo ad and how many clicked on it. I know exactly what converts people into customers and what does not. I might have a perfect T-Shirt design that people will love, but only with testing, I will be able to improve those numbers. And what Facebook Ads allow you is to have consistency in your tracking, so you can be sure where you need to spend more money, and where you should stop spending money at all.
If you look at the ads that successful stores are running, you will see that they have dozens and dozens of kinda-the-same posts, with slight changes here and there. The reason for it is because they are trying to find that BEST creative. You want better results – test different variations of everything: audience age, location, gender, interests, placements, your ad copy, your title, your description, photos you are using, videos you are showing to people, first 3 seconds of videos, last 5 seconds of video, a color of the background, prices, product descriptions, fuck, literally test EVERYTHING and pick the winning one. I can literally create a $100 campaign for a new item I want to sell with 20 different ad sets and ads, and by the time 24 hours pass I will have a general idea what content performs better than the other. And if I run it for a week, I will have a solid amount of data that will give me even more confidence in finding a winning creative I want to use in the future. I know a guy who runs the same ad for 14 months now that generates him 6-figures sales a month on Shopify store, simply because he invested in the initial testing and found that “perfect” ad, that is appealing to the highest amount of his audience.
For example, it took me a while to find that my ads perform so much better for US and UK women 25-35 years old with a specific interest that like only this specific video and this exact copy. Did I like the video and copy – no, I thought it was garbage, and I really loved other videos I made much better, however, the customer is always right, so why would I show my ads that I like, but that makes me no money instead of running ads that the audience I tested likes and that does create revenue? It’s as simple as that.
6. Hire an assistant
Look, it’s always fun to be in control of everything. You know every aspect of your business, you can fix any problem and you can take full responsibility for any of the actions taken within your business. However, by doing all the manual work yourself you are wasting the most precious resource you have – time. And an entrepreneur, you want to work on your business, not in your business. So why don’t you delegate your boring and routine tasks, like customer service, copywriting, product research and orders fulfillment to someone else?
When I started getting more sales – it was the most amazing thing – I was literally on top of everything – fulfilling every order, addressing every email, communicating with customers, improving my site, and so on. By the time I started making 20-30 orders a day, I started realizing, that it takes at least 2-3 hours a day to actually process the fulfillments, and by the time my customers started receiving their packages – I was overloaded with angry emails about broken devices, missing packages, requests for updates on the shipping, and next thing you know – I waste 7 hours a day answering email instead of working ON my business and improving what really matters (marketing).
That was the time I started looking for help. As I mentioned at the beginning, even with somewhat high revenue my shop was generating, I was not profitable at all and most of the days I was losing money. And that’s where I personally see many people are frustrated about hiring a VA, thinking “well, how will I pay a virtual assistant when I am in negatives?”. The answer is simple – from your own pocket. It is the same kind of investment as anything else, and if you decide to skip it – you might lose much more time and gain an enormous amount of stress.
So, how expensive is it to hire someone to help you with your e-Commerce store? Well, it depends. Usually, I can see people are hiring someone from overseas, usually from India, using Fiverr or Upwork, and paying on average about $6-10/hour.
What I did myself – I created a job posting on OnlineJobs.ph, which is a Philippines website for VAs. The general prices there are much lower – I got a ton of people ready to work for $3-$4/hour, and sometimes even less. Do not forget, that even if the cost sounds ridiculous to most Americans, in most Asian countries this is not a bad salary at all, and because most of the people there work from home on a very flexible schedule – it becomes an amazing win-win situation for both parties.
So, I would strongly suggest you hire someone either from day 1 or at least the day you can afford it, even if you don’t have much going on on your store for now. A good VA might be helpful with so much more than just fulfilling orders, and if you have extra $200, just find a person who will be working 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, and you will see that this would the best return on your business investments.
Pro Tip #1: when posting a job description – somewhere in a middle of it mention something like “include the word ‘blue’ in your listing”, and see how many people actually do. I learned it from probably the most amazing Shopify YouTube channel, and this little trick helped me detail-oriented VA, and eliminate the people who are applying for the job without reading it. it allowed me to parse through 300+ applications without even reading them, and find the people who actually worth talking to.
Pro Tip #2: If you can afford it – look for someone who can potentially train the next customer service reps as you scale. You don’t want to go through the training process, again and again, so look for someone who worked in a team and used to manage other VAs before, so the first person you hire will train the second person and so on.
7. It’s all about the process, not about the result.
Last, but not least, I want to mention my observation on some mindset idea I realized only a couple of days ago. Since I started my journey to financial independence at the beginning of 2018, I had so many GOOD days, probably much more than in my 25 years before that combined. I was stepping into the game with mostly financial goals. I drew a picture of my future success in my head and I’ve been walking slow, but steady towards it. I made some cash, I lost some cash, I made some good financial decisions and some bad ones. And even though I am nowhere near my goal just yet, the whole idea of me being able to quit my 9-to-5 and have enough passive income for me to be financially independent was inspiring me every minute of the last year. In my head, I was creating a future environment where I am truly happy with all the money I will have and cool shit I can afford. And during the last year, since I was looking forward so much, I forgot to notice how my life improved. Even when I have the roughest day, I am still in a good mood, trying to make a better life for myself every single day. Today, I am finally happy when I am working and when I am not. I see changes in my personal life, in my relationships, in my views on the world, on the money, on other people. I haven’t been happier since I cut my unnecessary spends and focused on what really matters.
And when you think about – it’s not really about achieving your goals. It’s about the journey you have when you walk towards them. If you step on financial freedom path – it’s a point of no return. And even with all the bad days, you will have, with all the relationships you will lose and money you will waste – don’t expect that you will be happy “one day”. Try to enjoy the ride and live your life today, because if it’s not about happiness, why are we all are hustling then, huh?