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GOLD! Escape the Borg! - My Journey to Freedom, Ecommerce

Discussion in 'Progress/Execution Threads' started by PTP, Mar 26, 2016.

  1. PTP
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    I decided to make this eCommerce/importing progress thread after a spur of the moment decision. My goal for this thread is to not only be able to look back and see the progress I have made, but to absorb the advice that others have been so gracious to bestow upon me.

    I would first like to take a second to thank @Ecom man and @Walter Hay. I know i'm not the first to say this, and definitely wont be the last, but you both really helped me to get motivated and learn a lot before jumping into the world of eCommerce.

    Starting an eCommerce business is less about the money for me as it is about the learning and experience. Don't get me wrong, I like making money. But I really want to learn as many skills as I can now to set myself up for the future.

    Now for the progress (as of 3/26/16)...

    I started with this whole eCommerce thing in late January. After about a month of searching for a product to sell, I finally found my niche. I decided to sell on eBay because I didn't want to make a rookie mistake on Amazon and forever be banned.

    • I created a brand name and logo.
    • With my first product I am about to order my first shipment of 100 units. I have progressed from order sizes of 15 to 30 to 60. They are selling well. On average I sell 4.5 a day at $16-$19 profit per unit.
    • My second product is a little more expensive and sells about one a day. I have ordered a second order of 25 units more of this item. My profit margin is again $16-$19 depending on where it is shipping to.
    • I have 4 other products all in the same niche that i'm going to sell once I have the money to do so.
    • I created a killer template for my listings. I found an amazing picture to aid my company image and tracked down the photographer. He was a super nice guy and allowed licensing rights at a price that I saw fit to pay him.
    • Started the process of getting a domain name. The one that I want is owned by someone who is holding it to sell. I should have control of it soon enough.
    • So far I have over $3000 in sales. I could have sold more but there has been a few week layover between each new shipment.
    What I need to get done

    The overall consumer perception of eBay, that is that it is a cheap place for deals, really hurts my company sales. My products require a sense of quality which is not achieved on ebay. As a result I need to move to my own website and build a brand through there.
    • While my niche is not illegal, It is definitely frowned upon by eBay and Amazon alike. As a result I know my days on eBay are limited and that I need to make my own website.
    • I need to improve my ability to write copy.
    • This summer im thinking of, in addition to my eCommerce business, working in the sales department of a company. I would like to overcome my fear of putting myself out there and learn the art of selling.
    • Also ive heard a lot of good things about toastmaster. Can anyone support this? Id like to learn how to talk in public.
    I have not decided if I want to go the @Ecom man route of many products on ebay/personal web sight or the @biophase of changing products for resale on Amazon. What I do know for right now is that i'm going to build a website around my niche and build my company image and brand. Once that has been established I will figure out where to go next.

    If you've made it through my rambling so far, thank you. I understand that I have a lot to learn and am open to any advice that you can provide me with. I look forward to reading your responses.
     
  2. amp0193
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    amp0193 Legendary Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR

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    Sounds like you're off to a good start. eBay has validated that at least there is some demand for your product.

    Getting a website going is easy enough, you should be able to knock this out in a day or two using Shopify.


    The real hurdle then, is how are you going to get traffic? It sounds like you have higher priced products, with a healthy profit per sale, so I think paid traffic could work well. Just pick one method and master it: facebook ads, google ppc, instagram promotions, social media, etc.


    Where in TX are you at?
     
  3. PTP
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    I've been doing some research on creating a website so that when I get my domain name I will be ready to go. Digital design is something I really like so i'm super excited to get to make my own website.

    In regards to traffic, I was looking into creating a following on Instagram and promoting that way. I just need to make sure my target consumer would actually use Instagram before committing the time and energy to creating page. I am going to search the forum for the pros and cons of each method before deciding on something for certain yet.

    Finally, i'm located in the North Texas Allen/McKinney/Plano area.
     
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  4. PTP
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    Update(4/6/16)

    So its been a few days since my last post and I have jumped head first into creating a website for myself.

    Needless to say I am daunted by the magnitude of everything I need to accomplish, and I am not sure exactly where to start. I have been researching things that need to get done before you launch a website and I underestimated the simplicity of the task. However, im going to be exposed to many different aspects of business and I am excited to tackle this new project.

    What I have done so far...
    • After some research I decided on an eCommerce platform. I am going to use shopify as it seems to have the most user friendly interface in addition to it having some nice templates. I began my trial and have played around with designing a website.
    • I began creating a business plan as well as identifying my selling proposition, customer group, and I bought one of my domain names.
    • I also started retaking product photos to have a white background so they can appear more professional.
    Recent drawbacks...
    • In order to get rid of a scratched product, I set up an auction on eBay using the EXACT same template of the main product I am selling now. That auction got flagged by eBay and was removed. This is my 2nd strike with eBay and my next slip up will result in a ban. Since it was the same template of the product I am selling now, I know it is only a matter of time before that item is flagged as well.
    • My solution
      • I want to create another eBay account to sell my product. My thinking is that I can keep making new eBay accounts if the listing is removed while preventing myself from being banned permanently. My concern is that eBay will notice that the accounts are linked and ban them both regardless. Has anyone had any experience with this? I would really appreciate any help/insight.
    • Also, a customer contacted me today saying the item I sent him wasn't working properly. Im going to work things out with him and likely give him a full refund. However, I truly want people to be happy with the products I am selling and it sucks that he got a defective one. Other than that though I haven't had any problems. So 1/100+ isn't bad.
    My next step...
    • I am going to continue and plan and prepare for launching my website, while find out a way to sell and not be banned on eBay. I understand the whole "paralysis by analysis" thing, however, I need to have some direction and organization before I move on.I dont want to launch and start running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to fix problems that could have been avoided with some initial insight.
    In addition, I surpassed $5000 in sales which is very exciting. If I can avoid having eBay kick me off the island, I will be able to have some starting money to expand my product line.

    Final Note...

    To those of you who read this, please let me know what your thoughts are on the direction I am taking. If you have eCommerce experience I would love to talk and listen to advice you may have. Anything feedback will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for your time and have a great day!

    IMG_1782[1].PNG (Proof of my sales)
     
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  5. PTP
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    Update (4/8/16)

    So I have recently ran into a problem with my higher ticket item. Within the past two days, I have had 2 customers report back that the item had broken. Both breaks occurred in the same area which leads me to believe that this is a design flaw. After giving the customers full refunds, I contacted the supplier about the problem and I am awaiting a response.

    While other customers have reported back saying that the item works well, im not sure how their opinion is going to change within the next few months. If these past two days are any indication of the product quality, I am likely going to be receiving more defect/ returns within the upcoming days.

    My Dilemma

    I know what you all are thinking. What a great opportunity to improve upon an item and bring it to the market to fill a need. Thats the exact same thing that came to mind. However, there are a few problems.

    1) The products that I am selling (including the niche that I am in) require a fairly high degree of precision and functionality. They must be able to withstand a lot of stress on a constant basis. I dont feel like I can achieve this level of quality through Chinese manufacturing. Also, I cannot personally test how well the product works because I dont personally use it. Therefore, I wont know if any changes made are actually making a difference.

    2) If I decide to source within the US, my costs are going to increase exponentially. This will in essence destroy the market I am in. I will then be competing with larger, well established companies. My specific selling point is possible because the prices of big companies allow it to exist. I am filling a market need, however, I am filling it at a loss of product quality.

    3) There is also a likely chance that I have a large amount of liability.

    4) There are a few other reasons why my niche may be problematic but explaining them would reveal to much about it.

    5) Finally, It is not my intention to ever screw anyone over with garbage products. Money is not my motivation, but rather helping people by giving them something they can use is. If I cannot guarantee that I am giving my customers the best possible product, I cannot morally justify continuing on in that niche, even if it is profitable.

    My Solutions

    1) I am going to sell the rest of my inventory and wait to see what the response is. Thes tow may just have been the bad ones in the batch. At the same time, I will discuss ways to improve the product with my supplier. I have ideas in mind and want to see how much the costs will be. If the costs are reasonable, I will order a size of around 25, test the improvements, and wait for feedback. Ill figure out what to do from the response that I get back.

    2) I will continue to sell the first product that I have for as long as I can. I have only had one person contact me back, so I think it works well. However, this is the one where eBay took down its listing and gave me a warning. So we'll see how long that lasts for. My biggest worry is the long term durability of my products. How well will they be working after x months?

    I am hesitant to create my website now because I am not sure what the future holds for this specific niche. I will still sell in it as long as I can but will also begin to search again for another niche to sell in. Hopefully, with the money I have earned so far, I will be able to change a product and make it my own like @biophase, unless I find a niche that doesn't need immediate improvement.

    Thanks to all who read this far. Writing everything out has helped me to figure out a more decisive plan of action to take. I will post updates on developments as they occur.
     
  6. amp0193
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    This isn't a long-term solution, you're only thinking short-term cash here. I dealt with the eBay banhammer 3 or 4 years ago. And yes, anytime I tried to make a new account, they linked it up with my banned one within 24 hours and shut it down as well. The only way to get around it was to do some shady stealth stuff that required changing my IP address before every login, and using someone else's address, and a visa vanilla gift card as a payment method. I suggest you just don't do anything that would get you banned in the first place.

    Facebook has this quote plastered all over the walls of their headquarters: "Done, Not Perfect." It seems to apply here.

    You know that iPhones are made in China right?

    You can get the quality you need, this is just a barrier to entry. Don't let this be a reason to quit, it's just a problem to figure out. Hire an inspection company to check the goods before shipment, here is one that a couple friends have used: http://www.trigo-group.com/.
     
  7. PTP
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    First of all, thank you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it. I have a new order of 100 units of my first product coming in in about a week. I was planning on using the money from those to fund my website. However, what you are suggesting is wait and only sell those on my website when it is up? Have you had any experience with funneling eBay buyers to a personal website by offering discounts and referrals? I was thinking that it may be worth the risk of selling out of this last batch and driving buyers to my website. However, it wont make sense if people from eBay rarely ever go to your main site even with incentives.


    What you are saying here is just get to the point were I can launch the website, and then tackle problems as they occur? I do see the validity behind this point. What I meant to say was I first needed to identify my unique selling proposition, consumer demographic, and things necessary for the design of my website to target my consumer. I have figured those out though so there is not much stopping me from moving forward now.

    How large of an order size would you recommend for an inspection company? I dont know if my orders of 25 units would merit this step yet. Right now I am talking with my supplier on how to fix this issue. I was chatting with him a while ago, and he seems big on standing behind the quality of his product. He really hates how Americans see Chinese stuff as junk and wants to change that perception. I think I can use this to my advantage.
     
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  8. amp0193
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    If selling on eBay will get you banned from eBay, and you would like to continue selling on eBay, then don't do it.

    This literally won't ever happen. EcomMan posted as much in his thread when he was heavily selling on eBay.


    URL, product pictures, some basic descriptions, and an ability to receive payment. That's literally all you need. You don't even need product in stock, just pre-sell it.


    Whenever the cost of not using an inspection company (due to returns/refunds/poor reputation) is greater than the cost of using one.
     
  9. PTP
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    All very sound advice. Thank you.
     
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    Update:
    • Expanded product line to 4 products. 3 are variations of the same product.
    • Created a website on Shopify.
    • So far I have sold 4 items on my website without any advertising. I have been rerouting people to my site via eBay.
    I have, however, run into a slight hiccup. Every method of advertising that I have decided to use will not allow me to advertise my niche (google ads, facebook, etc...). The niche is considered against their policy. In addition, I have come to realize that my niche does not provide me with the control (CENTS) that is imperative to ultimate long term success.

    There are forces (out of my control) at work that are actively attempting (and from what I can tell succeeding) to destroy the niche I am in.

    After discussing the options with my dad, and thinking about the long term, I have decided to begin searching for a different niche to sell in. In the mean time I will continue to sell the products that I have on eBay (the ones I know for sure wont get me banned). I will also still continue to try and drive people to my website via eBay and by sending emails to previous customers asking for referrals.

    I will be able to make short term money by selling what I have now, and I will be able to use this money to find/improve new products.

    I hope to set myself up for the future by finding a niche that is long term as opposed to one that has a finite amount of time left on it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 7, 2018
  11. PTP
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    Update:
    • Decided to maintain selling the products that I have been on my website and eBay. Im not however, going to expand the product line from what it is now. Just going to sell the types I have.
    • Began an instagram page for my niche and have been reading up on Instagram marketing from different threads on this forum.

    • Bought a research software and have begun to find products to sell on Amazon.
    • Found 2 very promising products.
    • I have decided to take @biophase advice and pursue the Hard/Easy method of Amazon selling. One of the items that I found I can make some changes. If I even capture 1/6 of one of the sellers volume, I would be doing well. Only problem is I would have to likely ship the item through freight.
    • Never shipped through freight but theres always a first time for everything.
    [​IMG]
    I feel like this quote captures the situation well
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2016
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  12. PTP
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    Update:

    Instagram account is growing much faster than I ever anticipated. Ive posted 5 times followed about 2500 people and of those about 800 have followed back. Although im temp banned from following people, its surprising how little time it took. I plan to do a giveaway at 1k followers or run a promotion.

    Despite the increase of traffic to my site, I have not seen any conversions. I need to figure out how to get people to buy from instagram now...

    Reached out to suppliers for my new product to source on Amazon. Waiting for response. This product is fairly new to the market and I think it has HUGE potential. If I make changes that others cant replicate, it would give me a great leg up before people figure out this niche. Researching how to ship through freight. Im thinking I may order some samples of the original item first. Then make some changes and order a large amount. Split 1/4 air and then 3/4 freight. I havent decided yet though.
     
  13. PTP
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    Over 1800 followers on Instagram. Still no one is buying from my site. The amount of traffic has increased.

    However, these people appear to be more just checking out the site instead of actually wanting to buy.

    Ran a promotion for 4 days, no one bought. Only 1 cart addition.

    The item that was generating most of my sales isnt selling outside of eBay. Not going to risk getting the eBay ban hammer by selling it on eBay.

    Although im unable use any paid traffic for my site, I have been teaching myself google adwords for when I can use it. Once again not going to risk being banned from adwords for using it on my products.

    I will build my Instagram for another month to see if I can generate any sales at all. If that doesnt work ill drop the niche and move on.

    Im going to take all the money I have generated so far and infuse it into the Amazon item I am improving.

    Will be making a new progress thread to document my Amazon selling journey.
     
  14. PTP
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    Update

    I checked with google and they said I would be able to advertise 3/4 of my products. Since then I have been learning AdWords (for about a month now). Traffic has increased a lot and today is the 3rd consecutive day with sales to my website.

    My site also had the most visits ever yesterday at 69 and I had 2 sales(although some of the visits were from myself;))

    ***Moral of the Story: Never assume that you cant do something. If you are afraid of breaking rules just ask. Otherwise just do it.***

    Learning AdWords is super exciting and my niche is not very competitive. I'm almost ranking #1 for one of my Ad groups with a 2.37% CTR and extremely high bounce rate. Obviously I need to improve, however, the lack of competition is helping with the learning curve because I get to see results faster.

    After multiple instances of people breaking my product, I have added an instruction manual. Since my target market is beginners, it was really an oversight to not include a proper installation manual.

    Ive had people complain that the item has broken, but then I also get people who rave bout how much they love it. So I think the issue is that the people who are breaking the product just don't know how to get it installed.

    Im still working on my Amazon product. The first design I sent in had issues so it couldn't work. My new design is going well. Im super excited to just get this thing into the hands of the consumer. The changes I made are going to make it stronger, more visually appealing, and the color that most people want.

    I will make an Amazon progress thread when I have some progress to document;).
     
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    Updated my Shopify store to a premium theme. There is really something to be said about you get what you pay for.

    The free theme was alright, but the premium theme blows the free one out of the water. Free can only get you so far.

    Also, my manufacture sent me a picture of the mold we're working on for my AZ product. Its taking a while but its turning out really well and i'm very excited to see the finished product!
     
  16. PTP
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    A person complimented my website saying it was better than the "big guys". Music to my ears :happy:.

    Ordered a new product. If it sells I will expand to 2 more sizes. That would be 3 new products. Also, my manufacture is making another variation that will have 2 more variants to it.

    A potential of 5 new items to sell within the next month (not to mention my AZ product in a new niche that im making).

    Ive decided to take @ZCP advice of having "Zappos like customer service". (Thanks for that by the way:tiphat:)

    I offer a 1 year money back no questions asked. Whenever people have an issue I respond quickly and try to provide assistance. Then I follow up a few days later to see how my advice worked. If it doesn't fix the problem I send them a replacement right away.

    I truly believe this is the only way to run a business. Screwing over a customer after they've bought from you is an extremely stupid business model to have.

    Up to almost 5k followers on insta. Am going to run a giveaway to get my brand out there.

    Also, Im going to pay larger accounts for shoutouts.

    Google ads have been bringing in some sales. My budget is $15 a day and it brings in about 1 sale.

    My next step is to get better at AdWords and improve these numbers. I need to make it cheaper to bring in customers.
     
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    Thank you for this thread. It#s a really interessting read and hella motivating to see someone with a goal following it and have succes.
    Also I like your mindset alot if you keep it that way I can only see you succeding in the long run.
    Wish you all of luck and succes brother!
     
  18. PTP
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    Thank you for the kind words (and the rep$). I really appreciate it!

    I honestly wasn't sure anyone was reading, but im incredibly glad you were able to get something out of it.:)
     
  19. PTP
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    So today is the first day that I surpassed $200 in sales on my website. It also marks a new high of daily products sold to my site at 3 units as well as a new high in visitors. upload_2016-7-11_21-3-32.png

    The instagram contest did not happen because I was unprepared. I should have started planning it at about 4500 followers. Instead I tried to start at 4900ish and am now at 5300-5400 2 days after hitting 5000.

    Note to self plan for contests much earlier than you think.

    Still figuring out google ads. I also need to find a way to get shots of my products in action:).
     
  20. PTP
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    Cranked up my AdWords budget from $17 to $40. New high in website visitors, sales, and products sold.

    Unfortunately, i'm currently out of one of my products to sell but have a new shipment coming in soon. If it doesn't arrive tomorrow I will email my customers and give them a heads up.

    Picture1.png

    Started chatting with a person on instagram who has 30k ish followers. Super nice guy and I ended up sending him one of my products to test out. :)

    Still have an extremely high bounce rate for my PPC campaign that I need to fix. Slowly learning but not afraid to admit that I have an extremely long way to go.

    The person who was going to help me get product action shots fell through so i'm still looking. No worries though I will find someone. :happy:

    Bing ads have potential for my target demographic. Will start those when I get a knack for AdWords.

    Still waiting on my AZ product mold.

    @biophase Can I PM you and run my AZ product by you?
     
  21. Omega
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    It's cool following along with someone's progress when they're a few steps ahead of you.Keep it up,and make some sales.
     
    Ross Morgan, Striver, ZF Lee and 2 others like this.
  22. PTP
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    PTP Gold Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane Speedway Pass

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    Thanks man I appreciate the support!
     
    Ross Morgan likes this.
  23. PTP
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    PTP Gold Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane Speedway Pass

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    One of my products ran out of stock but I still allowed people to buy it. This is about 3 days worth of sales that I shipped this morning.

    upload_2016-7-16_21-2-38.png

    Sales are increasing. Before I was only getting 1 sale to my site per day. Now im up to 3-4. Not accounting for eBay selling.

    Instagram 21 away from 6k.

    My new shipment came in but I had already pre sold over half of the products. Im going to order 75-100 on this next order.

    About to launch a new product that I got in this shipment.

    Trying to source another product from America for my site. Ran into a ton of legal stuff that im working out now.
    Im going to get a picture of my AZ product mold on Monday:hurray:. The manufacture also agreed to my ordering plan. Im going to order first 5 to test. Next 100 to test again. Then larger scale orders.

    Having to deal with the occasional return. However, adding a guide has drastically reduced returns (so far).

    Attempting to source in the US really opened my eyes to the fact that I need to do a lot of the paperwork/license side of business.
     
    Woodsman81, DAL, Ross Morgan and 10 others like this.
  24. TheGrind
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    TheGrind Bronze Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane Speedway Pass

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    What legal stuff did you run into?
     
  25. PTP
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    PTP Gold Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane Speedway Pass

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    Basically I have been treating this like a hobby and not a business. I haven't done a lot of things like set up and LLC, business bank account, etc... All stuff while not important in the beginning, is now starting to become relevant. You can read more here.
     

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