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

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I appreciate the kind words buddy:)

logo:
Do you do anything to protect your logo? To my understanding without legal resitration everyone else can use your logo.
At the moment no. I found a new designer that is modifying the logo I created with their own twist. I will likely file for a trademark once its finished.

79 NDA
You mentioned NDA. Did you get your designer to sign the NDA as well? If not why?
The first designer I used had to sign an NDA. However, he did an awful job and I ended up having my brother bring the designs in my head to life.

82 follow/unfollow, meditation
I've heard so many times about this follow/unfollow strategy. Doesn't unfollow piss people off? How long after do you unfollow them?
I did this up to about 20k (now at around 22k) followers and stopped. Now I just post daily customer pictures showing off the product. When I was actively using the method I would unfollow after about a week and honestly most people really either dont notice or care enough to say anything.

Once my followers got up to the point where the brand looked credible (20k for me) I stopped and focused on more important things. I do think it is important though when starting off to make your brand look as big and trustable as possible any whatever way you can. The biggest issue when starting is having customers get over the trust barrier. Social proof 100% helps.

In terms of meditation, I can share something with you because I've been doing meditation every morning for over a year. As MJ said in UNSCRIPTED, visualization can affect your body, physically. Recently I've made several changes and I can see the benefits!
* As you already did, use guided meditation or at least play some soothing music.
* Find your G spot length. (btw I don't usually use this G word. please blame UNSCRIPTED.) I mostly did 50 minutes to 1 hour but I found 10 minutes in the morning is the most effective.
* In my meditation, I now focus on visualizing the improvement of my certain health issues. I imagine a healing smoke entering my body (with a color you believe has a healing power) and try to feel how great it is when those challenges are gone. I can actually observe the improvement!!!
10 minutes is the perfect time for me as well. I do it early in the morning right before I work out. With anything longer than 10 mins, I get annoyed and just want to start my day already! Not sure if you're familiar with it but I use the app "Headspace" and like it a lot. Although the guy talks to much in some of the earlier lessons.
 

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Quick Update:
  • Finished August with with monthly sales almost identical to July even without help of Facebook ads.
  • Reached out to more influencers. Struck a deal with a fairly large YouTuber - 500-550k subs. He really likes the product and will be making 2 videos on it. The review is nearly made, i'm just waiting to get more inventory before giving him the green light to post it.
  • One of my manufacturers machines are down which is causing delays. Reached out to another manufacture to set them up as a "standby" as an added precaution. The process will take some time.
  • Realized I need to add systems to make my business more streamlined and get myself out of the day to day operations. Installed Zendesk for customer service, implemented an automatic return process and a added a self-help knowledge base to answer some commonly asked questions.
  • Began the process of creating custom packaging for my products. I'll have the designs in 1-2 weeks and my manufacture will then start sending me the product fully packaged up. This will save me a ton of time. Fulfillment is the single largest time suck in my business, so getting custom packaging will not only speed up shipping, but will also put me one step closer to using a fulfillment house if and when the time comes.
  • Listed a 2 of my generic upsell products to amazon. FBA inventory finally updated 2 days ago and I have already sold 20 units. I'm selling them at break even to build up sales and reviews and. My plan is to sell them at break even for as long as I need to rise to the number one spot. Since AZ is not my main channel, I can keep this up for however long I need to get there.
My current goal is to make my business as automated as possible so it can grow without me. This will significantly free up my time and will allow me to work on my new business while the old one still prints cash. That's the idea anyway:playful:

Thanks for reading!
 

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implemented an automatic return process
I never once had this idea. But had I done it 18 months ago, it would have saved hours and hours and hours of my life. Brilliant.
My current goal is to make my business as automated as possible so it can grow without me. This will significantly free up my time and will allow me to work on my new business while the old one still prints cash. That's the idea anyway:playful:
It's a good goal for any business. Build and automated, sellable, business, even if you plan to continue running it.
 
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So earlier I mentioned that I was starting a new business. I had decided on a product just to get moving and to get me out of the analysis paralysis stage.

After talking with a ton of suppliers, I was getting ready for samples of the new product to be sent over. However, I honestly wasn't too thrilled about the idea of starting a business around something I had minimal interest in. In my eyes there wasn't much of a value add between my products and those of competitors and it would be hard to differentiate.

This led me to keep searching for a new business and eventually to stop sourcing the other product all together. I then began to narrow down the categories I wanted to start a business in. From there I looked at the different products within a specific category. This part took me a while as I kept jumping back and forth between 2-3 different product types.

The thing holding me back was that this niche is seen as particularly competitive and there was someone already doing really really well with a similar idea. However, there were a few areas that I saw room for serious improvement but I had to make sure it wasn't just wishful thinking on my part. I created a thread telling people about my idea and if they saw the same issues with the products as I did.

Turns out a bunch of people are unhappy with the options on the market and they gave me some really good insight on improvements they want. In order to get a general idea of all the changes, I created a short survey.

So far the survey has been live for less than 24 hours and I've almost maxed out my 100 free responses. This is literally from a single post with no incentives at all.

There appears to be a huge pain point in this marketplace that needs solving and I'm excited to help these people by creating a solution for them!

More updates coming soon...

EDIT: Another funny thing is that people are thanking me for creating this product.
 
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It's a good goal for any business. Build and automated, sellable, business, even if you plan to continue running it.
Sellable is definitely what I'm going after someday. Your thread has really made me think about the holding vs selling argument. A lot of the changes I'm making were inspired by your thread with the idea of making the business more appealing to a future buyer.
 

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Sellable is definitely what I'm going after someday. Your thread has really made me think about the holding vs selling argument. A lot of the changes I'm making were inspired by your thread with the idea of making the business more appealing to a future buyer.
If it's more appealing to a future buyer, it's probably more appealing to run as well.


Read Built to Sell. You can read it in one sitting, and it's really eye-opening.
 
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Read Built to Sell. You can read it in one sitting, and it's really eye-opening.
It's funny. You mentioned Built to Sell in another thread and I ordered it and finished it the same day. I've never really thought of a service based business as something that could be fairly automated/sold, but apparently it can.

Also, I really like the idea of specialization and being really good at one thing as opposed to a jack of all trades master of none mindset.
 

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It's funny. You mentioned Built to Sell in another thread and I ordered it and finished it the same day. I've never really thought of a service based business as something that could be fairly automated/sold, but apparently it can.

Also, I really like the idea of specialization and being really good at one thing as opposed to a jack of all trades master of none mindset.
Yeah, my big takeaway was having a core product offering without too many options. Then develop the system for selling that core product offering. I had plans to have a lot of complex customization options to be offered end of next year... but I think I'm going to keep it simple now.

Once he figured out how to sell one product, logos, it was as simple as finding more leads and getting more sales reps.

That, and the bit about repeat income, shifted my thoughts on a B2C and has me seriously considering a more B2B strategy to B&M stores, so that there's more repeat revenue. Especially because my B2C customers will not be repeat buyers in almost all cases.
 
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Yeah, my big takeaway was having a core product offering without too many options. Then develop the system for selling that core product offering. I had plans to have a lot of complex customization options to be offered end of next year... but I think I'm going to keep it simple now.

Once he figured out how to sell one product, logos, it was as simple as finding more leads and getting more sales reps.

That, and the bit about repeat income, shifted my thoughts on a B2C and has me seriously considering a more B2B strategy to B&M stores, so that there's more repeat revenue. Especially because my B2C customers will not be repeat buyers in almost all cases.
Repeat customers are key. My new business is going to be a consumable product with a monthly subscribe and save option. I've always thought that manufacturers have a really nice business model due to the fact that they have a steady stream of repeat customers who order in bulk.

B2B in your case is actually a really good idea. It's probably going to be a lot more work up front to try and get B&M stores to take the risk of stocking your products at first, but in the long run it would further increase the barrier to entry.

B&M stores could also be better at selling because they offer a more tangible purchasing experience.
 

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I've always thought that manufacturers have a really nice business model due to the fact that they have a steady stream of repeat customers who order in bulk.
Yeah, I think so too.

B2B in your case is actually a really good idea. It's probably going to be a lot more work up front to try and get B&M stores to take the risk of stocking your products at first, but in the long run it would further increase the barrier to entry.
It might actually be easier/less work to get B&M stores as customers.

The biggest thing I have to figure out now, is how that strategy will affect retail pricing, and if that changes part of my USP.

B&M stores could also be better at selling because they offer a more tangible purchasing experience.
Exactly. This is what has turned away a number of B2C purchases. Something I'm trying to mitigate with some professional video and some 360 spin photography on the website in a couple of months.
 

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Time for an update:
  • Finished September with record sales high month (beat last month by a few K)
  • Youtuber with 500k+ subs posted a glowing review of the product. I plan to use his review as a way of getting in touch with more reviewers within the space. Planning on doing more collaborations with him.
  • Finalized my new logo. It looks awesome!
  • Food product survey had about 120+ responses in a 24 hour period. Since then I have been looking for a food scientist to help formulate my product. After calling tons of companies, I have a few promising leads. One in particular looks to be exactly what I am looking for. The second time calling I got in touch with someone and now I sent them an email with the details. Hope to hear back soon and get a price quote for their services.
  • Amazon.... I have a new found respect for you Amazon sellers out there. Let me tell you, it seems like Amazon customers are negative review trigger happy. I managed to go about 1 year on my shopify store before my first one star review. How many days on Amazon you ask? 18 days. And from what I can tell it's because the customer didn't know what they were ordering. I'm expecting more reviews to help offset the now 3.5 star rating. But if not i'll just get a new UPC and create a new listing.
Other than that i'm just spending the majority of my time calling food scientists and bringing this food company to life.

I was told by food broker in this space that my niche is very competitive and that most business she works with fail. Honestly it kind of pumped me up and i'm ready for the challenge. Until next time, have a great day!
 

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And from what I can tell it's because the customer didn't know what they were ordering.
Do they complain about the product at all, or just about the shipping of it and ordering it by mistake?

If the latter... you *might* be able to get Amazon to remove it. If they mention anything about the product at all... then you're probably stuck with it.

I was told by food broker in this space that my niche is very competitive and that most business she works with fail. Honestly it kind of pumped me up and i'm ready for the challenge. Until next time, have a great day!
Time to prove her wrong!
 
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Do they complain about the product at all, or just about the shipping of it and ordering it by mistake?

If the latter... you *might* be able to get Amazon to remove it. If they mention anything about the product at all... then you're probably stuck with it.
They talk about the product so unfortunately no luck with Amazon. More 5-stars reviews should be coming in to make up for it, but the sales hit in the mean time has been significant.

Time to prove her wrong!
You're damn right!
 

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They talk about the product so unfortunately no luck with Amazon. More 5-stars reviews should be coming in to make up for it, but the sales hit in the mean time has been significant.
Do you use any auto-emailers to contact customers after purchases?

These are good as you can use them to encourage happy customers to leave a good review, but guide unhappy customers to contact you directly. From there you can try to fix the problem or refund them before they've left a negative review.
 

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These are good as you can use them to encourage happy customers to leave a good review, but guide unhappy customers to contact you directly. From there you can try to fix the problem or refund them before they've left a negative review.
I used to do that same thing, however, as of early 2017 it's against terms of service.


Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited.



Source: Amazon.com Help: Prohibited seller activities and actions
 

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I used to do that same thing, however, as of early 2017 it's against terms of service.
Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited.
I didn't know about that. Thanks.

I'm clearly going to have to review my emails and see if I'm falling foul of this new rule.
 
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Do you use any auto-emailers to contact customers after purchases?

These are good as you can use them to encourage happy customers to leave a good review, but guide unhappy customers to contact you directly. From there you can try to fix the problem or refund them before they've left a negative review.
I used to do that same thing, however, as of early 2017 it's against terms of service.


Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited.



Source: Amazon.com Help: Prohibited seller activities and actions
I looked into these at first but saw, as @amp0193 said, they are against the TOS. From my understanding AZ customers were being spammed with email which prompted Amazon to axe the auto-responders.
 

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I looked into these at first but saw, as @amp0193 said, they are against the TOS. From my understanding AZ customers were being spammed with email which prompted Amazon to axe the auto-responders.
Auto-responders are not against the TOS. How you word your messages may put you against the TOS.

I think a carefully worded message would be fine. Or just any message asking for honest feedback would also be ok.
 

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I looked into these at first but saw, as @amp0193 said, they are against the TOS. From my understanding AZ customers were being spammed with email which prompted Amazon to axe the auto-responders.
Auto-responders are not axed, you just have to make sure you are compliant.

My first email that goes out is a thank you for purchase, along with 5-6 useage tips that answer frequently asked questions.

My second email a week later asks for a review in a neutral manner.

My third email sent a few days later is almost the same as the 2nd email.


Last week, I got a vague warning from seller-performance about my emails, and was given a phone number that I could reach them at. I called them, and had the rep review all of my emails. He was clear that all of my email were within ToS, but said it was most likely flagged by too many customers clicking the "spam" button, as you said @PTP.

My response was to delete the 3rd email from the sequence, and see what happens.

Also, the rep on the phone said that you could always email seller-performance@amazon.com preemptively and ask them if what you're sending out is ok. He suggested that it's always better to try and resolve something before you get a suspension.
 

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Talk about a crazy month!

Sales spiked after the YouTuber's video and have stayed fairly consistent since then. Did more sales this month than all of last year combined - 75% increase over last month.

It was also one of the most stressful to date. The reason? Inventory issues. Early in the month my manufacture experienced and issue with the material they were using. They initially gave me a heads up on the issue and it didnt seem like a big deal. In reality though, it was a big deal and affected 100% of incoming inventory as opposed to just "some" of the inventory they had initially thought.

While the issue was only cosmetic and most people in reality wouldn't notice it, I felt it was not in the best interest of my brand to send out a sub-par product. So I emailed the 200-300 customers who had ordered, by hand, personalized with their name.

In the email I outlined the problem we were having, gave them multiple options we could take to fix it, apologized and took full responsibility for what happened. And you know what? Nearly everyone that responded told me it was OK and were thrilled to be kept in the loop. Some were so impressed that they screenshotted the email and posted it online.

I also put out a post on Facebook telling people that if they had received a defective item by mistake, we would replace it or offer them a refund. Again, my community reacted insanely positively and were extremely impressed.

I think it's important realize that customers are people too. They understand that things happen and will work with you IF you keep them updated ahead of time. If you wait until THEY contact YOU for an update, it's too late. If something goes wrong, be proactive and let your customers know first. Own up to your mistake and fix it. So few companies are willing to individually email every customer to update them, that the ones that do will make an incredible first impression.

Another thing I learned this month was that almost all of my sales are organic/referrals and not coming from PPC as I had initially thought. The majority of my PPC conversions are coming from my brand name.

A few more quick things that happened:
  • Making a slight improvement to my products. When I asked my Facebook page their thoughts on the new vs old, hundreds of people commented that they wanted the new change. The adjustment will make my products look MUCH classier, and will allow me to charge a higher price over time.
  • Increased price on all products by 3%-6%. Had no effect on conversions/sales at all. Over time I will be able to raise prices 15%-20% or more and still be a great deal for buyers. However, right now I care more about market share/getting the brand name out there as opposed to money in my pocket.
  • Custom packaging is finishing up. Another thing that improves the overall perception and quality of my product which will allow me to charge more in the future.
  • AZ auto-responder has helped bring in more reviews. Products are now at a 4-star and 4.6-star rating. Will be launching 2 more items to AZ soon.
  • Working on a new product with my manufacture that will hopefully become a big part of my business. Should be easier to ship and have higher margins although it's still in the design phase and has a long way to go (post Christmas launch).
  • Looking around and getting quotes from different manufactures to use as a backup just in case something happens in the future.
  • Setting up sponsorship with YouTuber's I have worked with in the past.

Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween everyone!
 

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Talk about a crazy month!

Sales spiked after the YouTuber's video and have stayed fairly consistent since then. Did more sales this month than all of last year combined - 75% increase over last month.

It was also one of the most stressful to date. The reason? Inventory issues. Early in the month my manufacture experienced and issue with the material they were using. They initially gave me a heads up on the issue and it didnt seem like a big deal. In reality though, it was a big deal and affected 100% of incoming inventory as opposed to just "some" of the inventory they had initially thought.

While the issue was only cosmetic and most people in reality wouldn't notice it, I felt it was not in the best interest of my brand to send out a sub-par product. So I emailed the 200-300 customers who had ordered, by hand, personalized with their name.

In the email I outlined the problem we were having, gave them multiple options we could take to fix it, apologized and took full responsibility for what happened. And you know what? Nearly everyone that responded told me it was OK and were thrilled to be kept in the loop. Some were so impressed that they screenshotted the email and posted it online.

I also put out a post on Facebook telling people that if they had received a defective item by mistake, we would replace it or offer them a refund. Again, my community reacted insanely positively and were extremely impressed.

I think it's important realize that customers are people too. They understand that things happen and will work with you IF you keep them updated ahead of time. If you wait until THEY contact YOU for an update, it's too late. If something goes wrong, be proactive and let your customers know first. Own up to your mistake and fix it. So few companies are willing to individually email every customer to update them, that the ones that do will make an incredible first impression.

Another thing I learned this month was that almost all of my sales are organic/referrals and not coming from PPC as I had initially thought. The majority of my PPC conversions are coming from my brand name.

A few more quick things that happened:
  • Making a slight improvement to my products. When I asked my Facebook page their thoughts on the new vs old, hundreds of people commented that they wanted the new change. The adjustment will make my products look MUCH classier, and will allow me to charge a higher price over time.
  • Increased price on all products by 3%-6%. Had no effect on conversions/sales at all. Over time I will be able to raise prices 15%-20% or more and still be a great deal for buyers. However, right now I care more about market share/getting the brand name out there as opposed to money in my pocket.
  • Custom packaging is finishing up. Another thing that improves the overall perception and quality of my product which will allow me to charge more in the future.
  • AZ auto-responder has helped bring in more reviews. Products are now at a 4-star and 4.6-star rating. Will be launching 2 more items to AZ soon.
  • Working on a new product with my manufacture that will hopefully become a big part of my business. Should be easier to ship and have higher margins although it's still in the design phase and has a long way to go (post Christmas launch).
  • Looking around and getting quotes from different manufactures to use as a backup just in case something happens in the future.
  • Setting up sponsorship with YouTuber's I have worked with in the past.
Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween everyone!
How do you pay the youtubers that promote your product? Do you give them an afiiliate link or something like a flat fee?
 
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How do you pay the youtubers that promote your product? Do you give them an afiiliate link or something like a flat fee?
A lot of the smaller guys do it for free. Most times they really like the product and are excited to be able to keep it.

Larger channels charge a fee. The guy I worked with charged a flat rate and I sent him a few different products to try out.

Right now I'm working out some sponsorships with a few of the channels and we're still ironing out a lot of the details. I'll post more about that once we've got it set up
 

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Awesome thread, man! Killer job!

I'm a little confused, though... Around June or so, you mentioned platform problems and were bummed out, and looking for a new business to pursue. Then every month after that you're breaking records. Did I misread something, or what?
 
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A lot of the smaller guys do it for free. Most times they really like the product and are excited to be able to keep it.

Larger channels charge a fee. The guy I worked with charged a flat rate and I sent him a few different products to try out.

Right now I'm working out some sponsorships with a few of the channels and we're still ironing out a lot of the details. I'll post more about that once we've got it set up
I'd love to hear you expand a little more on this. Obviously you can't give out exact details or anything like that, but ballpark figures of what you've been charged, or the details you're planning of the sponsorships I feel would be a great help to a lot of people thinking about working with influencers.

Really, really great thread by the way.
 
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Awesome thread, man! Killer job!

I'm a little confused, though... Around June or so, you mentioned platform problems and were bummed out, and looking for a new business to pursue. Then every month after that you're breaking records. Did I misread something, or what?
So what happened was when I ran into platform issues in June/July, it reminded me of the lack of control I had over my sales.

At that time I was scared that if I began to experience other issues with different platforms I was using, my sales would drop off drastically. This really made me question the long term efficacy of the business.

Because of that, I began to spend half my time searching for a new business and the other half maintaining the current one. During that few month period, I was still reaching out to YouTubers and other influencers. Over that period I began to realize that my sales were not tanking as I had initially thought they would, but they were actually increasing.

Another thing I realized was that the majority of my sales are organic. Mostly coming from google or YouTube video reviews. Also, the majority of my Adwords conversions come from my brand name keywords which was really surprising.

Understanding that there are ways to grow the business outside of the "traditional" methods of growth that allow more control was really what helped again to shift my mindset on the business.

I'd also like to add that a lot of these posts are made as things are happening in real time. Emotions tend to get in the way right after a major set back. Having some time usually helps me to regain composure and see what the actual damage is as opposed to the hypotheticals:happy:
 

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Okay, cool! I'm glad you're still going... after reading it all last night, I feel involved in your process! haha

What about the part about your manufacturer wanting you to sell at a higher price, or he was gonna stop supplying you. Was that your Chinese guy? What do those guys even care about prices!? And who was pressuring him... I was very confused about that part!
 
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I'd love to hear you expand a little more on this. Obviously you can't give out exact details or anything like that, but ballpark figures of what you've been charged, or the details you're planning of the sponsorships I feel would be a great help to a lot of people thinking about working with influencers.

Really, really great thread by the way.
For sure! So it really depends on a lot of different factors. I've had a channel with 80k-100k subs ask for $1400 for a 2-3 min vid. I didn't take them up on their offer but I may loop back around to them as they grow a little more.

In my experience, channels with <70k subs won't charge for the review while >70k will start asking for compensation. Channels with a few hundred thousand subs will charge anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand for a video. It's worth it!

One trick I did to get more exposure was to offer to send them a few extra products to give away to their subscribers. This way, one video will feature multiple different products - allowing me to feature that video on multiple different product listings for more exposure. Putting the video reviews of YouTubers on your website also serves as a really helpful way of building trust with the buyer.

Video converts really well. Since I dont know the first thing about making videos, I just got YouTubers to make them and then just put them up on my website.

I'm still working out sponsorships with different channels so I can't really give much helpful info at the moment. However, once I get a few under my belt I would be more than happy to share what I've learned!
 

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