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EXECUTION My First Foray Into Ecommerce

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Metzge

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Apr 12, 2019
17
22
20
NW Washington
ENTRY 0.

So since we're at the eve of starting a new month, I figured now's a nice clean slate to begin keeping track of my progress into a new venture: ecommerce.

A bit of backstory: I'm a freelance writer with an emphasis on organic SEO. I've helped friends and clients either set up websites from scratch and helped write their content or just formulate SEO strategies for clients who already had a site that wasn't performing the way they would hope. The past two-ish years I've struggled finding continuous work, mostly because either a client becomes possessive and wants me to solely write for them without paying me enough to earn a living or just struggling to compete in a saturated marketplace where plenty of writers gladly write for fractions of a penny per word. Other issues were spotty communication (the client likes my work but takes a month or so to get back to me with clarifying information, no matter how much I try to call or email) or outright theft (some clients wouldn't pay me upfront but then on delivery, they'd like my work, publish it, but then wouldn't pay because "Well, anyone can write so why should we pay you?" despite the contract; the contracts were so small that trying to take it to court, I'd end up losing money and piss away time I didn't have). Couple that all with COVID and virtually all of my writing gigs have dried up.

Could I have maneuvered some other way, finding higher-quality clients and more work in the writing arena? I know I could've; I've done it before. But I've just become so jaded both dealing with lackluster clients and helping everyone else build their brand while my own would falter (again, word of mouth wasn't much of a thing because they wanted me to write *just* for them).. I needed something new. I needed more CONTROL in my life because I was tired on relying on flaky clients to make sure food was on the table.. and I needed something that required a bit less time so I could effectively SCALE as a one-man team.

I spent enough time helping people with marketing campaigns through Facebook and building brands through their websites and the content hosted on them. I wanted to try it myself for a change. Instead of selling services as I have the past 6-7 years, I want to try selling products, building a system that, once set up, is mostly automated while I continue working on it. I invested money in some online graphic design courses through Udemy and really enjoyed one on geometric grid design. I've always wanted to be more visually creative but my analytical mind and coming up with beautiful images people would wanna buy don't go hand-in-hand -- until now. I started playing around with different shapes, linework, layering them onto one another. I shared a few designs and a couple of my friends were like, "Whoa, I'd totally wear that if that was on a shirt," which got me into thinking about print-on-demand stuff.

I know PoD and dropshipping doesn't follow CENTS as well as one would like. The low barrier to entry, relying on third-parties to fulfill your products, being stuck with what options are available on the platform you're using, and a myriad of other factors make it a less-than-ideal model for long-term growth. However, for me, this is just an exercise to prove a concept as well as a stepping stone as I bootstrap my way to make enough money to reinvest in other options that are more CENTS-friendly (that is, instead of relying on a third-party printer for fulfillment that I have no clue about and very limited control over design placement and the like, have enough money stashed away to work with a local printer, buy in bulk, handle fulfillment myself but offer an even better product with better control over it). I'm virtually broke (COVID, the stress of the upcoming election, mixed with crippling depression and anxiety lead to less-than-stellar decisions and non-existent motivation) but I've been in worse places before. I know that if I think creatively and keep working on things and maintain my focus, I'll get to where I wanna go. Which brings us to this entry.

I've already made just over $200 in profit since launching my site about two weeks ago, all just through word of mouth. Granted, $200 is nothing for living up in the Pacific Northwest but still, it's $200 more than I expected so soon and everyone who's purchased from me has said how much they love the shirts -- both the designs on them and how soft the material is. I even have two return customers already and people asking me if they can refer their friends to my site. I also have three friends with a combined total of about 26k followers on Instagram that want to influence for me once I set up referral codes which is a nice pay-as-I-go way to advertise, giving them a portion of the profit of each sale instead of having to pay x amount upfront for an ad campaign like through Google AdWords or Facebook.

As far as the brand goes, there's a lot of emphasis on sacred geometry and Stoicism. With everything going on in the U.S., I wanted to do something to alleviate some of the stress while being apolitical. I know that might not be the strategy (my dad suggested having one site to cater to the right, the other, the left, with different shirts they'd buy; my conscious wouldn't let me sleep well if I did that though as I feel like I'd just be a part of the division), but Stoic philosophy has helped me a ton and I know I can apply its principles to motivational and calming kinds of products. For instance, I also want to sell self-help and philosophy books, coffee, tea, and mugs, notebooks and journals, posters, and other things that fit the brand. But for now, shirts is the name of the game.

My milestone/to-do list at this point is as follows:
  • Get to my first $3,500 profit month. At the very least, this will cover my living expenses with some extra leftover to save, pay down outstanding debt, and reinvest into the site.
  • Set up the website for referrals and bring the influencers on board. While my site's Facebook page only has about 140 likes through word-of-mouth, increasing a social media audience to 26k would be a tremendous help in the short-term. Even getting 1% to make a purchase or convert to a like/follow on my platforms would get me to 400.
  • Find a mentor. Rather self-explanatory. I could take the time and learn things myself (something I've already been doing) but I'd much rather find someone willing to take me under their wing and help catalyze the process -- so if there are any takers, I'd love the help and insight.
  • Broaden my list of available products. I have about 30 products so far, mostly t-shirts and tank tops. I'm making designs for long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and hoodies for the fall months and need to find suppliers for the above products I listed. I also have my own book I've published through Amazon and so I wanna sell that on my site as well as it still fits the brand. But I also understand quality > quantity so I don't want to saturate the store with nonsense.
  • Find other ways to scale beyond just Instagram influencers. While the current group is a good short-term strategy, I want to find ways to scale on my own. I have my own community of almost 2k people through gaming (a lot of them like my philosophic vibes in the community and gamers seem to like geometric/abstract prints) which has been where I got most of my initial sales. I also want to learn better on how to scale for Facebook and Google Adwords using paid advertisement.. which I have some ideas but again.. having a mentor would be helpful in this endeavor.
While this covers business-side things, I also have a few personal goals that I feel will help me out with my business. Like I said, I struggle with depression and anxiety and when I get stressed, I eat maybe one meal a day so even if it's a good meal, I know I'm screwing up my nutrition which affects a whole bunch of other stuff. Those goals are:
  • Learn meal-prep and eat three meals a day. Also, smoothies if only because drinking calories is easier and it's a decent way to get a bunch of fruit and veggie servings along with protein supplements.
  • Workout more because endorphins. I'm also trying to go for more walks just to get out of the house, get some Vitamin D, and have picture opportunities for the different adventures I go on (I love landscape photography and might be able to use some of the shots in later designs).
  • Find some small writing projects, preferably within the video game, cannabis, or logistics industries. I'm passionate about all three subjects and have some contacts in each. I don't want it to distract too much from the work on the site but I just need money to keep afloat for now so while I'm waiting for sales and my advertising/content publishing is automated, I can fill my day with some quick work with newer, better clients. I don't want to be guilty of "business polygamy" but I'm not in a position to turn down opportunities to work.
I'll try to update monthly at the end of each month (barring any replies and conversations with people in between if'n anyone decides to talk to ol' Metz). For now, I'll just have this simple metric to track my growth:

Monthly Sales Profit for August '20: $207.38

Monthly Milestones
- $100
- $250 (Current Goal)
- $500
- $1,000
- $2,000
- $3,000
- $4,000
- $5,000
- $7,500
- $10,000
- $12,500
- $15,000
- $17,500
- $20,000
 

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Metzge

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Apr 12, 2019
17
22
20
NW Washington
ENTRY 1.

Hey everyone, I'm back with some updates! September was mostly uneventful as far as business growth goes. I only made $132.60 in profit which is a dip from August but that's alright. What I lacked in money I gained in experience while crossing off a few points on my to-do list from earlier. Chiefly:
  • Find a mentor. I found a mentor out-of-state where we'll have a Zoom call every month. He owns a logistics software company and knows quite a bit about ecommerce and building something from the ground up so even though it's not exactly the specific niche I wanted (like selling shirts and what not online), his insight's been very helpful and I'm happy someone with much more knowledge is interested in even talking with me. So it's only been a month and one talk so far but he checks in from time to time and the conversations are always motivating and that's the main thing I need right now so... pretty stoked about that.
  • Broaden my list of available products. I just added four new t-shirts and the first hoodie to the site this morning. I'm looking into desk mats, mousepads, more notebook designs, as well as long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, mugs and thermoses, and posters. I've also been trying to learn some cool techniques with text and typography so that'll help me come up with other neat designs to slap onto things. At the suggestion of my mentor, I've been a bit more assertive with combining my three brands that all essentially live under one umbrella anyway, going after the same general kind of person but different niches within that archetype. To avoid "business polygamy," this new focus let's me push all three brands ahead together in a way that makes sense while helping the customer and letting them explore, a move I've been told by a handful of them has been interesting and useful.
  • Set up the website for referrals and bring influencers on board. Referrals have been set up and I had ten friends sign up to be affiliates who get paid a percentage of each sale they attract. One of those friends has an Instagram page of about 12k followers and just started sharing. I'm learning more about how I can set the affiliates up for success and streamline the whole process but just getting the system in order has been a good milestone in and of itself.
The only old milestones that remain are getting to my first $3,500 profit month and finding other ways to scale outside of Instagram. But nothing's really changed on that front.

A few things I learned over the past month:
  • I was charging too little for shirts. Before, I was selling shirts at $18 which I thought was a pretty good margin given it costs about $9.25 to print each shirt. However, given that the tank tops were much more expensive to print, I had to charge more for the tank tops which seemed weird to customers (less fabric should mean less expensive in their minds). There are others who even use the same PoD service I do who charge $26-$28 a shirt so I moved my price up to $24, giving me more room to hold decent sales while remaining competitive. It also thickens up the margin as my printer charges more for 2XL+ shirts so instead of carrying that cost over to the customer, everyone now pays the same price, regardless of size.
  • I needed to tune up the brand messaging. Between my store and my two other related sites (the store sells products, one of the websites publishes a bunch of creative content, and the other site advertises services), they're all geared towards creativity, entrepreneurialism, growth, and collaboration. Like I said, they have a broad appeal but then divide that appeal up into different niches. The content site, for instance, focuses a ton on gaming and gamification (applying game theory to problem-solving); a lot of the people who follow that site have been my early customers for this new store. But the store itself focused too much on Stoicism and philosophy. I brought it back to focus on problem-solving issues people are feeling: how to make money and survive economically during the pandemic, how to motivate oneself and stay positive, how to be creative and monetize hobbies.. things like that. Since doing so last week, I've already seen an uptick (albeit a small one) in site activity. But yeah, at the suggestion of my mentor, I'm unifying everything I have going on so I can push it all together up the hill, rather than doing so separately -- if that makes sense.
  • Just play around with ideas. Not everything has to be perfect from the moment an idea pops into your head. Being anxious, I already feel as if I fall short of [pick a thing]. I know that everything else out there of quality is the product of hours upon hours of designing, drafting, revising, etc. before it's even made public. I have a bad habit of not giving myself that same patience and grace, allowing myself to just work with things and let them blossom rather than feeling like every idea has to be a home run right out of the gate. For a while as I tried to design new shirts, I just sat staring blankly at Illustrator for hours, feeling stupid for not being able to like anything I made. Now, I printed off a bunch of grids and doodle different design ideas. Some are really cool, others not so much, but it's helped give me a foundation to start off with when I start designing them digitally. Half of them are then saved in a different folder, not turning out how I wanted but were still good exercises; the other half went on to become this current batch of shirts I just added to my store. If anything, this is a lesson to give myself some grace; as long as I keep working on things, *something* will happen. Kinda like the different colored balls in the entrepreneurial gumball machine MJ wrote about.
But yeah. My new to-do list is as follows (italicized ones are still in-progress and listed out in the previous post):
  • Get to my first $3,500 profit month.
  • Find other ways to scale beyond just Instagram influencers.
  • Unify my three brands into one umbrella. The pieces are already there and fit so nicely together. Now it's just a matter of assembling everything together and getting people excited about it while better describing how I can help solve their problems whether it's finding a cool shirt to wear or helping them with whatever they need to find work or expand their own projects (that's the services side I provide anyway on one of my sites).
  • Find a new printer that offers a better print area for hoodies. While I do have one hoodie available from my usual printer, since it's just a small logo on the left pec, it works. But trying to expand some of my other designs to fit across the upper torso has been a struggle. I have found a quality printer who's got a larger print area on the same blank hoodie so once those samples arrive, I might have found my alternative.
  • Learn how to better support and attract affiliates. Marketing I pay for after a sale rather than before it makes sense once that system is up and running. So I gotta figure out how to make being an affiliate of mine lucrative and supporting them as best as I can -- at least giving them the tools and alleviate any active handholding with well-written copy they can use either to learn or to copy/paste into their own campaigns.
  • Hold my first sale. I'm still learning how to effectively set up and market sales through Woocommerce. My intention is to have a mid-week sale and weekend sale every week so that something is always available at a discount, rotating depending on what makes sense. I'll also use sales to clear out old designs that, once removed from the site, I'll try selling on other platforms like Redbubble or Design By Humans; it might not be useful to my audience, but it could still live on being interesting in other marketplaces.
But yeah, that's it for updates for now. Hope y'all are doing well and staying warm and healthy this Fall. :)

Monthly Sales Profit for September '20: $132.60

Monthly Milestones
- $100
- $250 (Current Goal)
- $500
- $1,000
- $2,000
- $3,000
- $4,000
- $5,000
- $7,500
- $10,000
- $12,500
- $15,000
- $17,500
- $20,000
 

Metzge

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Apr 12, 2019
17
22
20
NW Washington
ENTRY 2.

Another month, another update. October overall was pretty good. Sales and profit were up compared to September AND it was a new record, passing August as well by $16. I also managed to get my first affiliate sale (a friend successfully suggested buying a shirt to one of their friends) and have three influencers signed up to help share especially around the holiday season.

I've also managed to tackle these goals:
  • Unify my three brands into one umbrella. Part of the boost in sales was from connecting my video game/game theory related site to my ecommerce site. The game theory site isn't optimized for ecommerce so I've created a "brands" section and linked that site's community to my ecommerce site. This has also been a bit of a test since I'd like to retail for streamers and YouTubers in my community, making sure it doesn't affect accessibility or navigability negatively (it doesn't). I've also honed my freelance writing site to be focused just on content creation and entrepreneurialism and making it a landing for the other two sites. I still contract with other sites as a whitelabel writer and no longer feel guilty in doing so (I used to worry that I spent way too much time building other people's brands and not my own, but this is no longer the case). Either way, I feel a lot more optimistic and creative. If I'm to roll three rocks uphill, might as well find a cart to put them all in. Business polygamy no more; I've just turned three brands into three funnels serving one overall brand culture.
  • Find a new printer that offers a better print area for hoodies. The PoD service I used updated its printer listings (it's a third-party that pairs retailers like myself with printers/product suppliers) and I found how to make use out of the print area for hoodies. T-shirts seem to have a much longer print area where hoodies are longer so I've been making things a bit more square (still rectangular one way or the other but enough to maximize both print areas). Since listing the hoodies, I've been getting a handful more sales and the feedback I've received was all positive: super soft, warm, and the designs look great.
I didn't add any new goals this time around since the four still left on my plate are substantial enough. They are:
  • Get to my first $3,500 profit month.
  • Find other ways to scale beyond just Instagram influencers.
  • Learn how to better support and attract affiliates.
  • Hold my first sale.
Detailed explanations of each can be found in the previous entries in case you'd like a refresher.

This month, I'll be taking the following steps to chip away at those above goals:
  • Research paid marketing campaigns with Google Adwords and Facebook. As mentioned, I specialize in organic SEO but I'm curious if I can augment my campaigns with some paid placement. I love learning algorithmic kinda stuff like this so not only is it a handy skill to learn, it'll get help me scale by reinvesting some of the profit into more marketing, spurring growth (ideally).
  • Start streaming again, promoting two of my brands at once. I have a community of about 2k people who follow my gaming-related content. Streaming can be its own form of income if done correctly, but it'll provide another direct platform I can share my products on while networking with other streamers who'd potentially like to do the same (I already have about three or four bites, both selling my own branded merch as well as enlisting my help to design and sell theirs).
  • Set up coupons and initiate a holiday sale. I was going to set up a new tier on Patreon that supports my gaming community that includes a free shirt (the tier is slightly lower than the cost of a shirt so I'm still making a profit while letting people choose a shirt every month). To do that, I need to learn and test Woocommerce's coupon functions. In that same vein, I can learn how sales work on the Woocommerce platform and start sales. Why include a monthly "free" shirt to Patreon supporters of my gaming community? It encourages them to buy, helps update their wardrobe, and the more people wearing my stuff, the more brand awareness it generates.. and those hesitant to initially buy one to try it out might be sold on more (I've had multiple return sales already where the first purchase was one shirt, then the next purchase was 3-4 more). Once the pandemic begins to subside and people start going out a lot more, this awareness will only increase because there are more potential eyes on a shirt, hoodie, or tank top.
Now I know I'm taking a lot of different shots in the dark, trying all these different things. HOWEVER, as someone who loves analytics, I'm taking notes on what works and what doesn't, from designs to sales platforms to how I spend my time. I'm a big fan of the 80/20 principle but since ecommerce is still a relatively new income stream for me, I want to cast a big net of activities and projects related to it and get a feel for everything and start whittling away. This is the start of the third full month doing this anyway; I don't expect to be all that good until next August -- ideally. But who knows what the future holds.

With that, I'll stop here. I hope you all are doing well and enjoying the entries. I certainly am, if only because journaling has helped keep me on task. :D

Monthly Sales Profit for October '20: $223.46 (new record!)

Monthly Milestones
- $100
- $250 (Current Goal)
- $500
- $1,000
- $2,000
- $3,000
- $4,000
- $5,000
- $7,500
- $10,000
- $12,500
- $15,000
- $17,500
- $20,000
 

chrissroger9

New Contributor
Nov 3, 2020
4
1
11
ENTRY 2.

Another month, another update. October overall was pretty good. Sales and profit were up compared to September AND it was a new record, passing August as well by $16. I also managed to get my first affiliate sale (a friend successfully suggested buying a shirt to one of their friends) and have three influencers signed up to help share especially around the holiday season.

I've also managed to tackle these goals:
  • Unify my three brands into one umbrella. Part of the boost in sales was from connecting my video game/game theory related site to my ecommerce site. The game theory site isn't optimized for ecommerce so I've created a "brands" section and linked that site's community to my ecommerce site. This has also been a bit of a test since I'd like to retail for streamers and YouTubers in my community, making sure it doesn't affect accessibility or navigability negatively (it doesn't). I've also honed my freelance writing site to be focused just on content creation and entrepreneurialism and making it a landing for the other two sites. I still contract with other sites as a whitelabel writer and no longer feel guilty in doing so (I used to worry that I spent way too much time building other people's brands and not my own, but this is no longer the case). Either way, I feel a lot more optimistic and creative. If I'm to roll three rocks uphill, might as well find a cart to put them all in. Business polygamy no more; I've just turned three brands into three funnels serving one overall brand culture.
  • Find a new printer that offers a better print area for hoodies. The PoD service I used updated its printer listings (it's a third-party that pairs retailers like myself with printers/product suppliers) and I found how to make use out of the print area for hoodies. T-shirts seem to have a much longer print area where hoodies are longer so I've been making things a bit more square (still rectangular one way or the other but enough to maximize both print areas). Since listing the hoodies, I've been getting a handful more sales and the feedback I've received was all positive: super soft, warm, and the designs look great.
I didn't add any new goals this time around since the four still left on my plate are substantial enough. They are:
  • Get to my first $3,500 profit month.
  • Find other ways to scale beyond just Instagram influencers.
  • Learn how to better support and attract affiliates.
  • Hold my first sale.
Detailed explanations of each can be found in the previous entries in case you'd like a refresher.

This month, I'll be taking the following steps to chip away at those above goals:
  • Research paid marketing campaigns with Google Adwords and Facebook. As mentioned, I specialize in organic SEO but I'm curious if I can augment my campaigns with some paid placement. I love learning algorithmic kinda stuff like this so not only is it a handy skill to learn, it'll get help me scale by reinvesting some of the profit into more marketing, spurring growth (ideally).
  • Start streaming again, promoting two of my brands at once. I have a community of about 2k people who follow my gaming-related content. Streaming can be its own form of income if done correctly, but it'll provide another direct platform I can share my products on while networking with other streamers who'd potentially like to do the same (I already have about three or four bites, both selling my own branded merch as well as enlisting my help to design and sell theirs).
  • Set up coupons and initiate a holiday sale. I was going to set up a new tier on Patreon that supports my gaming community that includes a free shirt (the tier is slightly lower than the cost of a shirt so I'm still making a profit while letting people choose a shirt every month). To do that, I need to learn and test Woocommerce's coupon functions for fortnite merchandise. In that same vein, I can learn how sales work on the Woocommerce platform and start sales. Why include a monthly "free" shirt to Patreon supporters of my gaming community? It encourages them to buy, helps update their wardrobe, and the more people wearing my stuff, the more brand awareness it generates.. and those hesitant to initially buy one to try it out might be sold on more (I've had multiple return sales already where the first purchase was one shirt, then the next purchase was 3-4 more). Once the pandemic begins to subside and people start going out a lot more, this awareness will only increase because there are more potential eyes on a shirt, hoodie, or tank top.
Now I know I'm taking a lot of different shots in the dark, trying all these different things. HOWEVER, as someone who loves analytics, I'm taking notes on what works and what doesn't, from designs to sales platforms to how I spend my time. I'm a big fan of the 80/20 principle but since ecommerce is still a relatively new income stream for me, I want to cast a big net of activities and projects related to it and get a feel for everything and start whittling away. This is the start of the third full month doing this anyway; I don't expect to be all that good until next August -- ideally. But who knows what the future holds.

With that, I'll stop here. I hope you all are doing well and enjoying the entries. I certainly am, if only because journaling has helped keep me on task. :D

Monthly Sales Profit for October '20: $223.46 (new record!)

Monthly Milestones
- $100
- $250 (Current Goal)
- $500
- $1,000
- $2,000
- $3,000
- $4,000
- $5,000
- $7,500
- $10,000
- $12,500
- $15,000
- $17,500
- $20,000
how do you manage all this. i wanna know about this.
 

Metzge

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Apr 12, 2019
17
22
20
NW Washington
how do you manage all this. i wanna know about this.
Not to answer your question with another question but.. was there something more specific you were curious about? I'm happy to explain, just wanna make sure I do so in a way that's most helpful for you. :D
 

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