August 29, 2020

Sabir on Coffee & Commerce Part 2

Part 1: Top Tips for Hacking E-Commerce Growth – Guest Appearance on Coffee & Commerce with Zubin Mowlavi

1. Content Is King

Content is king. You probably know that already. After all, it has become a bit of a cliché in the world of marketing and SEO. But clichés exist for a reason.

During times like this, content is even more important.

Your content is how you reach out to customers. It’s how you attract new sales, build your brand, tell your story, and keep your repeat customers on-board.

One of the issues that business owners have, and one that I addressed in my discussion with Zubin, is how to maintain sales while building your brand.

How can you ensure that those sales keep rolling in when you’re spending money on improving recognition and getting your name out there?

The problem is, these things should not be exclusive, and if you’re spending money on marketing and not seeing any sales, then you’re not doing it right.

Your goal is to build your brand while getting sales and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t work for you.

Just remember to:

  • Help Don’t Sell: As tempting as it is to use this time to create more promotions and throw more offers in your customers’ faces, it’s important to stick with the theme of providing helpful content 97% of the time and selling 3% of the time. You’re trying to build trust and engagement, as opposed to simply spamming them with offers.
  • Use Your Extra Funds: Your sales should increase naturally during this time, as more customers are buying online. Use those funds to put more money into your advertising and get your posts in front of more customers. If you’re targeting the right people with the right content, your acquisition rates will increase.
  • Stay Transparent and Relevant: Talk to your customers, tell them how your business is managing during these difficult times; show them what steps you’re taking to keep your staff and customers safe. You can’t hide from the pandemic and you definitely can’t pretend everything is normal. Customers expect to see these things mentioned and may assume your content is outdated if the pandemic is not addressed.
  • Explore New Options: Google Ads, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram—there are multiple avenues you can explore and this is the time to explore them. Some of these will work for you, others won’t. The only way to find out is to try them, check your metrics, and see what works.
  • Try Live Streams: What better way to engage your customers than to bring them into your business via a live stream? Use platforms like Restream to create streams that can be hosted on multiple platforms and used to highlight keys aspects of your business.
  • Engage: Forget about customer acquisition for a moment and focus on Bounce Rate and Session Time. Keep these metrics high and you will eventually see a higher turnover and more repeat customers. Your SEO may also increase, leading to more organic growth in the future.
  • Don’t Throw Good Money at Bad Advertising: Just because Facebook is working for your friend or seems to be working for a competitor, doesn’t mean it will work for you. If you’re throwing money at ad campaigns and they’re not giving you a good return, direct that money to another platform.
  • Content Marketing for Multiple Products: When you’re selling multiple different retail products, none of which you manufacture or create yourself, branding can seem like an impossible task. A bookseller, for instance, can’t compete with Amazon, doesn’t write or print the books, and has thousands of units to sell. But it can still do something new and unique that Amazon doesn’t do and it can still market itself to general book lovers, as well as fans of specific authors. Do virtual author interviews and book signings; as authors to read some paragraphs from their book or answer pre-recorded questions. Authors want to promote their books and are often happy to participate in promotions like this. There’s always a way to make your content marketing relevant and effective.

In some circumstances, you might be building a personal brand that is reliant on a high number of followers. This is something I discussed recently with Joe Yoon, who spent three years building a following of 1.3 million without a single cent of advertising.

But you don’t need a million followers to make money, you just need a way to utilize what you have.

In Joe’s case, he began generating a return when he had just a few hundred followers. He marketed his massage and personal training services to them and was able to grow his business and reputation from there.

In your case, maybe you can offer your services as a writer, artist, musician, or tutor. If your only goal is to build a million followers so you can get sponsorship money, you’re going about it the wrong way.

The business should come first and your goal should be more clearly defined, otherwise your business plan amounts to little more than, “I want to be rich”.

For tips on how to create lots of quality content with minimal time and fuss, take a look at this guide to SEO.

2. Don’t Fear Change

During my discussion with Zubin, a viewer highlighted some of the uncertainty that surrounds the education sector right now.

Online tutors have seen a massive increase in student numbers. Music teachers, language teachers, basic skills educators—they’ve all seen a surge in demand.

Kids have spent weeks and even months away from school, and their parents have tried to play catch-up by hiring online tutors to fill gaps that would otherwise be filled by schoolteachers and after-school programs.

Furthermore, many adults have found themselves with a lot of extra time on their hands and have been using that time to learn a new language, pick up a new instrument, or brush up on some basic skills.

The industry has exploded. Many qualified teachers that were struggling with part-time, minimum wage contracts before the lockdown, have been earning healthy wages as full-time tutors.

The concern is that once the schools reopen and everything gets back to normal, all of those opportunities will go away.

It’s a valid concern, but trust me on this, things are not going back to normal.

The world has changed.

Every grandmother and grandfather that couldn’t use a smartphone or send an email before the lockdown, now knows how to use Zoom.

After all, it’s the only chance they have to communicate with grandkids and friends, and nothing gets in the way of a grandparent and their grandkids!

When all of this is over, there will be a huge number of people who have changed their outlook on the world and are happy to do things differently.

As an example, I have a friend who works as a private language tutor. Most of her students are children and before the lockdown, she spent her days going from house to house giving face-to-face lessons.

For years, she has been trying to convince her clients to use Skype and Zoom, but they refused. She has over 20 regular clients, and only one of them agreed to online lessons.

During the lockdown, all of that changed. They were forced to adapt and now, most of them have agreed to continue online lessons over the long term.

In the past, they were dismissive, because they were paying the same money and felt like they were getting less of a service. But now they realize that it’s much easier, quicker, and better online.

From the parent’s perspective, you don’t have to invite that person into your house, which means you don’t need to clean, prepare, and make sure you won’t be busy or have guests. Just give the kid an iPad and Zoom will do the rest.

It also means you’re not limited to teachers in your local area. You literally have a world of possibilities to choose from. Your chances of finding the perfect tutor within a few square miles of your home are pretty slim, but with Zoom, the world is your home.

Parents are waking up to a truth that has been staring them in the face all along, and they’re not alone.

A couple of months ago, I interviewed Shark Tank guest Matt Higgins. One of the things that frustrated him pre-lockdown was that he would often need to fly halfway around the world just to attend a 60-minute meeting and say something that could have been said over the phone or on Zoom.

That’s how businesses worked and if you regularly spoke with investors and partners, you needed to make regular trips nationwide and even worldwide.

During lockdown, those meetings were conducted through Zoom, making his life considerably easier.

And again, it’s not just about finding a solution in a chaotic world, as businessmen and businesswomen now realize that video conferencing is a more suitable and sensible option post-lockdown.

So, while it is true that the number of students will reduce as adult learners return to work and children return to their original teachers, things won’t be as they were before and we’ll continue to see great opportunities in the education sphere and many other industries.

3. Use Amazon

There is a general consensus that customers will only purchase from sites that they know and trust, and it’s a consensus that thrives in the United States and Canada.

I recently spoke with a Canadian business owner who had been selling products on Amazon for two years. When the topic of e-commerce was raised, he instantly assumed we were talking only about Amazon.

He couldn’t get his head around the fact that a company would be launched outside of this platform.

Why would a customer choose to buy from you when they can buy from Amazon? He wondered.

And he’s not alone in wondering this, as there are a number of consumers who only buy from eBay, Amazon, and other major retailers. If they like your product, they’ll check Amazon, and if it’s not there, they’ll buy something else instead.

Thankfully, this attitude is changing.

Zubin referenced a study which said that 55% of consumers had purchased from unknown sites in the last few months.

It highlights an important point: You cannot compete with Amazon.

It has a bigger market share, more regular customers, more trust, and a considerably larger reach.

If you’re selling a product that Amazon is offering for less, you may as well give up now. Unless you have a unique brand story or something that differentiates that product from the one sold by Amazon, you don’t have a chance.

Just ask the many online booksellers that have been forced to close over the years.

If you have something unique, something different—a truly premium brand—it’s easier. But, as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.

You can sell your products directly on the Amazon store. You’ll get an Amazon page, can post images and descriptions, and can even pay for promotions.

You can use Amazon as an additional platform for your products or opt for the Fulfilment program, where Amazon will pack and ship your products for you.

It’s a great opportunity and you would be crazy not to consider it.

By all means, create an original store. With Shopify and WooCommerce, it’s easy to create a site and make it e-commerce-ready. But always try to work with Amazon instead of fighting against it.

4. Shopify/WooCommerce Or Social Media

If you’re launching a new e-commerce business, you may be wondering which platform is best for you.

Should you focus 100% on Facebook and Instagram, or should you set up a Shopify or WooCommerce store?

There is no “either/or” here. Why stick with one when you can have both?

The problem with Shopify, at least in the beginning, is that you may struggle to get customers to your store. The problem with Facebook is that you need reviews, ratings, and costly marketing campaigns to generate sufficient traffic and sales.

Neither of these options are perfect, but when you combine them and incorporate other elements, you’re onto a winner.

In the video, we discussed children’s toys, as one of the viewers enquired about a children’s toy being sold by his wife. If we use that as an example here, you may opt for the following:

  1. Spotify: WooCommerce is great and the addition of widgets, themes, and plugins adds a little more versatility. However, when you’re launching an e-commerce store without any prior experience, Shopify is king. Set up a site using a basic template, get some help from a designer or writer if you need it, and keep everything simple. To begin with, you need just one or two pages, some basic graphics, and enough content to cover a customer’s key concerns and questions.
  2. Facebook and Instagram: Create profiles on both of these social networks and connect them to your storefront. Use the same graphics and branding and invite all of your friends to like the page. If you have lots of friends, you can even run a promotion, offering a freebie to everyone who likes and shares the page. It’ll spread organically and you’ll get lots of likes without spending a dime.
  3. Google Ads: Use Google Smart Shopping Ads to direct consumers to your product page. The great thing about Shopping Ads is that you can tell Google to “Maximize Conversions”, which means it focuses on the customers most likely to buy and will ensure your ROI remains high. Many Shopping Ad campaigns generate more profit than expenditure.
  4. YouTube: Create a video or simple display ad and pay for some YouTube advertising. You can show your advert on children’s videos and other relevant content. The click-through rates are very low for this industry, as many children just stare at the screen and don’t interact, but that means you’ll spend less, so it’s all relative.
  5. Facebook Ads: You can use Facebook targeting to focus on parents who live in specific areas, fall into certain age groups, and like specific pages. For instance, you can tell Facebook to only target mothers in New York who like a certain Facebook page aimed at moms.
  6. Amazon: Last but not least, consider selling your product on Amazon. If it’s unique or you’re selling it for less than everyone else, you could find yourself inundated with orders. Just remember, you’ll be competing against a lot of sellers and even if you find yourself topping the Amazon sales rankings with a unique and affordable product, it will be a matter of time before a major manufacturer copies you, undercut you, and outsells you.
  7. Grow: If you’re only selling one toy and someone eventually undercuts you, what happens? You can kick, scream, and complain all you want, but no amount of resistance is going to make customers choose you over the cheaper option. That’s why you have to use those sales and that success to grow your business. Add more products to your range, expand your brand identity, and create something that is so well-known and trusted that customers would be crazy not to choose you.

5. Remove All Uncertainty

Transparency is key. It could be the thing that turns a curious browser into a repeat customer.

Your goal, as an e-commerce store, is to emulate the brick-and-mortar retail experience.

In a real store, customers can pick up a product, ask questions about it, check the price, and know that once they pay, that product will be theirs.

Online, however, many stores don’t tell the customer much about the product and don’t have FAQs and descriptions to answer their many questions. I’ve seen many sites that don’t even inform the customer about shipping costs or timeframes.

They insist that none of this matters, as they don’t have a high abandon cart rate, but that’s only because most customers are rejecting them long before they add anything to their cart!

Transparency is always essential and in 2020, it has become even more important.

Customers want to know if you’re experiencing delays and, if so, how long their order will be and whether there will be any issues.

If you don’t tell them this, you risk losing their business or receiving a deluge of negative reviews.

I’ve seen this from the perspective of both a customer and a business owner. I know how frustrating it is to order products that you don’t receive and how much it lowers your opinion of the brand.

I ordered a product and was told it would be with me in 1 to 2 days. That was 4 weeks ago, and I haven’t received any communication since. If they had been honest, telling me that resources were low and deliveries would be delayed, I would have been happy.

Without that communication, I don’t know what’s happened to my order and I am far from happy.

Go to a user-review site like Trustpilot and look at a brand’s reviews from March through to June, when these issues were at their peak. You’ll notice one of two things:

Either they have a lot of bad reviews complaining about delays or good reviews saying that the order was late by several weeks but they are happy.

In all cases, the orders were late, and the only difference is communication. The negative reviews state that the company ignored them, just like they did with me. The positive reviews heap praise on the company for their regular updates and honest communication.

When you’re suffering from staff shortages and expect orders to be delayed, it’s easy to bury your head in the sand. You don’t want to tell customers about delays because you don’t want to disappoint them and anger them.

But customers are very understanding, especially in these difficult times. They will only be angered by dishonesty and silence.

6. Stick With Freelancers For As Long As It Makes Sense

Freelancers can make a world of difference to your business.

It’s like the online tutor analogy that I discussed earlier, only your business is the child and the vast wealth of freelancers all over the world are the available tutors.

Any skillset you require and any budget you have, there is a freelancer to match.

When you’re starting a new e-commerce business or building a personal brand, these freelancers are essential. You pay writers when they write; coders when they code; designers when they design.

There are no long-term contracts to sign or salaries to pay. And as your business grows, you can scale your freelancers as well.

A part-time writer may offer to do 20,000 words a week right now, but when that increases to 40,000, you can increase their hours or bring another writer on board. One designer can handle your marketing and landing pages, and when you have new product launches and websites, you can hire another.

Many business owners panic when they hire freelancers. They worry that they’re wasting money or need more help than freelancers can provide.

And maybe that day will become, but you’ll know about it when it does.

When demand begins to outweigh supply, and you’re hiring more freelancers than you can manage, it’s time to consider full-time staff.

Until then, it’s an unnecessary expense.

Some business owners, particularly old-school entrepreneurs familiar with brick-and-mortar industries, feel more comfortable with full-time staff members on their payroll. But they don’t always use these in a cost-effective manner.

I’ve seen small businesses where half of the employees seem to have very little to do every day. They’re contracted for 8+ hours but work for just 2 or 3. The rest of the time, they’re given odd jobs, training, and menial roles just to justify their wage.

Don’t assume that you need full-time workers. Do the sums, calculate how many hours you need them for, compare their costs to hiring freelancers, and only take the leap when it makes absolute sense.

7. How To Start A Business With $0

You don’t need a lot of capital to start a business. It certainly helps and having less money places many restrictions on you, but you can replace that money with knowledge, hard work, time, or a fanbase.

For instance, if you’re trying to enter the e-commerce industry as an influencer, athlete, sports star, actor, musician, or someone else with a fanbase, it’s much easier.

You can use that fanbase to get support, to grow, and to eventually accumulate the money you need to take things further.

Want to start a supplement company but can’t afford the large-scale production? Buy some readymade wholesale supplements to begin with, slap your brand on them, and start selling. Alternatively, you can buy ingredients in bulk and formulate the pills and powders in your kitchen.

It’s small scale, but as your fanbase gets behind you and buys into your brand, your business will grow and you can scale up.

On the knowledge side of things, it’s all about making the right decisions in an industry that you understand and with a skillset that you have. This is also where the hard work comes in.

As an example, let’s say that you’re a graphic designer who has spent a lifetime working as a freelancer in a host of different industries.

Your insider knowledge means you know how those industries work, you know what will work and what won’t, and so you can start your own business.

You become the product, whether that means launching a digital agency and doing most of the work yourself or creating designs for tee-shirts, posters, or playing cards.

It’s the same for coders and developers, as well. When you have spent a lifetime doing that thing, it’s easy to adapt, to go your own way and swap cash for talent.

If I wanted to launch a company selling uniquely designed tee-shirts, I would need to pay for the designer’s work. As a result, my margins would be smaller, which means I’d need to buy blank tee-shirts in bulk and, possibly, purchase my own printer. I don’t have the design skills, and so I have to substitute them with capital.

The designer, on the other hand, can afford to buy fewer quantities and let another company do the printing. As a result, they spend less money and take fewer risks.

And then you have time.

Every business needs time to grow.

If you have a lot of capital, you can buy lots of stock from day one and prepare massive marketing campaigns for when your business launches. It will grow quickly and within 6 months, you’ll know whether you have a successful business or not.

When you don’t have that money, you need to scale everything down and play the waiting game. 1 customer becomes 2, 2 becomes 10, 10 becomes 100. You move slowly so that you don’t have to make any rash and expensive decisions, and that minimizes the cost and the risk.

So, while money does help, it is not essential if you’re able (and willing) to swap it for something else.

Just don’t try to launch a multinational coffee brand if you’re a graphic designer who only drinks tea, and you’ll be okay.

Questions And Answers About E-Commerce

I covered a lot of e-commerce tips during my call with Zubin. Most of these came in the form of rapid-fire questions from viewers, which I transformed into the tips outlined above.

Before bringing this e-commerce guide to a close, I want to go over a few more questions, dealing with some of the concerns that business owners and entrepreneurs have in these unprecedented times.

How To Operate E-Commerce Out Of Remote Locations

The joy of remote work is that you can do it from anywhere in the world.

Within reason.

A viewer was concerned about operating an e-commerce business from Alaska and wondered if they would be at a disadvantage.

The truth is, it depends on the location and business, but with the right plans, you can run an online business from anywhere.

I know of many tech, advertising, and even e-commerce business owners who spend their days relaxing on sun-drenched beaches in places like Bali.

But they make it work because they have good partners and a strong structure. If anything goes wrong and they find themselves without Wi-Fi, they know their business won’t capitulate.

Create contingency plans to ensure your business won’t collapse because of a prolonged blackout. Work with partners or freelancers overseas to keep the wheels turning during difficult times.

Get this right, and it’s possible to run an e-commerce business anywhere you have a Wi-Fi connection.

How To Sell Food And Fragrances Direct-To-Consumer

One of the oldest arguments against e-commerce is that you can’t see, smell, taste, or touch the item.

During my interview with Zubin, someone asked for recommendations on launching a direct-to-consumer perfume brand from scratch and asked the question:

How can you sell a fragrance to someone who can’t smell it?

It’s tricky, but far from impossible. You just have to tweak your marketing a little.

When you’re selling a health supplement, you can talk about its health benefits, show some before and after pictures, and talk about the ingredients.

You can’t do any of that with a perfume.

My advice is to talk about the product in a way the consumers understand.

Does it have any unique selling points? Is it organic, natural, portable, economical? Does it have any unique ingredients that make it different from everything else on the market?

Reference points can help, as well. Tell your customers how it smells, whether its fragrance is sweet like rose water or woody like cedar. You’re describing something that they can’t experience themselves, and the more descriptive you are, the better.

As for the marketing, just double-down on the influencers. The next-best thing to sampling a product yourself is seeing someone else use it and describe it.

Consumers pre-order the latest computer games, smartphones, tablets, and books not because they have held them and tested them, but because they’ve read early reviews and trust the opinions of their favorite YouTubers and influencers.

Sampling can also help. Create samples of your product and work with marketing companies to add these samples to products sold by other brands.

It doesn’t hurt to have some lifestyle branding, either. It’s a trick that fragrance manufacturers have been using for decades and one that still works very well.

What’s The Only Product Not Being Sold Online?

If there is a product out there that you cannot buy online, I don’t know about it. Zubin and I both failed to find a product that you cannot purchase online.

In other words, if you’re looking for a new product or service, you’re going to have to create the market yourself.

Of course, there are products that you can’t get shipped to your door, but you can still complete an online transaction and they still form part of the e-commerce space.

Conclusion: E-Commerce Tips For 2020

This is an exciting and crazy time to be a business owner. In years to come, we may look back on 2020 as being the pivotal year for the e-commerce industry and for the global economy on the whole.

It’s important that you take advantage of this while you can. Now is not the time to rein-in the marketing or take a back seat.

If your sales are increasing, then your marketing should increase as well. It doesn’t matter if you have depleted resources or not—you have to find a way to make it work.

You don’t want to look back several years from now and see this as the time when you had a chance to grow and threw it all away. Many of the new customers you acquire this year could stay with you for years to come.

Who knows, maybe this will be the year that you experience the growth you always hoped for. Maybe it will be the year that you attract interest from investors or buyers.

If you’re worried about taking chances when there is so much uncertainty, watch some of my other interviews with e-commerce experts, content marketers, and investors, including this guide to using Google Ads and these expert insights on increasing your ROI.

You’ll find many videos, guides, and more right here at Growth by Sabir. And if you need help directly, just click the button that says, “Help Me 10x My Business” and get in touch.

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