Raising capital for your next venture can be a major hurdle on the road to bringing your vision to life.
While bank loans and pitching to traditional investors are still viable fundraising options, crowdfunding gives you the opportunity to solicit support from the crowd: a group of individuals who collectively invest in your idea to make it a reality.
What’s more, crowdfunding can also give entrepreneurs a way to validate demand for their ideas, before they enter production, by letting others “buy into it” with pre-orders, donations, and investments.
Crowdfunding: What it is and how it works
Traditional fundraising relies on raising a large sum of money from one source at a time. Crowdfunding, on the other hand, is a strategy that focuses on raising smaller amounts of money from a larger collective of individuals.
These “backers”—as they’re often called—can be offered a number of incentives in exchange for their support:
The opportunity to become early adopters of an innovative product
The option to pre-order a product and have a say in its development
Exclusive rewards like an early bird discount or free swag when you launch
Personal access to the founding team or the chance to support people they know personally
Equity in an early or growth stage company with high potential, though this is less common for consumer-facing brands
While every crowdfunding site has its own unique features, fee structure, and user base, the core concept is the same—you submit your project to the platform with a fundraising goal and a deadline, and then campaign for support online.
So, what are your options if you want to crowdfund your business? Let’s take a look at some of today’s best crowdfunding sites, spanning a variety of use cases, for you to launch your next campaign.
Fees: 5% if you meet your goal (not including payment processing fees)
Kickstarter is almost synonymous with “crowdfunding” as one of the most popular platforms where innovative ideas can find support. Since its launch in 2009, the Kickstarter community has successfully funded over 156,000 projects—including physical products, movies, games, and more—for a total of $4.1 billion raised.
Kickstarter is a reward-based crowdfunding platform. Backers are offered incentives to support the project, from t-shirts to shoutouts to exclusive pre-order discounts. You can offer different tiers of rewards too; the more money a backer pledges, the better the rewards they unlock.
Kickstarter campaigns are an all-or-nothing affair, which means that you only get access to your funds (and pay Kickstarter’s fees) if you meet your initial fundraising goal. If you fall short, then all the money remains with your backers.
The result is that projects on Kickstarter tend to be high quality and novel—often creative or innovative enough to catch the attention of early adopters and headlines from the press. Backers also generally view these projects as more trustworthy given they don’t actually part with their money unless the campaign succeeds.
You can learn more about running a successful Kickstarter campaign in our interview with Rockwell Razors. And if you’re looking to transition from your Kickstarter campaign to a Shopify store, be sure to check out our guide.
Fees: 5% if you meet your goal (not including payment processing fees)
Indiegogo is a robust crowdfunding platform that supports businesses, artists, and nonprofits. While at first glance it may sound similar to Kickstarter, it comes with its own unique features and campaign options.
The most noteworthy difference is the option to choose a fixed funding goal (all-or-nothing like Kickstarter) or a flexible funding goal for your campaign. With flexible funding goals, you receive your funds regardless of whether you’ve met your goal by its deadline.
The flexible funding option is especially useful when you can fulfill your promise to backers even if you don’t raise enough capital, say if you’re launching a new product line for an established business.
On top of that, Indiegogo InDemand lets you continue raising money even after your crowdfunding campaign ends, while you’re in the production stage or getting ready to fulfill orders. InDemand is available to you whether you run your campaign on Indiegogo or another crowdfunding platform. BodyBoss actually transitioned to Indiegogo InDemand right after their success on Kickstarter.
Startups based in the U.S. might also consider Indiegogo’s equity crowdfunding offering—where you can submit your campaign for consideration to investors on the platform looking for a financial stake in your company.
Fees: 5% (not including payment processing fees)
Patreon is one of the most unique platforms on this list with a specific focus on the new wave of creators—bloggers, YouTubers, podcasts, cartoonists, musicians, live streamers, and their ilk.
Whereas most crowdfunding sites support limited-run campaigns, Patreon was made for creators and internet personalities with loyal audiences to generate recurring revenue through paid memberships. You can choose to let patrons pay “per month” for special community perks, or pay “per Creation” to incentivize you to create more.
Patreon creators offer all kinds of exclusive perks based on different payment tiers, such as exclusive content, branded swag, sneak peeks, shoutouts, and more. If you’re a creator who regularly ships new content and has a sizable online fan base, it might be worth creating a Patreon page.
Here, you can build a community of dedicated fans and serve exclusive content (through Patreon’s various integrations) that unlocks based on the patron’s membership tier.
You can learn more about monetizing your audience with Patreon in this interview with Wait But Why.
4. Crowdfunder (Shopify app)
Fees: $29/month (not including your Shopify subscription)
If you already have a Shopify store and are interested in crowdfunding a new product through your own website, the Crowdfunder app for Shopify is a great fit.
With this app, you can transform your product page into a crowdfunding page, complete with a progress bar, setting your goal based on a threshold of items ordered or money raised.
It enables crowdfunding in its simplest form: accepting pre-orders from people as a way to simultaneously validate an idea and fund production. Plus, you can avoid the commissions charged by third-party platforms in favor of a more predictable monthly fee.
You can use it to test out new product ideas, raise money for a cause, or launch limited-run products.
Fees: Free (not including processing fees)
GoFundMe is a free crowdfunding site built primarily for supporting individuals and causes.
Because GoFundMe is suited to personal causes—and anyone can go about creating a campaign—backers on here tend to only support campaigns that come from within their own personal networks and communities or causes they’re familiar with.
GoFundMe isn’t designed for commercial crowdfunding campaigns, like the other platforms on this list. However, if you’re a small business owner who has fallen on hard times, or you need to raise money to overcome a personal challenge, you can try leveraging this platform for support from your personal network.
Fees: $179 per month during active campaigns instead of a percentage of total funds raised (not including payment processing fees).
Fundable is part of the Startups.co platform and is a crowdfunding site that allows startups (registered in the U.S. only for now) to offer rewards or equity in exchange for funding.
According to their site, startups that offer rewards typically raise less overall (under $50,000) but get more backers, whereas startups that offer equity usually raise more capital from fewer investors.
However, to succeed with equity fundraising you need all the ingredients accredited investors expect to see: a track record of growth, a solid business plan, and a pitch deck, if not more.
Fees: 7% of funds raised if you meet your goal and a 0.75% to 1.25% completion fee.
Crowdcube is a UK-based equity crowdfunding platform. It has a relatively small number of campaigns, but companies that are approved and succeed with their fundraising goals on the platform are able to join Crowdcube’s “Funded Club”, gaining exclusive benefits from partner organization.
You can promote your pitch to solicit investors from your network or appeal to Crowdcube’s established community of investors.
Fees: Plans start at $299 per month to create a public profile and “deal room” to invite investors. You can create a non-public profile and deal room for free.
Crowdfunder is another equity crowdfunding platform where you can raise capital through a “crowd” of accredited investors. Its network includes over 12,000 venture capitalists and angel investors for you to potentially connect with and pitch.
Rather than paying a percentage fee on the funds you raise, Crowdfunder offers monthly plans. As such, the platform is ideal for startups that have already experienced some degree of validation and have demonstrated their potential for growth. Deals can be made for equity, debt, convertible note, or revenue share.
Choosing a crowdfunding site is just the beginning
Crowdfunding can offer entrepreneurs a way to validate their product ideas, raise the money needed to start production, or fund their growth with access to a network of potential investors and customers.
In fact, many Shopify merchants were able to take off thanks to the money they raised through crowdfunding sites like the ones above.
But it still takes a little bit of luck and a lot of preparation for you to realize your fundraising goals. You need to convince people that your idea is worth backing, after all, pitch your campaign the right way to the right people.
If you’re interested in crowdfunding, be sure to also check out the following case studies and interviews from successfully crowdfunded businesses:
Returns, refunds, and exchanges are all a part of doing business.
Customers might be unsatisfied with their order for a number of reasons—it arrived damaged, they ordered the wrong size, or it simply didn’t meet their expectations. So they ask for a replacement or their money back.
But without a system for handling these requests, they can eat up a lot of time, energy, and money with hours spent on customer service emails, and spikes in shipping expenses for replacement products, especially after the holidays.
The good news is that it’s never too late to address the problem. With a clearly communicated return policy and the right system in place, returns and exchanges can be transformed from a dreaded aspect of ecommerce into an opportunity that actually generates new profits for your business and increases customer loyalty.
But before we dive into how to write a return policy for your store and implement a system to handle requests, let’s talk about why it’s so important to get returns and exchanges right.
Getting a return request can be painful both financially and emotionally.
Refunding a customer’s order can result in a loss of profitability on orders, and knowing that someone disliked your product can be disheartening for business owners that strongly believe in the benefits of what they sell.
For these reasons, it can be tempting to ignore the reality of returns and exchanges and leave the mounting problem unaddressed.
The pitfalls of a poorly implemented return policy
Over time, however, customer complaints about your return policy can start to filter onto social media, showing up as comments under your ads or even in Google searches about your business. This is where a poorly implemented returns system starts to negativelyaffect your overall reputation as a business. If bad sentiment about the buying experience starts to spread online, it is likely you will see a drop in conversion rate.
Processing every return manually and dealing with customers on a case-by-case basis can also be expensive for your business operations and exhausting for customer service employees. If the time and expense to process a return or exchange isn’t monitored and optimized, it can even prevent you from scaling your business.
At some point, most businesses will need to figure out a solution for returns and exchanges that benefits themselves and their customers.
The advantages of a customer-centric return policy
Many innovative businesses have recognized that a customer-centric return policy is a powerful marketing tool.
According to UPS, 68% of shoppers check a website’s return and exchange policy before making a purchase. That’s why many brands now advertise “free”, “easy”, “no-hassle” returns and exchanges to increase conversion rates and purchases.
A return policy that benefits the customer is often the differentiator between businesses with a strong repeat purchase rate and those that rely on one-time purchases only. As the cost to acquire customers rises, many businesses are looking at how to retain customers and increase their lifetime value.
Although a return or exchange may not make a business profitable on first purchase, the better customer experience is more likely to lead to a higher retention rate and long-term revenue growth.
Lastly, your reputation will benefit most from offering easy returns and exchanges to customers. According to Nielson’s Global Trust in Advertising Report, 66% of people surveyed trust consumer opinions posted online. These positive customer reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations about the buying experience will pay off as free marketing for your business that will allow it to thrive in the long-term.
Setting up a system for returns and exchanges
Having a system can take the pain out of returns and exchanges for both the business and its customers. Whether you’re receiving your first return request, or are trying to repair a flawed process, creating a system can immediately help cut down the customer service hours spent on returns and exchanges.
Returns vs. exchanges
In traditional brick-and-mortar retail the distinction between returns and exchanges is less defined. With physical stores, a customer doesn’t need to decide whether they want to return or exchange an item until they are in a store speaking to a sales rep.
With ecommerce, the customer usually decides independently if they want a return (which signifies a refund) or an exchange (usually for a gift card or a replacement product of equal value).
If a customer wants a return, they are communicating that the product did not meet their expectations for one reason or another and want a refund. An exchange on the other hand, means that they were satisfied with the quality of the product and the buying experience, but chose the wrong item.
It is important to distinguish early on in your system which of the two categories the customer falls into, so you know how to process their request. Whether a product is eligible to be returned or exchanged, or both, should be considered before it is sold and clearly stated on your website in your return policy page.
How to write a return policy (Plus a template)
The first step to setting up a system to handle returns and exchanges is formalizing your policy so you can communicate it clearly to your customers. A written return policy allows you to treat all requests the same, and avoid the tendency to handle things on a case-by-case basis, which is often less productive and more expensive.
Policies will vary depending on the logistics of your business and the products you sell, but every policy should cover the following basics:
What items can be returned
What items can be exchanged
What products are “final sale” (non-returnable, non-exchangeable)
When things can be returned or exchanged (e.g. 30, 60, 90 days post-purchase)
In what condition can items be returned (e.g. lightly worn, with tags still on, etc.)
What products can be returned for (store credit, refund, a product of equal value, etc.)
How to initiate a return or exchange (e.g. an email address to contact or a web page to visit)
Return policy template
Below is a basic template for a return policy that can be adapted to fit your business. Just replace the bolded text with your own policy and use the lists as a guide to ensure you don’t forget to include any important information:
If you’re looking to return or exchange your order for whatever reason, we’re here to help! We offer free returnsor exchanges within 30 days of receiving your order. You can return your product for store credit, adifferent product, or a refund to the original payment method.
Please note the following exceptions to our return and exchange policy:
Below are some examples of common exceptions.
Discounted items are final and cannot be returned or exchanged
Returned items must have tags still on and be returned in original packaging
Returned items must have no visible signs of wear or use
To initiate a return or exchange, please complete the following steps:
Your steps should be laid out clearly, linking to relevant pages, such as your online portal.
Login to our online return portal using your email address and order ID
Choose the products you wish to return or exchange from your order
Print your prepaid shipping label that you will receive by email
Send all items back to us using the label provided
The following are add-ons with more information that you may want to include.
How long it takes to receive your refund, replacement product, or store credit
Any shipping fees the customer will need to pay
Any return restocking fees the customer will need to pay
How you handle lost or damaged returns
Contact information for your business if the customer has more questions
Where to surface your return policy
It is not enough to have a well-written return and exchange policy—you must also make sure that customers see it before they buy. When talking to a frustrated customer who is trying to return an item marked as final sale, simply telling them it’s their fault for not reading the policy is unlikely to resolve the issue.
Include links to your policy in several hard-to-miss places throughout your website to save time going back-and-forth with customers who did not see the policy. A few key places to list your policy include:
If the return and exchange policy is clearly outlined on your website, so that it can’t be missed by customers, the right expectations will be set before the purchase is made. There will likely be some customers who are unsatisfied with your store’s policy, but hiding the policy in fine-print only leads to more frustration.
Choosing an app to power your process
Just like having a formal return and exchange policy will help eliminate some of the hours spent on customer service, having an app for processing returns and exchanges will save you both time and money on the fulfillment and operations side.
Return and exchange apps make processing returns and exchange more self-serve for customers by offering a portal where they can make a return request, download a return shipping label, or choose products they want to exchange an item for.
Used by over 2,000 ecommerce stores, Return Magic is a return and exchange solution that easily integrates with your existing logistics system. If you’re currently using a 3rd party provider for shipping labels, like ShipStation, you can send customers return shipping labels through these providers.
Return Magic also uses the Shopify product tags to allow businesses to set up customized rules for returning and exchanging certain products:
For businesses that sell a wide variety of products with different return rules, being able to customize your policy with these triggers can save valuable time going back and forth with customers.
Advanced features like these prove that return and exchange rules don’t need to be one-size-fits-all. Special circumstances, like buying during a flash sale, can still be taken into consideration within an automated system.
Returnly is one of the larger self-service returns providers for ecommerce stores. The app provides online stores with their own customizable “Returns Center”, which customers can sign into using their order number or email address to access their past purchases and select items they wish to return.
On the merchant side, Returnly offers the option to purchase pre-paid shipping labels through the app and get access to their shipping rates, or the ability to upload your own shipping labels to send to customers. This customization extends to almost all other aspects of the return flow, where you can decide what products customers can return or exchange, who pays for the shipping label, and whether they are given a store credit or full refund.
One of Returnly’s main differentiators is its Instant Refunds feature, which offers customers a store credit they can use to reorder before sending back their original purchase. If the customer does not return the product but uses the Instant Refund credit, Returnly covers the cost. By providing an immediate store credit, Returnly found that shoppers were 3 times more likely to purchase again from the store. This feature helps transform returns and exchanges into repeat purchase opportunities for a business.
Strategies for more profitable returns and exchanges
An unavoidable consequence of offering returns and exchanges to customers is that it isn’t cheap. Although you can cut down on customer service hours with an app, the shipping fees associated with returning a product and restocking it can still threaten your profitability.
However, there are a few ways to minimize your losses while still offering returns and exchanges to customers.
1. Turn returns into exchanges
The difference between returns and exchanges is most prominent when looking at profitability. When a customer returns a product for a refund, the business usually loses money on the customer acquisition and return shipping costs, plus they need to refund the customer any profit made on the original order.
With an exchange, the loss is often less detrimental. With strong product margins, offering a replacement product instead of a full refund can keep your business cash flow positive.
A common way to encourage exchanges over returns is by only offering to cover the cost of return shipping if the customer chooses to exchange the product.
When presented with the three options above, the choice to get a store credit or new product may be more appealing to those who have not fully sworn off your brand. Convincing customers to give your brand a second chance with a new order can also help improve lifetime value, as they are more likely to come back and purchase again if they are satisfied the second time around.
Chubbies takes this extra value-add for exchanges a step further, by offering an additional $10 in purchase value if customers decide to buy a new product with their return credit:
By only making the exchange option more valuable, and not penalizing customers who just want to return, Chubbies creates a positive customer experience for everyone, while encouraging more customers to choose exchanges instead of returns.
2. Sell product warranties
When a customer chooses to return a product for a refund or exchange, one risk a company often takes on is whether or not they will be able to resell the item. It can sometimes take up to 2 weeks for a product to re-enter stock after a return is initiated, and the time spent in transit and unpacking can often leave it damaged. If the product is expensive, replacing it might not be an affordable option.
For more expensive items, companies may want to consider selling product warranties to customers. Warranties protect businesses against paying to replace damaged products and avoiding disputes over who is to blame.
Warranties can be sold through an app like Clyde, which can be added to your website to put the decision to protect the order back in the customer’s hands:
Warranties like this can also have the potential to unlock a new revenue stream for your business, since the providers often offer a commission on all premiums sold. That way, your customers are protected for a longer term and your business collects a little extra revenue instead of paying for damaged goods.
3. Upsell or cross-sell on exchange requests
Although exchanges are usually more profitable than returns, their profitability can still be narrow depending on the product and its margins. If exchanges are still costly, it might be a good idea to look at upselling or cross-selling on exchanges.
When a customer comes back to your website to use their store credit, there is an opportunity to show them new products they did not purchase the first time around that compliment what they’re exchanging for.
Shopify apps like Boost Sales can be used to show customers related products at checkout.
In cases where customers cover the cost of shipping on an exchanged item, it may make sense to allow them to add more products to their cart to reach a free shipping threshold. Upselling is also possible when you know the reason for the exchange and can make a personalized recommendation for a higher priced item that addresses the specific needs that weren’t satisfied on their first purchase.
For example, if a customer is exchanging a digital camera because they found that it was too heavy, you can recommend a lighter-weight version that might have a higher price point, but resolves the issue they had with their first order.
Looking at every exchange as a new opportunity to increase order value by upselling or cross-selling, the incentive to convert more returns into exchanges becomes clear.
Making the most of returns and exchanges
No matter how much effort you put into your product and customer experience as you grow your business, chances are you will still encounter a few unsatisfied customers along the way.
How you decide to deal with these unsatisfied customers is an important factor in the staying power of your brand. A company that figures out a relatively painless way to handle return and exchange requests is more likely to retain their customers and have them come back and purchase again or, better yet, tell their friends.
Writing a clear return policy that feeds into a well-thought-out return and exchange system—and regularly optimizing it to make it more efficient—is a powerful way to cut costs and potentially turn a bad customer experience into a net positive outcome for your business.
Effective content marketing isn’t merely about churning out blog posts, YouTube videos, or podcasts—it’s about creating value independent of your products or services and giving it away to your ideal customers.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who did just that with free printables, growing an email list of over of 200,000 parents and teachers.
Alexandra Eidens is our guest today and the founder of Big Life Journal: the world’s first growth mindset journals for kids, tweens, and teens.
We always think of ourselves as a TV channel and I think that’s a good way to think of yourself as a brand nowadays.
Tune in to learn
How to find freelancers to create your “lead magnets”
How they captured 200,000 subscribers using free printables
How to run a 60,000 member Facebook group without losing control
Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.
Felix: Today we’re joined my Alexandra Eidens from Big Life Journal. Big Life Journal’s the world’s first growth mindset journal for kids, tweens, and teens, and was started in 2017, and based out of New York.
You got the idea when you were first expecting I think your very first child. Tell us about how that happened.
Alexandra: The idea for Big Life Journal was born in 2016. So two years ago. That’s when I was pregnant with our child. Well, my husband is my co-founder, so I’m gonna talk about him and I doing this together. We were expecting our first child, and we were sitting down and having conversations about how we wanted to raise our children, and what kind of skills, and attitude, and mindset we wanted to instill in them, in our son specifically. That’s the time when we discovered growth mindset, and importance of mindset, and positive mindset, and how we important it is to start early. And, we were looking for different tools that would be helpful for parents to help raise kids with this type of mindset, and at that point, there was nothing available that would be helpful. So we decided, okay, we’re gonna create something. and that’s how it all started.
Felix: Got it. Did either of you have experience starting businesses in the past?
Alexandra: At that moment, I was working corporate and my husband was too. But, I was doing a lot of things on the side. I was starting lots of different businesses in different industries, and all of them were failing one after another. But for me it was just about the experience, I was gonna try new things, and trying to find what I would be interested in doing. I never took those failures as something personal, they never crushed me. It was more about, “Oh that’s interesting. That didn’t work. Let’s try something else.”
Felix: That’s a great attitude, and I think it’s important that you look at it that way where you don’t see your failures as failures. You’re actually learning lessons from it. Can you talk a little bit about some of those? What are some of the lessons you learned through the “failed” business ventures in the past?
Alexandra: Well I was learning all of the things. I was learning all about social media, and I was learning about how to talk to customers because I was directly contacting … cold-calling, and it was the worst thing in the world, but I wanted to try this, and I wanted to try to cold-call and try to sell what I was selling. I was learning through that a lot by talking to customers, and realizing that the best thing, what you can do is to actually ask the customers what they want first, and then go and create it, versus the opposite, what I was doing. I had an idea, and I was creating something, and then going and looking for customers.
Alexandra: This time around when we were doing Big Life Journal, we did the right way. We did a lot of research before we made the journal.
Felix: Got it. And this approach of asking them what they want first, how do you do this? Are you just coming to them, calling them up and asking them, “What do you want”? I’m sure it’s a little more involved than this. Can you talk to us about that process of getting that kind of valuable information out of them?
Alexandra: What we did was, okay, we had an idea for the journal, right. We had a basic idea what we would like to include in there and what’s gonna be the purpose of it. So the first step we did was we talked to the friends and family, and a lot of parents, all the parents that we knew, we talked to. And my husband’s family, they’re a lot of teachers in his family, so we talked to them. They had so much experience working with kids, so they were giving us a lot of feedback. And then we created a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter was a very good indication of the … it was a great validation of our idea.
Felix: Got it. I think the important thing here, it sounds like you didn’t start with a completely blank canvas, you had an idea for a product, but you wanted to validate it and then smooth out the rough edges and figure out exactly what features, what’s important to people, but you didn’t start off with no idea at all, and then just going out there and asking questions, right?
Alexandra: That’s right. We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted, but we changed it based on the feedback. We had a spreadsheet of where we were recording what people were saying, their specific comments, and discussing those comments afterward, after the calls. We really took it seriously, and we did adjust. Our idea really transformed based on the feedback.
Felix: Got it. I wanna jump back a little bit to the other businesses that you started in the past that didn’t take off to the extent that Big Life Journal took off. What do you think it was about this particular business? Was it the lessons you learned? Was it the product? Was it the market? What do you think was the most important piece that allowed this one to finally lead you down the right path?
Alexandra: It’s the product that people actually wanted. And, there was no guarantee that this one will actually be successful because when we had this idea, of course, it was just two people sitting on the couch and talking about this. But then we said, “Okay, well let’s just take it and validate it like we did everything else before.” This time it turned out that there was a need, and it was helpful that both my husband, Scott, and I, we were coming from … we were about to become parents. It was our own need, and we were just trying to understand if other parents are looking for the same thing, and they were looking for the same thing. It was just a good idea that we executed on.
Felix: Yeah, it’s funny, before we hit record, I was just telling you that I also have an eight-and-a-half-month-old, and this product really resonates with me because especially for people that are in this … are entrepreneurs, or really involved in business, and involved in personal growth. A lot of listeners on here fit that mold, it’s almost like you want to translate that to your child that you’re bringing up. So I think you really did find a niche that needed to be fulfilled.
Felix: When you were going through this process of validation, with this business, with the other past products for your previous business ideas, did you use the same framework for validation each time? Tell us about how you built the, I guess the framework for validating your ideas?
Alexandra: This time is was much more robust, and we had a Kickstarter campaign, so we had to prepare for the Kickstarter, and that took a lot of our effort and time. We thought that “Okay, if friends and family think that’s a good idea, then let’s take it further and let’s ask the broader community and people that don’t know us, would they invest or not.” That’s what we were looking for. Looking for people that are not friends and family. They don’t know us, but they just know about the idea, would they be interested in this journal? And the Kickstarter campaign, that really showed us that it was a good idea.
Felix: Got it. You put together this Kickstarter campaign, but before that, the only kind of validation you were getting was just talking to friends and family. What were you looking for in terms of the campaign to validate it? Was it just hitting your funding goal? Was it particular things people were saying? What were some things that you looked for to validate that you were on the right path?
Alexandra: For me personally, it was just, even if it was one person that pledged to our campaign, and the person who didn’t know us, right. Even if it was one stranger who thought it was good, that for me personally, that would have been enough. And actually, the first campaign that we had wasn’t successful, for this product, for Big Life Journal. The first one that we ran, we didn’t raise enough money. We didn’t raise to meet the goal, and the campaign basically was canceled. But, the second one right after that, so we took a break, and I had a baby. During that time, between the first campaign, the second campaign, I was taking care of a newborn, and finishing the journal, preparing for the second Kickstarter, and then we had the second Kickstarter seven months later, and that campaign was 300% funded. It was very successful, and that, of course, gave us a lot of hope.
Felix: Right, just to put some numbers behind the first campaign though it was not a success, raised a little bit over $6,000 out of $15,000 goal, and then the second one, which was a success, also had the $15,000 goal, but then raised three times you said, of almost $45,000. And then you also had a third on, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
Felix: What’s the difference then between that first one and that second one that allowed you to not only surpass your goal, or to not only to meet your goal but surpass it by so much?
Alexandra: Well, when we entered the first campaign, we knew very little. What we knew was … We did research on other campaigns and we saw how successful they were, and that gave us a lot of inspiration, and we kind of thought, “You just have to have an idea, and you’re basically all set on Kickstarter,” which was completely wrong. We did not know what it takes to have a successful Kickstarter campaign. Once it failed, we said, “Okay, well you know what, it just means that we just didn’t know. Now let’s take some time to research and to study how to actually put the successful campaign together.”
Alexandra: You have to have a good idea. That’s a prerequisite number one. But that’s not enough for Kickstarter. You also have to have people who are interested in your idea, and you have to build a community before you launch. That’s what we did the second time around. We took a couple months to build a community around our idea, people who are interested basically, and got them very excited, and launched the second campaign.
Felix: Got it, so the first campaign I think met at least one of your goals, which is to validate it. People you didn’t know were willing to give their hard-earned dollars to purchase a product of yours that wasn’t completely built yet. So the validation was there, so I’m assuming that gave you the confidence to say, “Okay, let’s invest our time and invest more energy into doing this ‘the right way’ the second time around.” Which you mentioned was to build a community.
Felix: Talk about that. Once you realized, okay we didn’t reach our goal, but a lot of people want this product, what were the next steps that you decided to take to ensure that the next launch would be better? How did you start building a community?
Alexandra: We did a lot of research. I mean, went to a course about Kickstarter, we read everything that was available on forums, and different Facebook groups where people actually were running Kickstarter campaigns, what they were suggesting. That was step number one is just to learn as much as we can and what it takes. And then basically, I know it’s not a secret for anyone is, the email list is number one asset in anyone’s business, and in Kickstarter, it’s not an exception. You gotta start building your email list of people who are interested in your product. And, you can do it in many different ways.
Alexandra: I mean, how we did it, we started creating resources, and giving them away for free in exchange for an email address. And those resources were directly related to this product. We were giving away a Parent’s Guide to Growth Mindset, and people who were signing up, they were interested in the topic enough to download the guide, and then when the campaign launched, we invited them to take a look at it.
Felix: Okay. Got it. You mentioned that you were doing a lot of research and taking courses, are there any off the top of your head that you recommend? Are there courses or specific websites you recommend listeners going to check out if they wanna learn more about crowdfunding or Kickstarter?
Alexandra: That’s a good question. There are several Kickstarter podcasts that I was listening as I was walking my newborn, I remember. That’s all I did actually, I was just consuming so much information from all the podcasts about Kickstarter. And, there are Kickstarter podcasts that you can look up, and then I recommend to just Google search, and to see any forums. There’s a huge gaming community of people who create games and launch them on Kickstarter’s because that’s just very popular. And they are very open to kind of recommend different strategies. And even though you might not be creating a game, the strategies are all the same. So you could just borrow what’s out there available.
Felix: Got it. You build this email list, which is the most invaluable asset that you were able to create, like you mentioned, by first creating these resources, essentially these lead magnets that you asked people to opt into the email list to get access to the resource. You said something really important which was that the resources were directly related to your product. Can you say a little bit more about this?
Alexandra: Of course you want to create email lists of people who would be interested in your product, and that’s why the resource that you’ve given away should be as closely related to that topic as possible to get quality email lists, right, so quality emails. And, for us, our journal was about the growth mindset, about teaching children how to become positive, and resilient, and confident. And that’s why created a resource for parents, a guide of introduction to the growth mindset, how to do that on one page, and we hired an artwork freelance person to design it, and then we just give it away.
Felix: Got it. Now did you just sit down with you and your husband, just brainstorm constant ideas, or is there a way to research to find out specifically what kind of free content to just spend your time making?
Alexandra: For me, I was coming from my own perspective. As a parent, the growth mindset as a concept was … well two years ago, it was quite new, and then not a lot of parents heard about it. As a parent, you would be interested to learn about it, and how to actually you can implement it at home. I was coming from my own perspectives, like what would I want to see as a resource. And then, of course, it needs to be one page, because no parent has time to read more than one page, and it has to be very graphic and illustrated well so they can put it on their fridge. We were looking from a typical parent perspective, like who doesn’t have any time, but they just can, before they open their fridge, can just glance at it and remind themselves.
Felix: Got it. And you mentioned that you went to Upwork to hire a designer. Talk a little bit more about this. If someone out there wants to follow the same path of creating free content, and they don’t have a designer background, they don’t know what to design, but they want to make it look good. What should they be looking for? What kind of person? What kind of skills should you be looking for Upwork or any freelancing site if you wanna hire someone to help you create some of these very valuable free content?
Alexandra: We work with a lot of Upwork freelancers, even today. And, we have tried so many people, and my own advice is to try different people because you can give them small tasks, that’s what you can do. You don’t have to give them the entire project to design. You can just give them, okay, well just one page or half-a-page, or whatever, just to see their style and how dedicated they are to the work. We have tried numerous people, and even today we’re still … that’s our strategy. If we need a new person, we just find 10 people who look suitable, and then we just give all of them a small task, and then see the results.
Felix: What do you look for? How do you determine what makes a good freelancer?
Alexandra: First of all, for us the actual, if we’re talking about design specifically, the design has to be very high quality, and what we’re looking for. It has to be the specific style related to your brand. Let’s say in our brand we use a lot of watercolor illustrations, and then we use hand-lettering, so that has to be that specific style.
Alexandra: And then we give them, before you send a request to a new designer, you can provide examples. If you have a previously designed work, you can just give them your brand pages, or whatever you have, or even your website. If you don’t have anything, you can create a mood board, or just put different images together on PowerPoint slide, and then something that reflect your vision, and send it to them, and see if they can translate that into a design. Of course they have to be on time, they have to be responsive, and they have to be willing to make changes after the initial draft.
Felix: Got it. So for someone that’s just starting out, you don’t have any examples yet, create that mood board, but once you have a collection of designs of other pieces of content that you put out there that you do like, give that as the way to give direction to these freelance designers to help them understand what you want right from the get-go.
Alexandra: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
Felix: Got it. Approximately how much can it cost, or what’s the budget that someone should have in mind if they want to create a one-pager essentially design with a freelancer?
Alexandra: It really depends. The beauty of Upwork, and the websites like Upwork, is that you can connect to designers around the world. You can request specifically if you want to work with a U.S. based designer, you can request that, and you can just look at their U.S. based designers. If you want to look at other countries, you basically look up their hourly rate and have an assessment, and you had how much it would take for them to create your design. Or you can simply hire them by the hour, and say, “Okay, well let’s agree it’s gonna be maximum three hours,” and just let them work on it.
Felix: Got it. So are we talking like hundreds of dollars, thousands? What’s the range?
Alexandra: For one-page, I mean, for one-page it can be anything between $20 and $80.
Felix: Okay, definitely reasonable then. You mentioned that these are printable resources. I think a lot of times we think about eBooks and things that are digital that we give away. You’re specifically designing things that are to be printed out. How do you have to approach these kinds of lead magnets, these kinds of resources differently when they are meant to be printed out versus just something that you’re reading on a computer or your phone?
Alexandra: I think it’s the same. I don’t know if it’s any different because everything that we do, all the resources that we provide, and we can talk about this a little bit, to our community for free, we still do that, those are printable resources that parents, that teachers have to print. I feel like in the teacher community, that’s definitely a very common thing to do, to share their resources, and print, and lesson plans, and they share lesson plans among each other. There’s this famous website, Teachers Pay Teachers, where they buy lesson plans from each other, and print them later. For us it’s the same. It’s no different. And people nowadays are very used to printing out resources.
Felix: Got it. You were creating these resources. Especially in the early days, how many we talking about, once a week? How often were you creating an $80 resource?
Alexandra: Okay, so our Kickstarter campaign was April 2017, and-
Felix: Sorry, that was the first one or the second one?
Alexandra: That’s the second one. Right, the one that was actually the successful one. And after that, we started actually running the actual business because we had the product already, and we had customers, and everything was going well. That summer 2017, I start thinking about, okay how do we continue building our email list and building our community, and actually encourage people to open our emails. That’s when I had a thought of creating a free resource every week, similar to how we had a lead magnet to encourage people to sign up for your Kickstarter campaign, we started creating the same style resources weekly.
Alexandra: At that point, early on I wasn’t hiring designers all the time. Sometimes I was creating them myself using tools like Canva, for example. And, just sending out free resources every Friday, and to this day, we still do it, and that’s one of our biggest competitive advantages.
Felix: Got it. Okay, so before doing it consistently, you had a few that you were making prior to that second Kickstarter campaign so that you could build up an email list that you could launch your second Kickstarter campaign, which was the successful one to the email list. Was that correct? Was that the strategy that you took to create these free resources and build the email list, and then to launch that second campaign?
Felix: Okay. I wanna talk about that phase, when you’re starting out, and just creating the resources to start. How are you getting traffic to check out these free resources, or to even see that they could opt in to get this lead magnet, this free resource?
Alexandra: Through Facebook ads. We were running paid marketing directly to the opt-in page. [inaudible 00:24:14], I think at that time I actually was trying something, which was called lead campaigns. I don’t know if they still have those on Facebook, but when people see that, they don’t even have to leave Facebook, they just enter their email address and they get subscribed to email, and they download the resource directly from Facebook. We didn’t even have to technically have a landing page. It was all done on Facebook. So, that’s what we were doing. We were investing dollars to drive traffic.
Felix: Yeah, anytime that you can keep a user on Facebook, Facebook will reward you for that basically by charging you much less for that. These lead campaigns were helping you collect these emails. Do you remember how quickly or how large you’re able to grow that email list using this strategy prior to the Kickstarter campaign?
Alexandra: Yeah. Our email list was 7,000 people before we launched the second campaign.
Felix: Got it. And would you attribute most of the about $45,000 in funding came from that email list?
Alexandra: Well, I mean initially, yes. The first days it’s usually your email list, but then we had a different strategy that we were using. We were communicating with different bloggers, and doing affiliate campaigns. Basically giving them a share of our revenue in exchange for them sharing on their social media. This time, this day and age, it doesn’t work very well because now Facebook doesn’t welcome promotional posts, and doesn’t show them organically. When you start working with affiliates nowadays, it’s a completely different result, but back in 2017, it was still the thing. We could still get a lot of traffic from organic posts posted by our affiliates, and that was probably 30% of the entire funding.
Alexandra: Then we had very minor spent on Facebook ads, but it wasn’t anything significant.
Felix: Got it. Do you remember what kind of threshold or metrics you were looking at when you were running these lead campaigns? How do you know if it’s gonna be profitable or not to get a lead for $0.10 or $1.00, or how do you back into those numbers?
Alexandra: I had a spreadsheet. My background is finance, so I have a spreadsheet for everything.
Alexandra: I had a spreadsheet where I basically calculated what would be my preferred cost per lead, so to say. And based on the average price of the product, our product was $20, and how many people we needed to sign up. The important number that you need to know, to find out, is actually the conversion rate. So let’s say you have 7,000 people sign up to your email the list, but the question is, how many will actually buy. How many will actually convert? How many will open your email? And then how many out of the open ones will click? What I was doing, I just was Googling, “What is the average conversion rate on Kickstarter for the newsletter?” And their numbers like, believe it or not, everything’s available, and their numbers like this are available so that some people were reporting their numbers. Let’s say some people said, “Okay, well 10% converted.” Another person said, “Well, 5% converted.” And you read all these different numbers, and just make an assumption. I mean, you have your worst case scenario, best case scenario, average case scenario, and you put the cell numbers together.
Alexandra: I highly recommend to spend some to make this type of spreadsheet, and if you’re not very financially savvy, find a person that could help you, because you could spend a lot of money very fast. Especially today, and because Facebook actually got even more competitive. So do your math before you spend a lot of money.
Felix: Got it. I think the keys that you mentioned is your cost per lead, the lead to purchase conversion rate, and then how much is the average order value. For Kickstarter, I guess you can look at the different rewards that you’re putting out there. You mentioned that getting these leads this way through providing free content, and then sending then similar content, free resources, things that people would potentially even pay for, is the best way that you’ve been able to find to have high open rates. Can you talk about what those are? What is considered a high open rate with email? What are some numbers that people can keep in the back of their head as they are trying to do something similar?
Alexandra: Our open rates are consistently about 30%, and that maybe doesn’t sound high, but it’s actually not bad. And our email list is very large nowadays, I think it’s over 250,000 people. Then we have click rate, click surveys, and it really depends on email-by-email, but it could be around 10% out of 30% who opens. You have 10% who clicked through. I don’t necessarily check those metrics every month or every week. What I know is that people are extremely interested in receiving our emails. And even if they don’t open our emails, sometimes it just means they can’t find them, or unfortunately email providers they filter them, and they put them in different folders. We always have the advice to follow certain steps to make sure that they can see our emails.
Alexandra: But we do receive, almost weekly we have people asking us a couple things. First, people asking us, “Where’s my email?” They’re looking for it. And, the second type of question we receive very frequently is people asking us if they’ve been charged for what they’ve received. And we always say, “No, no, no. It’s all free.” That’s just an indication that how valuable this is, and people just so not used to this, they can’t believe that we’re giving this away.
Alexandra: And, we do this every week. It’s one of the strategies which I think made us very successful.
Felix: Yeah, so you do this every week, and you’ve trained essentially your customers, or prospective customers or your existing customers to expect is every week. Are you sending it to them on the exact same day and time each time? How important is that?
Alexandra: Yes, well I don’t know how important the time is, but we do send it every single Friday, rain or shine at the same time. One thing I want to mention is that if you want to implement this strategy, you need to have zero expectation for purchase. Approach this not as a selling strategy. You’re not trying to sell them in the long-term on anything. You’re just giving away. That’s the attitude that you should have in this particular strategy, without zero expectation. If you could have people who consume everything give out and buy nothing from you, and you should be totally okay with that, because if you’re not okay with that, you will have a different kind of attitude, and it will show. You need to prepare yourself for that situation that you will get a lot of people who are just getting it all free, and not purchasing anything, which is completely fine.
Felix: Got. Nowadays you are able to get these leads. Are you still running these Facebook ads, or are there new ways for you to drive the traffic to see the lead magnet?
Alexandra: Not currently, but we will in 2019 because right now we are in November. November, December Facebook ads are very expensive. So we’re not wasting, so to say, our money on just getting leads. But we will do so January, February when the ads will be a little bit cheaper. But, we have word of mouth, that’s what helped us a lot. When people get something for free, which is very high quality, they forward it to everyone they know. We have people saying to us all the time, email us to say, “Thank you so much. I told all the parents in the school. I told all my teachers.” That’s the thing. That’s what you want. You want the word of mouth and recommendation from other people because that’s the number one trusted source. When you get recommended something … When a friend recommends you something, you listen, right. And it’s a completely different situation versus you seeing an ad on Facebook from a company you’ve never heard of. The word of mouth is very big with this strategy.
Felix: Got it. Out of the 200,000+ subscribers you have, would you be able to breakdown what percentage of it is driven through Facebook ads versus what’s word of mouth and people’s forwarding the opt-in page to each other?
Alexandra: I have no idea. I don’t even know how to detect those numbers.
Felix: Sure. Got it. We’ll move on to, I want to talk about your Facebook group because that’s also grown. It’s grown to 60,000 members, and that took one year, which is very fast. What led to the growthness? How did you implement this into your entire marketing process?
Alexandra: Facebook group, yes, it has grown to 60,000 members, and we have a person dedicated to this Facebook group, who’s entire job is to manage it, and we take it very seriously. We have specific topics that we discuss in this group, and nothing else, which means that we sometimes decline the questions from our members just because we want to stay very focused. We’re not a general parenting group, we’re very specific. We’re about the mindset, the growth mindset.
Alexandra: We have Facebook live weekly, sometimes more than once a week. We invite experts to speak to our group members and ask questions. We have a guest coach, who’s a parenting coach, who does weekly lives in the group. And then we actually had a book club in the group. We paused for the holiday’s a little because people are so busy. Nobody has time to read books nowadays, during October, November, December, but we had a book club. We take this group as an investment. We invest in it, our time, effort, and money, and we make it very high quality, and people love it.
Felix: I think that basically, your moderation is important where you are it sounds like you have the set-up where you require each question, each post to be reviewed and approved before it gets posted. Did you always do it this way? If someone’s just starting out a Facebook group for the first time, is that a good approach, or do you recommend just letting anyone, everyone just post whatever they want to start?
Alexandra: Yes, I highly recommend to make this group a private group. And that automatically requires people to go this screening process of their questions. We have a few admins who screen the questions, and then we have moderators who are professionals, so let’s say … They’re all volunteers, but they would be parenting coaches or therapists who volunteer to moderate the group. Meaning that they want to make sure … we make sure that everybody’s question is answered, and they facilitate positive discussion.
Alexandra: I highly recommend to make sure that your questions are actually on topic because the variety of questions that we get is very large, on people talking about kids not being able to fall asleep, or picky eaters. Like nothing related to what we’re talking about. So, you need to make sure if you’re creating a group, which is very specific about your specific product or topic, you need to make sure that that focus always remains.
Felix: Got it. One thing that I’ve seen in groups is that sometimes in some groups it’s very centered around the “leader,” the “admin,” and their personality, but you said that you have a bunch of different people coming in to contribute, you have experts, and coaches, and everything. How do you make sure that the branding is cohesive when you have different members of the team hopping in and essentially getting the spotlight in the group?
Alexandra: It is a good question, we do have our team members that actually are part of Big Life Journal team, doing different lives, or not only even Facebook group, but also on Instagram, which we’re all very active on our Instagram as well. So we do have different members going live on different various times of the week, and doing different, we call them segments. We always think of ourselves of a TV channel, and I think that that’s a very good way to think of yourself as a brand, nowadays if you want to … when you create content, you almost have to think of yourself that way. So you are a TV channel, you are a production company that you producing a lot of content. For you to produce a lot of content usually takes more than one person.
Alexandra: What we did is, for example, we have one team member who does Mindset Monday’s. That’s her task, and our community is used to seeing her on Monday’s when she goes live. And she posts some stories on Instagram, talking about one specific tip for parents to help raise their kids with the right mindset. We call in Mindset Monday’s.
Alexandra: We have another team member who comes out on Wednesday’s, and her TV program is called Challenged Wednesday’s. And again, our community’s used to seeing her on Wednesday’s, and she does her little show when she gives parents one challenge that week.
Alexandra: Then we have, every Sunday, we actually have consistently behind the scenes, where every single team member, we rotate and we show behind the scenes of our lives, so the community is used to seeing all the team members, and getting used to all the faces.
Alexandra: I feel like today when you have to create so much content, and you as a person who is running the business, you probably don’t have that much time to do it all yourself. If you’re lucky to have a team or a couple people who will help you, I encourage you to engage them in that as well.
Felix: Got it. The Facebook group, it seems like it requires a lot more investment than the email channel. And you’ll probably hate this question, but I wanna ask anyway, if you had to choose just one, especially for entrepreneurs that are out there that are just getting started for the first time, which one should the focus on? Should they focus on building a group, or building out an email list?
Alexandra: Well, an email list is everything for business, because of Facebook… email list is something that you own, and you have control of email list, whereas, the Facebook can change their policy tomorrow as they did in 2018 where they decided not to share business posts organically anymore. Anytime they do something, maybe they will tomorrow decide that Facebook groups are no longer, right, so and you would just completely, if you depend on that, you will devastated. I recommend focusing on the email list if that’s the only thing you can do because you own that list.
Felix: Got it. We talked about the first two Kickstarter’s and the third one is the one that’s most impressive, which has raised over $200,000, over 5,200 backers for that one. What was the reason for this one to essentially five times your past Kickstarter campaign? Why was this so much more successful?
Alexandra: It was very successful for many reasons. The first reason is that when we created the journal for children that was our first major product. From day one, people started asking us for the same thing, but for teens. I never had an idea of creating a journal for teens, never thought I would. But, there were so many requests, and people continuously asking us to create something for older children. What we did was said, “Okay, well we’re gonna create a sign-up page on our website where we can just say, ‘For Teens’.” And we can say, “The journal for teens is coming, sign up if you’re interested.” We didn’t run any ads to that page, no lead magnet, it was literally just that people who come to our website, they see that tab which says, “For Teens,” and then they sign-up their interested.
Alexandra: That’s how we building our email list over the course of a year, kind of started very early. And then we started … once we have the email list, and when we already had a very large community. Our Facebook group was already pretty large, and the Instagram community was pretty large, we started the process of getting people excited. We started sharing the process of creating a journal, asking people for feedback, we had numerous polls, we were asking for people to vote on the cover, we were asking people to ask their teen’s to give us feedback. It was a lot of interaction with our community, so people knew that we were working on it. They were excited, and we’re asking us, “When, when, when is it coming?” Then of course when we launched, we were funded in 45 minutes.
Alexandra: Yes, it was just unbelievable. And the entire campaign we ran zero Facebook ads. Maybe like, I don’t know, $100 Facebook ads, something very little, and everything else was just organic.
Felix: Yeah, once it starts taking off on Kickstarter, they will just start promoting it more for you because of the traction that you got, especially funding in 45 minutes.
Alexandra: Yeah, but I wouldn’t count on Kickstarter that much, because we were chosen by Kickstarter’s Project We Love and they did put us in a couple newsletters. People who run Kickstarter campaigns think that if they get chosen by Kickstarter their campaign will be successful, that is not true, because the very first campaign that we created, we failed, we were also chosen by Kickstarter’s Project We Love, and we still failed it. It gives you a little bit of kind of boost, but actually not that much.
Felix: Well it’s good to know that Kickstarter at least doesn’t only promote you one time, even if you weren’t successful the first time, they’re still willing to do a second time. That’s great to hear. I’m looking at the site and looking at the different products you’re offering. So the journal we talked about. One thing that’s interesting is that you also sell some printable kits. Talk to us about that. What are the printable kits, and how are they different than the free printables?
Alexandra: They are the same. Basically what we do is we share one printable each week, and then over the course of a few months when we collect enough, we just put them together in a kit and put them in our store. When people sign up to our newsletter, a very frequent question that we get is, how can I get a hold of the past printables, and we direct them to our shop.
Felix: I like that. That’s a great approach. And usually before, you were just sending them, or not able to provide them the past emails or something, but now you present them all together, grouped together for them as a part of a kit.
Felix: Makes sense. Once you guys were able to launch your Kickstarter, get over $200,000 in the last campaign, the one before that $45,000. Can you talk to us a little bit about the growth outside of that? Can you share any figures, any numbers on how you’ve been able to grow the business outside of Kickstarter?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, so the first year, our very first year, which was not even 12 months, we made $1,000,000 in revenue, and that was last year. And this year we’re gonna grow over 300%.
Felix: That’s amazing. What do you think is the reason for that inflection point, where you’re going from a million to now 300% growth for there? What do you think is the reason for that kind of growth?
Alexandra: I mean, so many things. It’s just the sheer amount of work that we put in, and that we produced. I mean, in 2017, we had a journal, one journal and then we had one printable kit, one poster. And then in 2018, I don’t even know how many products we have now. We have two journals, and then we have six posters, we have numerous printable kits. I mean just the amount of products itself, it just drives revenue.
Alexandra: And then our focus on providing value, and building, like you were saying before, we’re considering ourselves as the media production company, and producing as much content as we can, and growing our social media channels. All of this together that’s all … You have to do many different things to grow your business, not just one.
Felix: Definitely. When it comes to running a business, can you talk a little bit about the apps or tools that you or your team relies on to help run the business?
Alexandra: We use several different tools. We use Slack, that’s a very popular tool. It just allows our team to communicate, to chat. It’s basically just an internal chat.
Alexandra: We use Trello. Trello is a project management tool. It’s free, and you can use it for different purposes. You can use it as project management, or you can use it as [inaudible 00:46:54], we just store our ideas. Let’s say we’re searching ideas for printables because we have to produce every week. So we definitely need a lot of [inaudible] and ideas. So we have all team members, taking pictures of postcards, and saving things from Pinterest, and something they saw on Instagram and putting all our ideas in Trello.
Alexandra: We have Asana. Asana is a project management tool that we have a calendar, tasks, and what people are working on.
Alexandra: We use Canva. Canva is also a very popular tool that’s for design. Even though we don’t necessarily produce our final designs in Canva anymore because we upgraded from Canva a little bit, but when we sketch the printables, we have ideas of how … if it’s a poster, like what’s supposed to be on this poster, what kind of words, what kind of images, we use Canva. It’s very simple, it’s convenient. You don’t have to install anything on your computer, and all the team members have access to that image right away at the same time, so they … you can share it easily, and get feedback from each other.
Alexandra: Yeah, so those are the tools we’re using.
Felix: Awesome, thank you so much for your time Alexandra, BigLifeJournal.com is the website. Where do you wanna see the business grow over the next year? What are some of the things that you guys are focused on as a team?
Alexandra: 2019 is gonna be very different from us. We’re gonna start a podcast, and this is another thing which we’re … it’s way overdue. Podcast for kids and parents, and we want to make it very good. A serious production. Especially the podcast for kids. To make it interesting and engaging. And, we want to invest more into content creation. As I mentioned, that we just produce as much as we can today. We invite all these different experts, and we have guest coaches that produce content for us, but I think that we’re still not doing enough. I feel like that’s the way that you stand out today is you actually just … it’s an investment right. You might not see the return today or tomorrow, but it’s the way to build your brand, and that’s our 2019 focus.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much again for your time.
Alexandra: No problem. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Felix: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Shopify Masters, the eCommerce podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs powered by Shopify. To get your exclusive 30-day extended trial, visit Shopify.com/Masters.
Improving cash flow is a smart move for any business. It doesn’t matter how great your business model is, how profitable you are, or how many investors you have lined up. You won’t survive if you can’t manage your company’s cash flow.
In fact, one study found that 82% of businesses fail due to poor cash flow management skills. If you’re looking for one area to focus on that will have a dramatic impact on your business, this is it.
New and growing businesses often don’t have a buffer of extra cash to get them through shortfalls, because they are always reinvesting. Add to that, years with the most significant growth—including the first few years of a business’s lifespan—are also the most challenging when it comes to cash flow.
Cash flow quickly becomes one of many reasons it’s so hard to get a new business off the ground.
What is cash flow management?
So, what is cash flow exactly? Cash flow is the amount of money, cash and non-cash, travelling into and out of a business. A positive cash flow is more money coming in than going out and a negative one is less coming in than the business needs to cover outgoings.
To calculate cash flow a business takes note of the cash available at the beginning and at the end of a specific period. The time period may be such as a week or a month. The business will have a positive cash flow if there is more in the account at the end of the period than when the period began and less would indicate a negative one.
Getting good at cash flow management is one of the best things you can do for your business. Not only that, it’s a skill you can carry over into other ventures, as well as your personal finances.
We’ve put together a free forecasting template to help you manage cash flow. Access it with this link (or later in the blog post) and keep reading to learn how to use it.
The difference between cash flow and profitability
Cash flow is not the same as profitability. A profitable business can still be unable to pay its bills. Similarly, just because a business is meeting all of its financial obligations, doesn’t mean it’s profitable.
Profit is an accounting term, which really only exists on paper. Measuring profit is a particular way of looking at a business. It doesn’t tell you a whole lot about how the business is getting by day-to-day.
How to calculate profit
The first step to calculating profit is to take your total revenue and then subtract the cost of the goods sold. The difference is your gross profit.
Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold = Gross Profit
For example, if you sold $100,000 in rocking chairs, and the chairs themselves cost you $50,000 wholesale, your gross profit would be $50,000.
Revenue: $100,000 Cost of Goods Sold -$50,000 Gross Profit: $50,000
Of course, you would probably have other expenses beyond buying the chairs. For example, you’d need a place to store the chairs, and you might want to run some ads to get more sales. These expenses are called operating expenses, and they get subtracted from your gross profit.
Operating expenses include most costs that don’t directly connect to what you sell—things like rent, equipment, payroll, and marketing.
The second step is to subtract operating expenses from gross profit. The difference is net profit.
Revenue: $100,000 Cost of Goods Sold:-$50,000 Gross Profit: $50,000 Operating Expenses:-$35,000 Net Profit:$15,000
If your net profit is a positive number, you made money. If it’s a negative number, you lost money. This report as a whole is called the income statement or profit and loss (P&L).
The ‘problem’ with profit
The problem with income statements is that they don’t show your whole business. A few essential pieces of information are missing.
1. Debt repayment
If you have any business loans or other startup capital to repay, it won’t show up here. Only the interest on those loans is included on a P&L, even though debt repayments can eat up a lot of cash.
2. Equipment payments
Similarly, if you make a significant equipment purchase, the entire cost will not show up in this section. Instead, that cost will get spread out over the lifetime of the equipment. If you spend $100,000 on a canning line and you think it will last you ten years, your income statement will show an expense of $10,000/year for ten years, even if you had to pay all of it upfront.
Note that your net profit isn’t taxed at this point, which means will shrink even more. Even if all of your profit is available in cash, you won’t be able to run out and spend it all in one place.
4. Cash received
Finally, many businesses use accrual accounting, which records revenue even if you haven’t received the money yet. On paper, you might have $200,000 in sales, but if no one has paid you yet you’re still going to have a hard time paying your bills.
Further, if you carry inventory, all that product has value and gets included on your income statement as well. Of course, to extract cash from your inventory, you need to sell it first.
Cash flow is all about timing
Ultimately, cash flow comes down to timing. You may be profitable over the course of a month or year, but not a specific day or week. If your bills are due at the beginning of the month, but you won’t have any money in the bank until the end of the month, you’ve got a cash flow problem. Even if at the end of the month, you made more than you spent.
Here’s the deal with profit: If you’re not profitable on paper, you’re in bad shape. You need to either increase your revenue or decrease your expenses if you want to stay in business.
But just because you’re profitable, doesn’t mean your business can run on autopilot. You still need to watch your cash—especially if you’re growing.
Why cash flow management is important
Although it may seem intimidating, there are clear benefits to understanding cash flow and prioritizing effective cash flow management.
1. Predict shortfalls
The first and most obvious benefit to managing cash is knowing ahead of time when you’re going to have shortfalls. Don’t find out you can’t make rent after the check bounces. With a good system in place, you can predict shortfalls weeks, and sometimes even months ahead of time, which gives you time to come up with a plan. For example:
Call your landlord and ask them to cash your check a few days later
Delay a shipment by a couple of weeks to put off paying duty at customs
Run a promotion to drive additional sales quickly
Go on a collection to spree to clear up outstanding bills
2. Reduce stress
Believe it or not, obsessing over cash flow will alleviate a lot of stress. Much of the anxiety entrepreneurs experience around paying bills comes from not knowing what’s going on and worrying about whether or not it will work out.
It’s much better to know what’s coming, even if the outlook is not good. When you know where you stand, you’ll feel prepared. More importantly, you’ll be equipped to deal with it.
3. Know when to grow
When you’re keeping an eye on cash flow, you know exactly how much money you have to spend on growth. Remember, just because your P&L tells you there’s extra money lying around, doesn’t mean it will materialize in real life.
Similarly, just because you have $20,000 in the bank, doesn’t mean you can spend it. You might need it to pay for upcoming expenses. When you look at your cash flow over weeks and months, you’ll know how much keep on hand, and how much you can stash away or spend on growth.
4. Gain leverage
Good cash flow management gives you leverage. If you need a line of credit from the bank to get you through a shortfall, or you want to get a supplier to give you a break for a few weeks without interrupting service, a good cash flow system will back you up and establish trust.
Banks generally like to see this kind of planning, especially if you can clearly show when you’ll be able to repay the funds. Suppliers are much more likely to be flexible if you can tell them exactly how you’ll pay and when—rather than cutting communication like most businesses do during tough periods. These people want your business and will be more willing to work with you through the ups and downs if they can trust you.
5. More accurate
Cash flow is significantly more accurate than a budget. Budgets tell you what you want to happen. They’re wishful thinking and entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature. Cash flow projections tell you what is actually happening so you can deal with it—even if it’s not what you planned at the beginning of the year.
Most of us (myself included) would often rather not think about cash flow and just hope it all works out. But it’s not worth the risk. You really will feel better by staying on top of your money.
How to forecast and manage cash flow
There are many paid tools out there to help you manage cash flow. Personally, I think the free one is the best one: Google Sheets. Anyone can use a Google spreadsheet to create a cash flow statement. Although it’s a manual process, it doesn’t take long to set up, and it’s easy to track.
More importantly, it’s easy to customize on the fly and adapt to your specific needs or situation. You can be as broad or specific as you want. And the time you spend creating and updating your spreadsheet is valuable for gaining a clearer picture of your situation.
The cash flow spreadsheet is an outline of where your cash is going. It shows you when cash will be coming in, and when it be going out, and it’s a great way to visualize cash flow and adjust your approach.
What is a cash flow statement?
A cash flow statement is an account of the cash flowing into and out of a business over an accounting period, such as a month, quarter or year, although you can track cash flow for any time period that helps you see where your money is going. The statement shows you how the business used the cash generated during the time that the report covers.
Most businesses work best by planning week-to-week; however, some may need daily, others only need monthly. It’s also up to you if you want to include every single expense or just categories of expenses. These decisions will depend on the scale and complexity of your business.
Similarly, some businesses will be able to project their cash flow accurately for six months, others only two weeks. In general, try to project four to six weeks with reasonably accurately. A good rule of thumb is that the farther you are into the future, the less accurate your predictions will be.
Step 1: Forecast expenses
The first step is to lay out all your ongoing financial obligations. Start by making a list of all the things you have to pay for—rent, salary, advertisements, software fees, loan repayments—anything that comes out of your bottom line.
Write down what the expense is for, how much it is, and when it’s due. You’ll likely forget a few things, so review your bank and credit card statements to see what other expenses you find.
Step 2: Forecast revenue
Next, it’s time to forecast your weekly revenue. Many businesses experience fluctuations in sales so it can be a bit of an art. Try to be as accurate as possible. The more established your business becomes, the easier it will be.
Start by writing down any guaranteed revenue. If you sell subscriptions or have long-term contracts, you’ll have a good idea of what’s coming up. You can estimate if those numbers are going to go up, down, or stay the same. If a large portion of your sales come from first-time customers, it will be more difficult to estimate. Still, you should have a good idea of what to expect over the coming weeks and months. The closer you can get to reality the better.
One thing that helps with projections is to look at past data. In many cases, your sales from this week one year ago will be more accurate than your sales last week, because historical data takes annual cycles and seasonality into account. If you believe your sales will grow over last year’s, you can increase the amount, but it’s important to be conservative to avoid ending up in a bad situation.
As you forecast revenue each week, be mindful of any dips in sales due to holidays or the time of month or year, as well as any promotions or major deals that will positively impact your revenue.
Step 3: Plug in your data
Now comes the fun part. It’s time to fill in your data. First, grab your free copy of the cash flow projection template. Use it customize a row for each expense and each revenue source. You can be as detailed or broad you need to be.
If you sell a bunch of products on one website, you may only have one source of revenue. If you use multiple channels such as web, retail, and trade shows, you might want to have a line for each because it will be easier to predict.
Make sure you add revenue to the week it will become available to you. Keep in mind that it may take a few days to end up in your bank account.
Similarly, fill in your expenses. Some will be weekly, some bi-weekly, some monthly, some variable. You’re also going to have a lot of miscellaneous expenses popping up. Use the row labeled “Other” to work these into the spreadsheet.
Add your opening bank balance for the first week. The following weeks will be predicted automatically based on your revenue and expense projections.
Step 4: Update your projection spreadsheet
Your cash flow spreadsheet is a living document. If you keep it as a Google Sheet, it will be available anytime, anywhere. You’ll also be able to easily share it with someone else such as your accountant or another employee.
A good cash flow spreadsheet is updated on a regular basis. Once a week, log in and update your closing bank balance. If it doesn’t match your previous calculations, it’s a good idea to figure out why. Sometimes expenses you forgot about pop up, or you realize you may have been too optimistic in your revenue projections.
Next, hide last week’s column. You won’t need it anymore since it’s in the past.
Finally, add a new week of projections in the last column. You always want to have a minimum of four to six weeks laid out so you can plan ahead.
Any time you’re projecting a shortfall, the closing bank balance will alert you by turning red, which prompts you to make some changes. In the template provided, you can see that a shortfall is predicted in the third week.
By knowing this ahead of time, this company could contact their product supplier and renegotiate their next payment. Instead of paying all $5,000 that week, they could ask to pay $3,000 and settle the remaining $2,000 the following week.
Access our free cash flow projection template
If you haven’t already, don’t forget to grab your free cash flow template. Just click on this link, and you can access the spreadsheet in Google Drive. You’ll need to be logged into your Google account to make a copy.
Most companies cannot survive without proper cash flow management. But anyone can do it. Take the time to get organized now, and it’ll be easy to stay on top of it.
How do you track your cash? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
From the pacing of your emails to how you bring fresh value to your subscribers’ inboxes with every send, there’s a lot to consider when building out your own email marketing strategy.
While you can always draw inspiration from what other brands are doing right, it can be hard to get a holistic view of what successful email marketing looks like long-term.
Last year, I took it upon myself to subscribe to the email lists of several top ecommerce brands, recording and analyzing every automated email I received over the course of 60 days. I even wrote up what I learned from Casper, a top player among online mattress companies, about effective email campaigns.
This time, I wanted to take a look at Birchbox, another major ecommerce brand in a completely different industry, to see what we can learn about how this subscription box company uses email to engage, educate, and upsell new prospects.
Birchbox’s approach to email marketing
Birchbox is considered the original monthly cosmetic subscription box. They’ve since become a notable and widely-used brand, working with larger cosmetics companies to distribute their products to hundreds of thousands of customers.
Their core business model is based on recurring revenue from a monthly cosmetics box. When people purchase subscription boxes, they are often looking to discover new products while still finding value from recognizable products.
Naturally, email seems to play a big role in promoting their monthly boxes and powering their subscription business.
I subscribed to various brands in order to create these teardowns, but Birchbox was one of very few that offered a “choose your own adventure” style of opt-in and asked for more information upfront. Most brands didn’t bother to segment their subscribers at the beginning, which can be a missed opportunity to serve them more relevant emails from the get-go. For this article, I opted for “Beauty” as my main interest from the two available options.
Before we dive into each email in detail, here’s an overview of the types of emails I received from Birchbox and when over the course of the 60 day period:
Day 1: Welcome email
Day 2: Seasonal promotion
Day 5: Promotional email
Day 8: Seasonal promotion
Day 9: Promotional email (reminder)
Day 11: Promotional email
Day 12: Category promotional email
Day 13: Welcome email (reminder)
Day 15: Start of month promotional email
Day 17: Subscription promotional email
Day 18: Promotional email
Day 19: Free gift promotional email
Day 21: Special event email
Day 22: Free gift promotional email
Day 27: Special event email
Day 33: Promotional email
Day 40: Subscription promotional email
Day 41: Partnership promotion
Day 42: Free gift promotional email (reminder)
Day 45: Promotional email
Day 47: Start of month promotional email
Day 54: Free gift promotional email
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Ecommerce expert Drew Sanocki shares his method for launching automated email marketing campaigns that build relationships and make sales.
Preview text: “Beauty Made Easy: Finding new products is hard but it doesn’t have to be.”
Date: Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 12:50 PM
Immediately after signing up for the “beauty” focus on Birchbox’s form I received this welcome email.
The beauty theme is evident and both the subject and preview copy feels spot on, with a well-balanced mix of friendly and educational. “Finding new products is hard but it doesn’t have to be” speaks to a core aspect of Birchbox’s value proposition in the preview text before you even open the email.
The aesthetic and layout are also consistent with the brand and website, using the same color palette and visual styles. The email is clearly crafted to make a strong first impression and get you excited about what Birchbox can do for you.
Free shipping offer
Since this is a welcome email and I, a new prospect, might not be familiar with all the benefits of being a customer, adding a free shipping reminder at the top of the email provides an immediate incentive to consider their products.
A “welcome gift” is a friendly way to start the conversation with new subscribers.The 15% discount on orders is teased on the website before you opt in, and it’s a great way to not only incentivize opt-ins but encourage these subscribers to start adding products to their cart.
This section is the first of three that introduce me to the core benefits of Birchbox. The simplicity of this section drives home their central message of “Beauty Made Easy”—that’s what Birchbox wants you to associate with their brand.
Two starting points
These two sections are equal parts education for new prospective customers and call to action.The first caters to subscribers who want to use the service to try new products, and the the second is for those who know exactly what they want and are ready to save.
Additional links in the footer
The first footer of the first email is a useful place for less urgent calls to action. Given our unfamiliarity with their brand, Birchbox nudges us to download their app and join the community. There are also direct links to customer support, their About Us page, FAQs in case we need them.
Take the opportunity to present your core value proposition in a story or journey format. “Value” to customers means something they can get excited about.
Simple is better when creating associations with your brand. When customers encounter or talk about Your Brand, they should immediately think [uniquely valuable attribute].
Don’t be afraid to show prospects where to start. Sometimes navigating a new brand can be challenging—especially if there are a lot of products and you aren’t sure what’s best for you. Guide them with simple cues, e.g. “Discover New Favorites,” “Get The Box,” and “Start Shopping.”
Day 2, Email 2: Seasonal promotion
Subject line: “Be Our (Early) Valentine with 20% Off Our Entire Site ❤️”
Preview text: “Get 20% off site-wide, including all gift subscriptions, with code BEMINE20. Birchbox”
Date: Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 11:17 AM
The second email I received was sent February 13th, probably to avoid the deluge of day-of emails sent for Valentine’s Day. Birchbox may also have sent out additional emails prior to my joining their list to let prospects and customers know about the upcoming deal ahead of time.
Regardless, this is a great example of embracing seasonal events to remain relevant to subscribers throughout the year.
Loyalty program incorporated in email template
Now that we’ve gotten past the welcome email, we’re presented with a new format that you will continue to see going forward. The header now centers on promoting their loyalty program, an initiative that encourages repeat purchases. They even display your current balance of loyalty points to encourage you to shop.
Valentine’s day offer
We continue to see casual and concise copy that speaks directly to the target audience. Once again, Birchbox positions their discount code as a “gift” to not only capture your interest but remind you that Valentine’s day is a time for gift-giving.
Three ways to use their “gift”
The three call-to-action blocks in the middle of the email possess a consistent design with a context-specific background that fits each unique idea. Each of the three CTAs focuses on a different suggestion: make a one-off purchase of their full-sized offerings, gift a subscription to someone special, or get Birchbox’s monthly box for yourself.
Additional resources in the footer
This email also has a new footer that highlights additional information about their loyalty program and offers a place for other less urgent links.
When emailing a timely offer, like a Valentine’s day sale, consider preempting your competition by sending messages earlier than day of—this may help you avoid a crowded inbox.
Think about offering suggestions on how to use your discount code (e.g. buy a gift for someone special) that appeal to your reader’s needs.
Day 5, Email 3: Promotional email
Subject line: “We Just Added 100+ Items to Our 40% Off Sale 😱”
Preview text: “Get 40% off over 100 just-added Sale items. Birchbox”
Date: Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 11:54 AM
This email arrived a few days since I last heard from Birchbox, which felt well-paced and respectful of my inbox.
The subject line and preview copy include a specific number of sale items, which creates curiosity and an urge to explore what’s new. The email was sent around lunch time—maybe in hopes of catching prospective customers who are about to check their phones on their lunch break.
The clean layout makes great use of the first block for a hero image, which is framed to naturally draw your eyes to the offer. The promotion itself is impossible to miss, and the copy below repeats the promise made in the subject line of “100+ New Items” on sale.
The lightly framed “Including products from” box provides another element of social proof—recognizable brands that instill trust through familiarity—while teasing some of the brands on offer in this new collection of products they’re promoting
The last section contains a separate but related CTA about their awards program, which does a good job of “showing, not telling” that their product curation process is community driven. It also gives subscribers a chance to have their voice heard if they want to share their thoughts about the products.
If you’re creating sales or promotional offers, try to stay away from vague statements. Instead, use concrete numbers (like “100+ New Items”) when possible to stand apart from other emails in your customer’s inbox and offer specific value.
Including social proof like brand logos or a community award programs incorporates a feeling of belonging to something bigger than an email list and generates more interest in your products. .
Day 8, Email 4: Seasonal promotion
Subject line: “Get a Free Benefit Mascara for National Lash Day 💁🏻”
Preview text: “Join Birchbox and get a FREE Benefit Cosmetics BADgal BANG! 36 Hour Full-Blast Volumizing Mascara – the newest out-of-this”
Date: Mon, Feb 19, 2018 at 10:00 AM
This email landed in my inbox at 10AM, which is still early but after I’ve archived my morning emails. Excellent promotional alignment being sent on National Lash Day: When seasonal events are niche-specific, you won’t have nearly as much competition.
Hashtag holiday promotion
Beyond the typical holiday marketing opportunities like Christmas or Valentine’s day, there are “social media holidays” like #NationalLashDay that you can jump on with a highly relevant product promotion. In this case, Birchbox offers mascara as a free gift with your purchase..
Product action shot
The hero image is an action shot that exudes energy and personality, and it does a great job of creating excitement for the free gift. The copy shares more details about the product, underscoring its benefits.
Highlighted offer code
The supporting copy explains how to get the free gift, using of a purple highlight over the code to draw your attention to it.
Use special occasions, holidays, and real-world events to create relevant offers that appeal to your potential and current customers at that moment in time.
Day 9, Email 5: Promotional email (reminder)
Subject line: “40% Off Our Sale Category Ends Today”
Preview text: “Get 40% off over 100 just-added Sale items. Birchbox”
Date: Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 12:01 PM
A tried-and-true tactic in email marketing is to always remind your customer of ongoing sales just before they expire.
You’ll typically want to update the subject and preview copy at least a little. In this case, I don’t think the preview copy was updated as it still reads “100 items were just added.” The design is similar, too. But this can be a good thing—you want it to be consistent with the first email so it isn’t confused for a brand new sale.
Tip: If you’re worried about emailing your entire list, create a segment of subscribers who opened but didn’t buy through the first email and only send the reminder to them.
There was only one small but important tweak in this follow-up email: the addition of “Last Chance” as a call to action at the top. It’s a .GIF that just toggles on and off like a light switch. The awards program banner from the previous email was also dropped to bring more focus to the sale.
Sending out reminder emails to all customers, or customers who opened but didn’t buy, is usually a smart idea. However, this email could have emphasized urgency a bit more. Even a simple copy change to the main CTA, like “12 hours left to shop,” could further compel subscribers to take action.
Day 11, Email 6: Promotional email
Subject line: “Missing Our February Box Would Be 💔”
Preview text: “Join now before it’s too late to get your February Birchbox. Birchbox”
Date: Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 1:07 PM
Since the core Birchbox business is the monthly subscription boxes, this subject and preview copy are spot on, and encourage me to subscribe now.
A consistent tone in subject lines can also coach subscribers to recognize a particular brand. Birchbox frequently adds a single emoji, but other stylistic approaches (e.g. no capitalization can be used, too.)
Birchbox seems to be a fan of the “framed box” at the top of their promotional emails as a way to draw your focus and attention. Inside this frame, the copy is filled with language associated romance (“packed with love”, “no strings attached”). We’re coming off of Valentine’s day, after all.
Staged product photography
The product image featured below showcases a Birchbox, book-ended by bright products on both sides. The banner in the top right, “Just $10/month”, feels like a sale sticker: an instant deal, and not a long term commitment.
The main call-to-action button is specific—you’re not just getting any old box, you’re getting your special February box. To further support the no-pressure, low-risk message, a single line of copy reiterates: “No strings attached.” Once again, making the decision to purchase feel simple and safe.
Don’t be afraid to use emotional messaging to create a relationship and connection with prospective customers, especially in an industry that’s an intimate part of daily life.
Think about the proximity of various elements and copy and how they work together to reinforce one another.
Day 12, Email 7: Category promotional email
Subject line: “20% Off Our Fragrance Edit Starts Now 👃”
Preview text: “Score 20% off a selection of fragrance finds from Juliette Has a Gun, TOCCA, and Clean a”
Date: Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 1:21 PM
This is the seventh email in 12 days, which is a decent pace. Now, we’re being exposed to a specific collection of products through their fragrance category with a discount code to encourage us to shop.
Creative product photography
This excellent product shot incorporates the perfume as part of the promotional offer. This accomplishes two main objectives: showing off the product and drawing your attention to the sale.
The copywriting here is terrific and aligned to the product/sale, making great use of sensory language like “whiff.” Birchbox again features popular brands to establish social proof by association, and features a simple code reminder and clear call-to-action right at the end the email. Note that the code itself (SCENT20) clearly communicates the product category it can be applied to.
Engage the reader’s senses with your copy and design choices. Think about how you can involve their sense of taste, smell, or touch to craft a more captivating email.
Day 13, Email 8: Welcome email (reminder)
Subject line: “👋 Hey There, Your 15% Off Code Expires Soon!”
Preview text: “Join Birchbox for a fun new surprise every month. FREE SHIPPING ON ORDERS $50”
Date: Sat, Feb 24, 2018 at 7:01 AM
This email came pretty early on a Saturday morning. The wave emoji at the front of the subject line definitely helps catch the prospective customer’s attention in a friendly way. The email’s preview copy also highlights important information even before I’ve opened the email.
You should recall this design and structure from the very first email I received with a similar offer.
Highlighted free shipping offer
It’s clear this is the same welcome email from when I signed up two weeks ago. The only significant change is the highlighted free shipping banner at the top of the email to nudge the subscriber to seize the offer while they can.
Once again, sending reminder emails—especially before a code expires—is a useful way to increase your conversion rate from prospect to customer. People are busy and might miss or forget about your promotion the first time around, so don’t be afraid to remind your subscribers about special offers as they’re about to expire.
Day 15, Email 9: Start of month promotional email
Subject line: “Spring Is in the Air—Treat Yourself! ”
Preview text: “Join birchbox for a fun, new surprise every month.”
Date: Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 1:50 PM
This email was delivered a few days before the beginning of March, so the copy in the subject line and preview text well-timed to promote their next monthly box.
Using contrast to focus your attention
We’re seeing the same framing technique from previous emails. The darker purple draws the eye and it compliments the main box in the middle by making it stand out. Spring is the season of change, and the copy highlights this with the use of the word “transformative” in a starkly different typeface.
Visuals that inspire curiosity
This second half of the frame is a continuation of the purple box up top. The sentence “What you could receive this month” evokes an element of mystery and surprise— a key feature of subscription boxes. We’re then teased with the potential contents of the box. The call to action is once again as clear as it can be: “Get Your March Box.”
Create moments of curiosity in your emails that encourage readers to click through.
Day 17, Email 10: Subscription promotional email
Subject line: “This Freebie = Your Night Out Essentials 💁”
Preview text: “Join Birchbox today and get a Birchbox-exclusive All Dressed Up set (including amika and”
Date: Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 12:25 PM
This email arrived in the middle of the week (Wednesday) when people might start planning their Friday night out, which lines up with the subject line of the email.
Subscription bundle offer
The hero image offers a visual demonstration of two of the products included in the bundle. This is a compelling lead-in to the more traditional product photos below .
Using white space to organize information
The white space in this email is used to organize the product information together. The way the white box cuts into the hero image above communicates to the reader that these two sections of the email are connected.
Spelling out the value of the offer
“A $27 Value” explicitly lets me know what these products are worth on their own, and how much extra value I’m getting for free. It also subtly implies that a single product in this bundle on its own can almost make up the $30 cost of a 3-month subscription.
Align your marketing strategy or promotions with your finances. If you can get customers to prepay for longer commitments or bigger value products, that’s less money you need to spend on acquiring new customers every month.
Consider breaking down the retail price of your free gifts or items in a bundle to communicate the true value of your offers.
Day 18, Email 11: Promotional email
Subject line: “And the Beauty Awards Go to…🏆”
Preview text: “Join Birchbox for a fun, new surprise every month. Birchbox”
Date: Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 11:30 AM
This email is a follow-up to the Beauty Awards contest we saw earlier. Birchbox uses it as an opportunity to encourage subscribers to shop based on the community’s favorite picks.
This email circles back to the Beauty Awards content we saw a few weeks ago. It offers a quick explanation/reminder if you need it.
As for the color palette, yellow can communicate excitement and honor, as well as associate gold with the idea of “winners”.
Award-style discount offer
The ribbon-shape with the 25% off coupon is in close proximity to the main call to action, so it’s hard to miss for any subscribers who are interested in browsing these community picks.
Strategic product photography
The bright yellow header image not only teases the winners, but puts them on literal pedestals to convey that these are some of their best products.
These products, some of which are pictured, are going to be the best of the bunch. So if there was something you were meaning to try, this email encourages you to go for it.
Creating a community-driven “Awards” or selection of your store’s products is an excellent way to foster engagement and incorporate multiple high-valuel sends into your email marketing programs.
Day 19, Email 12: Free gift promotional email
Subject line: “Your March Freebies Have Arrived 🙌”
Preview text: “Choose your free gift with purchase! Birchbox”
Date: Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 11:29 AM
As this email goes to show, Birchbox seems to favor “gift with purchase” offers as a tactic for encouraging subscribers to try out their service.
Scarcity creates urgency
The email immediately drives home the “While supplies last” message to compel subscribers to act quickly. The subject line is also very powerful: “Your March Freebies Have Arrived 🙌” . It makes me want to open this email ASAP to see what I’m getting.
Choose your own offer
The “Pick your freebie” header is the focal point, and the copy is clever because it makes me, as a shopper, feel in control—I get to pick the reward I want most. If I was on the fence about buying, this is probably a good time to just try it.
Another way to execute a “free gift with purchase” offer is to give the customer options. Craft copy that puts them in the driver’s seat and makes it feel like they are giving you their order, rather than you “selling” a specific product they might not want or need.
Day 21, Email 13: Special event email
Subject line: “We’re Proud to Work With These Female-Founded Brands”
Preview text: “Meet the hard-working beauty heroes behind some of your favorite Birchbox”
Date: Sun, Mar 4, 2018 at 11:19 AM
On Thursday, March 8, 2018, it was International Women’s Day. Receiving this email on Sunday, March 4 ahead of time, and ahead of any promotions other brands may be sending, says that Birchbox wants to stay top-of-mind before the event.
Quickly establishes the context
The email opens with an explanation of why you’re getting it, aligning the occasion to Birchbox as a company. The connection is clear so it doesn’t come across as merely hijacking a trend.
This email reads almost like an infographic, encouraging you to continue scrolling for more. The buttons along the way are a nice touch and give the email a 3D effect that makes it pop.
Only a small portion of this email is dedicated to shopping their products. Most of it is actually about inspiring their subscribers by showing off the successful women behind some of their brands, putting faces to logos..
Selling, inspiring, and educating aren’t mutually exclusive goals in the emails you send. Think up clever ways you can build up your brand while building up demand for your products.
When executing a marketing campaign around an event or cultural phenomenon, be sure to align your brand with itin a way that feels authentic .
Day 22, Email 14: Free gift promotional email
Subject line: “Your Free Smashbox Eye Shadow Duo Is Waiting…”
Preview text: “Join today and get a free Smashbox Cover Shot Eye Shadow Duo in Golden Hour.”
Date: Mon, Mar 5, 2018 at 12:36 PM
The timing of this offer felt a little strange to me as I just received the inspirational International Women’s Day email the day before. But once again we get offered a free gift if we make a purchase.
Free gift focused headline
The Header copy “free gift when you join” is consistent with previous emails of this type.
The large hero image is a GIF featuring a woman opening and closing her eyes, drawing attention to the product’s effect. The model is also smiling, which feels happy and friendly, unlike some more serious beauty advertisements.
Gift proximity to call-to-action
We see the same effect of highlighting the coupon code as we’ve seen in previous emails with the product right next to the main call-to-action (CTA) button.
If you have a strategy that works well, you can repeat it in fresh new ways instead of trying to reinvent the wheel every time.
Day 27, Email 15: Special event email
Subject line: “💸Want $5,000 to Follow Your Dreams?”
Preview text: “Women’s Day initiatives, from our Future Starts Now Fund to our inspiring video on women and”
Date: Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 12:02 PM
This is the 15th email I’ve received in a month. That’s an average of 1 every 2 days, which some subscribers might see as a bit much.
This email was sent on International Women’s Day. The subject line is very appealing and speaks to subscriber wants, not company information. The aesthetic is brought back from the previous email, which makes both messages feel connected.
Puts the cause first
The entire email is very inspirational and supportive of the larger event, with no shopping section at all this time. You can tell that this email is one piece of communication that is part of a much bigger campaign by Birchbox.
Focus on brand purpose
Each headline is clear and speaks to the initiatives Birchbox is providing in support of women and the Birchbox community. Through actions, not words, Birchbox is communicated its brand purpose in this email.
If you can launch an initiative, or partner with a larger cause, promoting those types of opportunities to your audience and community can go a long way—especially with a customer base that’s highly invested in those causes.
Day 33, Email 16: Promotional email
Subject line: “Two Birchboxes for $10? Yes, Please. 🤗”
Preview text: “Join Birchbox and get a free extra box with your first month’s delivery.”
Date: Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 11:43 AM
Visualizing the BOGO offer
The offer promises double the value and the photo helps you visualize it.
The photo is a natural, almost amateur-ish shot that looks like an unboxing photo that’s ready to share on Instagram.
Spelling out the value
There’s not much copy to discuss here—just the simple and straightforward “Two Birchboxes for $10”, the code and the button. Clear is often better than clever.
Don’t rely on copy alone to sell your offers. Visually illustrating their true value, as if it’s right in front of the customer, can make it even easier for them to take the leap.
Day 40, Email 17: Subscription promotional email
Subject line: “Three (Stila Lipsticks!) For Free ”
Preview text: “Join for three months of Birchbox and get a free Stila The Perfect Kiss Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick”
Date: Wed, Mar 21, 2018 at 12:01 PM
Even as we continue to see some recurring email formats, I like how Birchbox keeps their subject lines fresh and compelling without relying on the same tired copywriting formulas.
Subscription bundle offer
Once more, we seea similar 3-month subscription offer, this time at the end of Q1. Maybe they’re looking for a final end-of-quarter sales bump?
We’ve seen this photography technique before—the GIF of the smiling woman with the shade of lipstick balanced by the same color at the bottom, white cut-in to draw attention to the center of the email. But this time, the lipstick color changes in sync with the color palette.
Gift proximity to call-to-action
Again, everything you need to help you make a purchase decision is in one place.
A “live demo,” or any approach that helps your customers visualize what the product is like and where it fits into their lives, can be a great way to keep customers invested in your email content and enter the consideration phase of a purchase decision..
Day 41, Email 18: Partnership promotion
Subject line: “Our Second Limited Edition Box with Vogue Is Here”
Preview text: “Our second Birchbox x Vogue Limited Edition Box is finally here! Birchbox”
Date: Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 2:24 PM
Developing a branded vocabulary
There’s a lot in this email that’s visually different from anything we’ve seen so far. But one thing we have definitely seen before is the emphasis on the word “transformation”, which seems to be a central concept in Birchbox’s vocabulary.
Unexpected call-to-action placement
Whereas most of their emails include the CTA at the bottom, here we see it at the top right, just next to the special Birchbox x Vogue box. This is likely due to the focus on visuals in the rest of the email.
Since they’ve partnered with Vogue, the aesthetic here is also reminiscent of a page from a magazine. All of the products are laid out as such that you get the impression the box was sort of spilled out on the floor just in front of you, and there is no copy to get in the way of them
Luxury brand value
In the bottom, right-hand corner, you see both brand logos which adds social proof and status. Immediately to the right of that I see the “Limited Edition” copy above the price of the box ($68). The price is higher than usual, but this is a luxury brand partnership. Birchbox makes sure to point out that what I’m getting is normally worth $265.
Establishing partnerships are a great way to acquire new customers, leverage the equity of other brands, or test new product concepts (in this case, a premium box at a higher price point). Plus, you may even be able to multiply your reach, depending on the nature of the partnership.
Day 42, Email 19: Free gift promotional email (reminder)
Subject line: “Last Chance for This Smashbox Freebie ✨”
Preview text: “Don’t miss your March Birchbox! Birchbox”
Date: Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 11:39 AM
This is the exact same email and offer as Day 22—in other words, a reminder email for the original free gift/offer that’s being sent 20 days later. The only significant update is the flashing “Last Chance” GIF at the top.
Nothing new to add here. Most subscribers, even if you have an excellent open rate, won’t see or act on your emails, so sending reminders on offers can provide a second chance when used correctly.
Day 45, Email 20: Promotional email
Subject line: “Birchbox for $8 a Month = Best. Deal. Ever. 🙌”
Preview text: “Get an annual subscription to Birchbox at $96-just $8 a month. Birchbox”
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 12:10 PM
This is a focused and fantastic-looking email. Create a frame out of various product photos communicates the sheer quantity and variety you would get from an annual subscription.
Urgency meets low-risk
The uppercase “LIMITED TIME ONLY” creates a sense of urgency, while the casual simplicity of the lowercase “just $8 a month” communicates how little you stand to lose if you take the leap.
Blend together different persuasive triggers to balance the pressure of urgency with the offer of an easy commitment.
Day 47, Email 21: Start of month promotional email
Subject line: “Our April Box Has Freshly Picked Products Just for You ”
Preview text: “Join Birchbox for a fun, new surprise every month. Birchbox”
Date: Wed, Mar 28, 2018 at 10:58 AM
Just like before, we get a teaser of the next subscription box during the last few days of the month.
A new visual theme for the month
The theme clearly focuses on the spring season and change it brings about, with crisp copy related to spring and gardening.
Compelling product photography
The products are nicely lined up just outside the box and partially point to the copy above. Once again, there is a specific call to action in “Get Your April Box.”
Developing a rhythm for your email marketing helps subscribers anticipate, even look forward to getting certain emails.
Day 54, Email 22: Free gift promotional email
Subject line: “Take the Leap With This Free Lipstick ”
Preview text: “Join today and get a free mini Lipstick Queen Frog Prince Lipstick. Birchbox”
Date: Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 1:02 PM
The hero image in the center showcases Birchbox’s diverse, friendly community of customers.
This time the “highlighted” code is at the top of all the copy so you immediately notice it. The copy of the email is similar to past email offers, but there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken.
Now that we’ve been able to see a few special offers with free products as incentives to join, it’s good to see the variety in the incentives being offered. The new offers in each email make you forget that the same template is being applied to each one.
Instant replay: Lessons from Birchbox’s email marketing
Through these emails from Birchbox, we’ve seen some pretty effective email marketing tactics. It’s interested to note that the frequency of emails was relatively high at 22 emails in 2 months. In a previous teardown for Casper, I received 10 emails in the same amount of time.
Birchbox is able to do this because they regularly offer free gifts—one of the best forms of “value” you can expect from a brand in your inbox, which makes it hard to unsubscribe.
That said, there was definitely a clear pattern to their emails, which makes sense for a subscription-based business selling monthly themed boxes. To the company’s credit, it came across as reliable instead of repetitive thanks to all the inspired copywriting and design choices.
As far as the tactics we saw from individual emails, let’s recap the most important ones that you might carry forward to your own business:
Consider letting subscribers tell you what they’re interested in when they opt in —in the case of Birchbox, the options were beauty or grooming.
Leverage partnerships with big, well known brands in your industry to create extra demand or test product lines.
Craft templates for recurring emails where you can swap out the content to keep it fresh.
The prospect of free gifts can help ensure your subscribers stay on your list.
Send reminder emails at the end of your promotion period to reach those who may have missed your offer the first time or forgotten about it.
Find authentic ways to be part of larger conversations and build a brand purpose that focuses on people, not just your products.
Keep a consistent header and footer to train your prospective customers to look to the center of the email for the offer. You can use design and photography techniques like frames, product placement or direction, and color balance help to make this more obvious.
While Birchbox has a lot of great creative across their emails, they’re also perfectly fine with cost-effective approaches like re-sending an offer that people may have missed the first time. What’s more, despite the large volume of emails I got, they stuck by the cardinal rule of great email marketing, which is to deliver value in every email.
Do you have a favorite email marketing tip or trick that was (or wasn’t) covered here? What did you think about Birchbox’s emails, and what would you do differently? Let me know in the comments below!
“To grow your email list is to grow your business.”
You’re going to hear this a lot from email marketing expert Drew Sanocki in his new Shopify Academy course, Ecommerce Email Marketing 101. Whether you’re collecting emails from customers or capturing emails from website visitors, the larger your email list, the more potential customers you can reach to grow your sales and your business.
While platforms like Google and Facebook offering powerful advertising opportunities, email allows you to create a direct relationship with your audience—not to mention, it’s much more cost-effective.
Drew Sanocki started selling online early. In 2002, Drew founded DesignRepublic.com, which he grew to seven figures and sold to a private equity firm. After that, he partnered with the same firm to purchase Karmaloop, a once-$100-million-dollar retailer that had slid into bankruptcy. Using email marketing as their primary marketing channel, Drew and his team rebuilt Karmaloop into a leading streetwear retailer and sold it off just 18 months after the turnaround began.
Today, Drew is the CEO of AutoAnything where he’s hard at work implementing critical email marketing campaigns as a part of a greater turnaround strategy.
While operating various ecommerce businesses, Drew continues to blog and podcast about ecommerce at NerdMarketing.com.
What’s inside the course
Despite working on some big businesses lately, Drew has been hands-on with marketing for early-stage start-ups to multi-million dollar brands. While the size and scale may vary, the email marketing principles do not.
In this course, Drew shares key frameworks he uses for every email marketing campaign. From targeting strategy to timing, copywriting to creative, you’ll get an inside look at what multi-million dollar ecommerce brands do to attract customers and keep them happy using email. Sharing real emails from past campaigns, Drew shows you what worked and what didn’t so you can avoid the same mistakes.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, Drew shares some of his most advanced campaigns so you’ll be ready to take your business to the next level.
Felix: Today we’re joined by Cindy Collins from Euphoric Herbals. Euphoric Herbals makes herbal products for a woman and their family specializing in pregnancy and postpartum and generated $380,000 of revenue in 2017, and was started in 2010 based out of Milford, Delaware. Welcome, Cindy.
Cindy: Hi Felix, how are you?
Felix: Good. You mentioned that you got started by, it was kind of a hobby of yours. You were going to craft shows and got started on Etsy. Tell us a little more about this. How did this hobby turn into a business over time?
Cindy: Sure. The hobby started after my second son was born. At that time I was making herbal products and herbal tea, and I really got into it during my first pregnancy. Mostly making products that were just for myself. Then after I became a doula, I started making products for my clients that I was serving. Then it became to my family and my friends. I always liked creating and crafting things, so naturally, I would think, well, I want to sell these products. I’m gonna go to a farmer’s market and craft shows. Then eventually I started selling on Etsy. In 2010, just as a hobby, ’cause I was at that point … I had three children. My third son was born in April 2011. I just started selling on Etsy a little bit here and there and locally at different craft shows and event. That’s how it originally began. Now it’s much different to that.
Felix: Yeah. So you said you had three children at the time that you got started?
Cindy: Three children, and I actually had three businesses as well.
Felix: So how did you squeeze in the time?
Cindy: Well, yeah, none of the businesses really were really demanding full-time work. Part-time work, it was just a little bit here and there of things I enjoy doing. I was doing photography part-time and I was a doula attending births part-time. Then just creating herbal products on the side. So it’s just kind of whenever. But it was really after the birth of my third son was born that I realized okay, I can’t do this all. I’m only one person and having three young children, running three businesses. And Adam, my husband, he was working full-time, part-time and doing his master’s degree. I was like, there’s … not the kind of life that I had really want to have.
So I really started to focus and have a shift, you know. That kind of came about when one of my customers had asked me to create a product for them. They said, “Can you create a lactation blend?” I used to be, did lactation counseling at local hospitals, so I was very familiar with that. I also studied herbalism. Personally, just for my own desire to learn more about the herbs that I was using. Never intended to do it on a professional level. I said, “Yeah, sure, I think I can do that.” So I created the lactation blend, created the formula and packaged it and sent it in for feedback.
But I also would send it to other testers, because I really wanted to get a wide variety of people, based on their health circumstances and situations, to test these products. Test this new product that I had created and give me feedback on it. If I wanted something I wanted to regularly sell. I got really good feedback on it. I just thought well, maybe this is something I could add to my product collection. At that time was just herbal teas and herbal salves. So then I added that in there and that new product development, the lactation [inaudible], that was the first product of my lactation collection. Really set me on a whole new path and trajectory that I never expected.
Felix: Was it sales that you’re talking about that just like, hey, this is going to be … this is something that’s worth investing time and because it was doing so well in terms of selling?
Cindy: Yeah, it was sales. So that was a big part of it, that it started selling more than my other products. And so that demanded more attention and focus. As it demanded more attention and focus, I started thinking about, well what if I just did this? Or just did herbal products. I was starting to get tired of trying to have three businesses, realizing that I only have a finite amount of energy and time. Then people would ask for more products. Can you create another lactation blend without this specific herb or this specific ingredient in it. I said, yeah, absolutely. I’ll give it a try. And it started growing between that was just a lot more of what I was doing and it was much more easier for me as a mother with young children, especially a new baby, to be able to do this from the comfort of my own home, from the convenience of if they were taking naps or were at school or something like that. Whereas it was much more harder to fit in being on call as a doula and scheduling photography shoots. So this was much more convenient for my lifestyle at the time.
Felix: Got it. So it demanded more attention and focus, but you could have been in a situation where it demanded time and your attention but then you also still wanted … you still could have done everything else that you were doing to and spread yourself completely thin. What made you decide, you know what, I’m going to, instead of spreading myself thin, I’m going to just double down and focus on one thing?
Cindy: Yeah. It was really hard when I, I loved everything that I was doing, and initially, when I started in this industry of working with mothers and babies, my whole goal was eventually to become a home-birth midwife. That’s what I thought I was really called to do. Then after I started having really good feedback and was all [inaudible] success, and the products that I was creating and the difference it was making in my customer’s lives, that really just filled my soul. I just thought, okay, you know what? What is the one thing that only I can do. That only I can do that no one else can do.
I had to choose something ’cause I really had to focus at this point, if I want to have a bigger impact. I thought, well, there’s doulas in our community. And anybody can become a doula, it’s not super challenging. I thought, well, anybody who gets a camera can become a photographer, or thinks they’re a photographer. I said, plenty of those people in this industry.
I thought if I want to start creating these products that I’m creating, that I would get these feedback and testimonials from customers that would just make me want to cry. I’d go, I think there’d be a negative gap in the marketplace and that would be the biggest impact that I could make. In a different way support the quote-unquote “breast community” from a totally different perspective and different angle. And create advocacy and awareness from a different way. But still creating products. That was something that I said I want to focus on this. Once I started to focus, that’s when I saw a huge shift in my business. I was no longer trying to put my energy in all these different places. That’s when my business really started to grow.
Felix: Got it. I liked the question that you asked yourself, which is what’s the one thing only I can do. At that time, and maybe even today, was there no competition out there? Was there no alternative for people that wanted the same solutions for their problems?
Cindy: Yeah. There are definitely other alternative brands and companies and products in the marketplace that definitely serve the same need. At the time I felt like there wasn’t, and sometimes maybe there’s still not, the same company that’s making everything from into preconception into menopause for women. So there might be companies that focus on a specific niche, maybe just pregnancy and postpartum, but I really wanted to serve women and their families in a much more greater capacity. Even if it isn’t a product that I personally use but if felt like something that my sister might need or my aunt might need or something that I might need in the future. So I just didn’t want it to consider only me being my ideal consumer. So I wanted to consider it a different way.
So there was alternative options but there wasn’t … you couldn’t go to one company and buy everything that you needed. My lactation blends, even though they’re about 85% of what I sell, they actually came last. Everything else came first. So all of my herbal teas that I created and all the different topical salves I created, all came before the lactation blends.
Felix: Got it. Could you walk us through the new products you introduced? What was the very first thing that you introduced that was selling and then how did you start branching out to other products, other almost categories that you started adding to your store?
Cindy: The very first products that I started creating were products that I used personally. It was an herbal tea for pregnancy. An herbal tea for postpartum. Then I would make a topical herbal salve, an ointment, for my baby. So I had just created herbal teas, and it was like I wanted to find herbal teas. It’s really hard to find a specific product that is safe for pregnancy or postpartum. So I would do the research, for the resources that I had and the textbooks that I had of what was herbs that were safe for me to use that would be safe for pregnancy and postpartum. So these were products that I personally used and that my clients used.
Then when the lactation blend came, the first one, which is called Dairy’s Fairy, someone asked for that. Someone asked for alternative options without a specific herb, which was fenugreek. So then I developed a sister blend, if you go, of Dairy Diva. So after about two years of having Dairy Fairy and Dairy Diva, somebody asked for an alternative blend that would be much more suitable for someone that might be sensitive to hormones or sensitive to birth control or may have a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome, which those different health conditions impact milk supply. Then I created a blend of herbs and superfood called Milk Machine. At that same time, I just created a symbiotic blend called Lush Leche.
So those two blends, I created those … maybe that was 2013, 2014 I created those blends. That was kind of the evolution since then. I might have created maybe one more product. I think maybe a salve called Muscle Mend. Since then it’s just really focusing on refining those products. I haven’t created any new products since quite a few years, because I’ve just been simply trying to build and scale and create infrastructure and systems and getting to a really refined product process of creation.
Felix: Right. So was it really just like one person that would come to you and say hey, I would love if you could offer this as one and then you just dove right in, or were there most of people or was there something specific that people were saying that made you say okay, let me do this one instead of all the other potential product ideas?
Cindy: Well, it was multiple different people. So after a while, if somebody, different people would ask for the same thing, obviously I started paying attention. Okay, well somebody keeps asking me for a tea that for headaches that’s safe for pregnancy and safe for nursing. So after a while, a couple clients would ask for that, whether it was doula clients or customers that would purchase online. I’d listen to them. I’d say absolutely. If they’re gonna tell me what they want, and I have the means and the ability and the skills to create it, why wouldn’t I. It wasn’t too much different than what I was doing. So I’d create a product and a formula and test it. Always when I create new products, I always wanted of course have people test the products to see if I needed to tweak it or change the formula a little bit.
Felix: Got it. So you mentioned that you’ve essentially paused on growing the catalog and you’re now trying to go deep and focus on business building to make it more scalable, build out that foundation, build out those systems. What made you shift and say this is the more important thing for us to focus on as a business?
Cindy: I think when my … for a long time my business was run out of my house. I like the thick [inaudible] above my garage where I would build and create products. And when it was starting to grow beyond the capacity of that room, you know there’s a lot of foundational things. If I’m really gonna scale this business, I need to work on the unfun parts of creating the business. So that’s the just [inaudible] infrastructure, looking at what are the things that I can scale, what are the things that I need to outsource that I can’t do anymore. As somebody who was considered … I consider myself to be a maker. Outsourcing certain parts of the product and hiring people was really challenging for me. But now it’s really one of the best things. It was so liberating to get to that point.
Felix: Being a maker is a great way for people to start right there. Makers are always starting things, but then once it gets to the point where they have to essentially give up the more creative side that really drew them in, in the first place is really hard. So what were some of the first things that you looked at and said, okay, I cannot be doing this anymore?
Cindy: Well, I’ve always had, ever since my third son was born, I’ve always had some part-time assistance. So whether that was a friend’s daughter that would come over after high school and help me a little bit. So it was just kind of like let’s fill the immediate need right now. At that point, I was not really thinking vision and longterm like I can now. I didn’t have the capacity to do that. So now it’s only been a couple years where I’m able to outsource part of the product production where it’s like my capsules. I couldn’t keep up with that. We were doing that all by hand and always behind creating herbal capsules and supplements. I didn’t even know how to grow and scale that. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was very naïve at the time going I know I’m supposed to keep doing this. I don’t know how but I feel it’s gotta be … it’s gotta change for me to continue. And I’ve got to scale it.
I eventually would go to an expo, a natural products expo and got connected with a contract manufacturer that would help me create the products on a scale level. That, in itself, changed the revolution of my business. I felt like then I was able to … the people that I’ve working for me at the time, they were all part-time and they still … I have just part-time employees, able to use them and utilize them in a different way. So that way we could meet the demand faster and then I could focus on different areas of my business.
As things have changed and grown, I really think okay, what does … I hire when and where it hurts. So if something’s taking a lot of my time and I’m not the most efficient or effective at it, I feel like okay, well, that’s where I need to hire more. I need to hire for those types of people and conditions. If I’m not the most skilled at it, or it’s going to consume too much of my time, and then I can’t think of managing the employees that work for me, and scaling my business ’cause I’m too busy responding to emails or running ads or things like that or doing things on social media. I can outsource those things. Even though I might enjoy it, maybe I’m not the best person for it. I have to remind myself and reflect on that a lot.
Felix: Right. It’s also really easy to create a very long to-do list based on the nagging problems that are right in your face, but then it’s much harder to do what you’re talking about, which is almost to think bigger, think vision and finding solutions for problems that are gonna come up. Maybe it’s not here right now, maybe it’s not hurting your business now, but then if you don’t spend the time on trying to build solutions today, you won’t be ready when the problem actually comes. What were you doing on a day-to-day basis or what were you doing to take time aside to think about these things. How did you even begin to make that shift from thinking tactically day-to-day to more what’s our plan in the next six months?
Cindy: I think making that shift for me was a lot of internal work. I think listening to books, listening to podcasts kind of really giving myself the psychology of going what is it, what my business looks like this right now, but what does it mean for my business in the three years or in a year or five years or ten years. And what does that require of me, ’cause right now I’m not there. And I have to get to that point. So just thinking okay, what are the tools and the resources that I need. That requires [inaudible] books and reading and courses.
It also means reaching out to local agencies where I’ve gone to, like the local small business administration and [score] office. I go I listen, I don’t know what you guys can offer me, and this is just even a year ago. So not that long ago. I don’t know what you guys can offer me, but what things do you have available that I might need in the future. I don’t need them right now. I feel kind of solid now, but until they tell you what you have, you know what, and then these things come up.
For example, I went to this local small business administration a year ago and then they networked me with the director of the world trade center in Delaware who later has introduced me to the director of this export tech program. It’s a three months program about exporting, which is starting this fall. In September of 2018. So that’s a three months program that’s limited to a very few people but they help you put together a solid strategy for exporting to buyers and brokers in different countries, and really assessing those countries to make sure that’s a good place for your product to go to and really consider any barriers and to exporting and customs and tariffs that I don’t about right now at all. It’s so easy for me to ship direct to consumer. I ship direct to consumer is associate countries, but I have no idea what it means to scale an export on a distribution level to another country. That’s why i try to find the next people that can really help me along on that journey, even though I don’t need it right now, but maybe in six months I’m there. Or maybe in a year I’m there.
Felix: Right. Are there any books or thought leaders that you’re a big fan of, that helped in your business?
Cindy: The one that comes to mind so I really like Simon Sinek and you know that’s really just about a leadership model. I do have team members who work for me. While it’s still important to build the business and the products and the infrastructure, obviously, focusing really important on the people that I’m serving them, who work for me, is very important to me, and building a company culture.
Without company culture, I think a business will crumble really quickly. That’s one thing I have that I listen. I have all of his books and listen to the podcast and interviews and things like that.
I look at other business models that are a bit different to mine. They really inspire me, so I might listen and read books that are relevant to that specific company.
Dogfish Head is a local craft beer company here in Delaware and I love the way that the business has been built and scaled and their company culture. So, I’ve read books by the founder of that company. Then also, of course, the E Myth by Michael Gerber. I remember reading that a couple years ago and I had an epiphany going, “Oh my gosh, I’m a small business owner. I want to be an entrepreneur, and those are not the same things.”
Felix: What’s the difference?
Cindy: Well, the small business really depends on that individual who started it. So, trying to … that’s where the systems and infrastructure come in going, “I want my company to be able to run without me there, nurturing it on a daily basis.”
Felix: I think this is another potential conflict with makers, where when you start talking about becoming an entrepreneur and then you are trying to create a business that doesn’t need you anymore, you gotta separate. You start separating yourself from the baby that you created. Right? What was that process like, and any suggestions you have for someone that just cannot think of a business that they created and be able to separate themselves from it?
Cindy: Yeah, That is really challenging because sometimes the girls who … the people who work for me, they will be doing a task and a chore, sometimes I’m envious because I’ve gotta take a phone call or I’ve got to pay taxes. I want to do all these fun things or make these appointments and just have these meetings that are not so fun, and sometimes I might miss going, “Oh, I wish I could [inaudible] or I wish I could make that tee, or I wish I could do shipping, but at the same time, I have to remember, I’m creating opportunities for other people.
While I’m not getting to do that specific task, as creating, as the moment, I’m creating work that gives purpose to something just beyond me. I’m creating a company where they can come and they can work they can enjoy their jobs, which is really important to me; to create a fun workplace atmosphere. And, so, I can’t focus on; it can’t just all be about me and [inaudible] my own fulfillment. It has to create fulfillment for other people. So, it’s so hard to let go of that, but knowing if i really want to go out and scale this, I have to look beyond myself and outside of myself.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
What’s something that you now need to give up, like probably a task or an activity you today you know you have to give up, but you’re just holding onto for dear life right now?
Cindy: Hmm. Let’s see, well, we are just opening the first Herbal Apothecary in Delaware, so it’s our first retail store. And, so right now I know that I will be the person that’s kind of manning it to start, but I know I have to train associates to run here and man the apothecary. ’Cause I can’t be the only person. ’Cause I have to mind manufacturing and I have to mind shipping, and then I’m gonna have to mind the store. And, I’m only one person, so while I love the idea of really serving customers and clients when they come into the apothecary and helping them find the products that they need and engaging them and getting to know them, I can’t be that only person. So, if I want to grow this apothecary to meet the community to it’s full capacity, I’m gonna have to let that go.
It’s not even open yet. We’re opening in a week or two, so it’s very new. I have these ideas of what it may be like, but it may be very different than what I’m saying right now. I can just assume what it’s going to be like. In reality, it’ll be totally different. But, I know that’s something that I’m gonna have to let go of; that I can’t be at the store all the time serving customers, because there is so much bigger things that I’m gonna have to consider if I’m growing and scaling.
If I’m traveling to trade shows, which is something that we’re starting to explore, but you know, what does that look like to go wholesale, beyond just a direct customer? So, finding those people. That’s what I have to consider; all those things. And, it’s not easy to do that at all.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, where do you go to hire employees?
Cindy: Word of mouth. Mostly. I’ve been really blessed with the people that have worked with me. I haven’t had any problems. There’s really been word of mouth. But, I’ve also been interviewing, and just being very careful about who I interview, so currently, we’re having a sales associate position at the apothecary and this is the first time I’ve done this is a retail setting. I’ve never ran a retail store before. So, that’ll be a new adventure, to keep it on point with the brand, but that’s also relevant to the community.
So, letting people turn in their resumes, but knowing them from who I’ve hired in the past. Making those barriers, where it used to be just so easy to apply, so making it a little bit more challenging to apply for a position.
It’s good, but it’s different, where just turn in an application, and now they actually have to send in resumes. And references. And cover letters. And I’m going, “Oh my gosh, four years ago, I probably didn’t apply for my own position.” You know? I wouldn’t have a clue how to do that.
Felix: Are you mostly hiring part-time employees? Or, there are full-time employees that you also have on the team?
Cindy: Yeah, part-time. I don’t have a need just yet. I think one is slowly turning into my first full-time employee, but it’s always been part-time. Like, one day here, two days here, but now everybody has a schedule. Everybody has a schedule of where they’re at, what department they’re working in, what they’re doing, so we’ve become much more systematized. Before, it used to be flying by the seat of my pants. You know, what fires are we putting out today?
But now, all of a sudden, we can forecast what we need to do for the longer term, and think weeks and months ahead into product production.
So, that’s the process at the moment.
Felix: Got it. Do you think business owner typically hire employees too early? Or too late?
Cindy: I think too late.
I think definitely it could be too late, because I know that I put it off for so long. You know? And sometimes, we don’t realize that adding that employee into the business could really free that business center up to do other things that are more valuable and really considering how valuable a time it is.
And so, we all have valuable time but my time as a business owner and the creator of the company casting vision, is much more valuable than me shipping orders at this current time. So, I eventually will have a full-time person. I dream about what that person will be like, and for me, that’s a general manager. I think about for someone; I’ve already been thinking about that for about a year now, and just thinking, “Okay, when I’m ready, what does my revenue have to look like to be able to pay for a salary or the hourly pay of a general manager who actually has experience?”
Because I don’t have time to train a general manager. I’ve never been a general manager. I’ve just created a company. So, I definitely think about that long-term. You know? Having a general manager being a full-time person. He can oversee all the departments when I’m not available and keep things running smoothly. At some point, I wanna take a vacation.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve heard this concept or way of thinking where, is if you want to become a million dollar person, you have to start thinking and treating your time as if it were that precious; that expensive. Let’s say, what it breaks down to, let’s say your time’s worth $1,000 an hour, would you pay someone $1,000 an hour to pack boxes, right?
If that’s something that you would pay, then that’s not a good use of your time. So, as you start wanting to become larger and larger, you got to value your time much much more, and grow that over time. That’s exactly what you’re talking about.
So, let’s jump back to the beginning. So, revenue was $80,000 in 2017, just last year, what were you doing the very first year? Give us that deal, like where you started in terms of revenue.
Cindy: I think in 2011, ’cause I was not tracking or monitoring anything before 2011. In 2011, I think I did somewhere around maybe $3,000. That was probably online, craft shows, everything. And to me, that felt amazing. Tremendous. I was so happy, and I still am. I learn to be with every stage of growth to be content. ’Cause I feel like it could all go away tomorrow.
So, I’m super content with the stages of [inaudible]. In 2011 was about $3,000. [inaudible] and then, in 2014, and I can’t remember the specific things, but it grew up over time. I think it was 2012 it might have been maybe $5,000 I did in revenue for the whole year. Of course, that’s not a profit, ’cause I didn’t even calculate expenses and profit at that time. I did not know.
Felix: Might have been losing money, who knows.
Cindy: I had no idea.
Cindy: I didn’t even know my cost of goods, I didn’t know my profit margins, I didn’t know any of that. Now I know that to the penny. So, I know all of that to the penny, now.
2014, I think it was probably, I wanna say maybe about 20, maybe $30,000 in 2014. And then, I remember I started really using social media more for my business at that time. And, doing on Facebook and Instagram. And Instagram, I really feel like, is my international bridge. And, that’s where a lot of our international customers have come from.
We direct [inaudible] to 58 countries. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think was possible; to have customers in 58 countries. And so, as I started developing a lot of customers on Instagram, I thought, “Well, I see a lot of big companies who are super corporate, and they have a big marketing budget, and they have brand ambassadors, and brand advocates making a lot of money.” Well, why couldn’t I use my current customer base who are already loyal fans, and those who want to buy the products, but they can’t afford it? Why can’t I create a program to give them the opportunity to use the products, to create an incentive and to give them some product in return for that.
And so, I think it’s about six months, 2014, I really took six months to tweak out what that would look like, how that would feel, how long should the program be for a single ambassador? And, yeah. So then, in 2015, that’s when I really, really got it figured out, and that’s when I saw a huge jump from 2014 to 2015.
Felix: Right. You told us that the orders jumped by eight times and revenue jumped by six times once you really got this ambassador program rolling.
Cindy: Yeah. Yeah. It was tremendous.
Once I got it rolling, I just saw the order number just climb and climb and climb and suddenly, over 2015, I think 2015 I did, I wanna say it was about 200,000, I think. Maybe. Maybe it was less than. I can’t remember. But, it was a tremendous amount.
Felix: An inflection point in the business.
Cindy: Yeah. And then, I was just like, “Oh, this thing I’m building with part-time employees and only me as full time, this is phenomenal. What is the potential?” I had no idea that was possible! Then, I started to really learn how to dream and cast vision long term, beyond just the day to day and the week to week. And, the next month, what do I want my business to be next year? And then, the year after that? So, now I try to cast a vision for five years ahead.
So, it’s much different than it was since 2014, 2015.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve heard you say this couple of times now. Casting vision. I’ve never heard of it described that way. It’s very descriptive in my head when I hear you say this.
What were you doing, maybe, what kind of thinking were you doing when you first starting casting vision? And nowadays, how do you try to make that as wide or as large as possible?
Cindy: Yeah. So, you know, just dreaming about how do I want my business to feel to me? What does it mean to my life? How does it impact my lifestyle? The people that work with me and work for me, the customers that I serve. And so, and thinking in the long term, like a legacy. What impact does that have in my community as a whole, and to the marketplace?
So, for me, that’s casting vision. So, I’m thinking about where we’ve created a couple programs where I created a [inaudible] scholarship program that I’ve been in three years in a row, and to me, doing that on a long-term strategy is where I have a scholarship program where I get to choose midwives and we get to choose different organizations. For me, that’s casting vision about what impact I’m making in the marketplace to people and agencies and organizations, and kind of mission work in a very different way through my business.
Felix: Got it. So, when I usually hear vision in business, people usually say, “Oh, I wanted to build a million dollar business,” but you’re talking about what kind of impact I can make with a business, and then, that just trickles down into building a business that can impact the community; impact your community in the way that you want it to.
Cindy: Absolutely. Yeah.
Absolutely, so you know, revenue is great. And, it’s great to have a wonderful business that creates revenue; that’s profitable. And now, I’m able to pay myself a salary, which I didn’t pay myself for years. You know, I always paid all the people. I had assistants, so they would help me. I always pay them, but I was able to eventually start paying myself a salary, which is amazing.
When I think about the impact that I’m making in my community, we just opened an apothecary, and so it’s our retail store, but it’s so much more than what we have online. Where it’s the loose bulk herbs, and it’s the raw materials and it’s product packaging for other makers in the community if they wanna come in. What can this apothecary do for the community? So, other than creating products, and holding classes for them, are there different associations in my community that I can partner with as a business and give back to them and create a giving campaign through this retail location. Which would alternate a regular basis?
We serve a lot of mothers and babies. That’s a big part of our client base. So, naturally, I’m gonna look for something that is in harmony with that.
There’s a place called mom’s house, so that serves single mothers as they’re going back to school, so that way they can provide childcare for them. It’s a non-profit organization. So, those are different organizations like that that I’m going to look to partner with so I can serve my community as well through our retail location.
Felix: Got it. So, I wanna jump back to that ambassador program that really took your business to the next level. So, how do you start if someone has maybe a small customer base, and they were like, “Hey, I wanna be able to build an ambassador program as well.” Where do you start?
Cindy: Well, I think you just start with just handful of customers that really love your product and that really are a fan of you and your business. I think reach to them directly going, “Hey, you know, I really want to [inaudible] my business. Would you be willing to help me in exchange for some product or some store credit?” I think that’s an easy way to do that, or maybe there’s a different perk that would work for that specific customer, depending on what the business is.
So, just having a very candid conversation and just saying, “I’d like for you to help me. I think you’re really great.” You know, that customer is just a fan, who’s gonna be a fan no matter what you do and make. Those are the types of customer that I really look for, ideally. I mean, the type of ambassadors. It doesn’t have to be, when people think of ambassador programs, I think they naturally think, “Oh, I need somebody that has 10,000 followers, or 100,000 followers or a million or whatever it is.”
I [inaudible] micro-ambassadors and micro-influencers who are brand loyal and loyal to your products. I feel like those are the best ones. At least from my experience, having done this now for three years and having worked with a variety of influencers, if you will, online. But, usually just trying people who are regular users of my product, or just dying to try my product, but maybe they have limited funds, you know?
And so, those are the people that I’m typically gonna choose. Literally, one or two. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of people that you partner with for influencers or ambassadors, and then working out what does that structure and system look like as you scale it beyond one or two. Maybe three or four. And then, 10. And always a finite amount.
When I started the ambassador program, originally it was for like, I thought, a six month duration. Well, the life cycle of my customer may not be six months. Knowing that if they’re using my products, and primarily, most of them are nursing or pumping, they may be for six months, but depending on when they become a customer of mine, they might have three months left or they might have six months or a year left. I don’t know. But, at the same time, I wanna make sure that I’m choosing new people, new customers, and giving people new opportunities. You know?
I’ve had over 1,000 people apply to become an ambassador of the influencer program that I created. Over 1,000. And I’ve obviously not chosen them all, because it’s so many people.
Felix: I mean, if you could sustain it, is there a downside to having 1,000?
Cindy: Yeah, well, it’s hard to manage them all. Yeah. I mean, I’ve never had more than probably 15 active ambassadors or influencers at a time. Never. Never more than [inaudible]. Because I wanna make sure if they any of the questions that I can answer those for them, until, I find-
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Section 3 of 3 [00:36:00 – 00:52:25] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Cindy: questions that I can answer those for them. I find like an assistant that can be able to take over that at some point. Well, I enjoy doing it. I can’t continue to do it if I’m going to grow and scale my business. So, it’s something I have to think about. How can I teach this to somebody else to do? As I’ve been building it and changing it and tweaking it a little bit here and there. So, yeah. Never more than 10 to 15 at a time because then I couldn’t manage them all in addition to all this stuff that I actually have to do and I don’t even do it every month. I do it as I have time.
Sometimes I may not be two, three months but right now it’s definitely helpful for my business and the traction and the traffic it brings to my website and the revenue. But at the same time it just might be a very stressful time for me to do [inaudible] ambassadors. Like during the summertime I have three boys home with me all the time. And so, that’s a really stressful, very intense time for me. So, for me to [inaudible] ambassadors at the time consistently is very hard to give them attention for what they need for that 30-day cycle.
Felix: So, you mentioned that you don’t need to look for ambassadors to have 100,000 followers. There has to be a threshold though. What if someone wants to enroll and they got 10 people and they’re all their friends or family. Is there a limit that you at least try to respect?
Cindy: Definitely. Well, I want to make sure if I’m evaluating someone, are they going to be a good ambassador? I have a really good memory. So, are they engaging with my posts and my social media, my different Facebook or are they’re already a current existing customer with their engagement. How often are they on whatever social media platform that I am grab my ambassador program of. So, for me I use Instagram. That’s where a lot of my customers are hanging out at.
I considered other ways to do an ambassador program and different social media platforms, but I felt like Instagram is just easiest for me. And so, I look at and see how often they are posting. How frequent they are online, what are their engagement rate? So, what’s their activity rate? If they’re going to get log on Instagram maybe once a week or maybe once every 10 days, they’re not ideal for me. Someone who’s really highly engaged and love Instagram as much as I do.
Felix: Got It. And what’s the smallest following that you’ve allowed, I guess, into your ambassador program?
Cindy: Probably less than you 200. It’s probably less than 200 followers, so not a lot but as long as they … I kind of give them a strategy and a plan to kind of how to execute it. So, as long as they can follow the strategy and plan I’m fine with that. I felt like I’ve done, I’ve worked with other influencers and ambassadors on a casual level, but also on kind of like, “Oh, let’s pay for you to be an influencer for this post.” And I felt like I got more engagement and more activity from the micro influencers and the micro ambassadors who would do it anyways not be as they’re looking to grow a following or they’re looking to get paid to post there.
Felix: Yeah. I think there’s also some kind of ad blindness when you are working with an influencer that’s just churning through products and they have a new one every week. People will start … If you’re following someone, they’ve only promoted one product ever, where for the first time you only seen them promote once. Then it is going to be more impactful than someone that’s always churning out new products that they’re promoting. So, when you do have an employee that you’re delegating this to, what would it be a first thing you want to teach them?
Cindy: I’d probably teach them on how to evaluate potential candidates for the ambassador program. So, like how to look through it, and how to evaluate their social media profiles, look at have they been a customer before or is this their first time? So, there’s a web form, that’s on my website, anybody can check it out. The questions that I ask. And it says what type of questions I’m asking to see if they’re a good person for it. Have they tried using the products before? If they’ve not, I mean, it doesn’t mean that because they have not tried the product before that they would not be a good ambassador but that helps me give a little bit more context to who it is that’s filling out the application. So, then I just evaluate their social media profiles.
So I’d probably, if I’m handing off this task to somebody else, how to onboard them, what scripts and emails to send them to walk in them in, to confirm that they’re still interested because maybe they filled out this application several weeks ago or several months ago. Making sure they’re still interested in being an ambassador and that works for them at this season in their life. And so, and how to onboard this individual into the program to make sure and clearly just lean out and defining kind of how it’s going to work in a step by step process and touch base with them throughout that time that they’re an ambassador over the next 30 days.
Felix: But what’s the first thing that you ask them to do, what’s expected of an ambassador?
Cindy: So, as an ambassador just ask them to post to their own profile a couple times a week. I think it’s like one to three times a week and authentically. So, that’s really important that they don’t sound like a commercial, an annoying pitch. Just authentically share what this product is that you’ve used and how it’s helped you. That’s all you have to share. Or maybe there may be a certain new, maybe they’ve not tried the product yet. Maybe they can repost some from my profile. Everybody reposts on Instagram all the time, different things, but maybe they’ve not tried it yet but they want to repost something and give their thoughts and their opinions.
So, that’s one thing that I ask to do and then maybe just engage and have meaningful conversations with other potential customers that are like them. But to be encouraging, not to be pitchy. So, nobody likes to be pitched to. So, if they find someone who is in their [inaudible] of life and maybe it’s another parent who is also [inaudible] my brand and they love the baby balm salve that [inaudible].
We know it’s safe for babies, maybe they find them and they can say, “Oh my gosh, I love your cloth diapers. This is the stuff that I use or this is what I like.” So, trying to create a conversation. And so, if I notice because I pay attention when I have ambassadors the conversations that they’re creating. If I find that they’re not having an authentic conversation, I suppose too pitchy, I’ll kind to gently and kindly go, “Hey, maybe let’s try to rephrase some of the dialogue or the scripts that you’re using because I don’t want to annoy anybody at all.”
So, that’s why it’s not so easy to do every month because I want to make sure it seems authentic and I want them to feel like they’re replicating me. Essentially. It’s what I would do. So, I want them to feel like if I can give them the tools and the scripts and the way to act on Instagram as an ambassador, that’s what I’m trying to do within the program.
Felix: What was the improvement that you made to the ambassador program that then made it more manageable?
Cindy: Well, when I first started it, I think it had a three-month term and that was way too long because it’s hard to keep people’s engagement for that long as an ambassador to sustain that relationship with them for three months. So, changing it to a one-month time I felt like that was really good and really helpful. So, I felt like just change to a 30-day cycle and then not trying to, I used to try to do it every month and that was just too much. So, I don’t have to do every month. There’s no rule that I have to this every single month, that I always have to have active ambassadors. So, if I go three months without having one, having any. That’s absolutely okay.
I can create my enrolls and my own guidelines because it’s my program and it’s my company. So, giving myself that flexibility and that grace is also very important. So, I feel like those are really good. And so, now I’m still trying to use some tools to really get a little bit more systematized on about how do I measure the effectiveness of past ambassadors as well as potential ambassadors? So, what social media tools are there that I can use to really tell if someone is going to be a good ambassador? So, that’s what I’m in the process now of trying to figure that out.
Felix: What other kinds of tools do you use today on your store in terms of apps or off of your store in terms of social media tools you use that they can depend on?
Cindy: Some of the tools that I use one I think is really visual is an app called Loox, it’s L-O-O-X. And so, that is just a customer view that people leave. So, I really enjoy that one because I’d be able to put all those reviews through that app, harnessed on one page. There’s a living page where all the reviews live on my website. So, if someone searches, Euphoric Herbals reviews, they’re going to land up with that page.
So, Loox is one that I use, of course I use Privy to collect emails, so that’s a really good tool as well. Let’s see, some other ones … And I also use because the products that I use, they’re consumable goods. Yeah. So, it’s a tea or a stab or a supplement. So, I use another tool, Bold Subscription app. So, that’s another one that has been really good to create recurring revenues. Those, I think, are probably some of the best apps that I would say that I think have had the most impact on my business.
Felix: Got It. What would you say is your favorite part of your website?
Cindy: Well, I had it custom designed when I moved over to Shopify, so that was really nice before it was just templates and kind of mess. Mess not so great. I think now a lot of people, typically, they can find things pretty easily. And so that was, I wanted to be able to make sure it was easily designed. Yeah. So, I can’t say there’s best thing, but it’s just like the brand, offline and online from the product packaging’s still the same.
Yes. That’s what I’m trying to create that whole customer experience from when they first come to the website from when they get the actual products in the mail that it’s still the same. And then I’m trying to create that whole experience as well in the apothecary. So, what does it feel like when they go to the website, to the store, to their products, they have the same experience.
Felix: Why is that important?
Cindy: Well I think for brand strength and brand identity. So, when somebody gets my product, maybe they’re going to get the product from maybe a friend gives it to them and they’ve never had any experience with my brand whatsoever. They’ve never been to my website. They never heard of it. So, when they go to the website, they have a certain feel to it or so maybe if they come into the store and then they, it feels the same, it’s not disjointed.
So, that’s one reason why I know people are searching actively for our products on Amazon, but I just can’t go there just because I lose that customer experience. I lose that relationship that I get to have with them from emails, from website to product packaging, that whole process that I’m trying to create and that’s always ever evolving.
I’m always refining it so that they know what to expect anytime that they go there. And so, that’s why moving into retail and doing wholesale is very challenging for me because I’m trying to think of every little facet and I can’t because I’m only one person, but to the best of my ability, when someone goes into a store, when I start doing, moving my products into many markets. What is their experience with the brand if they’ve never purchased my TB front line, don’t even know anything about my company or farmer’s market. We do a farmer’s market every week. I have another girl that runs the farmer’s market and trying to create that cohesive brand spiel from the product. How they’re displayed on table to the table cloths we use to the printed marketing material to everything. So, it looks on brand all the time.
Felix: And did you always, from the beginning, have a focus on that to make sure that you’re on brand all the time or is it something that you went back to revisit and then cleaned up after you kind of build out the business a bit more?
Cindy: Yeah, I definitely did not think about that beginning.
Felix: Can kind of slow you down. If you’re just so focused on making sure everything’s consistent, it can really slow down on business. So, yeah. I’m just curious when you decided to jump back into it.
Cindy: Yeah. Well, and it’s so easy, I think to feel like you have to rush ahead and then slow down. So, in the beginning it was, I felt like I was just managing the day to day and putting out fires. I never thought much about my brand. I mean I had a little bit idea about branding and what that was like because I was a photographer. And so, that was a whole branding thing. When I was a photographer, I really fell in love with the idea of branding and marketing. And so, that’s been a tremendous asset to me as this business has grown and that was just tipping my toe in the water and now it’s a lot larger than that. I understand but it wasn’t anything that I started in the beginning, and it’s something that I probably didn’t really start to think about.
Probably in 2000, maybe 2013 when I really started thinking about that. And so, even now I’m kind of in that mindset of, branding colors, fonts, the packaging, everything, from offline to online. That it’s all similar. If I’m using certain color palettes, I’m not going to send something in the package that’s not within my color Palette. It doesn’t make sense. I want them to have the same experience from even the tissue paper that I buy. It’s the same brand colors from the product packaging and the fonts they use and everything and the marketing materials, that it’s all the same. It’s all in harmony.
Felix: Got It. So, you mentioned that when you did move over to your own store, you guys had a custom design. Were there any specific conscious decisions that you made to make sure that the site was easy to navigate? Easy to use?
Cindy: Yeah. Making sure, the design from the years is Alydia and I’ve seen the ones that they had done before and I could not afford them years ago and actually just loved their work. And so, making that conscious decision. It was really hard to make that investment, but I was like I want a website that I’m going to absolutely love for years, for a couple years at least. I don’t want to hire a designer that’s good, but I want to hire a great designer.
So, being very intentional about that and I saved up for it and so it was a tremendous investment, but it was a well worth investment, and so that they really got to know my brand and my customer base and so as they really dug into my brand, they really helped me to kind of finesse the online presentation of the store. They didn’t help me choose tools and apps and things like that and tell me what I should and shouldn’t do.
But just kind of the layout and the ease of it. But I have looked at their portfolio so I knew who I was hiring and the quality of work that I was going to get. And over time I’ve just, I’ve added apps in tools. As my business has grown to see which ones would and wouldn’t work I think as I’ve tried a couple like loyalty apps and that haven’t really worked at just yet, but at the same time it’s probably because I have not given enough attention. I’ve been so busy doing other things, but I’ve not really figured out how to utilize that tool or that app to the best of its ability.
Felix: Got It. So thank you so much. Cindy. So, Cindy Collins, euphoricherbals.com is the website, where do you have your vision casted for next year? What do you want to be?
Cindy: Well, so having the manufacturing well underway we do [inaudible] and then of course we scale out our product production of our capsules, but being more stores the wholesale. So, that’s something that I’ve really, as I’ve been this year, building systems and infrastructure, so having our products in store so that way people don’t have to wait for shipping, they can just go to a store in their community and go buy some of our products. So, that’s a big part of it and then growing international as well.
Felix: Awesome. If anyone out there has any questions, make sure just drop them in the comments on the show. Show notes and the Shopify blog and Cindy would you be able to hop over there once this goes live to answer some questions that the audience might have?
Cindy: I’d be more than happy to.
Felix: Awesome. Again, thank you so much again Cindy, so euphoricherbals.com. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story.
Cindy: Thank you, Felix.
Felix: Thanks for tuning into another episode of Shopify masters, the e-commerce podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs powered by Shopify. To get your exclusive 30-day extended trial, visit shopify.com/masters.
With the end of the holiday shopping season in sight, many entrepreneurs are looking ahead to 2019, setting goals for themselves and their businesses for the new year.
And while here at Shopify we’re also looking forward to 2019, we wanted to take a moment to recap the year that was.
Our goal this year and every year is to make starting and running a business easier, no matter who you are or where you are in the world. We’re here to help you save time, manage your business more efficiently, simplify complex business processes, and help you scale.
Since many of those things might mirror your goals for 2019, here’s a recap of what we added to Shopify in 2018 to help you grow next year.
Unlock selling superpowers
Getting in front of the right people, with the right message, at the right time is a key part of selling successfully. With Marketing in Shopify, we’re making it easier to do just that. You can now launch, track, and optimize effective Google Smart Shopping campaigns and Facebook carousel ads directly in Shopify—all without having to be familiar with advanced ad settings.
To help you convert interested shoppers to customers, you can now run flexible discounts to suit all of your campaigns in Shopify. Whether you want to offer a percentage-based discount, a BOGO offer, or more, you have the tools to create and measure your discount offers in Shopify.
To make selling even simpler, you can now sell your products directly on one of the most popular social media platforms out there with shopping on Instagram. Enable the Instagram channel in Shopify, and you can tag your products in posts and stories—allowing customers to place their orders without ever leaving Instagram.
Augmented reality is a cutting-edge way to get a step closer to emulating a “real life” product experience. Shopify AR provides all the tools you need to create augmented experiences for your store and help bring your products to life in an entirely new way.
No one starts their entrepreneurial journey knowing how to handle every curveball that will come their way. But whenever possible, we want to simplify the complex tasks you’ll face as your business grows. This year, that meant managing multiple locations, streamlining fraud detection, and providing new ways to keep track of your margins.
As your business grows, you may find yourself selling from multiple locations: warehouses, apps, storefronts, basements, you name it. This year, we introduced Locations to help you keep tabs on your inventory no matter where it’s stored or sold—so as you head into your 2019 inventory planning, we’re right there with you.
For merchants who are on Shopify Payments and eligible for Fraud Protect in the United States, you can now automate the process of detecting fraudulent orders. Fraud Protect ensures you’ll no longer have to manually review every order you receive—you can fulfill protected orders immediately without worrying about whether a suspicious order might result in a chargeback.
You can now add a product cost to each of your products in Shopify to quickly track how each product impacts your business’ profitability. With accurate information about your cost of goods sold, you can more easily make important choices for your business—and if you’re on the Shopify plan or higher, you can use three new profit margin reports and five new profit finance summaries to better understand your business’ finances.
Time is your most precious resources as a business owner. To help you make the most of the time you have available, we launched features to help you streamline customer communications, order fulfillment, and app selection.
With Shopify Ping, you can now manage all of your customer conversations and marketing efforts in one place on your phone. Stay engaged with customers by pulling in chats from apps you already use like Messenger and work directly with Kit, your built-in digital marketing assistant, all while you’re on the go. Ping is currently available for iOS.
You can now fulfill orders and print shipping labels from any location using your mobile phone. With Shopify Shipping, you can print packing slips at the same time, so you can streamline shipping and knock fulfillment tasks off of your to-do list no matter where you are. You can also print return labels directly in Shopify from your computer.
We know apps are a key part of your Shopify experience. However, with thousands of apps available to help with everything from shipping to email, finding the right ones was a challenge. That’s why this year, we refreshed the Shopify App Store to help you find the apps you need, faster.
Entrepreneurship presents enough challenges on its own; language doesn’t need to be one of them. That’s why this year, you can now use Shopify in six languages: French, German, Japanese, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish. You can update your language preferences in Shopify and start using Shopify in your chosen language today.
Shopify Payments also expanded internationally this year, and is now available to Shopify merchants in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany and Spain, in addition to existing availability in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.
Additionally, we’ve made it simpler to sell in your preferred currency—whether or not it’s your local currency. Merchants using Shopify Payments can now price their products in one currency, and receive settlements in their local currency. This feature is available to merchants in all countries where Shopify Payments is available.
And just over a year ago, Shopify Shipping added UPS and DHL Express as carriers to help you grow your business beyond your borders, and offer more choices to your customers at checkout.
In case you missed it
These are just some of the highlights from this past year, but that’s not to say they’re the only things that are available now to help you grow in 2019. For a full look at everything our teams have launched, you can check the Shopify Changelog anytime.
With that, you’re caught up on what’s newly available this year in Shopify. We’re excited to share more new features with you in 2019, and more importantly, to see the businesses you build and grow using them. Cheers to another successful year!
Shopify Masters is a weekly podcast where the entrepreneurs and marketers behind successful Shopify stores share their experience with our community of merchants.
In each episode, guests discuss their top-performing marketing strategies, favorite Shopify apps, product tips, and the exact steps they took to grow their business. Many of these guests have grown 6- or 7-figure businesses and bring their own nuanced perspectives to the podcast.
As such, the show is a frequent source of unconventional wisdom: firsthand insight that sometimes flies in the face of generalized best practices.
So in case you missed any of it, we’ve curated our favorite nuggets of knowledge from Shopify Masters in 2018 that we think are worth another listen.
Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.
1. “Popular” tactics can distract you from your own context
It’s easy to get distracted by what works for other brands: trending channels and the “next big thing” in an ever-changing world of business. But all ideas need to be rigorously filtered and prioritized based on your current context.
In an episode featuring Kettle & Fire, two Growth Marketers shared their thoughts on prioritization in marketing on the podcast.
“It’s the common mistake everyone makes. They read how we do it or hear it from podcasts or from reading content. That’s why you see people start doing Facebook Messenger bots even though they don’t have the same context. It really depends on your business.
“For example, for paid search, what’s the opportunity in search volume? What’s your average order value? What are the margins on your product? Depending on that, maybe paid search isn’t the best option and maybe you need to go for a channel with lower customer acquisition costs. For us, it worked. But I wouldn’t just blindly approach it the same way we did. You’ve got to apply the same systematic process to each channel to prioritize what to work on, and then test it from there.”
—Wilson Hung and Jack Meredith, Growth at Kettle & Fire
Listen to the full episode below!
2. Traditional media is more accessible than you think
The price of admission and the absence of precise tracking in offline marketing might deter you from experimenting with these channels. But according to Gaurav Agarwal from Molekule, there are plenty of lower-cost methods of testing out these tactics once you’re comfortable with your digital marketing efforts.
“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily more expensive than online ads because the CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) on some of these offline channels can be lower, but it is definitely a higher commitment. And the way to do that, perhaps, is to buy remnant ads. Any sort of traditional media—TV, radio, print—they also offer remnant media purchases. Remnant meaning that it’s not primetime or it’s not something that’s been already paid for.
“We ran a lot of remnant media ads through print to first see if it’s going to work for us or not, and it worked. And, because it worked, we were able to then scale it because remnant media’s available at a steeply discounted price. Now, you don’t get to control which page of the newspaper your ad is going to come in, but you are still able to get a directional readout if this channel is going to do anything for you or not.”
“For example, direct mailers, shared mailers, those can be done in low-budget ways because your experiment’s gonna be small. The only problem is you may not get enough data to get an accurate readout, which I think is a challenge. So the way you look at that is: was the channel performing really, really well? If it did really, really well, then you would see that in the data.”
—Gaurav Agarwal, VP of Growth at Molekule
Listen to the full episode below!
3. Upselling in the wrong context can cost you the sale
Upselling is generally an effective way to increase your average order value—except when it doesn’t. LIV Watches came on the show to explain why they don’t upsell straps for their watches at checkout, even though, on paper, it seems like a no-brainer.
“I don’t want to say that upsells cheapen our product, but what I do think that it does is that it sets in a little bit of confusion. There’s a little bit of, ‘Oh, I have to make a choice now.’ I feel like if somebody needs a particular product—like protein powder or another supplement that, if they ran out of it, they would need to buy it—then I think upsells make sense.
“Nobody needs a watch. Well, a lot of our fans need our watches today, but for the most part, you don’t need the watch to survive. I think upsells, in our category at least, create this distraction and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure if I need that upsell. You know what? Let me save this page and I’ll come back.’ I don’t want that to be the barrier. I want to keep it as simple, as clean as possible. We sell a watch and we offer different straps. After you buy, we’ll do the upsells, but right now, check out and buy the watch.”
—Sholom Chazanow, Founder of LIV Watches
Listen to the full episode below!
4. What customers say they want isn’t always what they want
You’d think that no one would know your customers better than themselves, but there can be a disconnect between what they say they want and what they actually think and feel. Eric Rosner used his class as a focus group to get product feedback on the wildly popular PopSocket, and experienced that disconnect firsthand.
“I gave PopSockets to all of my students. I had some friends give them to their class. After a few weeks, maybe I’d ask them, ‘Raise your hand if you’re still using it.’ Or, ‘Raise your hand if you’ve talked to anybody about it, or sent anybody to the website.’ Questions like that. But as far as questions about how they were using it every day, I found it more informative to watch them when they’re walking into the room. What are they doing with it when they’re walking out? Are they fidgeting with it during class?
“Sure, sometimes I’d ask them, “What’s your favorite feature?” But it’s more important to watch the people use your product if you can. If you don’t have that opportunity, just be clever in how you’re asking your questions. You know, ‘How much time do you spend fidgeting with it?’ ‘How much time do you spend doing this?’ Instead of, ‘What do you like the most?’ That might not yield an accurate answer. It might not be in line with what they’re actually doing with your product.”
—Eric Rosner, Founder of PopSockets
Listen to the full episode below!
5. Higher quality videos don’t necessarily yield better results on social media
High-quality videos reflect positively on your brand, but it turns out they’re not always your best bet. When you’re marketing on Facebook, and looking for early results, content that appears more “organic” to the platform can actually be cheaper to promote and even outperform a video that is good enough for TV.
There’s a reason for that, says Chad Kauffman.
“If you think 20 years back, if you were going to watch a video most people would think of ‘video’ as anything that they see on TV. So there’s this TV quality expectation, right? Then all of a sudden we get into YouTube and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat, and people start producing their own videos and putting them up. The level of quality acceptance went way, way down.
“It went from consumers probably expecting TV grade quality because that’s all they had—if they watched a screen it was pretty much TV—to now you can catch videos everywhere and most of them are all self-produced.
“Interestingly enough, I believe it’s something like 85% of Facebook users scroll through their news feed with no audio capabilities on. If you have a Facebook ad that has a voiceover that somebody has to hear, you will lose out because most people don’t have their sound on. It’s very important on Facebook ads that, if you have a voiceover that has to be heard, you have captions on so that people can read it. I do this often. I sit on my couch and I could have my audio on but I don’t and I’ll read captions on ads that I watch.”
Product-market fit isn’t a final destination so much as it is an ongoing effort based on feedback from your target market. You can always improve your product and the story you tell around it to achieve a better fit, according to Paperwallet.
“You mold your product to fit a market by listening to the market. Take your product to the customer, try to sell it to them. Understand what’s important to them, what’s not important to them. And mold your product around that. If there are features in your product that the customer doesn’t care about, get rid of them. There’s no reason for you to invest in them.
“There’s no reason to have perfect product-market fit at launch. Most products don’t. If you’re not sure if your product’s ready, Kickstarter is the best place to put it up and see how the market responds. If you only get a few backers and your project ends up failing, that’s fine. Take those few backers, and now those people passionately care about your product. Ask them questions, see what they say. Create surveys for them. Pick up the phone, call them. Have a conversation. You’ll learn a lot about what’s wrong with your product. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with your product, but you’re just not marketing it right. By doing that, you slowly mold your product to get better product-market fit.”
—Elad Burko, CEO of Paperwallet
Listen to the full episode below!
7. You can use multiple crowdfunding platforms for the same product
Should you crowdfund your product idea on Kickstarter or Indiegogo? What about both? On this episode of Shopify Masters, Jay Neyer and Ross Oltorik of BodyBoss share how they chained together a crowdfunding campaign across different platforms to keep their momentum going.
“Our mentality and philosophy is ‘What are the different ways we can make revenue, where can we push this out?’ Kickstarter was more of a logical first step just because it’s the number one crowdfunding platform. But we actually used something after on Indiegogo called InDemand that’s made for ongoing sales. We didn’t have a campaign life like we did on Kickstarter, so that really made sense to carry forward after we finished our Kickstarter. We literally launched our Indiegogo campaign the very hour really that Kickstarter ended. We just kept that momentum going.”
Between the cost of hiring quality writers and putting your brand in someone else’s hands, it’s no wonder why many entrepreneurs opt out of content marketing or choose to write their own content. But according to Sebastian Bryers of Ora Organic, outsourcing your content creation can not only help you source the right credibility and expertise, it can provide the backbone of a profitable SEO strategy too.
“Generally it is a bit more expensive, for sure. But I mean, it’s still not, I don’t think it’s unreasonable considering how much traffic you can drive. And then you think about once you have driven that traffic to your site, you think about the number of touchpoints you create with that person once they read that content and the opportunities once they’re in the funnel to go and re-sell and up-sell and re-market and do all that, it just ends up being worth it. You only need two or three people to purchase and then the lifetime value of that customer far exceeds what you paid for the article.
“It can vary all the way up to 250 dollars. We’ve definitely paid for some more expensive ones, too, when it’s been particularly important to have an extremely qualified person. I think if you can hit between 50 and 100, you’re in a good place.
“[Writers will] get the list of questions and related questions and keywords that come from us, that we find in our research. And we’ll prioritize those for them, so it’ll be like, ‘This is a top-tier keyword that you need to get into your article.’ One of the things that we’ve been experimenting with as well is TL;DRs—”too long, didn’t read”—and having them either at the start or the end of the article and getting the writer to write really good summaries, as well.”
There’s no denying the potential of influencer marketing. But where many brands go wrong is that they focus on reach and audience size rather than what actually makes it work: influence.
Ben Wieder of Chassis shared his process for vetting influencers and why YouTube is his platform of choice for influencer marketing.
“We will not do a video with anybody until they try our product. We really want this to be authentic because if they don’t believe that we are the best product, specifically the best powder for guys, then we don’t want them doing it for us because otherwise, it’s not authentic. It’s just a terrible infomercial at that point.
“And so, anybody who works with us, even before they do, they’re going to get the samples and they’re going to tell us you know what they think. What they like, what they don’t like. Is this something that they would use? And, I’ll be honest, there are a few times where we didn’t like what we heard. Or, we didn’t believe them. It wasn’t believable and we said, “We’re gonna pass on this opportunity.”
“What I love about [YouTube] the most is that it’s always working for us. Yes, you’re going to see the most impact the day that a video launches because that’s the day that most of the views are gonna happen, but every day every one of these videos that we’ve developed is capturing more and more views.
“And, it just feels good to know that even though we may not have launched a video this week, or even this month potentially, there are still views happening every single day across the world. And, more and more people are finding out about Chassis.”
“How do I get more followers?” is the first question many ask about social media marketing. While it’s important to post great content and grow your audience, you can’t neglect the potential relationships you can build within your existing following, according to Katherine Gaskin, founder of The Content Planner.
“I knew exactly how to target my customers so you don’t necessarily need 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 Instagram followers to prove that your product can sell. I think I had a few hundred at the time I got my first sale.
“I personally don’t believe in scheduling your Instagram posts because as much as I would like to automate Instagram, I really like posting and being there for my customers so that if they do leave a comment right within the time that I post, I make sure that I automatically respond back for two reasons. One, because that’s really good for the algorithm and because responding back to comments also shows that you’re there for your business and that you show up every day for your business.
“What a lot of brands do wrong is they just post and they leave their community hanging. They don’t interact back with them and they don’t respond back to their comments.”
—Katherine Gaskin, Founder of The Content Planner
Listen to the full episode below!
What would you like to hear on the podcast in 2019?
One of my favorite aspects of Shopify Masters is that for about 45 minutes per episode, you can absorb the experience of seasoned practitioners as they discuss the intricacies of running a business on Shopify.
If you’ve been a regular listener of the show, we’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you enjoy? What could we improve? Is there anyone in the Shopify community you’d love to see on the show? Any specific topics you’d like us to cover?
Regis McKenna, commonly known as the advertiser that helped put Apple and Intel on the map, once said “The best kind of marketing is education.” As customers, we can appreciate marketing (and accept its foibles) when it helps us unlock additional value or enjoyment from the products we purchase.
It’s a lofty goal that takes frequent, consistent investment. One way we continually try to help our merchants get more value from Shopify is to offer tools and training around their biggest opportunities and thorniest problems. With our educational content now spanning blog posts, guides, podcasts, video courses, live workshops, and many other formats, we wanted to take a look back and recap a shortlist of highlights from 2018.
This year, we launched Shopify Academy, a curated library for new and aspiring store owners that features comprehensive video courses, live and recorded webinars, and free tools and templates to help you run your business. The response was incredibly positive, and we look forward to producing more courses, workshops, and community content for Shopify merchants next year.
Here are three of our most popular courses released in 2018.
1. Getting Started with Shopify
As a Merchant Success Manager at Shopify, Samantha Renée spends most of her time helping merchants become product experts and find new ways to scale their growth. In our flagship course, Samantha shares step-by-step instructions on getting set up on Shopify and working towards your first sale. Enroll in the free course.
2. Build a Profitable Print-on-Demand Business
Print on demand provides a low-risk way to turn physical products into the perfect canvas for monetizing your creativity. In this course, entrepreneur Adrian Morrison shares his framework for identifying and selling products that are a strong fit for building a profitable print-on-demand empire. Enroll in the free course.
3. Grow Your Business with Instagram
Instagram has seen explosive growth and as a result, has created an opportunity for brands big and small to reach their customers in entirely new ways. With help from entrepreneur and instructor Gretta van Riel, you’ll learn field-tested ways to create compelling visual content, grow your following, and turn Instagram fans into happy customers. Enroll in the free course.
Written content will always be in-demand on the web, and it will remain the bread-and-butter of content here at Shopify. This year, our editorial team went back to basics to share tips and advice on the sleeves-rolled work that goes into building a business for the long term. Here are a few standouts from the year.
Your personal goals and strengths should be the driver behind how (and how much) you decide to invest in your business. In this post, we share how to take stock of your current finances to decide what areas of your business need additional investment, and how you can account for the cost.
The guiding principle of retention is that a customer’s first purchase is the beginning of a brand new relationship, not the end of the race. This post shares a comprehensive look at why businesses should heavily invest in customer retention, the metrics to track, and the top strategies that work.
The reasons to use Instagram for business keep mounting: 80% of users follow at least one brand on Instagram, with 60% of users saying they’ve discovered a new product through the platform. Instagram ads see excellent results and high engagement, and shopping on Instagram streamlines the Instagram sales process. With the number of opportunities, we decided to distill how most ecommerce brands should approach the channel.
Though most of us use and rely on tools like Google in our daily lives, understanding how search engines index and rank web pages doesn’t come naturally to most people—at least not at first. We shared our suggested steps for getting started with SEO on Shopify in an easy-to-follow checklist.
In today’s world, being fast and efficient are the table stakes of customer service . To differentiate, businesses must also create a memorable customer experience and have high-quality support to match. Creatively thanking your customers with “frugal wows” is a way to stand out without breaking your budget.
One approach many aspiring entrepreneurs should consider is to start a business with relatively low inventory and overhead. With your risks mitigated, you can confidently get started and test the waters with a product idea with little financial downside.
Throughout the BFCM 2018 shopping weekend, Shopify merchants collectively made over $1.5 billion USD in sales. It’s clear the BFCM tradition is here to stay, and there’s evidence that it’s growing worldwide. This year, we completely overhauled our annual checklist to help merchants prepare their store and campaigns.
Facebook remains a powerful ad platform to reach and retarget potential customers. As you scale your spend, however, you need to maintain a positive return, which can be challenging for any business. We asked a digital marketing consultant to share her best advice on maintaining a healthy return on ad spend.
Bookkeeping is something that you either have to learn or outsource when you’re running a business. But if you decide to DIY, it shouldn’t balloon into a huge weekly task on your to-do list. We spoke with an accountant and entrepreneur about how they recommend managing your books.
Social media can be a cornerstone of your marketing efforts, but it can also quickly become a time-consuming obligation that distracts you from other high-value work. The difference is usually determined by your strategy and, more precisely, having a defined strategy in the first place, instead of getting right into posting new content.
When you fail to deliver on your promises, by accident or through a mistake, it can be tough hearing from upset customers, especially when an easy solution doesn’t seem to be in reach. We asked an experienced support practitioner to share her recommendations on dealing with these challenging questions.
Great marketing shouldn’t be overtly noticeable to customers. As entrepreneurs, however, we know you are interested in getting an in-depth look at what other companies are doing right. This article shares the exact emails a high-growth ecommerce brand is using to engage, educate, and upsell new prospects.
Guides and webinars
Sometimes a deep-dive on a topic demands a different kind of presentation. That’s why we also produce longform guides and starter webinars on popular requests we hear from merchants and readers. Here are a few worth checking out from this year.
Understanding budgeting, accounting, and cash flow are important to build a rock-solid foundation for your business. Our guide is a crash course on building a budget, keeping track of your spending, and creating financial statements that are easy to read and understand.
eBay gives sellers a lot of control, and it’s an ideal marketplace to clear out product quickly. Just ask Adventuron, a Shopify merchant that has seen significant success with the channel, using it to successfully sell returned products as-is. Our guide will show you how to get your products in front of a global audience of over 100 million active buyers on eBay.
Last year, our own Corey Ferreira’s online store received over 8,000 orders from all over the world. He didn’t store inventory, pay for products up-front, or ship a single package himself. In his webinar, he shows you exactly how he did it—step by step.
Podcasts offer a more intimate way to learn from practitioners in a casual setting, where conversation drives the story. Our podcast, Shopify Masters, saw significant growth this year, so whether you tuned in during your commute or listened while building your side project, thank you for your continued support!
Here are three of our most downloaded episodes of 2018, and you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify for more.
We’ll be taking a bit of a holiday break in the coming days. Next year, we plan on producing more guides, courses, workshops, and other interactive content around the trickiest topics in ecommerce, and we have big plans to find better ways to organize and surface the right content, right when you need it. Thank you, as always, for reading and best of luck in 2019! 🍾