Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
I had a whole system put together to market digital products but didn't have a product. That's when I noticed a trend in the digital photography industry. My wife was a photographer and stay-at-home mom. She mostly did photo sessions for clients at the time. I asked if she could create digital resources and online tutorials for photographers and the rest is history! We made everything ourselves. It was just sweat equity. We created something out of nothing and I knew if we could sell it for more than the cost to market it we would be golden. We focused on digital resources because we have a big family. Five boys and ourselves and we love to travel, play music and collect first time experiences. So we wanted a business that would allow us to be digital nomads. Digital resources for photographers was perfect because automation would allow us to scale easily. It was a lot of work up front but since then we have traveled the entire US with our kids. Oregon, Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Texas is where we have lived over the last seven years.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
When we first started we had 24 blog subscribers (mostly family members) and we had 900 fans on Facebook. We averaged $500-$1000 a month from Jackie's photography. We put together our marketing system focusing mainly on list building through Facebook and directing traffic to our blog and Shopify store. When we first started we could run our entire business on $24 a month. Now just over two years later we have 27,000 blog subscribers and 96,000 Facebook Fans. We launched our business in our tiny apartment in Hillsboro, OR and in the very first month of business earned $5,600. That was big money for a family that had spent most of its years as employees barely scraping by and hovering around the poverty line. Our highest-grossing month to date has been about $30,000. When we started advertising on Facebook the business really took off. We used to spend $25 a week on Facebook ads, but now spend $250-$350 per day, every day, on Facebook and other retargeting ads. Facebook is definitely number one for traffic and sales. Our email subscribers list is a strong second. We are noticing a growing trend of Instagram followers that is exploding as well. We partner with other businesses, platforms, and forums as often as we can since this gets us in front of new eyes all the time. In October, Jackie has been invited to teach at a conference in San Antonio, TX where photographers from all over will fly in to learn from the pros like my wife! She has also been published dozens of times on other sites and blogs that our target market frequents.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
Holy smokes ok here goes. Shopify, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads (power editor), AdRoll, a slew of social networking sites the main ones are Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, FB Business Page, Optimizley, Yotpo, Friendbuy, Fliptabify, WishList, Bulk Discounts, Instant Search +, Abandonment Protector, Persistent Cart, Better Coupon Box, Exit Offers, Tidio Chat, Facebook Product Feed, QuickBooks, MadMimi, HeyCarson, Google Drive, and I'm sure there are more I'm not thinking of. It's all digital and automated. I don't handle it, technology does it for me :) SendOwl fulfills our orders via email and download pages.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Learn marketing or die. Differentiate or die. Automate or settle for less. Make your customers happy no matter what it takes. Give, give, give until it hurts, give even when they don't appreciate and complain. If you give, give and keep on giving you will be fine. Also you will get approached by slick marketing companies that talk a good game. Let me let you in a on a little secret I know from experience: those jokers are just salesman trying to earn a paycheck so they can pay for their beamer. NOBODY CARES AS MUCH ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS AS YOU DO AND MOST MARKETING COMPANIES DON'T KNOW JACK ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS, THEIR HISTORY, THIER TRENDS OR THEIR NEEDS. If they tell you they just need a bigger budget and they can deliver you the moon, RUN! Never stop learning, become a student of business, marketing and of your customers wants, needs and dislikes. Remember this: The difference between wildly successful people and average people is that average people fail. They hit a wall and decide it is impossible to win or succeed. So they give up and move on to something else or they retreat back to the old cubicle and beg their boss for a J.O.B. (just over broke). Successful people hear that voice too, but they tell it to shut the hell up and get motivated even more. Wildly successful people don't fail, they hit obstacles. Then they find a way to climb over, get around, dig under or plow through the obstacle to get to their goal. There have been at least 4 or 5 times where for an entire week I wanted to slingshot my laptop into the ocean and call it quits. Times where I longed for the false saftey of the 9-to-5 life. But nowhere else am I able to bring all my passion, creativity, growth and potential to bear than being in business for myself. You just can't give up. So turn off the damn TV, stop looking at videos on Facebook and YouTube, grab a cup of coffee and get to work! I like the Fara Grey quote, "Go and build your dream, or someone else will hire you to build theirs."