I’d never experienced anything like it. I was standing inside a real aircraft carrier surrounded by fighter jets while Maverick himself, THE Top Gun, took photos with smiling eCommerce entrepreneurs. With that perfect swagger and smirk I could have sworn Tom Cruise must have taken a break from filming Mission Impossible 8 to schmooze at the Opening Party for eCommerceFuel Live.
Last week over 300 eCommerce Fuel members gathered in San Diego for eCommerceFuel Live. With an exclusive guest limited to business owners who bring in more than seven figures, this is the top event of the year for many of the eCommerce entrepreneurs who attend.
If you’ve spent any time in the eCommerce space, then you know there’s a veritable glut of networking and informational events for online entrepreneurs. But only eCommerceFuel Live gives its guests the opportunity to mingle with the cream of the crop. By making this a private event for the most successful business owners in our already-vetted community, we guarantee each person in the hall is a peer with top tier knowledge and experience in their field.
One of the perks of an eCommerce business is that you can often get started with very little upfront costs. But at some point, nearly everyone with a growing business has to consider financing. A monetary boost empowers you to invest in essential resources for your company, such as inventory, marketing, and technology.
Without adequate financing, your eCommerce business may struggle to compete or fail to reach its full potential. In this article, we will explore the basics of financing for eCommerce businesses, what financing options are on the table, and when you might use each of these financing options to help you grow.
If you are are an eCommerce merchant you've probably heard about fulfillment networks or 3rd party logistics (3PLs). Fulfillment networks like Amazon FBA & Shopify Fulfillment Network (SFN) are incredibly powerful. If you can afford the cost they’ll store, pack, and ship all of your orders for you.
They handle an entire area of your business for you. For a merchant this is 25-35% of your responsibility. So being able to outsource this obligation and focus on other areas of your business can be massively helpful.
But calculating if a 3PL is worth the cost is complex. Shipping costs themselves are a nightmare of complexity. If you have more than 1 item in your store you will probably just understand the range of shipping costs to get several items from point A to point B. Trying to figure out a fair cost for the 3PL on top of regular shipping costs is challenging to say the least.
And there are challenges beyond just costs. You have to order and send in your products according to their schedule and in their preferred formatting. With all of that overhead switching 3PLs is painful and costly.
So fulfillment networks have some serious costs. But they also allow eCommerce entrepreneurs to live that idyllic lifestyle where you order piña coladas on the beach while your business continues to generate revenue. 🏖
Let’s look at the costs, procedures, and the tradeoffs for two of the biggest fulfillment networks: Shopify Fulfillment Network (SFN) and Amazon FBA so you have a baseline understanding of when and how you'd set up a 3PL for your own e-commerce store.
One of my favorite challenges at my job is learning how to be a good manager. You might have heard the expression, “people join companies and leave bosses”.
My goal as a new manager is to not be the reason someone leaves.
It's challenging to motivate, inspire, and direct people to do their job while also holding them accountable. And it's especially challenging in a creative field. You need to be in the right headspace to create.
A few weeks back one of my teammates had a creative block and was falling behind on a project. I took note to find a solution to help her get over her creative block in a hopeful and inspiring way.
It's almost the end of 2021 and I moved on from Nexcess. I created a new LinkedIn Learning course about Speeding Up Your WordPress site and then I joined Paid Memberships Pro. That's a lot of new work things in a year.
But before I get into why I joined PMPro I want to share some of the things I learned at Nexcess. Because I learned a lot of valuable lessons:
I dove deep into the technical aspects of speed with WordPress & Magento
One of the things I get to do at Nexcess is influence when & how much we discount our products. There are some obvious dates like Black Friday and the New Year. But there are also less obvious dates like the end of summer, Halloween, and WordPress' birthday.
Should we put our products on sale? And if so, by how much?
I'm proud to say I'm joining the Liquid Web / Nexcess team as a Product Marketing Manager for WooCommerce.
What A Product Marketing Manager Does
If you're in the IT space you might know what that person does – but more than likely you don't. So let me explain why I'm so excited.
A product manager (which is a different role) decides what to build and they make sure the engineering team does so. So after a product manager you will have a list of features.
Of course some features are more important than others so what a product marketing manager does is figure out which features we want to talk about, which ones we need to highlight, and which ones we need to highlight multiple times.
and don't forget Feature 2!
In short a product marketing manager helps with the strategy about how you speak about a thing. And I'll be talking about our Managed WooCommerce hosting.
Why I Got On Board
I've had a few conversations with hosting companies over the years and I've been tempted but never pulled the trigger. With Liquid Web / Nexcess they're doing something I'm really excited about and that are their new Managed WooCommerce hosting plans.
It's my 3rd week on the job and at the end of my 2nd week we launched our brand new plans.
Managed WooCommerce Hosting
In the WordPress world we've have Managed WordPress hosting for quite some time. I think I got my first managed hosting account back in 2012 or 2013. And they're great.
They update your plugins
They update WordPress
They proactively remove or patch plugins with security vulnerabilities
They optimize the speed & performance of your site
and a whole lot more
They turn WordPress from something you have to maintain into something that just works. And that's magical.
Liquid Web announced a Managed WooCommerce plan back in 2018 and they focused exclusively on speed & performance. They were amazing for established stores that have a bit of money to spend.
What's new is they just announced a $19/month entry level plan. This means for $20 a month you can run your own WooCommerce store and have Nexcess manage it for you. That means you can focus on your business while we take care of the boring updates.
What's the Deal with Nexcess / Liquid Web
You're probably a little confused about the difference between Nexcess and Liquid Web. The short story is Nexcess is now a Liquid Web brand and they're putting their Managed WordPress & Managed WooCommerce hosting under that brand.
In 2020 you'll see Liquid Web / Nexcess promoted at WordCamps and moving forward you'll likely see just Nexcess promoted at WordCamps.
I've been working for myself for 3 years and it's been great. I now get to work more closely with awesome people on the Liquid Web / Nexcess team. And I get to focus on what I do best.
I love articulating what people want and trying to write messaging for them. So I'm very excited for this next challenge.
Last year I committed to building a physical product. And I did this because I understand the people who get into eCommerce. I want know what state of mind they're in, how they handle their finances, and what they do before they even start building an eCommerce site.
By the end of 2018 I want to have a product ready to go. I know the publishing and/or Kickstarter process can be long so by the end of 2018 I want to be ready to go under contract with a publisher or be ready to start planning my own Kickstarter campaign.
And I'm going to officially mark that goal as complete. I'm planning to launch my product on Kickstarter February 5th.
More than just having a product ready to go I learned a lot about:
How product development isn't perfectly linear
The importance of building an audience around your product
How a tiny mistake can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars
How every piece of data about pricing seems to contract every other piece and you just have to guess.
The insane amount of time you have to spend marketing
Before we start talking about manufacturing and order minimums let's just talk about making the product itself.
Product Development includes the initial idea of the product, creating a prototype, and iterating on the product. I started product development over a year and wrapped up most of the development ~6 months ago. But I'm still occasionally tweaking the product. It's a phase that you can go through as you're going through other phases.
I showed my product to literally hundreds of people over the last year. And one of the things I learned is that you have to be incredibly good at filtering feedback. In the morning I might get a bunch of criticism about my product and that afternoon I'll get praise for those exact same features.
As a creator you have to vision (or mission statement) for your product. And every time you get a piece of feedback you need to view it through the lens of your vision.
Unfortunately not everyone is your target demo. So even with careful vetting before you show them your product you're going to have to listen to a lot of feedback you're not going to use.
Feedback is Great For Articulating Problems Not Solutions
One of the biggest changes to my product came about 6 months into development. At the time I had a much smaller product. It was minimalistic and fit into this vinyl wallet.
Wallet concepts from September 2018.
And people loved how portable the game was. But they was consistent feedback on the thin paper tokens. In fact people said, “I know this token is just a prototype so I can't wait until the full version has a nicer token”.
Three sets of tokens for Fry Thief. Top are acrylic tokens which were eventually replaced with wood versions. Left is hard cardboard. Center are cardstock tokens that fit in the wallets.
But that token would have been exactly what they would have received in a finished product. The token wasn't thin because it was a prototype it was thin because that's what fit into the wallet.
People said things like “I wish this was nicer” and they said “I love the thin wallet”. But no one was clear and said, “I'd love nicer components even if that means upgrading to a small box and getting rid of the wallet”.
I had to come to that conclusion myself. So listen to your audience; they're dropping all of the right hints. But when you hear contradictory advice you'll have to experiment and see which one your audience prefers.
Landing Page – The Start of Marketing
Once you have a product it's time to let people follow along. About 6 months ago I created a landing page. This landing page is the perfect place to send people when people ask for more information about your product.
As people playtested my game if they seemed like they had a good time I'd prompt them to sign up for the email list. I sent out tweets, put a link in my email signature, and otherwise promoted the game in simple ways. This is where you get your first fans. And it's likely to come from your personal network of friends & family.
What's great about this step is you don't need to know your entire marketing message. If you have a name for your product you can get a domain, building a landing page, and start building that fan base.
Landing Page Technology
When it comes to landing page builders I wanted to try Kickoff Labs since they promised a “viral” element. If users share your landing page they automatically share a unique link and they're rewarded with points for each signup. As long as you give away a prize of some sort there's a nice incentive to share the page.
I had 410 users sign up through my landing page. Thirty of which were directly referred by another user.
30 of my 410 leads were referred by other users.
So when it comes to landing page software you don't need to get the premium landing page builder. Kickoff Labs is excellent but you don't need to pay that much. As long you can easily build a landing page with a signup form it will be good enough.
After you have the basic idea for the product you want to create it's time to look for manufacturers. I started this process pretty organized with a list of ~10 manufacturers and found a few that seemed like great fits.
Unfortunately the more I promoted my product the more manufacturers found me and pitched me. You need to learn how to say no quickly. I was inundated with requests and thoughtfully answered each one. I lost a month of planning due to me chatting to each manufacturer that approached when I could have simply stuck with my first choice.
Pricing is something that baffled me before this experiment and it still baffles me. From economics classes we have the supply & demand curve which helps you figure out the optimum price.
Look how easy it is to find the optimum price in this model.
While that works great in retrospect how do you use this to price a new product?
You can use similar products on the marketplace as a starting point. But you have to look at your numbers. I know I can order 1,500 units from a factory, ship them to me, and ship them customers all while charging $15 + shipping.
You start marketing your product before it's completely done but at a certain point you need to ramp up your marketing. And there's a lot here:
Create a name
Create a logo
Create a brand voice (are we cheeky, serious, professional, etc)
Take professional photos
Create professional videos
Create & run ads
I haven't talked much about marketing my product and that's because I'm still going through this process. I've been experimenting with Facebook ads (which can be brilliant or terrible), podcasts, reviewers (influencer marketing), and sharing updates via social media.
What I can say is even with all of my sharing on social media, direct outreach to friends and family, and prompting playtesters I'd probably only have about 100 followers to my project. The rest of the leads came through Facebook ads.
Getting attention is one of the hardest things to do online. There's a bajillion other products out there. Why should I look at yours? Even if I would be interested in your product how do I find out about it without you having to pay an arm and a leg?
Still To Do
I'll continue to market my game and sometime after the Kickstarter share my marketing results.
After that I still have a lot to do and learn. Namely how to take pre-orders via Kickstarter & how to fulfill orders.
Advice for ECommerce Agencies
If you sell eCommerce websites to clients one of the most valuable selling points would be help with marketing. As the eCommerce entrepreneur I already have a lot of other tasks. If you have proven methods to market my product I'm going to be seriously interested.
And since marketing starts prior to the full eCommerce site you can get in the door with a simple landing page and marketing assistance.
One thing that's not helpful: don't throw out MORE ideas. There's a billion ideas to promote ideas, websites, and products online. I don't need more ideas. I need metrics that show me you know what you're doing and you can get the job done.
If I've done my job as an eCommerce entrepreneur and have enough margin in my products price then hopefully you can maximize that margin and help me get the most number of sales & fans to turn this into a profitable venture.