Results for 'home based business'

New Store Friday: Build-A-Business Edition

On Fridays we deliver amazing exclusive ecommerce inspirations with Shopify's weekly New Store Friday post.

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We are showcasing stores that have entered Build-A-Business Competition to inspire more to join in on the fun! 

The competition is simple, come up with a product to sell, open your online store and pick a mentor. Our community and your mentor will give you great advice and guidance along the way.  When you open a new store and enter the Build-A-Business competition, you'll receive a free .CO domain for 12 months, $100 in Google AdWords Credits and $100 in MailChimp Credits. 

By February 28th 2013, the four stores that have sold the most over any two month period will win a grand prize package – including a $50,000 investment to help make your business an even bigger success. 

We’ve brought on some of the industry’s biggest names to act as mentors and help guide you through the process:


If you're inspired, here is more information on the competition. If you already have a Shopify store, you can access all the educational content through our Competition Dashboard.

Fashion

Revberry

Bold, in your face styling and super comfortable materials for great clothes. ecommerce website powered by shopify

The Human Catalyst

A lifestyle brand that produces top notch clothes based in San Diego. ecommerce website powered by shopify

Journey Into Fashion

Exotic and class clothes for women who dare to be different. ecommerce website powered by shopify 

Lipstick Republic

Australian Cosmetics from lips to eyes. ecommerce website powered by shopify 

Design

Agar Scents Bazaar

Exotic Japanese perfumes and home products. ecommerce website powered by shopify

Nest and Castle

They make the Perfect Cushion. ecommerce website powered by shopify 

Stay Home Club

Limited edition pillow case collections and home products designed by fantastic artists. ecommerce website powered by shopify

Gadgets

Geek on Site

Australian Geeks providing fast Computer Repairs from hard drive fails to installations. ecommerce website powered by shopify

Twigcase

High quality wood cases for the iPhone. ecommerce website powered by shopify 

First Stop Pinball

Variety of parts for pinball machines at competitive prices. ecommerce website powered by shopify 

Dome Candy Lab

Spreading the love of music, by offering unique and creative alternatives to portable sound. ecommerce website powered by shopify

Everything Else

The Cookie Guild

Historical Craft-baked cookies, including classic favorites and beer-infused cookies. ecommerce website powered by shopify

Fallen Sparrow Books

Pretty books, vintage books, cookery books, children's books. ecommerce website powered by shopify 

Mistralni

UK based cleaning products and top chemicals. ecommerce website powered by shopify

Wine Veil Intl

Veil for Wine Glasses.
 ecommerce website powered by shopify 

How A Father-Son Team Are Re-Inventing the Furniture Business With Omni-Channel Retail

Meet Mike and Doug, proud owners of Wrightwood Furniture in windy Chicago. This father and son pair have…

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Meet Mike and Doug, proud owners of Wrightwood Furniture in windy Chicago.

This father and son pair have been in the furniture business for as long as, well, let's just say a really long time. It was after spending several years in the wholesale business selling to big box retailers and watching customers pay ridiculous amounts of money for their furniture that they decided enough was enough.

First, they closely examined why there was such a huge mark-up and discovered that it was primarily because of the logistic inefficiencies of moving around and handling really large and bulky goods from warehouse to showroom and beyond. But rather than get caught up with it all, they decided to cut the middle man out and started designing, sourcing, and buying furniture that was anything but what you'd find in a big box store and having it shipped directly to their store.

They also made a firm commitment to the environment in the process. The duo only sells furniture that uses plantation-grown or recycled wood, recycled aluminum, and doubling the store as a warehouse where everything is shipped from for their online orders to reduce their carbon footprint and the number of moving parts in the operations.

And the best part? They're finding early success with omni-channel retail by operating a highly successful online store in addition to their Chicago physical retail location.

I had a chance to catch up with Mike who broke down what it was like selling both online and offline and why they decided to go down that route.

1) Describe your business and products in 1-3 sentences

We make amazing, handmade furniture affordable for Chicagoans. We work with the best factories we can find and ship their exclusive, one-of-a-kind furniture pieces right to our store – skipping the middlemen, warehouses and unnecessary transportation costs that make furniture more expensive for customers, but not better.

There is not another store in Chicago (or anywhere for that matter) that compares to the values and quality we offer. Customers have been receptive to our model and we started turning a profit in our second month.   

2) Why did you decide to do a business that's online and in the world of physical retail?

When it comes to furniture, people really want to feel a piece, to test its weight and sturdiness, to better visualize -- overall -- a place for it in their homes – and that’s especially true of our merchandise because it’s all handmade. 

At the same time, we’ve found that almost all consumers want to browse online before they come in, and many are drawn to purchasing online, as well. Shopify, combined with a POS software makes it easy for merchants like us to go online and run both systems together.  

Local ecommerce is a relatively new trend, so when we opened Wrightwood, we didn’t really know what to expect as far as transactions from the site itself. Last month, more than 12% of revenue came from online orders, but we believe that more than 50% of the customers who buy in the store have been looking intensely at products through the site before they visit. 

3) How did you go about finding a location for your retail store? 

We have a great market here in Chicago, and we worked with an experienced retail real estate broker to ensure that we capitalized on that. Retail truly is all about location, and is the single biggest expense when opening a storefront, so we took it very seriously.  

4) How did you go about making decisions around store layout, visual merchandising, signage and the "look/feel" of your store? 

Our products come and go quickly, and there simply isn't time or space to set up vignettes like you would see in a traditional furniture store. With that, though, we wanted to harness the feeling of walking through a Parisian flea market or a great antique store.

We wanted the customer to feel like they are on a treasure hunt, because every piece in our store is a “find.” It all lends itself to a sense of “organized chaos” – everything is sort of piled up, but artfully. We have an amazing store manager, and we don't know how he makes the place look as organized as he does.   

5) How do you approach pricing with your business model? 

Wrightwood is all about zeroing in on furniture with extreme value, in comparison to the other traditional, popular big box retailers out there. We are constantly engaged in the industry, comparison shopping between our competitors, and studying every item before purchasing it.

We review the brand name retailers, as well as online retailers and flash sale sites. Our policy is that any item we have must be offered at a price that is less than half of what customers would pay for a piece of similar style, make and quality at other retailers, such as Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn or One King's Lane.  

6) Where did your first batch of customers come from? Any major media mentions or PR wins since then? 

We’ve run a few Facebook ads. Since we don’t do any traditional advertising, Facebook ads have been good because they allow us to target very specific demographics, including geographic targeting. We also use our personal social media pages to leverage the Wrightwood brand. 

We also have a publicist, leading us to some terrific features in Daily Candy, Racked Chicago, InsideShopper.com and local lifestyle publications, including Chicago Magazine. We’ll be featured on WCIU TV’s local morning show, You & Me This Morning, later this month, as well as other TV appearances to come.  

We have so much going on and the changing merchandise gives us so many opportunities to get the word out going forward. 

7) What software, tools and resources are crucial to your retail business? 

Obviously, Shopify has been crucial to our business. The integration between the web store and the physical store is seamless. Shopify provides us with one database with information on all our customers, orders and products. This is our first time engaging in the retail business, and we just can't imagine doing it without this technology and streamlining those two sales components

The other tool that has been critical to maintaining the success of the Wrightwood model are spreadsheets where we’re able to compile all necessary information on competitors and price comparisons. We’re also able to export Shopify sales reports into Microsoft Excel and breakdown sales by a number of categories to easily determine what styles and pieces are selling; it gives us great insight into our customers, and what kinds of styles and furniture pieces they want and are looking for. 

8) What were your biggest mistakes or wastes of time and money (if any) when first starting out selling in physical retail? 

Our lease required our landlord to do improvements before we moved in. For whatever reason, these improvements took much longer than expected and we opened months later than we would have liked. In hindsight, we should have had clauses to better enforce that part of the contract.

As we said, Wrightwood is all about value and we wanted that reflected in the layout and design of the store itself. For instance, the cash wrap, light fixtures and shelving all came from our factories.  

9) How do you manage the inventory or supply side of your business and decide how many and which products to stock?

One key piece of advice is not to bet too heavily on any category of products until it’s proven its success. The consumers will surprise you with what they like – and what they don't. Running out of certain products is ok because you can order more later, but getting stuck with the things that don't work and aren’t selling is worse.

For us, this first year of business is all about figuring out what the customers truly want. I would tell any new retailer to be very careful about the first purchases he or she makes, and to always think of purchases as a series of tests.  

10) What other key advice can you offer to ecommerce entrepreneurs looking to successfully transition into physical retail? 

Running a physical store requires a lot of time and attention; it’s a full-time job. Simple things like tagging the merchandise, or cleaning the store, and not to mention setting up displays are major time-consuming tasks.

Choosing to have a physical storefront is a major undertaking, so don’t count on getting a lot of computer-based or online work done for your store during open hours.  If you plan to sell internationally or nationally, think of your physical retail as a separate business or channel. Your messages are different and you may want to promote a different product mix.

For example, we developed a line of pillows and benches, designed with the Chicago flag, and those have been a huge hit in this market. Make sure you optimize for local SEO. Reach out to local bloggers and media. In reality, you are the new kid on the block and everyone will want to check you out; be sure to take advantage of that curiosity when you’re starting out and find ways to sustain interest in your business.  

11) You serve mainly the Chicago area. Why did you decide to stay local? 

We decided from the start that we would rather be the best solution for a given audience in a specific market, than just an “ok” solution for everybody. Furniture is very bulky and expensive to ship over long distances and requires a lot of packing – and that adds a lot to the product cost for the consumer. By importing furniture direct to our store, our prices are far better than internet only retailers like Wayfair, One King's Lane.

Even Amazon doesn't come close. However, we do receive orders online for pillows and smaller furniture items which we can have packaged at the local FedEx office and shipped. Chicago is a huge market, with about 9 million people. That's bigger than a lot of countries. We’re aiming be the best solution, serving a market of this size. For us, that’s a highly viable, long-standing business model. We plan to expand Wrightwood to other cities. Each store will be serve that city's market. We will be multi-local as opposed to national.


Are you a Shopify POS merchant with a retail success story you want to share? Tell us all about it!


About The Author

Humayun Khan is a Content Crafter at Shopify. He writes for the Shopify Blog covering social media, retail trends and ecommerce strategy. He is also the author of The Ultimate Guide to Business Plans.  Connect with him on  Twitter.

How Two Ecommerce Entrepreneurs Took a Side Business from $100k to $3M in Revenue in Three Years

Have you heard of Crossfit? It's a strength and conditioning system that was started in 2000 and has…

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Have you heard of Crossfit? It's a strength and conditioning system that was started in 2000 and has become extremely popular in the fitness community.

It's also a movement a lot of smart entrepreneurs are building businesses around. 

One such person is Peter Keller, an entrepreneur from Texas and owner of FringeSport, a Crossfit and home gym equipment supplier.

Peter and I connected on Reddit over at /r/entrepreneur after the Beardbrand case study we published generated a lot of discussion over there. 

He introduced himself and shared his story (as well as some pretty incredible sales numbers for such a young company).

I got Peter to take us behind of the scenes of his extremely successful ecommerce business and show us how he achieved such phenomenal growth so fast. 

Describe your business and product(s) in 1-3 sentences.

FringeSport is bringing the tools of elite fitness within reach allowing anyone to build a truly world-class strength and conditioning facility in their own garage.

We combine U.S. engineering and global manufacturing with a bricks and clicks business model to get better strength and conditioning equipment to our customers faster and cheaper than ever before. From barbells to kettlebells and beyond, we outfit the functional fitness enthusiast and "Workout-of-the-Day"-junky with everything they need. FringeSport offers solid gear, great prices, and world-class customer service!



How much revenue are you currently generating?

Since we were founded in 2010, we've been on a steep upward trajectory. In 2011, we did $100k, running the business on the side while both founders worked day jobs. In 2012 we quit our jobs, got office and warehouse space in Austin, Tx, and built a team. We did just over $1M in revenue. In 2013, we've expanded to Dallas and San Antonio, and we'll pull in $3M (projected).

We've been serving our customers with a "bricks and clicks" approach that we stole from Bonobos and Warby Parker. Since we're literally shipping weights, our freight costs can be astronomical. To combat this, we've been experimenting with showrooms in Dallas and San Antonio. This approach has been very successful. YTD, we've generated about 60% of our sales online, 35% from the "bricks" locations, and the remainder from our wholesale/dropship program.

How did you come up with the idea for your business? What kind of market research did you undertake?

I've always been entrepreneurial minded. In 2010, I was working for another ecommerce business and I wanted to do my own thing. I ran through a niche selection exercise and came up with the idea to start a strength and conditioning company focused on the fast-growing CrossFit market.

I'd been CrossFitting since 2005, and I loved the community and the movement but the equipment was expensive and hard to get. With my background in product development and ecommerce, I knew I could bring the gear to market and do it better than my competition. I approached my brother as a partner, and we were off to the races!

For market research, I found our first product - gymnastic rings. I placed an initial order for two thousand dollars worth and I figured that if those sold, our market would be validated. If not, I figured I could liquidate them for what they cost me. Luckily, they sold!

How do you manufacture or source your products? What were some key lessons you learned during this process?

We currently use a mix of product that is engineered in the U.S. and contract manufactured for us, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) gear that we buy factory-direct, and product from U.S. brands. Over time, we're moving more and more to contract manufacturing.

Products that we have contract manufactured are always best for our customers and us, because they are designed better than the off-the-shelf products. We leverage our deep integration into the strength and conditioning community to continuously test and improve our designs. And, when we use contract manufacturing, we have better control over costs.

In manufacturing, relationships are huge. You're building long term partnerships with your factories so treat your interactions with this in mind. Also, everything takes longer than you think it should - build lots of buffer time into your projects.

How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from? Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?

Initial promotion was largely through Google Adwords. I would not recommend this unless you really know what you're doing, as you can throw a lot of money away while you learn. In hindsight, I would work social media much harder.

Currently, Facebook is a great marketing channel for us. Also, we're members of a number of forums online and the traffic we get from the forums is very targeted.

We have not reached out much on the PR front, but we did get a great mention in Lifehacker this year, which came from outreach to the author some months prior.

What channels are currently generating the most traffic and sales for you?

Organic and direct traffic are our top sources, with direct converting best - which makes sense because these visits come from people who have an idea of who FringeSport is. Facebook and forums drive a god amount of targeted traffic. Additionally, our PPC (mainly Google Adwords) is pretty dialed-in these days, and our spend there is ROI focused - so this traffic converts or it gets shut off.

Our physical locations drive excellent traffic and sales, plus a high level of repeat business.

A lot of your products are heavy. How do you handle shipping and fulfilment and organize the back-end of your business? Key lessons/tips for doing this successfully?

Shipping and fulfillment is a key core competency for us. From an early stage, we emphasized shipping product as fast as possible. What this means today is that we promise to ship out all in-stock product ordered by 2pm CST on the day it is ordered (business days). Shipstation is a lifesaver in this regard - we route all shipping through the app. We also recently installed BrightPearl to handle much of our backend - this should streamline systems as we scale.

To ship heavy products cost-effectively, we go to the mat with UPS, freight carriers, and USPS to find the best rates and service. In negotiations with UPS, finding a sales rep that believed in us was huge! Our previous rep didn't care about us and basically was forcing us to prove our volumes before he gave us the rates. Our new rep believed in us and our story and gave us some preferential rates based on our growth projections.

Finally, have you seen that post office campaign, "If it fits, it ships" for Priority Flat Rate boxes? We use and abuse that program.

You operate three physical locations in addition to your online store. What challenges does this present and how to you tackle them? What advice do you have for other retailers looking to do multi-channel?

The physical showroom initiative has been a huge success for us from a customer engagement and service perspective, as well as a financial perspective. However, it has created a lot of inventory and backend problems including carrying costs for additional inventory, avoiding stock-outs at our showrooms, and managing the front-end point of sale (POS).

We've recently implemented BrightPearl to help us manage the backend, and Shopify POS (we were formerly on Square) for the front-end.

I would advise other retailers to give a look at how they could implement the bricks and clicks approach. Shopify's app ecosystem has a lot of solutions to help manage this approach and you can drive the highest level of engagement by allowing your customers to have real-life, face-to-face interactions with your brand.

And of course, it's a multi-channel world. Find out how to best reach your customers, and pursue the options that make sense.

What software, tools and resources are crucial to your business?

Shopify, of course! Additionally, we share documents on Google Drive as much as possible, plus we use Dropbox as well. We use Basecamp for project management and Google Apps for email. Google Analytics is hugely important and free, so get that installed and learn how to use it.

I'm a big Apple fan, and we use Mac + PC in the office, but our tablets are all iPads running various apps, and most of our team use iPhones.

A few great apps are Shipstation and Meta Tagger. We recently installed Yotpo and we have been amazed. We now have a steady stream of user reviews coming in and it's great! And we have high hopes for BrightPearl and Shopify POS.

What were your biggest mistakes or wastes of time and money (if any)?

We were slow to move strict oversight and accountability over our PPC campaigns. We now have a process by which our PPC campaigns have a few months to prove themselves out on an ROI basis or they get the axe. We should have moved to this system earlier.

We should have utilized social media, especially Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter earlier and better. Social media is time consuming but "free", so while you have time, get online and hustle. Even now, we can use those networks more efficiently. I see a lot of young brands using Instagram really well, and I know we're not there.

We were slow to start building our email list, but we have recently started focusing on this, and sending emails regularly. These don't take much time with properly formatted templates, and they drive sales and engagement with your fans. So get a MailChimp or Aweber account from the start and build your list!

What other key advice can you offer to entrepreneurs looking to start a successful ecommerce businesses?

If you have an idea, get to work! Shopify makes it super fast and easy to get a great looking site live. Plus there are a ton of resources online to help you. One of the best ways to validate is to just (cheaply) get your idea out there and get real-world market feedback.

Once you've gotten rolling, figure out where you will truly add value to your customers' lives and hit that angle hard. Don't ever stop improving your product offering. If you build a better mousetrap, keep improving it, plus keep expanding your selection and finding other ways you can help your customers.

The Solopreneur as a Silicon Valley Startup

This is a Guest Post by Colleen McCarty. Entrepreneurs, business people, and product developers are in a unique…


This is a Guest Post by Colleen McCarty.

Entrepreneurs, business people, and product developers are in a unique position to capitalize on a trend that will to continue to rise: personality based businesses and personal branding. This trend embodies the American dream, taking extreme individualism to the next level – speakers, experts, trainers, bloggers - everyone has a schtick. Blossoming out of a formerly cubicled workforce, the personality-based business is a natural segue in an information-based economy, lending itself to massive product sales and huge numbers for individual ecommerce sites. Drop ship and on-demand companies make it even easier for individuals to sell any information-based products.

However, personality based businesses inherently lend themselves to one fatal flaw. They are built around humans – and humans are imperfect. Building your business around yourself indicatively means that your business will reflect your flaws. There is no way around it… or is there?

Many times the personality-based business finds us. For example, the professional speaker does not come out of the gates as a motivational speaker. Something extraordinary happens to them and gradually people begin to approach them about getting on stage and sharing their story. Before you know it, people are offering to pay for it. There is a business, but no business plan, no structure, no staff. Just the speaker and their talent. The other significant problem, other than being based on a flawed model, is that many times these personalities are just feeling their way through, not realizing fatal flaws they are making or even really seeing themselves as a business. “It’s just something I do well and get paid for. It’s not really a business. Businesses have offices and personal assistants and 1-800 numbers. This is just me.” Everyone from artists to jewelry makers to authors and speakers has been known to think that from time to time. But if we are to be successful businesses and personalities and businesses based on personalities (whew!) then we have to reconcile this chasm.

In order to do that I want to focus on a place in the world that has been conducive to producing thousands of entrepreneurial ventures per year and billions of dollars in revenue – Silicon Valley. The valley lies just south of San Francisco and is a hot bed of entrepreneurial spirit. Twitter, Google, Facebook, Hewlett Packard, eBay – these are just a few of the tech-based companies that have sprung up out of the startup culture created in Silicon Valley.

The valley is steeped in entrepreneurialism. It’s a characteristic that is rewarded as early as second grade when the children are asked to be a part of Invention Conventions. Kids are asked to create an invention that they feel would better the world in some way. They write a one-page report on what their product is and who it could help. When these children grow up, sometimes as early as their teen years, they come up with a company idea that revolutionizes an industry or creates a whole new industry. When that company grows to a multi-billion dollar IPO, that then-teen, now young millionaire decides to become an advisor and angel investor to others like him or her. This is called the Cycle of Innovation, and it is completely self-sustaining.

How can ecommerce store owners, authors, speakers and bloggers compete with this kind of entrepreneurial Petri dish? We are out here on our own, often times working from home offices. It is hard to foster a culture of innovation when the only one to bounce ideas off of is your dog. Since it’s doubtful that Fido will be the next Steve Jobs, I’m betting you could benefit from some ways to become more Startup minded. 

There are four ways a solopreneur can become more like a Silicon Valley startup: 

1. Don't Isolate Yourself

Community is extremely important. This makes the personality-based business model tough sometimes, because those that we want to consort with are the competition in many cases. Spending hours writing articles, blogs, and books is not exactly conducive to socializing. But do not let yourself fall into isolation. Connections – whether in person or online – are vital to your business. Not to mention that word of mouth is still the most powerful form of marketing, so you don’t want to become Henry David Thoreau in Walden. Attend conferences. Yes, they can be expensive, but they are one way to begin to build a network of like-minded individuals – people who will keep you on your toes and keep you accountable to yourself. 

If conferences aren’t in the budget, cruise Linkedin. Direct message or @ someone on Twitter. Make a list of people you look up to in your industry and really try to connect with them. When you’ve met three or four people that you feel you can trust and gain inspiration from, and vice versa, hopefully, then you can start a weekly mastermind call or a Facebook group where you can ask questions and see what everyone is up to. Associations are also a great way to connect, so check your local chapters of trade associations or blogger groups.

2. Pay Attention to your Working Environment

Companies in Silicon Valley have access to tons of gurus, research and culture doctors to help them enhance their daily work experience. Cafeterias serve free range and organic chicken at little or no cost, dry cleaning is available onsite, and many companies offer day care. How can solopreneurs compete with that kind of quality of life? Well, we can’t. But there are some things you can do to enhance your effectiveness and ability to be creative on demand.

Many of them have to do with your immediate surroundings. Whether you’re working off the kitchen table, in your home office, or in an office collective there are some things you can do to maximize the utility of your space. Little choices in how you set up your office/work space may seem unimportant, but if you constantly feel drained or stifled, maybe you should rethink some of what’s surrounding you.

Feng Shui can lend us a few tips about how we can surround ourselves with the best energy possible. Yellow is a color that stimulates creativity and discipline, both of which are important when working alone. If you write a lot, blue-green is soothing and also stimulates creativity. Put a healthy plant in a glass bowl in the top left quadrant of your desk or work-table – this will bring wealth and success to your business.

Feng Shui aside, your environment is important. If music helps you work, then get some speakers and blare away, but if music doesn’t help, just keep things silent. The same goes for pets; if your dog constantly wants to play fetch, maybe he or she would be better relegated to another area of the house while you work. Take advantage of some of the research that these companies have done and try to implement some of those “mood-enhancers” in your daily life. If you are bogged down by errands, but need to be working, then have a task or delivery service do your errands for you. Focus on the most important part of your business – discovering new opportunities for revenue.

3. Build a Values System 

Writing out elaborate 5 and 10 year plans, financial projections and big ideas for the future are all important parts of owning a business, but they can easily go off the rails when we don’t have a clear set of values for our organizations. It’s easy to let ourselves off the hook and say “I’ll just go with the flow. It’s just me after all.” Do not fall into this trap. Building a values system for your company is just as important – actually, more important – than if you had several employees. You need to lay the ground work for success now. I know it’s hard and I know you don’t have much support, but it has to be done if you expect to see major growth in your business. Sillicon Valley culture doctor Justin Moore (CEO of Axcient) spends 20% of his time on building and sustaining his company’s culture. He says that CEOs (yes, that’s you, you’re the CEO of the startup that is you!) need to ask themselves these questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What’s important to you?
  3. What behaviors do you want to see in people in your company?
  4. How do you want them to act and make decisions?

You might not have employees yet, but the goal is that someday you will. Writing out the answers to these questions should give you about 15-20 statements about your company. Moore suggests weeding this down to 5 and making these 5 your company’s core values. Type them out and print them if you desire – frame them, place them somewhere that you can see them and be reminded. Being a solopreneur does not mean you have to be ill prepared, poorly organized and not at all ready for the future. 

4. Create and Feed Your Own Cycle

The most important part of the Silicon Valley culture is the theme of giving back to those who are now where you once were. Having your mastermind groups and building your inspirational community is one step towards this, but looking to the younger generation and asking yourself “How can I help?” is also important. I am not suggesting you become an angel investor today, but there are certainly things you can do to create and feed your own cycle of innovation. We’ve all made mistakes and to reach out to another solopreneur and let them know that making mistakes is ok, and helping them avoid others creates a connection and trust that is essential for a community to grow.

It’s hard doing it all yourself, that is why scalable growth is always the goal in any enterprise. No one wants to do it all forever. Planning and changing your mindset are important keys to getting off the kitchen table some day and leaving the word ‘bootstrapping’ behind. You are not just you – you are a startup with infinite potential. 

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Colleen McCarty is the co-owner of the Expert Message Group (EMG). EMG works with entrepreneurs, speakers, authors, and thought leaders to enhance their businesses through publishing, speaking, social media and product launch strategies. McCarty coaches her clients to undertake scalable and meaningful growth for their companies while considering their big picture goals. Follow EMG on Twitter.

Announcing Shopify's 3rd Build-A-Business Competition Winners

Today we’re thrilled to announce the five winners of our Build-A-Business competition. During the 8 months of the…

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Today we’re thrilled to announce the five winners of our Build-A-Business competition.

During the 8 months of the competition period, over 10,000 entrepreneurs created new online businesses that sold more than $55 million in products. The five new businesses that sold the most over any two months of the competition each win a $50,000 US investment.

We sent each of the winners on a VIP trip to New York City to meet with the industry experts who served as mentors to the participants throughout the competition (Timothy Ferriss, Daymond John, Tina Roth Eisenberg and Eric Ries). Here's a glimpse of their trip to NYC:

In addition to the grand prize investment and NYC trip, each winner gets a special one-hour media strategy training session with editors at Fast Company Magazine, and $20,000 toward digital advertising for their business.

Here’s a visual overview of the competition, including our five amazing winners. You can click on the image to view in full-screen.

We’re excited to see so many great ideas grow into successful businesses through this competition. Our winners really took it to the next level, combining brilliant products with savvy marketing to sell an amazing amount of products.

Here’s a look at our five winning stores, their cool products, and the entrepreneurs behind it all:

GameKlip (Electronics & Gadgets)

GameKlip is the brainchild of gamer-turned-inventor Ryan French, an Applied Computational Math Science student at the University of Washington. Frustrated by the inefficient game controllers on his phone, Ryan crafted a precision-moulded clip to connect a PlayStation controller to his smart phone, allowing for mobile game play with a full-sized controller.

Ryan's product was originally created from simple resources. He bought a few sheets of plastic and used an industrial-strength hairdryer to shape the clip that attached the game controller to his phone. He was amazed at how well his creation turned out. “The simple piece of plastic transformed my phone into a real gaming machine,” said Ryan. “It worked so well, I had to share my creation with the world.”

Ryan decided to share his invention the way any true gamer would - he created a short video with his phone camera. When other gamers saw the video, they wanted clips of their own. Ryan started taking pre-orders and was blown away by the response.

“The first wave of orders was very exciting, but overwhelming. In the beginning, GameKlip was all handmade and built to order, which meant I had to spend most of my time bending plastic into the correct shape and processing orders. I had no ecommerce or order processing software at that time, so everything was done with a spreadsheet. I was working 18-20 hours a day, seven days a week, to build, process, pack, and ship my orders. Something had to change!"
"Discovering Shopify was one of the big turning points for my business. It was easy to set up and drastically cut down my workload. To further my productivity I setup ShipStation to automate the process of taking an order, generating a shipping label, and keeping records. The massive increase in workflow productivity allowed me to focus more on my product, and less on the busy-work.”

Ryan used his newfound “free” time to take his business to the next level. He purchased an injection mold so he could contract out the manufacturing of his product, and ensure the quality of each GameKlip was exactly the same.

Ryan French is still developing new iterations of GameKlip, and continues to grow his business online. He has shipped his product to over 80 countries, and has big plans for the future.

GoldieBlox (Design, Art & Home)

Debbie Sterling raised $285,881 on Kickstarter to fund her groundbreaking product: a construction toy that encourages young girls to get into engineering, develop spatial skills and hone problem-solving abilities.

From Bob the Builder to Star Wars Lego sets, engineering toys have traditionally been marketed to little boys. Debbie, a University of Stanford Engineering graduate, came up with the idea for GoldieBlox while discussing her career choice with a fellow female engineer.

“We were discussing why we became engineers. My colleague grew up with three older brothers and played with their hand-me-down Lego and Lincoln Logs. When it came time to pick a major, engineering seemed like a great choice, and it never occured to her that it was a weird career for girls. I started to think that I had missed out. My parents didn’t buy me construction toys because they didn’t think I would like them. They thought of them as boy’s toys. If I had played with construction toys as a kid, I probably would have developed my passion for engineering much earlier.”

Debbie set out to find examples of construction toys in the “girls” sections of toy stores, and was disappointed to discover very few options. “I started thinking about all the little girls out there who could be great engineers but would never even consider it. When I walked down the pink isle in the toy store, I felt like I was back in the 1950s," said Debbie. "This was an amazing opportunity to open little girls’ eyes to the possibilities of engineering. I became obsessed and it was all I could think about, all I wanted to do.”

Debbie created the character of Goldie, a spirited female engineer, to be her toy line’s mascot. The line’s debut toy, “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine,” turns construction into a game, where little girls must build a belt drive to help Goldie’s dog chase his tail.

Fresh-Tops (Fashion & Apparel)

Fresh-Tops is a “bubble-gum, hipster-chic” fashion brand spawned by an orgy of glitter, ice cream and electro-pop. Creator Nella Chunky produces limited edition women’s clothing and accessories.

Nella’s success wasn’t an accident – she experimented with several different brands and clothing lines before she decided on the Fresh-Tops line. “We started up with a couple of designs and just went from there. We really listened to what our fans wanted. We listened to their suggestions and just kept experimenting,” said Nella.

Nella chooses new pieces for the Fresh-Tops clothing line based on suggestions and requests made by her fans on Facebook and Twitter. This novel and progressive use of social media meant that Nella was able to produce the exact product her fans wanted. She attributes her success to the relationship between her fans and her business: “You really have to listen to what people want, and then give it to them. You have to be flexible and keep adapting to their needs.”

SkinnyMe Tea ("Everything Else") 

Gretta van Riel created this successful brand of tea in order to help people detoxify and lose weight. The teas, made from natural ingredients, are said to increase metabolism and even improve digestion, complexion, and sleep.

Gretta was working as the digital marketing manager at a large media agency in Melbourne, Australia, when she came up with her great idea. “I actually had a dream about the teatox,” said Gretta. “I woke up with a name, an idea and a vision, and made the website using Shopify the very next day. It was so great to be able to have an idea and go from conception to inception so quickly with the help of Shopify.”

Gretta developed her line of teas using all natural ingredients that help people shed unwanted weight by increasing metabolism and removing harmful toxins from the body.

It wasn’t long before the sales started flooding in, and Gretta had a difficult decision to make. “I had to choose between a steady job that I liked, or following SkinnyMe, which was really my passion. Luckily the sales started coming in quickly, and that helped me make up my mind.”

“There aren't many other detox products on the market that utilise only tea and that are completely natural. So the concept has caught on quite nicely. It helps that the product works really well, with many of our customers experiencing some truly incredible results. This has meant that our vision was able to spread very quickly via social media and word of mouth.”

Now SkinnyMe Teas are popular all over the world, with their most popular product being the Teatox pack, an all-natural detox program.

Canadian Icons (Canadian Winner)

 

When Aron Slipacoff decided to create a store that sold Canadiana, he didn’t want it to be just another consumer website. Instead, he created a unique shopping experience where visitors can buy iconic Canadian items, and also get a taste of Canadian history and culture. The shop sells everything from mukluks to unique paintings by Group of Seven artist, Emily Carr. Even the service, which is prompt, friendly and trustworthy, is a truly Canadian experience.

The idea for the shop came out of Aron's deep love of Canadiana and his desire to share iconic Canadian products with the world. “I wanted to present Canada’s past in a new, contemporary way,” said Aron. “As someone who lived in the Canadian Arctic, I am really passionate about what Canada’s north offers the world geographically and culturally. I wanted people to experience the stories and products that are inspired by the north.”

Aron wanted his customers to understand why the Canadian products he sells are so special. “To fully appreciate a Canada Goose parka for example, you need to see its connection to Canada’s Arctic peoples, how Canada Goose works with Inuit elders on design, how the company gives back to these communities. You need a more complete picture of the uniquely Canadian connection to the product to really get the feel for what makes it iconic.”

So instead of launching a store that simply sold products, Aron built his shop to be a bit like a Canadian museum, with the history and stories of the product built into the shopping experience. 

“Items like Canada Goose coats and Manitobah Mukluks are being sold and admired all over the world, but the Canadian stories behind the brands were left untold. There is a trend now where people want to become more knowledgeable about what they consume and spend money on. The marriage of these ideas was how CanadianIcons.ca was born.”

Aron also wanted his customers to experience what Canadian culture is so well-known for: its friendliness and warmth. So he decided to ship orders for free. “We thought about it and decided to offer 90-minute delivery in the nation’s capital, and we offered next-day delivery everywhere else in the country. Living up to that promise was a challenge. Through all of the Canadian weather and the holiday rush, we realized pretty fast that fulfillment required daily attention and diligence." Aron's focus on service is what sets Canadian Icons apart, and has helped contribute to the business’ quick success.

25 Retail Blogs Every Small Business Entrepreneur Should Be Reading

Small and boutique retailers have their work cut out for them when it comes to staying in business.…

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Small and boutique retailers have their work cut out for them when it comes to staying in business. There's a lot they need to know, and a lot that they need to take action on. Whether it's the latest trends in omni-channel retail, engaging their most loyal customers over social media, or understanding the way technology and mobile are revolutionizing how they accept payments. 

Which is why I've taken the liberty of assembling the top 25 blogs that every small retailer needs to read and subscribe to if they want to stay ahead of the curve and thrive when it comes to selling in person. Whether you prefer to add these to your feedly account or just do it the good old fashion way and bookmark them for future reading, I hope you find them to be an invaluable resource for helping you stay in touch with what's happening and what you need to know to successfully target, acquire, and convert customers for your store.

Here we go: 

Smart Retail 

This site is home to the "Smart Retail" web series hosted by Scott Kreisberg featuring interviews with retail stores all across L.A. The episodes take an in-depth look at how independent or speciality retailers are running their businesses while sharing their lessons learned from both their successes and failures.

Retail Adventures Blog 

Featuring the latest and greatest insights from Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender, this blog offers readers their unique perspectives as speakers, authors, consumer anthropologists, and consultants to some of the world's biggest retailers. On the blog you'll find tips on everything from customer service, merchandising, and everything in between that's relevant to you successfully running your retail store.

Retail Insider 

Founded and edited by Glynn Davis, a business writer who specializes in retail and the food and drinks industry and has seen his work appear in the likes of The Financial Times. Retail Insider is meant to give readers a "behind-the-scenes" look of the UK's small business retailers, intermixed with interviews from Q&A posts with CEO's, and the best places to get drinks around town.

The Retail Doctor 

Reading this blog will allow you to peer into the brain of Bob Phibbs, a nationally recognized retail expert with over 30 years of experience under his belt, with each post having a great deal of insight to offer you and your small business. He provides a wealth of information on everything from employee training and retention, making your store events a success, and lessons retailers can learn from the success and failures of other businesses. In addition to his blog, be sure to check out his latest book The Retail Doctor's Guide to growing Your Business.

Retail Minded 

Recognized as one of the most trusted resources for independent retailers focused on both the work and life aspects of being a small business retailer, Retail Minded (RM) has been a go to blog for retail advice since being founded 2007 by Nicole Leinbach Reyhle. In addition to the blog, Nicole is also the founder of the Independent Retailer Conference , and the company also puts out a Retail Minded magazine, which it sells through the blog. 

Retail Touch Points Blog 

If you're looking for the latest consumer behaviour trends, retail trends, and marketing advice, then you don't have to go much past Retail Touch Point's Tumblr blog. Though focused on serving up content primarily for retail executives in big box chains, the content is still invaluable for the mom and pop store with big aspirations for their own brand. They also have a number of resources available on their website, including webinars, infographics, and research reports if you're really keen on gaining a better understanding a given demographic or trend.

Retail Customer Experience Blog

Ever wanted expert and hands on advice from a wide array of trusted sources? Then this should be your go to source. With more than 50+ retail experts sharing their insights and domain knowledge for the everyday retailer, it doesn't get much better if you're looking to change the way you operate your business or are looking to turn it around for increased sales and growth.

Forrester Retail Blog

As one the world's largest and most reliable source of research, data, and consultation services, the Forrester blog's retail category is a goldmine of useful information and trends. Though far more high-level and targeted at bigger retail chains, it never hurts to have a glimpse of some of the consumer and technological trends that impact and shape the way consumers behave in a smaller retailer's store.

The Shelf Edge

Geared primarily towards the topic and subject matter of "retail marketing," the Shelf-Edge blog is run by Arkansas-based Vestcom International, which provides their leading communication services to top tier retailers around the US. 

Shop.Org Blog

As a division of the National Retail Federation, Shop.org's mandate is to provide its valued membership community a premier destination for a slew of topics including but not limited to omnichannel strategy, emerging retail technology, and a great deal more. 

Retail Design Blog 

The Retail Design Blog is one of the premier destinations for retail designers and visual merchandisers looking for the latest trends, insights, and inspiration in their fields. It's a place where designers upload, share, and comment on everything from furniture, lighting, materials, branding and using eco materials just to name a few categories. Join in on the fun by contributing to the community, or just browse and gleam over all the incredible imagery showcasing the best of boutique retail design from around the world. 

CrossCap's Retail Marketing Blog

Dubbed as a blog exclusively dedicated to retail marketing technologies, the blog belongs to a company that has worked with several Fortune 1000 retailers with the planning, execution, and analysis of their omni-channel marketing plans. With retailers having to focus their attention on so many different channels when it comes to getting the word out, a good place to start learning how to do it right, would be CrossCap's blog.

New Retail Blog

Looking to help readers navigate the realities of the new retail world, New Retail Blog provides insights on topics like brand strategy, consumer trends and retail marketing just to name a few categories you can expect to stumble upon on the blog. Powered by IdeaWorks, one of Australia's leading retail marketing agencies, you can expect to find real gems of information relevant to your business in addition to the latest retail inspiration around customer activation, direct marketing, and store design. 

The National Retail Federation (NRF) Blog

Touted as the world's largest retail trade association that represents everyone from discount and department stores to wholesalers and chain restaurants to name a few, the NRF is out to advance the retail industry's status quo through advocacy, communication and education. It's "Retail's Big Blog" covers retail trends, interviews with retail executives and data to help small businesses make smarter marketing decisions when it comes to reaching their target consumers.

Inspire: Retail Design Blog

This is another retail interior and store design blog from a small design consultancy based out of the UK. It features curated content of the latest and greatest retail design inspiration from its own team of design consultants in addition to experts from around the world. 

Design 4 Retail

With clients ranging from Adidas, Hillarys and Diesel, this agency-run blog features the best of retail design curated by design specialists that know how to get foot traffic through store layout, point-of-purchase and window displays, and have experience working with the hottest brands. Keep up-to-date with what brands like Anthropologie and Fendi are up to with their displays as a start so you can start thinking about how you can spruce up your retail design skills. 

Retail Prophet 

You can probably tell from the blog name alone that Doug Stephens, one of the world's foremost retail industry futurist isn't kidding around when it comes to helping you envision the future of retail. His posts touch upon the latest retail and technological trends that you need to keep on top of to know how your business will shape up over the coming years. He's also the author of The Retail Revival: Re-Imagining Business for the New Age of Consumerism.

Retailing In Focus 

This blog is brought to you via Dick Seesel, a retail industry veteran who has over 30 years of experience and has been running his consulting practice rightfully called Retailing In Focus, working to provide strategic growth advice to both venders and retailers. With posts featuring his view on the decisions of big and small retailers alike, this blog has a great deal to offer small business retailers when it comes to strategically planning their growth.  

RetailWire Blog 

On the RetailWire blog you get to peer into the head of Kevin Graff, president of Graff Retail. A retail and training professional with over 20 years of experience, Graff Retail is now one of Canada's leading retail training and consulting firms. Needless to say, his posts on the latest happenings in retail will be useful to any small retailer looking to understand the bigger picture when it comes to the ever growing world of retail.  

Duct Tape Marketing

John Jantsch needs little introduction, but as a leading marketing consultant, speaker, and author of three books, he's been described as the "Peter Drucker of small business marketing tactics," by Seth Godin. Which means, his blog, books, and podcast are all mandatory reading and listening for any small business owner looking to maximize their marketing tactics with a limited budget.

Customer Insight Group Loyalty Blog

Brought to you by the Customer Insight Group, the Loyalty Blog, offers insights, trends, data, research, and commentary on how the biggest brands are engaging and retaining their customers. As you can probably guess, these tactics and trends apply to small businesses looking to build great customer relationships just the same, so be sure to keep posted. 

Retail Geek 

The Retail Geek is one of the internet's best omni-channel retail blogs where Jason Goldberg, who heads the multi-channel commerce and content group at Razorfish, a top digital marketing firm, helps retailers understand how they can deliver an optimized shopping experience across multiple touch points. With more than 10,000 retail visits under his belt, you can bet he knows a thing or two about what makes for exceptional retail shopping experiences and how you too can start delighting your customers. 

Retail Eye

Retail Eye is a go-to hub for retailing trends, concepts, and best practices and is operated by the J.C. Williams Group, a global retail consulting practice. The great benefit of keeping up to date with this blog is that they do a fantastic job at providing a global perspective on innovative global trends and with the world getting flatter, that's exactly what small businesses need to have a deeper understanding of.

Retail Technology Trends

The blog's name speaks for itself, with the pace of innovation in retail technology growing at an unprecedented rate, Tim Dickey, a retail technology consultant for NCR Canada Corp does an excellent job of making sure his audience has a good grasp on the latest trends. 

Shopify

With the launch of Shopify POS and Shopify Mobile, we've evolved our ecommerce platform to an "everywhere commerce" platform, enabling merchants to sell online, in-store and everywhere in between. With that, we're committed to providing our 95,000+ online merchants growing retail merchants with all the content, tools, and resources they need to be successful when it comes to selling in the retail environment. From DIY window display tips, to the types of signage you need to get started, and how the biggest retailers are succeeding on Instagram, we've got you covered on enabling you to sell anywhere at anytime. 

That wraps it up for this post, however, we know there's plenty of other great retail blogs that we may have missed. If you have one you'd like to share, let us know by commenting below.


About The Author

Humayun Khan is the Retail Content Officer at Shopify. He writes for the Shopify Blog covering social media, retail trends and omni-channel strategy. He is also the author of The Ultimate Guide to Business Plans.  Connect with him on  Twitter.

The DIY Guide to Twitter Ads for Small Business

Twitter has over 200 million active users creating over 400 million Tweets per day. That’s a lot of…

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Twitter has over 200 million active users creating over 400 million Tweets per day. That’s a lot of people and a lot of tweets.

For business owners, Twitter has become an important tool for distributing content, providing support to existing customers and proactively reaching out to potential customers.

To make its platform more attractive to businesses and brands, In 2012 Twitter began slowly rolling out its paid ads platform, however it was only made available to certain partners on an invite-only basis. This past April that all changed when Twitter announced that they would be making Twitter Ads available to all users in the U.S.

That means no matter how big or small your business is, and no matter how many followers you have, you can now start leveraging Twitter's paid service to amplify your Twitter presence, gain new followers, create more awareness about your business and drive more traffic to your website.


Get $50 in Free Twitter Ads from Shopify

We are pleased to announce that we have teamed up with Twitter to offer all U.S. based Shopify stores a free $50 Twitter Ads credit.

This is a great opportunity for merchants to get started testing some paid tweets and get familiar with the Twitter Ads platform. 

Claim Twitter Ads Credit Now


Getting Started With Twitter Ads

Even if you don't use Shopify, you can still get started using Twitter ads by heading over to the regular sign up page and completing the on-boarding process.

Once you've created your account and entered your billing information, you're ready to create your first campaign. When you click the 'Create Campaign' button, you will be asked whether you want to promote your account or promote your tweets.

Note: At the moment, there are actually two Twitter advertising dashboards available on the self-service platform, Basic and Advanced. There is seemingly no difference in cost or how ads perform, but the basic dashboard limits you to a single target audience that will be applied to every promoted tweet or your promoted account. The advanced dashboard lets you target several audiences. All screenshots below are from the Advanced dashboard.

Promoted Tweets vs Promoted Account

Promoted Tweets: These will probably work best to extend your reach on Twitter and drive immediate traffic to your products, blog, or campaign landing page. That's because they (should) put a relevant message in front of users that don't currently follow you but are interested in the subject matter of your tweet.

When promoting a tweet you can choose to promote any of your existing tweets or create a new tweet to promote.

If you choose to create a new tweet, you also have the option to set it up as a Standard Tweet which is delivered immediately to all of your followers, or as a Promoted-only Tweet which is not delivered to your followers, suppressed from your profile and only delivered as part of a Promoted Tweet campaign.

To enable this option, make sure you select the Promoted-only 'eye' icon when composing a new tweet.

Once created, a tweet can be selected, bid on, and deployed at any point in the future.

The promoted tweet will appear at the top of related search results pages and on home timelines for users that might be interested in the promoted tweet's content.

The important thing to remember is that a promoted tweet should provide a relevant message that links to a landing page intended to get your prospect to take some form of action. That action could be buying a product or getting your prospect to enter their email so you can start a relationship and send future offers to them.

Promoted Accounts: These on the other hand are meant to start a relationship on Twitter itself rather than attempting to direct traffic elsewhere. This is more of a long term play that will help you build trust and a following over time that gets people seeing more of your tweets on a regular basis.

A promoted account will show up in the 'Who to Follow' widget positioned at the left side of the Twitter interface on the 'Home' and 'Connect' tabs. The promoted account will also show up in some search results and on a user's profile page in the 'Similar to You' widget.

It may be helpful to think of promoted tweets as being most similar to Google AdWords. Both are pay-per-click advertising intended to drive traffic. Promoted accounts might be thought of as the search engine optimization (SEO) done to improve results on Google or Bing. While you're still going to pay for each follow with a promoted account, the point is to increase the size of the audience that sees your posts naturally.

Targeting Strategies

The Twitter advertising self-service platform will allow you to target users by keywords, interest or through your profile.

In addition to these parameters, you can also target further by location, device and operating system, gender, interests or username.

When entering exact match key phrases that you want to target, it's important to keep in mind that in Google searches people tend to leave out small "connector words" like "a" and "the" but on Twitter people use conversational language so you may need to include these words in order to get an exact match.

In addition, Twitter will only deliver promoted accounts or tweets to users that it believes will be interested in your content. So selecting "fishing" as an interest does not necessarily mean that your promoted tweets or account will be shown to every Twitter user interested in fishing, but rather those interested in fishing that Twitter believes will also be interested in you.

An Auction Model

Twitter ads, like many other popular forms of online advertising, are based on an auction model, meaning that advertisers bid on their ads and the most profitable — not necessarily the highest bid — ads are likely to receive the greatest number of impressions.

Twitter has said that it will not increase ad frequency, which might make the platform pretty competitive. For many small online retailers, this competition may mean that it makes sense to get an early start on Twitter.

Almost all pay-for-performance advertising requires a bit of experimentation. And it is best to experiment when there is less competition driving up bids.


Have you experimented with Twitter Ads yet? Do you ever click on promoted tweets?

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