Results for 'home business ideas'

How One Man Listened to His Community, Then Built a $40k Per Month Ecommerce Business in Under a Year

Eric Bandholz has one serious beard. And he's not alone.  Just look around any major urban center these…

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Eric Bandholz has one serious beard.

And he's not alone. 

Just look around any major urban center these days and you'll see more beards and mustaches than ever before.

In fact, beards, mustaches, barber shops and male grooming in general are all undergoing a major renaissance right now. Especially with Movember in full swing.

Being a member of the beard community (and blogging about it), Eric was aware of this demand and realized he and his peers we're being underserved both from a content and product standpoint.

So he decided to create Beardbrand

Since launching the site this past January, Beardbrand has built a loyal community, has been featured in the New York Times, and is off to a racing start. 

I was lucky enough to catch up with Eric and ask him some questions about how he's achieved his amazing success in such a short period of time. 

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

Beardbrand fosters style for the urban beardsman. We sell beard care products as well as other items associated with the bearded lifestyle. We are located in Spokane, WA with customers globally.

How much revenue are you currently generating per month?

We launched on January 28th, 2013 with only 3 products and no established sales. We've grown from $1000/month to most recently $40k in October and we are on pace for $60k in November. With the exception of March, we've seen growth each month.

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

I had actually launched Beardbrand as a blog / community in February 2012. I talked a bit about beard care, the lifestyle, and always had a vision to build the business.

Beardbrand was formed after I attended the 2012 West Coast Beard & Mustache Championships in Portland, OR. I had an absolute blast and I realized there is a community of like minded individuals that wasn't being serviced.

Not one to wait; I created Beardbrand. I didn't do any formal market research other than becoming immersed in the community. We are entirely bootstrapped, and our startup costs have been extremely low. We are growing organically and because the risk for loss is so low the need for market research isn't needed. I suppose that our entire business is the market research.

Because I have been blogging about beard care products for a while I have had access to products on the market. I contacted a manufacturer of beard oil and mustache wax and asked if he was interested in wholesaling his product and he was. We made a very small initial investment and grew from there.

Because we don't drop ship, we haven't added all the products under the moon. It's been slow, deliberate growth and we are really focusing on high quality products that our customers will love.

How did you create, manufacture or source your product(s)? What were some key lessons you learned during this process?

We spend a lot of time on social media platforms and have found that Tumblr is a great source for product ideas.

We partner up with other smaller, quality manufactures as well as building our own products. I am a designer by trade so I've been able to develop a lot of the product design and labeling for our products.

The hardest part of this process is figuring out which companies are able to handle your growth. I still feel like we are doing very small volumes and it is a bit frightening if we want to add another zero to our monthly revenue that our vendors won't be able to handle it. It's a good problem to have, I suppose.

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

Well, we really got lucky with Beardbrand. I had been contacted by a reporter from the NY Times about beard care products. A few friends and I were trying to figure out what business to startup and I mentioned we could turn Beardbrand into a store with the article from NY Times coming in. So we were able to hustle and launch our store one day before the article posted. It resulted in a nice initial boost - but wasn't like a Niagara Falls worth of business.

Since then my face has appeared on the front page of Yahoo, we have been mentioned by a few celebrities, and sold to Mike Napoli of the Boston Red Sox. In fact, we think our beard oil is part of the reason they won the World Series. We just hired a Public Relations Manager so we are hoping to get even more coverage in the future.

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

Social media has been good to us and we get a lot of our business from YouTube and Facebook. It's hard work creating valuable videos - but it's much needed in the community. We are purchasing a good bit of advertising on Facebook and have found that it drives a lot of visitors to our website.

How do you handle shipping and fulfillment? Key lessons/tips for doing this successfully?

Our shipping and fulfillment has been a dream for us. We partner up with a local business - Pacific Northwest Print & Fulfillment and they handle our fulfillment. We decided early on that our skills are best put toward marketing and connecting with our clients. It was important for us to outsource things that we don't want to master. Pacific has been great in that they were willing to work with us when we were really small and have grown with us as well. Our clients get their orders super fast with everything in tact.

We do pay more for the company to handle the fulfillment for us, but I think it's totally worth it. If we didn't do it; I'd be sitting around in a warehouse labeling orders and sending them out. We have visions to grow large, so it's not wise for me to spend my time managing that process.

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

To stay connected with my business partners and manage our vendor and customer list we use Podio and Google Apps. Those two pieces of software are the backbone of our business.

The ShipStation app for Shopify is really a fantastic app and makes shipping really easy for our fulfillment house. Beyond that, we have had success with a contest management software called Gleam.

In addition, I've found that the Reddit Entrepreneur subreddit has been a great resource for the growth of Beardbrand. Subscribers to that subreddit have provided very valuable feedback to our business. They're a big part of why we have grown the way we have.

What were your biggest mistakes or wastes of time and money?

Nothing is a waste of time or money unless I didn't learn from that move. Part of doing business is making decisions that you don't know if it will be successful or not. As long as we are learning from those investments; it's not a bad move. That being said, I think I would try to hire help sooner than later to take things off my plate.

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

I really thing one of the most important things is showing the person or people who are behind the store. Tell the story of why you are building the business and why people should purchase from you. You won't ever be able to win on price; so build that personal presence.


Are you a Shopify merchant with a success story you want to share? Head over to Shopify Stories and tell us about your business!

The 10 Best Places Ecommerce Entrepreneurs Go To Find Product Ideas

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least…

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This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online. For the first post in this series, click here

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for. The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far so we have compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.

As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:

  1. While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the last post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.
  2. Don't be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.

In this post we will go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.

Let’s get started.

Make a List

As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.

1. Start With What You Have

Before you begin searching the depths of the internet and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you have had for years. Maybe it exists in a half written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea right?

Here are a few questions to consider when making your list:

  • What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
  • What products, niches or industries are you friends passionate about?
  • What pain points do you have in your own life?

Example: Max had a big issue with his unruly, messy hair in the morning. Short of taking a time consuming shower every morning just to be able to style his hair properly, he set out to fix the pain point with his product, Morning Head. Morning Head is a shower cap with an absorbent towel liner that you can soak with water, place on your head and rub around for a minute to get your hair ready for styling.

2. Local Community

Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique business. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information. 

Example: Yummy Tummy Soup Company is a perfect example of someone that saw an opportunity to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. The Yummy Tummy Soup Company sends healthy homemade soups, cakes and pastries in a thoughtful care package to someone you love, giving them the tools they need to heal whatever ails them. They cook and bake all products daily and send them coast to coast in temperature controlled containers.

3. Online Consumer Trend Publications

A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.

There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:

Trend Watching - Trend Watching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. Trend Watching has a team of thirty professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos all looking for a reporting on worldwide trends.

Trend Hunter - Trend Hunter is the world's largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.

Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, "Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn't know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea... but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter - a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired."

Springwise - There are millions of business ideas spanning the globe that operate in a specific way, have their own style, and market in a unique fashion. It’s not always possible to travel the world searching for these ideas to bring home though. That’s where Springwise comes in. Sources such as Springwise travel the world for you, on the search for new entrepreneurial ideas, trends, and stories. Springwise publishes a daily and a weekly newsletter, which you can subscribe to for free.

Example: A great example of someone that noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes using authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successful funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.

4. Industry Leaders

If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas via a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.

There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:

5. Product and Trend Discovery Review Sites

Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and Outblush (women’s products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.

Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:

Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you're particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.

6. Social Curation Sites

Pinterest and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.

Several of the larger social curations sites are:

  • Pinterest - Pinterest is the fastest growing social network with over 50 million monthly users. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.
  • Polyvore - Polyvore is a new way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore's global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
  • Fancy - Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
  • Wanelo - Wanelo (Want - Need - Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest like product posting format. You can start by checkout out trending people. 

7. B2B Wholesale Marketplaces

What better way to get product ideas than right from the source. This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites like Alibaba exposes you to thousands of potential products and ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of product available so take it slow.

Some of the more popular B2B wholesale product sites are:

  • Alibaba - You’ve likely heard of Alibaba. They are one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. Alibaba connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba. 

Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.

Some of the largest competitors of Alibaba include:

8. Online Consumer Marketplaces

Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Million of products is probably an understatement so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:

eBay - eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. 
eBay Popular - A list of some of the most popular product categories on eBay.

Amazon - Amazon is the largest internet retailer. 
Amazon Bestsellers - Amazon's most popular products based on sales. Updated hourly.
Amazon Movers and Shakers - Amazon's biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Updated hourly.

Kickstarter - Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website.
Kickstarter Discover - Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options.

Etsy - Etsy is a marketplace for handmade items.
Etsy Trending Items - Check out the current trending items and listings on Etsy.

AliExpress - AliExpress is a new consumer wholesale marketplace from Alibaba that allows you to order in small quantities. 
AliExpress Popular - The most popular products being bought on AliExpress.

9. Social Forum Communities

Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea. 

If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.

There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.

Here are a few examples:

There are also several subreddits for curated Amazon products, make sure to check out the following:

If you're active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like these:

No matter which approach you take, Reddit is has been and continues to be a valuable source of entrepreneurial ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.

10. Instagram

Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product ideas. Because it’s photo based, it makes it easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.

There are a few ways you can use Instagram to search for product and niche ideas:

  • Hashtag - Once again, if you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on Instagram for applicable hashtags that insinuate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.
  • Product Curation Accounts - There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you'll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in. As an example, Shopify curates interesting and unique products from Shopify’s 90,000+ online stores. It might just provide the idea or spark for your next product.

Next Week's Post

Surely with all these resources, you’ll be able to come up with a great list of initial products ideas to start. In the next post in this series, we are going to look through all of the resources ourselves and share some interesting product ideas with you.

This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online.  


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is a an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

5 Genius Content Marketing Ideas You Can Steal – Today

Sometimes the best content marketing ideas are the ones that come from using everyday websites and platforms. And…

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This is a guest post by Sherice Jacob from iElectrify

Sometimes the best content marketing ideas are the ones that come from using everyday websites and platforms. And the good news is that these methods can be duplicated across nearly any topic or niche.

All you have to ask are two important questions: “Who am I targeting with this marketing?” and “How can I get them interested and engaged with this content?” Even large corporations from American Express to Adobe, have gone back to basics.

Here’s what they’re doing, and what you can learn from them:

American Express Connects with Small and Medium Business Owners through OPEN Forum

OPEN Forum is American Express’ initiative to connect business owners with collaborative tools and advice. Topics include social media, branding, marketing tips, office productivity and much more. Well known marketers, including author Guy Kawasaki and Ann Handley from MarketingProfs make regular appearances and offer guidance.

Notice there’s no mention of credit cards in the mix.

The Genius Strategy

American Express can sit quietly in the background, reaping all the benefits of goodwill associated with bringing people together with mentors and business tools. The forum has also expanded to include a Tumblr page with quotes and news that matters to business owners. It has also launched its own initiatives including Connectodex, which helps entrepreneurs create more professional profiles for lead generation and networking. This article explains how OPEN Forum has grown from 425,000 page views to over 15 million in a year.

The Take-Away

If there’s a lot of discussion, unanswered questions or people coming together on your topic, why not create a forum to act as a central hub for it? Along the same lines, you could start a community newsletter that brings together the top posters, threads and comments, and actively look for guides, resources and other tools that will make things easier for your participants.

Adobe Leverages Content Curation through CMO.com

Adobe’s CMO.com curates content from all around the web – things that have been especially selected to help Chief Marketing Officers navigate the changing advertising world. Adobe selects content from over 150 top news sites and organizations, as well as creating their own.

It also doesn’t pitch its software programs or web-based solutions to the audience.

In fact, the only ads you’ll find are invitations to take important surveys, whose results can appear in joint Adobe white papers, articles, or the Adobe Digital Index.

The Genius Strategy

Adobe benefits from content marketing through CMO.com in several ways:

  • It reaches crucial decision-makers with the news they need in a way that’s easy to navigate and read.
  • It encourages content consumption without putting up roadblocks or forced registration.
  • It promotes personalized news via registration (which can be done by connecting a LinkedIn account).
  • It establishes itself as a media thought leader by providing tools and resources that make CMOs’ jobs easier. It’s a natural connection.

The Take-Away

Curating content can be time consuming, but for already-busy people, remember that you’re doing them a huge service by separating the wheat from the chaff and giving them exactly what they need to know to do their jobs better. Use resources including AllTop and Topsy to help you get a handle on trending content in your industry, and then use a curation tool like Paper.li or Trap.it to store your ideas.

In other words, become the go-to news and content source for your industry and niche. This will position you as an authority and help people discover your products.

Nightmares Fear Factory Uses Flickr to Terrify Its Viewers

Nightmares Fear Factory is a haunted house walkthrough in Niagara Falls, Canada. What separates it from the ordinary scare-fests is its mystery. Its Flickr page shows photos of guests being scared out of their wits – but by what?

Nobody knows unless they go in.

That, of course, is part of the fun. Even the FAQ on the official website is quiet about whether or not guests are grabbed, separated from their group or otherwise caused to jump out of their skin.

The Genius Strategy

Social Proof. Nightmares Fear Factory is showing pictures of people using their "product" and demonstrating that it works, and works well. 

The Take-Away

Not every business can do a suspenseful Flickr account, but you can find innovative ways to use both it and Pinterest to inspire and share ideas -- show customers using your product, finding unique “hacks” to make life easier with your product, or spotlight the people behind the offer and why they’re so passionate about it.

The Traveler IQ Challenge Game from TravelPod

So how smart is your travel IQ? Think you could pinpoint a capitol city on a map with just your mouse cursor? That’s the premise behind the Traveler IQ challenge, where you can choose a region to test your knowledge or do an Amazing-Race style speed test. With each answer, you earn points – with a specific number being needed to advance.

The Genius Strategy

This simple flash game can be addictive – and it reinforces TravelPod (which lets travellers create blogs) very well. The rules are simple enough for anyone to follow. You can also choose a badge to show off your Travel IQ or even embed the game in your own website.

In other words, TravelPod has created a piece of free 'attraction strategy' content that get people to their site and makes them want to share with their friends. 

The Take-Away

Flash games are relatively inexpensive to make -- and quiz-based games are always fun. Depending on your topic, you could test your readers with trivia, personality quizzes, or other fun content. The important thing is that their results can be shared via social networks and that they can also embed the game in their own sites - further enhancing and distributing your brand.

CoreStreet’s PIVMAN Comic Saves the Day

The PIVMAN is a handheld government ID verification system that works without the need for a network connection. That makes it incredibly valuable for first responders on the scene of disasters or other catastrophes who need to get people to safely – quickly.

Realizing this, the company created PIVMAN, a Spider-man-style super hero who uses his PIVMAN handheld to help save the day.

The Genius Strategy

According to its creator, the PIVMAN generated twice as many high-quality leads as other marketing methods. The first 500 copies of the comic were distributed within days, with 10,000 more printed to keep up with demand. Considering that the PIVMAN device retails for $24,500, it’s not an impulse buy. However, the comic explained how the device worked better than a stale, old sales presentation. As a result of this ingenuity, CoreStreet, the company that makes the product, was awarded part of a security contract with the city of Los Angeles.

Who knew a simple comic could do so much?

The Take-Away

Turn that boring, stale sales pitch into something more interesting! Everything from medicine to cereal has been sold in comic form - why not your product? Or, you could create an infographic or short video. The key is to shake up your content format and find interesting ways to show how your product works and how people can benefit from it.

What are some of the more innovative content marketing ideas you’ve seen on the web? Share them below in the comments!


About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps website owners improve conversion rates through user-friendly design, copywriting and website optimization. To learn more, visit iElectrify.com and download your free website conversion checklist and web copy tune-up.

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.

The Malcolm Gladwell Guide to Starting a Business: Lessons From Impressionists, IKEA, and Goldman Sachs

Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book is called David and Goliath, published last October. It features the roundup of…

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Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book is called David and Goliath, published last October.

It features the roundup of interesting stories and psychology research that we’ve come to expect from Gladwell. David and Goliath gives plenty of examples of how qualities we perceive as strengths may actually be vulnerabilities, and vice versa.

Though Gladwell rarely gives concrete advice for running a business, his books are often categorized as Business books. But even if you can’t really use his books to understand how to calculate discounted cash flows or how to register for incorporation, you might use his books to think about operations at a high level.

And so if The Tipping Point can be used as a business strategy guide, David and Goliath might be used as a guide to figure out the type of business you want to start.

Gladwell writes about a dozen stories in David and Goliath around a theme of “deceptive strengths.” We pick out three of these stories because we think that they’re particularly useful for learning about the type of entrepreneur you can and want to be.

First, the story of the French Impressionists

Who are the French Impressionists? You’ve heard at least some of these names: Monet, Cézanne, Renoir. And you’ve seen their paintings, hanging either in a museum or above a couch in a living room.

(Impressionism, Sunrise, by Claude Monet, at the Musée Marmottan Monet)

But they haven't always been famous. In fact, most of them spent the prime years of their lives in obscurity and poverty before becoming the best-known artists in the world.

Before they were known as the Impressionists, they were a bunch of artists who spent most of their non-painting time discussing art in a Parisian café. None of them had been particularly well-known, and could barely find anyone to buy their works.

That’s because the market for painting was regulated, and the official taste was set by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which ran an annual exhibition called the Salon. The Salon had very rigorous standards for what it considered to be good art: “Works were expected to be microscopically accurate, properly ‘finished’ and formally framed, with proper perspective and all the familiar artistic conventions.”

Translation: Paint huge scenes of battle or portraits of beautiful ladies, in realistic detail and set in an ornate frame.

The Impressionists didn’t like that. They wanted to paint differently, and of different types of scenes. Their brushstrokes were short and broken; they used unblended colors; and they rendered shadows and highlights in color. Gladwell describes their paintings this way: “They painted everyday life. Their brushstrokes were visible. Their figures were indistinct.”

(Avenue de l'Opéra, by Camille Pissarro, at the Pushkin Museum)

The Salon didn’t like that. Unfortunately for the group, the whole world paid attention to the painters who were selected to exhibit at the Salon. Those who were selected saw their reputations and the value of their paintings soar. The rest found their works and themselves ignored.

The Impressionists could not get their paintings into the Salon. That meant that they could not sell their paintings. They leaned on each other for more than emotional support. Monet was so broke that Renoir once had to bring him bread so that he would not starve.

Then things changed, suddenly.

After years of trying and trying to get placed into the Salon, the group changed tack. Instead of trying so hard to get into the Salon, they held their own exhibition in a few small rooms of the top floor of an office building.

It was nearly an instant hit. The Impressionists found that they were no longer shackled by bureaucratic taste, and their creativity let several art movements flourish. Each one of the original group is famous now. If you wanted to buy the paintings in that exhibition today, it would cost more than a billion dollars.

(The Rehearsal, by Edgar Degas, at the Fogg Art Museum)

Here's what you can learn from the Impressionists

Gladwell tells the story of the Impressionists to make the point that it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than to be a small fish in the ocean.

When everybody wants the same thing, think perhaps an award, or a degree from a particular school, or a position of power, the race gets insanely competitive.

And that race is potentially destructive. Sure, the prestige is nice if you’re one of the winners, but few people win when there are so many players. What's worse than competing yourself to exhaustion and then winning nothing at the end?

Try to apply the lesson of the Impressionists: Question the race, and don’t be caught up trying to get the same things that everybody else wants.

So how does that apply to your business? Well, perhaps you should avoid the trends that are big and established now. If you’re a small business, then maybe you want to look beyond running a coffee shop or a yoga studio. Or if you’re selling online, maybe the fashion space is overplayed.

Of course, this may not apply if you feel that you’ve discovered a big secret that no one else is capitalizing on. But most of the time, people start these businesses because they believe that the public is more familiar with them, so that it’s easier to get customers or interest from investors.

In practice, because you have so many competitors, it’s hard to distinguish yourself. Are you really sure you want to start the business that every day a few dozen other people are starting?

Take the story of the Impressionists and try to see if you can find your own niche. Imitating others is not always a winning strategy. Find a space that’s underplayed, where you have some expertise, get in there, and try to dominate it. And if you discover something that can grow, it may be a big pond one day.

Besides, you can take solace in the fact that artists have a great number of places to display and sell their works. They no longer need the stamp of approval from an official authority to get the public’s attention.

So, if you’re an entrepreneur, don’t go into fields that are popular by consensus. Figure out fundamentals and try to get into a space that people haven’t yet discovered.

(Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Next, IKEA’s Ingvar Kamprad

Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA at the age of 17 in a small village in Sweden. He decided at an early age to be an entrepreneur after selling matches.

With roots in dropshipping, his business grew quickly. He thought that rural Swedes were paying too much for their goods, and wanted to outdo the bigger businesses in delivering goods to customers. Soon he was established in multiple countries.

In the mid-1950’s, though, Kamprad got into trouble. His fellow furniture manufacturers were angry at his low prices and flat shipping, so they stopped making products for IKEA. Kamprad faced ruin.

How did Kamprad respond? By outsourcing significant parts of product across the Baltic sea, to the Communist-ruled Poland.

It was then the peak of the Cold War, and Kamprad was roundly condemned for the act. Even now Kamprad faces criticism for the move. But he stuck through it, and continued to build IKEA. We all know how very distinctive the store is today.

Gary Cohn, President and COO of Goldman Sachs

Gary Cohn grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland. He had dyslexia, and struggled in class. It was hard for him to catch up to other students, and his parents took him from school to school. Cohn says that his mother cried a fountain of tears when he managed to graduate from high school.

When he was 22 he found a job selling aluminum siding and window frames for U.S. Steel in Cleveland. One day he got a day off so that he could wander down Wall Street.

He was by the entrance of the World Trade Center when he saw that someone well-dressed needed a cab to LaGuardia Airport. The well-dressed man looked important. Cohn went on a whim and decided to talk to him; he didn’t need to go to LaGuardia, but asked whether they could share a cab.

The stranger happened to be high up on Wall Street, and was that week hiring people to buy and sell options. Cohn had no idea what options were, but neither did the well-dressed man, really. Somehow Cohn managed to talk his way into a job offer to be an options trader.

When he got home he studied options like he never studied before. And when he finished several books on option theory, he went on to trade. And he was good at it. Cohn rose through the ranks and today he’s the president of a company that now manages $912 billion in assets.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid

Why are we putting together the stories of Gary Cohn and Ingvar Kamprad? They demonstrate Gladwell’s lesson of “disagreeableness.”

Disagreeableness is not often thought of as a virtue. But this book revolves around the idea that strengths may not be what they seem.

Gladwell explains:

“Crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable, I don’t mean obnoxious or unpleasant… They are people willing to take social risks – to do things that others might disapprove of.

This is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are wired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative idea goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.”

Most people would not think of moving production to an enemy country during the Cold War. Not many can face the social disapproval that would result. But Kamprad didn’t mind. He was a pioneer in shipping furniture flat, didn’t mind being ostracized by his associates in the furniture industry and dared to face public opinion in shipping production overseas.

And c’mon, how many people could jump in the cab with a stranger and emerge out of it with a job offer to work as an options trader?

These are difficult tasks for any of us. It’s not just courage at work here. It’s courage and the ability to disregard conventional opinion.

If you want to start a new business, don’t be constrained by conventional opinions. Think about how you can make your own mark.

For example, ask yourself what kinds of ideas no one wants to build a business around. Consider that no one wanted computers in the home before Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started building personal computers. And ask whether certain ideas may have been abandoned because previous attempts were just too early. Facebook is not the first social media site: Friendster was earlier, and before Reid Hoffman joined PayPal and founded LinkedIn, he started a failed dating site in 1997.

(Young Girls on the Riverbank, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, private collection)

Conclusion

The Impressionists defied the officially-defined boundaries of good taste, went against the crowd, and founded whole new movements in art. Ingvar Kamprad defied public opinion and built one of the largest and most distinctively branded companies in the world. And Gary Cohn totally ignored social conventions to get a start to rise to the top of a huge investment bank on Wall Street.

These are all forms of entrepreneurialism. Take a close look at your assumptions and beliefs, and maybe you’ll find a few that are out of date. See what new type of business that you can plunge in to. Remember, it’s often much better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.

Have an idea you've been sitting on? Join the Shopify Build a Business competition and try out for a chance to win funding and mentorship.


About The Author

Dan Wang is a Content Specialist at Shopify. Get more from Dan on Twitter.

How to Start An Ecommerce Business Without Spending Any Money

This is a guest post by Noah Kagan. Noah is the founder of AppSumo and built two multi-million…

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This is a guest post by Noah Kagan. Noah is the founder of AppSumo and built two multi-million dollar online businesses before turning 28.

When most people think about starting an ecommerce business, they have a vision of selling some amazing product that will enable them the freedom to work on something they truly enjoy. But despite early enthusiasm, sometimes they end up not taking action.

So what happens to these people?

    • They don’t have any idea of what to sell
    • Worrying about failing prevents them from starting
    • They have an idea but are not sure what to do next

Does that sound like you? Don’t worry. We’re going to show you some meaty and actionable stories of how two people were able to start their own ecommerce businesses without spending any money.

These two people are members of my How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business Course. We’ve helped over 3,000+ entrepreneurs and it’s been fascinating to see how these people started their businesses.

Let’s get to it, enter Brian Pulliam of Backplane:

What problem were you facing?

I injured my back and realized the importance of having good posture during rehab. Since I sat in an office chair all day for engineering work, I decided to make a product for myself. When I realized it was helping me, I wanted to help others too.

Brian’s product helps you have better posture and ultimately a happier back while you’re sitting at your desk all day.

How did you determine people wanted to buy your product?

Simple. I validated the idea by asking people to buy before I started making them. Pre-sales is a powerful strategy that helps you ensure there's real demand for your product and minimizes financial risk. Also, I had faith in my product's ability to help people with their posture because I was the first client (which sounds very Hair Club for Men, but it's true).

Too many people spend too many hours scouring Alibaba, doing market research and wondering if people will buy the product they want to sell. Pre-sales helps reduce those assumptions and gets you moving forward faster with your business.

How did you create the first version of your product?

My product is about posture, and my PT and chiropractor suggested a foam roll laid along my spine. I did some measurements on how much my shoulders relaxed when using a foam roll, picked up a hacksaw, and started experimenting. In short, I failed a bunch with the first prototype. In fact, it gave one of my early customers a migraine (not the intended effect, oops!) It would have been easy to give up right there, but I knew that success was through a forest of failures, and got to iterating.

The early versions of the Backplane

What were the core takeaways you had from this process?

  1. Pre-sales (see above).
  2. Get over your fear of failure (yes, it is stopping you from success).
  3. Focus on fundamentals: Ask people what their problems are, identify a solution, pre-sell it, over-deliver with execution, go where the customers are, and show them how it solves their problem.

Most people focus on the solutions instead of identifying the problems people want solved. Make sure to work backwards from the needs of your potential customers (including yourself).

What were the biggest roadblocks you faced starting your business?

Convincing people it will work before they buy was solved with video and testimonials. Some folks also have an issue with my product not being made of fancy materials. I'm more of a guy that cares if something works. To keep my costs down, I keep things simple.

Your product will NEVER be perfect. Focus on finding people who want it and then you can evolve your product to be better over time. Think about the first generation iPod vs the current iPhone 5s!

What were the most memorable moments from selling this product?

Practicing failure was key to persevering with this product. It's a turning point. I remember the first time watching Shark Tank after successfully pre-selling my product. I was yelling at the contestants "What do you mean, you are PRE-REVENUE? You have HOW MUCH inventory? 2800 SKUs … ARE YOU CRAZY!? HOW WILL YOU SELL THAT?"

Fear of failure is one of the most non-talked about issues people face when starting a business. Practicing failing in your business and personal life will help you overcome the fear of failure. Check out FailureGames.com or Strangerchallenge.com.

What have you learned since selling physical products?

I had to get over my need for things to be perfect. I have iterated with customers, especially when it comes to something as variable as posture for individual humans. My current design is the result of 27 prototype iterations. I've also learned to politely ignore people who immediately start giving me advice on how to SCALE, when 99% of those people haven't ever made a single dollar on a product themselves.

What do you recommend to other people who want to setup an ecommerce store?

First, get a customer base. Early interaction with customers is key to ensuring you have a great product and you address the most common concerns. An ecommerce store should be a solution to the problem of having too many customers to fulfill manually. Once you have that problem, make it as easy as possible for people to buy.

How much have you made from selling your product?

I'm up to about $1000 in revenue, with zero investment of my own money. Read that last sentence again, ZERO.

EasyWhey

Enter Dan Maisano of EasyWhey, who started his own protein drink to-go product.

Why did you decide to sell your product?

I read Tim Ferriss' book Four Hour Workweek and the idea of a "Muse" type business appealed to me. I decided to create "Dan's Super Convenient and Awesome Protein" shake because I drink whey protein on a regular basis but it has never been the most convenient thing to do.

As one of the healthier snacks/meals out there it would be great to be able to drink it anytime. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks, traveling, car trips, movies etc. I know many people who use the shakers that lets them scoop in their own whey, add water or milk and drink. To me this was never convenient.

A person had to then carry the shaker around with them, make sure they clean it ASAP (if you ever have smelled an old protein shaker you know why) and just plan to have it with them until they are able to get home. I personally wanted something that I could drink when I wanted and then forget about it.

As we’ve seen in both examples, creating problems to your own solutions is a great place to start with business ideas.

How did you determine your products were a good product to sell?

Once I had the idea in my head I used the advice from the How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business course and validated it by seeing if anyone would be willing to buy my product before I invested any time or money into it. I had 7 people actually Paypal me $30 for a guarantee that I would send them my first shipments OR their money back if I never actually got to production. Up to this point I spent $0.

Pre-sales remove a lot of assumptions and doubt whether people will buy what you are making.

How did you create your first prototype once you validated it?

The hardest thing for me was actually creating the product. I had my idea in my head but had an "OK, now what?" moment. I shopped around on Google trying to find bottles and lids that I thought would work well. I got a few free samples to test different sizes and I used the whey protein that I normally use and put it in the bottles to try it out. I really liked how it worked so I placed a bigger order for bottles and lids and this was actually the first money I invested into this. However as I already had money from the people I pre-sold to I was able to use that to purchase the supplies I needed.

The fulfillment of the product can be challenging but focus on making a basic budget (to ensure at least break-even) before you pre-sell and focus on keeping your solution to that problem as ghetto as possible at first.

What did you learn about yourself from starting this business?

Two things really stand out. As a naturally shy person pushing past my comfort zone and getting myself out there was a new experience. By doing so I learned that it really wasn't that hard or uncomfortable as I imagined.

A great way to practice overcoming fear is taking our “Coffee Challenge.” Go to Starbucks or any cafe and ask for a 10% discount. It’ll help you be less afraid asking for things in your own business.

The other thing I was able to implement was the validation of my product. I had 7 products sold before I had anything more than the idea in my head. No website, no business cards, not even the product yet! I had 7 people actually paying me for what was simply an idea, and because I was able to do that I knew I was on to something that would actually work. That was a much better solution than spending a bunch of money and time and energy building a product, website site, etc. before I knew if there was anyone else out there that would buy it and use it.

You can use Paypal, Shopify, Gumroad or eventbrite to pre-sell your idea at no cost to you.

What was the hardest part about setting up your store?

I have messed around with Shopify in the past using just a mock idea a friend of mine had. I never took it to production and just let the site die after I was done playing around with it. It’s easy to setup the store but the hard part is getting customers. Doing things in reverse and then setting up the store makes life much easier.

Once you get customers through a manual process a store like Shopify will save you significant time.

What were the most memorable moments from selling this product?

Definitely when I got my first customer to say that they liked my idea enough to invest $30 into it. Second time was when I placed my order for my bottle samples. It was a "Wow, I am really doing this" moment for me. Third was sending out my first shipments. It felt like a really big accomplishment (and I suppose it was!). And lastly when Noah himself told me he liked my product after trying it!!

It’s important to know who your ideal customers are so it makes your life easier to find out WHERE they are online / offline.

What did you learn about selling physical products?

I never really thought it was possible to sell a product without already having it. The idea that I could sell my idea first and then turn it into a product after I knew it would work was a major step turning from "wantrepreneur” to entrepreneur.

What do you recommend to other people who want to setup an ecommerce store?

Definitely validate your idea first before setting up a store. And you should be doing everything and anything manually until you have such a demand that you can't do it all yourself anymore. Keep it ghetto for as long as possible!

How much have you made from selling your product?

Not much yet. I am trying to reinvest any profits back into the product to make it better (labels for the bottles are on the top of my to do list!) Right now I am more focused on getting the word out there that I do have a great product, and I figure if I have enough people that know about my product and they are all satisfied with it, the money will naturally follow.

Anything else meaty you want to share?

In the time it took me to write up these answers I created a store for you to check out my product on Shopify, EasyWhey.


About the Author: Noah Kagan is an internet entreprenuer and the founder of AppSumo. His course, How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business, provides a blueprint and a 3000+ entrepreneur support community for starting an online business.

3 Critical Money Strategies Unique to Entrepreneurs

  Few can contest that entrepreneurs are a different breed. They are special. Elite. They voluntarily go into harm’s…

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Few can contest that entrepreneurs are a different breed. They are special. Elite. They voluntarily go into harm’s way taking risks mere mortals would never dream of doing. Entrepreneurs creep silently into the night for long hours; often for little pay and no glory. In the world of business, entrepreneurs are the Navy SEALs of the work force. Like the elite warriors, entrepreneurs also enjoy a few of the benefits of membership; relaxed grooming standards, flexible hours, and even get to dress down at times.

Silly I know, but these two groups share unique traits the majority of the population does not. They are not followers and often rebel against authority. The traits that enable entrepreneurs to achieve great things are also risk magnets. Entrepreneurs cannot follow the same “rules,” and when they try to, the results are devastating. Entrepreneurs are different. They have different needs and one that is often ignored is how they manage money. 

Here are three critical money strategies unique to entrepreneurs:

1. Pay Yourself First

Like the elite Special Forces, most entrepreneurs do not do what they do for the money. The money they receive is often a tool to keep score. To most entrepreneurs, money is great, but it’s the thrill of the chase that creates the rush.

With this unique personality trait comes risks others don’t have. The entrepreneur’s tendency is to put every penny of profit back into the business for the big payday in the end. This is usually a required mindset in the beginning, but it’s high risk behavior that must be reeled in as soon as practical.

In the end, owning a business is about building your personal net-worth so you can live on your own terms. To do that you must extract profit from the business and move it to your personal balance sheet. Being entrepreneurs, that’s emotionally hard to do.

We would rather invest in new equipment, employees, or advertising before taking money home. However, it’s important to create rules that force you to take profits because if you wait until the right time, it may never come. Remember the oldest rule of personal finance—pay yourself first.

2. Cash is King

Any entrepreneur can relate to the cash flow rollercoaster. There are wild rides up and equally frightening trips down. Unlike the predictable cash flow employees experience, business owners have erratic cash flow and thus have to do things differently than everyone else.

Traditional financial planning advice frowns upon hoarding large amounts of cash because of the missed growth opportunity of other investments. However, it’s more important to have the cash than earn interest because the entrepreneur’s cash flow is so unpredictable.

It’s very difficult for the startup owner to save a pot of cash. They are usually bootstrapping and need every dollar just to get the thing started. I’ve been there more than once, but as soon as you can, or preferably before you get started, build up a cash reserves of at least 20-40% of your annual net income.

That may seem like a lot of cash, but this is only the starting point. Depending on the stability of your company, more than 20-40% is often better. Cash is king, especially for the entrepreneur. It allows you to make better business decisions, take advantage of opportunities, and operate from a position of abundance.

3. Higher Return / Diversification

I hear the same thing from each of my new entrepreneur clients. “I can make more money investing in my business. Why would I want to put my money anywhere else?”

This is a good question, but following that strategy increases risk in an already hazardous environment. By nature, entrepreneurs are overly optimistic about their chances of success. Optimism is necessary to take the business risks we do, but it often leads to poor diversification of their money and assets.

Because of the inherent risks of a small business, it’s even more important to invest money outside of your own business to mitigate the probability of losing everything. It often seems there’s no better investment than the one you know inside and out—your own—but that does not mean you should put all your eggs in one basket. Use your business to earn money, and then spread it around several holdings so you’re never exposed to single investment risk.

There are too many investment choices to list, but stocks, bonds, cash, real-estate, and other businesses are what I’m referring to. These outside investments are not where you seek greater return, it’s where you protect your money from your own business risk.

Conclusion

As entrepreneurs we usually can’t see our own mistakes until well afterwards. We get too close to our business and find ways to justify our high risk choices. Have an outside person hold you accountable. Discuss these ideas with a trusted friend, your accountant, or financial advisor, and explain your financial goals. Get that person involved in your budget decisions so you have someone who is not emotionally attached to the business to hold you accountable to your financial goals.

______________________________________________

Chuck J. Rylant is a Certified Financial Planner and writes at ChuckRylant.com. He is also the author of the new book: “How to be Rich: The Couple’s Guide to a Rich Life Without Worrying About Money.”

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.

Shopify & Mixergy eCommerce Spotlight: 10 Recipes To Get You Laid

Ok, this one is a little risque... but it's an awesome book and it's selling really well on…

Ok, this one is a little risque... but it's an awesome book and it's selling really well on their Shopify store.  10 Recipes To Get You Laid is a gorgeous cookbook that gives step-by-step instructions on how to prepare a delicious meal that will ultimately "get you laid." Each of the 10 main course recipes are beautifully laid out and every procedure is meticulously explained.

The author, Dakota James, is giving a new take on a traditional business model, the cookbook, and is marketing it to a group of people that ordinarily wouldn't browse the culinary isle of their local bookstore. Pretty smart when you think about it... she's tapping into a niche market of underserved guys who can't cook but want to enjoy the benefits of a well executed stay-at-home dinner date. 

Shopify's Chief Platform Officer, Harley, spoke about 10 Recipes To Get You Laid with Andrew Warner from Mixergy. Check out the video below:

     

Watch the entire 50 minute Mixergy Webinar where Harley & Andrew discuss clever ideas from 12 of the best online stores on the web. 

10 Ways Pinterest Can Drive Traffic and Increase Sales

As a small business owner, you can sometime feel like you're being pulled in every direction while trying…

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By Andreea Ayers, Author of Pinterest Advantage

As a small business owner, you can sometime feel like you're being pulled in every direction while trying to drive traffic to your ecommerce shop. When it comes to social media, you’ve got to post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, your blog, and somewhere in there, maintain your online store. While it may seem daunting to take on yet another social network, Pinterest is well worth the effort, especially if you sell a product – which most of you do!

Here are 10 ways you can use Pinterest to drive traffic to your ecommerce online store:

10 Ways to Increase Ecommerce Sales Using Pinterest

1. Pull Back the Curtain

People want to see how things are made, from Kickstarter backers watching a product evolve from prototype to product, to behind the scenes clips from your favorite TV show.

Whether it’s just you working away at your home based business or your employees working together to get your latest shipments out, show your Pinterest followers what’s happening inside your business and the people who make it tick.

2. Reuse Content

Save time by pinning photos and videos you already have. The images you've used on your blog, or that you took at your latest craft fair, are sitting on your hard drive waiting to be shared.

Create a brand history board that showcases your business as it grew from hobby to shop and share photos of your past products to illustrate just how much you’ve grown.

3. Get Your Fans Involved 

Use your mailing list, customer lists, and social networks to drum up activity on your Pinterest board. If you’re new to social media, remember that you have a personal network of friends and family who would love to support you.

Ask your fans to share photos of your product in action to provide a wider variety of engaging images for your pinboards. Let non-Pinterest using fans know you’d love to highlight their support and if they’ll send you their pictures, you’ll pin them.

4. Create Thematic Boards 

If you did #3 already, your fans know where to find you on Pinterest. Now you’ve got to engage. Build thematic boards to help spark new interest.

If your product is jewelry or apparel, ask fans to share photos of them wearing your design in front of notable landmarks. For home décor and design shops, ask fans to share their design savvy and show off the room they used your product in.

5. It’s Not All About You 

Even if you have a thousand products, you and your fans will eventually run out of pictures. Let your fans express their personal style by building boards that are all about them. These could be photos highlighting their techy sides, the fashionista inside or anything else that links back to the idea of your brand. The goal is to keep content fresh and keep your followers coming back to see what’s new.

6. Get Personal 

Pinterest is the most personal of the social networks, so introduce the person behind the pins. Share some details like the poster’s name, job title, and what they like best about working at your company. If it's just you - tell them a bit about yourself. 

If you’re brand gives back to a charity or you only chose eco-friendly products and materials, highlight it to remind your followers that there’s more to your shop than just selling a product.  

7. Watch your Metrics 

Tracking follower engagement on Pinterest isn’t as easy as on Facebook or Twitter, but with a careful eye you can see what kinds of pins and boards your followers get excited about. When you know what works (and just as importantly, what doesn’t) it’s easier to get the most out of your time on Pinterest. 

8. Link, Link, Link, Link 

Yes, that’s a lot of links, but it’s the number one thing businesses on Pinterest forget. If someone is browsing your boards and sees a must-have product, make it one-click easy for them to find it on your Shopify shop, and buy by adding a link to that product in the pin description.

9. The Long Sell 

People want to chose a product, not have it sold to them.

You want to engage your followers and show them what you have to offer. Once they’re hooked, send them to your ecommerce store. And don’t forget to post your products’ prices with your pins. This will make the more likely to be discovered by new customers who are searching the Gifts section on Pinterest.

10. Collaborate 

Double your results, but not your efforts, by teaming up with other Shopify shops to highlight each other’s products on Pinterest. Find like-minded businesses that share your target market, but not your product and offer them the opportunity to be showcased on your Pinterest boards in return for a space on theirs. You can use Shopify's Marketplace to search categories and products.

Build boards around a theme like home décor, or keep it broad as a board of independent business you support.

Conclusion

If traditional social media sources are like advertising, then Pinterest is like the helpful sales clerk who helps clients find what they really want.

Small and medium sized businesses can get lost in the noise of millions of voices on Twitter and pushed to the bottom of the Facebook newsfeed. On Pinterest you can build something special that the big companies can’t do as easily: shape your social media strategy to express your brand’s personal style. 

Pinterest was built for businesses like yours, because of it's heavy focus on the visual. When you let your creativity (and that of your Pinterest followers) run free, you’ll earn new interest, buzz and the sales that go along with it.

I’d love to hear how these tips worked for you or any ideas that aren’t on the list that have worked for you. Share your thoughts in the comments.     

For more info on Pinterest check out:


This is a guest post by Andreea Ayers. Andreea started her own t-shirt business a few years ago and sold over 20,000 t-shirts and got in over 200 magazines and media outlets before selling her company. She is also the author of Pinterest Advantage, an ebook and an online course about growing using Pinterest. You can find her at Launch Grow Joy

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