Results for 'online business tools'

Win $100,000 with Shopify's Build a Business Competition

Update - The Build-A-Business Contest is back. Visit the contest page for more info on this year's competition. The…


Update - The Build-A-Business Contest is back. Visit the contest page for more info on this year's competition.

The Shopify Build a Business Contest

The news is out and the response has been phenomenal: we’re giving away $120,000 in prizes for whoever builds the best online business on Shopify in the new year.

This started out as just an idea between Tobi, Shopify’s CEO, and Tim Ferriss, NYT Bestselling author of the 4-Hour Workweek. Before he started writing his book, Tim created a business that let him automate nearly everything and travel Europe while working, and Shopify was built with just this kind of automation in mind, to help you run an ecommerce website without any hassles. When we all met, it seemed only natural that we would work together, because in Tim’s own words, “Shopify is exactly the product I wish I could have used when I built my own business originally.” We wanted to give everyone with an idea the chance to put it into action. Everyone wants to be their own boss, have more independence, and we thought since the tools are already available, a $100,000 grand prize might be just the incentive to get you started. And here we are:

A Business for Life

Starting on January 1st, compete to build the highest-grossing business over 6 months. The two best months are used to determine the winner of the competition, who will receive $100,000. More winners will receive $5,000 in other categories, and there will be some great surprises along the way. Although the competition starts on January 1st, you can and should start an account now so that you get a head start learning. Throughout the competition you will receive great tips and expert help from people in different fields, including Tim and Tobi, and you’ll have the great support that Shopify is known for.

The business you’re registering must be new, and even if you’re not the winner, at the end of the six months you should end up with a great business of your own.

Here is a quick summary:

- $100,000 grand prize
- $120,000 total in prizes
- Only new businesses are eligible to enter.
- Contest runs for 6 months starting January 1st but you can register and start working on your business now.
- The best two months of sales are counted.
- Even if you don’t win the prizes, you should end up with a viable business at the end of 6 months.
- The steps and details in the new, expanded 4-Hour Workweek will be used as ground-zero for instructions.
- Contest open to US businesses only. The tools and guidance will be available to all entrants, though so you are encouraged to enter no matter where you are.

Register at the Store Contest Page to get started.

FAQ

I’m outside the US, can I still participate?

We welcome you to the contest and you will have full access to the tutorials, guides and video addresses that we are creating and posting over the next 6 months. However, you will not be eligible for the prizes.

We are planning on posting international leader boards as well so you will be able to compare your store to the American crowd.

You are a Canadian company but Canadians cannot participate?

Believe us, we are as frustrated about this as you are. We spent countless hours on the phone with lawyers over the last few months trying to make this truly international, but in the end we simply could not offer the contest the way we did if it were available in Canada or in Europe.

Without going into too many details, the crux of the matter is the legal classification of the contest as a game of skill vs. a game of chance. Some agencies see our contest as a game of chance. Apparently they believe that being a successful entrepreneur and building a great business online has more to do with luck than with skill. Unfortunately games of chance are governed under Lottery law, which makes them essentially impossible to run (or even outright illegal).

Can I move my existing online store over?

Obviously we would love to have your business on Shopify. However, the spirit of this contest is to encourage new businesses to be created. Maybe you already have an idea for a new business that is only semi-related to your existing store? You should try this idea and you will be free to enter the contest with this. You can contact our sales team at sales@shopify.com.

If you are planning to move your existing business to Shopify as well please contact our sales team and we will be able to give you special discounts.

What about a brick and mortar store?

It’s a fantastic time to move your business online. However, much like with existing online stores – see previous point – the spirit of the contest is to encourage new businesses. Moving an existing brick and mortar store online is not going to be a valid new business unless you can clearly demonstrate that you are not taking advantage of the existing offline business.

Is there a maximum order price?

Yes, only the first $5,000 of each order will count towards the contest. We put this rule in place to stop used car sales men from sweeping the contest.

Can I sell Real estate, Pianos, Cars?

Sure thing. However, only the first $5,000 of each order counts towards the contest. No you can’t get 100 orders placed by the same person for $5,000 each either. We check for this :-)

Can I sell digital goods?

Yes, in fact we worked hard on finalizing support for digital goods just in time for the launch of the contest. Since early December you can now tell us that certain items in your store don’t require shipping addresses and/or taxation. If an order consists of only items that don’t require shipping then Shopify will not ask for a shipping address during the checkout.

If it is software you are selling then we recommend you install Fetchapp from the Shopify App Store. With Fetchapp you can automatically send out software bundles and licence keys once orders have been placed.

Can you sell a combination of affiliate products and your own products through Shopify?

Yes absolutely. In fact we highly encourage our customers to source extra products that round off the product offering. A lot of our customers started by selling just a single product and later on started cross selling related products between their stores for additional sales.

I’m a programmer. Can I extend Shopify with new features?

Yes. This is what we created the Shopify Platform for. The Platform is fairly similar to the Facebook platform and allows you to add all sorts of interesting capabilities to your store. You can browse through existing apps at the Shopify App Store and you can find the API docs here.

Can I use a drop shipper like Doba for products?

Yes, Shopify even integrates directly with drop shippers and fulfillment services such as Shipwire, Webgistix and Amazon fulfillment. These services are really the key to fully automate your online store because manual shipping is labor intensive. At Shopify we have something called the App Store, which allows you to add extensions to your store (think a mix of WordPress plugins and Facebook apps). We know there are currently a few developers working on a Doba integration.

Why do you judge based on revenues? Aren’t profit margins a better measure of how healthy a business is?

This is true, but it would be impossible for us to determine profit margins of all the participants. Since revenues are easily trackable, we use them as the measurement of success. This was the best way of running the competition without making it overly complicated. Of course, all the information we track for the contest strictly complies with our privacy policy.

10 Tools to Help Busy Entrepreneurs Get More Out of Twitter

For many small business owners, Twitter is an invaluable online marketing tool - especially if you know how to make…

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For many small business owners, Twitter is an invaluable online marketing tool - especially if you know how to make your tweets go viral. It can drive traffic to your online store and allow you to engage both prospective and existing customers.

But many people still struggle with finding the time to tweet regularly - especially busy entrepreneurs. It can also take time to grow an engaged audience of followers willing to amplify your brand and share your content. 

So what’s an online store owner to do? Simple, we recommend taking advantage of some of the most cutting-edge Twitter tools out there to make your time spent on the social platform as seamless and automated as possible while still maintaining a human touch.

Here's 10 great Twitter tools for small business owners.

#1. Buffer

With over 1 million users worldwide and counting, Buffer has definitely made a mark for itself. If you’ve ever wanted to devote only a set amount of time each day for Twitter and just “set and forget it”, then this tool is for you. It literally allows you to figure out your daily content once and “buffer” your tweets (schedule them) throughout the day. Buffer then shares them for you to prevent your followers from ever feeling a hint of spam from your direction.

The platform also allows sharing to other popular social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ for a little extra kick. 

#2. IFTTT 

Want to be even more hands off while still driving engagement from Twitter? Then IFTTT (if this then that) is an incredible service that can automate a great deal of content curation for you. Essentially, the service enables you to do a wide array of popular actions with a few clicks by connecting “channels” like your favorite social, storage, and note-taking services. You simply select a “trigger” (the “if) and and “action” (the "that") and it does all the heavy lifting for you to create what it calls a “recipe”.

You can create your own custom recipes from scratch or you can browse ready-made ones by other users. My personal favorite allows me to input an RSS feed to my favourite blogs and sends the links to new posts directly to Buffer to schedule and share. 

#3. Tweriod

Now that you know how to make your life easier by automating content curation and scheduling, you should determine when the best time to share is. Luckily, there’s a tool for that.

Tweriod is an analytics tool that goes through all of your follower’s activity to then determine what times throughout the day they're most active. With this activity level remaining fairly consistent, the only time you’ll ever have to recheck is when your follower base grows marginally. 

#4. Tweeterspy

This handy tool works magic in helping you identify who’s helping drive traffic to your site so that you can better engage them and hone in on your influencer marketing strategy. Tweeterspy works through you first embedding a short piece of code on your site and then being able to get data on how many clicks any single tweet or person is bringing to your site. Not only will you have a better idea of who your advocates are but this is a great way to capture leads and nurture prospective customers. 

#5. WeFollow

Want to demonstrate just how knowledgeable you are about a core interest relevant to your business? Or maybe you just want to connect with other experts or individuals wanting to learn more about your industry. Then WeFollow is for you.

With over 1.3 million users, the platform lets your search for people by their interest, which could be anything from knitting, design, to beauty products, and tune into something they call the “Prominence Score”, a ranking system that enables a quick and easy means to follow and engage with some of the brightest and most influential minds in their respective fields. How do you increase your “Prominence Score”? Just engage and build an audience of listeners who are also interested in the same thing as you and by doing so you open the floodgates for even more followers.  

#6. TwtQpon

This tool really takes the term ‘social couponing’ to a whole new level. With Twtqpon, not only can you create what it calls 'Twitter Coupons' to reward your customers and followers, but in order for them to claim the coupon, they must tweet about it, giving it just the right boost to let your deals go viral. You pick how many coupons will be available and what the delivery method will be. For online stores, users are redirected to the the website for purchase. 

#7. Twilert

There’s a lot of conversations happening on Twitter and you probably want to know every time someone says something about you or your brand on the platform. Tools like Twilert enable you to track any keyword you want, from your brand name to your CEO’s name, with the additional ability to add filters like location, language, and sentiment analysis, all of which gets delivered to you via email. Staying on top of these conversations can be vital for any online business from a research, feedback, and reputation management standpoint. 

#8. Nurph

By now you’ve most likely heard of people doing live tweetchats or taken part in one using a #hashtag of some sort and probably have wanted to conduct your own. Or maybe you just want to track a hashtag and see what others are saying about you, your brand, or perhaps a specific product of yours. Well, look no further than Nurph, a real-time conversation platform for Twitter. Get insightful analytics on who your most engaged followers are and automate responses to common questions. You can also discover what your Twitter community's primary interests are so you can learn how to be more engaging on the platform.

#9. Followerwonk

Followerwonk is a Twitter analytics and research tool that allows you to gain deeper insights into who your followers are, where they're located and when they tweet.

But perhaps the most powerful feature is the ability to search Twitter bios based on keywords. This is great if you're doing a PR push and you need to find journalists to pitch, or if you have a new blog post and want to find influencers to share it with. 

#10. Twitter Ads

Self serve Twitter ads have been available to U.S. based businesses for some time now and today Twitter announced that they have opened up the service to businesses in Canada, the UK and Ireland as well.

Twitter ads can be a great way for you to promote both your tweets and your account to users based on keywords, interests and locations that you specify.

These Twitter tools will not only making building an audience on the social platform easier, but they'll help you get more out of the time you spend engaging your audience while promising greater conversions. If there's are additional Twitter tools you use to boost engagement for your online store, let us know in the comments below.

How to Land Your Business in the Press: 6 Tactics and 5 Tools

Press. It's something every entrepreneur hopes to get for their business but also something many find difficult and…

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Press.

It's something every entrepreneur hopes to get for their business but also something many find difficult and elusive to achieve.

Before moving to my current in-house position as the Public Relations Manager at Shopify, I spent my entire professional career at a handful of PR and IR (investor relations) agencies in both Toronto and New York City. Having worked on numerous B2B and consumer tech accounts in various stages – from startups to Fortune 500's like IBM and Oracle – I’ve learned that for many businesses, PR is a mystery. They see competitors in the press and they can’t figure out the magic formula to make it happen for themselves.

For most small businesses and online entrepreneurs, PR is a work in progress. Unless you’re working on a big launch, which are usually not regular occurrences, it’s about building a relationship with media outlets and the appropriate reporters.

Below are six strategies that you should keep in mind when looking to get your name in the press, as well as five tools to help you make it happen.

1. Know Who You’re Pitching

I've never believed in the numbers method - that is, sending a pitch out to more than 50 reporters with the hopes that one or two are bound to bite. From what I can tell, most reporters can smell a generic, blasted out pitch by the time they reach the second sentence. It’s not realistic to assume that even five reporters cover the exact same beat and have the same writing style, much less all 50 of them.

Make sure you research each reporter you’re reaching out to. Read past coverage, go on their Twitter and see what kinds of articles they’re tweeting and retweeting, read their bio and tailor each email you send.

Going that extra mile will yield greater results, and even though your success rate may not be 100%, a targeted and tailored pitch is more likely to garner a response – even if it’s a “sorry, I’m not interested.”

2. Have the Story Already Written in Your Head

Before you pitch a journalist, you need to formulate and understand your story and be able to communicate what is newsworthy about it.

Imagine the headline and have the framework of the article laid out. Remember, you’re selling the reporter the story so you can’t expect them to come up with the idea. Reporters are busy people and the more you can spoon feed them the better.

It’s always best to be short and concise in your pitch, most reporters have stated that they don’t read past the third sentence. Efficiently communicate the: who, what and why they should care.

3. Offer an Exclusive

Reporters, like everyone else, love to have their egos stroked. If you’re looking to garner coverage in a tier one business publication like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, going the exclusive route may be the best strategy.

By offering an exclusive, that specific reporter has the first right of refusal. An exclusive also guarantees that they will break the story ahead of any other outlet. You just have to make good on this deal otherwise you’ll likely burn this bridge and any future opportunities with them.

Once the exclusive goes live, you can issue the press release across the wire and cast a wider net, reaching out to other reporters who would be interested in covering the news, which will result in more coverage.

4. Throw an Event

Everyone loves free food and drinks, and reporters are no different. Whether it’s a store opening, a launch of a new product line, or a pop-up shop, throwing an event and inviting a few local journalists to attend is a small investment that can result in big ROI.

The event doesn’t have to be a grandiose affair but should be closed off from the general public and when the reporters arrive, there needs to be a greeter who can show them around, provide introductions and literally cater to their needs.

If the reporter has a great time, they’ll be more likely to write a positive review, take meetings in the future and attend more events. Also remember, swag bags never hurt and be prepared for photo opportunities as media will often come to an event with a photographer as images help liven up a story.

And of course, if you're a launching a new product, make sure to have product samples tastefully displayed and available for people to touch and feel. 

When holding an event, it’s often helpful to create a media advisory that clearly illustrates the “Who, What, Where and Why” of the event. You can then submit the media advisory to local news desks who will often add it to their internal calendars.

5. Relationship Building

A healthy relationship works both ways. It can’t always be about you and your company and your story. Get to know the reporter and what they’re interested in and what they’re currently working on.

As the saying goes, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Putting in a little effort goes a long way. It doesn’t always have to be something big. For example, if you receive an out of office that a reporter is out on vacation, when you do reach them, ask them about it. Or, if you notice on their Twitter that they've admitted to having a weakness for a certain cookie brand, send them a box with a handwritten note.

Having said that, make sure to be tactful when using this approach as you don't want to come across as sending a "bribe" or making the relationship feel transactional.  

6. Piggyback on a Trend

Most reporters aren’t looking to a feature story on one company as it will seem too much like an advertisement. Instead, journalists are mostly looking to write larger trend pieces, so it is best to figure out how your story can fit into a larger theme or event.

See if there is a hole in the market and how your company is filling that gap. For example, Beardbrand, an ecommerce company that sells beard related products for men, was able to get themselves included in a New York Times article about the current barbershop renaissance that's going on right now. 

Tools for Getting PR

In order to pitch the right journalists, you first need to find them. Here are some tools to help you discover media that cover your industry and connect with them.

Followerwonk

Followerwonk is a tool from the folks at Moz that lets you search people's Twitter bio's (among other things).

For example, if you wanted to get covered by TechCrunch, you could search for "techcrunch" and then browse all twitter accounts that contain that keyword in the bio section, sorted by number of followers. Once you have a list, you then want to find which reporters have written about your industry or your competitors in the past, as they will be most likely to cover your story.

Muck Rack

Muck Rack is an easy way to connect with journalists. You can find the right person to pitch by searching keywords, company names, competitors, beats, outlets, media types and more. It also allows you to receive email notifications when journalists tweet or link to articles matching your search terms.

Cision

Cision is a media database that provides information on reporters including: location, email, phone numbers, social media profiles and areas of focus. You can easily generate lists based on verticals or reporter beats, helping you to find the most appropriate targets.

ProfNet

ProfNet connects journalists to sources and vice versa. When a journalist is writing a story and needs an expert source, they submit their inquiry to ProfNet and it then gets distributed to a list of subscribers. It’s a great way to stay informed on current stories that reporters are writing and to be introduced to new targets.

HARO (Help a Reporter Out)

HARO is a service reporters can use to request information for a story. It's similar to ProfNet but since the basic subscription service is free, many reporters get inundated with pitches based on their inquiries. Again, it’s a great way to stay current on any stories that reporters are writing but due to the volume of responses they receive, it is crucial that the pitch provides exactly what they requested.

Further reading:

Conclusion

In the end, PR isn’t a science, it’s more about relationship building and really understanding who you’re pitching and the demographic you’re trying to reach. No matter what you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s selling clothes online, trying to get investors for your startup or earning media coverage for your business, providing a personal touch and catering to your audience will help you achieve your goal.


About the Author: Janet Park is the Public Relations Manager at Shopify. Get more from Janet on Twitter.

5 Things Female Entrepreneurs Do That Hurts Their Business

  This is a Guest Post by Chandra Clark Stop me if this sounds familiar: You walk into…


This is a Guest Post by Chandra Clark

Stop me if this sounds familiar: You walk into a business or click through to one online, and pretty much immediately notice half a dozen things the proprietor could, and maybe should, be doing better. Ah, objectivity. It’s easy to see what other people are doing wrong. The question is, can you be as critical of your own operations? It’s a skill you need to practice.

Women entrepreneurs in particular seem to suffer from something I call “I have to do it all myself” syndrome. Perhaps it’s because a lot of us are perfectionists, or perhaps we feel like we have to do it all because we’re not getting a lot of support from our partners. Either way, this syndrome is holding you back, big time. Here are five ways this is hurting your business:

1. You Don’t Have Enough Staff

In any business venture, there comes a point where you have too much stuff to do yourself, but you’re not sure if you should roll the dice and hire help. What if you can’t make payroll? What if they don’t do it as well as you would? You need to get help. Mitigate your risk by being clear about what you need done, and being selective about the hire—but do it, now. The minute you start taking off some of those hats you’ve been wearing, your business will start to grow.

2. You’re Coddling the Staff You Do Have

Are you spending time fixing the things your staff have done? Either you’re being too fussy (learn to let go, Grasshopper), or your employees are underperforming. Make sure you’re being very clear about deliverables, and if training and guidance don’t fix the issue, it’s time to find better employees.

3. You’re Keeping it all to Yourself

Perhaps you know where you’re going, but do your people? You should have a clear sense of what you want to accomplish on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and your staff should know how what they do fits into this big picture. If they don’t know this, they won’t know how to prioritize what they’ve been given to do, and may even be working at cross-purposes to you and other staff.

4. You’re Making all the Decisions

Yes, the buck stops with you, and ultimately you have the final decision. But did you consult with anyone along the way? That logo you adore might be confusing the heck out of your clients. That product you’re developing might be awesome to you, but will it resonate with your customer base? Decisions need to be based on facts, not feelings. Get some data, fast.

5. You’re Reinventing the Wheel

While there’s a lot to be said for keeping mission-critical processes in-house, there’s absolutely no point in investing time and money developing infrastructure for something that you can get from a reliable vendor at a fraction of the cost. Everything from online stores to project management to payroll processing—the tools are out there. Find one that’s right for you.

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Chandra Clarke runs a new blog which analyzes the female entrepreneur. It's called Neverpink and you should check it out. She's also the founder and president of Scribendi, a service that includes blog editing and book editing


Interviewing Edward: Thoughts on Small Business and Ecommerce

Hi there! This is Edward, the Developer Advocate who runs the App Store. I’m in charge of cool-hunting…

Hi there! This is Edward, the Developer Advocate who runs the App Store. I’m in charge of cool-hunting awesome tech then mashing up API’s and business plans into Shopify apps that make merchants money and add further functionality to merchants online stores.

I recently spoke at a panel on ecommerce at Ottawa’s main public library and wanted to share some notes I took while answering questions from the audience and from the kind librarians who set up the event.

(A huge thanks goes out to librarians Jill Hawken and Amy Hoffmann for putting everything together. MARC records 4 ever!)



“If I already have a website, how do I use Shopify?”

This has got to be the question I’m asked the most often.

You can keep your existing website and copy the look over to your store. Shopify was designed to have a super flexible front-end that lets you make it look like anything. This is a good option for someone like GE Healthcare, who has a ton of infrastructure sitting at http://gehealthcare.com and can’t have the shop sit there. Instead, they created a subdomain with their registrar, copied over the look, and made http://vscanultrasound.gehealthcare.com/

However, many stores opt to move their entire web presence to Shopify’s hosting – it comes with a blog (there’s a free app for importing existing Wordpress accounts), a content management system, the cart (duh), and free content distribution network support – one of the coolest features in my opinion.

What’s a content distribution network? It’s a thing that saves versions of your site's images and files on servers all around the world, close to wherever your customers are. It means that your shoppers get served *super* quickly instead of leaving your site because it took too long to load. Did I mention that these things usually costs zillions of dollars to operate and Shopify provides it for free to its customers? Seriously – you want one of these when trying to sell things online.

“What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in running an online business?”

Without a doubt, it’s marketing. What kind of product should you create? How do you price it? How do you place it in the market? How are you going to promote it?

Polar bear warnings on hotel beds 
(This is actually great promotional material for a particular kind of crazy people like myself.)

Here’s a story about promotion: Marketing is typically really expensive and a mushy thing that’s hard to measure and predict. Having a business on the internet means it’s easier to track sales conversion funnels and effectiveness of Google Adword spends, but sometimes you’ve got to go back to traditional approaches and update them for the web.

As a business, Shopify’s strategy is to increase signups and retain customers. The first really successful promotion we made to further this goal was the Build a Business Contest in 2010. We weren’t sure about how effective it was going to be, but we were sure that it was going to cost us a whole bunch ($120k in prizes alone!) to run.

To make sure it was successful we really leaned on Twitter by being super responsive to questions (Hootsuite and other similar social media management platforms really helped) and made it super interesting for potential Shopify customers.

It also happened to be the exact sort of thing media wanted to tell people about in an economic downturn where more folks are looking to start their own business and need just a tiny kick in the pants to do it.

That tiny kick in the pants happened to be delivered by none other than Tim Ferriss who wrote the book on doing just that.

This is the second year we’ve done it and we’re giving away $500k in prizes along with personal advising from Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Seth Godin. To put it lightly, this promotion has been pretty successful at increasing signups and holding on to customers.

The lesson learned here is to know what your goal is and come up with a great set of tactics (like this promotion) to make that happen.
For a quick guide to marketing, definitely check out Unbounce’s Noob Guide to Online Marketing infographic. Don’t let the name get to you – it’s a really great resource for those new to the game.

“What do you love most about your job?”

The trust in execution. Shopify’s management practices are to give or build you all the resources and tools you need to do your job and then get out of your way.

That and the other folks who work here – every person at Shopify is the kind of person you would be ok with being stuck in a car/train/ferry/tundra buggy with for 3 weeks with and not be bored. This actually just happened to me as I travelled to Churchill with Willem in the Data Team.

Screen Shot 2011-10-24 at 3.37.29 PM

“What has been the biggest surprise in running your business?”

The cool stuff customers send us! We have all these eBoy posters and pillows, Tattly tattoos, The Oatmeal everythings, and all the other beautiful, random interesting things around the office our customers have sent us as thanks for having a really kickass platform. I really didn’t expect that coming in, but they’ve all been really welcome surprises.

“What was the most useful piece of advice you were given when starting up your businesses?”

Do one thing really, really well. Say no to things that are not that one thing. I’ve watched Tobi, Cody, and Daniel do that since Shopify was just a tiny little company and it’s certainly worked out.

For more advice like this, you should really crib some notes from Fab’s 21 things they’ve learned as a business; it’s a great list.

Screen Shot 2011-10-24 at 3.40.40 PM
(Spending time looking at the small stuff in front of you means you miss the real things just outside.)

“Which social media platforms do you recommend using for marketing?”

The big names are FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube/Vimeo, and LinkedIn (InShares are surprisingly huge for industry nerds).

Use a social media management tool. Even if it’s just Tweetdeck running on a monitor on the side while you do your thing, it’s a great way to get a pulse on how your customers are doing. A personalized message that looks like it was written just for one person goes a long way.

What you might not expect:

Tumblr! Check out and ask Of A Kind! Two brilliant ladies in NYC turned a fashion blog into a booming business dealing in small-run boutique items. Not only are they sharp content writers and producers, but they’re also riding the wave of Tumblr follows and reshares which happen to be right up the alley of many of their customers.

Last thing about social stuff: don’t forget about email - start collecting emails for your list as soon as possible. Launchrock, Mailchimp, etc. are easy ways to start doing this and the sooner you can tell customers about great reasons (discounts! new cool stuff!) to come back and visit your shop, the better.

“Do I have to set up as an exporting business when I am selling goods online to customers in other countries?”

Mike Freeman of both Shopify and Dempsey Press fame had to set up a wholesale account for his business but it wasn’t a lot of paperwork and mostly just required a call to the CRA to have them give him a wholesale business number.

Again, when it comes to matters like these, ask your accountant for their professional advice – it might end up saving you money and time.

“Do you recommend PayPal? If not, what system would you recommend for payment?”

PayPal is a great option for those just starting out or for businesses who don’t want to wait for the weeks it’ll take your bank to set up a merchant account for you so you can use other payment gateways like Authorized.net or Braintree.

Either way, be sure to use tools like FeeFighters.com to help you do your homework and make comparisons. Check out the Shopify FAQ for a list of the major gateways. Definitely worth spending time researching on especially if you do any amount of volume.

“I have a website design business. How do I market to customers in other countries?”

Check out Shopify Experts! It’s the new go-to place for Shopify merchants to seek professional designers, developers, and other professionals to help them build their business.

In the meantime, build out your network for work by checking out local events like Winnipeg’s Secret Handshake or Ottawa’s Blackhole Sessions – the best and easiest way to build out your contract business is usually right in town. Be sure to trawl through Meetup.com for your own city and don’t be afraid to ask around.

“What do I do when I can’t find royalty free images for my blog?”

Go somewhere awesome for your vacation and pray that the reader can’t tell you’re just posting pictures from your trip. Here’s a picture of the sun rising over the Canadian plains taken from a moving train:

Manitoban Sunrise

8 Tools to Research Your Competition

Gathering competitive intelligence is an often overlooked strategy for ecommerce merchants. Sometimes the best way to take your…

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Gathering competitive intelligence is an often overlooked strategy for ecommerce merchants.

Sometimes the best way to take your ecommerce store to the next level is by gaining a deep understanding of how your competitors operate. If you don't know what your competitors are doing, it's difficult to make intelligent decisions that will keep your current customers, and entice new ones. This guide will show you how to identify your top 5 competitors and show you 8 tools that will help you gather in-depth information on your competitors strengths and weaknesses. 

Identify Your Top 5 Competitors

You’ll want to see which competitors rank the highest in Google for keywords specific to your industry. Make a list of the top keywords that bring you traffic, and enter them into Google. If you don't have an ecommerce store yet and are doing pre-launch research, simply search for relevant keywords. Make sure you're browsing incognito and you're in the appropriate regional zone (if you want US search results and you're outside the US add &gl=us to the end of the search URL). Make note of who is ranking on the first page. You should also type "related:www.yourURL.com" in the Google search field to get a list of companies that are similar to yours. 

List the Good, Bad, & Ugly

Now that you know who you're up against, start browsing through your competitor’s online stores. Get a good feel for their site, and make a list of all the things you like, and all the things you don’t like. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • How do they emphasis their value proposition?
  • What are their prices like compared to yours?
  • What is their product photography like, and how are their product descriptions?
  • What are their shipping options and prices like?
  • Where are their call to actions, and how obvious are they?
  • Are they trying to build an email list?
  • Is their site optimized for mobile?
  • What is their social media presence like; which platforms do they use; how often do they interact with customers, and how do they speak with their customers?

Now that you have a list of your top 5 competitors, and you have done basic research on how they operate, it's time to dig deeper. Use some of the tools below (some paid, most free) to gather in-depth information on what they're doing.

Gather Competitive Intelligence Using These Research Tools

Alexa

Alexa's been around since 1996. It's a (mostly) free service that will help you analyze traffic on your competitor’s ecommerce store. Type in your competitors URL and Alexa will give you their global traffic rank, number of sites linking in, search analytics, audience insight, average site load time, and a whole lot more. You can really dig deep with Alexa, but it's important to note that there are inaccuracies with Alexa's information, since they get their data from those who have installed their toolbar for IE and Firefox or installed their Google Chrome extension. Take the numbers with a grain of salt.   


SEO Book: Page Similarity Comparison Tool

With this service you can easily compare page titles, meta information, and common phrases on your competitors homepages. I suggest including your URL in a search with your top 5 competitors. I used Coke and Pepsi as an example:


Google AdWords Keyword Tool

This service will allow you to easily analyze keywords and the amount of traffic generated by those keywords. It also allows you to narrow down your search by including URLs and specific categories, such as apparel, cosmetics, or whatever. You can use Google AdWords Keyword Tool to estimate how much your competition is paying per click for their ads. Also, you should use Google Traffic Estimator to find out the number of ad clicks and current bid prices for various keywords. 


Internet Archive 

Internet Archive has been crawling the internet and taking snapshots of webpages since 1996. Using their free Wayback Machine you can see what a website looked like throughout the years. By looking at the history of your competitors websites you can plot trends in design and pricing changes. Do they dress their homepage up for Christmas every year? How has their positioning changed - could they be moving to address your market? Sometimes you can learn a lot from the subtle changes your competitors make on their site. Since 2006, Internet Archive has taken over 600 screen captures of Shopify's homepage. As an example, below you'll see what our homepage looked like on November 2, 2009.  


DomainTools: Whois 

Type your competitors URL in Whois and you'll receive a comprehensive record of that domain, including: date registered, contact info, server stats, links in/out, and other domains the registrant owns. 

 


SpyFu

This is a paid service ($79/month) that lets you spy on your competitor's AdWords and keywords. SpyFu really lets you dig deep. You'll be able to see what worked and what didn't work for your competitors AdWords campaigns. When you can trace the steps of your competition, you can avoid the mistakes they made.. it's like they're doing market testing for you.



Open Site Explorer

This service has a limited free plan and a paid service that is $99/month. Here you can compare your online store with up to four competitors on page authority, domain authority, linking root domains, total links, and with the pro version, you can also compare social stats. I like using Open Site Explorer to quickly see who is linking to the Shopify blog and what kind of impact it may have on our SEO. You can search your competitors ecommerce store and see not only who is linking to them, but what authority they have. 


Google Alerts

With this free service from Google, you can receive email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your queries. You should already have Google Alerts set up for your online store name, but it's important to set up alerts for your competition as well. I would also suggest you get alerts for key industry terms, so you can easily monitor the broader market for new developments that could affect your ecommerce business.

 


The Aftermath

Now that you have assessed your competitor’s sites, you’ll want to start analyzing your own ecommerce store. Try and objectively look at your online store and see how it can be improved. Use all the tactics you used on your competition and be as critical as possible. It's also important to bring an unbiased set of eyes in to give their opinion.

So now that you have all this information, what should you do? Use your learnings to optimize your ecommerce store. Try and take advantage of your competitors weaknesses. If they're clearly beating you in some areas, pull up your socks and become more competitive. Remember, to remain competitive it's important to operate with flexibility and be able to pivot your direction. But that's not to say you should simply try and please everybody. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew, and you certainly don't want to lose whatever it is that makes you unique. 

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.

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 Luxyhair.com Built a Seven-Figure Ecommerce Business With YouTube Marketing

When Alex Ikonn and his wife Mimi realized how hard it was to find good hair extensions, they…

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When Alex Ikonn and his wife Mimi realized how hard it was to find good hair extensions, they knew they had stumbled on a business opportunity. 

They took their problem and solved it by creating Luxy Hair - an extremely successful online store selling hair extensions for women.

And the coolest part? Their business is powered almost exclusively by tutorial-style YouTube videos.  

Their YouTube channel was created in 2010 and since then has amassed 1,474,246 subscribers and 173,657,125 total video views.

In other words, Luxy Hair is the perfect example of an audience enabled business that relies on a loyal community of fans instead of other channels like SEO and paid advertising. 

I caught up with Alex to find out how they took their site from idea to million dollar business. 

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

Luxy Hair is a customer-centric hair extensions ecommerce retailer.

How much revenue are you currently generating per month?

I believe a more important measure for businesses is profitability and I can confidently say we are profitable in the seven-figures (annually).

How did you come up with the idea for your business/product(s)? What kind of market research did you undertake?

My wife Mimi and I were getting married and she was looking for hair extensions for the wedding. She wasn’t able to find what she was looking for and I was lucky enough to be in the room when she was talking to her sister Leyla about her predicament. At the time, I didn’t even know what hair extensions were.

And this was all of the market research we needed, as I knew if she wasn’t able to find a solution for her dilemma, we were going to try to solve it!

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

I started sourcing the same night. I went on Alibaba and probably contacted every hair extension supplier that was there and just started asking questions about how to make it happen. I asked many stupid questions, however, that made me learn more about the product and how to actually make the idea a reality.

In choosing our supplier, ultimately it came down to the quality of product. From my initial list, I narrowed down to about 10 that I had pretty good communication with and then started ordering samples. The supplier with the best quality product and communication won our business. 

To our surprise, there was no minimum order with our supplier, however, we still had to place a pretty big order as the product itself is very expensive. Our initial order was $20,000.

A key lesson I’ve learned is the communication you have with your supplier is really important. As weird as it sounds, you have to feel a connection and trust your intuition. It’s fluffy but it worked for us and we still work with the same supplier.

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

Our business was entirely grown through our YouTube channel, the YouTube community and word-of-mouth. We only recently started experimenting with paid marketing - up until then it was all organic.

And our initial biggest win was a YouTuber with about 15,000 subscribers reviewing our product. This did way more for us than any magazines mention can do as we’ve been featured and it’s nothing compared real people on YouTube.

Your YouTube channel has over 173M views. Why is video working so well for you and what advice do you have for other businesses looking to leverage it?

YouTube works well for us because of the way we approach the YouTube community. Our approach is to try our best to give people value and a personal connection when we create our videos. We honestly don’t focus on selling and instead focus on these two factors. The sales and word-of-mouth come as people can feel we genuinely want to help people. We don’t even use our product in most of our videos.

I can also tell you that YouTube is not for every business. It works so well for us as you can see how the product looks and how it can transform your hair to help you create different hairstyles and look great! It’s a visual product.



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

The most important thing I would recommend to anyone is to work with a third-party fulfillment warehouse from day one. It will save you a lot of headache. We used Shipwire when we had a crazy idea and no sales to growing to be one of their biggest customers.

The key lesson is shipping takes a lot of time and you want to use a service that will enable you to scale quickly and not interrupt your growth.

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

Definitely, Shopify and Shipwire! These are my secret weapons and they integrate so seamlessly together.

The Shopify blog is my go to ecommerce learning resource. Sometimes, too much content that I can’t even absorb it all.

Sounds like a pitch for Shopify but I honestly love the service.

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

Our biggest mistake was not giving into crazy customers and my lesson was that it’s better to lose a little money than to be right.

For example, we’ve had instances when the customer didn’t follow a certain refund policy and still wanted a refund. Sometimes it’s better to play nice and not follow your refund policy as angry crazy customers can make you lose a lot more money. With social media at everyone’s disposal you have to be very careful.

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

Stop thinking about yourself and your success. No one cares.

Start thinking about others and how you can bring value into their lives and help them solve their problems.


Key Takeaways:

  • When looking for product ideas, examine your own everyday life and look for pain points that you can solve. Chances are, if it's a product or service that you need, others will need it as well.
  • Don't be afraid to learn from suppliers and ask lots of questions - even if you know nothing about a product or industry. 
  • When it comes to video and content marketing, focus on creating content that has independent value and lacks a direct sales pitch. This will help you build an audience, position you as an authority and ultimately sell your products in an under-the-radar way.
  • Keeping customers happy is important and sometimes making small customers service concessions can save you time and money down the road.
  • Provide as much value as possible through your content, products and services and you'll be much more likely to find success. 

College Professor Incorporates Shopify Into His Curriculum

Did you open a lemonade stand or try to sell your neighbours rocks as a kid? Well I…

Did you open a lemonade stand or try to sell your neighbours rocks as a kid? Well I did! Back then I wanted money to rent a movie or buy candy from the corner store, the goal never was to be a business owner. Looking back, I think many former lemonade stand owners probably went on to start successful businesses. The world of business is always changing and one teacher is teaching his students that they too can be business owners and that you do in fact, do practical things in school!

Matt Hill is a CEGEP business professor at John Abbott College in Montreal, Canada, and he's using Shopify in a very unique way. He and many others would argue that you learn the most about running a business by actually doing it. Textbooks and case studies can teach you great lessons about startups, marketing, and accounting, but nothing can prepare you for the real world like taking a chance and turning your great idea into reality.  

When Matt heard about Shopify, it sparked his entrepreneurial spirit. After doing some research he was convinced that his students could learn from Shopify, so he decided to try something new. His students were assigned a semester long project where they had to start an online store using Shopify. 

After Matt found some products from suppliers, his students were off and running. They set up their store and had the opportunity to advertise and market their products to real consumers!

They wrote and sent out newsletters using different tools, got creative with the look and feel of their shops, and learnt about the tools for analytics and SEO. Everyone wanted their shops to be successful and some of the students even opened their own Shopify stores after the course was over. Matt is looking to get other professors on board to expand the projects to last longer and over a few different courses. He’s also looking to introduce similar projects to his McGill University students.

Matt is one of those teachers that you always remember after you leave school. He has a real passion for business and education and it comes across in the way his students get to learn. 

If you're interested in using Shopify as a part of your curriculum, drop us a line! :-)

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