As someone that grew up surrounded by technology, I began to realize just how interested in it I truly was. I decided to pursue projects that tested my abilities in the online world. In doing so, I have become very interested in online marketing and ecommerce, and that’s why I’m sharing this project with you.
In the past I have sold homemade products, turned a profit selling items on Ebay, and created a media publication in which I interviewed some awesomely successful people. This particular project is a step into the online world for a chance to learn how to actually make money online. Let’s jump right in.
Product Selection & Branding
One of the biggest roadblocks I experienced when starting out in ecommerce is simply choosing a product. It’s difficult to come up with an idea out of nowhere, so start with what your needs and problems are and get to brainstorming. Being a one-man team I wanted to select a simple product that was original. It took me many weeks of thinking and writing down ideas before I finally came upon something original (to an extent).
Here was my thought process
Measuring something that was 16, 25, or even 32 feet long must have been difficult before the invention of the tape measure. Luckily this device helped to measure things in a convenient way. Could the same principle be applied to other lengthy and cumbersome objects? A related product that immediately came to mind was my lightning cable. Although I carried it nearly everywhere with me, it wasn’t designed for portability. The idea for the “Tape” cable came to mind and I got to work researching the idea.
Retractable cables already exist, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t come up with an original product offering. Based on what I could find, there were two problems with the retractable lightning cables on the market. Most of them (over 90%) were only 2-3 feet in length. I wanted a longer one. Also, the products looked cheap. I’m not sure if “plasticcy” is a word, but that is the best way I can describe the cables I came upon. They had simple, cheap designs that weren’t appealing and didn’t compliment their $500 counterparts very well (aka. iPhones). “Lengthy” and “Aesthetically Appealing” were the main selling points here, making up my unique value proposition. Simply enough, differentiation doesn’t have to mean a completely new and unique product. Tape was born…
Finding a Manufacturer and Negotiating
As an individual with zero contacts in manufacturing and production, I looked to the easiest way to connect with manufacturers and suppliers: Alibaba. Alibaba is the world’s largest retailer and one of the world’s largest internet companies. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that finding a manufacturer will only take an hour or so. In fact it took a couple weeks just to find the manufacturer that could produce what I was looking for. Furthermore, the negotiation process after took even longer. I messaged around 50 manufacturers and came up with an excel spreadsheet of about 10 manufacturers that could make Tape happen. However, after the process of learning more about their products, making sure they were credible companies, and requesting some samples I finally picked a manufacturer.
It was quite an ordeal but certainly a relief once I knew that the product was finally in production. One of the best parts of the experience was being kept up to date on manufacturing. My contact sent me pictures throughout and was only an email away, making the process a lot less nerve-wracking. Especially because this was all happening across the world and I had already put a down payment on production. Thanks Cindy Lee!
Creating a Landing Page and Collecting Emails
Now that the product existed and I was actually committed to launching online, I had to find some customers. Pre-launch was key to generating sales on launch day. I decided to create a very simple landing page with the free software over at Launchrock, it’s pictured below. To be honest, it’s not the prettiest landing page and the call to action is below the fold, which doesn’t exactly fall under landing page etiquette. Regardless, the call to action was the chance to enter in a giveaway for a Tape cable. All you need to provide is your email and name. The idea of the giveaway was great but I needed to get traffic to the landing page in order to build the email list for launch day. With a marketing budget of close to $0, I needed to get creative…
Building an Instagram Following and Creating some Buzz
I needed some social proof and I needed to get traffic to my landing page. Ultimately, the goal was to build an email list of somewhere between 300-500 giveaway entrants. But how would I make this happen? First off I created an Instagram account (@TapeCableCo) and curated content from other accounts since I didn’t have any pictures of the product yet (still in production). I chose content from accounts that aligned with my target market and immediately began growing my follower base, always pointing at the fact that we were running a giveaway, as I had the landing page link in the bio at the time.
At first I was randomly reaching out and shooting DM’s to all people I thought may be interested in the Tape Giveaway. I slowly gathered emails but at this rate I was lucky to even get 100. However, this process needed to be automated to really get results. I used two pieces of software to make this happen: Instagress and Holr.
Instagress is a tool that allows for Instagram automation. It’s simply a bot that follows, unfollows, likes, and comments on other accounts. It allows for this time consuming work to be done by a robot rather than by me. Based on the resources and time on my hands, this solution allowed me to streamline my marketing efforts. It was convenient and ultimately a very helpful tool, but in the future I would prefer to use a more personal touch by hiring someone to manage and grow the account for me. By increasing engagement with others, the engagement levels were returned. More and more followers and likes came and more and more people were clicking the link in my bio. I paired this with Holr.
Holr sends automated direct messages to new followers. What this means is that when a person followed the Tape account, they would soon receive a direct message thanking them and telling them about the giveaway. Overall, the only cost here was Instagress at around $10 a month, not bad at all for all the traffic it drove over the 3 months that it was employed. Most importantly, we gathered over 500 emails (516 to be exact).
At this point in my experiment, the product was finally in, along with shipping supplies. I created a sweet little website with the help of Shopify and was able to shoot some awesome photography with Ellis Boettger. It turns out that the website was the easiest part of this whole process, thanks to Shopify.
The Shopify website was up (not yet live though), the emails were collected, and the Tape Cable was all ready to get packed up for customers! I decided to do the giveaway five days before launch day, on December 2nd and the winner was a gentleman named Luke from Tustin, California. Thank you to all who joined the giveaway!
Launch day was December 7th, selected because it fit in right after the product had arrived and right before my finals began. Stressful of course, but it made me excited during a period when spirits are generally at an all-time low. I sent out two emails on launch day to my list and was able to generate sales of around $325. It was time to fulfill orders! Less than a week and a half later, I had recouped my initial investment and felt a lot better about the experiment. Overall, it was an awesome experience of starting an online business, generating buzz, gathering emails, and launching an original product.
After two months, the store had revenue of a little over $1,800 and I decided to sell it and focus on new projects.
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