Tue, 31 March 2015
Have you thought about using Instagram to market your small business? You don't have to be a pro photographer or have a huge following to gain traction on the site. Beth Newitt of Handcrafted Affairs drives sales of her custom hangers and accessories for girls via Instagram, and she and her husband make their living as creatives full-time! With over 6,000 sales on Etsy and over 5,800 followers on Instagram, Beth has discovered strategies that work for her and her business. She sat down with us to spill the beans, and I have to confess, I'm pretty excited to dig in and take action on her excellent advice!
Pinterest may be the go-to site for bloggers to grow, but I'm convinced that Instagram is the go-to site for shop owners to do the same!
Press play on the podcast player below to hear the full story.
On the Podcast
2:01 - From DIY Wedding to Handmade Business
From DIY Wedding to Handmade Business
When Beth got engaged several years ago, she decided that she wanted a unique, non-cookie cutter wedding. She hopped onto Pinterest, and entered into "serious DIY mode." One of the items Beth created for her wedding was a fancy, personalized hanger with her name spelled out for her wedding dress to hang on.
Beth had a ton of fun creating everything herself, and she received so many compliments on what she made, that she decided to try selling more handmade items to other brides. She set up her Etsy shop, Handcrafted Affairs in 2011, and has been selling beautiful, personalized hangers and other wedding accessories ever since. Beth and her husband, Jason, both make a living at home doing creative work. Jason is a painter who also has an Etsy shop.
How to Get those First Sales on Etsy
Beth used four main strategies for growing her Etsy shop in those early days:
How to Keep Custom Orders Organized
Beth doesn't use Etsy receipts for her orders, but instead creates a spreadsheet system that works for her. For each order, Beth includes the name, details about how it will be customized, the color, any gift notes to be included, and the due date for the order.
Beth uses color codes for orders that need to go out more quickly than normal such as one week, or a few days versus her typical 1-2 week turnaround. (Rush orders are highlighted in green so Beth can see at a glance how to prioritize her work each day.)
3 Ways to Partner with Bloggers
Beth partners with bloggers via Instagram in three key ways:
Which strategies haven't worked so well?
How to Find the Right Bloggers and Shop Owners
Instagram has been an incredible tool for Beth's business. From day one, Beth has used it to partner with others to grow her customer base and support the work of other creative entrepreneurs. Beth loves the community of shop owners, moms, bloggers, and entrepreneurs that she's found on Instagram.
Beth took action in a few key ways to build relationships and partnerships with other creatives on Instagram:
Expanding your Products by Thinking Outside the Box
With Beth's very particular business of personalized hangers, one might assume that she simply sells them to brides and moves on. However, Beth didn't want to have a seasonal, niche business, so she thought outside the box to figure out what other customers might want a customized hanger. There are plenty of other cases where someone might want a special hanger for something ceremonious or special. One example was for clothing companies to market their products, as we discussed above. Another example is doctors for their white coat ceremonies. Beth recently fulfilled a huge order for a hospital who wanted to purchase a personalized hanger for every single one of their doctors on doctor's day. How cool is that?!
Instagram has opened Beth's eyes to different markets and the possibility of reaching brand new customers.
Why Big Orders Don't Overwhelm Beth
With large orders coming in, we were curious about how Beth finds the time to complete them. She said that large orders are often easier to complete, because she can batch each task and streamline her production process. She has the process down to a science at this point!
Getting Started with Giveaways on Instagram
Beth offers several tips for creating and hosting great giveaways on Instagram.
Everything You Need to Know About Instagram Loop Giveaways
Get a group of shops and/or bloggers together. Everyone gives away their own prize, but you share the same, beautiful collage graphic (as described above.) The giveaway host will send a tag list, and every shop participating sees the shop below them and tags that shop in their photo on Instagram.
Here's how the process works for someone entering a loop Giveaway:
A loop giveaway can increase your followers and get your products in front of new eyes. Ideally, all of your followers would go through and see all the shops in the giveaway. Hopefully, they'll find other great products and shops they like and may return later as a customer.
Beth gave us a word of caution for loop giveaways: Expect to lose some followers after the giveaway ends. After the winner is announced, expect to lost about 10-20% of those new followers you gained from the giveaway.
How many followers does Beth gain with each giveaway?
There's another type of giveaway that would get Beth thousands of followers. Here's why she chooses not to do them:
When Beth does a giveaway, she gives the winners shop credit since her items are customized. But her giveaway winners often purchase way more than just what they won in store credit, and if they love the item, they'll come back for more later or tell their friends. Each giveaway winner becomes one more loyal customer who will spread the word about your brand and products.
Beth says she could do a cash giveaway once a week and have 50,000 followers on Instagram by now, but they wouldn't be quality followers. The important thing for her is business growth via happy, loyal customers, not vanity metrics.
Tips for Crushing it on Instagram
When we called her an expert at Instagram, Beth balked at that title! She says she's still learning a ton and simply uses trial and error along with getting advice from other shops and bouncing ideas off of each other. However, she has several great tips for being successful on Instagram.
As with any form of social media, "the more involved you are, the more benefit you see from it."
How to Find Interesting People on InstagramHashtags. Beth searchd hashtags of things that interested her, such as handmade or motherhood-related hashtags.
All About StoreEnvy
Beth has a Love/Hate Relationship with Etsy. They're fantastic in terms of giving her wedding traffic, but Etsy takes a fair amount of fees and there's fierce competition on the site.
Recently, Beth decided to branch out and focus on products for little girls and their mothers. She creates toddler fanny packs, called park packs (they are adorable!) and mom/daughter bracelet sets.
Beth wanted some separation between her wedding-focused Etsy shop and her new products, so she opened a StoreEnvy shop, and she pushes all her traffic from Instagram to come there instead of to Etsy. Beth is using it as an experiment to see how much traffic she's pushing on her own versus the traffic she gets from Etsy search.
StoreEnvy doesn't take fees unless someone finds you through their marketplace (in that case it's a 10% fee) but if you send customers there via email, Instagram, or other forms of social media, you only pay the payment processing fees for that customer.
Using Instagram for Insta-Sales
Beth loves using flash sales to sell items directly on Instagram. Selling on Instagram? How does that even work?
What if someone doesn't want to post their paypal email for the public to see?
Another Example of a Great Flash Sale:
Beth's Tiny PhotoBomber
Beth admits that as a first-time mom with a 20 month old daughter, everything is a cute, adorable mom moment! Tune in to hear about Beth's little photo-bomber and her latest obsession.
Essential Tools For Instagram
Beth dropped us a line to shaare even more great advice on Insta! She listed her favorite apps and tools for making the most of the site.
Bazaart - Easily erases backgrounds on photos, great for collage making
Stay in Touch with Beth!
Tue, 24 March 2015
Have you ever wondered if there are other ways to make money online besides blogging or selling on Etsy? There may be an alternative that you hadn't considered before. You can become an Amazon seller! Saira is a mom to two young girls, and she grossed $45,000 in Amazon sales in 9 months of selling on site in 2014. She shares her income breakdown here. Saira has learned through trial and error what works and what doesn't when it comes to selling on the internet's largest retail site. Get ready to dig into the details. Then... it's time to go shopping for those fabulous deals!
Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear the Full Interview
On the Podcast
02:16 - The Jump from Job-land to Selling on Amazon
The Jump from Job-land to Selling on Amazon
In December 2010, Saira had her first child. She and her husband were living and working in London at the time. Maternity leave in Europe is very generous, so Saira was blessed to have a year off to care for her daughter. Before Saira was able to return to the workforce, her husband's job moved them to Paris. Soon after, Saira's family moved again - this time to Florida! While pregnant with their second child, Saira knew that maternity leave in the US wouldn't afford her nearly as much time as she would like to have at home.
Saira began looking for ways to make money from home. Not only did she want to bring in extra income for her family, she wanted to stay active mentally too. Saira spent countless hours researching different ideas, and tried many things, such as a website about bath toys which morphed into baby shower information and a digital product.
Saira says that Amazon seemed like a great idea because she loves to shop, clip coupons, and use rewards programs. As she usually does, she simply jumped in to see what would happen!
Saira's First Product
Initially, Saira went to Costco to hunt for deals, but there are a lot of Amazon sellers who do the same thing. This high level of competition drives the price for certain products down. Saira bought packs of sharpies, but they didn't sell. Those sharpies are still in her closet at home.
Finally, Saira decided to sell what she knows, instead of attempting to sell what she thought other people wanted. As a mom to a four year-old girl and a four month-old girl, Saira knows little girls! She's an expert on toys and clothes for baby, toddler, and preschool girls, so she began shopping for clothes, toys, shoes, and dress-up costumes. Saira hunted for deals at Walmart, Toys R Us, and Kmart.
How to Find a Great Deal
When Saira first started selling on Amazon, she found deals by walking around the store with a shopping cart and filling it up, one item at a time. Later, she discovered how many deals she could find right from the comfort of her own home. She scoured Walmart.com, bought items on sale, and then sold those items on Amazon.com (Saira confesses that she got to know the FedEx driver who delivered from Walmart really well!)
It might seem crazy to buy an item on sale from one website just to turn around and sell it for a much higher price on another site. However, this method of retail arbitrage really works! People who shop on Amazon generally like to shop on Amazon alone. They buy for convenience and fast shipping and they're not as concerned about the price. Customers who shop on Walmart.com, however, are looking at the bottom line far more often.
A Bonus Tip to Earn More Money: Always uses Ebates to earn cashback when you shop online. Saira told us that Kohls has Kohlscash for their rewards program, and you don't have to sign up for a Kohls credit card to use it. Since Saira spends so much on inventory, these cashback and rewards programs pay off big time for her.
How to Register as a Seller on Amazon
Saira tells us that Amazon make it so easy to sell on their site! They have a "sell" link at the top of every page. Just click the link, and you can sign up as either an individual seller or a professional seller.
What's the difference between an individual versus professional seller?
How to be Part of Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)
Saira told us that it's not all that difficult to be an FBA seller. The requirements do vary by product, but below are the main things you need to have:
What if you send items that aren't packaged properly? You can still send those items to the warehouse, and Amazon will just charge you a fee to do the correct packaging for you.
Seller Tip: Buy in bulk as much as possible. At first Saira bought just one item here, and two items there, but by the end of the year she was purchasing 80 dresses, or 100 packs of diapers, and it became much easier to just load up one big box of the same product and ship it to Amazon. Labeling just a few items is much more confusing than labeling 100 items all at once that all have the same labels and packaging.
How to Make a Profit Selling on Amazon
There's a general rule of thumb that you can use to ensure you'll make a healthy profit on each item you sell: When you buy an item, make sure you can sell it for 3X the item's cost. So the item will cost you 33% of Amazon selling price, Amazon takes about 33% of that selling price in fees, and you take home 33% of the selling price as your profit.
Saira says that the cut Amazon takes on each item depends on the specific item and the item price. The more expensive an item is, the less Amazon's cut on that item is, so you stand to make a greater percentage of profit by selling a $100 item versus a $20 item.
Unlike other online businesses, there is a clear start-up cost involved in selling on Amazon. We were curious about how large this amount was. Can anyone get started selling on the site?
Saira told us that she started her Amazon career by spending just $200-$300 at Toys R Us. As she became an experienced seller, she became a little more brave with her purchases. For example, she bought 100 packs of Frozen curtains for girls' rooms.
Unfortunately, it's hard to fully predict what will sell and what won't, and Amazon can place their own, unpredictable restrictions on certain items. Saira has a closet full of Disney Frozen merchandise that Amazon would not allow her to sell during the Christmas season. They were selling Frozen items themselves and wanted to eliminate the competition. As the site owner, clearly Amazon can do what they want!
A Tip to Reduce Start-Up Risk: "You can always return products that don't sell," Saira says. She did stand in the Kmart return line once to return 100 pairs of slippers. She didn't realize that she needed special approval to sell shoes on Amazon. Furthermore, she had no idea that she could apply to get approved for that. She thought it was simply a restricted category and that she was out of luck. So, a very patient woman at Kmart individually returned 100 pairs of Mickey Mouse Slippers! Saira felt bad for the people behind her, but her wallet was quite grateful.
Special Rules and Restrictions for Amazon Sellers
Is all of that hoop-jumping worth it? Saira says yes! Her biggest winner for sales were Sophia princess dresses for Halloween. She times things just right, and it was definitely worth it to stay persistent until she got that approval.
How to Start Selling with Just a Few Clicks
When you're just getting started as an Amazon seller, Saira recommends starting with items that are already in the Amazon database. There are so many. It's bigger than Walmart. Don't start with an obscure book or toy. Start with an easy item that you can find within the catalog that you know you can find for 1/3rd of that Amazon selling price somewhere else online. Once you decide which item to purchase and sell, all you have to do is become a seller for that already-existing item on Amazon.
What does it mean to share a listing with other sellers?
There are some factors that help you to get the "buy box":
A word of advice: Don't ever try to compete against Amazon itself. If you notice that a produce says, "sold by Amazon" steer clear! You will never win. As an example, when Saira sells something on Amazon it says, "sold by MomResource, fulfilled by Amazon".
How to Get Found in Amazon Search
1. Pay-per-click advertising. You can then ensure that your product listing shows up on the first page of search for given search phrases.
Sales Stats for 2014
Saira sold almost 2,000 units on Amazon in 2014, and this was only from April through December. So how many different products did Saira buy and keep track of in order to sell 2,000 units?
Below are some examples of product quantities Saira bought in 2014:
At first, she bought items in much smaller quantities. Over all, Saira sold approximately 200 different products in 2014.
How Much Time Does it Take to Sell on Amazon?
Saira says that compared to a typical job where you wake up early, get ready, commute, and spend hours away from home each week, selling on Amazon feels easy. If you sell items in bulk, once it leaves your house you can just manage your inventory from the Amazon database. You can change the price as often as you want. You can even tweak things from your phone.
Saira confesses that she took advantage of any free labor she could find - enlisting the help of her husband and her mother when she came to visit before her baby was born.
A convenient shipping tip: Amazon uses UPS to pick up your items and ship them to their warehouses. You can spend $10 per week to have UPS come to your door and pick up your packages for you.
Overall, Saira says that it never felt like a big time investment to sell on Amazon, it was more an investment of money upfront. Even if you just sell hard for a few months out of the year on Amazon, it can be worth it. For example, as a mom with a newborn, Saira is not selling a lot of inventory at the moment, but she has stocked up on Christmas items that she can sell next year during the rush season.
How to Sell on Amazon during Christmas
While you may be tempted to quickly set up a seller account in October and jump on the Christmas season bandwagon, Amazon does have rules regarding who can sell during Christmas. In previous years, there were sellers who were just jumping in for the christmas blitz. If they were selling knock-offs or poor products, they could just disappear after Christmas, and this is not good for Amazon's reputation.
You must have an established reputation as a good seller on Amazon before the Christmas season begins.
How to Sell when it's not Fulfilled by Amazon
It's absolutely possible to sell items on your own without using the "Fulfilled by Amazon" service. Your products won't be eligible for the Prime member benefits, but it may make sense if you're selling just a few items at a time or a product that is time-sensitive.
For example, towards the end of last summer, Saira found back to school supplies for a great deal at Toys R Us. (Who knew tweens love to decorate their lockers with chandeliers and carpets?!) In order to make back to school rush, there was no time to wait for Amazon to process her items.
As a merchant, you can choose to charge shipping or label it as "free shipping" and build your shipping costs into the product price.
Saira does note that Amazon tends to show preference to people who sell through "Fulfilled by Amazon" (FBA)
Labeling and Processing your Products
Just enter in the size and type of labels you have hit print on the label to ship something directly to the customer. Place one label in the box, and one on the outside. You can choose between Fedex, UPS or USPS. Generally the US Postal Service is the best option if your box fits their standard dimensions. For a few items, shipping yourself is easy. For items in bulk, it's much easier to send them all to Amazon's warehouse.
How long does it take for Amazon to process your items? Saira recommends allowing for 2 weeks. It depends on where you're sending your items. Amazon has warehouses all over the country, and they do try to have you send your items to a warehouse that's close to you, but if you have a rare item you may be sending it all the way across the country. If this is the case and your warehouse is far away, allow for longer than 2 weeks.
What do Camels have to do with Amazon?
Camel Camel Camel is a great resource for Amazon sellers. If there's a product you're considering selling on Amazon, just copy the url, paste it into camel camel camel and the site gives you an idea of what that item has sold for over several years' time. Since price fluctuates based on peak season, whether Amazon is currently selling it themselves, and how many other sellers are selling that item, you want to ensure you get a balanced look at what your item should be priced at. You may think you can sell an item for $100 but that may be a blip for just a week or two. If the item generally sells for $20, Camel Camel Camel will tell you that.
How Selling on Amazon has Impacted Saira's Family
Saira loves that she can work from home. She doesn't have to wake up early and commute. She doesn't miss out on picking her daughter up from school or nursing her baby during the day. But when she was a full-time stay-at-home mom she was a little bored. She didn't want to just go to coffees every day. Now she actually has something to talk about when she goes to coffee! Saira's husband also sees that's she's much happier - which is great for everyone!
Saira has a new website for moms who are looking into making money from home. MomResource.com features other moms who are doing just that. The more Saira has learned about making a living online, the more she's realized how little the general public knows about this option. She hopes that by sharing the stories of other moms, she'll inspire those moms who may want to go back to work, but not full-time, or those full-time stay-at-home moms who want to do something on the side.
Saira has had so much fun meeting all sorts of cool, interesting moms and learning from them. She gets new ideas from them every day! "Moms somehow have this network - this common connection, and they're so supportive. That has been amazing!"
"We're not trying to compete; we're trying to help each other succeed."
A Patricia Arquette Moment?
Saira shared her own Patricia Arquette moment with us on the podcast. Controversial? We'll let you decide!
Stay in Touch with Saira!
Tue, 17 March 2015
You've seen e-books for sale on the sites of other bloggers. Perhaps you've even told yourself that when you're a bit more established, a bit more of an expert, or magically come up with a bit more time, you'll launch an e-book too. Today's interview is all about taking action now and launching an e-book the right way to get real results. Learn from blogging couple Abby and Donnie Lawson about how to write, edit, and launch an e-book with great success.
Abby wrote and launched her first e-book with just 17 months' of blogging experience under her belt. She carved out the time, wrote like crazy, solicited the help of blogging friends to edit, and launched with a bang by employing several great strategies. Learn from her experience, and then get to writing! An e-book could be the product that launches you from part-time blogging status to full-time blogging success. You got this, Brilliant Business Mom!
Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear Donnie and Abby's story.
On the Podcast
02:24 - The Big Idea
The Big Idea
When we asked Abby what led her to write her first e-book, her initial answer was, "well basically, Donnie....Donnie made me do it! It's all his fault. I blame him." (Sarah and I both laughed knowing just how convincing Donnie can be when he has a big idea!)
After she hit the one year mark for her blog, Abby started receiving a string of emails asking for blogging advice. She couldn't believe they were asking HER for advice. But as the emails kept pouring in, she thought, "maybe I have learned a bit about blogging!"
Donnie encouraged Abby to turn all those emails she was writing into an e-book and then sell the book on her site. At first she thought, "nooooo. I haven't been blogging long enough, and I don't know enough to do that."
But as she thought it over, she realized "maybe there is something to this idea." She and Donnie sat down, created an outline, and just went for it!
How a Busy Mom Finds Time to Write
Having read Abby's book, Building a Framework, Sarah and I knew that it was an extensive resource! It must have taken hundreds of hours to write! We had to know how Abby found the time to get it done.
Abby told us that when she first started writing, she and Donnie booked a hotel room for her for the weekend. Abby went away to write alone while Donnie kept their two boys. She took their outline and just wrote like crazy. Later on in the process, Abby had another hotel weekend to work
Abby already felt maxed out with her current blogging schedule, and since she didn't want to cut back, she had to create more time for writing. For several months, Abby woke up at 6 AM every morning, and from 6-7 AM she would write. If the boys woke up between that 6-7 AM window, Donnie would take care of them so that Abby's hour of writing was protected. A book doesn't magically happen on its own; you have to find a window for it.
Editing an E-book
Abby wrote her book in a Google Doc so it was shareable and easy to send to people. Donnie was looked at the book throughout the whole process and he made suggestions along the way.
After the book was written, Abby sent it to her mom first because she had no background in blogging. Abby wanted to get the perspective of someone who had zero knowledge on the topic to see if it made sense to them. Next, Abby sent the book to a friend who had only been blogging for a few months. She had a basic foundation of blogging but was still very much a beginner.
Next, Abby reached out to her mastermind group on Facebook. There were 10 of them at the time. All of those bloggers read through the book for her and sent her notes. They were all in different phases of blogging from no knowledge to more experience than Abby. They all had different strengths, so some of them sent grammar corrections while others sent suggestions on the technical aspects of the book. It was nice to have the book in front of a lot of eyes to make sure it was really accurate and still easy to understand.
To save herself from editing overwhelm, most of Abby's editors did not change the draft of her book directly or make comments within the book. They made their comments in an email and sent those to Abby.
When Donnie and Abby did send the book to people for direct edits, they made a copy in Google Docs so that their original version was protected, and no one could touch that.
A Permanent Fix for Broken Links
If you write a book that links to many resources or other articles on the topic, you may wonder how to ensure that those links stay active forever. It would be a shame to link to great content, only to find out a year later that some of those links were broken. There's a solution to this problem, and it's easier than you might realize.
Donnie and Abby used a Wordpress Plug-in called Pretty Link to organize all of the links and resources within the e-book. You can get the lite version for free. For everything linked to within the book, a pretty link was used rather than the original link. For example a bluehost affiliate link (which initially looks like a big, garbled mess!) would become justagirlandherblog.com/bluehost
Not only are readers more likely to click on a clean link that starts with your blog name, but if the final destination of those links ever changes, you can update them from within the Wordpress plugin instead of going back into the book itself. In this way, people who previously purchased the book would never be faced with broken links. As Donnie and Abby update pretty links within Wordpress - every single link within the book is updated and correct. (So smart, right?!)
Pretty Link also tracks how many clicks each link generates, so it helps them to know which links readers are clicking on within the book. Pretty link doesn't report on actual income generated through those links, but you can get that information from the affiliate portal. The plug-in does show the number of clicks, so you can figure out a conversion rate by observing that 100 people, for example, clicked on the Mailchimp link, and there were 5 sales from Mailchimp. The end result is a 5% conversion rate.
Formatting Tips for E-books
Abby used iBooks Author, which is a program on Mac. Initially, she was really frustrated with the process and almost gave up and used Word instead! After two days of messing with it she was able to figure it out. iBooks Author has all of the formatting right there for you , so you just have to fill in the blanks for the titles, chapters, etc. The spacing is all there so you don't have to do that yourself. Abby just copied and pasted her chapters into iBooks Author, and then added in her photos afterwards.
Adobe In-Design is a great choice if you're a graphic designer, but it's expensive and has a bigger learning curve. iBooks Author is a free option for Mac.
Abby did use Microsoft Word for her second e-book, Simplify, because it's made up of many printables and it was easier to merge documents together She's been creating printables with Word for quite a while. So again, don't be afraid to just use Microsoft Word to get started with your e-book!
How to Format your Book for Links
After your e-book is done, you'll need a way to turn it into a readable, useable PDF. When you export your book as a PDF, the internal links between chapters aren't clickable. The workaround for this (for both Word and iBooks Author) is to download a trial of Adobe Acrobat pro.
Before you exported your finished e-book, make all your links look like links (as in, add bold text, underlining, whatever you prefer) so that you'll know just where to go to insert those internal links.
When you bring your e-book file into Acrobat, you can then set up links within the body of the PDF, so for your table of contents, all of those links to each chapter are clickable.
Pay What you Want for a Book?! (How the sales stacked up)
Since June Donnie and Abby have sold 1400 copies of the book, and they transitioned from pay-what-you-want pricing in October to a fixed price of $24.
Donnie and Abby were concerned that once they set a higher, fixed price for the book, sales would completely tail off. Thankfully this hasn't been the case at all!They go weeks without mentioning the book on social media or the blog but sales continue to trickle in, so the book has become a great form of passive income for Abby and Donnie.
What is Pay-What-You-Want-Pricing?
Knowing that her audience comprised many stay-at-home moms or other families on a budget, Abby wanted to make sure that her book was accessible to anyone who wanted to read it. Donnie and Abby went back and forth about pricing strategies up until just two days before the launch. They decided to set the price at $24, but if anyone was in a situation where they couldn't afford that price, the payment processor was set up to accept any amount of $1 or above.
They have gotten so many emails from people telling their stories, saying thank you, and sharing that they wished they could have paid the whole $24, but it was such a blessing to them to be able to get the information at a price that they could afford.
The Strategy Behind Pay-What-You-Want Pricing
Abby tossed it over to Donnie to talk strategy saying, "I do the feeings. He does the business." (They make a great team!)
Donnie first heard about pay-what-you-want pricing from a guy named Tom Morks who wrote about it on the Fizzle blog. He thought it was a neat concept, and at first, Abby thought he was crazy. There's some psychology behind the strategy, though, because most people think, "this is going to be a great deal!" and they pull out their credit card planning to just pay $1. As they're checking out, they decide that they don't feel right about paying just $1 for a great book, so they decide to pay $5 or $10 instead.
Gumroad makes it really easy to use flexible pricing for your products, so Donnie and Abby used them for their payment processor. Although they did get quite a few sales at $1 each, there were people who paid more than the $24 too. It was Abby's 30th birthday on launch day so some people wrote in and said "I paid $30 because it was your 30th birthday!" Donnie said there were some odd amounts as well like $13.21 "Where they came up with that number I have no idea!" he says.
They also had customers who came back to them and said, " I paid $5 for it but then I read it and it was worth so much more to me. Can I give you more for the book?" Gumroad makes it easy for people to go back and pay more in the future.
What if Everyone Paid Just $1.00?
Donnie confessed that they were super nervous about launch day because of pay-what-you-want pricing. They knew there was a chance that everyone could come in and pay just $1 for the book. With several hundred sales, they would have made very little money for all of their hard work. They settled on a plan where Donnie would closely monitor the sales stats on launch day, and if the average price coming in was far too low, they would change their checkout system to fixed pricing. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and over the course of the summer, the average price paid increased over time!
E-book Launch Strategy
Donnie and Abby thought about their launch strategy and how to build suspense as soon as they decided to pursue the e-book idea. From Abby's very first hotel weekend of writing, she posted on Instagram that she was working on a secret project, and her audience would have to stay tuned to see what it was!
A month before launch day she announced on the blog in a post that she had been working on a book about blogging and that it was launching on her birthday, June 10th. She encouraged everyone to sign up for her email list so they wouldn't miss any details. From that month on, she averaged sharing something about the book once each day. She would share on social media, the blog, or through emails. She posted photos on Instagram, sent emails to her list, and then she'd take parts of those emails and share them on Facebook saying, "the email list got all of this info. Sign up for the list so you can get it too."
Essentially, "if they weren't gonna buy the book it wasn't because they didn't know it was there," says Abby. (What a great mindset to have for your product launches!)
The Importance of a Healthy Email List
"The email list was the biggest part of launch. That's where really most of our sales came from," says Abby. At the time they launched, they had about 6,000 people on their list. Those people were really excited and prepared because they sent them several emails letting them know what to expect.
The night before the book launch, Donnie and Abby told Abby's list about pay-what-you-want pricing, how it would work, what time the book would be live, and where they could go to get it. In the morning when the book went live, everyone knew where to go, what to do, and had all of the information they needed to make a purchase.
"Once you set your launch day, you need to work backwards with your launch plan," says Donnie. Both he and Abby created a Google Doc specifically for their launch plan and worked backwards one month out.
Donnie sees a big problem with many bloggers who try to sell: they don't build any buzz around the launch of their product. He's seen multiple bloggers - many that he likes and follows, who will all of a sudden send a surprise email one day saying, "hey I have this thing, buy it here" but this is the first time their readers are hearing about it.
Donnie says, "Even months in advance, it's nice to kinda get little hints like "hey this is coming. This is what it's gonna be about. I'm still trying to figure out pricing but it's coming" and then as the time gets closer to the actual launch there's kind of this anticipation You expect it. You know what's gonna to happen and you're kinda looking forward to that and so then I think everyone is just ready to go on launch day and you can have a pretty good first day and first week of sales."
Launch Day Strategies Beyond her Brand
Sarah asked Abby how big a role guest posting played in her launch strategy. "It was absolutely huge" Abby said, "I mean, I don't think that the launch would have gone as well as it did if we tried to do it on our own."
Abby used 3 main methods to extend the reach of her book beyond her own brand on social media, her email list, and blog.
"My goal was that if you were anywhere near the home decor niche or creative blogging niche on June 10th, you knew that Building a Framework was launching that day."
Setting Up an Affiliate Program for the Book
Donnie and Abby thought long and hard about setting up an affiliate program for the book. They didn't set it up for the launch day since they had pay-what-you-want pricing. They knew that once they set up an affiliate program, they would fix the sale price for the book.
Unfortunately, Gumroad doesn't offer an affiliate program. Some people choose to use a plug-in as a work-around, but Donnie wanted a better solution. E-junkie is another common affiliate solution, but Donnie didn't love how it looked. Finally, he and Abby settled SendOwl, which is a payment processor that also allows people to set up their own affiliate links.
Getting the Affiliate Program Started
The downside to an affiliate program?
The upside to an affiliate program!
Affiliate Sales Breakdown
Sarah and I were curious about the numbers. How many affiliates do Donnie and Abby have, and what percentage of their total sales do they drive for the e-book?
How the VAT Tax Affects Sales
When the VAT (Value-Added Tax) rules changed for digital goods sold to people living in the European Union, Donnie and Abby disabled all sales from EU countries. They didn't have the time to figure out how to send money to multiple tax offices in Europe. If someone from one of those countries wants to buy the book, they'll just give it to them because they feel bad about the ew system. In SendOwl they also disabled all sales to EU countries. You can check boxes to simply exclude those countries from being allowed to make a purchase.
Recently, Gumroad has chosen to handle all the remitting of the VAT tax. They figure out where the customers are buying from, collect the tax, and send tax to that country. As soon as Gumroad did that, Donnie and Abby re-enabled sales from EU countries.
However, SendOwl, which is the program Donnie and Abby use for their affiliate program, integrates with a couple of different payment processors such as Stripe or Paypal. Since Stripe and Paypal have not yet controlled VAT tax, Donnie and Abby have kept purchases from the EU disabled when purchasers come through SendOwl.
Overall, the VAT rule changes haven't been a huge issue for Donnie and Abby. There aren't nearly as many people from Europe trying to buy the book compared to U.S. customers.
Setting up a Landing Page
Abby's blog runs on a Genesis framework and a Child Theme from Restored 316 Designs which they really like. (That's our affiliate link because we like them too!) There's an option on the right called a "landing page template". It will take away the sidebar, the header, and other distracting items. It wasn't a perfect fit, as they still had some ads showing up, and the header was too large.
Donnie googled to find the specific CSS scripts he needed to format the page the way they wanted it. He 's not a coder, but he's able to find what he needs and then copy and paste the code into the Style Sheets of Abby's blog theme. Donnie's CSS additions made the page more narrow, removed the ads, and added a Buy Now button.
Once they had a clean page to work with, the landing page was as simple as adding the photos and text they wanted to create a compelling sales pitch.
Kindle Versus Your Own Site
We were curious about the reasoning behind selling Abby's book solely on her own site versus in the Kindle store.
Abby told us that since there were so many photos, screenshots, and very specific formatting for her how-to book, she didn't want to risk that formatting being lost on Kindle. She's a visual learner herself, and she wanted that to translate into her book.
Donnie told us that even from a money-making standpoint they still would have chosen to sell the book themselves. E-books in the Kindle store tend to be priced fairly low. A $24 book doesn't make sense in the Kindle store, and they didn't want to offer a product at a higher price on Abby's blog versus in the Kindle store.
However, if you plan to price your book at $10 or less, and formatting isn't an issue, Donnie recommends selling in the Kindle store as well as on your own site.
(Beth Anne's two cents: Abby's book is far more in-depth and full of practical details and step-by-steps. It's well worth the $24 price tag!)
Abby's Funny Mom Moment
Stay tuned to hear what Donnie and Abby's adorable 3 year-old is saying these days!
Stay in Touch with Abby!
Tue, 10 March 2015
When you think about your "brand" what comes to mind? Do you recall your cute blog header or that color scheme you obsessed over for weeks before deciding? Does your business name and what you sell come to mind?
While branding comprises these components, Kaye Putnam is here to teach us that it's about so much more than those things. Your brand is about the way you communicate your business' key values to the world. Branding is what sets you apart and makes others not only notice, but remember you. Branding can be your best business asset when it's thoughtfully implemented.
If you still feel confused about what your brand is and what you represent, Kaye has an excellent "Brandality" quiz on her website. Head here to take the quiz. Consider your Brand's Personality as you listen to the podcast.
Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Get the Full Story.
On the Podcast
03:04 - Something Had to Give
Something Had to Give
As a military spouse who's now moved five or six times, Kaye realized that traditional employment wasn't working for her. She had to quit a great marketing job that she loved, and every move meant taking steps back in her career instead of forward.
Kaye began looking for alternative ways to build her career. She made the transition into online marketing by free-lancing and has now taken a full-time position with a digital marketing agency called Infinitus. The agency is based in Canada, and she works remotely to help create the agency's podcast, weekly newsletter, and blog posts.
Kaye's personal skill set lies in branding. She is passionate about making companies more personal, more vulnerable and more authentic.
Why Branding is a Big Deal
Branding is about so much more than colors and a logo. As Kaye says, lots of designers call themselves a branding service but what they're really offering is just the visual aspects of a brand. "A brand is born out of the experience that customers have with you." Every touchpoint a customer has, whether it's in your Etsy shop, over the phone, or by exploring your website, is part of their experience with your brand.
Kaye shares 3 reasons why having a strong brand is key to your business success.
The First Step to Developing a Strong Brand
The more we dig into branding, the more I feel overwhelmed. Where should a mompreneur even start when it comes to defining a clear brand?
One example for Brilliant Business Moms would be that a lot of people in our audience have strong family values. If we communicate those same family values it gives people a strong emotional connection to us and our brand.
Kaye says that every business is not just selling a commodity, but so much more than that. Your brand is what endears people to you. It sets you apart from everyone else who may be selling the same thing.
An example of Kaye's values would be playing big. She believes wholeheartedly that her position in life shouldn't dictate the level of success that she has. So even though she's a mom and a military spouse, there's a certain level of success she wants to reach in her business, and she believes she can make that happen regardless of her circumstances. Other people who have those same values are naturally attracted to her. This is your brand at work!
What to do when you're the Girl Next Door
Once you discover your brand's core values, you have to figure out the personality you're going to portray those values through. (This is where Kaye's Brandality quiz comes into play! Take the quiz here!)
There are 4 key ways that your brand personality changes the way you relate to the world around you. To show you how this works, Kaye shares 4 recommendations for us as a "Girl Next Door" brand.
Is it OK to Rebrand?
If your business goals change and your current brand doesn't fit those goals, then you have to get rid of it. Re-align yourself with your new goals and your new audience.
Initially Kaye started a site called SuccessfulMilitaryWives.com She did that for a while and it was great, but as she got deeper and deeper into the agency world, that old brand didn't fit her new goals. She gave herself permission to get rid of that site and start her new site.
The way you can rebrand without confusing people is by continuing to communicate the same values. So even if your focus changes, you're still the same person. Those core values haven't changed even if the products or services that you offer have.
Why Rejection is Good!
Kaye admits that she's had an internal block about reaching out to people because of her fear of failure. She knows she needs to do it if she's going to tell more people about branding and build up her audience, but it's difficult - especially for an A+, 100% kind-of girl! Kaye was inspired by Tiffany Han's website, the 100 Rejection Letters Project.
She's decided to set a goal of getting 100 rejections in 90 days. Kaye is teaching herself that rejection and failing is ok. It's just part of the process. So for the next 90 days, she's reaching out to people about guest posting, podcast interviews or just to connect on Skype and gather as many opportunities as she can over the next 90 days.
When we asked her how the project is going so far, Kaye said that she's getting more "yes's" than she expected! So, it turns out... she's failing at failing! But she's finally taking action, and that's the end goal.
After chatting so much about our own brand's personality, The Girl Next Door, we had to hear about Kaye's. Turns out, she's The Magician. Their strengths lie in taking complex concepts and information and translating it into something that's easier to understand. The magician is also great at helping people to go through a transformative process. (This fits what Kaye does as a branding expert really well!) You'll have to listen to the whole podcast to hear how Kaye is a magician as a mom too!
Kaye's newest project with her marketing agency, Infinitus, is LimitlessBusiness.com. Kaye is one of the voices on that site, and she'll talk about branding, but they're putting together a rock-star cast of other business leaders who will share information within their particular "zone of genius".
What Infinitus has noticed about content online is that everybody is overwhelmed with the amount of content, but they're underwhelmed by the impact that content is having. When they considered what content really gets people excited , they realized that real stories were the most impactful. When people are vulnerable, authentic, and "bleed on the page" that's when others remember what they shared and take action on the lessons they learned.
So much of our time online is spent consuming content that we don't remember and don't implement. Limitless Business is trying to change that and create content that will truly have an impact on your business.
How to Start Working Remotely
When Kaye lived at Fort Campbell, Kentucky - her very first duty station as a military spouse, it took her six months to find her first job. She finally took a job as a temp bank teller in rural Tennessee. At her very lowest point, she found herself faking a southern accent so that she could blend in. Instead of blaming the military lifestyle for her lack of opportunities, she looked for a solution and began working remotely.
Kaye has 2 tips for moms who want to find work-at-home jobs.
3 Ways to Launch an Online Business with a Bang
The marketing agency that Kaye works for has had massive growth since launching. We were curious about the strategies behind their massive growth. Kaye was completely transparent and did share that the CEO of Infinitus had prior business relationships that helped a ton. (Once again, we're hearing about the value of building relationships when it comes to business!) But there are 3 other strategies that anyone can use to launch an online business in a big way.
Kaye offers another valuable tip when it comes to your branding: Don't be afraid to lose all of the corporate speech or jargon. There are real humans reading your website and your marketing materials, so make sure you treat them like they're someone you know.
There are so many ways that you can say something, so it's really important to put a filter on what you're doing. Home in on who you are at your truest core so that people aren't confused by you.
"Confusing people is the quickest way to kill a sale." (Well said, Kaye!)
Kaye's Funny Mom Moment ... (or why she truly is a magician!)
You'll have to tune in to hear Kaye's funny story about her little boy, Afton. I'm pretty sure she's a toddler whisperer!
Stay in Touch with Kaye!
Tue, 3 March 2015
My favorite businesses are those that look a problem in the face, find a novel solution, and grow like crazy! These types of businesses involve extra challenges, uncharted territory, and a whole lot of innovation! If you're a bit crazy like me, all of that sounds rather fun!
Julie Bombacino is the perfect example of a mom entrepreneur who solved a problem in her own life and then set out to solve it for thousands of others. She partnered with food scientists, researched the market, sought funding, worked with consultants, and so much more.
You'll learn a ton about the world of start-ups as a mompreneur from this episode. Julie's company, Real Food Blends, has had incredible growth while improving the lives of others. Could our interview with Julie be just the inspiration you need to go for your own big idea?
Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear the full story.
On the Podcast
01:14 - From Special Needs Mom to Entrepreneur
From Special Needs Mom to Entrepreneur
When Julie's second child, AJ, was 6 months old, he had a severe seizure due to epilepsy. After that seizure, he would aspirate breast milk and formula when eating. Fluid got into his lungs and caused health problems, so a feeding tube was necessary to keep him safe and healthy.
As Julie says, the feeding tube kind of defined their lives for the last three and a half years. He was put on a regimen of synthetic formula to be fed through his tube. He threw up every single day and was constipated every single day. He wasn't growing like he needed to, and he was miserable.
By the time AJ was 1 year old, he had gone through 8 different formulas with little success. Julie turned to Dr. Google for a solution, and discovered an incredible online community of people who had loved ones on feeding tubes. Many of them asked her if she had tried giving AJ real food through his tube.
She started blending food for AJ and saw great results. He was keeping his food down and was finally growing and gaining weight. Not long after AJ began his real food diet, the Bombacino family took a trip to Disney World. Providing food for AJ that week was quite a challenge. She lugged along their VitaMix blender and traded a hotel for a condo with a kitchenette so she could blend his meals. She looked for a ready-made option for AJ, but it simply didn't exist. She wasn't willing to go back to formula, but she wanted an easier way to give AJ the nutrition he needed.
Julie put her MBA hat back on, and Real Food Blends was founded not long after!
The First Steps for Forming an Innovative Business
Before she dug into creating the solution to her problem, Julie researched the market to make sure her business would actually have enough customers and fill a true need in the marketplace. Once she realized that formula for feeding tubes is a 4 billion dollar market in just the US alone, Julie knew it was time to take the next step.
Knowing she wasn't an expert in food science, Julie got in touch with researchers at a Big 10 University to see if her idea was possible. Shelf stability for her product was key, because she needed a way to ship Real Food Blends economically throughout the country, and even the world. Refrigerated trucks and extra storage requirements would have cost too much to make them a viable option.
Julie had an inkling that her idea could be accomplished because the market was halfway there with the invention of baby food. However, baby food is designed to simply teach babies how to eat rather than be their entire source of nutrition. Someone who uses a G-tube needs the equivalent of an entire meal in blended form.
After spending the first 6 months just researching and partnering with food scientists, Julie then reached out to food manufacturers who might be willing to work with her. Julie mentioned something that I hadn't considered before: food manufacturers don't often like to talk to entrepreneurs because they tend to think that their barbecue sauce or new spin on an old food is simply the best, and they plead with a manufacturer to just make a small amount. These kinds of small ventures don't interest a large manufacturer very much.
Working with Manufacturers
So how did Julie get the manufacturers to listen to her?
As it turns out, after talking with numerous food manufacturers, Julie ended up partnering with the first one they talked to!
Getting Investors + Crowdfunding for Growth
The prospect of securing investors sounds overwhelming. Sarah and I have no idea how one would even start this process. Julie shared a few tips that helped.
With so many investors on board, why a Crowdfunding Campaign?
When Real Food Blends launched a campaign on Indiegogo, the point wasn't to raise a ton of money to develop the product, the point was to use it as a proof of concept, as well as take advantage of the viral nature of crowd-funding. (Spoken like a true marketer!)
There are a few things we can learn from Real Food Blends' Indiegogo Campaign
2 Key Strategies for Marketing the Biz
Getting Insurance Approval for Medical Product
Getting insurance approval for a new product sounds like a daunting task. How did Julie accomplish this?
Once again, she was smart enough to know what she didn't know! She reached out to a consultant for help. This consultant had a long history in medical affairs, so she knew what to do.
The process involved a lot of paperwork filing, dotting i's and crossing t's.
Once you receive a HCPC code for your product, then anyone who bills to insurance can use that code to see if it's a covered benefit for their patient.
Why Empathy is Good for Business
One of the strengths of Real Food Blends is that Julie is her own ideal customer. She's a mom who still remembers being scared to death when she first had to
Because of this empathy, Julie easily puts herself into the position of those new parents and caregivers who are looking for as much education, information and support as they can get. Her website, Real Food Blends, isn't just a place to buy her product, it's a place to receive that extra reassurance and education.
In addition, the Real Food Blends Facebook Community is a vibrant place full of families who share their stories. Julie knows first-hand how isolating it can be to live in the world of tube-feeding. "You can't go down to your local Starbucks and see people with feeding tubes," Julie says, so the online community fills that void and makes you feel less alone.
5 Key Methods for Reaching Healthcare Providers
In addition to creating material that reaches the families, caregivers, and individuals with feeding tubes, Real Food Blends has to provide education to dieticians as well, because they're the individuals making decisions about what people with feeding tubes should receive for their nutrition. Reaching healthcare professionals, and dieticians in particular, is a key component to the company's growth. So how does Julie do it?
Sarah brings up a great point during the interview. If you can come up with a great business idea that fits into a profession's continuing education requirements, go for it! There are so many professions with these types of yearly requirements, so you'll have a captive audience to educate and share your product or company with.
How to Get Your Foot in the Door
Real Food Blends now works with many medical supply companies. To get those partnerships started, Julie needed not just a HCPC code, but the flexibility to get in the door.
They were more than willing to work with a company on terms and pricing, because they just wanted to get in the door. A lower price was acceptable in the beginning, because they were confident that once their customers tried the product, they would love it and be back time and time again. (They were right!)
Julie brings up a key point for new businesses. If you know you have a great product, and it has a recurring revenue stream built into it, it's ok to set a lower price to get your foot in the door.
However, if your product is generally a one-time purchase for someone, a lower price that kills your profit margin is not going to work out!
Offering Nutrition All Over the World
Julie's commitment to offering Real Food Blends to everyone with feeding tubes means that they found an effective way to ship their product internationally. Since they're technically exporting food, the process is not as simple as a customs declaration. Each country has its own rules about accepting food from America.
Real Food Blends partnered with MyUS.com to ship food worldwide. Essentially, if an international customer wants to purchase Real Food Blends, they sign up directly with MyUS.com to set up shipments. The company's main focus is shipping things from the US to other countries - so they're experts at it. Julie and her team don't need to worry about the regulations and all the steps involved, and their customers are able to get the products they want. Win-Win!
7 Tips for Staying Sane
Business Books for Every Woman Entrepreneur
Julie's 5 year-old Marketing Genius
We LOVED hearing about Julie's 5 year-old daughter Luca and her genius marketing idea for Real Food Blends. Tune in to hear the full story!
Learn More About Julie!
The Facebook page is very active for Real Food Blends. Their customers take photos of their first shipment of the product because they're just so excited. They share stories of children who have gained weight or are healthier. They share pictures and really, just share their lives with Real Food Blends. Julie encourages everyone to dig into their story and the stories of their customers.
What do you think? Are you ready to finally go for it with your brilliant business idea? I hope Julie's story convinced you that no matter how big or daunting your dream, if you take things step by step, seek the right help, and keep going, you can make that vision a reality!
~ Beth Anne