Brilliant Business Moms with Beth Anne Schwamberger

Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.

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
03:16 - How to Get those First Sales on Etsy
05:38 - How to Keep Custom Orders Organized
07:03 - 3 Ways to Partner with Bloggers
08:39 - How to Find the Right Bloggers and Shop Owners
12:11 - Expanding your Products by Thinking Outside the Box
13:50 - Why Big Orders Don't Overwhelm Beth
14:38 - Getting Started with Giveaways on Instagram
17:26 - Everything You Need to Know About Instagram Loop Giveaways
24:36 - Tips for Crushing it on Instagram
30:01 - How to Find Interesting People on Instagram
31:54 - All About StoreEnvy
36:11 - Using Instagram for Insta-Sales
39:36 - Beth's Tiny PhotoBomber

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:

  1. Partnering with Wedding Blogs. As a new bride herself, Beth was already familiar with many wedding blogs. She reached out to those blogs and offered discounts to other brides. She gave them a great deal early on. Beth confesses that she probably lost some money on those first sales, but she knew it was important to get sales and reviews to build up her shop's reputation early on.
  2. Customer Service + Feedback. Beth worked hard to provide excellent customer service to her first customers, and she encouraged them to leave feedback for her. She learned the ropes of working with brides (who can be quite particular!) and got feedback that served as social proof for other potential customers.
  3. Views, Favorites, + Sales. Beth knew from researching on the Etsy forums that more views, favorites, and sales in her shop would increase her SEO on Etsy and allow her listings to show up to more potential customers. Again, Beth earned those early views and sales by offering great deals to brides.
  4. SEO. Beth learned everything she could about search engine optimization, including selecting long-tail keywords and optimizing each listing with a great keywords in the tags, titles, and descriptions to get found more often.
Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.
Beth with her husband, Jason, and her daughter, Maeve.

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:

  1. Coupon Codes. Beth offers exclusive coupon codes that bloggers can share with their audience.
  2. Product Reviews. Beth sends one of her hangers, or other products to a blogger in exchange for a review. An honest review from a raving customer is very effective. Beth gets her product out to brand new eyes and earns new customers as a result.
  3. Product Exchanges. Beth will make a custom hanger with the name of a blogger's child on it, or perhaps the blog or shop's brand name on the hanger. Then that blog or shop will send one of their products to Beth. Both parties then take photos and share instagram posts talking about each others' products. They both gain exposure from reaching a new audience with their brand. Since Beth's hangers are beautiful and really highlight clothing, many shops and bloggers love to use her hanger in photos again and again. It's free marketing for Beth!

Which strategies haven't worked so well?
Beth tried paid advertising once or twice when she first opened her shop, but that never worked out very well. Beth never saw a great return in the form of click-throughs or purchases from paid advertising. She says it's much better for a new audience to see a photo of her item and a blogger who has a personal connection to the item. For example, a blogger will say, "here's my gorgeous wedding dress on Beth's hanger!" or "Here's my little girl's adorable dress on Beth's hanger!"

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:

  1. Find and Follow Creative Insta Users. When Beth first got on Instagram, the first thing she did was find other shop owners, bloggers, and lifestyle guru types that she admired, and she followed them.
  2. Reach Out. Beth sent out cold messages to about ten Instagram users she admired and that fit well with her brand and said "I really admire your shop or blog. This is what I do. I would love to send you some product if you're interested." Some people did not respond but for the most part Beth received a resounding "yes!" that they would love to receive a personalized hanger and they'd take photos and tag her on Instagram to increase her exposure.
  3. Be Genuine. Beth felt that because her communication was genuine and they were truly shops and bloggers that she admired, that her message was well-received.
  4. Give Your Products Away. Beth then sent her products to 5-7 shops and bloggers, and they started using her hangers in their photos. Their followers would see her items and she'd gain new followers and traffic as a result. Over time, more shops and bloggers have found out about her, and now they'll often reach out to her for partnerships.
  5. Trade + Cross-Promote. Beth also trades product with other shops, as mentioned above, so they can promote each others' work. There are several great t-shirt shops on Instagram that Beth loves, so she'll send a hanger with the shop owner's child's name or their shop's name, and they'll send her a shirt. Then they each take their items and photograph them together. Beth's followers see the other shop's items. The other shop owner's followers see Beth's items, and momentum builds!
Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.
Beth cross promotes with the shop, Sage and Sky.

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!

  • Beth creates all the wire names first
  • Next she assembles the wire names onto the wooden hangers.
  • Finally, she creates a packaging assembly line.

Getting Started with Giveaways on Instagram

Beth offers several tips for creating and hosting great giveaways on Instagram.

  1. Follow Shops You Love and that Mesh with Your Brand. Interact, favorite, and comment on their posts.
  2. Reach Out. Send a message to those shops you'd love to work with and say, "Hey, I'm putting together a giveaway, would you be interested?" Beth says that most shops are very receptive.
  3. Keep it Cohesive. Choose items that all mesh well together. You want to ensure that your followers will be interested in the other items in the giveaway, and that the same will be true for all of the other shops participating. For example, Beth did a giveaway that was full of First Birthday Items for a little girl. The items looked great together, and clearly, someone with a little girl at home would be interested in every single item and shop.
  4. Add some Variety. No one will get excited about a giveaway that's simply 10 different t-shirts from 10 different shops. Spice up your giveaway by having a nice variety of different products that still pair well together.
  5. Giveaway Photo. Make sure you create a beautiful collage photo that displays all the items the winner of the giveaway will receive. People are encouraged to enter a giveaway much more when they can see exactly what they'll get if they win. A generic giveaway photo can work, but a collage photo of items is much more effective.
  6. Size Matters. Ensure that your giveaway is large enough to leverage the power of multiple audiences. (Such as 5 or more shops) but small enough to not overwhelm and annoy your followers. For example, Beth once participated in a giveaway with 31 shops. The process to follow each shop in order to enter got a little tedious for everyone. Beth prefers giveaways with about 10 shops.

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:
Beth will post her gorgeous giveaway photo on Instagram, and she has tagged the shop below her in the photo. Her followers will see the graphic on Instagram. They like on the photo (which is their entry) then they tap on the photo which shows who was tagged in it. They tap that name and it takes them to the next shop. Once they're on the next shop's Instagram feed, they see the same giveaway graphic in that shop's feed, tap the photo to like it, then tap on the photo to see where the next shop is. Each giveaway entrant goes through this process until they get back to the first graphic they saw. At that point, they know they've completed the loop.

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.
On the other hand, by doing loop giveaways, Beth has gained great followers who are loyal customers and supporters of her work. Even if a follower doesn't end up winning the giveaway, if they love what you do, they'll purchase your products, recommend you to other people by tagging their friends on your posts, and it becomes a snowball effect in gaining new customers and more exposure.  (Who said Instagram marketing for your small business couldn't be fun?!)

How many followers does Beth gain with each giveaway?
Beth says that she averages about 200 new followers for each loop giveaway.

There's another type of giveaway that would get Beth thousands of followers. Here's why she chooses not to do them:
Cash loop giveaways can net you thousands of followers if you participate in them. Here's how they work. A group of shops or bloggers might pull their money together and give away $800 of paypal cash or a $600 target gift card. So many people are interested in entering these giveaways that your follower numbers can skyrocket, but you'll lose many more of these followers when the giveaway ends (Beth says 50-70% of these giveaway entrants will unfollow you!), and even those that stay aren't quality followers who will help your bottom line.
The people who enter cash giveaways aren't actually interested in the shops or blogs participating - they just wanted the cash. When the giveaway is over, that winner has no deeper connection with your products or your brand. They're gone.

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.

  1. Make Insta-Friends. Beth highly recommends reaching out to other shops and bloggers and becoming "Insta friends". Like and comment on their posts. Encourage them. Get to know the other creatives around you.
  2. Photo Quality Matters. As with any visual form of social media, photos are everything! Edit your photos. Play around with brightening them up, or using filters and shadows.
  3. White Backgrounds for Products. While you don't want to get boring and shoot everything on white, having a great arsenal of products on white backgrounds not only makes them pop but makes it easier to create gorgeous collage photos for giveaways. Have those white background shots at the ready.
  4. Create a Cohesive Feed. Beth doesn't post just everything on Instagram. She's intentional about creating a nice mix of new products she's working on, giveaways, sharing about other shops, and sharing snippets of her own life. You need to think about what a new potential follower will see when they check out your home page. Your bio and photos need to be appealing. She also says, "don't be afraid to delete photos from your feed if it doesn't contribute anything... if you find later that it doesn't fit in." (Good point, Beth! I probably need to delete my excessive cute kid and hubby photos and post a few more product photos on our Instagram!)
  5. Engage with your Followers. Get to know the people who are following you. Ask them questions and have a dialog. "Once people see you as a human and a mom they're more interested in sticking around and seeing what you have to say."
  6. Respond to Comments. Beth tries to respond to all of her comments on Instagram even if it's just with an emoticon. She's a person - not just a company. That ability to know, like and trust her is what makes people want to buy from Beth!
  7. Comment on Others' Posts. Beth makes a point of going through and commenting on other people's photos in a genuine way. If sees something beautiful she compliments it. If she sees something interesting, she asks a question about it. Many times the other people commenting on that post will check you out, see what you do, like what they see, and follow you simply because you chose to be active and interesting 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.

  1. Hashtags.  Beth search hashtags of things that interested her, such as handmade or motherhood-related hashtags.
  2. Giveaways. Beth searched for loop giveaways and has found interesting shops that way as well
  3. Organically. By simply being active on Instagram, when Beth sees something she likes, she'll click on feed, follow it if she's interested, and then that leads her to other interesting people that Instagram user is following, and the chain keeps going!
  4. Friends. In the beginning, Beth followed her friends and then discovered what interesting people they were following.
  5. Customers. One of the shops Beth first discovered on Insta was because the shop owner was a customer of hers. Her shop is mommasaidt's and she posted about Beth and the hanger she loved from her. They're good Instagram friends now!

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?

  • Post a great photo of your item offering it for sale. (A great discount helps, of course!)
  • Then say something like, "First paypal email will claim."
  • People can comment on the photo with the email tied to their paypal account, and Beth can send them an invoice directly through Paypal.
  • For example, Beth made Mommy and Me turquoise leather bracelets, but she only had enough turquoise leather for three sets. On Valentine's Day she posted a flash sale, saying, "first 3 paypal emails below will claim." She quickly sold all 3 sets.
Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.    How to Use Instagram to Host a Killer Loop Giveaway
Beth earnsInsta-Sales by posting her products on Instagram and invoicing via Paypal

What if someone doesn't want to post their paypal email for the public to see?
You can comment on the photo and say, "I will DM you my email" and then they send their email via direct message on Instagram. This way, they can still participate but they feel more secure about the transaction.
Not only can Beth send her customers invoices via Paypal, she can print the shipping labels through the interface also.

Another Example of a Great Flash Sale:
Beth made a cute little piggy bracelet, but there was a defect in the leather so she said "Sale on this - 50% off because there's a nick in the leather) within 10 minutes Beth had two customers who wanted it.

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.

Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.

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
Polyvore - Great for "shopping" to find clothes, accessories, etc to make collages with.  You can clip images from any website and erase background to create great "outfit of the day" posts
Rhonna Designs - Great for adding text, badges, etc to your photos. Stylish.
Flipagram - Beth says, "I haven't actually used this, but I've experimented with it and plan to use it soon to show my whole line of bracelets in one post."
Squaready - Takes any photo you have and makes it into a square so that it's IG ready
Your Followers - Beth says, "I do pay attention to unfollowers and new followers, especially after giveaways, to see what is effective and what is not!"

Stay in Touch with Beth!

Instagram: @handcraftedaffairs
Etsy:  HandcraftedAffairs.Etsy.com
StoreEnvy:  HandcraftedAffairs.StoreEnvy.com

Direct download: Episode207920Beth20Newitt_mixdown.20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:59am EST

How to Sell on Amazon with work-at-home mom Saira Perl.  Learn the ins and outs of becoming a top Amazon seller.  Saira shares her tips on finding a great deal, buying and selling in bulk, selling during the Christmas season, being part of the fulfilled by Amazon program, and how to get found in Amazon's search results.  Learn everything you need to know to get started selling on the largest retail site.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/78

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
04:34 - Saira's First Product
05:49 - How to Find a Great Deal
07:27 - How to Register as a Seller on Amazon
08:26 - How to be Part of Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)
11:07 - How to Make a Profit
11:59 - Start-up Costs for Selling on Amazon
13:58 - Special Rules and Restrictions for Amazon Sellers
16:53 - How to Start Selling with Just a Few Clicks
21:16 - How to Get Found in Amazon Search
26:00 - Sales Stats for 2014
26:59 - How Much Time Does it Take to Sell on Amazon?
30:54 - How to Sell on Amazon during Christmas
31:39 - How to Sell when it's not Fulfilled by Amazon
33:06 - Labeling and Processing your Products
35:23 - What do Camels have to do with Amazon?
37:22 - How Selling on Amazon has Impacted her Family
38:23 - MomResource.com
41:35 - A Patricia Arquette Moment?

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 Sell on Amazon with work-at-home mom Saira Perl.  Learn the ins and outs of becoming a top Amazon seller.  Saira shares her tips on finding a great deal, buying and selling in bulk, selling during the Christmas season, being part of the fulfilled by Amazon program, and how to get found in Amazon's search results.  Learn everything you need to know to get started selling on the largest retail site.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/78
Saira with her two girls

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?
A professional seller is someone who sells more than 40 items per month. You pay $40/month to Amazon to be categorized as pro, but you can sell unlimited quantities. As an individual seller, you can't sell more than 40 items per month, and you you pay by the item at $1 each. If you plan to sell on Amazon regularly, it's much more affordable to go "pro".

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:

  • Labels so you can print out the bar codes for your product. (Amazon generates the bar codes when you enter your product into their system.)
  • UPC codes that you can place on your item so Amazon doesn't accidentally send someone else's item instead of yours when a purchase is made.
  • Cellophane bags that say, "Warning, this is not a toy."
  • Saira says that you can buy all of your packaging supplies right on Amazon and they're not expensive at all.

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.

Start-up Costs

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

  • Toys and games are generally approved for everyone
  • Clothes have special rules because Amazon wants to ensure that you've made a valid purchase and you're not selling knock-offs. You must be able to prove your purchase with a receipt.
  • Food has special rules because clearly, Amazon doesn't want you to sell expired items or items that could be a health hazard to others.
  • Other special categories. Sometimes, Amazon simply chooses to eliminate all of the competition and have a monopoly over a given category, as they did with Frozen merchandise during the Christmas season.
  • Use Customer Service to get approved. Saira told us that she emailed back and forth with the same woman from Amazon trying to get approved to sell clothing, and ultimately, she received approval. "Customer service was great," Saira says. It takes time and work to get approved, but it also narrows down your competition because many people won't take the time and effort to get approved for special items.
  • Labeling. You may have to add a UPC code to a product that doesn't have one. For example, Saira sold a Disney product that had its own labeling system. The UPC codes cost her $1 each, but the end sales price made the extra cost worth it.
  • Other requirements. Amazon has some specific rules for product photographs. Clothing cannot be photographed on hangers, and it must be on a white background. Saira would send Amazon a photo, then they would tell her what was wrong with it, then she would try again.

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?
When you sell a product that already exists as a listing on Amazon, you will share that product listing with every other seller for that item. Underneath the add to cart, and add to wishlist options on the right-hand side of a product, you'll see "Other Sellers on Amazon" listed. Below that in small font it says: Have on to sell? with a grey "Sell on Amazon" button. When you're the seller who's featured on the main search page for that item or in the main area at the top of the product listing, it's called having the "buy box". It's a bit unknown as to how Amazon decides which seller gets the buy box at any given moment for a given item.

There are some factors that help you to get the "buy box":

  1. Price. Having a low price, but not necessarily the lowest price for that product helps.
  2. Customer Reviews. The more reviews you've gotten on that product, the better.
  3. Seller Rating. The higher your overall rating as an Amazon seller, the better.

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".
Sometimes Amazon would come in on a product that Saira had already started selling, but they tend to be very seasonal, so once they sell out of all of their inventory on an item, they'd start showing Saira's item again.

How to Sell on Amazon with work-at-home mom Saira Perl.  Learn the ins and outs of becoming a top Amazon seller.  Saira shares her tips on finding a great deal, buying and selling in bulk, selling during the Christmas season, being part of the fulfilled by Amazon program, and how to get found in Amazon's search results.  Learn everything you need to know to get started selling on the largest retail site.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/78

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.
2. Pick products with less competition. There's more chance of showing up, and more chance of getting the buy box for the item.
3. Pick items that sell through quickly. Again, once other sellers sell out of an item, you're in a prime position to get the buy box.
4. Product Rank. The higher your product rank is for a given product category, the more you will sell. For example, if your listing of swim diapers is ranked 1, 2, or 3 in the swim diapers category, then you will be selling those diapers like crazy! If you're ranked in the hundred thousands, you'll sell your product more sporadically.
5. Restricted Categories. Again, this is a great way to cut down on the competition since many sellers won't take the required steps to be approved.
Saira shared one example where high competition killed her profit margin. She found a baby-specific soap for 97 cents, and she was able to sell on Amazon for $8, but by the time she sent her inventory into the warehouse, other people were also selling the same bar of soap, and her profit margin diminished quickly.

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:

  • 100 duvets
  • 100 sheet sets
  • 100 curtains
  • 500 swim diapers

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!

MomResource.com

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."

How to Sell on Amazon with work-at-home mom Saira Perl.  Learn the ins and outs of becoming a top Amazon seller.  Saira shares her tips on finding a great deal, buying and selling in bulk, selling during the Christmas season, being part of the fulfilled by Amazon program, and how to get found in Amazon's search results.  Learn everything you need to know to get started selling on the largest retail site.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/78

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!

MomResource.com
Check out Saira's article about selling on Amazon for even more details.

Direct download: Episode207820Saira20Perl_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:51am EST

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.

How to Write, Edit, and Launch an E-book with Abby + Donnie Lawson.  Have you ever thought about writing an e-book on your area of expertise?  Maybe you're not sure if you have the time or resources to make it happen.  Learn from mom blogger Abby Lawson and her husband Donnie.  Their first e-book has turned them into a blogging success story.  They'll walk you through the entire process - from writing, formatting tips and tricks, getting the help of editors, gathering a launch team, and establishing an affiliate program.  You can do this!  Listen to the podcast to get started.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

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
03:45 - How a Busy Mom Finds Time to Write
05:17 - Editing an E-book
08:14 - A Permanent Fix for Broken Links
11:14 - Formatting Tips for E-books
16:47 - Pay What you Want for a Book?! (How the sales stacked up)
24:31 - The E-book Launch Strategy
32:28 - Setting up an Affiliate Program
40:04 - How the VAT Tax Affects Sales
47:03 - Creating a Landing Page
49:30 - Kindle Versus Your Own Site
51:55 - Abby's Funny Mom Moment

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.
Or you can create an e-book in Microsoft Word and then just save it as a PDF. "So if someone doesn't have a Mac, there's nothing wrong with spending a lot of time in Microsoft Word getting the formatting down." Donnie says.

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.

How to Write, Edit, and Launch an E-book with Abby + Donnie Lawson.  Have you ever thought about writing an e-book on your area of expertise?  Maybe you're not sure if you have the time or resources to make it happen.  Learn from mom blogger Abby Lawson and her husband Donnie.  Their first e-book has turned them into a blogging success story.  They'll walk you through the entire process - from writing, formatting tips and tricks, getting the help of editors, gathering a launch team, and establishing an affiliate program.  You can do this!  Listen to the podcast to get started.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Donnie and Abby with their boys. They make a great team!

Pay What you Want for a Book?! (How the sales stacked up)

  • Building a Framework: Everything I Learned my First Year of Blogging launched on June 10, 2014.
  • Recommended price: $24
  • Lowest Price accepted: $1
  • Day 1 Sales: 227 copies
  • Day 1 Average Book Price:  Just under $10
  • Week 1 Sales:  359 copies.
  • Week 1 Earnings: $3,662.00
  • Week 1 Average Book Price: Just over $10 per book.

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!
She continued to build interest on social media by hinting at her big project.

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.

  1. Guest posting & Book Reviews. Abby talked to several of her blogging friends who had been instrumental in giving feedback on the book about guest posting.  She prepared content in advance and gave it to them. Abby had 6-7 guest posts go live on the day of the launch. Our podcast interview with Abby went up the day of the launch as well! She had 2-3 friends who wrote reviews of the book that also went up on launch day.
  2. Asking Blogging Buddies to Share on Social Media. Abby emailed 50 more blogging friends and said, "Framework is coming out today, I would love your help in promoting it. Here are some tweets you can send out, here are graphics you can use, and here are links to pins." She tried to make it super easy for them to share about the book. She thanked them for the influence they've had on her throughout her time as a blogger and made sure they knew to reach out to her if they ever needed her help on anything.
  3. Saying Thank You to Influencers. Because it was a book about blogging, Abby mentioned a lot of bloggers that influenced her throughout the book. Abby emailed all of them a copy of the book and said, "thank you for the influence you've had on me as a blogger, and you're in the book!" She received a great response from those people as well. Many ended up helping to promote the book as well. She didn't ask them to promote it, but a lot of them did anyways just out of the kindness of their hearts.

"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."

How to Write, Edit, and Launch an E-book with Abby + Donnie Lawson.  Have you ever thought about writing an e-book on your area of expertise?  Maybe you're not sure if you have the time or resources to make it happen.  Learn from mom blogger Abby Lawson and her husband Donnie.  Their first e-book has turned them into a blogging success story.  They'll walk you through the entire process - from writing, formatting tips and tricks, getting the help of editors, gathering a launch team, and establishing an affiliate program.  You can do this!  Listen to the podcast to get started.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Abby hard at work launching her e-book! Yep, she always looks this happy :)

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

  • Initially, Donnie and Abby reached out to people who were close to them and had already been promoting the book for them. Abby sent an email to 30 people to invite them to sign up for the affiliate program.
  • A little later, they emailed their entire list to see who would wanted to sign up after reading and enjoying the book.

The downside to an affiliate program?  

  • The amount of sales that the affiliates drive, actually is a lot worse than Donnie and Abby initially thought.  Donnie explained that an affiliate program is not absolutely necessary, and simply having an affiliate program in and of itself will not automatically double or triple someone's sales.
  • Donnie and Abby were also worried about who was going to be promote their book once they opened up the affiliate program. They didn't want crazy spammers to get a hold of the book and make ridiculous Youtube videos.  There have been some iffy people who have signed up for the program, but they haven't made any sales.
  • Many people opt not to sign up for an affiliate program because it protects their brand more, and they have more control over how their book is promoted.

The upside to an affiliate program!

  • Abby chimed in with the feelings side of things, "Having people who feel like they're part of something and who feel sort of a little piece of ownership over that and are willing to talk about it in such a way that... "hey this is a thing that I genuinely love, and I read it, and you should read it too." To have people out there talking about your book that way, is... a powerful tool."
  • Even if the conversion isn't great and their sales didn't skyrocket, bringing people into the fold and building those relationships is an important piece of it as much if not more than the actual sales numbers.
  • There also haven't been any technical issues with the SendOwl affiliate program. Donnie expected multiple affiliate payments to be a logistical nightmare each month, but SendOwl has made the process very easy.

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?

  • 102 people have signed up for their affiliate program.
  • Only 20-25 of those affiliates have actually made a sale through the program.
  • Sales from affiliates account for 10-15% of their total sales each month.
  • A sale at Christmas for the book gave affiliates another reason to talk about the book, and during that time, they drove 20% of the total sales.

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 with her two little C's
Abby with her two little C's

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!

JustaGirlandHerBlog.com
Abby's book, Building a Framework   This is our affiliate link, because we highly recommend Abby's book for any mom who wants to grow her blog.  We've read dozens of books on the topic, and Abby's is our favorite resource.

Direct download: Episode20772020Donnie20and20Abby20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EST

Why Branding is Your Best Business Asset with Kaye Putnam.  Did you know that branding is about so much more than your colors, logo, and design.  It cuts to the heart of who you are as a business.  It's your values and how you communicate those values to the world.  Take the fun branding quiz and get started defining your brand and cutting through the noise with your business.  Great advice for mompreneurs and work-at-home moms alike!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

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
04:39 - Why Branding is a Big Deal
07:19 - The First Step to Developing a Strong Brand
10:34 - What to do when you're the Girl Next Door?
16:13 - Is it OK to Rebrand?
17:45 - Why Rejection is Good!
21:45 - The Magician
24:44 - Limitless Business
29:03 - How to Start Working Remotely
32:53 - 3 Ways to Launch an Online Business with a Bang
38:36 - Kaye's Funny Mom Moment ... (or why she truly is a magician!)

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 Your Best Business Asset with Kaye Putnam.  Did you know that branding is about so much more than your colors, logo, and design.  It cuts to the heart of who you are as a business.  It's your values and how you communicate those values to the world.  Take the fun branding quiz and get started defining your brand and cutting through the noise with your business.  Great advice for mompreneurs and work-at-home moms alike!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Kaye with her husband and son in Hawaii

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.

  1. Business equity. For example, Starbucks can charge $4 for a cup of coffee because of their brand. They've built up enough brand equity (or the value that people place on their brand) to do that versus the gas station down the road that only charges 50 cents.
  2. Opportunities. When you have a strong brand, people know what you stand for and are excited to work with you. It takes the sales part out of doing business. By building your brand you attract people to you instead of having to go out and find them.
  3. More People Talking. If you're doing something remarkable, then people are excited to talk about you. They have an emotional connection with your brand, and you have more customers and more market share as a result.

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?
The first thing Kaye recommends for any business owner is to consider the values that their business communicates. This comes well before considering a logo, fonts, or colors. This even comes before you consider how you want to interact with your customers. Your very first job in defining your brand is defining the values that brand stands for.

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.

  1. How you relate to others. As girls next door, we don't position ourselves as leaders in the market. We're who you might go to when you need a shoulder, some encouragement, or someone who's not going to talk down to you. We relate to our audience on their level.
  2. The way you build relationships. For us, this means building a true community. We position ourselves as being just like our audience, so we've built a community of people who can relate to each other and have something in common with each other. At the end of the day, we're not teachers, gurus, experts, or pros, we're simply friends with our audience, and we're journeying through this online business thing together!
  3. Your content. As girls next door, our content should be clear, concise, and always friendly. (This is probably why I'm always having asides in my blog posts as though I'm just chatting face to face with you!)
  4. Your visuals. Our visual style needs to be relatable as well. Anything that looks like a vogue magazine is the opposite of what we're going for. Vogue, for example has a royal, elitist brand personality. They couldn't be further from us in what they're trying to portray. This is why our smiling faces can be found all over the place. We just put ourselves out there and say hello - flaws and all. The girl next door delivers visuals that are friendly, easy on the eyes, and easy to understand.
Marketing Mom and Branding Expert Kaye Putnam's Boston Terrier Zoey in her home office.  Learn all about branding and why it's so much more than logos and slogans.  Grow your home business by honing your brand.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Kaye's Boston Terrier Zoey hard at work.

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.

The Magician

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!

Limitless Business

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.

  1. Use your network. Get the word out about your freelancing work. Tell people you're available to be hired. Let everyone know about the skills you have and what services you offer.
  2. Use remote job sites. There are plenty of job listings at Weworkremotely.com and Elance.com as well as writing jobs at Problogger.com You can check out those marketplaces and apply for jobs to get started. Kaye says that working remotely is a great way to sharpen your skills in your desired field.

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.

  1. Connect In Person. Infinitus hosts what they call limitless lunches and limitless dinners. They invite 6-8 strangers to lunch and chat about their challenges or projects they're working on, and connecting in this way helps to build deeper relationships much more quickly. Those deeper relationships, of course, lead to far more business growth and success.
  2. Respond to RFP's. Any company or individual can respond to RFP's (requests for proposals). There are many websites that have databases full of RFP's. Here's how it works: A company or government agency can list a project such as needing a website built or some other digital service, and they'll ask companies to submit proposals. Responding to RFP's is a great way to get started when you don't have those pre-existing relationships for your business. For example, government agencies are required to take proposals from everyone, so it's up to you to prove your expertise and show off your portfolio. (Sarah's old accounting firm launched their business in just this way! They won a huge proposal and their business success continued from that point.)
  3. Branding. We'd be crazy not to mention how much your brand will impact your business success. Make sure your website clearly communicates your values, what you offer, and your personality. Give people a reason to choose you over everybody else. There are thousands of other graphic designers, programmers, or whatever it is that you do. Your brand is what differentiates you from the crowd and can help you to connect with the right clients and land more jobs.

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!)

Work-at-Home Mom Kaye Putnam in her home office with her son, Afton.  Learn all about branding for your business!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Kaye with her son Afton in her home office.

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!

KayePutnam.com
Twitter: @marketingkaye

Direct download: Episode207620Kaye20Putnam_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EST

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?

As a mom, you probably run across a million challenges and problems every day.  Have you ever thought about turning one of those hassles into a thriving business?  That's exactly what special needs mom Julie Bombacino did!  She not only revolutionized her own son's health with Real Food Blends for his G-tube, but found investors, launched a crowd-funding campaign, partnered with food scientists and manufacturers, and has now launched her product all over the world!  From Pain-Point to Meaningful Business with Julie Bombacino.  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

 

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear the full story.

On the Podcast

01:14 - From Special Needs Mom to Entrepreneur
06:01 - The First Steps for Forming an Innovative Business
08:14 - Working with Manufacturers
09:11 - Getting Investors + Crowdfunding for Growth
11:21 - 2 Key Strategies for Marketing the Biz
12:49 - Getting Insurance Approval for Medical Product
13:42 - Why Empathy is Good for Business
16:51 - 5 Key Methods for Reaching Healthcare Providers
18:46 - How to Get Your Foot in the Door
20:50 - Offering Nutrition All Over the World
24:47 - 7 Tips for Staying Sane
27:38 - Business Books for Every Woman Entrepreneur
28:29 - Julie's 5 year-old Marketing Genius!

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.

Mom entrepreneur Julie Bombacino shares the story behind her meaningful business, Real Food Blends |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Working with Manufacturers

So how did Julie get the manufacturers to listen to her?

  • The Industry. She led with the fact that formula for tube-feeding is a 4 billion dollar industry!
  • Investors on Board. From there, she let them know that she had already raised money from investors. She wasn't just scraping by and asking for a tiny run to get started.

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.

  • Connections. Julie had worked in financial services in Chicago, where there happens to be a robust start-up community. Through she and her husband's contacts, they were able to get in touch with angel investing groups in the Chicago area.
  • A Story to Rally Around. Having a unique story, a product she believed in, and potential investors who knew and trusted her made a world of difference.
  • It Only Takes One. Julie shares that the first investor is much harder to secure than the fifth. Once you have a backer to get the ball rolling, securing new investors gets much easier. It only takes one to get started!

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

  • People are much more likely to share a touching video and a campaign with limits, incentives, and a story versus just sharing, "hey, here's this new product."
  • A Crowd-funding campaign proves that people want a product. Essentially, their first customers pre-bought meals through the crowd-funding campaign. Even though Real Food Blends is something that insurance would usually pay for, people were so excited about the product that they paid out-of-pocket to get it first.
  • Incentives for a Campaign don't have to be complex. Real Food Blends kept things really simple and just sold their meals in varying quantities depending on the amount someone gave.
  • For backers who don't need Real Food Blends but simply loved their story and product, they had an option to donate your meal to a child at St. Jude's or another hospital who needed it.
  • Create a video that focuses on your story, who you are, and why you're doing what you're doing. You can see Julie's incredible video here.

2 Key Strategies for Marketing the Biz

  1. Facebook. The tube-fed community was already hanging out on Facebook, so Julie's connections to that community helped them to grow more quickly. They relied on those networks and word of mouth to spread. As Julie says, "Right now we have 17,000 Facebook fans, and those are 17,000 people who are going into their doctor or dietician and saying, hey, I read about this, what do you think?" So at the grassroots level, patients and their families are letting their medical providers know about this new option for nutrition.
  2. Insurance Coding Approval. After Real Food Blends received their coding approval, the business accelerated quickly. A lot of their business today is through working with medical distributors or home health care companies who buy their products and bill insurance for them.

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
handle AJ's feeding tube. She laughs now when she thinks about how nervous she was when she took the leap and gave him his first 10 mL of applesauce via his tube.

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.

Mompreneur Julie Bombacino with her son AJ.  Julie founded Real Food Blends after struggling with nutrition for her son with a G-tube.  Listen to her story to learn how to research the market, pitch to investors, and partner with medical supply companies to turn your business into a reality.

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?

  1.  Grassroots Effort.  Their customers take the product to the dietician to ask about including it in their nutrition regimen.
  2. Trade Shows. Real Food Blends attends several dietician-related trade shows to get the word out about their product.
  3. Advertising. The company buys advertising in dietician-related publications.
  4. Lunch & Learns. Real Food Blends has a dietician on staff who does a presentation on blenderized diets. She takes her show on the road to various hospitals, and the dieticians who attend not only learn about Real Food Blends but get a continuing education credit as well.
  5. Webinars. This has become one of the most effective ways to reach dieticians. Rather than travel all over the country, they can connect with dieticians online to educate them, provide them with that same continuing education credit, and let them know about Real Food Blends.

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

  1. Find Great Childcare. Julie has a fantastic nanny so she's knows the homefront is covered while she's working on the business.
  2. Phone Reminders. Julie stays on top of tasks with reminders and notes in her phone.
  3. Be Ruthless with Your Calendar. Julie schedules in everything. She's at the point in her life where she doesn't get up and do something unless it's in her calendar. Every task both big and small has a spot in her calendar, otherwise, it doesn't get done.
  4. Daily Workout. Julie spends an hour on her workout each day to blow off steam. It's the hour each day that's just for her.
  5. Coffee & Wine. Julie loves coffee to keep her going and a good glass of wine at night to relax!
  6. Good friends. Julie has great girlfriends that help her stay sane.
  7. Office Space. Julie left her home office and got a separate office space a few years ago. Just having other people around was a great move. She took for granted all of the opportunities to interact with colleagues, go out for lunch, and attend work parties when she worked in the corporate world.

Business Books for Every Woman Entrepreneur

  • Julie loves everything by Seth Godin. (We do too!)
  • She also recommends Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. She says that every working woman should read it to hear her perspective, whether they agree or not. Plus, it's great to read stories from other women to be inspired and motivated. Their stories are so much more relatable than that of a man doing the same thing. (We couldn't agree more!)
Mom inventor and CEO of Real Food Blends, Julie Bombacino with her family - husband Tony, daughter Luca, and son AJ
Julie Bombacino with her family - husband Tony, daughter Luca, and son AJ.

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!

RealFoodBlends.com
Facebook: Real Food Blends

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

Direct download: Episode207520Julie20Bombacino_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EST

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