Let’s skip the niceties. The world is in bad shape right now. With staggering levels of unemployment across the globe and health systems that are groaning under the weight of the health crisis, it’s understandable to feel that things are very, very bleak.
And if we’re lucky enough not to have been directly impacted by job loss or health concerns, many of us have experienced disruption to our daily lives on a level we’ve never seen before.
On top of that, if you were just starting out with your business, your confidence has likely been severely rattled in the face of so much uncertainty.
But if you look hard enough, even in the darkest situations, you can see glimpses of light.
I spoke to 11 ecommerce entrepreneurs about how they’ve been managing their businesses throughout the crisis, and if from the darkness, they’ve seen any silver-linings emerge.
Here’s what they had to say.
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Despite the Uncertainty, Customers are Still Shopping
Before we jump in, let’s clear something up. While many businesses around the world have seen their sales slump to zero, there are industries where business is booming. Some of these profits have come through unethical business practices. But exploiting people’s fears to make a dirty profit off overpriced protective masks and hand sanitizer is, especially during a pandemic, never, ever okay. And as a dropshipping entrepreneur, I know you’re better than that.
For many of the ecommerce entrepreneurs we spoke to, their business has been humming along despite the uncertainty in the world. Many of them experienced slow-downs around Chinese New Year and in the weeks afterward, as many suppliers in China stopped work and went into lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. Since life has begun to return to normal in China, and many suppliers have been able to return to work, their business has bounced back.
For some, like general store owner Harry Coleman, they’ve experienced an unexpected jump in sales. “Right now, I’m seeing my best results in terms of ROAS (return on ad spend) and stability with Facebook ads across all stores,” he says. “It’s due to a lot less competition on Facebook, so the CPM (cost per million people reached) is a lot cheaper.”
Paul Lee agrees. “There’s new demand for many untapped products,” he says. “Plus, there’s been lower advertising costs and competition in general, which means products are less saturated.”
Some niches, like puzzles, home fitness supplies, and home office equipment, have experienced a surge in demand. For the quick-thinking ecommerce entrepreneur who can begin to offer products in these categories, they’ll be able to grow their business along with this rising demand.
“People’s spending habits have changed due to being in quarantine,” says Harry Coleman. “But if you are selling products that can be used at home, now may be the time to push it.”
A Chance to Take a Break and Re-Evaluate
On the other end of the spectrum, many of the entrepreneurs told me they were using the situation to take a moment to pause and reflect.
Pierre Emmanuel says he’s found it helpful to have life slow down a little. “I’ve had time to think about what I want to achieve and where I want to go with my life,” he says. “I think it’s nice to have a break like this, where things slow down, and you can clear your mind and make plans for the future.”
Beauty store owner Sarah Z has taken a similar approach and is using the time to re-evaluate where to focus her attention within her business. “It’s allowed me time to take a step back from all the small tasks I was doing and prioritize what is really beneficial to the growth of my business,” she says. “I’ve found that certain small tasks or ideas might keep me busy, but that doesn’t mean I’m being productive. Now, If I have a task to accomplish, I get it done right away instead of adding it to the pile.”
With a chance to step off the treadmill of everyday busyness, swimwear store owner Ryan Carroll has tapped into a new sense of gratitude. “I’m much more grateful for all of the little things we take for granted on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “I just want to surf again!”
An Unexpected Boost in Productivity
Despite having our daily routines flung up in the air and rearranged around us, many of the entrepreneurs I spoke to found they’ve been able to be more productive.
“I’ve found that without any social distractions, I’m getting so much work done on my business,” says general store owner Chris Wane. “I can finally spend time working on things that I’ve been putting off, which will ultimately help me grow even more. Hopefully, when all this gets back to normal, I’ll have a really strong foundation for the future.”
Tech store owner Yuanda Wang has been able to reset his routine to help him get more out of each day. “Ever since the quarantine happened here in Canada, I’ve fixed my sleep schedule and have become more productive,” he says. “I’ve been waking up for the most part around eight in the morning and usually jump right into work. I’ve had more time to work on my ecommerce brands and take them to the next level.”
While being in lockdown with others can lead to endless distractions, one-product dropshipper Emma Reid has found the opposite is true. “A silver lining to this whole quarantine thing is that I’ve got to spend more time with my boyfriend,” she says. “Interestingly, he’s helped point out some inefficiencies in my workday. We came up with some good systems that help me be more productive, and that’s something I’ll stick with even after things get back to normal.”
Levelling-Up Your Capabilities
In many ways, social distancing restrictions have narrowed our view of the world. They’ve created a long list of things we can’t do and called into question how to encourage life to continue as normal.
But creativity flourishes under boundaries and controls, and personal growth comes fastest through struggle. Diamonds are formed under pressure, you know.
We’ve seen the world quickly embrace things we never thought were possible. Schools are operating remotely, TV talk shows are being filmed inside their hosts’ bathrooms, and some of us have even managed to get our grandparents on a video-call. Our entrepreneurs, too, have experienced an opening up of their mind and a blossoming of their capabilities.
“Every silver-lining I’ve ever found in my business has always started with a fear,” says Courtney White. “Once I realize the fear, I force myself to push through it, often in uncomfortable ways. It always ended up working out positively.”
Courtney, who operates children’s wear store Finer and Dandy, questioned her business’s role during this time. “In this situation, my biggest fear has been being uncomfortable marketing products when I know so many are suffering or have lost jobs.”
Recognizing her discomfort, she rethought her marketing to focus on creating a more personal relationship with her customers, who she knew were also feeling anxious and uncertain. “I’ve managed to push through the fear, and have continued to market my products on a more personal level,” she continues. “I’ve seen my conversion rate and return customer rate increase significantly over the past 30 days.”
Other entrepreneurs like Ryan Carroll, are excited to use the time to develop new skills. “I’ve tried to look at this quarantine as an opportunity to build new skills and start things I’ve been putting off, including a new podcast which will be launching in May this year,” he says. “Not having enough time isn’t an excuse for me anymore.”
Despite the turbulence, general store dropshipper Shishir says, “The circumstances have made me a lot more creative, adaptable, and resourceful. It has also given me a lot of confidence in the ability of the dropshipping business model to adapt to anything the world can throw at it.”
With this newfound confidence, Shishir has begun to think bigger. “The situation has also opened up doors for me to test alternative business models like print-on-demand and dropshipping with US fulfillment, which I had no experience with before,” he says. “I see these elements becoming long-term pillars of my business even after the current situation has passed.”
After using the time to re-evaluate their focus, and push the limits of their creativity, many of our entrepreneurs are quietly optimistic about what’s waiting for their business on the other side.
“This COVID-19 situation is going to stop at some point, a cure will come, even if it will take months,” says Pierre Emmanuel. “The world might be different after that, but there will still always be opportunities.”
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