They say entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster. And it’s true.
A few weeks ago, my business got set back by a sudden death in the family. Completely throwing me off my game.
That said, this week I did score a couple of pretty cool wins because of Instagram, and I did land that coveted first sale.
In case this is your first time following along with my journey, I’ve set out to build an online store from scratch. The focus of this store build is to show that you can build an amazing long-term brand with dropshipping.
During week one, I broke down the step by step process for choosing a dropshipping niche. I’m selling letter boards, which is turning out to be a pretty fun product!
During week two, I set up my Shopify store, chose my domain name and picked my theme.
Week three was all about adding products to my store and ordering product samples.
And in week four, my product samples arrived and they actually looked great.
A major setback happened during week five: Someone in my family died. After hitting pause and collecting myself, I was able to take my own product photos.
Week six’s focus was on creating product descriptions and writing up my about us page copy.
For week seven, the focus was on pricing my products.
And this week, I’ll be diving into marketing. I’ll also share some of my major wins – like how my store got featured in PopSugar with only 16 Instagram followers – as well as some of my losses.
But first, I’m going to share the marketing groundwork I’ve been doing on my store.
My First Piece of Content
For me, content marketing has always worked well when it comes to generating ecommerce sales. Naturally, I start my marketing process by creating my first blog post. My main target audiences for letter boards are women who are expecting or have recently had a baby. So, my first article has to cater to this audience.
The focus is on creating new pictures around a baby announcement theme. I want unique photos. By having my own photos in the blog post, people will have to credit my website if they decide to use my photos. If I had just shared someone else’s photos, my website wouldn’t get any credit.
I headed to the dollar store to buy some baby props so that I could take some new photos for this blog post. Baby socks, flip flops, toy cars, bottles, bibs, and a few other accessories. In the end, I spent $32.26 for this photo shoot.
When I took product photos for the first time a few weeks ago, I noticed that the process was a bit time-consuming. This photoshoot was all about efficiency. Here are a few things I did to speed up the process:
- I removed all letters from the plastic they came in immediately rather than as I needed them.
- I compiled a list of quotes and slogans in advance so that I’d know exactly what I was going to write.
- I added slogans to three letter boards at a time so that I could pump out photos as fast as possible.
- The props for each letter board were grouped together before every photo was taken.
In the end, it took about two hours to execute the entire process, which was a lot faster than my previous run.
Here are a couple of photos from my shoot:
I still wasn’t the world’s greatest photographer but my photos were starting to get better. Guess practice really does make perfect.
After finishing my photos, I focused on creating an SEO-optimized article that would put the emphasis on the products.
Here are some SEO tips for creating blog content:
- If you’re doing a numbered blog post like “9 Baby Announcement Ideas,” remove the number from the URL. If you decide to do SEO freshness (which is when you update old content to help it rank better in search results), you’ll likely add more ideas to the list. By not having a number in the URL, it allows you to add more ideas to the article without having to change the url.
- Have a few keywords you optimize your content for. If you don’t pay for Google ads, you might choose to use the Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere which gives you an exact number on the monthly pageviews the keywords get. For this article, I focused on keywords like “baby announcement,” “pregnancy announcement” and “birth announcement.” I also added related baby words to ensure that search engines could see that this article will likely be relevant to the searcher.
- I wanted the focus of the article to drive traffic back to the product pages. A simple way I did this was by mentioning how you can recreate each photo in the article. Since this is a product people tend to take pictures of and share on social media, the topic made sense for this specific article. Also, by adding internal links I give the product pages a slightly better chance of ranking higher in search over the long-term. In this case, I didn’t use any external links, but don’t be afraid to. In the future, I might link out to Instagram posts for my articles, which would count as an external link so that the SEO strategy is a bit more balanced between internal and external linking.
- After publishing the article, I used the tool Web Counter to view the top keywords I used in the article. I looked at the non-common keywords list and the first two were the exact match keywords for my url, which was perfect. The keyword “pregnancy” was ranked in fourth place, which was also great to see. The only downside is the number of words on page: 748. My article is too short. It likely won’t rank high in search results for a while. One way to easily boost this number would be to take more pictures and expand on the post. I can update this article every four to six months to ensure that over the long-term it ranks high for its keywords.
So, you might be wondering what the marketing strategy behind this piece of content is. Since no one has ever heard of my brand before, I wanted to introduce them to my company through a piece of content first. I’ll direct ad traffic to my blog post to increase brand familiarity. Then, I’ll have a retargeting ad that gets shown only to those who’ve viewed my blog posts.
My Biggest Regret So Far (and Some Social Marketing)
These past few weeks have been a whirlwind. My biggest regret so far is not starting the social media marketing process sooner. If I had started marketing my social media accounts on the first week, I’d likely have a solid foundation in place right now. But still, I don’t give up easily so I’ll have no choice but to build my audience now.
At this point, I’ve taken quite a few pictures for my website and blog that I can turn into social media posts. It’s time to create my social media accounts.
Creating Social Media Pages
Normally, when I create a new Facebook page, I use my logo for my profile picture. An idea that I decided to pursue instead was adding one of my product photos in place of the logo. I also purchased a stock photo from ShutterStock so I could have a professional photo as my cover photo.
I actually love how attention-grabbing the profile picture is. It definitely pops a bit better than a plain old logo would.
I decided to use these two images for all social platforms. Unfortunately, they didn’t look good on Twitter or Instagram due to the circular shape. So I zoomed in a bit to make it look cleaner.
Setting Up My First Facebook Ads
To start, I created five ads: four to test different pictures to see which gets the most engagement, and one to drive traffic to my blog post.
Unfortunately, within a few seconds my blog post ad was rejected. Apparently, my content can’t mention “Are you expecting?” as it’s against Facebook’s ad terms. So, I rewrote parts of my blog content so that I could appeal the decision. Unfortunately, it was rejected again because I forgot to change the “search engine listing preview” so it didn’t show that I had removed the copy. So my appeal was denied. I changed the search engine listing preview. However, when I tried posting the article again on social media it still showed the original text. So now the plan is to wait a couple days for it to show the new copy so I can try to run the ad again. (I’m insistent on creating this ad because on average these ad costs are much lower than conversion-based ads.)
But for now, I’ll focus on the other ads.
I randomly chose four photos I liked and created social media posts. When creating my ad, I set it to “Use Existing Post” so that I didn’t have to create an ad from scratch. The targeting I experimented with varied for each pos, mostly with the arts and crafts niche. I assumed my audience was female and between 25-35. In the end, I got no sales.
However, two of my ads got a tiny bit of engagement. But nothing to brag about.
The only thing the engagement told me was that I probably chose somewhat decent photos. But truth is, the level of engagement is nowhere near high enough to know for sure. So I decided to create new ads that focused on these two photos. I noticed that my copy for these ads was pretty bad. Mostly because it wasn’t blatantly obvious that I was selling letter boards. This could be the reason why I didn’t sell anything.
Unfortunately, this ad performed worse.
At this point, I noticed a couple of big issues. First, while I was getting traffic, I wasn’t even getting abandoned carts. This raised a pretty big red flag. Either my audience wasn’t expecting to land on a letter board website and weren’t the right audience, there was something wrong with my product page, or, worse, something wrong with my product.
I need to investigate further to better understand why people aren’t buying from my store. However, the honest truth is I haven’t had much traffic to my store yet so this isn’t the time to make adjustments. This is the time to keep experimenting.
So on to the next ad.
I decided to change my approach for my next ad. I actually tried a tactic that’s worked well for me on other stores I’ve built. First, I create an engagement ad with a worldwide audience. The goal is to get a lot of engagement activity (Facebook likes) to make the ad look popular. That way it’ll be more likely that someone will click through to the website to look at the products.
While the ad got a lot of engagement on a tiny budget, it didn’t perform as well for me as it usually does in terms of click through. Facebook gave it a relevancy score of 2, which isn’t really ideal.
At this point, I’m a bit frustrated that my past tactics aren’t working well for this niche. But it just means that I need to keep experimenting.
My only win this week is that I ended up getting 182 people to like my Facebook page. Nothing spectacular, but I started from 0 only a couple of days ago. My strategy for getting people to like my page was basically to invite people who liked my posts to like my page.
Every time I got a notification for this on Facebook, I invited every person on the list. Unfortunately, after doing this a few times I actually got temporarily blocked on Facebook. I didn’t use a bot, I did it manually, but they said I did it too fast. I don’t understand why they’d send me a notification to do something and then block me from doing it. Weird.
So I didn’t get to invite as many people as I wanted to but did make some progress in the end.
Normally, when I choose products to sell for my own online stores, I choose a niche like yoga, dogs, or something else that’s super popular. It makes marketing pretty easy because usually people who are interested in yoga products like yoga. Since the targeting options are straightforward, and I usually get sales without any hurdles.
However, this product’s audience isn’t as simple. Letter boards are a product, not a niche. And so now I have to find the niche that’s interested in this product. Some of my assumptions so far include women who are currently pregnant or have just given birth, engaged women, and maybe photographers.
Unfortunately, I’ve run into some challenges with the maternity angle of this case study. The blog post I created for a retargeting ad got rejected. I appealed. And got rejected again. You can’t explicitly call out women who are pregnant, it’s considered a sensitive subject. So I’ve tried related angles like new moms or newlyweds. But still, it’s not the exact audience I’m trying to attract, which makes it a bit of a challenge.
In most of my other articles, I talk about experimentation… a lot. Truth is, sometimes you get your first sale within those first 24 hours after launch. And other times, it takes a bit longer to figure it out. While my first few ads have been complete busts, I can’t quit just yet. Most brands aren’t overnight successes. If this case study is going to teach you a lesson, let it teach you how to push forward after every rejection, mistake, and failed ad until you finally reach your goal.
A Glimmer of Hope
This week a lot of cool things happened because of Instagram. I decided to engage with people who used relevant hashtags. I’d follow relevant people hoping that they’d follow back. I’d like posts hoping that they’d notice mine. I tried being as active as I could in between taking social photos, creating ads, and writing this case study that you’re reading.
On June 19th, I was following 76 people but only had 8 followers. For an experienced marketer, this is actually super embarrassing. Truth is, literally everyone starts with zero followers. Even me.
But the funny thing: Even though my page wasn’t even close to popular, others still noticed it.
A well-known maternity brand with 289,000 Instagram followers randomly messaged me asking if they could repost one of my images on their page. I didn’t hesitate in responding and was super excited.
I basically checked their Instagram account every day hoping that they’d repost my picture to see what the impact would be. I imagined an endless amount of sales streaming through. But like I mentioned earlier, there’s no overnight successes in business.
Their post ended up getting over 2,100 likes and 671 comments. But no one commented about the product. Some liked the picture so much that they reposted it on their own Instagram accounts, but I didn’t get tagged in those posts.
In the end, I got about 5 pageviews back to my website from Instagram and quite a few new followers. So definitely no sales.
The biggest problem with their repost was that my photo credit was hidden in the post. A customer, browsing on their feed, needed to click “more” in order to see that I was tagged in the post. So my brand’s visibility was limited. But to be fair, this was completely free. So I shouldn’t have had any expectations on what the impact would be.
On a more positive note, I did reach out to them regarding a potential collaboration. And they were interested. So we can still work together since we’re in the same niche. The brand sells maternity clothing and I sell letter boards, so there’s nothing stopping us from working together. We’re complementary competitors.
First Publication Feature
Between the time that the maternity brand reached out and re-posted my picture, I actually had another big win.
The day before it happened I was contemplating whether or not I should post a picture on my Instagram account. The picture was of a summer baby announcement with cute flip flops and goggles. I thought the picture looked pretty ugly. But something in me said “h, just post it.” So I did just that.
The next morning, I got a message from PopSugar, one of the biggest publications around, asking if the photo was taken by me and if I’d give permission to them to share it in an upcoming article. Uh, is this really happening? Hell yeah, you can repost this in your publication!
The Instagram post was added to published blog post before the day ended.
The best part? My picture was posted first in the article. And now I get to use language like “As featured in PopSugar” on my website. I can even create a “Press” page. The worst part? No sales and no measurable traffic or audience growth. And they linked out to my Instagram account instead of my website.
But once again, not going to complain. This wasn’t an outreach done on my part, this was the result of someone reaching out to me. And on this day I still only had about 16 Instagram followers, so I’m still clearly a nobody in the online world. But that hasn’t stopped brands from noticing me.
A Couple Lessons Learned
While the impact of these shout-outs and reposts has been small, it does indicate that I’m on the right track.
The biggest game-changer that I experimented with in this series has been product photography.
You might remember that a few weeks back I talked about how much I sucked at taking product photos. I had a $25 budget to take my own photos and create social graphics with. The funny thing is my cheap, camera phone photos have been getting the attention of top brands. So I guess what they say is true, we tend to be our own worst critics.
I’m not a photographer or even an artistic person for that matter. So part of me is kind of stunned that people are even reposting my pictures. But it’s clear to me that for me to increase my online visibility I need to take more custom photos.
I also see an opportunity with these photos. Since a couple of brands have reached out about reposting my content, maybe I should start reaching out to other brands, pages, and influencers to share my content as well. I mean, if it’s good enough for PopSugar, then it’s good enough for anyone.
Gary Vaynerchuk always talks about how hard work is the reason why people get lucky. And it’s true. This week I seemed kinda lucky. Two top brands reached out to me to share my content and I didn’t even have 20 followers on Instagram.
I mean, how the heck did that happen?
But those shoutouts only happened because a few weeks ago I was working my ass off to take these photos. And I struggled with it. I was literally at a funeral a couple days before taking these photos.
The reason why I’m sharing this is because there’s going to be obstacles in your way sometimes. You’re going to have bad days. Days where you feel like a failure. Or days when you just want to give up.
I mean, I literally had zero sales at this point. I could cry about it and call it quits. Or I can acknowledge that I’ve only been marketing for a week and experiment harder. And that’s what I’m going to keep doing until I get my first sale on this store: experimenting and executing. If I have to try every marketing tactic in the world until it happens, then that’s what I’ll do.
Shout-out to Pixel Union
One of the challenges I had this week was that when a customer added a product to their cart, the item would be added to the cart but the cart icon was kind of hidden. I wanted to ease people into the funnel better. So I reached out to the team and asked for help. I gave them admin access on my store and they played around with the code for me… for free.
So now, when a customer adds an item to their cart, it takes them to their cart page rather than simply adding the product to their cart. This brings them one step closer to completing the checkout process on the store. This should eventually help with increasing conversions.
In case you ever have issues with your theme, always reach out to your theme developer because they can help you pretty quickly.
Zero Sales to First Sale
I had a few wins with shout-outs that helped me realize that I’m on the right path with the branding approach I’ve taken. Right now, it’s about getting that first sale.
I decided to go back to the research stage.
I browsed Alexa and a few other competition analysis websites to look at the traffic sources of my top competitors. And I instantly realized what I did wrong.
Most visitors were coming from Google.
Wait a second, this is 100% a search-based product. Why have I been marketing it like an impulse buy product?
But then I realized something worse.
I’ve never sold a search-based product in my entire ecommerce career.
Everything I’ve sold has been focused on getting the impulse purchase.
The most painful truth comes to realization:
I chose the wrong product for my skill set.
Probably should’ve just chosen those beach inflatables from the Oberlo app.
Or if I’m being more honest with myself, I should’ve validated my product by trying to get my first sale before deciding on a niche.
In the end, I decided to run a couple of Google Ads campaigns for the first time. About an hour after I turned off my Google Ads, I got my first sale.
According to my Conversion Summary, the customer visited three times before converting on my store. So it’s good that I had a retargeting ad running in the background.
This is the eighth store I’ve ever built and it’s been my most experimental one yet.
I’ve never ordered product samples for any of the stores. So it was cool to see what the product quality was like and to experience unboxing like a customer.
I’ve also never taken my own product photos, so it was a bit surprising to see how easy it is to get reposted on Instagram. I mean, I had under 20 followers and big brands were sharing my content. Pretty cool for a no-name brand like mine.
I experienced roadblocks, difficult moments and had exciting wins. And this basically goes to show how ecommerce and entrepreneurship aren’t linear.
You can never predict what will happen or how it’ll happen.
If I were to redo this weekly series, I would probably experiment with a wider selection of products under the guise of a general store. And then create a niche store out of the top-performing products.
This wraps up our weekly series, hope you enjoyed learning a couple new tricks along the way.
Thanks for following along!
Want to learn more?
- How to Choose a Niche for Your Dropshipping Store (Part 1)
- How to Set Up Your Shopify Store (Part 2)
- How to Choose Products to Sell (Part 3)
- I Ordered Product Samples. And This Is What I Got. (Part 4)
- How to Take Product Photos for Under $25 (Part 5)
- How to Write Captivating Copy (With No Experience) (Part 6)
- The Secret to Pricing Your Products (Part 7)