I recently launched my first ecommerce site about three weeks ago. I followed along with most of the things you’d find online, like: “How I started a Shopify Store and made a million dollars in one week.” or “How to create a profitable side business without doing any actual work.” (These are exaggerations of the things I read, but you get my drift)
I started my shop, Blacademix.com, not necessarily on a whim, as I had been thinking about starting some type of ecommerce shop for a while. I was even more intrigued by the prospect of ecommerce after being really put off by the captalistic approach of pure-dropshipping, but extremely excited about the idea of making things that people could buy via the internet. Initially I was looking at Etsy as a place for building a shop, but chose against it in the end (something to discuss in a later post).
So I set up my shop. I played with Shopify for a week, and when I came together (quite quickly, I might add). I thought: “Might as well launch the fucka’!” And WAM! BAM! I had a business! I put it out there to my friends and family who were super excited and supportive and gave really good feedback. And then my first two sales came in and I freaked with surprised happiness, but also shear panic at what I learned from those sales because:
I LOST MONEY!
Lesson #1: Create value. Creative Value. Create VALUE. Don’t give away free things.
So, I lost money. Why? Because I was giving away things for free. My husband, Captain Redbeard (Redbeard for short), said to me (over and over...and OVER again): “Nothing is ever free, it always costs SOMEBODY!” But I wasn’t trying to hear that.
I wanted to have a “giveaway” to entice people to buy my designs and products. Writing that out doesn’t make much sense, now. But, at the time, I decided to give away a t-shirt with the purchase of another item, in exchange for filling out a survey about the website.
Yeah sure, I got a couple sales. But with shipping (which I also offer for free), transaction costs, and the actually cost of the item + printing. I was putting myself at a disadvantage and my business at a loss from the get-go. I felt like I owed my customers that freebie! But I really didn’t.
I felt like if they filled out this survey then they should be rewarded. A couple of people obviously agreed, but most of the people who filled it out didn’t buy anything! Whoops! That was a big fat failure of a crappy strategy.
So, what I learned is that I needed to value myself and to create value around my products. To me this means, setting that price and sticking with it. It also means getting valuable things (like emails) in exchanges for equal value things (like a newsletter subscription discount for first time customers: BTW! Sign up to the Blacademix newsletter!). It’s about cultivating that space. With the freebie I was letting go of control, while simultaneously devaluing my business.
Redbeard and I went back and forth about incentives, mostly him advising to stop giving away free shit, and me justifying the free-ness of my (bull)shit. But...I ultimately decided to get rid of that promo, after the last sale came through from that discount, because I realised that I wasn’t running a nonprofit, but an empowerment streetwear brand that’s a for-profit.
I needed to start acting like I was running a business, not charity. Which in itself is a hard lesson to learn for me, especially when my background experience has been solely in nonprofit and charity work.
Lesson #2: Surveys are kind of a dumb way to get feedback. Engagement is WAY better.
Furthermore, I learned that some things don’t provide much value to me even though it feels like it should? Let me break that down. Let’s go back to that survey. I considered the opportunity cost of that survey weighed against the cost of losing money on a free shirt (that I was actually paying for, remember). The survey asked questions that, in hindsight, didn’t provide THAT much feedback about my shop. But, being a researcher, I felt like it was a good step.
It wasn’t. I didn’t ask the right questions, I didn’t make people look at the site. And most important of all, no one wanted to really take the survey, anyway. But, also being a researcher, I should’ve KNOWN that nobody EVER wants to fill out a survey, because surveys are boring.
So I adjusted my approach for feedback. And I learned that the best feedback about your products is a sale! (Amirite?) The next best type of feedback is engagement in the form of likes, comments, and follows. So I set up my social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest) and I got to work on those.
I learned about Zapier and set up some Zaps to automate the posting process. This has worked mostly great (I say mostly because Facebook acts like a angsty teen when you try to do certain things...sigh! Just do the work I’m asking you to do, FACEBOOK!). Though building up those communities is a lot harder than throwing out a survey, they are way WAY more rewarding and fun to do.
Using social media is also a much more connected process because I get to interact with other people who also have their own shops, and we can share in the process together.
I’ve learned a great deal already with my new business, and there are a lot of lessons to still learn. From my adjustments I am no longer losing money on my products, I’m also trying out different ways to create value around my business through a more human-centred and community based approach.
My ultimate goal with this business is build a space for women to come and feel empowered!
Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment or a like!