How We Got Over The Hump With Our Online Business

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Embarassing as it was for me to write my last article on how I was a neurotic mess when our business first launched, there were several points that I wanted to emphasize…

  • There is always a struggle and a period of uncertainty with every business until you make it over the hump. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it. If you hear a story that sounds too easy, chances are that it’s a sales pitch.
  • Some amount of neurosis or craziness is required with every business because it’s an indication that you have the necessary passion. The key is to channel that energy to the right place.
  • Sometimes you have to do whatever is necessary to get the job done even if it means sucking up your pride.
  • Someone needs to take one for the team. If my embarassing stories make you feel better about your own business then I’ve done my job. I tell it like it is.

Of course, all of that startup neurosis has to end at some point, otherwise you’ll eventually drive yourself and your business partners crazy.

I happen to be spending the rest of my life with my business partner so it was important for us to have a high level plan for success even from the very start. So how did my wife and I get over the hump?

We Didn’t Focus On Traffic In The Beginning

The title of this section might seem counterintuitive. After all, website traffic is the key to success for any online business. However in the back of mind, I always had faith that the web traffic would eventually come.

Perhaps I had watched Field Of Dreams one too many times but I had confidence that with enough content, the visitors would eventually find us either via the search engines or through word of mouth.

So one of the keys to getting over the hump was going into our business with the proper expectations early on. Business was going to start out slow and I knew that it was going to be slow for quite some time.

But one of the things I told myself was that I absolutely would not tolerate a high rate of shopping cart abandonment. If a customer was going to find us, I wanted to make sure that there was a high probability that they were going to make a purchase.

That is why I was so focused on stalking our customers early on. I wanted to know where they got stuck and where they left our store. I called them on the phone to find out why they weren’t completing their transactions.

I desperately wanted to know what was going on in their minds when they didn’t make a purchase.

We Used Adwords To Tune Our Conversion Rate

One of the best ways to test out the conversion effectiveness of your website is through Adwords. Because Adwords sends you direct traffic for people actually looking to buy products matching your keywords, they are ideal test subjects to iron out any conversion issues with your online store.

So early on we used very targeted, narrowly matching keywords and phrases to drive specific customers to our site with Adwords. And since traffic was pretty much nonexistent for our site outside of Adwords, we knew that almost everyone who arrived at our site was specifically looking for the items that we carried in our store.

Having targeted customers at your online store is great because if they don’t make a purchase at a high percentage, it usually means it’s your fault. After all, if you can’t convert customers who are actively looking to buy, then your site has problems that need to be fixed.

After a long period of stalking, calling and doing exit rate analysis, we got our store to the point where we were satisfied with our conversion rate. If a customer was going to step into our online store, we had a pretty good chance of making a sale.

We Focused On Content

Once our conversion rate was stable, we then focused on long term traffic. If you’ve read some of my case studies, then I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record. The key to long term sustainable traffic is content.

And by content, I don’t just mean any content, I mean content that people actually want to read as opposed to a bunch of verbiage that repeats your site’s keywords.

Our long term strategy was providing content that showed customers how to make various fun projects using our products as raw materials. By attracting people to our site through our content, customers were more likely to buy because they could easily purchase the things they were reading about without leaving the site.

Around the six month mark or so, our content strategy started paying dividends and we noticed a rise in the number of people arriving at our site through our content pages to make a purchase.

We Targeted Volume Customers In Our Niche

Selling one off products to individual customers is all fine and good but my wife and I knew that if we wanted to supplant her income within a year, we needed some big ticket customers as well.

So we made an active effort to target the biggest and most consistent buyers in our niche, the wedding and event planners.

If we could land consistent business from customers who would buy large quantities from us and refer us to other customers, we were set. Today, we get a good chunk of consistent business from event planners, wedding planners, hotels, restaurants and even private airlines.

In fact, our general consumer vs bulk purchasing numbers are pretty balanced and the two together make up a very powerful revenue generating combo.

How Did We Get Over The Hump?

To sum it all up, we got over the hump by initially focusing our energies on conversion rate before moving on. Getting all of the web traffic in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t complete the sale. Then, we put in place a long and a short term strategy for sales.

In the short term, we used adwords and focused on event planners for immediate traffic and sales. We also marketed on the wedding forums as well. For the long term, we focused on content to drive organic traffic based on search.

When things got tough and we wanted to give up, thoughts of spending more time with the family kept us going.

All of these things allowed us to make over 100K in profits in a little over a year of business and we’ve grown in the double and even triple digits ever since.

Ready To Get Serious About Starting An Online Business?


If you are really considering starting your own online business, then you have to check out my free mini course on How To Create A Niche Online Store In 5 Easy Steps.

In this 6 day mini course, I reveal the steps that my wife and I took to earn 100 thousand dollars in the span of just a year. Best of all, it's absolutely free!

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22 thoughts on “How We Got Over The Hump With Our Online Business”

  1. Hi Steve, your friend from Toronto again. How did your shoppers react when you called them? Did they happily volunteer information, and did they return to try again? Moreover, how did you have their phone numbers if they didn’t complete the sale – did you require registration to begin purchasing?

    Thanks,
    Alexa

    1. @Alexa
      Hi friend from Toronto! I know who are you by now:) The reactions I got from shoppers were a mixed bag though I would say that I got real answers from the majority of the customers I called. Most of them were surprised by the call and some were defensive. But eventually I got my pitch down to the point where it seemed as though I was just trying to help.

      The main customers I was concerned with were the ones who entered in their information but then did not complete checkout so I had all of their information already. At the time, we forced all customers to create an account which was one of our early mistakes. In any case, 80-90% of the customers I called never came back. The ones that did make a purchase did so right on the spot over the phone because they couldn’t figure out the checkout process (A lot of our customers are not computer saavy at all).

      In the end, I got a lot of feedback this way, but I can’t imagine that it was good for long term sales. At the time though, I couldn’t think of a better way to do it.

  2. I love hearing how people started their now successful businesses because it is at once motivational and informative. What fascinates me most is your focus on creating content and perfecting the shopping experience of your customers instead of putting marketing first. Clearly both are essential, but with time and experience in short supply it makes sense to concentrate on one and then the other. It takes courage and foresight to spend time creating products that you are not sure if anyone else is going to see, much less be converted into a sale, at least in the near term.

    1. @Tyler
      What’s funny is that I showed one of my friends this article and he was like “duhh…..” It’s good to know that some of you out there find this stuff interesting. It wasn’t immediately obvious when we first started what the right strategy should be.

  3. Thanks for following up on the story, Steve.

    Not sure I mentioned it, but I’m still in the planning stages of starting an online store catering to women’s fashion. I am currently working on my marketing plan and am using crowdspring.com to design my logo and stationery.

    If you’re interested I could share my crowdspring experience (once completed) in a guest post? Please feel free to respond privately if you’d rather not broadcast your response. I just thought it might be something that interests your readers.

    1. Hi Alexa,

      Sure, send it over whenever your post is ready.

  4. Nice article. A client of mine is trying to sell t-shirts online in a crowded market and with an honest budget. The newer, more affordable host I’m transferring them to will not only save them major bucks every year, but they give good discounts on Adwords as well.

  5. So working out what went wrong and fixing it all the time. Concentrating on making the site as good as it could be and looking at the most important element first. Good tips. Thanks.

    1. @Annabel
      Yep. That’s the theory. The hard part is getting the feedback.

  6. Steve,

    It’s clear to see why and how you got over the hump. Unfortunately many people have not yet come to this conclusion: “Getting all of the web traffic in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t complete the sale. We got over the hump by initially focusing our energies on conversion rate before moving on.”

    We tell clients this all the time – we can get you very targeted traffic to your site through AdWords and the other engines, but if your site doesn’t do a good job at making it easy for visitors to take action, don’t expect to see a high conversion rate or a solid ROI.

    Thanks for spreading the word that Adwords is a great tool, but there’s a post-click strategy that needs to take place on the website in order for advertisers to get the best results.

    1. @Xurxo
      Whenever I mention Adwords in an article, I know I’m going to hear from you:) It’s pretty amazing what you can do with Adwords. Just trying to get the word out since there are many skeptics out there who think that it’s a waste of money.

  7. While I do not have an online store, I am still interested in reading your posts on how you have made it! Keep up the great work!!

    1. @Evelyn
      Thanks for your support. Your comments are always welcome!

  8. Steve,

    I hear AdWords and I come running! :)

    Keep spreading the word, guys like us really appreciate that entrepreneurs like you truly see the power & value that adwords has to offer.

  9. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the good article, it really helped.

    When you say “Good conversion rate” from Adwords, what percentage is good in your opinion?

    1. @Sam
      It really depends on your niche and the products you sell. My conversion rates range anywhere from 4-6%. I’ve read that non-adwords conversion rates are around 1%. For Adwords, the conversion rate matters less compared to whether you are making money with your campaigns overall.

  10. Hi Steve,

    Thanks so much for this article (and the last on how you were a neurotic mess). Since I just launched my store on Sunday, it has been extremely difficult to not get frustrated with poor traffic, little sales, and not even ranking on Google (another managing expectations problem). Despite using social media, blog posts, and learning more about SEO I’ve seen little progress. I’ve been so encouraged to know how normal this is! Thanks so much for your posts and encouragement.

  11. Hey Steve,
    thanks so much for the last two posts regarding the early stages of your business. It’s really encouraging and motivational to know that the problems and frustrations we have are common also with successes like yours.
    Love your blog, learned so much already:)

  12. Thanks for this post, Steve – good stuff! I usually consume your content via podcast, but maybe I should check out your blog more often :)

    It’s interesting that you decided to focus on CRO first as opposed to driving traffic. Do you remember what some of the primary CRO issues were in the beginning? I saw that you mentioned that forcing users to create accounts before they purchased was a big one. Thanks, Steve – keep up the great work!

  13. Herb says:

    Is there a blog post on the research and decision process that led to choosing wedding linens? I do remember seeing something where you wanted something easily shipped and semi-customizable to be memorable. Can you expand on that? Thanks.

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