In the past 6 years, well over 2700 students have joined my Create A Profitable Online Store course. But I want to be straight up with you.
Not every one who has signed up has been successful with their ecommerce business.
When it comes to being a successful entrepreneur, the biggest variable in the equation is always YOU.
Do you have the necessary motivation and drive to succeed? Do you have the persistence to push through the initial learning curve? Do you have an open mind for learning?
After teaching my class for several years now, I’ve found that the most important aspect of running an online business is execution and persistence.
Can you carry out what needs to be done? And do you balk at the first sign of adversity?
Today, I want to talk about some of the patterns that I’ve noticed with the students in my class who have done well. And I also want to point out some common pitfalls with students who have failed.
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Student Statistics For My Ecommerce Course
Late last year, I conducted a survey of the students in my class and here’s a snapshot of the data.
Of the students who have been in my class for year and launched a product, 56% are generating at least 4 figures per month and 9% are doing over $50K per month in revenue.
While these statistics are pretty impressive by online course standards, the real question is what is happening to the other 44%? Why are there so many students not making much money?
In this post, I will give you my take on what the successful students in my class are doing versus what the failing students are not.
And hopefully, this analysis will set the proper expectations for those who are thinking about starting an online business or quitting their existing one.
Successful Entrepreneurs Don’t Sit Around Waiting For Traffic To Magically Appear
In any given group of students, there are always those who refuse to spend any money or do any additional legwork after their store or product has launched.
They come into the class with a grand vision that they’ll start ranking immediately in the search engines within a month. And traffic/sales will be free flowing like water.
These students usually start out very diligently by finding a pretty good niche, acquiring vendors and even putting up a decent looking website or Amazon listing.
But then they launch and refuse to spend any more money or do any additional marketing because they are waiting for the magical Google/Amazon traffic spigot to open up.
What usually happens next is that they’ll waste time rearranging different parts of their site and doing other silly things that are completely irrelevant when they could be writing content, buying PPC or Amazon ads, building backlinks, running giveaways, gathering emails or doing some good ole legwork.
Within a few weeks, they quickly become discouraged by their lack of sales and they start doubting themselves. Was this the right decision? Did I just waste all of my time on a shop that generates no income?
Meanwhile, it’s only been a couple of weeks and they haven’t really done anything proactive to build traffic to their website.
Note to all new business owners: The launch of your product is just the beginning!
After you launch is when the real work begins. And often times you will either have to spend money to acquire traffic or do some legwork to get customers in the door. The legwork is the key.
Early on with our online store, we did a combination of cold calling, forum marketing, content marketing, PPC marketing and funneling prospects from Ebay to attract our early customers. (This was before Amazon FBA existed)
In fact, search engine traffic was practically non-existent until the 6 month mark. Without our other efforts, we wouldn’t have generated many sales at all during the first 6 months.
Whenever I think of students who have “done the legwork”, I think of Abby Walker of VivianLou.com.(Click here to listen to her podcast interview).
Because of her persistence and tenacity, she designed her own website, learned Facebook ads, cold called vendors, flew across the country to give product pitches and eventually ended up on HSN and Oprah magazine!
The legwork is never glamorous and it’s not always fun, but early on you need to do what you need to do to get customers in the door.
Successful Entrepreneurs Choose Winnable Niches
A large part of my course is devoted to helping students find the right niche and there’s always a delicate balance when deciding what to sell online.
On one end of the spectrum, you need to sell something that has sufficient demand. But on the other hand, the product category must not be too competitive.
I can’t tell you how many students sign up for my class with a preconceived notion of what they want to sell.
But here’s the thing. Even after running the numbers and realizing that “selling t-shirts” is probably not the best idea, they go for it anyways. Now I don’t want to say that it’s impossible to succeed in a highly competitive niche.
However, it will be much more difficult and your time frame to profitability will be significantly longer. The niche that you choose is important and picking the right product to sell will make things much easier for you in the long run.
In fact, I would not even consider launching a product of any kind without running a quantitative analysis of my potential profitability.
It’s not a guessing game. There’s a science behind choosing the right product.
The best students in my class spend a good amount of time carefully researching their niche before they fully commit. They find alternate ways to test their products before spending a large sum of money.
Even though they are anxious to jump straight into the implementation phase, they take their time to make sure that this first crucial step is done correctly.
Not only that, but the best students in my class make sure they can provide a unique value proposition which makes their shop stand out among the competition.
Successful Entrepreneurs Take Action
The majority of my unsuccessful students never get past the starting line.
In fact, I hesitate to say that these students “failed” because you can’t really “fail” unless you give something an honest try.
The most common symptom among brand new students is analysis paralysis. They get so hung up in the research process that they never take action.
Believe it or not, engineering majors are actually the most susceptible to this because they expect to have hard answers before they begin.
Steve, is this product going to be a winner?
Steve, can you guarantee that this is going to work?
Steve, how much time will it take to make 100K?
In business and life, there are no definite answers. You can do all of the research that you want but you’ll never know whether something is going to sell until you throw it up and try to sell it.
The best students in my class are comfortable with taking action with imperfect information. They are comfortable investing a small amount of money as a test to see what works.
They are willing to take a small leap of faith!
Successful Entrepreneurs Always Follow Through
This last point is critical and often times the most difficult aspect of teaching my course. As part of my class, I take the time to thoroughly critique a student’s site(or Amazon listing) before they go live.
The hope is that by providing early and actionable feedback, a student can avoid wasting time and money on PPC ads or other forms of marketing for a non-converting site.
As far as I know, there is no other class or online program out there that does this. Not only does it take a tremendous amount of my own personal time, but I also take a lot of pride in providing honest and actionable feedback.
Anyways, there are times after a website critique where I notice that a student never ends up acting upon any of my feedback. Now I’ll be the first to say that I’m not always 100% correct, but I’m usually pretty close.
And in general, it frustrates me to see someone failing even though I know that a few tweaks here and there could make a huge difference.
Running an online business is not a stagnant affair. Even after you’ve launched, you should be constantly tweaking your site and making small changes to improve conversions. Testing is the key.
The people who fail are the ones who are not willing to make any major changes after launch. Don’t fall into this trap!
What defines a successful entrepreneur versus a failing entrepreneur is how you behave when things don’t go as planned.
- Failing entrepreneurs tend to wallow in self pity at their lack of progress.
- Failing entrepreneurs tend to stay on the same path even though things are not working.
- Failing entrepreneurs feel helpless, make excuses and play the victim card.
Meanwhile, successful entrepreneurs take a step back, analyze what went wrong and plot a different course of action.
Do you have the character traits of a successful shop owner? If so, then I want you in my class:) I love running my course but sometimes I get frustrated when a student doesn’t follow through. What can I say? I’m very passionate about making sure my students succeed.
I want everyone to make money online and I hate seeing someone give up when they are so close to the tipping point.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of time until things start clicking. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time until search engine traffic or word of mouth kicks in.
The main thing is that you need to set proper expectations for yourself and for your business. Making money online is not something that happens overnight.
It’s a marathon and not a sprint so you need to give yourself the necessary runway to give things a fair shot.
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Steve Chou is a highly recognized influencer in the ecommerce space and has taught thousands of students how to effectively sell physical products online over at ProfitableOnlineStore.com.
His blog, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, has been featured in Forbes, Inc, The New York Times, Entrepreneur and MSNBC.
He's also a contributing author for BigCommerce, Klaviyo, ManyChat, Printful, Privy, CXL, Ecommerce Fuel, GlockApps, Privy, Social Media Examiner, Web Designer Depot, Sumo and other leading business publications.
In addition, he runs a popular ecommerce podcast, My Wife Quit Her Job, which is a top 25 marketing show on all of Apple Podcasts.
To stay up to date with all of the latest ecommerce trends, Steve runs a 7 figure ecommerce store, BumblebeeLinens.com, with his wife and puts on an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.
Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses.