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NOTE: This article was written in 2018. Please research further before making a decision on whether or not to use apps suggested within. Given the nature of e-commerce things move fast and updating articles is very difficult considering the speed of changes.
I am going to share with you my Shopify success story as it is these very stories that motivated me to get started.
While this is not a massive win in my book, it does show you that success does come in many shapes and sizes. For most people starting out, you would probably be content with a quarter of what I was able to achieve.
Hopefully, with a bit of luck, I will not only be able to guide you to the figure above but well beyond and in a way that is sustainable.
Before we get started I suggest you open this article in another window to save to read immediately after. There are laws that we are legally required to adhere to when we're selling online. The 13 Must-Know eCommerce Laws are a list of our requirements.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's begin. Below I am going to share my success and how I came to achieve the $535,294 in 6 months.
My Shopify Success Story
First, you might be wondering who I am and where I started. Let me answer that question for you.
Believe it or not, I am a trade qualified carpenter and started my apprenticeship way back in 2004. A freaking lifetime ago now and looking back I believe I did it more for my father than for myself. Some days I even think about being on the tools again and it makes me nauseous.
In any case, I did that for a good 7 years, finished the apprentice and subcontracted until 2010 when I started my first online store called Bambino Brands. It was a baby and maternity flash sales website.
Not unlike the style of selling most of us do now, except that I had to pick and pack every order…that was never fun.
Even back then I was focused on engagement and how the customer perceived the business. I wanted Bambino Brands to be a hotspot. A place where mums would log in each morning when they opened Facebook and the last placed the checked before turning in at night.
I achieved this and had a slew of brand ambassadors that would often defend any minor wrongdoings I may have overseen. It was incredibly fulfilling. Particularly as a father marketing to 25,000 mums!
At the time agencies were sprouting a 1% Talking About This metric was proof of great engagement. I guess this is where my distaste for the agency model began, as I was not content without my page being at least 100% and maintaining that level and above.
I ended up selling it after about 18 months as I had built up over a $120,000 marketing debt that I couldn't pay back. It was really the motivation behind HAVING to succeed in business.
In any case, I was hooked with selling online and it really was the start to an incredible journey. Bambino Brands led into social media management, smm led into web design, web design led to Teespring and TS led me to Shopify.
Shopify is where it all really began to come together and with this article I am to help in being a part of your success.
My Success with Teespring
Teespring was the first real taste of success online. Within a couple of weeks of launching our first campaign, we had a winner. I'd cottoned on to a local law that affected a certain demographic and quickly put a design together… This is what I came up with.
We launched that right before going on a quick holiday/vacation. In those days you needed to sell 20 just to get it to print, so effectively you could have spent close to $200 in ads before you were guaranteed to be paid.
That one campaign was enough to for me to focus my attention. I continued finding designs while Suhail (my business partner) kept designing cheap websites. Within a couple of weeks, I'd noticed that people were doing name and age campaigns and that was when things got insane.
How we really started selling…
I'd start launching age based campaigns and they went off very, very quickly.
That was just a couple of shirts, we had actually done a handful of designs across 30 years so the dollars started to pile up really quickly.
Check out the screenshot below of the payouts and how close together they were!
The success we had with Teespring and Fabrily continued for 2 and a bit years before Suhail and I parted ways for about 18 months.
The reason we became so successful with selling on their platforms was through focus and consistency.
By being able to devote our time to come up with ideas for shirts and running ads we weren't required to take care of a full-service ecommerce store like Shopify. In saying that, with that focus, you lose the benefits of growing your own business, a saleable asset.
With the success of the 2 platforms, we were flown to speak at Fabcon in 2014. Video below.
And then a little later I was invited to speak at the Affiliate World Conference in Bangkok in December 2016.
Can't remember exactly the content of what we shared back in 2014 at Fabcon but in both instances, both presentations we did are still full of valuable content.
Reason for success with Teespring
- Focused effort on design and running ads
- New to market. We had fairly early first mover advantage with big campaigns
- After the early success, we stayed with it focusing on more niche based designs.
Crushing it with Shine On Jewelry
It's no real secret. I absolutely love Shine On and what Eric Tzocko has created with his team. Shine On truly goes above and beyond with the quality of their products by providing something that is truly unique.
In large part, it is still largely undiscovered. That is a tip for you. Have a go at selling their products and be pleasantly surprised.
If you haven't you need to seriously consider adding it to your arsenal particularly if you are into print on demand dropshipping. Check them out here.
Now, I first discovered them early in 2016 when they were just getting started. It was before Shopify had really taken off. In any case, I had stumbled upon a HUGELY scalable campaign.
The concept was LOVE. The word being spelled out with elements of the different niches. In my time with Shine On, I didn't do too badly. Particularly seeing as most of the profit was done in a few months.
This was the first time I proved the myth of brand new ad accounts. Within hours of launching my first campaigns with a fresh pixel, fresh ads etc, I was scaling, and scaling hard. The trick is to have an offer/product that is simply irresistible to your target demographic.
It was Eric that introduced me to Pillow Profits. I have a lot to thank him for as with friendship, it is with business. He under promises and over delivers. One day he will listen to me and spark up the 3d Jewellery again as it is something that can be truly dominated.
Now: My Shopify Success Story
Those early days of my internet marketing apprenticeship provided a great skillset to take advantage of any ideas I was able to conjure up for Shopify.
Being able to spot product trends and opportunities also helped in me selecting a product that was going to scale. That experience, however, is not needed to be successful.
The key to success is connecting with people who have gone before you and learn from their mistakes. Another reason I was successful with this store was due to having noted each of the systems I could implement to increase profit.
I actually have listed quite a few of them in this list “101 Ultimate eCommerce Sales Hacks in 2018”. You should definitely take a look at the article if you need to improve profit fast.
How did I decide what to sell…
Right before this major success with the store, I had launched another one unsuccessfully.
In a couple of months, I managed to do $7,884.09 on Velocity Bicycle Co. I was trying to replace my income and unfortunately, in Australia, it is difficult to live off $1,500 a month. Half of the total of the screenshot was ad spend..
The search continued and before long I had discovered what I wanted to sell next.
How I found Pillow Profits…
I was speaking with my previous account manager at Shine On Jewelry and they mentioned that Pillow Profits had some amazing products. I took one look, saw the sneakers and went about researching to see if there was a “dedicated” custom printed sneaker store…
There wasn't so I created my own in a couple of hours. Unfortunately, I cannot give you the name of the store in this article as it would be unfair to the new owner.
I can, however, share the figures and my experience in creating a solid branded store.
As I had only just recently set up a store weeks before, I knew the process pretty well.
There were a few key apps I needed to have installed before I got started. Apps, that I knew would increase my AOV, conversion rate and a whole host of other important elements to bring it all together.
How I got my first sale…
Seeing as I hadn't had contact with a designer for a while I had to get started another way. I had assumed trying to sell phrases on sneakers wasn't going to work.
With that in mind, I started looking at stock photography websites. Once I'd found some reputable sites I started searching for seamless patterns in niches I thought would work well.
The designs I stumbled across were amazing. With a couple of the designs, I'd hit pay dirt and couldn't wait to launch them. Typically, I just have a feeling when I think something will sell.
I now had 2 things going in my favor. Great designs and a killer product. All I needed now was Facebook to treat me kindly and as luck would have it, it's exactly what they did (doesn't happen all that often.)
As soon as I started selling I set up my retargeting funnel (Check out the exact funnel here) in tandem to the Shoelace Retargeting app. It's important when we're driving so much top end traffic that we have a solid funnel in place to mop up the sales once we know they're interested.
When you're starting out, the most difficult thing is managing all the variables. There are soooooo many it makes it almost impossible to know what part of your workflow is letting you down.
With every launch, every business I have, I make it a goal to reduce the number of variables to the bare minimum. In this case, my focus was purely on the sneakers. I was not interested in launching any other product. This allowed me to laser focus in on the design as I know my Facebook targeting is/was fine.
If you're launching several different products, into several different niches, with several different designs there is too much to be able to effectively track and reiterate in order to fail your way to success.
Steps I took to get my first sale
- Decided on a single product that could be scaled into many niches
- Found a quick way to scale designing. In this instance, stock illustrations (NOTE: make sure you pay for the extended license on the images as most do not allow for commercial use)
- Put together 10 designs across 10 niches
- Started running ads to those 10 designs
PRO TIP: Focus on what the customer would LOVE. Not what you think they want.
Facebook – My best avenue for sales
I wouldn't call myself lazy. My “why” however is very strong. The reason I am in business is for Freedom. What this means is in the past I have done the bare minimum to be able to live that why. My family is important to me and I spend as much time with them as possible.
So what does this mean? It means that I am an expert in Facebook Advertising and know stuff all about advertising on other platforms. Purely because I have made more than enough to sustain our lifestyle by doing the bare minimum. Not a great long-term plan.
So with that in mind, my focus was on running ads on Facebook. I had earlier disproved a myth that you couldn't scale a brand new ad account and I was about to prove that again.
Within a couple of hours of launching on a new ad account, I had my first sales. I was selling sneakers for a couple of dollars with a $40USD profit. Within 12 hours I was scaling my first lot of ads by way of duplication.
Step 1 – Set Up the Facebook Pixel
This is a pretty easy step, if you haven't done this then I suggest you take a look at a guide on how to do just that (I thought I had written one. I haven't, check back soon as I will put that on the To Do list).
Step 2 – Product Photography and Ad Copy
If you find yourself a decent fulfillment agency chances are they are going to have great imagery you can work with. Print on demand is my favored choice when it comes to dropshipping as while the product won't be unique the designs you put on will be.
Once you start finding success with a product I suggest ordering it yourself to get a ton of lifestyle photos created that you can use on your social media channels and in your advertising.
The great thing about Pillow Profits is they have a ton of resources for creating lifestyle imagery. From there it is a matter of selecting a mockup that best showcases your product for the different image sizes on Facebook.
The ad copy I use stays pretty similar on all products I run on Facebook. It's a mixture of being engaging, with a simple call to action and a prompt for sharing. It will typically look something like this…
“On a scale of 1-10, how cute are these Vet Sneakers? 🐶😍 🐾
Get your SNEAKERS here [link]
Do you know someone who'd love these or should buy them for you? 🐶😍 🐾”
Notice how it's not forceful, it's not asking them to share but the message suggests that they should let someone know…
Step 3 – Campaign Structure and Budgeting
Since around 2014 after a discussion with Keegan Rush, we were told of a new way that was working for running ads. It looked like this.
- Campaign x 1,
- Ad Set per Campaign x 1,
- Ad per Ad Set x 1.
The thinking behind it is… If there is any bad juju associated with that campaign it's not transferred into the second.
So with the 1 campaign, 1 ad set, 1 ad focus, we would launch 2 x campaigns for each new design. With shirts, we had a stop loss set for $20. That meant, if no sale was attributed to that ad set by the time $20 had been spent, we turned it off. That was and still is a hard and fast rule, for shirts at least.
What changed was that now, with sneakers the margin was much larger. Instead of $10 profit, there was now $40. So, I adjusted my stop loss to suit. I would let my ads run to $80 before that ad was turned off.
The Naming Convention
You now know the “stops” let's look at the naming convention that was used in order to easily track and scale our campaigns.
Each new campaign was denoted by its own number, each launch a new consecutive number.
Each new “Launch” would have 2 Ad Campaigns launched for it. 1 was a Broad ad, think capitalized interest…i.e. Golf club, Fishing rod, Sewing Machine, Ghost hunting.
The 2nd is always a more specific ad… i.e. makingbirdies.com, ugly stik, sew mama sew, hauntcon.
This allowed us to target a broad range of targeting options within a niche and allowed us to cast our net much wider than launching 1 ad per new design.
The image makes it clearer how we denote each campaign. The number in the sequence of launch. The capitalized for the series name, the Niche, the region targeted, and the ad number.
Step 4 – Scaling
Scaling is always the fun part and is what I can attribute my Shopify success story too. While we stick to a very similar method each time we do scale, we continually test and introduce new ways to make sales.
The beauty of being able to scale a campaign is that there is enough fat in that campaign to start testing other things that could work. These days, it is almost infinite the number of ways that you can scale out.
Particularly when you think of age, gender, placements, devices, interests, optimizations and ad style. It literally is a matter of testing and finding what works for your unique situation.
Our scaling looks like this.
- More duplication
- Cut ads that didn't convert with duplication
- More duplication
This really throws in the face of what most Facebook reps and agencies will tell you. BUT, it works, and has worked for us for many years.
After duplication, we focus on lookalikes. Again, so many options. The main ones are what we picked up back in the Teespring days.
Building Lookalikes off;
- Page Lookalikes
- View Content Lookalikes
- Pixel Lookalikes
The more we sell the more we spend time scaling out the campaign. They end up getting monitored very closely particularly when the budget starts being increased, which is another method we use.
- Bully Method – as coined by Tim Burd of Adleaks & Agency Y. Read more about the Bully method by clicking the link.
Adding manual bidding into the mix can add much more firepower to campaigns you have already duplicated.
NEVER EVER TOUCH A CONVERTING CAMPAIGN (other than duplicating).
Another thing to note is the video is performing increasingly well and has done so for a while now. They do not need to be intricate or incredibly complex. It can be as much as a slideshow or an unboxing done on your phone.
As you can see by the following screenshot, the store started with a massive bang. Within weeks I had scaled my ad spend to $5,000 a day. I was finally realizing every dream I had had leading up to that point. I literally felt like I was becoming the success I always knew I would be…but Facebook had other ideas for me.
If you've been online for at least 12 months you might remember May last year when Facebook was rolling out their new “Pixel Update”.
I do because I feel like it was the reason that the store hit the skids so quickly. I went from spending $5,000 a day on ads and profiting twice that to spending less than $1,000 a day within a week.
After you hit those sorts of levels you expect nothing less and no matter what I tried launching after that time I just couldn't get it to scale as it had previously. In any case, once I hit September and it had plateaued at making about 10k net profit per month I'd decided to sell and focus on agency work.
I know, the very industry that I had grown a distaste for.
Selling in September I felt that whoever took over the store had the best advantage of quickly making back their investment with the holiday period to come.
If you wanted to know the process you need to go through to sell a store I wrote an article that will help you do just that called How to Sell Your Shopify Store on Flippa.
Anyway, you didn't come here to hear me whine about my mistreatment by the Facebook pixel slam.
How to actually run an ethical ecommerce store
I have covered off on this quite a lot on Storehacks. Primarily due to the fact that it was built around this very thing. Every interaction we have with a customer must be treated as an opportunity for us to help them.
This does not mean it's an opportunity to sell each time. It's an opportunity to build a real relationship with the customer and offer them guidance to help fulfill a need they have. In the past, I have ended up adding customers on Facebook as they were so happy with the service and wanted to be a part of the store to help it grow.
Every interaction I have I ask myself “How can I make this persons day better”. I greet with a warm smile, I have fun with them and in turn, they (hopefully) leave feeling a little better than before they'd spoken to me.
Back in “work mode”, often times when I'm launching new campaigns I catch myself smiling…
Why? Because without thinking, I am putting myself in the customer's shoes. As in, how they would feel when they saw the product, or respond to the copy in our ads. If I am smiling it is typically a good sign that I am on the right path to delivering happiness (As Tony Hsieh put it in his Zappo's book).
If you want to learn how to create an ethical store take a look at my “Shopify Experts 12 Do's or Don'ts for eCommerce Success”
My advice to first-time ecommerce entrepreneurs to get their own Shopify Success Story…
What I mentioned in a recent feature on Oberlo (yup that's right, little ol' me was featured on Oberlo) was the need to be consistent. This means showing up each day with a level of enthusiasm that makes the mountain of a day ahead look like a molehill.
But how do you do that? You find your “Why”. It took me quite some time to figure out what mine was, however, since discovering what it was my whole concept of what I was trying to achieve change.
I was no longer chasing down the fast cars, big houses or luxury yachts (they'd still be a welcome addition to the household), I was focused on building an asset for my Freedom. Like William Wallace in Braveheart, they can take our lives, but they will never take our FREEDOM (not sure the quote entirely makes sense now…I just really wanted to use that gif).
Looking back on that movie business is much like going into battle. I don't believe however, we need to sacrifice that which we only have one of, which is, our life. For with ecommerce done ethically, you will have more life than you ever imagined possible.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask in the comments section. Do you know of any Shopify success stories? I would love to hear them!
If you found any value in this article please share with your friends to help inspire them to get started in a better life.