One of the biggest obstacles to launching an online store is finding the time to do it. And while I think focusing on your business completely is a great option, most people just aren’t in a position to quit their full-time job.
That’s why I was impressed when I met Kamal Taylor at my recent eCommerceFuel reader meetup in Austin, TX. Despite working full-time jobs, both he and his co-founder have managed to research, build and launch CurbSide Air, an eCommerce site specializing in humidifiers.
Due to his success – and the fact that he’s an all-around stellar guy – I invited him to share his experience on the blog. He’s also offered to answer your question in the comments section below.
Take it away, Kamal!
My name is Kamal Taylor and my journey began back in 2004 when I sort of fell into a career in online marketing. Since then I’ve been honing these skills at a few different employers, learning and applying many different strategies and tactics to drive results online.
In 2009 a longtime friend and I had several long discussions about our futures and where we wanted to be career-wise in 10 years. We both agreed that whatever we were doing in 10 years we wanted to own it 100% and be calling the shots.
Fast forward to 2011 and we really began giving serious thought to what sort of business we wanted to get into. After several months of research and soul-searching we settled on e-commerce as a medium that could leverage our marketing strengths and help us meet our personal goals.
Doing It With a Full-Time Job
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” –Frederick Douglass
A valid question we asked and that you may be asking yourselves is: “How can I possibly launch a full-fledged eCommerce store when I have a full time job/social life/wife/children, etc.?” There is no way to sugar coat this – in order to create a feasible online store there is much sacrifice to be made. If you have a regular job and are looking to launch an eCommerce store in your spare time, be prepared to give up nights and weekends to work on your store on a regular basis.
At the beginning of this journey, I had a tough conversation with my wife to set the expectation that there would be times where we wouldn’t see much of each other during nights or weekends. I frequently had to turn down friends for dinner and other social gatherings. I also gave up watching television for the most part.
My weekends no longer consisted of a lot of fun outings, staying out late and sleeping in. On weekends I was up early at my desk cranking. The one extracurricular activity that I didn’t give up was working out. I think it’s important to maintain both mind and body even in the busiest of times.
It takes a great deal of patience to get through the tasks required before launch, but if anyone ever told you would get rich quick from eCommerce, they lied. There is definitely a TON of opportunity in eCommerce. However, in order to capture some of that opportunity, you’ll need to make sacrifice and bust your tail.
How We Picked Our Niche
How in the world did I select a single product niche out of thousands of possible choices? For several weeks I carried a notepad with me and any time I saw or thought of a product niche that sounded like a good candidate for eCommerce, I wrote it down.
At the end of those few weeks we had a list of about 300 niches. We then proceeded to pull as many data points as we could about each of those product niches, which included:
- Search traffic estimates for main niche keywords using the Google Keyword Tool. We made sure to use “exact match” results only.
- Keyword difficulty, average linking domains, and average links for the top 10 Google results for a niche using SEOMoz
- Average product price in Amazon
- Estimated that we could capture 5% of total search traffic in 1-2 years being in business
- Estimated conversion rate at 1.5% based on industry data we’ve seen
- Estimated revenue for each niche by using 5% of traffic, conversion rate and average product price
Being able to put traffic and dollar values next to our niche ideas was immensely eye opening! It’s an exciting feeling to say, “A potential dehumidifier site has $1 million in annual revenue opportunity.” If that isn’t a motivator I don’t know what is!
In your head, you may be poking holes in our niche research methodology. I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t perfect. However, it was what we needed in order to make an educated guesses as to where to put our focus, given our limited time due to our busy work schedules.
The final step in niche analysis was to review each niche based on revenue opportunity and difficulty/competition level. We focused on 5 or so niches that fell into the mid-range of revenue and difficulty. If you do an analysis similar to ours, you’ll find that, as expected, difficulty generally scales up with revenue opportunity.
This niche research project took us about a month but could certainly be condensed to a smaller amount of time for someone more determined than we were at the time. We also found immense value from the eCommercefuel eBook during our niche analysis project.
How We Found Suppliers
This step was actually easier than we thought it would be. We found that the hardest part of finding suppliers is getting over the fear of calling them. Overwhelmingly, the response we got from suppliers was very positive. Most are very eager to sign on new stores who will sell their products.
In our experience, calling the manufacturer first yielded the best results rather than trying to find distributors. If the manufacturer didn’t offer drop shipping themselves, they were happy to refer us to their suppliers that do drop ship. This often yielded great results due to the fact that most suppliers carry multiple brands. So talking to one manufacturer could actually lead you to forging a drop ship relationship for several brands.
One challenge is that some suppliers/manufacturers may be hesitant to sign on a new re-seller if you don’t have a live website. So, we got creative and simply sent the site mockup that our designer made. This proved sufficient for quelling suppliers’ fears that we weren’t serious about launching our store.
My advice to you is to not fear calling suppliers or manufacturers. For one, it shows how serious you are if you’re willing to pick up the phone rather than opting to simply submit a contact form. Also, manufacturers and suppliers want new business so it’s in their best interest to talk to you.
Launch, Marketing & Next Steps
We launched CurbSide Air on October 15. It was a glorious day! But now the real work begins.
The first thing we did after launch was send out an email blast to close friends and family to let them know about our launch and ask for feedback. After you are “head down” working on launching your store there will certainly be broken links, typos and other things you failed to find or fix before launch. Your friends and family will be willing to help you out in finding those issues. And with any luck, one or two of them will buy something from your store!
With the site live, it was time to start in on marketing. I’m a huge proponent of both paid and organic search marketing, so I think a lot of focus should be given to those areas in the beginning and an ongoing basis. Some other areas of focus on our 6 month marketing plan include:
- Find relevant and quality directories to list our site on
- Build relationships with bloggers in our niche and collaborate on content or guest posts
- Launch paid search campaigns on Google, Bing and Yahoo! for “bottom of funnel” (long tail) keywords
- Write buying guides and other high-value resources (it’s all about great content)
- Write 3-5 blog posts for the store blog per month
- Contact additional manufacturers to expand our product selection
I’ve soaked up an immense amount of knowledge since embarking on launching our store. Reading amazing blogs like eCommerceFuel, SEOmoz, and others, I’ve gained enough knowledge to feel confident launching a store of my own. You should feel the same way. If there is anything you’re not sure about, Google it. Chances are there is an amazing blog, resource or community out there to help you through it.
What Questions Can I Answer?
I hope sharing my story has inspired you to either take the leap or helped you solidify your desire to launch an e-commerce store! And I’d love to answer your questions about the journey and process I’ve been on. Ask your questions in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to answer them.
(Looking to land some eCommerce experience during your 9-to-5 vs just on the side? Check out our list of interesting companies looking to hire on our eCommerce Job Boards.)
Photo by Mark Sebastian