Last week, I wrote about my own journey building an ecommerce business from cringe-inducing MS Paint mockups to a $100,000 side-hustle.
It really resonated with the folks at /r/entrepreneur, garnering 819 upvotes and 240 comments.
This week, I want to take it a step further.
I’m going to talk about how we plan to grow from $100,000 to $1,000,000 in revenue.
Specifically, I’m going to talk about how to 10x our marketing effectiveness, without spending too much time on it.
That means getting a bigger ROI out of our marketing efforts and spending!
Let’s get right to it.
#1 – Before anything else, run 10x more effective, productive meetings
We used to be total idiots about this.
First, we thought that meetings were for corporate stiffs, not for cool young entrepreneurs like us.
Second, whenever we did meet, we’d just improvise and talk shop without any particular agenda.
It’s really quite a miracle we ever got anything done.
And the truth is, we took much, much longer than we really needed. Which was completely the opposite of what we actually wanted.
It was only when we started working at ReferralCandy that we really learned how meetings could be good things:
Good meetings save you time. They remove guesswork from the equation. They get you aligned on what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it. They keep you focused. They get you more motivated.
Here’s what we’ve learned about what makes for good meetings:
1. Meetings should have a fixed, finite schedule.
Without a time constraint, meetings can drag on and on and become a frustrating, draining experience. With the constraint, we’re forced to move faster.
2. Meetings should have clearly defined agendas.
If you can cover the entire agenda within less than the allotted time, it’s okay to improvise and explore new ideas and so on, but get the agenda out of the way first.
3. Everybody should walk away from a meeting with clearly-defined Next Actions.
It’s important to have a framework for deciding what the next actions should be. This is discussed in the following subheader, Framework.
4. ONE person should be responsible for each thing.
It’s hilarious how, even with only two people, it’s easy to say that something “should” get done, and that “we should do it”, and then find that each person kinda-sorta assumed that the other person would do it, or just let it slip.
So, let’s say we graduate from ill-prepared, irregular meetings to sharp, smart ones. What’s next?
#2 – Use an externalized framework for prioritizing Next Actions (e.g. ICE framework)
Knowing how we ran our meetings, could you guess how we prioritized our todos?
That’s right, we didn’t. ?
We pretty much did whatever we felt like doing, whenever we felt like doing it.
This was fine when we were younger and had tonnes of free time, but it didn’t scale. As time went by, we found ourselves doing less and less.
This is starting to change since we’ve started using the ICE framework:
The ICE framework appears in quite a few places, but it seems to have been popularized mainly by Sean Ellis.
It systematically removes a lot of guesswork by asking 3 simple questions:
- What is the potential Impact that a task will have?
- How Confident are you that it will work?
- What’s the Ease of doing the task?
Answering these questions automatically answers the two implied questions we struggled to answer earlier on:
- What should you do next, and
- Why should you do it over all the other tasks you could be doing?
We used to spend practically half or more of our time deliberating the above two questions.
What’s funnier is how NOT having an answer would cripple us – if we weren’t clear about what to do next, we’d default to not doing anything at all.
You don’t necessarily need to use the ICE framework in making decisions yourself…
… but you should definitely externalize that decision-making so that it isn’t wasting your brain-cycles.
#3 – Establish a clear roadmap to reduce second-guessing and decision fatigue
The idea here is to be clear about what is going to be done, then to wasting energy re-evaluating it unnecessarily.
When putting together an overarching roadmap for all of our Next Actions, we found that we could break down all our tasks into 3 categories, or sub-plans:
A. Product roadmap
B. Content roadmap
C. Marketing tactics roadmap
(There’s also Operations, but that’s more of an on-going thing.)
A. Product roadmap
If we want to keep growing as an ecommerce brand, we’re going to have to continue to innovate and come up with new products for our customers.
This is especially true for fashion, where ideas get stale and go out of date.
In the past, we’d be very ad-hoc about our ideas, only making things when “inspiration hit”.
This meant that we were missing out on adjacent products that our customers might love.
To overcome this, we’re committing to shipping a regular pipeline of new products.
If something takes off, we can keep it. If it doesn’t, we can quietly get rid of it.
This accelerated trial-and-error is proving to be a low-risk, high-return way of discovering new products and new sources of revenue.
B. Content marketing roadmap
As with everything else, we were inconsistent about the way we were producing content.
As the ReferralCandy blog editor, I’ve learned firsthand the importance of having a clear editorial direction and publishing regularly.
So I wrote up a content manifesto and shared it with our friends and supporters on Facebook…
I’ve since gotten about a dozen writers who are interested, and have scheduled their posts in a content calendar.
Our long-term goal is to turn Statement into a destination for our audience to hang out – rather than simply being a place for people to buy t-shirts.
C. Marketing tactics roadmap
Here’s a list of almost everything that an ecommerce retailer or small business can do to get more revenue, either by getting more visitors or converting better.
We’re using these ideas and resources ourselves – just remember to put them through a rigorous prioritization process. Every retailer’s context is different – what works well for one might not work at all for another, and what is difficult for me might be easy for you.
1. Search Engine Optimization
While we started our business entirely on Facebook, we’ve found that a large amount of traffic to our site comes through search.
We already rank #1 for “Singapore t-shirt”, which brings us a good amount of traffic…
But there are many, many other related and relevant search terms we could be ranking for.
Beyond that, there’s a lot of technical SEO improvements we can make.
All of this breaks down into specific tasks that then go into our spreadsheet of possible Next Actions, which we plot out according to the ICE framework mentioned earlier.
2. Mailing list
We know to collect emails from our customers, but we’ve never really been super deliberate about how we market to them via email.
We weren’t even collecting emails from visitors to our site, which should be a core part of our marketing strategy.
3. Abandoned cart emails
About a third of the people who start putting things into their cart when they get onto our site end up leaving without checking out.
This is one of the most glaring areas where we could be getting 10-30% more revenue just by improving the quality of the emails that we’re sending.
We started our business entirely on Facebook, so we always have a bit of a soft spot for the platform.
It particularly makes a lot of sense to do retargeting – I’ve gotten retargeted by ads as a consumer myself, and I have to admit that they’re incredibly effective in keeping the brand top of mind for me.
Instagram is huge for lots of ecommerce brands, and we’ve found it to be true for us as well. People are often to should be posting every single one of our products, and those descriptions should have links to the product pages on the site.
- Bootstrapping Ecommerce – 15 experts share their Instagram marketing tips
- Austen Allred – The ultimate guide to growth-hacking Instagram
- SelfStartr – Instagram marketing tips
- AdEspresso – 37 Instagram ad examples
- PracticalEcommerce – 10 ways to use Instagram for ecommerce marketing
- Venngage – Instagram For Business: 9 Tips From the Tourism Industry
Conclusion – It’s all about transitioning from “random acts of marketing” to establishing a deliberate and systematic process.
Looking back, it’s painfully obvious that we weren’t even a tenth as productive as we could’ve been.
We didn’t meet much, and when we did we weren’t clear about what we were going to do next.
When we DID know what we wanted to do, it was often mis-prioritized, and we’d typically waste time mucking around about it.
And if and when some things FINALLY got done, we wouldn’t really learn very much from it.
It’s clear then that growing our business further is going to be less about accidentally falling upon a silver bullet (we know from experience that there aren’t any), but about having a rigorous, systematic process.