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Joseph's Ecommerce Journey (Part 1)

icon-calendar 2020-12-02 | icon-microphone 20m 35s Listening Time | icon-user Joseph Ianni

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Curious to know what it's like to enter into the ecommerce space for the first time? Well, this being an ecommerce podcast, Joseph has decided to put his money where his mouth is, and document his own journey into the industry. He's sharing all his ups and downs, exciting accomplishments and nerve wracking setbacks.

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DISCLAIMER: Any advice I give is solely based on my own experience and research. There is no guarantee as there are many variables that will impact your success. Everything stated should be taken as opinion.

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Tags: #Ecommerce #E-commerce #GettingStartedInEcommerce #BusinessDevelopment #Entrepreneurship #Entrepreneurial #OnlineBusiness #Dropshipping #Debutify


Good to have you here. As you well know, this is an ecommerce podcast, and we’re a cutting edge shopify theme, based on years of research and hard won experience. And so, as I was learning about the potential it has, my irises went from a circular dark shade of hazel to a vibrant green in the shape of an S with two little nubs sticking out of the top and bottom. I thought about it plenty, and I came to a few conclusions; one, Toronto is an expensive place to live, two, I can’t move to Austin Texas until I figure out how to get American Citizenship… or maybe it’s Houston.. Whichever has a better downtown core, three, I have a lot of projects I want to fund, four, this could go on all day, and five, if I’m really going to put my money where my mouth is (and vice versa) than I should take my own jump in to ecommerce. I’ve been very  open about where I’m at in life, and for a lot of you, taking the plunge might be a bit nerve wracking, so I’m going to do it first, and tell you all about what happens. If I succeed I’ll tell you how it went right, if I fail, or as I like to call it, struggle in perpetuity, I’ll also let you know how things went wrong. 


Let me start with my background in this field, because I’m green but not totally new. My first crack at ecommerce was a webcomic which is still going to this day. My job isn’t to promote my own stuff so I’ll leave it at that. My goal was to make a comic label that could go toe to toe with the big boys. Obviously that’s youthful idealism talking but I went for it nonetheless. My plan was to sell them both in print and digitally, at the time I was living at home but working  part time at my luxury watch job. So I saved up money hoping to focus it primarily on marketing, but I learned that there are illustrators who work for free, but are not obligated to get back to me, and the ones who are good cost money. Keep in mind, I’ve tried to learn to draw, I have had little success, lack the knack. After a year of consistently putting out material, I was ready to advertise. I did so using project wonderful, which is an artist focused ad network where different websites can sign up to have pw ads displayed there. It hasn’t taken off the way I envisioned it, but it wasn’t a waste either. Having given it a go, I learned some lessons and took some lumps. Having a website to call my own allows me to show my writing skills to any prospective job or interested party, something I still have in play to this day. I paid someone a grand to design a website and it was singlehandedly the worst financial investment I ever made bar none, you should only be paying people to do things if you do not have the time to do it yourself or are so absymsally incompetent you cannot do it, I was competent enough to design a website, I was more drawn in by the allure of having a high profile web designer, in the long run it did nothing for me and I mean that. In fact it ended up holding me back substantially. Once the design guru left the business knowing there were only so many people she could rip off, the template she used for my site ended up being unable to update unless I paid the extra money to the template provider directly to gain ownership. That was mistake 1 through 6. The second mistake was budgeting for artists, paying artists in of itself was not a mistake but, I know what it’s like to not get paid what I deserve in the past. One client I worked with for four years paid me 15-20 dollars canadian for 3-4 hours of work. It was acceptable at first, when I was just starting out, but 4 years later and several push backs later it not only wasn’t worth my time and well being, it was a net loss. Paying artists what they deserve encourages them to continue pursuing their craft but the cost adds up pretty quickly, and the comic industry is 90% about continuing subscriptions, monthly releases, and on the webcomic front it’s expected to have content out weekly if not sooner. Once I lost my job due to a new district manager’s scorched earth policy, that’s when I set out to be a freelancer which put my ability to earn back about 6 years. I also wasn’t a big fan of social media, I made it work as I warmed up to the platform but I never quite got the ball rolling on it. As I said, the webcomic stands to this day, and long as I can afford the site fees, it’s sticking around. As a rule, when I set out to make something I intend to make it for life, so while the webcomic hasn't been updated in...years… I made sure the material could hold up as best as it could. 


My next attempt at ecommerce was a 3D printer. This one was a disaster out of the box, I and four others wanted to put our money together to own a printer, and I had an image in my head of custom printed figurines, statues, knick knacks and phone cases. What we lacked in bulk we’d make up for in customization. Unfortunately, although the genesis of the project wasn’t mine, I blame myself as if it were, three of the five quit, and I lacked any capacity to help construct the thing. Although we got it to work, and it still does to this day, the prospect of turning it into a business is gone. The lesson I learned there is don’t order a 3D printer in pieces, the money you save won't be worth it. If you’re a genius and are into this sort of thing you probably already have one, but to the rest of you, spend the extra money and get one ready to go. Where I was able to succeed with Ecommerce was my service side as a freelance editor. Thanks to the magic of Upwork, and community posting boards like Facebook and Craigslist, I was able to work on over 20 projects, some paying very well, some not so much. But, what mattered is I was able to start seeing some return early on, paltry, but it was there, and it made all the difference. With the lessons I learned and the knowledge I have now, I turn to ecommerce as a new opportunity to hopefully gen some rev (note to John, it’s shorthand for generate some revenue, i made it up, lets see if it sticks) but on a deeper level, to get to know myself better and to take what I do know and apply it here. For a lot of you, getting into ecommerce might be your first venture, where being 30 I’ve got quite a few of those under my belt to wildly varying degrees of success. What I’m going to share with you is my thought process for how I’d approach it, think of it as a self assessment. I recommend you do one of these as well.


First question: What’s my goal? I’ll be super upfront with you about this, my modest goal is three grand a month, Canadian. It’s not a lot but it’s been a consistent amount of money in my mind. I have much larger goals as well beyond money. But until we achieve matter synthesis and can generate anything we want for free, money comes first. Question two: What kind of store do I want to run? I have a few ideas in mind, having a high degree of artistic inclinations, I do lean towards more customizable products as I like to encourage people to find their individuality. For my first go of a store, I think it’d be better to focus on something less involved so I can better understand the process. Without giving away every last detail, my first ideal store would be a reflection of my own lifestyle, useful trinkets and gadgets, productivity boosters, small innovations that make life incrementally better. What I don’t lean towards are pets since I’m 0/2 with plants, I don't see me doing fashion but we’ll see. My third question is: What’s my edge? We all can approach this with a set of strengths and setbacks, spoiler alert question four is about setbacks. My edge is creativity and authenticity. So where I can see myself excelling is in the branding, and advertising. I also have a strong visual brain and intend to make the store look slick. When it comes to products, I only intend to sell products I use, as I want to rely on story selling and personal opinion to facilitate trust. Question four, my biggest setback would probably be budget and inexperience, which I’ve learned through experience, can be a lethal combination. Question five, how do I overcome my setbacks? So with regard to the experience, I’m counting on Debutify to be there for me on the backend so I can focus on the user experience and creativity, for the budget this is something I’ve struggled with all my life, I didn’t actually know savings accounts generate interest until I was 26, before then I thought you just put money in the bank to prevent it from being robbed. In preparation for this, I opened up a new savings account and labelled it “business fund.” In fact let me tell you how I manage my budget, I have a checking, a joint account with my partner to eventually make a down payment on a condo, she and I agree our destiny is to live in a box in the sky. I have a government backed TFSA, tax free savings account, which I save for emergencies or potential litigations. I wish that was a joke. I have one fund setup for travelling and one for artists, owing back to what I was talking about earlier. All in all, about 400 dollars are taken out of my checking on a monthly basis and spread out over the different funds. A wise economist by the name of Peter Schiff said a healthy indicator is not how much money someone is spending, but how much they’re saving. If things get tight, it’s easier to minimize the saving budget rather than have to suddenly take from the savings money that wasn’t intended to be spent in that way. You’d be surprised how much more responsible you can be with your money if you have things you prioritize transferred into separate accounts automatically, and how easy it is to call people’s bluff when they’ve been talking about taking a trip to Japan for ten years! Question Six: What am I worried about? In a weird way, success. Having to get other people involved to help run the business is a bit intimidating, I’ve always worked alongside people as partners but never as a boss. Getting a bad product, let’s say a few go wrong here or there, that’s expected. But the idea of a massive bad batch is intimidating. Failure doesn’t scare me because fear comes from the unfamiliar. Question Seven: How do I alleviate these worries? Well luckily for me, as an employee of the company, they do have my back. However the purpose of this experiment is to emulate the experience of going through it on my own, so when I get to the point where I’m asking for help, all the help I get I will share with you. We want to help you.


So the first action I took was actually a year ago, before I had met the company at all. And that was I registered my business as a sole proprietorship. I had the option to incorporate but it was more expensive and not necessary frankly, as I intend to be in full control of my operation anyways. Being a registered business owner allows me to declare expenses on my annual taxes. I’m very careful about this too by the way, I tend to want to stay out of the government’s way, if there’s a program that can get me some more money, I tend to encourage my tax filer (which as of 2019 was H&R block) not to push for it unless there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. I declare all my income and I declare any expenses that I positively need to run my business, some people will declare stuff that they can kind of justify as a business expense, I choose to stick to stuff that was 100% for the business, for karma if nothing else. Different people will give you different advice on this subject, in fact one very good piece of advice I learned from an episode I edited on an unrelated show is to open up a second credit card so that you can track your business expenses separately. I haven’t done this because I’ve gotten into the tradition of downloading my yearly transactions and manually going through them, highlighting business expenses. It helps to see what my spending habits were like a year at a glance. So many visits to A&W… You may have noticed I go to a tax filer, which ties back to my point from earlier in this episode; don't pay someone to do something for you unless you do not have the time, or are not competent enough to do it right, when it comes to taxes...It’s definitely a time problem… totally time... definitely don’t have the time. The second reason why I got to a professional filer is, if you recall my episode bitcoin, assuming you’re listening to these in order (to John: bitcoin is episode 10, this is episode 14) is because going to a professional costs me more money, but it saves me time AND saves me anxiety. You can find a lot of great small business people with great hustle, our family goes to a Travel Agent nearby who knows her stuff, but my family is not running a business. So going to a large branded company just gives me that extra sense of security that a corporation is able to address any issues down the line. Also as of this beginning prospect, I had to make an amendment to my master business license, as it says my form of work is content production, I just reached out to Ownr to let them know it needs to also include ecommerce. Being a sole proprietor, I only had one person to go to to make that call. The second part is to know what my business names are and what's the general idea. I shared this with you already, so part three is to register my domains. They aren’t attached yet to the shopify site however registering a domain name is one of the quickest and cheapest things you can do to save yourself from a massive problem if someone takes your idea. For a good long while I was using godaddy, and I recommend them if you also intend to use their web design services, as I have for other projects, that way you can get a package deal, but since we’re taking the domain over to shopify, senpai recommends signing up with ipage.com.


Now part 4, this is where things are about to get granular. Time to sign up for Shopify. Here’s what happened so you know what to expect. First I was asked for a name, email and store name. At the time I didn’t have my storename email setup so I swiftly opened one up on gmail, intending to switch to a store email later, which can be done. The next step was account setup, I was taken through a brief questionnaire, and I’m going through everything for you so that you’ll be ready to answer them lickity split (i didn't invent that one) 1. Are you already selling? The options are, I’m just playing around, I’m not selling products yet, I’m selling but not online, I sell with a different system. I went with “I’m just playing around” and at this point I recommend setting up a burner address just so that you can try stuff out without eating in to your trial. 2. What’s your current revenue? You can choose 0, just starting, up to 5 grand, 5 to 50 g, 50 to 250, 250 to a mil, and a mil +. If any millionaires are listening let me know what goes through your thought process when you’re setting up a shopify store. Question 3 is Which industry will you be operating in? We got beauty, clothing, electronics, furniture, handcrafts, jewellery, painting, photography, restaurants, groceries, other food and drink, sports, toys, services, virtual services, other and undecided. As a human other, the choice for me was clear. 4. Are you setting up a store for a client? I did not check the box. Also, as a fun easter egg, I did not select anything and I was able to move on to the next step, adding an address so you can get paid. You should know how to do this, but i did say I was going to be granular so, first name, last name, address, apartment number, city, country, province, postal code, phone and business or personal website (which is optional) you can also check that this store is a registered business. For my main store I did not check this, because while I have a registered business, the store in of itself is not. If I have an issue with this, I’ll be taking it up with myself. (heavy sigh) I wish that were a joke. 


Once I arrive at the shopify home page, there's a lot to see and do. The first thing you’ll probably notice is that the trial lasts for 3 months. If you absolutely positively are not going to set up a burner account, the more you know going in the better. Now this is a policy I can get behind, because it gives you three months to get the ball rolling. Shopify expects you to be able to afford the plans with the revenue you get from doing business on there. The plans are Basic for 29USD, 79 for standard and 299 for advanced. The thing to keep in mind is a lot of these features are intended for in person/ in store transactions. What was a little trickier to find is the Shopify Lite plan, which is only 9 Dollars USD and can be integrated on to exterior websites such as Wordpress and Tumblr. This is something key you may want to think about, in case you're proficient on another web platform and want to install Shopify there. Back to what’s happening here, you’ll be greeted with a welcome video. Next up you can add your first product, customize your theme and add a domain. I have to say, I’ve been around on the net for some time now, and I remember trying to set up a game review website on geocities, things have gotten a lot more streamlined. Speaking of streamlined, now would be a good time to talk about where Debutify comes in to this. In order to install Debutify, I headed to debutify.com and downloaded it, where I was asked to connect it to my shopify store. From there, it’s installed on to my apps section. You’ll receive some notifications from the staff who’re ready to assist you. And same as for Shopify, Debutify offers some trials to let you know what to expect, so again just playing around on a burner site will take a lot of the guesswork out of your first look around. The four Debutify plans are Free, which gets you access to the Facebook group for support and the main draw which is the theme, customized and crafted from years of top level experience, followed by start for 19 a month which gets you continued support via email and live chat, any 3 add-ons and integrations, 47 a month which gets you all 28 of the add-ons and Guru at 97 a month which lets you use the theme on three stores, mentoring, product research and advanced courses. So as with Shopify’s plan, the idea here is to get the ball rolling and then reinvest the money you earn to upgrade your backend. I’m going to make a recommendation here which is, once you start your Shopify, set up as much as you can. Once you’re ready to install debutify that way you have the best environment to test this stuff out. But if not, we’re not leaving you in the cold. Once your trial is up and you haven't decided to commit, you can still run a store. What you can do is observe activity and decide what apps would be core to your business. Wanna know what the apps are? Here’s a few; Animate the add to cart button, use a countdown timer in the cart drawer or page, let customers enter a discount before checkout, free shipping if a certain amount of money is being spent, show an approximate delivery time, show stock amount, don't show product out of stock, show upsell options, protect your store from being copied, integrate product videos and but not finally, display a newsletter with a coupon code incase a customer’s going to leave. Savvy customers will know to attempt to leave but a sale is a sale. While the Debutify Hustler trial is ongoing, it also provides products to pique my interest. There are a few other features you’ll be greeted with; A help center, FAQ, the shopify community, video courses and guides. A special section specific for COVID19 related issues. On your menu you’ll have access to pages related to your orders, products, customers, analytics, marketing, discounts, and apps where Debutify is currently installed. The apps is probably the section that is most intriguing, as debutify is competing among thousands of other services. The bottom line is, this is a business model intended to push you towards success, which only boosts their success. And that’s it for now, it’s as far I got, I know it’s not exceedingly far just yet but we’ll be back. What about you? How far have you gotten? Let us know where you’re at, you can email podcast@debutify.com

Written by

Joseph Ianni

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