Discover more from WiFi Money
How to Start an Ecommerce Business on a Budget
Today’s post is a long and exciting guest post from. She details how her and started biöm with their flagship product NoBS.
Starting an ecommerce brand on a budget is way more simple than you might think.
Basically, it comes down to four steps:
Set up an online store
Make the sale
??? (we’ll get to my biggest mistakes at the end)
Profit (just kidding, if you do this right, you’ll really be funneling profits back into more inventory and scale)
Keep reading for a full step-by-step explanation how my partner, @BowTiedGatorDDS, and I built an ecommerce brand from inception to profit before our product even got to the very first customer.
Listen to me clearly: anybody can do this.
1. The Product
If this is your first ecommerce business, you should not be trying to invent the wheel. Instead, figure out what people are already asking for.
For example, Gator was being hounded by requests for toothpaste, and I couldn’t go a week without being asked when I was launching a skincare line.
When your audience is asking for it, you have a better understanding of demand than trying to innovate right off the bat.
1.1 Being Open Minded about Your Product
Gator and I did not initially set out to make toothpaste tablets. In fact, we had a general formula in mind, but of course, nothing works exactly right in the lab as it does on paper.
We eventually settled on toothpaste tablets because we realized we could order smaller MoQs (Minimum Order Quantity) and we had stronger control over the ingredients that went into our product.
So, throughout the product development process, keep an open mind about what the end product will be and constantly ask yourself:
“What could we be doing better? If we change X, how will that affect Y?”
Depending on the product, you’ll need to find the right manufacturer for your needs. Some questions to keep in mind are:
Does this product need to be made in America?
Can I manufacture this product cheaper overseas?
If so, will it compromise the integrity of the ingredients or cheapen the brand?
Since this is my first ecommerce business, I wasn’t initially aware that the price quoted to you by a manufacturer is not the true, final unit cost.
You also need to consider the cost of freight, packaging, fulfillment, and shipping.
For example: if you can get your product made for $10k in China but freight (ie. shipping to the United States) costs $3k, it may end up being more cost effective to choose a manufacturer for $12 in America.
1.2.1 Manufacturing Resources
Some resources that we used included:
It is unlikely that the very first prototype of your product will be the right one to take to market.
Gator and I went through multiple rounds of formulation until we settled on one that fulfilled all of our requirements:
An effective concentration of nano hydroxyapatite
Minimal unnecessary preservatives and a clean ingredient list
Refreshing mint flavor and aftertaste
Easily dissolvable without crumbling
Fair warning: this process will take much longer than you expect. As a first time ecom brand owner, I wasn’t expecting such an iterative process.
Depending on the nature of the product you’re making, all timelines you build for launching your product should factor in 1-3 months for development.
Because we were ballin’ on a budget, Gator designed the original packaging:
Not exactly ideal, but we got the job done.
Both the beautiful (if I do say so myself) green mailer boxes and original NOBS labels were designed on late night phone calls while the two of us were trying to figure out what in the heck we were going to do with this brand.
You see, the name of the game in execution is speed. By doing the design work in house for the first go-around, we saved on both time and upfront cost.
Since then, we have expanded and our product range and outsourced our design work to BowTiedApollo:
This branding is beautiful, and it makes people want to post about our products.
Granted, the products themselves are phenomenal and meticulously designed to be the most effective on the market already, but the average consumer doesn’t know that!
This is a confusion I often see people run into.
You see, consumer decisions are rarely about the value of a product in and of itself.
Consumer decisions are made based on the perceived value of a product.
Beautiful packaging and cohesive branding will pay dividends for biöm down the line.
2. The Website
As evidenced by the first NOBS labels, Gator and I are not artists.
We had to get the website up and running as quickly as possible, so we were running on barebones design and relying on our copy skills to sell the product.
2.1 The Copy
I spent hours drafting and editing our copy by asking myself questions like:
Who is our target audience? Why would or wouldn’t they buy this product?
Why is NOBS different from other toothpaste on the market, and what makes NOBS better than other toothpaste on the market?
Why should consumers trust us? How can I convey that in one sentence?
Writing is just like any other skill: the more you practice, the better you get.
2.1.1 Copywriting Tools
We used two main tools for our writing:
We used Notion as a project management tool to keep all of our brain blasts.
While Gator is a genius, he does not always write in a way that is easy for the average person to understand.
For myself? I use too many words and fancy language devices that turn my copy from a Rembrandt to a Pollack.
Okay, see? That metaphor doesn’t make any sense to most people.
What I should have written there is: I use too many words and fancy language devices that turn my copy from clear and distinct to confusing and difficult to understand.
To get around this, I used the Hemmingway app to turn our first draft writing into usable copy.
We used the Shogun drag-and-drop editor originally to build the original BrushWithNobs site.
We now use the Impulse theme in Shopify and hired a product photographer to take beautiful shots of our new products.
3. The Sale
Gator and I had a small Twitter presence at the time that we launched NOBS. Between the two of us, we probably had about 15,000 unique Twitter followers.
No massive audience. No real idea what we were doing. We decided to just take a shot in the dark and see what happened.
Little did we know that the months we had spent writing free content were about to pay off.
You see, it doesn’t necessarily matter how big your audience is. Er, it does, but that isn’t the rate limiting factor in ecommerce.
Rather, it matters how much your audience trusts you.
When it comes to trust and authority, well, not many people on Twitter do it better than Gator and I.
3.1 Content Marketing
I recently learned from BowTiedCoquito that this whole “BowTiedFawn” thing that I’ve been doing (ie. writing threads and articles and emails, oh my!) for the last ~18 months is called content marketing.
In the era of social media and influencers, your golden ticket is content.
Teach people something. Inform them and entertain them. Capture their attention, and turn their preconceived notions on their head. Earn their trust and continuously develop authority.
That’s how you turn a follower into a customer.
Now, BowTiedJester’s comments on my writing from November 2022 constantly echo in my head:
“Tell them what to do. Give them a reason. It all has to be your truth. Whatever that is.
And truthfully, no one cares what’s in it. They either trust your rec, or they don’t. You should make a great thing because that’s the responsible thing to do, but that’s not what the people who follow you are going to buy.”
The premise is simple:
You have a great product. You have an audience. You have an audience that wants your great product.
So, pre-sell it.
An audience that trusts you is willing to wait for the physical arrival of said product if it means they won’t miss out on something great (which they didn’t, NOBS is objectively the best toothpaste you will ever try).
We opened up pre-orders for NOBS on November 21, 2022. They started arriving in peoples’ homes on December 18th.
No one cared because our product was phenomenal.
Plus, the cash injection from the presale allowed Gator and I to put in an order for another batch of NOBS.
Lesson learned: always pre-sell.
4. Fulfillment & Distribution
Depending on the size of your operation, you may not need to worry much about fulfillment and distribution yet.
But I knew from the get-go that there was zero way I was going to be able to be shipping toothpaste by hoof.
4.1 Third Party Logistics (3PL)
We checked out a few different 3PLs before landing on the one we actually used (which was later absorbed by another operation):
We had a poor experience with our first 3PL and are no longer with them.
Moving forward, I recommend that the main thing you vet for when choosing a 3PL (outside of budget/logistics) is communication.
It should be easy to get in contact with someone from the company that will be managing hundreds of thousands of dollars in your inventory.
Perhaps you think that should be obvious. You would be correct, and I’m still kicking myself.
5. Customer Acquisition & Retention
Business is booming (biöming?).
The question is no longer “what happens if we don’t sell a single jar?”, but rather:
How can we ensure inventory aligns with demand?
How can we scale?
What’s next in the pipeline?
These are concerns of any company trying to grow, and you will run into them eventually.
5.1 Customer Acquisition
From inception through April 2023, all of our traffic has been organic. Purely through social media channels, email, and word of mouth.
As we scale, we will explore options in paid advertising and other channels of traffic. For example, one of my workstreams is building out the blog section of betterbiom.com to pull in traffic from Google on nano hydroxyapatite, toothpaste tablets, and other keywords.
We have also hired BowTiedTikTok to handle our social media expansion on TikTok, and I manage growth through Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other platforms.
5.2 Customer Retention
Why do we always harp on building businesses around consumables?
Put simply: if a customer likes a product, they are unlikely to stray from it. Consumables are products that you use every day.
Oral care and skincare are easy markets there.
Call it inertia or “Damn Fawn and Gator, why didn’t you guys anticipate so much demand and go out of stock for a month?”, you never want to disappoint your customer here.
We are now always on high alert watching our inventory and exploring new manufacturing options to ensure we won’t let our customers down.
Further, the expansion of biöm beyond NOBS has taught me the importance of brand building.
If you prioritize earning trust and value your audience beyond the money they bring in, you can build something legendary.
Even 6 months into this operation, Gator hosts Q&As and I still write threads. We are always looking for ways to add value back to our community which feeds into a beautiful cycle:
Attention -> Trust -> Authority -> Sale -> Happy repeat customers
6. My Biggest Mistake
As referenced earlier, yes - NOBS went out of stock for about a month between January - February 2023.
While going out of stock can be a fear tactic that raises the perceived value of a product in other niches, that does not work for commodities.
It only happened once, and very early on in the lifetime of our business, but it still hurt.
Lesson learned: carefully monitor your run rate, keep inventory management as a top priority and set up systems such that you can move to a new manufacturer easily if necessary.
7. Conclusion: should you start an ecommerce business?
First off, anybody that doesn’t want to eat bugs should be concerned about developing internet-based income streams.
Whether that’s ecom or something else, you need to be digging your tunnel out of Shawshank every single day.
As to whether you should start an ecommerce business specifically, ask yourself this:
Do you have the capital to fund inventory?
Do people tell you that you should make a certain product? Do you know for a fact that you are skilled at what you’re doing?
Do you have a built in audience? If not, do you know how to find your audience and speak to them?
All of these questions and more can only be answered by your own introspection.
And remember - you can start small.
In fact, I started my first wifi money business when I was in college, and it brought me $5-10k in two years. While this would be nothing to me now, at the time, that was a huge amount of money, and it kickstarted the skill set that I use today to build biöm.
You can start with infoproducts, building an audience on social media channels, or God knows what.
It doesn’t matter.
You just have to start.
P.S. Be sure to read Gator’s sister article to this post, “How a Cartoon Gator & Deer created a $5-10k Monthly Profit Toothpaste Company . . . In Six Months!”.
Free articles on WiFi Money are supported by:
►SiteGround - SiteGround is one of the easiest hosting providers to get setup on quickly. For a full guide in getting setup with your first website in less than an hour, read how to start your own website.
►Shopify - The #1 and only ecommerce website builder that you should be using. If you’re selling a physical product online, look no further. They handle 90% of the hard stuff. Start building on Saturday morning and be selling by the afternoon.
►Surfer SEO - Save hours by using Surfer SEO to prepare content optimized to your domain, niche, and audience. Use the #1 AI writing tool on the market that the best affiliate marketers are using.
►SEMRush - The one tool I cannot live without. This tool has almost everything you need. Keyword research, spy on your competitors, local SEO, site audits, social media management, paid advertising tracking, PR monitoring and much much more.
If you want to get smarter about all things digital, upgrade today from free to paid for only $10 a month. The paid posts are where I dive even further into the weeds to help you truly understand and capitalize on the digital landscape.
Disclaimer: Nothing written here should be construed as legal for financial advice of any kind. These are opinions and observations, written by an anonymous cartoon Opossum, built up over years working in e-commerce & affiliate marketing.