How One Paper Designer Made the Leap from Wholesale to Omni-Channel Retail

When Fiona Richards became tired of working as a graphic designer for corporate clients, she decided to start her own business. That was over eight years ago. Today, her wholesale greeting card and stationery business, Cartolina, sells worldwide to some of the most iconic retailers, like Harrods, Anthropologie, The Smithsonian, and The British Museum.

Cartolina now also sells directly to the consumer, via an online store, and has most recently opened a retail storefront in BC, Canada. Omni-channel retail is here, and many merchants like Fiona are wise to adopt it. Recent consumer studies by Forrester and MIT highlight many of the advantages of taking your business in this direction. Consumers are approaching purchasing from multiple angles – 80% of shoppers check prices online, and a third are checking product info via mobile while shopping in-store.

Companies with omni-channel engagement strategies see higher customer retention rates and increase in annual revenue versus those with single-channel strategies. Omni-channel shoppers, on the other hand, spend 50% more than single channel shoppers.

For Cartolina, the transition to omni-channel retail didn’t happen overnight. We chatted with Fiona about her decision to dive into new distribution channels. She shared with us her wins and losses as well as some valuable advice for other businesses taking the same path.

Retail Design Photo Contest: Your shop could win a $500 prize package including custom business cards and retail supplies. Read to the end of this post for details.

The Launch

Cartolina started as a handmade line using vintage ephemera, carefully trimmed and glued together.

“I wasn’t interested in selling one card at a time, so I researched the wholesale industry and learned that I needed to target the retail buyers to get the volume of sales that I wanted.”

A year after Cartolina’s launch, it became clear that the business was not scalable. Due to the time-consuming nature of handmade products, the demand became unmanageable. Back at the drawing board, Fiona designed a new collection – one that could be printed in bulk and warehoused. The new approach would require an upfront investment of a few thousand dollars. Before she made the leap of faith, she sent out press releases to her favourite magazines, announcing a fresh new stationery line from Cartolina.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive, which was the indicator that I needed to make the investment. There was a funny moment, back then, when our products were featured on the pages of Canadian House & Home before they were actually off the drawing board!”

The Wholesale Business

“I think it’s common for new entrepreneurs to think that they can get their product in front of retail buyers all by themselves. You are very limited in what you can do by yourself. Gathering a sales force is very important.”

Wholesale businesses can enlist the services of sales reps and distributors, leveraging expertise and connections.

Sales reps shop product samples to retail buyers in different regions. They write orders which are then sent directly to your business, where you will fulfill and ship directly to each store, paying a commission to the rep.

“Be very picky to match your products and your personality with that of the sales reps. A good rep is worth their weight in gold.”

Distributors, on the other hand, will buy your product in bulk and sell and ship the product directly to retail buyers. Distributors work well for for overseas markets, when it becomes too costly for retailers to buy small quantities directly from you.

After five years of using international distributors and reps, Fiona realized that retailers wanted a more personal connection with their suppliers. Cartolina then began shipping from their Nelson BC headquarters. The switch was eye-opening.

“Our experience with dealing directly with buyers and shipping daily to stores gave us the confidence to open an ecommerce site. It was the next step forward for us”

How to Wholesale

Recently in this blog, we’ve touched on sourcing wholesale products for your retail store, and selling wholesale to other retailers in our list of 50 Ways to Make Your First Sale.

WIth a seasoned wholesaler at our fingertips, we pressed her for some more first-hand advice for merchants taking the leap in this direction. Here are some tips we learned from Cartolina:

  • Consider Fit. Be sure your product is appropriate for the retailer you’re approaching.
  • Stay on Top of Trends. What’s in-store now is yesterday’s trend. “If you see lots of neon polka dots in the store, it’s best not to pitch a product with neon polka dots,” Fiona warns. “That train has already left the station.”
  • Connect. Larger retailers may have several buyers in your category, so be sure you’re connecting with the right one. Buyer info can be obtained, generally, by calling the retailer’s corporate headquarters.
  • Keep it Short and Sweet. When contacting buyers, keep the intro brief and include small images, essential info and links to your wholesale catalog.
  • Get Online. Create an easy-to-access online wholesale catalog for buyers that includes pricing and terms. Keep it separate from your retail site (if you have one) in order to avoid confusion. A wholesale line sheet is another great tool.
  • Know Your Customer. Your customer, in this case, is your target retail buyer. Find out who they are and what blogs they read. Pitch your brand to these blogs for a potential endorsement or post that can get your products in front of your targeted buyers.
  • Attend Trade Shows. Trade shows are great avenues for introducing your products to buyers. Fiona suggests NYNOW as one of best trade shows for wholesale consumer products. There are many other shows to consider, depending on your product.
  • Be On Time. Consider that retail buyers have a buying schedule. Try to have new product launches four times per year. Some retail buyers will want to see holiday products as early as April and Valentines products are usually on buyers’ schedules in November.

There are several ways to offer both wholesale and retail through your Shopify store, whether it’s via discount codes, apps, or opening a 2nd storefront. Before getting started, however, do your homework. Launch Grow Joy collected even more tips from its readers on the subject and there are several other excellent resources to help you make a foray into the wholesale realm.

The Leap to Retail Ecommerce

“We really have gone from originally wanting to only design products and not deal with buyers and consumers, to wanting as much interaction as we can get. I think it is partially a response to having spent a number of years working online and communicating only with email and social media.”

Feeling isolated after years of online-only communication, Fiona’s team began to crave human interaction. Cartolina made the move to retail after 7 years of building a successful wholesale business.

“We wanted to know more about the Cartolina customer, get feedback on our products, and also have an authentic, public presence on the web – not a hidden wholesale site, which confused the average visitor.”

Cartolina launched as an ecommerce site early last year as a reaction to the disconnect that they felt with their end customers. Adding retail to the mix proved to offer many advantages including larger margins and the ability to market direct to the consumer.

Fiona reported that the addition of a retail channel increased wholesale orders by 20%.

Nurturing Relationships

Continuing to nurture the relationships with buyers while simultaneously dealing directly with end consumers became a tricky endeavour.

“It’s important to take care of all of your customers.”

Wholesale buyers don’t want to compete with their own suppliers, she found. Keeping the peace meant being careful not to undercut pricing or offer too-frequent discounts or free shipping offers on her ecommerce site.

It’s good politics, she says, to extend discounts for retail customers to wholesale customers as well. Fiona also recommends leveraging social media to keep wholesale customers happy.

“If you’ve just shipped out a large wholesale order to a new retailer, take the time to introduce them to your followers on Twitter and Facebook. They will really appreciate the support and forgive you next time you offer free shipping to your online buyers!”

Breaking Ground

Cartolina’s experience with ecommerce was such a positive one that the company decided to take a stab at physical retail. This Spring, she bought a 130-year-old commercial building in her hometown of Nelson, BC. The building now houses the expanding wholesale business with a street-facing portion dedicated to retail.

This month, Cartolina opened its doors for business. The rear wholesale warehouse includes a sophisticated new shipping and fulfillment department to accommodate growing online sales. At the front of the building, Cartolina products are sold alongside a curated selection of products from other manufacturers.

“One of the benefits of opening a physical retail store for us is that we can incubate new Cartolina product in the store – if it does well in the store, then we will add it to our ecommerce site. And, subsequently, if the online response is good we can increase our production of that product, thereby lowering our costs and eventually adding it to our wholesale offerings.”

The effects of an omni-channel approach are already apparent – adding physical retail to the mix resulted in a noticeable uptick in retail ecommerce sales. Customers are able to interact with the products before making the decision to buy them later via ecommerce. Cartolina is also leveraging the power of social media and a history of shipping experience.

“We are featuring images from the new store on Facebook and Instagram and the response is that many of our followers are purchasing items from us as we post them! We are now shipping products, other than our own, to consumers all over the world.”

 

“Anticipate success,” says Fiona. “Make sure your business is scalable and can handle growth when it comes your way.”

Win a prize package worth $500 complete with goods from Shopify stores MBK Media Group, Better Life, Charm & Fig and Papermash, plus a feature post for your store on our Facebook Page –

How to Start an Online Food Business: The Ultimate Guide

When Bob McClure wanted to level up his family pickle business, he found shared commercial space in a tofu factory. The healthy bacteria in the air—caused by the fermentation process of the tofu—began to ferment their first batch of pickles and everything needed to be scrapped.

In every new business, there are hard lessons to be learned, each industry with its own unique complications and legal considerations. The food business, though? It’s in its own league. There is a dense forest of information (and misinformation), more risk of legal implications, and a volatile supply chain that can be affected by anything from weather to, well, healthy airborne bacteria.

If your passion is jewelry, and you’re looking to

If that’s not daunting enough, running a food business also involves a delicate inventory dance to avoid spoilage and waste, which can cost a new business a lot of money.

Have I scared you yet?

Don’t fret—I waded through the information and consulted some experts so that you don’t have to. In this post, I’ll cover the basics of starting a food business—everything from production to labelling—and ultimately how to sell food online.

Meet the Experts

Bob McClure, Co-owner, McClure’s Pickles

Glenford Jameson, Food Lawyer, G.S. Jameson & Company, and Podcaster, Welcome to the Food Court

Jodi Bager, Founder, JK Gourmet

Daniel Patricio, Owner, Bull & Cleaver

Casandra Campbell, Co-founder, Liberty Village Brewing Co.

Note: each country and region will differ in terms of food laws and licensing requirements, and some industries like dairy and alcohol may be subject to additional rules. Be sure to consult with a lawyer or your local government for information specific to your business and region. For the purposes of this post, the information and advice will be general, unless noted.

(Header image by: The Fresh Exchange)

Food to Make and Sell: Finding your Niche

Photo: gourmet lollipop brand, Lollyphile

In many cases, business ideas are born out of passions or hobbies. If you make jams for friends and family, growing your own backyard strawberries, that’s a good place to start. You already know the process, and have had experience honing and testing the recipes.

Bob McClure and his brother Joe grew up making pickles with their grandma, Lala, and it was her family recipe that ultimately inspired the business. An actor and a psychology major respectively, they didn’t know the first thing about business or manufacturing, but the tried-and-true recipe was their foundation.

If you have an idea already, as in any industry, test its viability. Is there a market for this product? If it’s a saturated market, how can your product differ? Is there an untapped niche audience? Also consider if yours is a product that can easily be sold online and shipped—consider legalities (say, with liquor), fragility, and shelf life (does it require refrigeration?).

Food Trends

If, however, you don’t yet have a product idea, look into current food trends for ideas. Eater.com’s A-Z list of 2017 food trend predictions includes healthy chips, kombucha and flexitarian dieting. Back up the claims with your own sleuthing, though: look at search volume, Google Trends, and check out the competition.

When the McClures decided to offer a premium pickled product, they had very little competition. 10 years later, picking well into its hipster heyday, Bob welcomes his competitors.

“Yeah there’s competition, but it’s the right type of competition if it’s bringing awareness to highly specialized quality-driven entrepreneurial products. The more I can get consumers to pay attention to that category, rather than price-driven, poor quality ingredients, the better for my business. It helps improve our entire category.” – Bob

Food Business Ideas

Does your idea tap into an existing niche category? Explore:

  • Custom, novelty
  • Gourmet, artisanal, small-batch
  • Dietary restrictions: allergen-free, gluten-free, nut-free, etc.
  • Certified organic, natural, fair-trade
  • Ethical and religious: vegan, vegetarian, kosher, halal

Jodi’s business, JK Gourmet, was designed to help her manage ulcerative colitis, and her audience is people also suffering with colitis and other forms of IBD—1.6 million people in America alone. She produces healthy snack options without the ingredients that commonly trigger her condition.

“We’ve carved out our niche with grain-free products, which ensures we’re gluten-free as well. We also address the needs of the growing paleo community, and because we have always eliminated the use of refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, we’re appealing to a wider audience than ever before.” – Jodi

How to sell food online

Look into easy first-time food-businesses that require low start-up costs, minimal equipment, and fewer shipping challenges, and legal restrictions. Consider:

  • Candy
  • Packaged snacks
  • Canned and pickled products
  • Dried herbs
  • Baked good ingredient kits
  • Seeds
  • Raw ingredients (flours, etc.)
  • Curated resale
  • Coffee and tea

Produced vs. Curated

Much of this post applies to businesses who produce their own food, whether it’s through a 3rd party manufacturer, a home-based business, or a full-scale commercial facility.

If you’re looking to curate existing food products, say in the case of an online gourmet marketplace, skip ahead to Pricing.

Sourcing Ingredients

Food lawyer, Glenford Jameson, stresses the importance of doing your homework when sourcing your ingredients. “Trace the supply chain,” he says, so that your packaging claims match what’s inside, and you’re working with trustworthy companies.

Helpful resources:

 

If you plan to produce a product that will be labeled organic, for example, be sure that your raw ingredient supplier has the proper certification, before making claims on your packaging.

“We work with distributors of raw nuts and seeds and dried fruit. We sometimes source our own ingredients if we have a new product we want to bring out and we can find no one in our group of suppliers who carries the ingredient in question. Sometimes our suppliers make suggestions based on something new that comes to market. It’s a collaborative partnership.” – Jodi

💡 TIPS:

  • When you’re just starting out and producing small batches, it may be cost-effective to shop for ingredients at consumer warehouse club stores like Costco or Sam’s Club.
  • Make connections: in certain industries, finding suppliers may rely on word-of-mouth and personal introductions. The founders of Soul Chocolatesnetworked in the industry to make connections with regional cacao farmers.
  • Alternatively, for commodities like cacao and coffee beans, look for a distributor or broker who works directly with farmers.
  • Team up: network with other small-batch producers to purchase bulk wholesale ingredients together

Sometimes our suppliers make suggestions based on something new that comes to market. It’s a collaborative partnership.

Jodi Bager

Food Production: Commercial Kitchens, Home-based Businesses, and Manufacturing Facilities

Photo: Kitchen Co-op

While McClure’s Pickles started as a family tradition in their own kitchen, they continually improved their digs, eventually landing in the 20,000 square foot factory space where they operate today.

“When we were first starting out, we literally made it the same way we did when we were kids. We rented a kitchen that had a larger stove and we would go buy fresh product, bring it back, call up our friends and say ’Hey, I’ll buy you pizza and beer if you come make pickles with me on the weekend.’” – Bob

When we were first starting out, we literally made it the same way we did when we were kids.

Bob McClure

As you’re launching your business, you have several options for production:

Home-based business: some food items can legally be produced and sold right from your domestic kitchen, but look into the regulations surrounding your chosen product. In the US, the FDA requires that you register your home-based business as a facility

Shared commercial kitchens: many facilities offer shared or co-op kitchen space that you can rent hourly or monthly, depending on your production needs. The benefits are reduced costs and paperwork (the facilities are already registered as commercial space). There are several region-specific directories for shared kitchen space:

Photo: Soul Chocolate’s kitchen space, by Matthew Wiebe

Set up your own commercial facility: be sure to check with your local food governing agency to ensure your facility is properly registered and meets code.

“We started small in our home kitchen and then grew from there. We did not move out until we were bursting at the seams and knew we had a big enough business to support the move. We did look for co-packers—another company to manufacture our products for us—but because the mandate for our products are so specific (no grains, no gluten, peanut-free, dairy-free, kosher) there were too many issues with cross contamination with every other facility we met with. In the end we had to manufacture it all ourselves and now we do some co-packing and private label for other companies.” – Jodi

Work with an existing manufacturer: this option is great for hands-off entrepreneurs who are more interested in the business than the production. It’s a great option for industry newbies, too, as the manufacturers should already be versed in food safety and regulations. Find a food manufacturer via a manufacturing directory like Maker’s Row.

“We partnered up with someone that had a USDA inspected facility so that we could ship across the USA sooner without any issues with the food safety concerns. It is really impressive how much diligence goes into running a USDA inspected facility and it really isn’t something most people will be able to do straight out of the gate.” –Daniel

It is really impressive how much diligence goes into running a USDA inspected facility.

Daniel Patricio

Packaging, Branding, and Labelling

Photo: Shape Magazine

E-commerce is especially challenging for food, because the most important decision-making sense—taste—is in the dark. Because customers can’t sample your product, branding is especially important. Package design, photography, your website, product page and package copy, need to pitch in to tell the story and help customers imagine how it might taste.

Because packaging is extremely critical in this industry, consider hiring a designer to help with your branding needs.

“Before you taste the product, it’s got to be something that attracts you to you. It has to be appealing. And it has to be familiar, so we chose our name and our identity, everything from the label, the look, the feel, the text, to be something that connotes handmade family, yet urban. Most importantly, we wanted you to see the product in the jar. It’s not covered up by a label.” – Bob

 

Photos via: Grant Burke, Jayce-o-Yesta

Most importantly, we wanted you to see the product in the jar. It’s not covered up by a label.

Bob McClure

Aside from the visual appeal of your packaging, each country has its own labeling requirements, which may include best before dates, nutritional information, allergen warnings, and country of origin. If you plan to ship your product across borders, especially to retailers, be sure to check the destination country’s rules around labeling.

Resources:

Pricing Food

In my interviews with merchants over the past year, one thing is clear, regardless of the product: pricing is hard. Ultimately there’s no one magical pricing formula that will work for everyone. Know your costs, and keep adjusting until you get it right.

“The biggest challenge is dealing with the pricing when starting out small. The important thing to remember is if you have a quality product getting it in front of as many people as possible is the best way to grow. This means, in the short term forgo profit and get as many people to try your product. Over time those cost savings will come, and you don’t want to do that prematurely.” – Daniel

Photo: Bull & Cleaver

With McClure’s, Bob says they stand by their pricing. If you believe in the value of your product, price it accordingly.

“We’re not the cheapest product out there, so we have to compete on something that’s truly unique otherwise you just become one of the other commodities that you’re competing against and then it’s a race to the bottom.” – Bob

Resources:

 

Expiry Dates and Inventory

JK Gourmet’s brand is built on natural ingredients, and therefore, no preservatives. The shelf life on most of her products is only 5-6 months, and Jodi therefore keeps inventory tight, turning it over every 1-2 weeks.

While McClure’s Pickles have a longer shelf life of one year, Bob wants to be sure that customers get his product as fresh as possible. For that reason, the company’s inventory strategy errs on the side of producing too little of the product, rather than too much.

“It’s a juggling act and we’re always getting better with forecasting our needs and making sure that any business opportunities that we have are aligned, especially when a new product launches. That’s the trick, we have to make so much to justify a production run, while I have to make sure there’s a sales channel or outlet and enough demand behind it to really make it work.” – Bob

💡 TIPS:

  • Use batch numbering or barcodes to keep inventory organized
  • Educate your team on your inventory management practices

“Over-communicate to anyone who touches your inventory about the importance of rotating your stock.” – Casandra

Casandra Campbell, Liberty Village Brewing Co.

Over-communicate to anyone who touches your inventory about the importance of rotating your stock.

Casandra Campbell

Growth and Product Development

McClure’s Pickles found success by honing in on their namesake product, perfecting and iterating on their grandmother’s recipe. Expanding their offering, initially, was in response to overwhelming customer feedback.

“We started with the pickles and very quickly made a bloody mary mixer. We had so many people saying to us, ‘Hey, your spicy pickle brine makes the best bloody marys.’ And that’s when that light bulb moment happens, and you go, ‘These customers are saying that they would buy two of our items instead of one!’ A lot of our product ideas come from the customers.” – Bob

A lot of our product ideas come from the customers.

Bob McClure

Low-risk ideas came next—tried and true pickle flavors, applied to other products like chips. Since the early days, however, product development has become more sophisticated and the family relies on data to inform their next move.

“Now we get a lot of data and we analyze what’s really driving the market, what are the consumers looking for. Before we had access to data, it was a lot of word-of-mouth.” – Bob

While they still love engaging with customers and hearing their ideas, Bob warns to take them with a grain of salt.

“Not all ideas are like gold ideas. Customers love to talk to you about their ideas and you have to take that and refine that and make sure that there’s enough critical mass behind the idea before you take that into a product launch.” – Bob

What else can you sell?

Liberty Village Brewing does not sell beer direct to their customers through their online store, due to Ontario alcohol regulations. However, their website serves as a branding and marketing tool, helps customers find retail and restaurant partners, and sells items related to their product.

Ideas:

  • Branded merch
  • Complementary food products
  • Kitchen and serving tools
  • Recipe books
Liberty Village Brewing Co. Store

The Fine Print: Food and the Law

Provided you do your homework, acquire the proper licenses, and meticulously track everything, the likelihood of getting into legal hot water is low. If you do—and this is the scary part—the consequences can be severe.

“You as a food producer are exposed to both civil liability—being sued by a private party, be it a store that you sell to, or a restaurant, or an individual— and also regulatory liability. The regulatory liability flows primarily through the Food and Drug Act (in Canada).as well as several other federal and provincial statutes The Food and Drug Act is a serious piece of legislation. The government can throw you in jail, or take all your products and destroy them, or shut you down, or give you a big fine. There are some folks facing criminal fraud trials right now in Ontario relating to whether chicken was mislabeled organic or antibiotic free.” – Glenford

If your product is complicated or falls under a particular set of categories that requires additional licensing (meat, fish, and some agricultural products, for example), you may wish to consult a lawyer with experience in the food industry.

“Small businesses don’t often like starting up with a lawyer because we’re expensive and we’re hyper-aware of risk, which leads to policy and process. The last thing that they want is the same rigidity that they sought to leave behind when they decided to start their own gig.” – Glenford

However, Glenford says, “with the understanding that there’s this broad, significant regulatory framework and legal liability,” there are some best practices if you choose to navigate the legal bits on your own.

💡 TIPS:

  • Don’t get people sick. “If you’re going to sell food learn how to handle food and learn how to store it. Get trained.” – Glenford
  • Trace the supply chain. “If you produce a food product and you’re buying stuff off the web, it’s really important to trace that supply chain. Ask questions of your suppliers, check them out, get referrals.” – Glenford
  • Work with a lab to test your products. “Labs help you trace elements that you may not have known existed that particularly relate to allergies. People are allergic to everything now so it’s really important that those core allergies are identified. Also you may find that there are things in your food that you didn’t think were there that may change how shelf stable they are.” – Glenford
  • Keep thorough records. “We track everything coming in and out of the facility; that way if there is ever a recall on our raw ingredients, we are prepared.” – Jodi
  • Make friends with the food inspector. “Reach out to public health, to whoever certifies your premises because they’re often set up to be your friend. These are pretty approachable people and they’ll be able to identify issues—this is what they do for a living. They really offer you some pretty sage and frankly free advice on how to make sure that you’re making a good and reasonable product.” – Glenford
  • Get liability insurance that covers people eating your product and getting sick as well as you accidentally burning down the space you use.” – Casandra

Ask questions of your suppliers, check them out, get referrals.

Glenford Jameson

Ethics and Transparency

Beyond legality, bad decisions around ethics and transparency can ruin a brand. This is true of any business, but the layers of complexity in food can make your business especially vulnerable.

“My best clients typically ask themselves ethical questions about their actions, their suppliers, how they treat their customers, their employees, and how they impact the world. When they approach problems in that way they’re typically in a better position to maintain the respect and goodwill of the community that they operate in as well as from their customers. Respect and goodwill are hard to earn and they’re pretty easy to lose. Even though that has nothing to do with the law per se it’s a really important M.O.” – Glenford

Respect and goodwill are hard to earn and they’re pretty easy to lose.

Glenford Jameson

Shipping

We’ve spent a lot of time building resources to help e-commerce entrepreneurs streamline their shipping processes. It is, after all, one of the most common pain points among our merchants.

And, no surprise, shipping food carries additional challenges, especially when shipping outside of the country.

“When you’re exporting food, there are a series of foods whose export is regulated under commodity legislation—Meat Inspection Act, Canada Agricultural Products Act, Fish Inspection Act, for example. Those have their own rules. Otherwise, you fall back on the Food and Drug Act and you complete a manufacturer’s declaration for export of food products manufactured in Canada. Essentially, you swear an affidavit with a notary that sets out the country that it’s being sent to, it sets out that it’s made in Canada, that sort of thing.” – Glenford

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Free Guide: Shipping and Fulfillment 101

From deciding what to charge your customers, to figuring out insurance and tracking, this comprehensive guide will walk you step-by-step through the entire process.

Keep in mind to also consider the potential restrictions on your product in the destination country. Technically, once products are in the shipping stream, they become the problem of the purchaser, but the poor customer service experience can be bad for business. Mitigate the customer’s ultimate frustration by versing yourself on the laws where you ship.

Alternately, to avoid the red tape, you may consider working with a 3rd party warehouse if you do a lot of business across the border.

“We found the cost of shipping individual orders to the US was prohibitive. For that reason we ship bulk orders to the US where they are warehoused and shipped directly out to US customers.” – Jodi

Products requiring refrigeration aren’t ideal for cross-border shipping, but Vegan Supply in Vancouver successfully ships their cold products nationally across Canada, using cold packs and expedited shipping.

As I mentioned with branding, the look and feel of your website is important in helping influence the customer to buy a food product without tasting it first.

Photography is therefore hugely important. You can opt to DIY your photo shoots, or hire a professional who has experience with styling and lighting food properly. Shoot product packaging and close-up detail of the product to show texture and true-to-life color, but also experiment with lifestyle photography that suggests serving and pairing ideas.

 

Photography and Styling by The Fresh Exchange

Use product page copy to describe your product’s taste and texture in detail, and include ingredient and allergy information in full. To keep the product page uncluttered, invest time in a thorough FAQ page to answer additional questions about ingredients, dietary information, and production methods.

Even if your website isn’t supplying the bulk of your sales, it’s important to nurture it as a tool to connect with customers and tell your story.

“Even though we’re in 5,000 stores worldwide we still have a great, core group of people that come to our website, purchase every year, like to see what we’re doing, get connected to our brand, our story. They really spend their time investing in what we do and most importantly, why we do what we do.” – Bob

Theme suggestions for food stores:

Retail and Wholesale

McClure’s initially grew their business through retail partnerships, and the success with that channel relied on truly making them part of the business, and inviting them to care about its mission.

“Some of our retail partners take on more familial partnership where we’ll have a very direct interaction and we’ll work with them to do menu pairings or specific events that focus around our products and their products.” – Bob

 

Finding and Pitching Retailers

Resources:

“We do whatever we can, whether it’s with a restaurant partner, a snack partner, or a retailer stockist, to really emphasize our story because we feel that it’s unique.” – Bob

Marketing & Content

Marketing your online store is another topic that we’ve covered extensively in this blog, and for food, the same rules apply. In the absence of taste testing, connecting your customers to your story, is extremely important.

Social media is a very big part of our brand. That’s where their core consumer goes, that’s where the most vocal action lies with their consumer and we take that very seriously. We want to be engaged with our core community because they’re the influencers and word-of-mouth can take your brand extremely, extremely far, as we’ve seen.” – Bob

McClure’s dedicates a significant percentage of their site to community—extra content, recipes (their own and customer-generated), and prominent social calls to action.

Word-of-mouth can take your brand extremely, extremely far.

Bob McClure

Condiment brand, Green Mountain Mustard, takes recipe content one step further, using it to grow their email list:

Though your business plan may have no room for a physical retail strategy, it’s still important to take your product to the streets, and to the mouths of your potential customers:

  • Generate buzz locally by participating in farmer’s markets
  • Run a pop-up
  • Partnering with restaurants or other complementary brands on a tasting event
  • Host a private dinner for influencers
  • Periodically invite customers into your process
  • Launch your brand at a consumer food and beverage expo

The length of this post may have a little to do with my inability to self-edit, but this, friends, is a very big topic to cover. Thanks for hanging in there! It’s a challenging industry, but one that can bring you success if you’re passionate and willing to wade through the legalese.

10 years into his business, McClure’s now employs 31 people who make and ship their product to consumers and over 5,000 retail partners internationally. Though Bob tells me he can’t confidently say he has it all figured out, the journey has been a rewarding one.

“I think in entrepreneurship, there’s always a series of challenges and they don’t go away. How successful you are depends on how you handle those challenges at any point. Some of them are big enough to break you, but how you use them as a learning experience in the future is what really makes for a great ongoing success story. If we don’t learn from what we do as entrepreneurs, we don’t truly grow.” – Bob

If we don’t learn from what we do as entrepreneurs, we don’t truly grow.

Bob McClure

17 Best Online Photo Editor Softwares and Apps (Free and Paid)

17 Best Online Photo Editor Softwares and Apps (Free and Paid)

Good product photography enhances the perceived value of your products and increases the credibility of your store.

That’s why we have put together not only key tools and resources for beautiful DIY product photography but also a step-by-step guide to every aspect of the shoot.

This post focuses on one more crucial aspect of product photography: image editing. Because no matter how well you shoot your photos, there are always little things to fix and retouch afterward.

Here are free and paid tools—including software, services, and apps—that you can use to make your pictures more compelling.

Paid Photo Editing Tools

1. Photoshop Elements

1.  Photoshop Elements 12

The Photoshop suite is the ultimate in image editing. Elements offers every editing tool you need and then some. This is top-of-the-line software, which means that it’s not the cheapest item here.

Note: Consider also Photoshop CC, the latest edition of Photoshop that costs $9.99 every month.

2. Photoshop Lightroom

2.  Photoshop Lightroom

Elements offers huge functionality in editing individual pictures. Lightroom focuses on editing in batches. So it retains many of the features you’d find in Elements but is especially powerful at organizing and editing pictures at a large scale.

3. Camera+

4.  Camera+

Camera+ is an app that significantly enhances the capabilities of shooting pictures on your phone. You can change shooting modes, adjust touch exposure, and set up a grid to guide your shots. And, it’s only $1.99.

4. Fiverr

5.  Fiverr

Fiverr is a marketplace for small, inexpensive gigs. There are a lot of people who offer to edit photos, all with their own specialties. Too many people to look through? Rank them by “Recommended,” “High Rating,” and “Express Gigs.”

5. Shopify Experts

6.  Shopify Experts

Okay, maybe you’re willing to spend more than $5, and on more professional agents. Well head over to the Shopify Experts page. There are dozens of photography experts you can reach out to for photography services.

6. Tucia

7.  Tucia

If you don’t want to spend time hunting down the right person to send photos to, consider Tucia, an agency that has edited over 3.7 million photos. There are three tiers of services for different features. One cool service it offers for every tier: unlimited free revisions.

7. Portrait Professionals

8.  Portrait Professionals

If your products involve human models, take a look at Portrait Professionals. It’s a software tool that’s optimized for airbrushing portraits to fix blemishes and reshape the face.

8. Pixelz

Pixelz screenshot

For $1.45 per image, Pixelz uses proprietary software to strip your images of their backgrounds so that you can substitute something in its place (for example, pure white, or the right shade of blue). It promises a 24-hour turnaround.

9. Mister Clipping

10.  Mister Clipping

Mister Clipping makes paths by hand, not software, to remove the backgrounds of your photos. Its prices range from $0.95 to $9.95 per image, and a free trial is available.

10. KeyShot

11.  KeyShot

KeyShot is an image rendering piece of software that can create high-definition visuals and models. They can be made so high-def that they look like real photographs. In the right hands, KeyShot can do wonders, and is used sometimes by big companies to create their marketing materials. At $995, it’s the priciest item on this list, but there is a 14-day free trial for you to see if you could use it.

11. Digital Tutors

12.  Digital Tutors

We’ve given you some pretty sophisticated software tools for editing photos. We wanted to include Digital Tutors because it’s one of the best learning resources online. It has lessons on many aspects of using Photoshop, KeyShot, and design more generally.

Free Photo Editing Tools

Okay, those paid tools are great, but if you happen to be on a budget or don’t want to invest a lot of money, no worries. Take a look at the tools below. They may just get you to where you need to be.

12. GIMP

13.  GIMP

GIMP is the most sophisticated free image-editing tool. You can use it to retouch, edit, and draw. Just download the software and you’re ready to start editing.

13. Fotor

14.  Fotor

Want to edit online, directly on your browser? Take a look at Fotor. It offers editing and beauty retouching. Most cool is its High Dynamic Range feature: you can take three photos with different exposures to combine them into a single image, with the best light and tone from each of the separate photos.

14. PicMonkey

15.  PicMonkey

PicMonkey is another great online photo editor with a very cool feature: Collage. You can take various photos and arrange them together. If you have lots of products, you can collage them together as perhaps a banner image for your store or in an email newsletter.

15. Pixlr

16.  Pixlr

The Pixlr editor is one of the most widely used image editors online. It has three editions, all free: Pixlr Editor, Pixlr Express, and Pixlr O-Matic. The latter two can also be used as apps.

16. Photo Editor by Aviary

17.  Photo Editor by Aviary

This is a free app that you can use to edit images on your phone. Enhance with hi-def, fix red-eyes, and adjust various aspects of lighting.

17. Photoshop Express

18.  Photoshop Express

We’ve opened with a very expensive piece of Photoshop software, and we feel that it’s fitting to close with a free one. Photoshop Express is an app for your phone with slightly fewer functionalities than Photoshop Touch. It lets you crop, fix red-eye, share on social media, and more.

Conclusion

With recommendations of tools and resources for shooting, a step-by-step guide to using them, and tools to edit the pictures afterwards, you’re running out of excuses for poor-looking products. Take a look once more through our resources, and improve the way your products look today.

Do you have a favorite tool for editing your photos? Share it below.

Lookbooks: How to Use High-Quality Lifestyle Photography to Boost Sales

If you sell any kind of aspirational lifestyle product, those words probably ring true. Whether it’s clothing, cosmetics footwear, or furniture, you know that just showing customers a photo of your product isn’t always enough. You need to engage your customer, tell a story, and make them feel like they’re purchasing the lifestyle or experience associated with your brand.

For a long time, online stores have been fairly limited in the ways they can present lifestyle products. Merchants are encouraged to take clear, well-lit photographs, preferably against a white backdrop, that show their product in as much detail as possible. While these kinds of a photo are important for developing trust with wary online buyers, some products need real-life context to drive home their value.

Template Icon

Enter the lookbook, a long-time centerpiece of fashion magazines, like Elle and Vogue, those online merchant are only just starting to use. Unlike product and catalog pages, which typically display products in an unadorned, utilitarian state, lookbooks provide context, presenting them in a real-life, visually-appealing setting. They give customers an idea of how a product is used, what it goes well with, and how it might fit into their home or lifestyle.

You’re probably familiar with how big brands like Gap and Levi’s use editorial imagery to showcase their products. In most instances, these photos feature other products as well. Here, you can see how Levi’s includes a beanie and jean jacket alongside their classic 511s. The high-contrast, “low-fi“ lighting, and setting of these photos adds a cool factor to the products depicted.

Screenshot of Levi's lookbook

Similarly, Minna Goods uses lifestyle photography to set their products in a real-life context. You can easily imagine how the Eva throw might look in your own bright, uncluttered home.

Minna lookbook

But lookbooks are about more carefully-considered styling and high-quality, eye-catching photography. As Gillian Massel puts it, “The online lookbook isn’t just about pretty pictures—it’s about creating an engaging and creative browsing experience.” From creative layouts to clever hover animations, to integrated video, many brands are pushing the boundaries and finding new ways bring their products to life.

 

Vogue is the first Shopify theme to feature a built-in lookbook template, which displays products from your collections in an attractive, editorial-style grid. Once you apply the template to a page, the theme automatically pulls images from your product pages to produce a lookbook that customers can browse in the same way they might flip through a fashion or home living magazine.

Screenshot of Vogue theme lookbook

Customers browsing the lookbook are not only given a chance to view products in context, they’re able to see key purchasing information, including product name, price and description. Most importantly, they can add a product to their cart at any point.

Closeup of Vogue theme lookbook

Another place Vogue leverages high-quality, editorial style photography is on the product page. Full-bleed imagery and an infinite scroll feature (which automatically loads other products from the collection) mimic the experience of flipping through an in-store clothing rack or a physical catalog where all their options are presented in one place.

2. Install a Lookbook App

If your theme doesn’t support lookbooks out-of-the-box, you can still achieve the same effect by installing a Shopify app on your store. A quick search of the App Store will reveal an array of options—the best of which feature responsive layouts, intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces, and even social media integrations. Here are our top picks:

  • Lookbook – This is a great app that makes quick work of lookbooks, featuring product rollovers, customizable display information, links, and more. It supports unlimited lookbooks and integrates nicely with a wide range of Shopify themes.
  • EVM Lookbook – Simple and easy to use, this app lets you create taggable lookbooks using a variety of different layouts. Customers can “discover” multiple products in a single image by hovering over markers to expand product details.
  • Lookbooks – Not to be confused with Lookbook (above), Lookbooks comes with a variety of layouts and integrates with a number of popular platforms to make lookbook setup seamless.

And if you really don’t want to go the app route, you can get in touch with a Shopify Expert about creating a lookbook template that’s customized for your theme.

3. DIY With Photoshop

If you’ve got a creative, entrepreneurial spirit and an afternoon to spare, you may just want to go rogue and create your own lookbook. You may not be able to bake in all the bells and whistles of an app or achieve the site-spanning layout of a lookbook-enabled theme, but with a little elbow grease and Photoshop know-how, you should be able to approximate the effect.

Take Gamma Folk, which uses the Pacific theme. They’ve arranged multiple images in a single image file, using negative space to mimic a more interesting grid layout. These edited images are presented on a custom page as a simple stack of image files—and the result is a sleek lookbook for their jewelry and accessories.

Gamma Folk lookbook

Minna Goods, who we mentioned earlier, takes a similar approach using the Startup theme. Minna Goods is a terrific example of a brand that regularly updates their online store, creating new lookbooks to demonstrate the seasonal evolution of their brand. They put a lot of thought into the design of their beautiful housewares products, which shines through in their carefully-curated online lookbooks.

Minna lookbook

You can create a Minna-like lookbook by uploading multiple images to a photo editing program like Photoshop and playing around until you’ve achieved a desirable layout. If blank slates intimidate you, you can use collage maker tool, and then export your design as an image file. Create a new page in Shopify, upload it to a new page, and link it to your site navigation. Note that different themes use different content container sizes, so keep this in mind when you’re designing your layout.

Regardless of how you create your lookbook, there are several things to keep in mind. Below are our top four pieces of advice.

Invest in High-Quality Photography

A lookbook is only as strong as the images it contains. Give some thought to the mood and aesthetic you want to convey, then invest your time and money into making sure your photos are done right. Whether that means hiring a professional photographer or model, spending time scouting the perfect location, making sure to get a wide range of shots, or all of the above, the best way to ensure the quality of your lookbook is to invest in high-quality photography.

Tell a Story

As an online merchant, the goal of a lookbook is to captivate your customers and help them see themselves using the featured product and living the associated lifestyle. With that in mind, think about the ways in which you market your products. What’s great about them? What problem are they meant to solve? What kind of lifestyle benefits can customers expect to gain by purchasing them? If you can answer these questions by telling a cohesive story in your lookbooks, you’re on the right track.

Don’t Stop at Just One

Besides helping you make sales, lookbooks are a great way to demonstrate the evolution of your brand. Refreshing your lookbooks from season to season, or as you introduce new collections, is a surefire way of keeping customers interested. It shows that your brand is current, informed, trendsetting, and evolving. If you’re a designer, maker, or craftsperson, it shows that you value your work—and if you value your work, so will your customers.

Customize Your Business For It

Not every online store is created equal, and not every store needs a lookbook. If you’re selling electrical components or inkjet cartridges, for example, your best bet is probably a theme that shows your products simply and for what they are. With these kinds of need-based products, a good description is going to go a lot further than a hyper-stylized photoshoot.

We’re expecting to see a lot more lookbooks popping up in e-commerce in 2017. Done well, they’re an effective way of showcasing high-end lifestyle products and turning the popularity of lifestyle imagery seen on Pinterest and Instagram into direct sales for your online store.

We’d love to hear how you’ve incorporated lookbooks into your Shopify store. Hit us up in the comments and let us know what’s worked best for you!

Hacking Ideation: Where Good Ideas Come From (And How to Get Inspired)

A good idea—like lightning—seems to strike at random.

Sometimes you spend the better part of a day looking for inspiration and never find it.

Sometimes you fill up an entire whiteboard brainstorming dozens of ideas—none of them worth doing.

And then there’s those times when your muse decides to sucker punch you in the brain with a brilliant idea as you lay in bed at night. And unless you get up and jot it down, you run the risk of forgetting it forever.

Maintaining a steady flow of good ideas is a big part of many disciplines—whether you’re an entrepreneur, a creator, a maker, or a marketer.

Creativity and the ideation process, even today, is still a bit mysterious. However, it is something you can get better at to produce good ideas reliably.

But First—Where Do Ideas Come From?

https://giphy.com/embed/XqQ6qRCtNQnfO?hideSocial=true
Not from banging your head against your desk, that’s for sure.

Before we talk about ideation, we need to look at what an idea really is.

We tend to take one of two perspectives when it comes to the origin of ideas, according to the author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert:

  1. Ideas come about from sheer mental effort: Through force of will and focus alone, you can come up with ideas through the process of trial and error. However, this can be frustrating as it puts the burden entirely on the thinker.
  2. Ideas are a spontaneous gift from forces outside of our control: Back in the day (and still today), we’d imagine a “muse”— a creative spirit floating about us—that would possess us and give the gift of a good idea. This is a more abstract take on ideation and pretty inconvenient when you think about it.

In a way, the truth is a combination of the two: Everything you absorb from the world around you is processed in your brain—”ideas” are just the relationships between those things.

You might’ve been led to believe the right hemisphere of your brain is where all ideas come from, but that’s not really the case.

Creativity actually involves different parts of your brain at different stages of the process, with the prefrontal cortex playing a big role in the spontaneous and deliberate discovery of new relationships between concepts.

Creativity is the process of connecting dots—each “dot” being an experience, a concept, or a piece of knowledge you’ve collected.

This is a recurring theme across many stories of invention and discovery.

The idea for Velcro was born when George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, was hiking in the mountains and noticed cockleburs stuck to his pants and his dog’s fur. He connected the dots between the cockle-bur’s hook and loop design and the real world applications they could have in fastening objects together, which is now used in shoes and even by NASA.

You’re also probably familiar with the story of how Sir Isaac Newton allegedly defined gravity after observing an apple falling from a tree and connecting that to his existing knowledge of physics and math.

One of the beautiful things about ideation is how we draw upon what already exists to generate something different, simply by looking at existing concepts together in a new way.

Hats and cats, separately, are perfectly unassuming concepts. But combine the two and you end up with a pretty novel idea that people search for over 14,000 times a month on Google (“hats for cats”), and a seemingly silly concept becomes a potential business idea 😉 .

ideation process

Most great stories about ideas seem to have them come out of the blue. But people who have to be creative every day to make ends meet are living proof that it’s possible to do it on demand.

The Four Stages of Intentional Ideation

The creative process is perhaps best understood through the model outlined by Graham Wallis that’s broken into four stages:

  1. Preparation: Outlining the problem and requirements, and gathering information.
  2. Incubation: Giving your mind time to digest and work through different combinations between everything you’ve amassed in the preparation stage.
  3. Illumination: The “aha!💡” moment when you come up with the beginnings of a working idea.
  4. Verification: Validating your idea by seeing if it meets all the requirements you set in the preparation stage.

If an idea doesn’t pass the verification stage, you simply return to the incubation or preparation stages and try again.

Anyone who engages in creative problem solving on a regular basis is likely already going through this process intuitively.

But by developing an awareness of these stages, and applying tactics to help you along at each step, you become more efficient at it and can produce better ideas more reliably.

1. Preparation: Arming Yourself With Information

The more information you have, the more possibilities there are.

This stage is all about knowing what cards you’re holding and the rules of the game you’re playing.

Ultimately, you’ll need a firm grasp of your objective. Are you trying to come up with a catchy slogan? Are you trying to make a certain amount of extra cash?

This is also where you set your restraints for the verification stage: How big is your budget? What is your time limit? Who is the audience for the idea?

Make your problem as concrete as possible so you can start working backwards from there. (e.g. “I want to make $1,000 so I can go on a nice vacation in two months.” or “I want to reach 10,000 new cat owners with a holiday marketing campaign”).

If you’re tackling a problem for a business you’re involved in or want to start, a SWOT analysis can help you lay all your cards out on the table and consider potential internal and external obstacles and advantages.

SWOT analysis

Research is also a key part of this stage. And all good research starts by asking questions that will help you fill in missing information.

Write these queries out to guide your research and make the internet your ally:

  • Use Google search to learn more about your problem and related topics.
  • Use Google Trends to identify hot topics and trends.
  • Use Reddit to get answers to your questions and eavesdrop on discussions that might reveal useful information.
  • Ask questions or find answers on Quora.
  • Look for existing solutions to your problem and how those ideas were executed.

In theory, this process can go on forever, so try to push forward to the next step as soon as you can.

The creative process is messy and you’ll likely revisit this stage if you don’t turn up any good ideas.

2. Incubation: Connecting the Dots Until a Picture Forms

“I’m not procrastinating—my idea is just incubating.”

It sounds like an excuse to do nothing, but it’s the very reason why sometimes when you walk away from a problem, you suddenly come up with a solution.

In the incubation stage, we step back from the problem and everything we’ve accumulated in the preparation stage to give our minds a chance to connect the dots.

Recognize that incubation happens both passively and actively. Don’t feel bad about taking a break or doing something else if you’re not turning up anything good (this can actually bring about the next stage, as you’ll soon find out).

However, you can and should warm up your creative muscles in some of the following ways:

  • Free writing: Write about your problem. Just get every thought and idea down without worrying about grammar or spelling or whether it makes sense. Not only is this a good warm-up, our brains are good at spotting patterns, and so we might find something useful in the mess of words.
  • Drawing a mind map: Write your problem in the middle of a whiteboard or on a piece of paper, then start clustering concepts together by literally draw lines where connections can be made. Use a piece of paper or a free tool like Coggle.
  • Making a list and outlining your thought process: Using Workflow (free), a piece of paper or a Google Doc, create a high-level outline through bullet points of a potential solution, grouping them into groups and subgroups and so forth.
  • Making a Venn diagram: Draw two or more overlapping circles to create a Venn diagram you can use to express differences in each circle and commonalities in the middle where they overlap. This is especially helpful for creating analogies and thinking up creative ways to explain something.
  • Bouncing ideas off someone else: Two heads are better than one. Expose your problem-solving process to someone you trust and apply the age-old rule of improv, “Yes, and…” to pursue each train of thought as far as it goes instead of rejecting any of them too soon.

A lot of ideas is far more important at this stage than quality. There are no “bad ideas” at this point. You never know what connections will inspire something you can use, and at the very least this will prepare your mind for the next stage.

3. Illumination: Capturing the Ideas That Excite You

When it rains, it pours—especially during a brainstorm.

This is the eureka! moment. This is the part we all look forward to. This is when an idea is born in a flash of inspiration.

For inventors and entrepreneurs, these moments of illumination can sometimes become the basis for a good founding story.

It comes as a flood of insight, often when you least expect it. There’s a reason for that. The brain is actually more prone to these flashes when your frontal lobe isn’t fully engaged. Doing chores or other tasks where you can check out mentally can be a good way to distract yourself from the problem at hand and let it stew in your head until inspiration hits.

When it happens, though, capture as much of this insight as your mind can “see” while it’s still firing on all cylinders. These moments are fleeting, so it’s best to capitalize on them, following the trail of inspiration as far it goes.

Many entrepreneurs and career creators keep an idea journal of some kind handy for these moments. Usually, it’s a small book or a dedicated app—Evernote, Trello, Google Keep (what I use)—but it should be something you can keep on you at all times.

Looking For a Product Idea? Check Out Our Guide!

Learn how to tap into profitable niches and source winning product ideas in our free guide: How to Find a Product to Sell Online.

4. Verification: Evaluating and Tweaking Your Idea

Poke holes in your idea and see if it still floats.

This is the last stage where you check to see if the ideas you came up with actually meet your requirements.

Don’t just aim to be objective here—actively play the role of devil’s advocate and ask the hard questions. Be fine with killing your ideas if they don’t fit your requirements or you can’t adapt them to make them work.

At this point, it’s also important to see how your potential idea has already been done. Truly original ideas are incredibly rare, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

By looking at how similar ideas have already been executed, you can see where you need to reinvent the wheel and where you don’t, borrowing whatever works and improving upon it wherever you see opportunities. This is common in marketing where new ideas are inspired by competitors or even companies in different industries.

If a lack of certainty scares you away from an idea because it’s too “out there” and outlandish, just remember Seth Godin’s words:

“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”

If your primary goal has anything to do with capturing and keeping people’s attention, different can be good as long as it aligns with your audience.

Embracing Random and Planned Creativity

As much as we try, we won’t always be able to turn on our creativity like a faucet whenever we need it. You can try to beat procrastination or find hacks to focus better, but there will always be times when you can’t control your creative process.

Despite many claims about “the most creative times of day”, there’s actually a lot of variance in when famous creatives did their work.

The only real commonality is that creative people tend to rely on a routines to increase their creative output.

creative routines of famous people

Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).

 

Whether you’re a night owl or a morning person, consider making the most of your most inspired hours to make creativity a habit.

Instead of trying to copy every successful person’s routine, learn to lean into your own.

Creativity is more like a muscle than a wishing well.

It’s not something you run out of. It’s something you feed and exercise, and push beyond its limits, so it gets stronger every time. Leave it alone and it atrophies and grows weak.

It all contributes to a stronger creative process. The more you consume in the world around you and the more often you connect it in clever ways, the better you get at it.

So read and learn about a bit of everything and find creative ways to “play”: whether it’s writing, drawing, freestyle rapping or anything that encourages you to combine concepts in novel ways.

Getting Lightning to Strike Twice

While natural creative geniuses surely exist, anyone can be creative and become more creative by integrating ideation and the creative process into their lifestyle.

If creativity was a truly unreliable force, there would be no career artists or writers or comedians or YouTubers or serial entrepreneurs. These people have integrated the creative process into their very lifestyles—living, breathing, and embracing the ideation process every day—able to make lightning strike twice, thrice, and many more times when they need it and even when they don’t.

However, the start of an idea alone isn’t worth much. Nor does the creative process end when you start executing. You continue to connect the dots as you flesh out an idea and bring it to life.

And that’s where the real fun begins.

What tips do you have for coming up with great ideas consistently? Share them in the comments below!

Unboxing Loot Crate: How a Subscription Box Became a Leader in Geek Culture

Unboxing Loot Crate: How a Subscription Box Became a Leader in Geek Culture

No longer just the obscure interests of a passionate few, the objects of obsession found within geek culture—Harry Potter, Star Wars, Pokemon, Halo, Marvel, among other worlds—have become wholly embraced by the mainstream.

It’s hard to ignore the trends that are feeding the growth of geek culture: from the spread of Japanese anime in the west to the comic book adaptations that dominate the list of last year’s top 10 highest grossing movies, to a global gaming market with an estimated worth of $99.6 billion.

It’s become an industry fuelled by fandom where fans attend conventions “cosplaying” as their favorite characters, proudly rock t-shirts that reference comic book heroes, and line their shelves with Funko figures and video game collectibles.

In the middle of it all is a company called Loot Crate: a subscription service that ships a monthly “mystery box” of products that have been curated for geeks and by geeks.

Loot Crate: The Origin Story

Loot Crate, like other subscription box businesses, focuses on curating products from across these different worlds and putting together an enjoyable unboxing experience for their customers or “Looters”.

The company was founded in 2012 around a simple idea: “Putting the awesomeness of Comic-Con in a box,” according to Hannah Arevalo, Director of Support at Loot Crate.

“Our co-founders Chris Davis and Matthew Arevalo met at an L.A startup weekend event where they conceived of and built the entire company in 48 hours. While most other team members went back to their regular jobs, Chris and Matthew decided to keep going with Loot Crate and dedicate their time and energy into fully growing this new business.”

Loot Crate has now grown to serve over 650,000 Looters with new monthly themes and partnerships that help it expand its reach to fans of different universes—within gaming, anime, comic books, and more—who all have one thing in common: geeking out over their favorite worlds.

loot crate
Marvel’s Deadpool is just one of many fan favorites who make an appearance in Loot Crate’s mystery boxes.

“From The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, South Park, Minecraft, Call of Duty, Fallout 4 and the WWE, we cater to some of the world’s most demanding fans and do our best to show them new and exciting ways to express their fandom,” Hannah says.

How Loot Crate Curates Products

With so many fans of so many different worlds to serve, Loot Crate’s challenge is making the unboxing experience as relevant and enjoyable as possible for as many subscribers as possible every month.

These subscribers can expect anything from comic books, t-shirts, candy, figurines, trinkets, stickers and more when their Loot Crate arrives—with premium goodies if they choose the Loot Crate DX offering.

By working with licensors, Loot Crate can also create exclusive products that are sold through their various crate lines and their own Shopify-powered ecommerce site, Loot Vault.

“The curation process is a huge part of what we do at Loot Crate. There are so many opportunities for us to curate some of the most awesome and exclusive items you will find in pop culture today,” Hannah explains.

what's in a loot crate
With a growing number of crate lines, fans can opt into the ones that best cater to their interests.

“Many of the ideas come from our employees. We have an amazing group of people, who are all fans of pop culture and offer invaluable feedback on the best items to include. Working directly with the brands and creators also allows us the opportunity to create and manufacture completely exclusive products that have never been available before.”

Keeping their finger on the pulse of geek culture is important for aligning their future crates with current trends—for example, the increasing interest in diversity among superheroes.

Hannah elaborates: “With the upcoming Wonder Woman film to 2016’s big hit Rogue One, female leads are driving huge crowds to the theaters. The rest of pop culture is standing up and taking notice too, from Blizzard’s Overwatch series to some of our favorite comics and tv shows—more diverse actors and storylines focused on underrepresented audiences will continue to be a wellspring of creative content for fans to enjoy everywhere.”

Choosing New Monthly Themes

Many of the worlds of fiction that fans have grown to love are frequently fleshed out further with new movies, video games, comic books, and even fan-generated content.

World building is central to geek culture in all of its forms, and so it’s important for Loot Crate to keep up with the current events of each world—both real and fictional—and incorporate them into the unboxing experience.

“We pride ourselves on making sure the latest titles/IPs are included in our crates and their most recent storylines are reflected,” Hannah says.

“All of these factors come together to inspire our themes for the month. Looters love the mystery of each month’s Loot Crate so the themes give them a peek into what’s coming without ruining the surprise.”

The themes give them a peek into what’s coming without ruining the surprise.

Loot Crate also offers “partner crates” for superfans of specific properties, from Harry Potter to Hello Kitty, where they team up with brands to offer official, exclusive items.

“We spend a large amount of time doing research and consulting with our partners to make sure we can bring something truly unique to the most passionate fans, but also the most sought after items around an upcoming event or release,” Hannah said when asked about the nature of these partnerships.

“Our partner crates are really special because of this. We love being able to dedicate a whole crate to a particular brand or theme and see the amazing products we can find to make the experience one you cannot get anywhere else.”

Introducing Loot Vault: A Traditional Ecommerce Experience

Part of what fuels consumerism in geek culture is the desire to collect and own items from your favorite worlds.

And part of what makes subscription boxes work is the fear of missing out on exclusive goodies each month.

Loot Crate understands this, and that’s why they’ve built the Loot Vault: a Shopify store, which Hannah co-leads, that has become an extension of the Loot Crate brand.

the loot vault
The Loot Vault lets Looters buy one-off items to complete their collections, as well as indulge in past crates.

“Loot Vault is different because it follows a more traditional e-commerce experience of a single, closed transaction, while Loot Crate is a subscription service with recurring shipments,” Hannah says about the difference between these two e-commerce experiences.

“The idea came about by a desire from our community to have access to even more products that we sourced or created, that might have not made it into a crate, as well as some of our past items that they might have missed.”

Loot Vault launched in October of 2016 and has already completed more than 50,000 orders (as of Dec 15) with a 4.9% conversion rate, proving to be a smart way to sell their products outside of their main subscription box offering.

Marketing to Geeks? Use the Network Effect

No longer as stigmatized as it once was, “geeking out” is simply the expression of fandom.

That self-expression is how geeks earn their membership into this culture, and some of Loot Crate’s most impactful marketing tactics harness this energy to tap into the inner circles, networks, and audiences of Looters to reach geeks with shared interests.

Referral and Rewards Programs

On Loot Crate’s website, a “Give 5, Get 5” offer lets existing Looters earn a credit for every additional Looter they bring on through their referral program.

“As our community is one that shares frequently, a program that incentivized people to do what they already did, was a no-brainer for us”, Hannah says. “It also encourages what any commerce platform always aims for: repeat business.”

With a subscription model, this referral program (powered by Friend Buy on Loot Crate and Beans on the Loot Vault Shopify store) is an especially clever way of acquiring customers and growing their monthly recurring revenue.

loot crate referral program
Referral links can be shared one-to-one or broadcasted on social networks.

Unboxing Videos and User Generated Content

The unboxing experience is centered around the anticipation of opening up a recently delivered package and going through its contents one at a time.

This hallmark of modern day consumerism is actually part of the value proposition for subscription boxes such as Loot Crate.

“As a mystery subscription service, we knew it would be important to offer a way for our community to celebrate together each month when their crates arrive. For many, the unboxing is the most important part of the month and can be a very sacred experience for them,” Hannah explains.

And these customers don’t undergo the monthly unboxing experience in private either.

“Looters are able to connect with other fans of these crates even from across the world through social media and community as they all unbox together. This has been a tradition of our brand since the very earliest of days”.

loot crate unboxing
The Loot Crate community regularly shares their unboxing experience on Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, and other social platforms.

Working with Influencers

There are a wide variety of different types of influencers across geek culture creating all kinds of content from reaction videos to reviews to “Let’s Play” videos for almost every video game out there.

There’s no shortage of influencers for geek-focused brands to work with, and Loot Crate features theirs prominently on their website, each with an exclusive discount code for their respective audiences.

“We pride ourselves on supporting the creative communities on Youtube and Twitch through our partner programs—from working with Pewdiepie to influencers on a local/genre level, we look for inspiring creators to help us tell the story of each month’s crate.”

Logistical Lessons From a Successful Subscription Box

As you can imagine, the logistics of a mystery box subscription like Loot Crate are more complicated than a traditional ecommerce operation.

Hannah says that getting these crates out every month is no small task: “It takes an incredible team of logistical ninjas to make sure everything gets out in time and into the hands of our Looters.”

In the early days, the team could hand-stamp their logo onto each crate, but as they have grown to over 13 recurring product lines (with more to come), they have had to constantly push their operations team to innovate their processes to keep up with the demand.

Scaling wasn’t pretty at first, but Hannah says the key was to make decisions with a “customer first mindset” because what’s in the best interest of the customer is usually what’s in the best interest of your business.

Redefining What It Means to Be a “Geek”

“Being a geek” means something different today.

It’s become an inseparable part of pop culture that spans across a variety of media, opening up to accommodate casual geeks—not just the superfans—as they indulge in the ever-growing worlds of their favorite stories and characters.

It’s a space that’s buzzing with opportunities for geek-centric brands like Loot Crate, and one that’s likely to be as timeless as the popular titles it’s built upon.

The 5 Minute Guide to Facebook’s New ‘Time-On-Site’ Targeting Options

Using Facebook’s advertising platform, you can run ads that target people who have interacted with your business already. For example, customers and website visitors. When you create a group of website visitors or customers to target on Facebook, it’s called a Custom Audience.

Earlier this year, Facebook updated its Custom Audience feature to help brands create Custom Audiences based on the amount of time visitors spend on their websites, and the days they visited. These audiences can be created from in the Audiences tool in Ads Manager or directly within ad creation.

Targeting someone based on the amount of time spent on your website is another powerful tool for creating targeted ads. Let’s discuss how to set these audiences up and the best ways to use them to optimize your ads.

How to Set Up Time-on-Site Audiences

Before we start exploring tactics, it’s important to set up a Custom Audience based on the time users spent on your website. Head to the Audiences section of your Ads Manager.

Click on Create Audience and select Custom Audience.

Screenshot of creating a Website Custom Audience in Facebook

From the list of options select Website traffic.

Screenshot of selecting website traffic for a Custom Audience source in Facebook

Click on the Website Traffic drop-down list and at the bottom you’ll see the option to pick “Based on time spent on your website.”

You’ll now see the drop-down option to target the top 5%, 10%, or 25% of active users on your website in the last 180 days:

Screenshot of selecting time-on-site for a Website Custom Audience on Facebook

Give your audience a name and click save.

Let’s say you selected the top 10% of website visitors to segment over a 30-day period. If over the last 30 days, roughly 100,000 people visited your website, the most active 10% are placed in a Custom Audience of roughly 10,000 visitors.

How to Use Time-on-Site Audiences to Optimize Your Ad Campaigns

Now that you know how to set these audiences up, let’s delve into the best ways to use them.

1. Use Audience Insights to Discover What Separates Browsers From Buyers

Knowledge is power, so use Facebook’s Audience Insights tool to learn more about who your browsers are and who your buyers are. Audience Insights will show you data about your audience such as demographics, income, and interest information.

Here’s how to use it.

First, create two Custom Audiences: one made up of everyone who has purchased from you (you can upload their email addresses) and one via the time-on-site audience feature. For the time-on-site audience, you can use any of the three settings, but we’d recommend using Top 25%.

Now, check the Audience Insights data for the two audiences. The data may initially look similar because people who have purchased from you are more likely to spend more time on your website. The key is to look for the differences.

For example, the time-on-site audience might have a pretty even split between men and women, while the purchasing audience has a 70-30 split. That could be a sign at that your product appeals for to men and you should adjust you targeting accordingly. Or, if you want to increase the number of women that buy you product, you could optimize your website to appeal more to women so that more of them checkout.

2. Narrow Your Existing Retargeting Audiences

Retargeting audiences are great, but they’re not perfect. A broad retargeting audience will group everyone who has been to your website together—whether they came to your website once and bounced off immediately or they come every day. But trying to make them more effective by specifying certain pages is arduous and difficult to scale.

Time-on-site audiences make this issue a thing of the past. All you need to do is change the audience targeting on your retargeting campaigns from targeting all website traffic within a specific time period to one of the new time-on-site audiences. Just make sure to continue excluding purchasers.

3. Test Segmented Time-on-Site Retargeting Audiences With Different Messaging

The amount of time someone spends on your site is often a good indicator of where they are in the process of making a purchase. Someone new to your brand will likely spend less time on your website, while someone who knows your brand a bit better will likely spend more time on your website.

Users at different stages of the buyer’s journey will also respond positively to different messaging. Someone earlier in the journey likely needs more information or convincing, so branding messages, videos, and informative content fit well. Someone later in the journey might just need an extra nudge to convince him or her to make a purchase, so a well-timed offer or discount is the right move.

Setting this up in Facebook is easy. Create separate campaigns for each of the two audiences and create ads with the unique messaging and creative you want to use for each group. The key condition is the audience targeting.

For the audience earlier in the buyer’s journey, set the audience targeting to EXCLUDE anyone who is in the top 25% of users for time-on-site in a given time period. For the audience later in the buyer’s journey, set the audience targeting to INCLUDE the top 5%, 10%, or 25% of visitors for time-on-site. You can also test this to see what works best for you.

4. Create Lookalike Audiences Based on Your Time-on-Site Audiences

Building lookalike audiences of high-quality users is the cornerstone of a good prospecting strategy on Facebook. Finding the best lookalike audiences involves testing to see which gets the best balance of cost per acquisition (CPA) and and ability to scale.

Depending on how much data you have, or what that data says, the audiences most closely reflecting your “ideal customer” may not end up producing the best lookalike audiences…that’s why it’s important to test!

A time-on-site audience are great for building lookalike audiences off of. If you’re looking for high-value prospects, how could you not include the people who spend the most time on your site? With this feature now available, the lookalike audiences I recommend every ecommerce business should start with are:

  • People who have purchased
  • People who have purchase three or more times in the last 12 months
  • People in the top 5%, 10%, or 25% time-on-site audience

Use these lookalike audiences to run campaigns geared towards attracting new people to your brand and bringing them into your marketing funnel. When you’ve tested your lookalike audiences and want to further lower the CPA, you should move to step 5.

5. Layer Interest and Demographic Targeting on Top of Your Time-on-Site Lookalike Audiences

Now that you’ve built lookalike audiences off of your time-on-site audiences, you can use interest and demographic filters to focus them even more. This tactic isn’t exclusive to time-on-site-based audiences—it’s useful for all kinds of lookalike audiences. Filtering lookalike audiences with other factors makes them less broad, resulting in a lower cost per acquisition.

When you do this, you are telling Facebook “I don’t want to target everyone in this Lookalike Audience—just the people who also match these other characteristics.”

You can, of course, do this from the start, but it’s generally better to figure out if a lookalike audience is working at all before refining it. Basic factors, like age or gender, however, can always be used from the beginning if your products are age or gender specific.

So, which of Facebook’s available data points should you select?

The best ones will either show a demonstrated interest or need in the products you sell or match data that you have on your existing buyer profile. These can include:

  • Interest in your product’s topic or category
    • For example, if you sell a video game accessory, target only people interested in video games
  •  Annual income
    • For example, if your product has a higher-than-average price point (or is considered a “premium” option in its category), restrict the audience to only individuals in higher income brackets
  • Interest in a subject you’re going to feature in certain ad campaigns
    • For example, you sell a sports nutrition product and market to four different types of athletes: runners, cyclists, weightlifters, and swimmers. If you want to create an ad campaign featuring content related to running, restrict the audience targeting to only show the ads to members of the lookalike audience who are also interested in running.

That’s it! Using these five tactics to explain time-on-site targeting options will put you on a great path. How do you plan on using this new feature?

Social Entrepreneurship: How to Harness Business to Make the World a Better Place

Social Entrepreneurship: How to Harness Business to Make the World a Better Place

Some people start businesses to improve the quality of their life, others seek to work for themselves, and some simply see an opportunity in the market that they can’t resist.

But sometimes the thing that tickles the entrepreneurial spirit in you is the desire to use business as a means of creating positive change.

This is called “social entrepreneurship”, and it’s an approach to business that’s gaining in popularity as globalization brings conversations about sustainability and international development to a global stage, and more people ask themselves, “What can I do for the world today?”

Social entrepreneurship involves starting mission-based social enterprises that dedicate some or even all of their profits toward furthering a cause—giving their customers a purpose behind every purchase.

What is a Social Enterprise?

what is a social enterprise

“Social entrepreneurship” has a very broad definition that can arguably include non-profit organizations like Doctors Without Borders, which rely almost exclusively on donations and grants, and even for-profit companies like Tesla that put their clean energy products front and center.

A social enterprise is a type of business where the bottom line and success metrics are measured in more than just profits. Instead, social enterprises typically measure success based on a triple bottom line:

  • People: The social impact of your business, and your ability to change lives and develop a community in a sustainable way.
  • Planet: Your environmental impact; how you contribute to a sustainable planet or reduce the carbon footprint (CO2 emissions) of your business and customers.
  • Profit: Like traditional businesses, they need to make make money in order to sustain themselves, pay workers and grow as an enterprise.

Social Entrepreneurship is about harnessing commerce for a cause.

of the challenges to succeeding in social entrepreneurship is that it’s easy to measure profit (did you make money, or did you not make money?), but it’s not as easy to measure your impact on people or the planet and communicate it to others.

Social entrepreneurs adopt a business model that puts their mission at the center, and are held accountable to their customers and stakeholders based on their proposed impact.

The Benefits of Building a Social Enterprise

For today’s consumers and businesses, social responsibility is a growing priority as concerns about climate change, international development, and supply chain ethics become a more prominent topic of international discussion.

In a survey by Social Enterprise UK, 1 in 3 people said they feel ashamed about buying from socially irresponsible businesses. In another study, 91% of global consumers expected companies to operate responsibly, and address social and environmental issues

This reflects a shift in consumer awareness about the impact of their purchase decisions. Not only are businesses being held to a higher standard, but many consumers are holding themselves to a higher standard as well.

So while social enterprises, by definition, must dedicate a portion of their profits to the impact they want to make, they do enjoy the following benefits that help them succeed:

  • Mission-based branding: A company story with a cause at its core makes consumers feel good about every purchase they make from you.
  • Partnership opportunities: A social enterprise, because of their mission-based motivations, can partner with other non-profit organizations and for-profit companies to leverage existing audiences and established reputations to create a presence in their market. “In kind” resources and discounts are not uncommon for social enterprises.
  • Press coverage: Publications and blogs love to cover social enterprises and their impact, helping them to evangelize their efforts and share their impact.
  • Certifications and support systems: Social enterprises can be eligible for grants, “impact investing” opportunities that focus on job creation and sustainability, and special certifications such as a Benefit Corporation status that make it easier to establish credibility, commit to transparency, and attract customers, employees, volunteers, and investors.

For the sake of this piece, we’ll look at what it takes to create a sustainable for-profit social enterprise. And that starts, as most businesses do, with figuring out what you want to sell.

Finding a Product to Sell and a Mission to Lead

The mission comes first for social entrepreneurs, but that doesn’t eclipse the importance of having a quality product to sell. After all, when all is said and done, a for-profit social enterprise needs to make money to survive just like any other business.

But there’s a pattern amongst successful social enterprises of establishing a good “product-cause fit” that aligns their mission with what they sell.

LSTN Sound Co. for example, sells premium headphones where a portion of profit goes toward the Starkey Hearing Foundation to restore hearing to people around the world.

LSTN social enterprise

Cotopaxi makes and sells outdoor gear for adventurers and travellers, dedicating 2% of total revenue to provide grants to specific non-profits that seek to alleviate poverty in different parts of the world.

cotopaxi social entrepreneurship

Love Your Melon sells beanies and hats and, on top of donating 50% of profits to pediatric cancer research and supporting patients, also has a Campus Crew Program that mobilizes students across the United States to help with their mission.

love your melon social entrepreneurship

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These are only a handful of many examples of ecommerce-based social enterprises that do a great job of not only tying a sense of purpose to their products, but using traditional business strategies, such as event marketing and giveaways, to promote their mission.

Defining Your Mission and Illustrating Your Impact

For social enterprises, their mission is a competitive advantage that can help them stand out in a crowded market—if they can communicate their motivation and the impact they can make.

Many social enterprises adopt a model where they donate a portion of profits to a cause, but that’s not the only way to position your company as a social enterprise.

It’s not just saying, ‘Hey, we have a social mission as an organization, and X percent of our sales goes to nonprofit X, Y,  and Z.’ I think it needs to be deeper and more authentic than that.

There are also social enterprises that focus on:

  • Creating jobs within the communities they care about, such as hiring local ex-convicts or ethically outsourcing production to communities in need of fair work and career development opportunities.
  • Reducing their carbon footprint by planting trees or going out of their way to reduce carbon emissions throughout their entire supply chain and educating customers about it.
  • Hosting workshops and “people development” initiatives to teach skills and empower people to build better lives for themselves and their communities.
  • Advocating for diversity and inclusion on behalf of underrepresented groups and becoming an engine of inspiration, such as Goldie Blox does by making toys to expose young girls to the joys of engineering.

Transparency and sustainable impact are essential for a successful social enterprise. And these things are easier to achieve if your cause is close to your heart and you choose an impact that you can measure.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” in the words of C.S Lewis.

Transparency is about visibly demonstrating your integrity and holding yourself accountable to your mission and the people who support it.

Depending on your mission, you can directly implement your plans for change as a social entrepreneur and expand your contributions as you grow. But if you choose to partner with non-profit organizations (NPOs) to help execute the “social” part of your social enterprise (as many do), be sure to do your homework before you reach out and ask questions like:

  • What am I ultimately giving back to?
  • How will my contributions actually be used and what are the organization’s operating costs?
  • How does the organization measure its success?
  • Is their impact sustainable, or will it only end up doing more harm in the long run?
  • Does this organization have an ethical history as a non-profit?

This is all part of your founding story—the tale of why you started your business—and will likely come up again and again in your elevator pitch, About Page, PR efforts and more. So refine it with your mission in mind and your action plan for creating change.

Funding Your Social Enterprise

Social enterprises are accountable to the cause that they support, and that means automatically setting aside a portion of future revenue to invest in their impact.

Social entrepreneurs often have to be creative with how they raise money, and that’s why crowdfunding is a popular option.

Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter can not only help you raise the money you need to get your idea off the ground, but get your mission out there in a community that exists on the premise of supporting projects and causes they believe in. Learn more about running a successful crowdfunding campaign in The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding.

goldie blox cause-driven kickstarter
Goldie Blox’s Kickstarter campaign exceeded its funding goal by a landslide and helped launch the successful business that it is today.

There are also a growing number of grants that you can apply to for social enterprises that meet specific requirements, and a new trend of “impact investing“, where the return on investment expected isn’t just financial, but includes social and environmental impact as well.

Marketing Your Mission

What works when it comes to marketing can vary from business to business, but the need for transparency and the “for-benefit” position that social enterprises adopt make certain marketing strategies especially effective at generating awareness.

After all, you’re marketing your mission, not just your business.

Content Marketing

Digital media and the internet enable storytelling at a scale that wasn’t possible before.

From shooting videos to sharing photos on social media, social enterprises can leverage content to share real stories of the impact they’re making and provide proof that every customer’s purchase went toward doing some good in the world.

You can visit the affected community and film a documentary-style video. Or you can create an infographic for a data-based illustration of your impact or why your vision of change is needed.

There are ample opportunities for a social enterprise to spread its mission and tell its stories with content.

 

Events

Since NPOs often host events for fundraising and other initiatives, social enterprises can partner on or sponsor the causes that relate to their mission.

Whereas this would be deemed a marketing expense for traditional businesses, for a social enterprise it can double as an investment in their cause.

Le

With a feel-good story and a carefully crafted pitch, a social enterprise can win media mentions from bloggers and publications that are constantly on the lookout for something interesting to cover for their audiences.

Since there’s a purpose behind your company, there’s usually a lot more meat to the story by default than there might be for a traditional business.

 

Social Media

Purchasing isn’t the only way for people to support your mission. They can donate their voices online too.

According to an analysis by CoSchedule on why people share things online, 84% used social sharing as a way to support causes or issues they care about.

As long as you integrate your mission into your marketing, you can expect your audience to help you spread the word.

You can even amplify your message by starting a Thunderclap—setting a deadline to collect tweets, Facebook shares, and Tumblr posts that will go out all at once.

 

thunderclap social cause
Thunderclap offers a great way to mobilize your social media following to contribute to a cause or campaign you care about.

The Rise of For-Benefit Companies

Social entrepreneurship isn’t the only way a business can be for-benefit and not just for-profit.

Many companies are owning their social responsibility based on a growing belief that those with the power to do so can and should try to make the world a better place.

Our connected world has brought about a new era of awareness, where we can find problems to solve and lives to improve across the street or across the world if we choose.

People from all over are making the decision to make change in whatever way they can, whether it’s by being more conscious of what they buy as consumers, or building an engine for social and environmental good by becoming entrepreneurs.

The Pros and Cons of Selling on Amazon and eBay

The Pros and Cons of Selling on Amazon and eBay

At first glance, online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay seem to be a creation of mutual benefit. Ecommerce store owners gain increased exposure for their products, and the marketplaces gain an expanded product range without having to increase inventory.

On closer inspection, the mutual benefits remain, but the reality is more nuanced. Should you expand your presence beyond your online store and start selling your products on Amazon and eBay?

The answer is… it depends. A marketplace strategy may be a boon for some retailers and a bust for others. There are a lot of variables that need to be taken into consideration, including the type of products you sell, the intensity of competition in your category, marketplace fees and restrictions, and so on.

There are, however, some pros and cons that apply across the board. In this post, we’ll explore those pros and cons so you can make the decision of whether or not to sell on marketplaces well-informed of the upsides and the downsides.

Note: Thinking about selling on Amazon? Eligible Shopify merchants can now list their products on Amazon.com by adding the Amazon sales channel.

The Pros of Selling on Amazon and eBay

1. Increase Sales From a High Traffic Channel

The chief draw of selling on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay is the scale of their online presence. Amazon alone draws nearly 184 million visitors a month—that’s a heck of a lot of eyeballs! And those eyeballs can translate into higher sales volumes.

According to an Amazon executive, sellers report an average 50% increase in sales when they join Amazon Marketplace.

2. Acquire New Customers

Nobody visits Amazon or eBay searching for your store. But they may be searching for—and discover—your products. Products they may not have discovered otherwise, or that they may have purchased from a competitor.

Once you’ve got a customer in the door, even if it is through a marketplace, you’ve got a chance to win repeat business through excellent service and fulfillment. This is especially the case if you’re selling products in a category that encourages frequent, repeat purchases, such as hobby supplies or fishing gear.

3. Many People Prefer Shopping Via Marketplaces

Marketplaces are all about strength in numbers. This is as true for online marketplaces as it is for real world examples like farmer’s markets, shopping malls, and food trailer parks.

The variety and all-in-one aspect of the marketplace can draw in lots of customers who prefer that kind of shopping experience. Online marketplaces also bring the additional layer of single-stream checkout and fulfillment support in order to create a seamless experience for buyers.

Cons of Selling on Amazon & eBay

While there are some significant upsides to selling on marketplaces, there are also some drawbacks that need to be considered.

1. Marketplace Fees

Setting up shop on a marketplace can potentially supercharge your sales, but it also exposes you to another cost center: marketplace fees.

Most marketplace fees are deducted as a percentage of each sale and can vary from site to site and even category to category.

In highly commoditized, low-margin categories, the numbers may just not add up.

Before selling your products on a marketplace, you’ll want to make sure you have a good sense of your margins and a firm understanding of the marketplace’s fee structure.

2. Limited Control

While the marketplace infrastructure has many advantages, it’s important to remember that it can cut both ways. Marketplaces don’t exist to help you, but to help themselves. They want the focus to be on the products, not the sellers. And that means they might restrict the degree to which you can brand your presence, communicate with customers, dictate what items you can and cannot sell, and so on.

Additionally, there’s nothing to stop marketplace owners—in the case of Amazon, Sears, and so on—from going around third-party sellers, identifying popular products, and stocking them themselves.

3. Keeping Inventory in Sync

A marketplace is essentially a second point of sale. And one that sometimes can’t be configured to talk to your shopping cart. In effect, both draw down the same inventory but don’t sync with one another, making it challenging to understand your stock levels without lots of manual reconciliation.

Note: Eligible Shopify merchants can now list products on Amazon and sync their inventory automatically using the Amazon sales channel.

How to Choose a Marketplace

As you weigh the pros and cons of selling on a marketplace, it’s also worthwhile to consider which marketplace you would join.

The tempting answer is “all of them!”, but each marketplace has its own system, its own processes and limitations and quirks. Learning to navigate those can take time you probably don’t have, so it’s best to stick to one or two marketplaces unless you know you can support more.

Two of the largest and most well-known marketplaces are Amazon and eBay.

Amazon

Amazon’s Marketplace takes the sharper retail tack, and as a retailer itself Amazon provides tools to help third-party sellers become part of a seamless shopping experience for consumers.

Some things to consider when selling on Amazon include:

  • Fulfillment by Amazon, which involves sending your inventory in bulk to Amazon and letting them handle shipping and fulfillment.
  • Amazon Prime membership, which incentivizes shoppers with free 2-day shipping, along with a reputation for fast and reliable order fulfillment.
  • Built-in comparison shopping on Amazon (for better or for worse) pits you against other sellers.
  • There is usually a monthly fee for listing your products on Amazon; referral and other fees are charged upon making a sale and vary depending on your product category (a 15% commission for most categories).

Be sure to check out the fees for selling on Amazon and factor that into your margins when you consider selling in their marketplace.

eBay

eBay, on the other hand, is essentially a massive marketplace. Where Amazon focuses on the Amazon shopping experience, eBay offers seller tools and features that make it easier for you to feature your brand in an eBay store.

Consider the following before you decide to sell on eBay:

  • eBay is still mostly considered an online auction house that lets you put items up for auction to the highest bidder, which will attract many shoppers who are looking for used, unique, or hard-to-find items.
  • You will need to figure out shipping as eBay offers far less in the way of fulfillment services (though they have tried to enter the game with their Global Shipping Program).
  • There is an insertion fee per listing, per category, but sellers get a fixed amount of “free listings” per month depending on their eBay account type. However, there are also Advanced Listing options that you can pay for to spruce up your listing.

Be sure to check out the fees for listing and selling on eBay if you’re considering selling here.

Final Verdict

Between Amazon and eBay, when it comes to marketplaces to sell on, Amazon seems to be the clear winner with a larger user base and services that attract both sellers and buyers.

Keep in mind that selling through your own store doesn’t mean you can’t also sell your products through a marketplace as well to reap the benefits of both, nor does selling in one marketplace mean you can’t also sell in another.

Many successful merchants do just that—”owning” their business and brand online, while also gaining the exposure and sales from the large volume of traffic found on online marketplaces.

10 Tactics for Sticking to Your Small Business Resolutions

Hello treadmill, it’s been a while.

The resolution-crazy masses are swarming the CrossFit gyms, and kale sales are through the roof. It’s January: the official month of good intentions.

Resolutions aren’t just for your thighs, though. For entrepreneurs, a new year can be just the incentive you need to give your business a refresh. What missteps did you take in 2016? What can you learn from them? Use the calendar reboot as an opportunity to start over and get things right in 2017.

Statistically speaking, however, you’re going to fail. Whether your resolution is to become data literate, increase sales, or achieve a healthy work-life balance, you’re likely to abandon your goals if you don’t have a strategy.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 tactics to help your business resolutions stay fit and active.

Let’s do this.

1. Define Success

Make your resolutions measurable and meaningful. “Run a pop-up shop” might be on your list for 2016, but how can you gauge success? A lemonade stand on your front yard technically qualifies, but I’m guessing that’s not what you meant. Consider revising your wording by adding measurable specifics: “Run a X-week pop-up shop by X and sell X”.

2. Break it Up

Digest resolutions more easily by slicing big goals into bite-sized pieces. If your resolution is to quit your day job and start a business in 2016, convert it into smaller steps. Maybe January’s goal is to establish a budget, source a product, or set up the basics of your online store. Each month is broken up into manageable (but scary, ambitious) tasks that culminate in your December resignation letter.

3. Write it Down

I’m a pen and paper gal myself when it comes to lists; my iPhone has yet to replicate the satisfaction of striking out a completed task. For you, perhaps the whiteboard is your medium, or maybe Google calendar reminders would do the trick. There are several excellent task apps, too, which leads me to #4.

4. Use Apps to Stay on Track

Mint for money, MyFitnessPal or CARROT Fit for your butt, Any.DO for lists, Zapier for cloning yourself, Trello for tracking and planning, Rescue Time for focus and productivity, Pomodoro Timer for procrastination. The list is endless.

Check out the Shopify App Store for even more tools to help with your business. What are your favorites?

5. Make it a Habit

Bad habits are hard to break, and good ones can be just as difficult to form. For every person and habit, the length of time and steps needed can vary greatly. If your resolution is to stay on top of your expenses, success may rely on some habit-forming. Perhaps consider adding it to your morning routine, setting reminders, or employing the help of an app like Habitlist or a tool like Pavlok.

“Motivation is interwoven with the goals you make and the habits you plan to form in order to achieve them.” – Gregory Ciotti 

6. Crowdsource your Motivation

There’s no ‘i’ in team! The gym-buddy concept can be applied to any resolution. Getting others involved in your process adds a level of accountability and provides extra inspiration when your own has run dry. Try getting a mentor, joining an online community of entrepreneurs, or using an app like Stickk.

7. Stay Energized

Your personal resolutions can support those related to your business. If you’ve added “go to the gym” to your list for 2016, you’re not just helping your physique—your brain will thank you, too. Regular exercise gives you more energy to “get shit done” and more brainpower to make faster, smarter decisions.

8. Treat Yo’self

Dinner begets dessert—it’s the oldest motivation trick in the book. I’m employing this tactic right now: if I finish the first draft of this blog today, I will allow myself 20 minutes of Pinterest indulgence.

Bonus: try a “mindful” respite through yoga, adult coloring, or even video games designed for this purpose. Not only can mindful activities reward progress, they can also help with stress and sleep.

9. Walk Hard

Step away from daunting projects and to gain clarity and perspective.

“Spending time away from work is important to helping you maintain perspective on the challenges you face, and thus to the future of your company.” – Richard Branson

10. Hold Yourself Accountable

This is a tough one, but we’re here to help—share your business resolutions in the comments below! By writing them down in a public place you’ll be much more likely to follow through.

Your (my) sparkling New Balance trainers are wasting away in your (my) closet after last year’s failed attempt at self-improvement. There, there. It’s another year, and yet another opportunity to be better. Resolve with abandon!

What are your tricks that help you stick to your guns? Share them—and your business resolutions—in the comments below.