The Beginner’s Guide to Ecommerce Shipping and Fulfillment

The Beginner's Guide to Ecommerce Shipping and Fulfillment

You put a lot of effort into making sure your customers have a great experience. You approve the images, you tweak your store, and you write the emails, all with the goal of leaving your customers happy.

But when it comes to shipping, it can feel like you’re handing your brand over to a stranger.

With some thought and planning, however, it doesn’t have to feel that way—which is a good thing, because shipping is a key part of your business. It’s the point where a customer finally experiences your product in person, and it can also represent a major expense in your business, depending on your shipping strategy.

That’s why it’s so important to map out a defined shipping strategy. Since the world of shipping and fulfillment can seem complex when you’re not familiar with it, we’ve got an overview of everything you’ll need to know to make the best choice for your business.

We’ll go over some of the basics of shipping your products and help demystify this complicated topic. We’ll talk about setting your shipping strategy, packaging, provide resources and links to popular carriers, look at tracking and insurance, balancing shipping costs with profitability, how Shopify can help you streamline your shipping, and apps to help make it all easier.

We’ll cover…

  • Shipping strategy 101
  • Shipping rates and methods
  • Calculating shipping costs
  • Packaging and marketing
  • Packaging options
  • Insurance and tracking
  • Customs declarations and forms
  • Business accounts
  • Labelling your packages
  • Using a fulfillment warehouse
  • Shopify Shipping

Shipping strategy 101

There are some basics that set a foundation for the rest of your shipping. While you can come back and change each of these later on, as you learn more, these are the key decisions and steps that make up your high-level shipping strategy.

  • Your shipping rates and methods. Are you going to pass the full cost of shipping on to your customers, or will you offer free or flat-rate shipping to absorb some or all of the cost? By the end of the post, you’ll have more information on how to make this choice for your business.
  • Product weights. To streamline the process, measure and update the weight of each product you sell. Having that information set up will help you get a good sense of your total costs, and pass along accurate prices to your customers.
  • Choose your preferred packaging. While there’s more to be said about what kind of packaging is right for your products, once you’ve selected it, you can add that information to Shopify so you can calculate accurate shipping prices.
  • Source your packaging. You can order free packaging from USPS, UPS, or DHL, or invest in branded packaging if that’s part of your strategy.

Set your shipping rates and methods

Before you can ship products, you’ll first need to decide your pricing strategy for shipping. There are several common methods, but your choice should always be informed by the underlying financials of your business.

Offer Free Shipping

Offering your customers free shipping is one of the best ways to reduce shopping cart abandonment. However, as you might suspect, shipping is never free. Someone always has to pay. To make free shipping work, you have a few options.

  1. Increase product prices to cover costs for shipping (customer pays).
  2. You pay the full price of shipping out of your margins (you pay).
  3. Increase prices of products slightly to cover partial costs of shipping (you and your customer pays).
  4. Offer a discount code to certain customers for free shipping.

Additionally, you can also try offering free shipping on a minimum order amount. This strategy can help offset the costs of shipping by helping to increase your average order size, but you’re still the one paying for it out of your margins.

Charge Real-Time Carrier Rates

Another effective shipping strategy is to charge real-time carrier rates for shipping. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify integrate in real-time with various carriers like USPS and Canada Post (among others) to generate shipping options and live pricing from various carriers. This allows your customers to choose and pay for the exact service they want.

Charge a Flat Rate

The last popular option is to offer flat rate shipping. The best practice for this option is to try and make sure that you don’t drastically undercharge or overcharge your customers. Flat rate shipping works best when you have a fairly standard product line of items that have similar sizes and weights. Flat rate shipping tends to become complicated and less effective if you sell a wide variety of products with different sizes and weights.

Calculating shipping costs

All shipping couriers base shipping rates on a variety of factors including:

  • Package size
  • Package weight
  • Origin country
  • Destination country

Plus additional shipping options like tracking and insurance.

It can be difficult to compare services exactly as they all offer slightly different options, and every business will have their own unique variables.

Below we have compiled a list of shipping calculators to some of the largest and most popular shipping couriers so that you can begin comparing pricing and options. If you’re based in the US or Canada, you can pay for USPS, UPS, DHL Express and Canada Post shipping through Shopify and receive pre-negotiated rates. See example rates here.

Consider your margins

To be successful at ecommerce, you always need to keep an eye on your profit margins. Because shipping represents a significant expense for ecommerce merchants, if you don’t do your research, you could end up losing money on shipping.

Before you finalize your pricing and strategy for your ecommerce store, you should use a chart like the one below to map out all costs associated with getting your products into your customers’ hands. Many ecommerce entrepreneurs are shocked by how quickly the little charges add up. Don’t get caught in the same trap.

Here’s a quick example of how you could calculate your total price to include the cost of shipping.

Cost of product $10
Packaging $0.50
Shipping costs $7.50
Customs/Duties (if you cover them) $0.00
Credit card fee $2.50
Profit margin 50%
Total price $30.75

Packaging and marketing

As the world of ecommerce develops so do the expectations of customers who buy online. Years ago, packaging and shipping was simply a way to receive a product purchased online, but more and more people are looking for shipping, packaging and presentation as part of the ecommerce experience.

This expectation means that for many businesses, outside of selling commodities, competing effectively means going above and beyond to impress customers and exceed their expectations by delivering an experience, not just a product.

Your packaging and presentation can be an effective way to set yourself apart. Consider Trunk Club. Trunk Club is a monthly subscription service that sends men a custom curated selection of men’s clothes and accessories each month. You can see from their packaging below that their customer unboxing experience is very central to their overall brand experience.

Packaging & Marketing

Trunk Club does an such exceptional job, that customers even make unboxing videos on YouTube which furthers amplifies Trunk Club’s reach through word of mouth marketing.

Everlane is another great example of someone that uses their packaging as a marketing channel. Items from Everlane arrive wrapped in craft paper with an Everlane sticker and a thank you note that encourages people to share a photo of their purchase on social media.

Packaging & Marketing

In a world where sealed factory bags and a black-and-white order receipt are considered standard, it’s the small details like this that go a long way in making an exceptional impression on customers.

Today, some of the most successful and interesting brands are those using packaging to delivery an unboxing experience that goes beyond the product.

Consider how you can provide a better customer experience through your packaging, and how you can use packaging as an extension of your brand.

Packaging options

Before you can ship your products, you’ll need to package them for safe transport. So what options do you have? There are a few common options for packaging including boxes or envelopes (padded or unpadded). For many businesses and products, you’ll a box as well as some other packaging materials to safely ship your products.

Uline is a popular choice to purchase packaging materials including over 1,300 sizes of boxesbubble mailers, and package cushioning.

Packaging Options

Another option is Shopify Plus merchant The Packaging Group. Shop around for the best options and pricing for your products.

You may also want to try thinking outside of the box (no pun intended) and look at other packaging options. For example, poly mailers can be a great way to mail products that don’t need a lot of structure or cushioning, like clothing.

Poly mailers offer multiple benefits. They’re lightweight, which reduces your shipping costs, and they can adjust to different volumes and weights depending on what’s included in the order. For example, the same size of poly mailer could accommodate one pair of socks, or five, and you wouldn’t be overpaying on packaging weight or dimensions for the single pair.

Packaging Options

Some other large packaging suppliers you may want to consider are ValueMailersFast-Pack and eSupplyStore. Additionally, many carriers like USPS, DHL, and UPS offer free packaging in different types and sizes.

Keep it light and small

Because the cost of most shipping options is based on size and/or weight, do your best to keep your packaging as small as possible. This will not only help you save on your shipping costs and what your customer paid for shipping, but will also keep packaging costs from eating away your profit margin.

Depending on your business and product line, you may want to consider carrying a variety of package sizes and packaging materials.

Overpackaging can cost you money on shipping

Most people would consider the packaging for the product above to be excessive. This is exactly what you’re trying to avoid as it inflates shipping costs dramatically.

Insurance and tracking

Depending on what you’re selling and its value, shipping insurance and tracking can offer a great deal of security. With most carriers, insurance and tracking is relatively inexpensive and provides you recourse should one of your packages get lost or damaged. Some shipping services like UPS and USPS Priority Mail offer complimentary coverage for up to $100, and that coverage can be up to $200 in some cases.

Consider purchasing insurance on big-ticket items so that, in the rare cases when a package does get lost, you’ll be covered. Keep in mind that some shipping services have insurance already built into the price, so consider this when you are comparing various courier prices.

Customs declaration and forms

If you’re shipping outside of your own country, you’ll need to include the proper customs documentation. These are available online through Shopify or at your local post office or shipping retail location. These forms tell the customs officers at the country of import what is in the package, how much it costs, and whether it is a gift or merchandise.

Check with your country’s postal service to find out exactly which forms you’ll need to attach to your package. These forms should be completed honestly and clearly to prevent your package from getting held up in Customs.

Tariffs, taxes and duties

If there are any additional customs fees due when a package reaches its destination, your customer will be responsible for them at the time of delivery. It’s always a good idea to make sure to include this information in your shipping policy page so customers aren’t surprised by unexpected fees. To get an idea of what fees your customers might incur, check out this customs duty calculator.

Here’s an example of how one store prominently displays information regarding additional charges on their shipping policy page to ensure customers are aware of possible charges:

Tariffs, Taxes and Duties

Customs declaration information

For more information on customs declaration and the required forms and policies, please see the resources below:

Business accounts

Once you have decided on the carriers you want to use, consider setting up business accounts. Business accounts offer a variety of services including discounts, better expense tracking, and a whole host of online tools to more efficiently manage the shipping aspects of your business. For USPS, UPS, DHL Express services in the United States and Canada Post services in Canada, sign up through Shopify Shipping for preferred rates and discounts.

  • UK Royal Mail Online Business Account – An online business account with Royal Mail will help you save time by managing all your shipping expense and invoices all in one place.
  • Australia Post Business Credit Account – A Business Credit Account with Australia Post will allow you to charge many of the common services directly to your account for better management of your expenses.

Labelling your packages

Once you have figured out your presentation, packaging, carrier, and costs, you’ll need to determine how you want to label your packages. Many new ecommerce entrepreneurs start off by writing the ship-to and return addresses on the package by hand. Although this can be a great way to start, it tends to be time consuming, tedious, and not scalable as your business grows.

That’s where Shopify Shipping comes in. You can print and pay for multiple shipping labels directly in Shopify.

Here’s how it works.

  • From your orders list, select all the orders you’re ready to ship.
  • Preview each shipment, including the carrier, shipping service, and package. Adjust or fill in any missing information as needed.
  • Buy all of your shipping labels in one click, then print them as a single PDF.

You can print your labels on plain paper using any printer, or to save even more time, you can upgrade to a thermal label printer to print directly on self-stick labels.

Shipping label printer

 

Using a fulfillment warehouse

A fulfillment warehouse can help automate and handle the shipping for you. When you choose to work with a fulfillment warehouse, you will store your inventory at one of their warehouses. Depending on their level of integration with your shopping cart, when an order comes in your fulfillment partner will automatically be forwarded the order to pick, pack, and ship the purchase order on your behalf.

There are a number of advantages to using a fulfillment warehouse including:

  • Cheaper shipping rates. Because fulfillment warehouses ship such large quantities for multiple vendors, they receive cheaper shipping rates. They’re also integrated (usually) with all of the major shipping logistics companies, giving you easier access to the widest range of shipping options.
  • Shorter shipping times. Strategically choosing your fulfillment partner and the warehouse to store your inventory means you can store your inventory closer to the bulk of your customers.

Fulfillment warehouses aren’t for everyone, though. There are several disadvantages as well that you need to consider.

  • Branding experience. Generally, if you use your packaging presentation as part of your branding experience, like Trunk Club, you’ll be hard pressed to find a fulfillment warehouse that will work with that level of dedication and customization for your brand.
  • Additional costs. Although you will likely receive better shipping rates working with a fulfillment partner, there are other rates that need to be paid including what are commonly referred to as ‘pick and pack fees’ as well as warehouse storage fees. If you feel like you’re ready to work with a order fulfillment warehouse, there are several that have fantastic integrations with Shopify including Shipwire, Fulfillrite, and a host of others. For a better idea of pricing and costs, you can use Shipwire’s pricing calculator.

Best rates, right away

Businesses in North America automatically get access to pre-negotiated shipping rates with all of the top shipping carriers—UPS, USPS, DHL Express, and Canada Post. Normally you would need to get your own account with each of these carriers and negotiate your own discounts (often based on your previous shipping volume). But if you’re just starting out, business costs are already high, and the last thing you want is to pay high rates for shipping.

With these rates in hand, you now have options. You can use these rates to show exact shipping costs at checkout, passing on savings to your customers. You can also use these rates with Shopify’s built in label printing. This means every time you fulfil an order, you can print out the corresponding USPS, UPS, DHL Express, or Canada Post shipping label, saving yourself a trip to the post office, a visit to another website, or paying a third party to print labels.

Schedule pickups when you need them

Dealing with a stack of orders is both a blessing and a curse. It’s exciting you’ve made all of these sales, but now you need to get them to your customers. Instead of ordering an Uber, driving through traffic, and waiting in line, you can now book a pickup for UPS or DHL Express shipments directly in Shopify. Just go in and schedule when you want a driver to arrive at your door, including same day pickups, with no minimum volume required.

Pickups are free for DHL Express shipments, and $4 flat for UPS (retail costs start at $5.80 and can include surcharges).

Try it for free. You can experience the convenience of UPS pickups for free this month. Every US-based store using Shopify Shipping and UPS will be able to book 5 free pickups in May 2018.

Conclusion

Shipping is definitely a challenging aspect for any ecommerce business. Every business will have their own unique challenges they need to work through and overcome to develop the best and most efficient shipping strategy. Like many aspects of building your new ecommerce site, it will take time and tweaking to determine what works best.

Understanding all the variables and evolving your shipping strategy with your growing business is vital to its long term health and success. So once you think you have it figured out, don’t let it go stale. Reevaluate every six months to make sure you’re delivering the absolute best possible service and experience for the best possible price to your customers.

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How to Write Meta Descriptions that Drive Traffic and Conversions

You’re working hard to market your company. You’re writing your product descriptions, optimizing your images, and mastering most of the other elements of effective search engine optimization (SEO).

Still, if you’re like many business owners, one aspect of SEO could be giving you trouble: meta descriptions.

What is a meta description?

A meta description is a summary of up to 320 characters in length that describes the content of a web page. Search engines show it in search results when the meta description also includes the keywords being searched. Meta descriptions entice users to click through to a page and are part of effective SEO.

When you type a search query into Google, let’s use “temporary tattoos” as an example, you’re led to a search engine results page (SERP).

This page is extremely complicated, but for now let’s ignore all the ads, images, and videos, in favor of the more traditional “organic” results.

Temporary tattoos search engine results page

The blue words at the top are the “Title Tag.” They’re the title of the web page. Below them you’ll see a description of no more than 320 characters. This is the meta description.

Dissecting a home page meta description

Reading other people’s meta descriptions will make the process look deceptively simple, but that simplicity is the very thing that makes them so hard to write. The 320-character limit means the meta description can’t be much longer than a tweet.

The good descriptions give you a brief overview of what the site is about, as well as a compelling reason to click the title tag. It all happens so quickly and painlessly, many searchers won’t even notice themselves making a decision.

They’ll simply click on the link, satisfying their curiosity without having to think about it. Here’s a good example of a meta description.

Death Wish Coffee search engine results page

All together, it’s just twenty one words. Clever naming helps Death Wish Coffee pack a punch here. With the first three words, “Death Wish Coffee,” you already get an idea of what the company sells (coffee) and what defines its brand (hardcore, but tongue-in-cheek about it).

Death Wish then says it’s the “top online coffee-seller.” With these words, it positions itself as the best, lets the reader know it’s an ecommerce store, and reaffirms that it sells coffee.

The next few words back up Death Wish’s claim that it’s the best. After all, it’s an ethical company (“fair-trade”) that uses the best (“organic”) ingredients, all while making sure the customer gets the strong cup of coffee they want (“high-caffeine”). Even the word “blends” positions them as coffee experts, the sort of people who put care into making sure their product is the best.

The second half of the meta description repeats the core concept of Death Wish’s brand in a way that resonates, saying, “… we have the world’s strongest coffee!”

Counting it all up, we have four words that are variations on the word ‘coffee’, two claims that it’s the best at what it does, and three different ways of backing up that claim. All in this one sentence: “Death Wish Coffee Company is the top online coffee-seller of fair-trade, organic, high-caffeine blends, and we have the world’s strongest coffee!”

Now that’s good copywriting.

Dissecting a product page meta description

Writing meta descriptions for your product pages is a little easier than writing them for your home page, because your product pages aren’t supposed to speak for your business as a whole.

Instead they’re speaking for something that offers a tangible benefit to shoppers:

  • Selling spatulas? Let the reader know that this spatula will make cooking so much easier.
  • Selling lawnmowers? Have the reader imagine a fast and easy journey through the grass.

For a good example of a persuasive meta description, let’s check out the search result for So Worth Loving’s stickers.

So Worth Loving search engine results page

Immediately and in all-caps, the description makes you realize that a lot of stickers don’t last as long as you want them to. Then, SWL promises that their stickers solve that problem.

Capitalizing the meta description is a bold move, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend capitalizing the whole thing. But here it works, because the capitalization doesn’t seem like it’s there just to grab attention. It also does the work of separating the note from the rest of the text. After the note, this description works well because it keeps the focus on the reader.

You do need to give some idea of what differentiates the product—So Worth Loving does this by emphasizing the durability and by letting its site name suggest that the sticker is going to be really, really cool. But after that, it’s all about letting the customer visualize themselves with the product.

The description suggests the joy a buyer might get when they see the sticker as a “best little reminder,” offering various ways the sticker could easily fit into their life: “Stick them on your car, laptop, water bottle, wherever you want to see them.”

The ending in particular works beautifully. It starts the sentence by suggesting the product will make you feel some powerful emotion, but then it makes you click the title tag to find out what that emotion actually is.

Though some SEO experts will tell you to make sure your meta descriptions all finish with complete sentences, the half-sentence can do wonders for your click-through rate.

If you’re going to use this strategy, it’s good to get your meta description as close to the 320-character limit as possible.

How to write a meta description

Now that we have an understanding of meta descriptions, you’re probably wondering: what are the best ways to apply this knowledge to your business?

First, focus on what would compel a searcher to click on your title tag. That requires answering two questions:

  1. What are you offering?
  2. Why should I buy from you?

For product pages, the first query has a simple response: you’re offering your product. The second will be resolved by the simple fact that you’re the one selling the product.

Meta descriptions for your home page are a little trickier. As we saw in the Death Wish Coffee example, the best thing is to repeatedly emphasize your brand. That’s the one thing your whole store offers, and it’s the reason they should buy from you.

Let readers know what you do, tell them about your unique selling proposition, and convey this information multiple times, because the meta description isn’t a place for subtlety. Struggling to come up with an effective meta description for your home page is common, so it’s best to be patient and think hard about your brand.

If you’ve been around for awhile, what do returning customers say about your business? And if you’re new, what made you think this business would get customers?

Talk to people about your business, formulate the description like you would an elevator pitch. You’ll probably want to go through a couple drafts. It’s important to get things right, because this will be the first exposure many customers have to you and your brand.

When to write a meta description

Believe it or not, this article isn’t going to claim you should hurry and make sure all of your pages have meta descriptions.

For one thing, Google automatically creates these descriptions by pulling from the content of your page, and that process lends more flexibility than a copywriter can manage. Optimizing a page for one keyword is hard (but worth it!). When people land on a page via a variety of search terms, it becomes too difficult to optimize properly.

Also, for businesses with hundreds (if not thousands) of pages, going back and writing meta descriptions for every single one would be a Herculean task.

Instead, it’s best to focus on the pages that get the most traffic from search engines. Take your top ten or twenty pages and ask, “Are we really selling the product here, or is there a way we can improve the click-through rate?”

Moving forward, whenever you or a writer you’ve hired puts together a new page of content, it’s a good idea to have them write a meta description in the resource’s details page of the Shopify admin. Not only will this improve your SEO, it will also force you to condense the idea of the page into just a few words.

This becomes the “topic sentence” for the page, essentially, and it helps you determine whether the page’s copy continually fulfills the promise of the meta description.

Meta descriptions are your best salespeople

Ultimately, the meta description is a promise you make to searchers. Among a sea of competing web pages, it calls out to them and says, “This is the page you’re looking for.”

When writing your meta descriptions, make sure to remember the three key things we talked about in this article.

1. Your description can’t be more than 320 characters

It’s okay to write a meta description that cuts off halfway through the sentence. Just make sure you know you’re doing it.

2. Focus on the customer

The descriptions for your product pages should focus on how this product could make the customer’s life better. The home page description should sell the way your brand matches the customer’s wants and needs.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat

You don’t have much time to make an impression. Once you’ve found the message you’d like to convey, make sure every phrase and word choice conveys the message.

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the art of writing meta descriptions. Once you’ve applied these tips to your own websites, you can say goodbye to low click-through rates.

How to Start a Successful Podcast (For Under $100)

How to Start a Successful Podcast (For Under $100)

Podcast listenership continues to grow tremendously every year. According to Edison Research, 40% of Americans aged 12+ say they have listened to a podcast in 2017 while 24% say they have listened to one in the past month, up from 21% one year prior.

What this means for you as a business owner is that learning how to start a podcast is something you should consider to reach this expanding audience and grow your business.

This in depth 15 part video series will teach beginners and more advanced merchants exactly how to develop a content strategy to increase traffic, sales and repeat business.

You don’t need to be a very technical person nor does it require a lot of money to learn how to start a podcast. This guide will be your A-Z, step-by-step walkthrough on how to get started with audio podcasting and why you should create a podcast. We’ll cover everything from the very technical to the abstract podcasting concepts.

Table of Contents

  • How to start a podcast
  • How podcasting works
  • Why start a podcast
  • Why podcasting works as a content platform
  • Getting started with your own podcast
  • What you’ll need to create a podcast
  • How to record a podcast
  • How to create a podcast: recording your first episode
  • Getting an intro and outro
  • How to edit your podcasts
  • Podcast hosting
  • Syndicating your podcast’s RSS feed
  • Submitting your podcast to the right channels
  • Launching your podcast
  • Growing your podcast
  • Start a podcast today

How to start a podcast

To start a podcast, at a bare minimum, you need to:

  1. Come up with a concept (a topic, name, format and target length for each episode).
  2. Design artwork and write a description to “brand” your podcast.
  3. Record and edit your audio files (such as .MP3s). A microphone is recommended (more on equipment later).
  4. Find a place to host them (such as a file host that specializes in podcast hosting, like Libsyn or Podbean).
  5. Syndicate these audio files into what’s called an “RSS feed” so that they can be distributed through iTunes as well as downloaded or streamed on any device on-demand.

The following guide will cover this in a lot more detail later.

How podcasting works

Podcasts can be played one of two ways.

The first is to simply stream or download the podcast from the RSS feed either in a feed reader like Feedly or on the blog/website itself where the podcast is hosted or embedded.

The other is to use a player, such as iTunes or Pocket Casts. Load up the RSS feed into the player and play any of the episodes in the feed on a device, such as a smartphone or tablet. These are sometimes called “podcatchers”. Podcast players sync the data from the RSS feed to give a listing of episodes, show data (such as episode name and show notes), artwork and a link to the show file (usually an .MP3).

Why start a podcast

If you understand the value of creating content (e.g. keeping an active blog) for your business and brand, then you understand the value of podcasting. Creating a podcast allows you to reach a brand new audience: a group of people who might otherwise never find or consume your long-form content because they prefer the audio format.

You also don’t need to be an established content creator or have a blog to learn how to start your own podcast. A podcast is an excellent way to build an audience from scratch and position yourself as an authority in your industry.

In addition, podcasts also provide the potential to drive traffic back to your website or store. Every podcast directory gives you a link back to your website and since it’s your podcast, you can direct listeners to your website at the end of each show.

Podcasting is exploding. Looking at this pie chart, courtesy of Edison Research, 30% of time spent listening to audio sources goes to podcasts. This is impressive when compared to AM/FM radio’s 21% and owned music’s 23%.

Podcast popularity stats

With over 21.1 million hours of listening per day and growing, according to MacRumors, there’s a lot of opportunity in various niches. If your industry is underserved, you have the chance to be an early adopter and trailblazer.

On iTunes, there are dozens of categories and subcategories where listeners actively seek new content. This means your podcast content will be highly targeted. People who are interested in your topic will seek you out.

In 2015, podcasts had a balanced demographic with the listeners being equally male and female adults between the ages of 18-44. However, Edison’s 2017 data shows that podcast listeners skew slightly more male and a bit older (35-54 years old) in recent years.

Lastly, starting a podcast allows you to position yourself as an authority on your topic. It helps build your audience and also makes it easier to sell your product or service since you’re the credible source. Being seen as an authority can help influence potential customers to purchase your products.

Why podcasting works as a content platform

Podcasts are a popular content platform because they’re easy to consume. People can listen to podcasts on the go, in the car, at the gym and even at work.

With devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, it’s becoming easier to listen to podcasts while at home. It’s not a content medium that requires all of your audience’s attention, like a blog post or a video would.

Another reason podcasts are easy to consume is that they can be listened to on any device. Your listeners don’t need a radio or to be sitting in their car to listen. They can listen on their smartphones, desktop computers or tablets. Unlike radio, podcasts are on-demand, which means your audience can listen to what they want, when they want.

Compared to other content platforms, podcasts allow you to create an intimate connection with your audience. Imagine being in your target listener’s ears for 30 minutes or more. They’re hearing you talking to them, one on one.

This is your opportunity to form a more personal relationship with your audience. Because of this level of engagement, people even listen more closely to the ads. Whether you’re looking to start a podcast to promote your business or to monetize with ads, Midroll found that 61% of listeners purchased a product or service after hearing it advertised on a podcast.

Lastly, podcasts are free. They’re free to create and free to listen to.

Getting started with your own podcast

Learning how to start a podcast begins with identifying the premise or theme. Each episode should be relevant to that premise. For some, this theme will be obvious. For others, especially in unique industries and niches, you’ll need to get creative about your topic.

For example, if you sell sunglasses, you might not be able to start a podcast exclusively about sunglasses. However, if your customers are world travelers, then maybe a podcast about travel is a better theme.

Your theme will also come down to what you’re either an expert on or passionate about. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll be both an expert and extremely passionate about your theme.

Before committing to a theme, check to see if there’s enough for you to talk about. Try coming up with a list of at least 10-15 episodes. Then look for similar podcasts on iTunes and look at their popularity, such as number of reviews and number of followers on social media. Competition is a good thing! It can tell you whether or not the theme is viable.

The next important component is the episode format. What will your podcast be like and how will it be structured? Here are some ideas:

  • Interview style
  • Solo
  • More than one host
  • Narrative/Storytelling
  • Hybrid (some combination of the above types)

Lastly, how long will each of your episodes be? It’s a good idea to have a consistent episode length so that your listeners know what to expect. If your podcast is 20 minutes every episode, and your listeners are used to that, it’ll be easy for them to time their listening with a daily commute, for example.

What you’ll need to create a podcast

Podcast listing information

 

  • Artwork (minimum 1400×1400, maximum 2048×2048): Your podcast artwork needs to be beautiful. Don’t neglect this aspect of your podcast as Apple and iTunes, in particular, seem to only feature podcasts (more on this later) if they have professional-looking artwork. You may need to invest some money into hiring a professional to design your podcast artwork. Whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a pro, use words and images that are large enough to be clearly legible at almost any size. Take a look at the artwork that catches your eye on iTunes and models your artwork for your podcast after that. I’d recommend trying Fiverr or, better yet, hiring a graphic designer from Upwork to create something beautiful for your podcast.
  • Podcast name: Your podcast name should speak to you and your audience. Ideally, listeners should know what the podcast is all about from just the name alone. Having a very descriptive name can help. However, this isn’t entirely necessary since most podcast platforms include a “hook” or short description along with the podcast name. This helps with optimizing your podcast’s searchability on platforms such as iTunes. For example, “Grub Podcast – All about healthy eating and helping you cook better” or “Xtreme – interviews with famous skateboarders such as Tony Hawk, Chad Muska and Rick Howard”.
  • Podcast category/subcategory: There are dozens of categories and subcategories on iTunes. Everything from arts and politics to comedy and religion. Choose the category that best suits your theme. It doesn’t need to be the exact topic. If you’re struggling to decide on a category, look at other podcasts on iTunes that are similar to yours and note which category and subcategory they use.
  • Podcast description: You don’t want to skimp on the description of your podcast. You’ll want to include as many relevant keywords as possible. This is going to help with the search engine optimization (SEO) of your podcast listings. iTunes is a search engine, so many people who find your podcast will find it through a simple search.
  • Prominent guests and collaborators: As your podcast grows, it’s also a good idea to include the names of big guests you’ve had and the topics of your most popular episodes. This way, new listeners know immediately which podcast episodes to check out, making new listeners more likely to become long-term fans.
  • Podcast rating: The podcast rating tells you which audiences the content is suitable for. You can adjust the rating for each podcast episode. This is important, as you want to be consistent with it. Ideally, every episode should either be clean or not.

What equipment and software you need

In this section, we’ll go over the equipment and software you need to start a podcast. This guide will also go through the most basic setup for recording a podcast.

  • Can you start a podcast with just an iPhone?
  • Microphone
  • Audio recording software
  • Call recording software
  • Equipment to improve quality (not required)

Can you start a podcast with just an iPhone?

The short answer: yes, you can start a podcast on an iPhone. Since iPhones have microphones, they have everything you need to record the audio. However, the audio may not be as clear or the professional quality you’d like.

That being said, there are several apps you can download that will turn your iPhone into a podcast audio recorder. Some hosting solutions, such as Podbean and SoundCloud, also offer in-app podcast recording capabilities. Many of these apps are available for Android devices, too:

Microphone

The most important thing you need when starting a podcast is a microphone. Virtually every desktop and laptop computer has at least one USB port, allowing you to connect a device, like an external microphone. These devices are plug-and-play, which means no drivers (or installation) are required. The good news is you can get a USB microphone of decent quality for under $50 USD.

You may choose to invest in a more expensive XLR microphone that plugs into a mixer, which might provide better sound quality for your podcast. However, the audio quality you can achieve with a really good USB microphone is more than enough for most people. Many popular podcasts today have some of the most simple setups and still use USB microphones.

Your computer or laptop probably comes with a built-in microphone, but I forbid you from using that for your podcast. The audio quality will be abysmal, I promise. Those built-in microphones were not designed for podcasts. You’ll need a decent external microphone if you’re serious about starting a podcast.

Here are two that I recommend:

  • Samson Go Mic (less than $40 USD): The Samson Go Mic (available in two different models) is a basic, plug-and-play microphone that comes with a mic stand or clip (to attach to your computer) and a USB cable. The audio quality is very good for the price; it’s a great bang-for-your-buck microphone if you don’t want to spend a lot of money.
USB Microphone
  • Blue Yeti USB Microphone ($129.99 USD): The audio quality on the Blue Yeti microphone makes it worth the price. I’ve used the Blue Yeti microphone for a long time for my own podcasts and it’s produced very high-quality voice recordings.

Audio recording software

The software recommended in this section will allow you to record the audio from your microphone and save it as an .MP3 file. The following software will also allow you to edit your recordings, which I’ll go over in more detail later in this guide.

Audio Recording Software

  • Adobe Audition (PC/Mac; $20.99 USD per month): If you want really powerful audio editing software with all the bells and whistles, Adobe has it with Audition. It might be more than what you’ll need to edit your podcast, but if you’re using a mixer and high-end equipment, it could be a good idea to look at Adobe Audition as well.

  • Audacity (PC/Mac; Free): Audacity is a great alternative to paid, premium audio editing software. It’s easy to use and there are a lot of tutorials available online to help you learn how to use it.

  • GarageBand (Mac; Free): GarageBand comes with all MacBooks and is good enough for most of your audio editing needs. GarageBand allows you to record the audio from your microphone and save it as an .MP3.

Call recording software

If you plan on conducting interviews for your podcast, you might want to use software that records your calls. If you’re using a mixer that records all sound from your computer, this software won’t be required. However, if you’re using a basic setup and a tool like Skype or Google Hangouts to conduct interviews, here are some recommended call recording tools:

  • Ecamm Call Recorder (Mac; $39.95 USD): Record Skype calls on your Mac.
  • Pamela (PC; $16.67-44.54 USD): PC alternative to Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype. There’s a 30-day free trial to test the software before buying.
  • UberConference (PC/Mac/iOS/Android; Free): The free conference call software allows participants to join the call via desktop or phone, and the moderator can record the calls.
  • Callnote (PC/Mac; Free to $39.95 USD per year): Callnote records Skype, Google Hangouts, Viber, FaceTime, Facebook, GoToMeeting and WebEx conversations.

Equipment to improve quality (not required)

Equipment to Improve Quality (But Not Required)

  • Pop filter (typically $5-20 USD): Pop filters help keep the clicking noises your mouth makes when speaking close to the microphone from being recorded.

Equipment to Improve Quality (But Not Required)

  • Neewer Broadcast Studio Mic Boom Arm ($23.24 USD): Boom arms help keep your microphone in front of you, hands-free. They also allow you to easily adjust the height and distance from your mouth on the fly, so that you can move around while you podcast or simply keep it out of sight when you’re not recording. This is handy if you’re recording at your home office desk.

Equipment to Improve Quality (But Not Required)

  • Sony ZX Series Stereo Headphones ($15.15 USD): A good pair of headphones are important if you’re interviewing guests. You don’t want to have your guest’s speech come through your speakers and get picked up by your microphone, which would cause echo.

Equipment to Improve Quality (But Not Required)

  • Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder ($99.99 USD): You might want to record your audio to an external device before importing the recording to your computer for editing. This prevents losing all your data if your computer crashes or loses power mid-session. Recorders are usually portable, meaning you don’t need to have a computer if you’re recording while traveling.

How to record a podcast

When it comes to how to record a podcast, all you need to do is plug in a USB microphone and open the audio recording software on your computer.

Ensure your microphone is plugged in and on, and that your microphone is the default input device for your recording software. Simply click the record button in your software of choice and talk away!

There’s no need to stop or pause the recording, even if there are mistakes along the way. You can always edit the recording later using the same software.

To record your first episode in GarageBand, here’s a nice four-minute video that will easily walk you through the process:

Once you finish recording, you’ll want to save your podcast. Ideally, .MP3s are the best format for your podcast files since they compress well (low file size) and can be played on most devices.

You’ll want to save your .MP3 as a fixed bitrate and not a variable (VBR) one. Most recording software will ask you for this information upon saving. A good bitrate to use is 128kbps. This bitrate keeps the file size low while maintaining good audio quality. For the sample rate, I recommend 44.1Mhz, which is CD quality.

How to create a podcast: recording your first episode

Now that you know how to record an episode, it’s time to do it.

What do you talk about in this first episode? Talk about yourself! Introduce yourself and the podcast to the world. This can be your “episode zero”. This is your opportunity to let everyone know what your podcast is about and where it’s going.

It’s okay to be a little nervous, especially if you’ve never sat down and talked into a mic for 20-30 minutes straight before.

The first thing to help combat this nervousness is to not be self-conscious about your voice. You don’t need a professional radio voice to get people listening. Speak naturally and don’t put on a “radio voice”. When you listen back, don’t cringe. Everyone hates the sound of their voice at first and, eventually, you’ll get used to hearing it.

If your voice sounds shaky or nervous, remember that improving your confidence on the mic takes a lot of practice. When I listen back to my first few podcasts and compare them to today’s, I can see how much I’ve improved.

Also, remember that you can always clean up and edit the audio after you’re done recording. If you lose your spot or forget your next point, don’t be afraid to sit in silence until you can regain your composure and continue. You can edit those gaps and mistakes out later.

That brings me to my last point: don’t read off of a script. Your podcast should sound natural. People who listen to podcasts don’t want to listen to an audiobook. They’re used to listening to the dynamic conversations and discussions that happen on podcasts. It’s okay to have a few bullet points to work off of, but practice speaking about topics off the top of your head.

Getting an intro and outro

Having an intro and outro for each episode of your podcast adds flair and personality. Usually, intros and outros are short voiceovers with music that introduce the podcast, episode number, the host(s), and the “hook” or tagline of the podcast. These intros/outros are also sometimes called bumpers.

If you’ve got the chops, you can record these yourself. Alternatively, you can hire someone with a great voice to do your intro and outro for you. I’ve used Fiverr in the past to create the intro and outro for my podcast. I would recommend listening to other podcasts in your niche to get some inspiration for the intro and outro.

How to edit your podcasts

Editing your podcasts allows you to add your intro and outro, stabilize the volume, and remove gaps of dead air and any mistakes you might have made. Any of the software recommended above (e.g. Adobe Audition, Audacity, GarageBand) should do the trick.

In your audio editor of choice, look for settings that stabilize the volume automatically so there aren’t spikes of high volume (headphone listeners will thank you for that), and eliminate background noises and pops.

If you struggle to learn the software or simply find the process too time-consuming, you can hire someone to edit your episodes for you. There are freelancers on Fiverr and Upwork who can edit your podcast episodes for you. It’s a good idea to stick with someone after you find the right person since they will know your style and editing preferences.

There are also post-production services, such as Auphonic, which will do the leveling, volume normalization and a few other things for you. Whatever you use, it’s important to normalize the volume of each episode. You don’t want one episode to be significantly louder or quieter than the others.

Once you finish editing your recording, save it as an .MP3, as recommended earlier, with a 128kbps bitrate and 44.1Mhz sample rate.

Once your .MP3 is saved, I suggest editing the ID3 tags of the file. The ID3 tags are your way to tell .MP3 players and devices more information about the file, such as the name of the episode and name of the “artist” (podcast). This way, .MP3 players have track information to display.

Editing Your Podcasts

On Mac and Windows devices, using Audacity and DataONE’s metadata editorallows you to add ID3 tags, such as: artwork, episode name, and podcast name. This can also be done in iTunes. There’s the ID3 Editor ($15 USD), which makes the process of editing tags on Mac a lot easier, as well.

Editing ID3 tags isn’t a required step and doesn’t affect or help your podcast’s listing on iTunes. However, it’s a nice touch, especially for listeners who download your podcast episodes to play them later on different devices.

Podcast hosting

You’ll need a separate host just for your audio files. Even if you already have a web host and a website, you don’t want to host your .MP3s on the same server. Those shared web hosts don’t have the bandwidth or speed for the demand that downloading and streaming .MP3s creates. Fortunately, media hosts are affordable. Here are the ones I use and recommend:

  • Libsyn: Podcast hosting starting at $5 a month for 50mb of space with unlimited bandwidth.
  • Blubrry: Podcast hosting starting at $12 a month for 100mb of space with unlimited bandwidth.

Think about how many episodes you’ll be publishing per month. For example, let’s say you’re releasing a new episode every week. That’s roughly four episodes a month. If your episodes are an hour each, every episode might be around 50mb. This means you’ll likely need over 200mb per month.

This is just an example, you’ll need to figure out what plan is best for your needs and proceed from there. Generally, you’re better off paying for the option that allows for a little more space than you need, just in case.

Syndicating your podcast RSS feed

Once you have your media host configured and at least one episode uploaded, you’ll be provided with an RSS feed by your media host. This feed contains all of your episodes and the associated data, such as each episode’s: title, artwork, description, and .MP3 file location. Fortunately, your media host handles all of this for you, so if this sounds complicated, it’s not.

This RSS feed is what you’ll be submitting to podcast directories, such as iTunes. You only need to submit this feed once. Every time you upload a new episode to your media host, the feed is automatically updated on iTunes and any other directories you’ve submitted the podcast to. I will go over this in more detail in the next section.

Submitting your podcast to the right channels

  • How to start a podcast on iTunes
  • How to start a podcast on Stitcher
  • How to start a podcast on SoundCloud
  • How to start a podcast on YouTube

There are many directories where you can list your podcast. I’m going to recommend the most popular, but you can distribute your podcast across as many channels as you’d like. You’re going to be asked for your podcast’s name, description, category, artwork, etc.

How to start a podcast on iTunes

iTunes is the largest podcast directory and it should certainly be your focus. If you’re only going to submit your podcast to one directory, this is it. Click here to submit your podcast and RSS feed to iTunes.

How to start a podcast on Stitcher

Stitcher is the second largest podcast directory and another great way for people to discover your podcast. Click here to submit your podcast and RSS feed to StitcherBasic Brewing Radio, for example, has a podcast on Stitcher where they discuss homebrewing beer. Wine enthusiasts, on the other hand, can tune in to the Wine for Normal People podcast on Stitcher.

How to start a podcast on SoundCloud

SoundCloud is another channel where you can list your podcast to amplify your reach. The platform is made for audio recordings, so it’s ideal and well-suited for podcasts as well. Click here to submit your podcast and RSS feed to SoundCloud. PlayStation, for example, has built up an audience of nearly 5,000 subscribers for their SoundCloud podcast.

How to start a podcast on YouTube

You might want to put your podcast up on YouTube to reach even more people. You’ll need a video file to upload as you would for any other YouTube video. For the visuals, you can use a static branded image that complements your other artwork. Or, you can include a video. Many podcasts have video recordings of the speaker(s), such as this one from Bulletproof:

Launching your podcast

iTunes New & Noteworthy

When you launch, there’s an opportunity for you to be featured in the “New & Noteworthy” on iTunes. The New & Noteworthy section is where iTunes will feature new podcasts for eight weeks.

Just imagine how much this could grow your podcast in a short period of time. This would give your new podcast a lot of traction since it’s free advertising on the iTunes podcast homepage.

To get noticed by iTunes and increase your chances of being featured, you’ll want to launch your podcast in a way that you receive some listens and reviews immediately. This is going to put you in the position to be featured. While it still isn’t guaranteed, launching your podcast this way will help you grow organically, too.

To do this, make the launch of your podcast an event and generate buzz around the launch. Create a landing page for your podcast, letting people know what you have planned. This landing page should also give people the chance to opt into a mailing list, which you can use to reach out on launch day.

Building a small audience pre-launch is critical since this will give you an audience to launch to immediately, hopefully creating a snowball effect.

The idea is that the day you debut your podcast, you should launch it with a few episodes, ideally three. This is a good number of episodes to have your audience listen to immediately without overwhelming them. If you launch with just one episode, you likely won’t get the listen numbers you need to get noticed by iTunes.

You also need to show your listeners that you’ll be putting out content regularly, and that there’s something to subscribe to. Having multiple episodes at launch (i.e. showing episode #1, episode #2, etc.) implies that there’s much more to come.

Announce the launch to your email list, and ask them to subscribe to the podcast and leave a review after listening. It’s really important that you encourage your subscribers to leave a review as having reviews (and subscribers) the first day can help you get noticed by iTunes, increasing your odds of getting featured.

Growing your podcast

Yay, you’ve figured out how to podcast and published your first few episodes! What’s next?

One word: growth.

Get into the habit of asking your listeners to leave a review on iTunes and to subscribe to the podcast. Having more subscribers and more reviews can help you get more listeners.

Encourage this on your website, on social media and in emails as well because people listening to your podcast might not be near a computer or able to leave a review when you ask them live.

A strategy that I like to use to encourage reviews and engagement is to reward the listeners who do so. For my podcast, I encourage listeners to leave a review on iTunes and every week, I read a random review on the show and give a free Kindle book to that listener. It gives my listeners more incentive to actually leave a review since they have a chance to get something for free.

Another important key to your success is to be consistent. If you plan on releasing a new episode every week, do it at the same time and on the same day every week. You need to have patience and you need to put out regular content to show your audience that you’re serious. Nobody wants to listen to or follow a podcast that promises to put out content regularly, but doesn’t follow through.

Another great tactic is building a mailing list and encouraging listeners to subscribe to your email list so that you can communicate with them. One Campaign Monitor report found that email marketing resulted in an average $44 ROI for every dollar spent in 2016.

Simply having your listeners only subscribe to your podcast isn’t good enough. When you need to promote or tell your audience something, email will be more effective than exclusively using your podcast or social media.

How to make money with a podcast

There are different ways to monetize your podcast. Your focus first should be to build your audience and their trust. Then you can think about monetization.

One of the more popular ways to monetize a podcast is to take on sponsors, and do “reads” promoting relevant products and services. If you’ve listened to other popular podcasts, you’ve likely heard these advertisements where the host reads ad copy and directs listeners to a specific link.

The other way is to simply use your podcast to promote your own products and services. Just like you would in a sponsored read, you can direct your listeners to one of your products or services at the beginning and end of your podcast. If you want to track this, give your listeners a unique link or discount code.

Start a podcast today

You can create a podcast today. Begin with the podcast listing information and start looking on iTunes for podcasts that are already doing what you want to do. If you already have an external microphone, record a short episode today, introducing yourself and your podcast idea. When diving in, get comfortable talking into a microphone for a long period of time and then listening to yourself afterwards. You don’t have to upload the episode you record today, but it’s good to get some practice and familiarity with the process.

If you have any questions about starting a podcast or any comments about this guide, please be sure to leave a comment below. I engage and respond with them all.

How to Create a Press Kit That Gets Publicity for Your Business

How to Create a Press Kit That Gets Publicity for Your Business

Getting your business or product featured in a major publication is huge. Imagine the largest publication in your industry or even a local news affiliate giving you free press. Now imagine the kind of exposure and traffic this would bring to your business.

A great brand can help your products stand out from the crowd. Get a crash course in small business branding with our free, curated list of high-impact articles.

Getting mentioned by established websites allows you to borrow the trust of those publications. It gives your online store social proof when you place their logos on your website. The result? More sales.

Press logos

How can business owners make it easy for websites, magazines and publishers to publish a story about their business?

With an amazing press kit.

Table of Contents

  • What is a press kit?
  • What do press kits include?
  • More ecommerce press kit examples
  • How to get press for your ecommerce business

What is a press kit?

A press kit, also known as a media kit, is a page on your website that contains resources and information for reporters and publishers. The best press kits make it really easy for reporters to quickly learn about the product and brand, and access photos and marketing materials they can use.

By providing a press kit, you’re saying, “Hey, we love press, here’s everything you need to put your story together as well as how to reach us.”

A press kit isn’t strictly for reporters or major publications, either. Anyone who wants to talk about or promote your business has the tools they need to do it effectively. Whether that’s someone with a podcast, someone with a personal blog, or even just someone sharing your story in an online community.

“Press validates a brand and what customers have heard through word of mouth,” Sara Spiegel says, owner of boutique PR agency, Sara Spiegel PR.

But even an amazing press kit doesn’t guarantee press for your business; it just makes getting press a bit easier. When you’re networking and reaching out to publications, you’ll always have your media kit to refer to and share with reporters. When you do some of the work for reporters up front, they’ll be more receptive to your pitch for press. Plus, hey, it looks professional.

The rise of the digital press kit

Digital press kits are a common and convenient format to create and distribute content for press, especially in the ecommerce space. Simply create an easily accessible press kit page on your website so reporters can find it. You might not want to put a link to it in your main navigation, but it’s a good idea to include a “Press”, “Press Kit” or “Media Kit” link in the footer of your website. Most reporters and publishers will know to look for it there.

Media kit in the footer

You can also put your digital press kit on a flash drive or USB. Give these out at events where the press has a presence so they can easily access all the files later on. This is also an easy way to distribute high-resolution images without having to download/upload large files.

What do press kits include?

What you put in your ecommerce press kit will vary depending on your business and what you have to work with. There are a few essentials that I recommend as well as a few “nice-to-haves” if you want to create one of the best press kits out there.

Essentials for your ecommerce press kit

  • Your story: This is your why. Share your story, how your business came to be. Tell reporters a little about yourself and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

    In this press kit example from Annmarie Skin Care, they share their story, mission statement and process, which gives press an insight into who they are as a brand.

    About us

  • Company facts: How many customers have you served? How long have you been in business? How many units have you sold? Where’s your business located? Where’s your product manufactured?
  • Large, high-resolution images of your logo, branding and products: Make it easy for content publishers to use your logo or create graphics using your logo by providing high-resolution options in your media kit. Provide high quality, high-resolution graphics that also include a transparent background to make your graphics easy to use for nearly any purpose, including print. If applicable, include a download to the raw, vector file.

    Check out this amazing press kit example from ecommerce brand Mantry. They have images prepped for print (which requires higher quality photos) and digital, all of which are downloadable from their site.

Press images

  • People on your team: If there’s anyone else in your business besides yourself, share their story, their role and how they got involved in your business. If you have an executive team, you’ll want to include their bios here.

    Melt Organic weaves their founders’ stories into the overall brand story in the following press kit example:

    Founder story

  • Press release(s): If you have current or past press releases, include them. These could be new product announcements, updates about the company, partnerships and collaborations, etc.
  • Samples of articles/press: Show reporters other articles and publications that you or your business have been featured in or talked about. This can include blog posts, interviews, magazine articles, articles on other websites, etc. This gives people interested in talking about your business something to work from. “Only share your best press,” Spiegel advises. “As the caliber rises, lose the stuff that’s not as valuable.”

    On Covry’s press page, for example, they highlight major publications that have featured their brand. These are easily recognizable and validate the brand.

Media logos

Optional considerations for your ecommerce press kit

  • Separate press/media email: A separate email address specifically for reporters, journalists or publications to contact you. For example: “press@business.com”.

    This ecommerce press kit example from Method has their contact information with a dedicated media@methodhome.com email address.

    Dedicated media email

  • Name spelling/capitalization: If your business has unique spelling or capitalization, specify how you wish your brand name to be printed in your media kit. For example, if you are CompanyName and not Company Name or companyname, make it clear!
  • Audio/video interviews or segments: If your business has been mentioned on a podcast, on the radio or on a local news station, link to the clip or embed the media on your ecommerce press kit page.
  • Awards/recognition: Share any awards or recognition your business has received. This adds validity to your business.
  • Non-profit and volunteer involvement: Include any charities you support or non-profit work your business has been involved with.
  • Social media and other audiences: If you have an engaged social media following, email list or other well-established audience, highlight that here. Include both quantitative (number of followers, subscribers, group members, etc.) and qualitative (customer reviews, comments, etc.) information.
  • Quotes: Create a set of canned quotes that the media can use in their publications. This can be both from your leadership team and your employees. This makes it easier for reporters to attribute direct quotes without having to reach out or coordinate an interview.

    In this press kit example from cosmetics brand LUSH, you’ll find a quote from their co-founder and managing director. 

Quotes for the media

  • FAQs: Again, eliminate the need for back-and-forth with the press by listing commonly asked questions and answering them. This also keeps the information put out by the press consistent (and accurate).
  • Product samples: If you can, include product samples in your physical press kits. Samples can go a long way in making an impression and proving your product’s value proposition.

More ecommerce press kit examples

If you need additional inspiration, check out some of these ecommerce businesses doing press kits right:

1. FiftyThree

FiftyThree example

2. Holstee

Holstee

3. Pure Fix Cycles

Pure Fix Cycles example

4. jimmyCASE

jimmyCASE example

5. LuminAID

LuminAID example

How to get press for your ecommerce business

It’s your turn now. When you’re considering putting together a press kit for your store, think about the websites and publications you want to be on and what you can put together that will make it easier to get covered there. If you need help creating your press kit, try using an app to help generate a press kit for your store.

Remember that you still need to go out there, network and put yourself out there if you want to get press coverage for your business. A media kit only makes it easier for reporters to talk about you consistently and accurately. You still need to do the work to make it happen.

If you already have a press kit, share it in the comments below. If you don’t, leave your questions and I’ll be sure to help out; I engage and respond with everyone.

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


The Science of Decision-Making: How Your Customers Decide What to Buy

The Science of Decision-Making: How Your Customers Decide What to Buy

When I was little, my grandma and I would go to the grocery store, browsing up and down every aisle for deals. We’d barely be in the door long enough to plop all of our bags down on the counter before my grandpa would say, “Helen, what is all this?!”

My grandma loves to buy things on sale. If she were a cartoon character, her catchphrase would be, “Oh, Larry, one of the girls will need it.” My mom and aunts couldn’t leave my grandparents’ house without a trunk full of household supplies.

How could two people approach purchase decisions in such drastically different ways? To my grandpa, the purchases were completely illogical. (Who could possibly use that much ketchup?) To my grandma, the purchases were completely rational.

What gives? It turns out dual process theory was hard at work.

What is dual process theory?

Dual process theory is the idea that there are two different systems at work during the decision-making process: system one and system two. One process is automatic and unconscious while the other is controlled and conscious.

The theory dates all the way back to the 1800s and William James, an American philosopher and psychologist who paved the way for more modern interpretations. If dual process theory sounds familiar, you may have read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, who popularized the theory in 2003.

What is system one?

System one is that automatic and unconscious mind. It:

  • Requires very little, if any, effort.
  • Is fast.
  • Is primal, old in terms of evolution. (In fact, it’s often referred to as the “reptilian brain”.)
  • Has a large capacity.
  • Isn’t logical.

System one is always at work; it’s always on.

What is system two?

System two is the controlled and conscious mind. It:

  • Requires a lot of effort.
  • Is slow.
  • Is modern, new in terms of evolution.
  • Has a small capacity.
  • Is logical.

System two requires your full focus and is quickly depleted.

Why we’re not as rational as we think we are

As humans, we like to believe we’re rational people making rational decisions. The truth is it’s very rare for humans to make a genuinely logical, rational decision.

System two is absent more often than not. That means for most of the day, you’re using system one to make instinctual and emotional decisions.

So, why do we believe we’re more rational than we really are?

System two is often responsible for rationalizing the decisions of system one. For example, let’s say you purchase a new t-shirt after seeing a funny Facebook ad. You didn’t make the decision using sound logic and reasoning, but system two will “wake up” and rationalize the otherwise irrational decision for you.

“It was on sale”, “I needed a new gym shirt”, “The t-shirt quality is great”. As soon as that purchase is made, system two is hard at work rationalizing system one’s decision—the decision you made on instinct alone.

In the end, you think you’ve made a logical decision and remain blissfully unaware of how influential system one really is.

When to appeal to system one and system two

System one and system two work together, as demonstrated above. It’s impossible to completely isolate one and appeal directly to the other.

So, how can you use dual process theory to your advantage in marketing?

First, ask yourself: Are my products truly the most rational purchase decisions available? We don’t like to admit it, but more often than not, the answer is no. There can only be one “most logical” purchase decision, after all. In ecommerce, it becomes especially difficult because the odds of every single one of your products being the best of the best drops to near-zero.

Even if you are one of the few exceptions and all your products are truly the most rational purchase decisions available, you have to remember that system two is easily depleted. Your visitors can quite literally run out of capacity for logical decision-making daily.

If you’ve only focused on logic and system two, you’re out of luck and out of a sale. The best approach, then, is to start by covering your bases with system one. Make sure your site appeals to that automatic, unconscious mind first and foremost.

If one of your products truly is the most rational purchase decision, add appropriate triggers to your product page that will “wake up” system two. That is, if it hasn’t already been depleted for the day.

How to appeal to system one

If you want to appeal to system one, the unconscious mind, you’ll want to either deplete system two or avoid “waking” it up. Of course, there are many more ways to do that than I can list in this article, but I’ll cover a few examples.

1. Use up system two’s capacity

System two gets depleted the more it’s used and we already know it has a small capacity. So, if you want to force a system one decision, the best way to do that is to present simple choices during the checkout process. Every decision system two makes depletes it just a little bit more.

For example, Death Wish Coffee presents buyers with a few different choices:

Death Wish Coffee

Do you want ground coffee, whole bean coffee or death cups? Do you want a one-time purchase of $15.99 or do you want to subscribe and save 20%? If you do want to subscribe, do you want the coffee delivered every 7 days, 14 days, 30 days or 60 days?

There is a degree of customization here, which means choices. Those choices tire system two out, helping to deplete its small capacity.

Now, notice that while there are choices present in the example above, there is nothing difficult or confusing about the checkout process. Yes, adding choices is effectively adding a small amount of friction. Sometimes friction can be a good thing, though, like increasing the number of fields on a lead gen form to increase the quality of leads.

Just be careful you don’t go overboard. Making the checkout process difficult or confusing will deplete system two, but it will also throw off system one, which craves simplicity. It’s a delicate balancing act.

2. Use visuals liberally

You might be familiar with stats like “visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text” and “65% of people are visual learners”.

Cue the rise of infographics and videos, am I right?

System one is more visually oriented than system two, perhaps because it is evolutionarily older. For survival purposes, it’s always been important that our brains process visuals quickly.

To appeal to system one, ensure your visuals meet the following criteria:

  • They are simple and clear. Remember, system one is automatic and unconscious. If the visuals are not clear, relevant and straightforward, the meaning (and impact) will be lost.
  • They articulate the benefit. You’re familiar with the idea that you should sell benefits, not features, right? Use images to articulate the benefit of your products. How will buyers feel after the purchase? How can you visualize that feeling?

For example, Harris Farm Markets uses nature visuals to reinforce the fact that they are all about encouraging people to “reconnect with the natural joy of food”:

Harris Farm Markets

Nature is at the center of the Harris Farm Markets brand and company. Prices, produce and specials are driven by nature. The bee and blueberry visuals get that point across immediately, much faster than reading the text.

Note that you want to visually appeal to system one at important points during the checkout process. Before the add to cart step, for example. Think carefully about how to do that because you want to visually persuade without visually distracting, which can be a difficult balance to strike.

3. Keep it as simple as humanly possible

Kayak is arguably one of the most complicated sites I’ve ever had to use:

Kayak

Above, I’m simply looking for a hotel room in Toronto, Canada from April 26th to April 28th. Immediately after entering that required information, I was taken to the page above.

Ads, filters, price comparisons, star ratings, number ratings, share, watch, “Save 25%” banners, comparison calls to action, sorting options. Where on earth am I supposed to look? If I’m just here to find a cheap hotel in Toronto, boy am I getting more than I bargained for (read: asked for).

Kayak is the proverbial alarm blaring, begging system two to wake up.

Nothing about the above page says “automatic” or “unconscious”. It requires genuine thought to navigate in a meaningful way. Now, perhaps that’s Kayak’s plan, perhaps they want system two bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but if you don’t, keep it simple.

4. Play on familiarity

Simplicity is key for system one, this we know. An underappreciated way to create simplicity and a truly intuitive visitor experience is familiarity. Why? Because of what’s called the mere-exposure effect, a cognitive bias that quite literally means that merely being exposed to something can create a certain type of fondness for it.

For example, you’re more likely to develop a friendship with someone you see every day. If you were to stop seeing them so frequently, you might find yourself slowly losing touch. Why? All because your preference for one another (i.e. friendship) was likely fueled by mere exposure.

This isn’t just applicable to relationships and friendships, of course. It’s applicable online as well. As users of the Internet, we develop preferences for certain designs and prototypes simply because we see them all the time. For example, I’m willing to bet many people find the hamburger menus on mobile more appealing now than they did a couple years ago.

In ecommerce, visitors are used to seeing the cart in the top right corner, for example. On product pages, they’re used to seeing the product image on the left and the product details on the right. They’re used to seeing the price clearly marked. They’re used to seeing a big, obvious “Buy” or “Add to Cart” button.

Look how well Studio Neat sticks to simple, familiar ecommerce design:

Studio Neat

It’s familiar, it’s predictable, it’s intuitive. This level of simplicity allows system one to get in and out without waking system two.

How to appeal to system two

If you want to appeal to system two, the conscious mind, you’ll want to wake it up, avoid depleting it and keep it focused. Of course, there are many more ways to do that than I can list in this article, but I’ll cover a few examples.

1. All rise for the surprise

Anything unexpected will throw system one for a loop, which means system two will be called upon. For example, here’s an exit intent popup you receive when visiting Poo-Pourri for the first time:

Poo-Pourri

Yes, even something as simple as a newsletter subscription popup can leave system one gently shaking system two awake. It’s unexpected and it requires a decision: do I sign up or do I leave?

Think of surprise as the opposite of familiarity. Anything unexpected (e.g. a popup, an on-site survey, a snippet of clever copy, an eye-catching image) will slow system one’s mechanical routine and wake system two.

On that note, ensure whatever you’re using to surprise system one isn’t too taxing for system two. Remember, system two is likely already running low on capacity and you want to use some of that capacity later on. With great power comes great responsibility, folks.

2. Just the facts, ma’am

System two is the logical mind, so it makes sense to stick to the facts. After all, there’s no point waking system two if you can’t prove your product is truly the most rational purchase decision.

If you’ve ever purchased a laptop or smartphone online, you’re probably very familiar with the “just the facts, ma’am” approach to persuasion.

Here’s how Tortuga, a travel backpack company, does it:

Tortuga

Straightforward, side-by-side comparison of three core backpack products. Everything system two needs to make the right decision.

Remember, though, system two will want to heavily vet the options, which will include your competitors. The easier and faster you make it to compare your products to one another and to competitive products, the better.

Experiment to find a balance between providing the compelling facts and not overwhelming system two’s limited capacity. This is not a free pass to list every product spec you can think of or go overboard with competitive price comparison, which can ultimately leave customers overwhelmed with choices.

Every purchase decision is unique

My grandma’s system one was making purchase decisions that my grandpa’s system two simply couldn’t comprehend or rationalize.

Still, every once in a while he’d come puttering home in a beat up old car that he insisted he had to buy. “I’ll have ‘er up and running in no time, Helen.”

No one is a logical, conscious buyer all of the time. No one makes all of their purchase decisions with one system exclusively. The two systems work together depending on the context and number of previous decisions made that day.

Learning about dual process theory and how it really works is the first step toward using it to your advantage. If you want to influence decisions, start with understanding how your visitors decide.


How (and When) to Hire An Ecommerce Expert to Level Up Your Business

How (and When) to Hire An Ecommerce Expert to Level Up Your Business

One of the most unexpectedly instructive memes out there today is “You have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé.”

It’s easy to look at it as an entrepreneur, drowning in tasks and to-do lists, and feel overwhelmed, or inspired, or even just irked. But there’s a valuable hidden lesson there that most people overlook: Beyoncé spends those 24 hours doing what only Beyoncé can do.

She isn’t wearing every hat and doing every job in her empire. She’s relentlessly focused on making the biggest impact she can in the time she has available—which means she delegates, hires and outsources anything she doesn’t need to handle personally.

That’s a strategy you can use to level up your business, too. However, hiring expert help can be an opaque process if you’ve never done it before.

Where do you find them? How do you work with them? What’s a wireframe?

But there’s an even more important question you should tackle before addressing any of the above: Is hiring an expert the right move for your business?

Prep your business first

Is your business ready to hire an expert?

Before you hire anyone for anything, it’s important to take stock of your business, and figure out where adding an extra set of hands will have the most impact.

What do you need the most?

Look at your business, as well as your weekly routine, with a critical eye. You can make some great guesses just by identifying what you consider to be your biggest “problem areas.”

If your most painful problem is that you spend 80% of your day shipping orders, that’s a strong indicator that you need to hire someone to help you with shipping.

Things get a bit less clear, however, when your problems don’t point to their own solutions.

Things get a bit less clear, however, when your problems don’t point to their own solutions. If you find yourself saying things like “I don’t know why my store isn’t converting,” that’s a sign that professional advice is a good next step.

Luckily, you don’t need to know exactly how to solve those problems or know which ones to prioritize, before you start the conversation with a Shopify Expert. According to Chase Clymer, co-founder of Electric Eye, before consulting an expert you should work on identifying your acute problem rather than trying to prescribe your own solution—that’s their job.

“You should go into the conversation with an open mind,” says Chase. “Think of them like a doctor. You go into a doctor and you say, ‘This hurts.’ You don’t go into a doctor and say, ‘I need painkillers.’ Remember that the expert is there to help you properly identify the real problems in your business and solve them, as opposed to just putting on a Band-Aid.”

If you’re breathing a sigh of relief that you don’t need to go into it knowing everything ahead of time, you’re not alone.

What’s your budget?

Hiring outside help might be a big line item in your business’ budget, there’s no denying that. Before you sign on the dotted line to secure the help you need, make sure you have a solid plan for investing in your business.

That means you need to understand your business’ finances, how much you need to pay yourself, and all of the other commitments you have to handle, financially speaking. Once you know that, you can begin to allocate money towards whatever form of contract work is right for your business.

Hiring an expert can be intimidating

If you need to hire help doing something you already understand, like training someone to take over your shipping, it’s much easier to be confident going into it.

However, when it comes to hiring outside of your expertise, such as a developer, designer, marketer, or a team that handles all three of those things, generally you’re doing it because you astutely recognize your time is best spent running your business, not mastering every discipline or specialty.

If you’re new to working with professionals, stepping into their world will expose you to domain expertise and industry lingo you’ve never encountered before, which can be intimidating. That’s why we spoke with two Shopify Experts to go over some advice in four key areas of the process.

  • Finding and hiring the right person or team
  • Setting the project scope
  • Communicating clearly throughout
  • Wrapping up the project

Their answers will give you a solid footing to make sure your first experience with an Expert is a positive move for your business.

Finding and hiring the right person or team

Hiring an expert: how to approach it

Once you’ve made the decision that yes, you’re ready to hire someone, the next question is how do you find them? And equally important, how can you make sure the person or team you found is a good fit for your business?

Ask for referrals

It turns out, referrals are by far the most common way entrepreneurs have connected with both Expert teams we spoke with. When you’re looking for someone to work with, your best bet is to start by asking around.

“Talk to your friends who are running online businesses. A referral can go a long way to finding the right fit,” says Chase Clymer, of Electric Eye.

However, just because someone comes highly recommended doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your own due diligence, even if it’s just a peek through their business’ website and online presence.

Pay special attention to any past projects they’ve included as case studies, anything they’ve written about how they work with clients, and their social media presence—those things can all give you additional insight into what it’d be like to work with them.

Interview for fit

Both teams we spoke with stressed the importance of finding the right people to work with. That’s why you should always plan on at least one call with an agency or freelancer before you start working with them, even if you can’t meet face-to-face.

“If you can talk to your vendors when you’re making a selection, it can make a huge difference,” says Natasha. “Either in-person meetings or through Skype or Google Hangouts, taking one-on-one is always a really good idea, just to get a feel for who they are. If you can meet multiple members of the team, that’s also really helpful.”

On the other side of the call, your experts are trying to determine if you would be a good fit, too. Since they have extensive experience working with other clients, you can expect them to come prepared—and if they don’t think they’re able to help with what you need, they’ll tell you.

When you do consult with a vendor or Expert, always be wary of unrealistic guarantees. It’s fine for them to promise deliverables and deadlines, but any grandiose promises around performance or results should be taken as a red flag.

“If they guarantee they’ll design you a new webpage, okay, that’s fine. But if they’re “guaranteeing” you a 10X ROI in two weeks, that’s sketchy,” says Shawn. “Internet marketing and ecommerce is such an agile thing that the tactics that work today are different tomorrow, and they’re different across all industries.”

Setting the project scope

Hiring an expert: how to set project scope

Once you’ve found a great person or team to work with, the next step is outlining exactly what work they’re going to do, and on what timeline. This is commonly known as setting the project’s scope.

If you’re worried that you’ve never done that before, don’t be. The experts you’re working with have, and they’ll have processes in place to make sure it’s a smooth experience. If you find that someone you’re speaking to isn’t prepared with a defined process, it’s likely a sign to revisit your search.

Paid scoping vs. unpaid scoping

Every business is different, and while you should expect some level of process from any vendor you work with, what exactly that process entails and how much it costs can vary greatly.

Some teams, like Nicely Built, scope out projects before the start of paid work. “If we think we can do a project and we want to do a project, then we’ll work with our clients directly to come up with a list of specifications,” says Natasha.

Other teams, like Electric Eye, prefer to do paid scoping projects. They’ve put together a standard process they work through with every client and deliverables they work on for a few dedicated hours, and that initial work is a paid engagement. It allows them to take a holistic view of your business, beyond just website issues.

“How are you handling fulfillment, how are you handling email, how are you handling marketing?” asks Chase as he talks through their paid scoping process, called Shopify Business Roadmapping. “Those aren’t necessarily part of your website, but they are part of your business, and it sets the expectation about how much work really goes into a successful outcome. We get to really dig into the business and find out entirety of what the project entails.”

There are pros and cons to both approaches, so before working with an agency or freelancer take time to decide which one would better suit your current needs.

Tips for a successful kickoff call

Whether it’s paid or not, there’s work you can do ahead of your first conversation with your chosen Expert to make the most of your time.

“All of our projects start with a kickoff call,” says Natasha. “We really dig into what they want their site to look like, and spend time discussing how it’s going to work. Any preparation they can do for that call is really helpful for us. They can go through and pick out other sites they like, or just have examples ready to go in terms of what they want and need. If they can show us how they want it to work, it makes our job a lot easier.”

To make your job easier, Nicely Built also put together a blog post that goes over all of the best ways you can prepare for a kickoff call.

Communication is key

Communication is key when working with an expert

To keep a project going smoothly for the entire duration, communication is key on both sides.

Up front, your Expert should let you know what to expect during the process.

“When you hire an expert, they should clearly explain, “This is what you should expect over the next weeks, months. This is what milestones look like, this is what the timeline looks like.” They should set expectations from day one around what the project will be and how it will be delivered,” says Shawn.

Throughout the project, you’ll be expected to give feedback on the work at different stages. If you’re interested in providing more effective feedback, even when you don’t have all the technical know-how your expert has, Natasha has some good advice on how they handle it.

“From the beginning, whenever we start working with someone we really place a big emphasis on providing visual examples, which could be screenshots or websites they like. Let’s say that they want a Frequently Asked Questions page that has an accordion functionality on it. They could try to describe that and be like, ‘It opens up, or expands.’ Or they could just show me what they’re talking about and like, ‘Oh, okay. Well that, you call this feature this’. It’s just easier to start with a picture sometimes.”

Wrapping up the project

You’re nearing the end of your project, and you’re getting excited to get the results of all this hard work out in the world. How should you be wrapping up the project to make sure everything goes smoothly?

Follow process and timelines

It’s especially important to pay close attention to next steps nearing the end of the project, since it can be a critical time for key tasks and handoffs.

“We close out every project with a full round of user acceptance testing,” says Natasha. “That’s when the client actually goes through the site and logs bugs, logs anything that they see isn’t working correctly.”

Offer feedback—good or bad

Last but not least, once all is said and done, there are still some things that should be said. As a client, the best and most valuable gift you can give is constructive feedback on how the project went.

“We want to learn so we can be better in the future,” says Chase. “I remember one time, we sent an email to a client asking for feedback and they responded with negative feedback. I reached out for clarification, and it turned out they were upset because they didn’t understand how to use the site we built for them. It was just something I didn’t think about at the time, and I was like, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ We scheduled a call and I taught them how to use what we had built.”

Hiring help can be a big business boost

Bringing in an Expert can be a great next step for your business, but the key word there is your business. Before you make the call, it’s important to take a look at your business’ finances, goals, and priorities.

But on the other side of the coin, it’s also important not to wait too long for fear of handing over control, or for fear of admitting you need help. The best people in every field, from business to athletics to music, rely on paid professionals to keep them at the top of their game. There’s no shame in bringing in expert help to level up your business when and where you need it.

Beyoncé didn’t build her own website, after all.

67 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Ecommerce

67 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Ecommerce

Performance should inform business decisions, and KPIs should drive actions.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are like milestones on the road to online retail success. Monitoring them will help ecommerce entrepreneurs identify progress toward sales, marketing, and customer service goals.

KPIs should be chosen and monitored depending on your unique business goals. Certain KPIs support some goals while they’re irrelevant for others. With the idea that KPIs should differ based on the goal being measured, it’s possible to consider a set of common performance indicators for ecommerce.

Table of Contents

  • What is a performance indicator?
  • What is a key performance indicator?
  • Why are key performance indicators important?
  • What is the difference between a SLA and a KPI?
  • Types of key performance indicators
  • 67 key performance indicator examples for ecommerce
  • How do I create a KPI?

Here is the definition of key performance indicators, types of key performance indicators, and 67 examples of ecommerce key performance indicators.

What is a performance indicator?

A performance indicator is a quantifiable measurement or data point used to gauge performance relative to some goal. As an example, some online retailers may have a goal to increase site traffic 50% in the next year.

Relative to this goal, a performance indicator might be the number of unique visitors the site receives daily or which traffic sources send visitors (paid advertising, search engine optimization, brand or display advertising, a YouTube video, etc.)

What is a key performance indicator?

For most goals there could be many performance indicators — often too many — so often people narrow it down to just two or three impactful data points known as key performance indicators. KPIs are those measurements that most accurately and succinctly show whether or not a business in progressing toward its goal.

Why are key performance indicators important?

KPIs are important just like strategy and goal setting are important. Without KPIs, it’s difficult to gauge progress over time. You’d be making decisions based on gut instinct, personal preference or belief, or other unfounded hypotheses. KPIs tell you more information about your business and your customers, so you can make informed and strategic decisions.

But KPIs aren’t important on their own. The real value lies in the actionable insights you take away from analyzing the data. You’ll be able to more accurately devise strategies to drive more online sales, as well as understand where there may problems in your business.

Plus, the data related to KPIs can be distributed to the larger team. This can be used to educate your employees and come together for critical problem-solving.

What is the difference between a SLA and a KPI?

SLA stands for service level agreement, while a KPI is a key performance indicator. A service level agreement in ecommerce establishes the scope for the working relationship between an online retailer and a vendor. For example, you might have a SLA with your manufacturer or digital marketing agency. A KPI, as we know, is a metric or data point related to some business operation. These are often quantifiable, but KPIs may also be qualitative.

Types of key performance indicators

There are many types of key performance indicators. They may be qualitative, quantitative, predictive of the future, or revealing of the past. KPIs also touch on various business operations. When it comes to ecommerce, KPIs generally fall into one of the following five categories:

  1. Sales
  2. Marketing
  3. Customer service
  4. Manufacturing
  5. Project management

67 key performance indicator examples for ecommerce

Note: The performance indicators listed below are in no way an exhaustive list. There are an almost infinite number of KPIs to consider for your ecommerce business.

What are key performance indicators for sales?

Sales key performance indicators are measures that tell you how your business is doing in terms of conversions and revenue. You can look at sales KPIs related to a specific channel, time period, team, employee, etc. to inform business decisions.

Examples of key performance indicators for sales include:

  • Sales: Ecommerce retailers can monitor total sales by the hour, day, week, month, quarter, or year.
  • Average order size: Sometimes called average market basket, the average order size tells you how much a customer typically spends on a single order.
  • Gross profit: Calculate this KPI by subtracting the total cost of goods sold from total sales.
  • Average margin: Average margin, or average profit margin, is a percentage that represents your profit margin over a period of time.
  • Number of transactions: This is the total number of transactions. Use this KPI in conjunction with average order size or total number of site visitors for deeper insights.
  • Conversion rate: The conversion rate, also a percentage, is the rate at which users on your ecommerce site are converting (or buying). This is calculated by dividing the total number of visitors (to a site, page, category, or selection of pages) by the total number of conversions.
  • Shopping cart abandonment rate: The shopping cart abandonment rate tells you how many users are adding products to their shopping cart but not checking out. The lower this number, the better. If your cart abandonment rate is high, there may be too much friction in the checkout process.
  • New customer orders vs. returning customer orders: This metric shows a comparison between new and repeat customers. Many business owners focus only on customer acquisition, but customer retention can also drive loyalty, word of mouth marketing, and higher order values.
  • Cost of goods sold (COGS): COGS tells you how much you’re spending to sell a product. This includes manufacturing, employee wages, and overhead costs.
  • Total available market relative to a retailer’s share of market: Tracking this KPI will tell you how much your business is growing compared to others within your industry.
  • Product affinity: This KPI tells you which products are purchased together. This can and should inform cross-promotion strategies.
  • Product relationship: This is which products are viewed consecutively. Again, use this KPI to formulate effective cross-selling tactics.
  • Inventory levels: This KPI could tell you how much stock is on hand, how long product is sitting, how quickly product is selling, etc.
  • Competitive pricing: It’s important to gauge your success and growth against yourself and against your competitors. Monitor your competitors’ pricing strategies and compare them to your own.
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV): The CLV tells you how much a customer is worth to your business over the course of their relationship with your brand. You want to increase this number over time through strengthening relationships and focusing on customer loyalty.
  • Revenue per visitor (RPV): RPV gives you an average of how much a person spends during a single visit to your site. If this KPI is low, you can view website analytics to see how you can drive more online sales.
  • Churn rate: For an online retailer, the churn rate tells you how quickly customers are leaving your brand or canceling/failing to renew a subscription with your brand.
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC): CAC tells you how much your company spends on acquiring a new customer. This is measured by looking at your marketing spend and how it breaks down per individual customer.

What are key performance indicators for marketing?

Key performance indicators for marketing tell you how well you’re doing in relation to your marketing and advertising goals. These also impact your sales KPIs. Marketers use KPIs to understand which products are selling, who’s buying them, how they’re buying them, and why they’re buying them. This can help you market more strategically in the future and inform product development.

Examples of key performance indicators for marketing include:

  • Site traffic: Site traffic refers to the total number of visits to your ecommerce site. More site traffic means more users are hitting your store.
  • New visitors vs. returning visitors: New site visitors are first-time visitors to your site. Returning visitors, on the other hand, have been to your site before. While looking at this metric alone won’t reveal much, it can help ecommerce retailers gauge success of digital marketing campaigns. If you’re running a retargeted ad, for example, returning visitors should be higher.
  • Time on site: This KPI tells you how much time visitors are spending on your website. Generally, more time spent means they’ve had deeper engagements with your brand. Usually, you’ll want to see more time spent on blog content and landing pages and less time spent through the checkout process.
  • Bounce rate: The bounce rate tells you how many users exit your site after viewing only one page. If this number is high, you’ll want to investigate why visitors are leaving your site instead of exploring.
  • Pageviews per visit: Pageviews per visit refers to the average number of pages a user will view on your site during each visit. Again, more pages usually means more engagement. However, if it’s taking users too many clicks to find the products they’re looking for, you want to revisit your site design.
  • Average session duration: The average amount of time a person spends on your site during a single visit is called the average session duration.
  • Traffic source: The traffic source KPI tells you where visitors are coming from or how they found your site. This will provide information about which channels are driving the most traffic, such as: organic search, paid ads, or social media.
  • Mobile site traffic: Monitor the total number of users who use mobile devices to access your store and make sure your site is optimized for mobile.
  • Day part monitoring: Looking at when site visitors come can tell you which are peak traffic times.
  • Newsletter subscribers: The number of newsletter subscribers refers to how many users have opted into your email marketing list. If you have more subscribers, you can reach more consumers. However, you’ll also want to look at related data, such as the demographics of your newsletter subscribers, to make sure you’re reaching your target audience.
  • Texting subscribers: Newer to digital marketing than email, ecommerce brands can reach consumers through SMS-based marketing. Texting subscribers refers to the number of customers on your text message contact list.
  • Subscriber growth rate: This tells you how quickly your subscriber list is growing. Pairing this KPI with the total number of subscribers will give you good insight into this channel.
  • Email open rate: This KPI tells you the percentage of subscribers that open your email. If you have a low email open rate, you could test new subject lines, or try cleaning your list for inactive or irrelevant subscribers.
  • Email click-through rate (CTR): While the open rate tells you the percentage of subscribers who open the email, the click-through rate tells you the percentage of those who actually clicked on a link after opening. This is arguably more important than the open rate because without clicks, you won’t drive any traffic to your site.
  • Unsubscribes: You can look at both the total number and the rate of unsubscriptions for your email list.
  • Chat sessions initiated: If you have live chat functionality on your ecommerce store, the number of chat sessions initiated tells you how many users engaged with the tool to speak to a virtual aide.
  • Social followers and fans: Whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or Snapchat (or a combination of a few), the number of followers or fans you have is a useful KPI to gauge customer loyalty and brand awareness. Many of those social media networks also have tools that ecommerce businesses can use to learn more about their social followers.
  • Social media engagement: Social media engagement tells you how actively your followers and fans are interacting with your brand on social media.
  • Clicks: The total number of clicks a link gets. You could measure this KPI almost anywhere: on your website, social media, email, display ads, PPC, etc.
  • Average CTR: The average click-through rate tells you the percentage of users on a page (or asset) who click on a link.
  • Average position: The average position KPI tells you about your site’s search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search performance. This demonstrates where you are on search engine results pages. Most online retailers have the goal of being number one for their targeted keywords.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) traffic volume: If you’re running PPC campaigns, this tells you how much traffic you’re successfully driving to your site.
  • Blog traffic: You can find this KPI by simply creating a filtered view in your analytics tool. It’s also helpful to compare blog traffic to overall site traffic.
  • Number and quality of product reviews: Product reviews are great for a number of reasons: They provide social proof, they can help with SEO, and they give you valuable feedback for your business. The quantity and content of product reviews are important KPIs to track for your ecommerce business.
  • Banner or display advertising CTRs: The CTRs for your banner and display ads will tell you the percentage of viewers who have clicked on the ad. This KPI will give you insight into your copy, imagery, and offer performance.
  • Affiliate performance rates: If you engage in affiliate marketing, this KPI will help you understand which channels are most successful.

What are key performance indicators for customer service?

Customer service KPIs tell you how effective your customer service is and if you’re meeting expectations.You might be wondering: what should the KPIs be in our call center, for our email support team, for our social media support team, etc. Measuring and tracking these KPIs will help you ensure you’re providing a positive customer experience.

Key performance indicators for customer service include:

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT) score: The CSAT KPI is typically measured by customer responses to a very common survey question: “How satisfied were you with your experience?” This is usually answered with a numbered scale.
  • Net promoter score (NPS): Your NPS KPI provides insight into your customer relationships and loyalty by telling you how likely customers are to recommend your brand to someone in their network.
  • Hit rate: Calculate your hit rate by taking the total number of sales of a single product and dividing it by the number of customers who have contacted your customer service team about said product.
  • Customer service email count: This is the number of emails your customer support team receives.
  • Customer service phone call count: Rather than email, this is how frequently your customer support team is reached via phone.
  • Customer service chat count: If you have live chat on your ecommerce site, you may have a customer service chat count.
  • First response time: First response time is the average amount of time it takes a customer to receive the first response to their query. Aim low!
  • Average resolution time: This is the amount of time it takes for a customer support issue to be resolved, starting from the point at which the customer reached out about the problem.
  • Active issues: The total number of active issues tells you how many queries are currently in progress.
  • Backlogs: Backlogs are when issues are getting backed up in your system. This could be caused by a number of factors.
  • Concern classification: Beyond the total number of customer support interactions, look at quantitative data around trends to see if you can be proactive and reduce customer support queries. You’ll classify the customer concerns which will help identify trends and your progress in solving issues.
  • Service escalation rate: The service escalation rate KPI tells you how many times a customer has asked a customer service representative to redirect them to a supervisor or other senior employee. You want to keep this number low.

What are key performance indicators for manufacturing?

Key performance indicators for manufacturing are, predictably, related to your supply chain and production processes. These may tell you where efficiencies and inefficiencies are, as well as help you understand productivity and expenses.

Key performance indicators for manufacturing in ecommerce include:

  • Cycle time: The cycle time manufacturing KPI tells you how long it takes to manufacture a single product from start to finish. Monitoring this KPI will give you insight into production efficiency.
  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE): The OEE KPI provides ecommerce businesses with insight into how well manufacturing equipment is performing.
  • Overall labor effectiveness (OLE): Just as you’ll want insight into your equipment, the OLE KPI will tell you how productive the staff operating the machines are.
  • Yield: Yield is a straightforward manufacturing KPI. It is the number of products you have manufactured. Consider analyzing the yield variance KPI in manufacturing, too, as that will tell you how much you deviate from your average.
  • First time yield (FTY) and first time through (FTT): FTY, also referred to as first pass yield, is a quality-based KPI. It tells you how wasteful your production processes are. To calculate FTY, divide the number of successfully manufactured units by the total number of units that started the process.
  • Number of non-compliance events or incidents: In manufacturing, there are several sets of regulations, licenses, and policies businesses must comply with. These are typically related to safety, working conditions, and quality. You’ll want to reduce this number to ensure you’re operating within the mandated guidelines.

What are key performance indicators for project management?

Key performance indicators for project management give you insight into how well your teams are performing and completing specific tasks. Each project or initiative within your ecommerce business has different goals, and must be managed with different processes and workflows. Project management KPIs tell you how well each team is working to achieve their respective goals and how well their processes are working to help them achieve those goals.

Key performance indicators for project management include:

  • Hours worked: The total hours worked tells you how much time a team put into a project. Project managers should also assess the variance in estimated vs. actual hours worked to better predict and resource future projects.
  • Budget: The budget indicates how much money you have allocated for the specific project. Project managers and ecommerce business owners will want to make sure that the budget is realistic; if you’re repeatedly over budget, some adjustments to your project planning need to be made.
  • Return on investment (ROI): The ROI KPI for project management tells you how much your efforts earned your business. The higher this number, the better. The ROI accounts for all of your expenses and earnings related to a project.
  • Cost variance: Just as it’s helpful to compare real vs. predicted timing and hours, you should examine the total cost against the predicted cost. This will help you understand where you need to reel it in and where you may want to invest more.
  • Cost performance index (CPI): The CPI for project management, like ROI, tells you how much your resource investment is worth. The CPI is calculated by dividing the earned value by the actual costs. If you come in under one, there’s room for improvement.

How do I create a KPI?

Selecting your KPIs begins with clearly stating your goals and understanding which areas of business impact those goals. Of course, KPIs for ecommerce can and should differ for each of your goals, whether they’re related to boosting sales, streamlining marketing, or improving customer service.

Key performance indicator templates

Here are a few key performance indicator templates, with examples of goals and the associated KPIs.

GOAL 1: Boost sales 10% in the next quarter.

KPI examples:

  • Daily sales.
  • Conversion rate.
  • Site traffic.

GOAL 2: Increase conversion rate 2% in the next year.

KPI examples:

  • Conversion rate.
  • Shopping cart abandonment rate.
  • Competitive pricing.

GOAL 3: Grow site traffic 20% in the next year.

KPI examples:

  • Site traffic.
  • Traffic sources.
  • Promotional click-through rates.
  • Social shares.
  • Bounce rates.

GOAL 4: Reduce customer service calls by half in the next 6 months.

KPI examples:

  • Service call classification.
  • Pages visited immediately before call.

There are many performance indicators and the value of those indicators is directly tied to the goal measured. Monitoring which page someone visited before initiating a customer service call makes sense as a KPI for GOAL 4 since it could help identify areas of confusion that, when corrected, would reduce customer service calls. But that same performance indicator would be useless for GOAL 3.

Once you have set goals and selected KPIs, monitoring those indicators should become an everyday exercise. Most importantly: Performance should inform business decisions and you should use KPIs to drive actions.

Ten Mistakes I Made Running Two Online Stores (And How You Can Avoid Them)

Ten Mistakes I Made Running Two Online Stores (And How You Can Avoid Them)

Getting into ecommerce has been one of the best educational experiences of my life. The things I’ve learned by actually running a business would be challenging to find in an MBA or any business course.

With that said, the lessons I’ve learned were all born from mistakes I made. Each mistake sets you up to do better in the future as long as you reflect on what you could have done differently. I’d like to share some of my missteps with you so you can hopefully avoid them and succeed even faster.

Mistake #1: Rushing the math

Rushing the math.

If you ask any seasoned entrepreneur what the most important skill in running a business is, it’s math. When I started out, my business was like a hobby for me, so I didn’t pay as much attention to the math as I should have.

As a result, I ended up in a niche that had good demand but not enough revenue potential to make it worthwhile. The products I was trying to sell were very cheap, and I had to sell way more than I forecasted to be able to make decent money.

Business math works very simply. To see how profitable your business can be, use this formula: Profit = Demand * (Revenue – Expenses).

To break this down, let’s assume altogether there are 20,000 people that are searching for your product (I’m using such a generous assumption to account for the main keyword, as well as some long tail keywords).

Assuming you can put yourself in front of even half of those people, that’s 10,000 potential buyers. If you convert at the average of between 1-2%, that’s 100-200 sales. If your average order value is $100, and you have a net profit margin of 30%, your profit will be anything between $3000-6000.

Of course, these are really rough estimates. But whatever you get into, if you’ve done the math, you know what you are in for. It took me two stores to learn the math lesson properly, because even though my second store had a very high average order value, the margins were so thin that I was barely making any money after factoring in costs.

Mistake #2: Not finding a gap in the market

Market gap.

Both stores I started were based on the dropshipping model. This meant that I was up against hundreds of people that would carry the same items that I was carrying.

Unless I could differentiate myself from them somehow, I’d just be a “me-too” store and I wouldn’t be providing any value to the situation. Not to mention you still have to compete with the likes of Amazon and Walmart.

With my first store, I just dove in, thinking it was a good niche, but without really researching any of my competitors to see what the market’s situation was. I failed to notice that the biggest player in my niche was just plain awesome. They had all the products I was carrying, hundreds of reviews, thousands of social likes, a popular blog, and tons of press coverage. They had every base in the market covered, and I still thought I could go up against them. Needless to say, the store was a disaster commercially.

With my second store, there was a big gap: not in terms of products, but in terms of information. I pounced on this opportunity and started doing my research, and managed to create a very comprehensive resource in my niche.

It’s not that the information wasn’t available elsewhere, but I presented it in a way that was easy to use and helpful for visitors. The result? With some search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, I managed to grow the store to 15,000 organic visits per month in a competitive niche.

The easiest gap to find is an information gap: you don’t need much of a financial investment, and your business’ worth will not only be that of your products and customer list, but of your content, too.

Mistake #3: Spreading myself thin with products

Spread too thin.

My first store sold eco-friendly recyclable bags. However, since the bags weren’t selling very well, I slowly started adding other eco friendly products from my supplier.

Eventually, I had a whole medley of products, with no relation between them except that they were all eco-friendly. This would have been OK had my brand been something more general, but it wasn’t. While this didn’t directly hurt sales coming from paid traffic, it made it very difficult to appeal to a specific customer, and it also hurt our search efforts.

The error here was more of a branding error than a financial error, but building a brand is just as important, since your brand is what your business is actually worth.

Mistake #4: Not having a content plan

Have a content plan.

This was another mistake I made with my first store. I didn’t put much effort into content marketing, which made getting organic and social traffic very difficult, especially with something as innocuous as reusable bags. I rectified this mistake with the second store, which was built with content marketing as the foundation.

It’s difficult to write content for a boring niche.

Seriously, how much can someone manage to write about reusable bags, right? The key here (which I later learned) is to do content marketing not according to a product, but according to your customers.

Continuing the reusable bags example, who would potentially use reusable bags? Someone that was environmentally conscious, right? It’s also likely that they are into eating healthy, working out, yoga, and natural wellness. These are all initial hunches, but a little bit of research can confirm them.

By building your content marketing strategy around this ideal customer rather than around a product, you have a lot more to write about and a lot more ways to connect with your audience.

Even if your niche is very technical and you manage to write 50 to 100 articles just on the nuances of your product, that information will only go so far. To really round off your effort, you’d want to have more in common with your customer than just the fact that they are buying something you sell.

Mistake #5: Not thinking freebies through

Product freebies

Some businesses do very well with giving away a product for free. Since I was in the eco friendly niche, one such opportunity did fall in my lap.

Unfortunately, I misjudged the whole thing and took a loss on the entire project. I only made one sale from 300 samples that I sent out. Ouch.

Freebies, contests, and giveaways are an effective way to market a product, but they aren’t a good fit for every niche. Freebies would work on perishable or consumable products: skincare, foods, supplements and the like. For all other products—even if it’s something that someone could order another one of, like a piece of clothing—it’s very hard to make work.

What I learned from that expensive experience was that these gimmicks don’t really drive sales; they build a brand. And to build a brand, you need to have a plan.

Mistake #6: Running a contest without a plan

Contest plan.

Reeling from the freebies, I was still looking for effective ways to market my bag business. I decided to run a contest with a blogger. I figured we could pick up a few links and social shares, and I’d also increase my social media following and email list.

This time, I was more prepared financially, as the prize offered was just a $50 gift certificate. The result? I nearly tripled my social media followers, and the contest turned out to be a hit.

Or was it? Since I had already made mistake #4, I didn’t have a content plan to follow up with all of these social media followers.

The trick with social media is that you have to engage your followers from the get-go. Find content to share every day. Put out your own content on a regular basis. Start conversations. Be helpful. Who would have thought Facebook and Twitter could be so much work. Eventually, to all my followers, I was forgotten. Another lesson learned!

Next time you plan on running a contest, make sure you plan for the aftermath of the contest. That planning could end up being far more valuable than the contest itself.

Mistake #7: Wasting too much time with menial tasks

Too many tasks.

In economics, there is a concept of opportunity cost. Essentially, when you choose to pursue any one opportunity, the “cost” of that to you is that your time is no longer free for other opportunities. So the cost of one opportunity is actually every other opportunity you have.

If you are bootstrapping your business like I was, chances are you did everything yourself. You set up the website, you tinkered with it, you uploaded products, you wrote all the descriptions, you did all the marketing. A spectacular one-man (or woman) show.

The problem here is that while doing everything yourself is great, it’s also incredibly time consuming. This is time you could be using elsewhere—spending it with your family, cooking up new ideas, or building business relationships, just to name a few.

Menial tasks come in two varieties: necessary and unnecessary.

You want to try and automate as many necessary menial tasks as possible. This process will cost a bit of money, but the headache and heartache you save typically outweighs the money you’ll spend. Besides, you can often find people that will gladly do these tasks (inventory uploading, data entry, etc.) for you for a reasonable sum.

Unnecessary menial tasks have to go to the chopping block. By unnecessary, I mean things like spending too much tinkering with your site’s logo, fiddling with a few pixels in image size, going into unnecessary detail about the color of a button, or some other minor change that probably you alone have noticed.

Some of the things I mentioned above can have a positive effect on your conversions, but you’ll only know once you have a lot of visitors and sales to compare it to. In the early stages of your business, you want to avoid those things.

Especially since after two hours of tinkering, you’ll feel like you did a lot of work, but realistically, your time could have been better spent.

Mistake #8: Not knowing who my ideal customer was

Customer persona.

This was a mistake I learned from after working my first online store, but that I still made missteps around when working on my second store.

Doing quality niche research comes in two parts: finding a product and knowing your customers. The tricky thing here is that you can have customers and then build a product, but it’s very difficult to have a product and then hunt for customers.

Most of the conventional wisdom says to look at numbers and analytics when researching a niche, and that’s absolutely necessary, but a crucial step I didn’t do was to find an ideal customer and build a customer profile.

Even if your niche has sufficient demand and a good selection of products, without knowing your ideal customer, it will be a lot harder for you. That’s what happened with my second store. I did have very good months, but I wasn’t targeting my customers enough and because of that, I probably lost out on a lot of sales.

If you dig deep enough, you will find that niches have niches within them. The more you can target, the better, since it will be easier to identify with your customer’s needs.

I sold fairly complicated electronic equipment on my second store. Even among the myriad selection of products in my niche, there were levels: some were less complex, some were in the middle, and some were very advanced.

My store listed all three types, but in retrospect, had I focused on just one type, I could have connected with my customers even more—and I wouldn’t have found it so hard to network with the right influencers, either. My situation was something of “too pro for the newbies, and too newbie for the pros.”

Mistake #9: Not having a solid marketing plan

Marketing plan.

“Fail to plan, plan to fail,” or so the saying goes.

When you set up an ecommerce website, and you know who your customers are and where you can find them, setting up your marketing plan should be easy. Unfortunately, since I didn’t know either of those things, my marketing plan was more of a “spaghetti-on-the-wall” plan. I’d be doing one thing one day, and something else another day. Not the best of ideas.

While every ecommerce store should have a well-rounded marketing plan that covers all bases, some channels will obviously be more effective than others. Some businesses will do better with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, while some will shine with SEO or social media. Email is a steady sales channel, too.

Whatever your plan is, make sure it is in place from the time you launch. New opportunities will naturally arise, but your foundation, if strong, will allow for steady and scalable growth.

Mistake #10: Falling for PPC company sweet talk

Overpromise.

When your business is fledgling, it’s easy to see every service and software as a silver bullet to your problems. I can’t even count how much time I must have spent browsing through site after site, looking for the solution to all my acquisition problems.

Then one company caught my eye. It could have been any company, really, but for me, it was that one. It was a little costly, and would severely hurt my bottom line if it didn’t work out, but the appeal of their marketing videos and the extraordinary results they were showing from other clients pulled me in.

Then I had a call with them, in which they convinced me that they could turn my business upside down and it would just run on autopilot.

I couldn’t have been any more wrong. The results? I was stuck in a 6 month contract that cost me a good chunk of cash, and any sales that I did make during that period were from my own SEO efforts—not a single one from pay-per-click (PPC). Please note this is not an attack on that company! I’m sure they are good at what they do, but it was my mistake to see that the niche I had chosen was not a good fit for their solution.

Pay-per-click companies that I’ve come across have two pay schemes: a) they charge a fee, and out of that fee, they will use a fixed amount towards your ads, or b) you can spend as much as you like on ads (above a fixed minimum) and pay them a set percent of your ad spend on fees.

With scheme (a), you as a small business will throw a lot of capital into just paying for the service without getting much return, and with scheme (b), you need to have a large budget to start with.

If you dropship like I did, it’s going to be very tough. A friend of mine was using the same service and he made some money, but it was nothing close to something to live off of. If you manufacture your own products, or source them in such a way that you have very comfortable margins, then and only then can you even consider going this route. Many companies are wildly successful with PPC, but it’s just a matter of getting your numbers right.

What I recommend to new entrepreneurs

With all of those mistakes laid out, you might be wondering: How do you know you’re on the right track? No one can predict the future for you, but to help in some small way, here’s a shortlist of the hard but worthwhile work you should do to successfully launch and run an online store:

  • Research your niche: is there demand?
  • Know your customers: who exactly are you solving a problem for?
  • Find a gap in the market: is there some value you can add, or are you just a me-too store?
  • Have a marketing plan in place.
  • Avoid wasting time with distractions.
  • Think twice and thoroughly vet any company you work with, and avoid anyone that “guarantees” grand promises.
  • Use a nice, clean design that you don’t have to tinker with.

No Inventory Required: 7 Low-Investment Business Ideas You Can Start Online

No Inventory Required: 7 Low-Investment Business Ideas You Can Start Online

Buy stock, store it, pick it, pack it, ship it. Managing inventory is a big commitment when you’re running an online business.

But there are actually many business ideas you can start that let you focus less on the logistics associated with inventory and more on your business.

These low-investment, no-inventory online businesses make a great entry point for beginners or anyone with a busy schedule, giving you a hands-on education in entrepreneurship at a fraction of the cost.

You still need to come up with a solid idea, build a brand, do marketing, and provide customer service. But you won’t have to keep a stack of products in your living room or ship every order yourself.

Here are some low-investment business ideas that free you from the demands of inventory management.

Low-Investment, No-Inventory Business Ideas

choosing a low-investment business idea

1. Build a dropshipping store

Dropshipping is a business model where a third party seller stores and ships inventory to customers on your behalf. You just need to make the sales; you don’t need to handle the products yourself.

Simply put, dropshipping is a modern take on the oldest form of business: Buy an item for a low price and sell it for a profit. Except in this case, the supplier you’re buying it from is also the one responsible for getting it to the customer.

You can curate products from different suppliers into your own online store under a theme that focuses on a specific niche, like mats for yoga enthusiasts or water bowls for dog owners. When a customer buys a product from you, the order is sent to your supplier who fulfills it on your behalf. However, you are still responsible for your own customer service.

There are both local and overseas suppliers you can work with, as long as you can establish a relationship with them built on trust—an unreliable supplier will reflect poorly on your brand.

Since many of the products you can dropship are commodities and will be unbranded, your business will be competing with others through marketing and quality customer service. In other words, it often boils down to whether you can sell a product better than the competition.

That said, dropshipping is a low-investment way to test product-market fit and launch a business before you invest in your own original products. Just be sure to always order a sample for yourself to make sure that your supplier is reliable and that the quality of the products is fit for selling to your customers.

dropshipping business idea

Additional Resources:

  • Oberlo (free app for importing products from dropshippers into your store)
  • Burst (free stock photos to use in your marketing campaigns)

2. Design and sell print-on-demand t-shirts

Another dropshipping model, print-on-demand puts inventory, shipping, and fulfillment in the hands of a third-party supplier. But unlike the dropshipping idea above, the focus here is on customizing these products with your own designs to create something original.

T-shirts, hats, phone cases, hoodies, skirts, tote bags, and more become canvases for your creativity. You can think up witty slogans for developers or references that resonate with cat owners—if there’s passion and pride within a community, there’s a potential t-shirt business you can start.

Even if you’re not a designer, you can find a designer to work with using freelance sites like FiverrUpworkDribble, or 99Designs.

With many print-on-demand services, you’re paying per-product, so the base price per unit will be more expensive than if you were to order in bulk. But the advantage is that if a certain t-shirt design doesn’t sell, you haven’t actually paid for the item yet (only the design if you outsourced it).

You can even use t-shirt mockup templates so you don’t actually need to spend money on a full photoshoot for every new design.

There are a variety of print-on-demand platforms you can work with, many of which can be integrated with your Shopify store for seamless order fulfillment. However, be sure to always order a sample of your product (often offered at a discount) to make sure your custom products look good.

t-shirt business idea

Source: ThinkPup

A book is just another product when you think about it. And as such, you can create one to serve a particular demand in the market.

Cookbooks, picture books, comic books, photo books, coffee table books, and novels—if you’ve got the knowledge or the creativity, there are a variety of original books you can bring to the market.

Print-on-demand publishing is a relatively safe way to test the waters and get started with self-publishing, while giving you control over the quality and look of your book.

Blurb is a popular platform for this purpose, letting you create, order, and distribute your own books as digital and physical products.

While you can order one book at a time, costs naturally go down when you buy in bulk. You can consider pre-selling your book idea through Kickstarter to ensure that there’s demand and guarantee a certain number of customers for a bulk order.

Launching your own book can be a great way to monetize a blog if you have one or are looking to start one.

book business idea

Additional resources:

4. Create digital products or courses

Digital products like music, courses, and templates are unique on this list of ideas. Unlike the others, they’re not tangible products. There aren’t recurring manufacturing or shipping costs to worry about so your margins can remain high.

The trick is figuring out what makes for a good digital product. What is useful enough that people are willing to pay to download it?

The answers range from original instrumental beats to stock photos that can be licensed to other creators, to information products and templates that help people level up their skills in a particular field.

If you’ve got a talent that can be turned into a digital product, you can think about packaging it into a new stream of income.

Shopify offers a free digital downloads app that lets you offer digital products in your store as easily as physical products.

digital products business ideas

Source: PixieFaire

:5. Sell print-on-demand posters, greeting cards, and prints

If you’re artistically inclined or know your way around a camera, you can dropship using a print-on-demand business model to let others physically own a piece of your work. Just be sure you have the rights to the content you want to print, unless you’re using public domain assets that you can freely monetize.

If you’ve already got an engaged online following, say you’re a cartoonist or an urban photographer, you’re in an especially good position to give this business idea a try.

Depending on the printer you work with, you can turn your work into products such as posters or framed wall art, even greeting cards. There are plenty of digital templates and mockup generators like Place.it that you can use to showcase your products without having to print out each item and conduct your own photo shoots.

sell prints business idea

Source: Zen Pencils

6. Start a charitable business

Starting a non-profit organization isn’t the only path you can take to help fund a better world.

Having a mission to go along with a business, and setting aside some profit for a cause, gives social entrepreneurs a unique way to position their company in the market while addressing the issues they care about most.

In fact, 89% of consumers surveyed said they were likely to switch to a new brand with similar products and prices if it was associated with a good cause.

While many social enterprises offer their own original products, you can also take any of the business ideas above and partner with a non-profit, or execute that social good with your own hands, as long as you’re transparent about how it works.

As part of your marketing, you can share the impact that your customers are having by supporting your business, such as a blog post covering your work in the community or a real-time impact calculator on your website.

The Give & Grow Shopify app makes it easy to partner with charitable organizations and incorporate your mission into your business. You can set it up to donate a specific amount or a percentage of sales, or ask your customers to add a donation at checkout.

charitable business ideas

7. Sell a service

With services-based businesses, “time” is your inventory and your biggest investment. You’ve only got a limited supply of hours in your day. However, that makes it easier to get up and running if you’ve got skills that are in demand.

Writers, designers, developers, photographers, house cleaners, fitness trainers, and more can build a business around their skill set.

They can also expand their business with any of the other ideas above to create additional revenue streams.

A photographer, for example, can service a local event while selling prints online through their Instagram account. Coupling your service-based business with physical products can give you another source of income that isn’t directly tied to your time.

 

You can also offer your services through a freelance marketplace like Upworkor Fiverr to increase your chances of getting discovered by the people who need your skills.

sell services

How to Start a Blog That You Can Grow Into Your Business

How to Start a Blog That You Can Grow Into Your Business

Businesses of all kinds start blogging as a way to build up a long-term audience.

But the reverse is also happening where more and more bloggers start businesses as an extension of their publishing. And it makes sense.

One of the biggest challenges new businesses face is building an audience for their products. Bloggers, on the other hand, often work backwards, building an audience first by consistently putting out good content, and then exploring ways to monetize their traffic.

Starting a blog is easy if you just want to have fun. But if you’re thinking about making money as a blogger down the road, you’ll need to be strategic about how you set it up for success.

This guide will take a thorough look at what you need to know to start a blog and grow it into a source of traffic and income. And while it’s meant for those who haven’t started a business yet, it’s also relevant for any businesses that want to get into the blogging game.

But first let’s answer an important question that may seem obvious at first.

What Is a Blog?

how to start a blog

You’re reading one right now.

A blog or “web log” is a web page for content that you regularly add to and update. Unlike other publications and articles, blogs tend to take on a more personal tone that helps them connect more deeply with their audiences.

People start blogs for all kinds of reasons, including:

  • Sharing their opinions, passions, or glimpses into their lives.
  • Teaching others what they know.
  • Building an email list.
  • Developing their personal brand as an expert.
  • Selling products or services.
  • A combination of any or all of the above.

For these reasons, blogging can be incredibly fulfilling—especially when complete strangers start consuming your content—but it’s also a commitment.

Whether you publish daily, weekly, or monthly, it’s important to be as consistent as possible, not just in how often you publish but in the kind of content you publish as well.

It’s very rare for bloggers to see results right away, so keep in mind why you’re doing it to stay motivated in the early stages.

How to Start a Blog

The hardest part about blogging is finding the time and the ideas you need to do it consistently. Getting started, however, is fairly straightforward.

Starting a blog with the potential to be a business comes down to the following steps, which we’ll explore in detail:

  1. Consider the different opportunities to monetize.
  2. Pick an audience to serve.
  3. Choose a blogging platform, a domain name, and build your blog.
  4. Lay the groundwork for distribution.
  5. Planning out your publishing strategy.

If you’re wondering why we’re talking about monetization first, it’s because we need to think more like an entrepreneur than just a blogger in order to make this a profitable venture.

Different Ways to Make Money Blogging

There are a bunch of ways you can monetize your blog, depending on the kind of blog you decide to start. But people usually think of ads first for some reason.

The truth is, there are better and faster ways to make money with your blog that don’t require a massive volume of page views every day. It’s twice as true if you can build a loyal audience, not just a large one.

You can make money blogging by:

  • Selling physical products that align with your audience, whether it’s t-shirts or hot sauce.
  • Selling digital products like resumes, photos, or designs that you create once and sell again and again and again.
  • Selling services like writing, consulting, and design.
  • Publishing a book and selling it as a physical or digital product.
  • Becoming an affiliate for another brand and make a commission every time you sell their product.
  • Subscriptions powered by platforms like Patreon.
  • Doing paid reviews/promotions for brands.

There are ample opportunities to monetize your blog, but you have to enjoy what you blog about in order to succeed.

Your most important consideration—more than making money—will be who your audience is and how you’re going to serve them.

Picking a Niche: What’s Your “Thing” Going to Be?

There’s no shortage of content on the internet. It may seem hard to stand out (it is), but there are two ways you can compete: By choosing a specific audience to focus on and by creating content that has something about it that readers can’t easily find elsewhere.

You can do this in a number of ways:

  1. Focus on a specific location (e.g. New York).
  2. Focus on a specific segment within a larger category (e.g. not just recipes, but vegan recipes).
  3. Deliver your content in a different style or voice (e.g. humor).
  4. Compete with quality (e.g. in-depth posts on a topic that no one else is willing to do).

BlogTO, for example, covers a wide range of lifestyle topics but focuses specifically on the diverse city of Toronto.

how to start a blog

Source: BlogTO

The niche you choose is important as it not only has to be an audience that you can sustainably serve with a steady flow of content ideas, but will ultimately determine how you explore monetization later. Consider what kind of products or services you could potentially sell to this audience, and whether you know enough or care enough about that topic to cover it many, many times over.

Once you have some ideas for niches, use Google to look up your competitors on the topic and use Buzzsumo to get a sense of how well content on this topic performs and what channels it performs best on.

Choosing a Platform and Building Your Blog

This is where many would-be bloggers get stuck. They’re not exactly sure which platform they should invest their time and money on.

The choice usually boils down to a self-hosted or hosted platform:

  • Self-hosted: These platform generally offer more customization options, but you will still have to pay a monthly fee to host the site yourself and it requires some initial setup. WordPress.org is the go-to platform if you’re considering the self-hosted route. This guide from Smashing Magazine will walk you through it.
  • Hosted: These platforms let you get started right away and some of them have built-in audiences. Some are free like Blogger and WordPress.com (the hosted alternative to WordPress.org) and some are paid.

When choosing a platform, think about the future and how you want to monetize your blog eventually. Not all platforms will give you everything you need, while some will give you more than you will ever need.

Some bloggers opt for free hosted platforms like Medium and Tumblr because they give you access to an engaged community of other bloggers and readers on the platform. We’ll discuss it in more detail later, but you can republish on these platforms to take advantage of their audiences—you don’t need to build your main blog on these free platforms to use them.

Shopify is a hosted platform that includes both an ecommerce site and a blogging platform, as well as hundreds of apps you can add as you grow, if you want to sell physical/digital products or services right away. You can start your 14-day free trial today.

Picking a Name and Theme For Your Blog

Once you’ve picked your platform, you should considering buying a domain name (yourblog.com) and a theme (the look and layout of your blog).

Shopping for a domain is a good time to think about what you’re going to call your website. Choose something that’s catchy, memorable, easy to type, and isn’t already taken by another brand.

Unless you’re trying to build a personal brand or a portfolio site, I would recommend against using your name as the domain. You can still be the face of your blog even if your name isn’t in the URL, and it’s a lot easier to build a sticky brand when you come up with a creative name that reflects your blog’s identity. To add some more personality, get a logo made on Fiverr or use Hatchful, our free logo maker app (now available on iOS as well).

Once that’s settled, you’ll need to pick a theme.

A “theme” is just a template for the layout, look, and features of your website. There are plenty of free themes available, whatever platform you choose. But if you’re not happy with those options, consider paying the one-time fee for a paid theme as it will have a big impact on the overall experience users have on your website.

how to start a blog

 

Laying The Groundwork for Growth

We usually talk about growing an audience after we start publishing. But if you want to build up momentum quickly, you need to start thinking about it even before you launch.

Many bloggers struggle with distribution, and I think there’s two parts to the reason:

  1. They don’t have a concrete, repeatable distribution strategy within their publishing process.
  2. Publishing is already a nerve-wracking experience, and amplifying your reach makes it that much scarier.

The latter is something you eventually get over, but the former requires some initial thought and investment of time before you launch.

So let’s walk through some of the ways you can plan for growth and get the most out of every post you create.

Start Collecting Emails as Soon as Possible

It doesn’t matter what platform you’re blogging on, you should be focusing on getting email subscribers. Every new subscriber is a sign that you’re doing something right and is a potential repeat reader that you can easily reach.

Even if you switch platforms down the road, or decide to start something new, your email list remains with you.

MailChimp is an easy email marketing tool to recommend because it’s free up to 2000 subscribers. But it’s not enough to just have a subscriber list. You need to capture these emails at every turn and you do that with sign-up forms.

how to start a blog email list

A good habit to get into is to embed sign-up forms directly into your content with a call to action to subscribe, like the one you see below.

Many email marketing solutions lets you create and use these forms easily. You can even generate a link that directs to a separate sign-up page that you can link out to in your blog posts, social media, and email signature.

Remember that people aren’t going to subscribe to your blog if you don’t ask and if you don’t make it easy for them.

Every time you publish a post, you should email it to your list—a process you can automate down the road once you get into the swing of things.

Look For Opportunities to Go After Search Engine Traffic

Using keyword research, you can get an idea of how much search volume there is for particular search queries in your niche. The higher the number, the more demand there is for a topic, and the more traffic you can potentially generate long-term.

The easiest way to do this is to simply install the Keywords Everywhere Chrome Extension and start googling from your audience’s perspective to try to unearth interesting content ideas. Queries that start with “how to…” or “best…” are a good place to start.

 

Even if you don’t land a spot on the first page of the search engine results for these searches, you’ll have a content idea with proven demand. But if you want to aim high, you can learn more about SEO.

Set Up Your Social Media Strategy

At first, it might seem like a smart move to be on every single social media platform, but that gets hard to manage fast and isn’t always effective.

Instead, focus on the channels where your audience spends the most time. Depending on your niche and your resources, your choice of channels will vary.

For example, a Facebook Page is a good all-around asset for any blogger who’s willing to pay to promote their content. On the other hand, a cost-conscious food blogger will probably stand to get a lot more free engagement on Pinterest and Instagram than Twitter.

Don’t neglect your personal networks either—your friends and family make a great early audience.

Reduce, Reuse, and Resurface Your Content

You can’t put out large posts every day. A good blogger knows how to reuse and repurpose their content to get the most mileage out of it.

So, here are some ideas to keep in mind as you go forward:

  • Create “micro-content” for social media from existing posts with tools like Canva.
  • Post a roundup of past blog posts with a common theme (e.g. “Our Best Posts of 2016”).
  • Recreate blog posts as other types of content, such as infographics or quizzes.
  • Regularly republish your content on new platforms with built-in audiences like MediumLinkedIn, or Tumblr to get more early exposure, adding a link to the original post to the top (“Originally published on youblog.com”) to increase your chances of getting clicks back to your site.
  • Occasionally update and republish old content after a good amount of time has passed to expose it to readers who missed it the first time. This works great with seasonal content (e.g. “10 Lazy Halloween Costume Ideas”)
  • Consider accepting guest posts once you’ve started to amass a following. Guest authors will likely share this content with their own audiences too.
  • Add links to related content within and at the end of your posts. (If you’re on Shopify, install the free Related Blog Posts app.)

When time is money and you’re in the business of blogging, you need to constantly squeeze more value out of your efforts.

Understand Analytics to Understand Your Audience

The best opportunities are hidden in data.

Depending on the platform you choose you’ll have different metrics to look at, but you’ll at least get the number of views and where your visitors are coming from, which can tell you a lot about your performance.

But if you take the time to set up Google Analytics on your site (it’s free), you can get deeper insights, like the average amount of time people spent reading your post, the quality of the readers coming from different sources, and even the number of readers in real-time.

how to start a blog

Data can also be used as leverage for bloggers. The ability to prove how much traffic you bring in is a huge asset that makes others more likely to want to work with you or gain access to your audience.

Planning Out Your Publishing Strategy

Every blogger needs to keep a healthy supply of ideas and it helps if you plan ahead to ensure you never run out.

I highly recommend that you create a content calendar to help you keep track of your ideas (and keep yourself on track too).

You can use a simple spreadsheet to plan out your content calendar, but I recommend Trello since it’s free and also makes for a good place to dump ideas and organize them.

how to blog

Thinking about your content mix is also important to get a sense of the scope of your blog and what categories/tags you might use to organize it all as you add more content in the future.

A good mix includes:

  • Evergreen content that addresses questions/queries/problems that people regularly search out on Google.
  • Topical content that tackles current topics and trends your audience cares about.
  • Curated content that is smaller in scope and requires less time to create to help you pace yourself and keep your audience engaged between longer posts.
  • Feature pieces about other people or brands who might share it with their audiences (e.g. interviews, reviews, etc.)
  • Visual or interactive content at least occasionally to add some variety to your blog (e.g. infographics, quizzes, memes, etc.).

Try to plan out your blog posts at least one month in advance and publish on a consistent schedule so your audience has an idea of how often to expect new content.

Keep in mind that you won’t grow your audience overnight. You’ll have some hits and some misses, but you need to keep going to keep growing.

Building Your Audience-Powered Business

However you choose to go about your blog, it’s your audience that ultimately determines its potential as a business. Focus on growing this audience as you publish on a regular basis, and you’ll see your traffic and reach grow as well.

Blogging isn’t just fun and fulfilling—it’s also one of many paths to entrepreneurship. If you think like an entrepreneur when you start your blog and aim high when it comes to growth, you can build a valuable audience that can help power your business for a long time to come.