Christmas Crazes: How a Few Unlikely Ideas Changed the Toy Industry Forever

Once every few years, during the holiday season, it seems like one ridiculous idea for a product or toy becomes insanely popular.

This is the story of those unlikely ideas and how they went from a brilliant spark of inspiration—or even a coincidental discovery—to something that was purchased, enjoyed, and loved by millions.


Let’s dive into three different Christmas crazes and examine why they took off. Maybe the stars aligned just right to make them all possible.

Or perhaps it was just an accident.

1. Slinky

In 1943, Naval engineer Richard James was working on a way to keep sensitive instruments steady at sea when he bumped a spring off his desk. He thought the way it slinked to the floor would make it the perfect child’s toy. After searching through the dictionary, his wife settled on a name: Slinky.

But stores didn’t want the toy and sales were slow for the first two years. That changed during the Christmas holidays of 1945 when a Philadelphia department store gave the Slinky its own display. People went crazy for it and they sold all 400 units in less than two hours. It was a little mistake that turned into a big Christmas craze.

While the Slinky may have been a happy accident, other ideas seem more calculated.

2. Mr. Potato Head

In 1949, inventor George Lerner thought that children would enjoy using potatoes to make silly faces. Just to be clear, this wasn’t Mr. Potato Head as we know him today. What Lerner was suggesting was sticking push pin eyeballs and mouths into actual potatoes.

Toy companies didn’t think the idea would work because mothers wouldn’t be willing to waste food to make a child’s toy.

Nobody really wanted the idea until 1951 when he showed the idea to a stationary company called the Hassenfeld Brothers. They absolutely loved it. In fact, they loved it so much they made Mr. Potato Head the star of the first TV ad ever made for a toy. They sold a million of them in a single year.

Advertising certainly helped Mr. Potato Head, but can a product make it on hype alone?

3. Pet Rock

In 1975, ad executive Gary Dahl was at a bar listening to his friends complain about how hard it was to take care of their pets. That’s when he came up with the idea of a pet that didn’t need to be fed or go for walks. A pet that would cost only a few cents to make, but could sell for $4.

What he invented was the Pet Rock. It was a seemingly normal rock with a 32-page instruction manualthat outlined how to wash it and teach it tricks like playing fetch or playing dead. Surprisingly, the idea caught on almost instantly and 1.5 million pet rocks were sold leading up to Christmas day that year.

What Do Christmas Crazes Mean?

We caught up with Chris Byrne to find out why some toys take off while others don’t. He’s spent more than 30 years in the toy industry and wrote Toy Time! based on his experience. Here’s what Chris had to say:

“Nobody can predict a fad, but it comes into the culture and then everybody wants to have it. Then it becomes an accessible way of branding oneself and saying, ‘Hey I’m part of the culture, I’m part of the here and now.’ You know you can’t have a Birkin bag or a BMW, but you can have a $34 Tickle Me Elmo.”

Although, we can’t predict what the next fad will be, we do know how it will influence consumer behaviour. Once a new toy becomes hot, owning it becomes a status symbol and everyone wants to get their hands on it.

Chris also reminded us of the most amazing aspect of all these ideas and the toys they spawned. Something we often forget amongst the toy crazes and the holiday rush.

“Each child comes to a toy in a different way. Every child brings something different. It’s just a lump of inert plastic until the child’s imagination brings it to life.”

What was the Christmas craze when you were a kid? Reminisce with me in the comments!


Is Your Ecommerce Business Ready for International Sales?

Is Your Ecommerce Business Ready for International Sales?

Ecommerce sales are ramping up in the United States, with consumers doing more than half of their shopping online, according to ComScore and UPS. But the U.S. isn’t the only country seeing explosive growth in online sales; research from eMarketer predict’s that global ecommerce sales will hit $1.9 trillion this year, with double-digit growth nearing $4 trillion by 2020.

Your online store gives you the ability to sell to every corner of the world where prospective customers have access to the web. However, many online merchants continue to shrug off this opportunity due to the logistics of cross-border fulfillment.

There are numerous advantages, and a bigger slice of revenue just waiting for you, if you’re willing to pivot and make some changes to your ecommerce strategy.

Why You Should Ship Internationally

Shipping containers in lot

It comes down to both demand and revenue. Pitney Bowes performed an international ecommerce study in 2014 that provided insight into the growth potential of international shipping, showing that more than 40% of consumers have purchased something online from another country.

According to their research, the largest cross-border growth is currently between the U.S. and Canada since shipping is relatively cheaper in this corridor compared to overseas markets. There’s still plenty of overseas demand though, especially for lower-value goods. Both the U.K. and Australia are strong markets for U.S. retailers due to a lack of local supply. This can make it cheaper and more practical to buy products online even with shipping costs factored in, especially for Australians.

Of course, expanding into international markets isn’t without its challenges. If you’re considering or preparing to open up your ecommerce store to international consumers, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Offer More Ways to Pay

While it’s standard to accept primary payment forms like Visa, MasterCard, Discover, PayPal, etc. in a shopping cart, those standard payment methods aren’t necessarily preferable forms of payment for some international shoppers.

In fact, in the UK and other countries, it’s not uncommon for them to pay through other methods such as real-time bank transfers, direct debits, and mobile payments.

Screenshot of payment options in checkout

Consider expanding which payment methods you accept to cater to a wider audience. Apple Pay is now available for all Shopify merchants, and you can even let customers pay with their Amazon account in your Shopify store.

It might increase fulfillment time on some orders, but you can also offer bank transfer to international customers and then manually fulfill orders once the payment is completed.

2. Increase International Search Visibility

Your store and product pages are likely going to be optimized for the local region where you operate. Even if other countries share your language, Google tries to show search users content that is most relevant to them based not only on the language of their search query, but also what’s most relevant to them in terms of geographical proximity.

It would be difficult to make something like a specific product or category page appear relevant in search results for multiple countries or geographic regions, since you don’t want to use spammy tactics on your pages that fill them with geo-specific keywords.

Instead, use geo-targeted landing pages that can rank better in international searches. You can create a landing page for each country with content and copy geared toward that audience, which will drive them to the most relevant product categories or to your catalog. This may require more effort, but it will increase your odds of appearing in organic search for customers abroad.

3. Open Additional Shops in Multiple Regions

Another approach to making your site more search and customer-friendly to a specific region is by creating multiple Shopify stores. One of the biggest challenges with payment gateways is that even if you display your products in a foreign currency, the customer is forced to checkout using the default currency of your location.

You can tackle geographic search visibility and develop a smoother checkout process by launching additional stores for the countries you really want to target.

Screenshot of Quad Lock's website with multiple country options

Quad Lock Case took this approach to international sales when they expanded beyond their U.S.-based store, which originally offered global shipping. The expansion included localized versions of its online store for the U.S., Europe, Australia and the U.K. As a result, the company saw a massive increase in sales that led to thousands of new orders from around the world.

Each online store would essentially have its own inventory, domain, backend, payment gateway with local currency, and Shopify account.

4. Make Your Brand Recognizable

It’s easy to apply a brand to your online store, but it’s not as easy to create a brand that stands apart from the competition. When you open your store’s borders and begin shipping internationally, you’re entering a much larger and more diverse market.

Make sure your brand can withstand the competitive pressures of the global market. If the depth of your brand currently starts and ends with your logo, then find ways to build on that. Create a personality for your brand and build a story or experience around it. This greatly improves the impact it will have on your audience when they interact with you for the first time.

AholeGear is just one example of strong branding that paints a clear picture of the brand by connecting it to a certain audience type, and it has a recognizable logo that works well on apparel.

Screenshot of Ahold website and branding

BeardBrand is also on point, taking a storytelling approach that connects the audience to a branded identity by developing the “urban beardsman.”

Screenshot of Beardbrand website and branding.

Mast Brothers Chocolate hand-makes chocolate in New York City, and the way they make their chocolate is very unique. They work that unique selling position into their branding with visual storytelling.

Screenshot of Mast website and branding

Developing a brand’s depth takes time and considerable creativity, but these examples should demonstrate that you don’t need to be flashy to be memorable or interesting to consumers. What’s necessary is a well-crafted strategy and a greater investment in time and expense. You can’t necessarily measure the return on investment with a brand strategy, but it’s a critical component for competing in saturated global markets.

5. Avoid Cultural Taboos

Those who have traveled abroad have probably experienced culture shock at some point. Attitudes, dialects, interactions, technologies, customs—things are different around the world. There are also distinct cultural differences. Something that might be completely acceptable in the U.S. could be taboo in another country.

Taboo slip-ups are less likely to involve your physical products than your brand’s messaging, though, how you name and position your products could potentially create issues as well.

For example, both Nike and Ben & Jerry’s had to backpedal and apologize when they named products “Black and Tan.” These companies didn’t realize that it was also the name of a violent paramilitary group that suppressed the Irish during the war for their independence in the early 1920’s.

When you open the doors to international consumers, do some research on unique product names and your messaging to ensure you won’t offend your new audience, even if unintentionally.

6. Segment and Localize Your Ads

If you run any advertising on your social channels, now is the time to expand your audience research to discover how to reach your audience in other countries.

Don’t just add the new countries to your existing custom audience. Instead, create a new custom audience that matches the region. Designate some time to research audience segments for that region to see if there are changes in their interests and behaviors that would improve your targeting efforts.

Screenshot of Facebook Ads Manager

Creating more targeted advertisements like this will improve the click-through rates on your ads. There are obvious reasons why you want to achieve this (more traffic to your store), but improved click-through rates vs. few impressions (from targeting a smaller, geo-specific region) also increases ad visibility while reducing your cost per action.

7. Be Clear About Delivery Times

It’s safe to assume that an order shipping from California will take a little longer to reach the U.K. than it would take to reach Michigan. Many multinational ecommerce stores include general shipping information for customers, sometimes directly on the product page, with a listing of their standard delivery times for different regions and shipping options.

When you start shipping internationally, you should update this information so it’s accurate based on the carriers you use and the destinations you’ll ship to. Delivery times are never exact, but you want to set reasonable expectations for your customers to avoid backlash for longer shipping times.

8. Manage Landed Costs, Duties, and Taxes

Factoring in additional costs for international shipping is crucial. This is what is known as “landed costs,” or the total amount you pay to deliver an item to an international customer’s doorstep.

The landed cost includes your shipping costs, taxes, and duties or customs fees. You should be able to measure how your landing costs vary from region to region, because these costs can impact your customers as well as your conversions. If you quote $12.50 for shipping but there’s also a $20+ duty fee tacked onto the order, then your customer may decide to forgo buying it. If no one pays the customs fee, the item could be indefinitely held or destroyed.

Some carriers offer tools to help you calculate landed costs, so check with your shipping carrier to see how they can help you manage international shipping calculations. This may be a good idea anyhow, because depending on your volume, you may be able to negotiate better rates by expanding your market.

9. Speak Their Language

Depending on where you’re selling and shipping products, you can greatly increase the potential for sales by providing product descriptions and other relevant information from your store in local languages. Translating is an added expense, but it can be helpful to offer accurate, well-translated versions of your product and site pages for various languages instead of just plugging paragraphs into Google Translate and hoping for the best.

There are always translation tools that customers can use, but working with an experienced translator can help you write copy that captures the subtle nuances of the language for better conversion potential.


10. Research Labeling Requirements

Depending on the products you sell and the countries you sell to, there may be necessary changes to your labeling. This is most common in consumable packaged goods, such as vitamin supplements, food, and beverages.

Research the foreign marketplaces you’re entering into so you will fulfill all necessary label requirements. If changes are necessary, you’ll want to decide if it’s a small enough change to be included on all labels going forward, or if you want to use an alternate label specific to that region.

11. Handling Returns

Different regions may have different requirements or legislation on how returns are handled, which can be stressful when you’re dealing with worldwide orders. Know the legislation for the region you’re targeting, as well as typical consumer behaviors in that country. For example, British shoppers return up to 15% of online purchases, but orders from Germany have return rates 3 to 4 times higher.

Update your return, exchange, and refund policies to clarify how the process works for each region.

12. Offer Customer Service Across Time Zones

Since you’ll be managing customers outside of your time zone, you’ll need to consider the best way to handle customer service issues. It might be extremely frustrating for a U.K. customer who is five hours ahead to only be able to reach out to you in the late evening when they’re off work – and you’re not available when it’s convenient for them. Playing email tag in that situation could drag down the expediency of your resolution process.

To avoid upsetting international customers, look into options that will allow you to consistently offer customer service even outside of your normal business hours. This could be achieved through a contract agreement with a customer service organization, or with a virtual assistant operating in a time zone that’s the opposite of your normal business hours.

Over to You

There is tremendous potential for growth when you open your online business up to a global market, but be aware of the initial legwork involved. It may seem daunting, but once you’ve done your research and thoroughly outlined your operations, processes, and store settings, it’s comparatively smooth sailing going forward.

Have you started selling internationally? What kind of challenges did you face when you introduced international shipping? Share your stories with me in the comments below.

Social Entrepreneurship: Harnessing Business to Make the World a Better Place

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

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

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

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

What is a Social Enterprise?

what is a social enterprise

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

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

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

Social Entrepreneurship is about harnessing commerce for a cause.


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

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

The Benefits of Building a Social Enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a Product to Sell and a Mission to Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defining Your Mission and Illustrating Your Impact

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

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

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

There are also social enterprises that focus on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funding Your Social Enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing Your Mission

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

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

Content Marketing

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

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

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

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

Learn more in The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing.


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

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

Learn more in How Cotopaxi Build Its Brand and Spreads Its Vision With In-Person Events.


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

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

Learn more in How to Land Your Business in the Press.

Social Media

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

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

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

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

Learn more in How to Create a Social Media Content Calendar in 4 Simple Steps.

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

The Rise of For-Benefit Companies

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

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

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

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

[Free Report] Opportunities, Threats, and A Future Consumer Electronics Retailers Must Prepare For

[Free Report] Opportunities, Threats, and A Future Consumer Electronics Retailers Must Prepare For

Despite being more important to people than sex…

Smart phones, as well as other popular consumer electronics, are industry segments experiencing maturation that is likely to hamper growth in the second half of the decade and beyond.

Tomorrow can’t come fast enough for the consumer electronics industry…

After nearly a decade of turbocharged growth in a variety of segments the consumer electronics industry appears to be slowing despite demand for new electronics and technologies such as:

  • Virtual reality
  • Wearables
  • Internet of Things

However, demand for tomorrow’s consumer electronics in the medium term, according to research, is not likely to be great enough to offset stalling growth in traditional segments.

While the industry will continue to battle cannibalization, such as tablets replacing laptop computers, it will also set its sights on higher growth and higher margin opportunities likely such as smart cars, smart homes, and even smart cities that become increasingly connected and personalized.

But how exactly do you survive today’s industry deceleration and live to thrive tomorrow?

This post is a preview of our newly released Industry Report outlining the trajectory, trends, and technology that are or will shape the consumer electronics industry. The data and each of the images are just a sliver of what we have for you in the report.


It’s insight and imagination you can use to power your business tomorrow and beyond.

Pivot to Profit

While overall consumer electronics industry growth is expected to slow to 1.5% in 2016 from years prior…

Opportunities for accelerated growth exist outside developed countries like the United States.

Emerging markets such as China and India, assuming manufactures can offer electronics at affordable prices, are expected to grow at double-digit rates in the coming years. However, consumer electronics manufactures will also likely confront strong headwinds currently impacting developed markets such as:

The United States is now the second largest market for consumer electronics with a user

base that is forecast to spend more than $55 billion USD in 2016, significantly less than

China which is forecast to spend more than $64 billion USD:

In addition to the industry’s pivot to Asia, merchants who are also focused on ecommerce will position themselves to grow faster than the overall industry. Worldwide, ecommerce sales of consumer electronics are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 12.5% through 2021, from more than $210 billion USD in 2016 to more than $379 billion USD in 2021:

Retailers of consumer electronics with the foresight to pivot toward Asia and ramp their ecommerce efforts position themselves to grow faster than the overall industry.

However, new growth opportunities must also be identified as the industry’s standard bearers mature and decelerate.

Discovering Hidden Growth: At Home and In the Car

The smartphone is maturing…

Despite research that suggests some people are more willing to go without sex rather than their mobile phones, only about half those recently surveyed say they plan to purchase a new phone:

How might merchants offset deceleration in one of the industry’s hallmark products?

While immense opportunity still exists in developing markets and emerging middle classes as well as newly minted millionaires in China, consumer electronics makers looking toward the future are increasingly finding opportunity in the home and automobile.

The smart home segment includes:

It’s important to note that a $7 billion dollar industry in 2015 is now forecast to grow

to a more than $32 billion dollar industry by 2021:

In addition to the home, the consumer electronics industry is also forecast to drive future growth by increasingly connecting the automobile. Technological advances are forecast to more than double revenue in the connected car market from more than $10 billion USD in 2017 to more than $21 billion USD by 2021:

The always-on connectivity demanded by tomorrow’s consumer of electronics is also
expected to nudge manufactures to more closely work with one another to create ecosystems that allow consumers to remain seamlessly connected regardless of device or platform choice and without performance sacrifices as they navigate among various electronics in the home, vehicle, and beyond.

Imagining the Future: Seeing Tomorrow’s Technology Today

Tomorrow’s technologies are about to collide…

Significant shifts in consumer preference, behavior, and geographic centers of affluence will influence how those technologies are used for commerce.

What will the consumer electronics industry look like when ultra-personalized customer experiences powered by next generation beacons that recognize individuals collide with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and next generation wearables to create opportunities for commerce that do not exist today?

Or consider what might be possible in a future where context-aware consumer electronics devices are equipped to anticipate and predict a user’s needs and actually improve a person’s overall health.

Advances in machine learning, natural language processing, and technology that can
detect our emotions as well as interpret personal health data in real time will likely
combine in ways that make it possible for next gen consumer electronics devices to be
context-aware on a much deeper level than they are today or will be in the near future:

Are You Ready For a Future Like This?

The future, at least as we’ve imagined it, will demand more of successful merchants…

Surviving the industry’s current deceleration, pivoting to higher growth opportunities, and positioning yourself to capitalize on a high-tech future poised to create opportunities for commerce that don’t exist today will require brands to seamlessly operate in a variety of worlds (digital and physical), realities (AR and VR), and with a degree of personalization (AI, Advanced Cross Channel Analytics, and Next Generation Segmentation) that create 1:1 customer experiences between brand and consumer.

Are you prepared to capitalize?

WARNING: If you’re focused on the technology of today you’re not likely able to narrowly focus on the technology that will power commerce tomorrow and beyond. If you’re spending your time and treasure on costly and time consuming design and development you’re not investing in your future:

Ready to focus on the future rather than technology?

The trajectories, trends, and technologies outlined here are just a snippet of what you’ll need to obtain a deeper understanding of the state of your industry, the trends impacting its direction, and the technologies that will influence how you position, market, and sell tomorrow and beyond:

It’s why we’ve created an Industry Report just for merchants in the consumer electronics space.

The industry snapshots, shifts in consumer behavior, and emerging technologies briefly illustrated in the report have been included solely to provide you with actionable insight you can use to make data-informed decisions that powerfully differentiate your brand and help you intelligently chart a strategic course for the future.

Get your copy here

8 Small Business Accounting Tools to Help You Manage Your Finances

8 Small Business Accounting Tools to Help You Manage Your Finances

Accounting can be a time-consuming chore for small business owners, but a necessary one in order to track, manage, and optimize your business’ growth over time.

Sooner or later (and the sooner, the better), you’ll need to invest in a small business accounting software and system to manage your cash flow and prepare for tax time.

From bookkeeping to invoicing to tracking expenses, there are a lot of different things to consider when choosing the right software for your needs.

That’s why we’ve put together this list of popular small business accounting tools and Shopify apps to help you pick the right accounting system for you.

Brush up on the accounting basics with Small Business Accounting 101: Ten Steps to Get Your Startup On the Right Track.

Choosing Accounting Software For Your Small Business

1. Quickbooks Online

quickbooks accounting tool

Intuit Quickbooks Online is considered the standard when it comes to small business accounting and bookkeeping software, offering many of the features and bookkeeping functionality most types of businesses need with the added benefit that your accountant is probably already familiar with it.

Quickbooks makes it easy to select and pay for the features you need for your specific purposes, from:

  • Invoicing
  • Payroll
  • Managing bills from vendors and suppliers.
  • Expense tracking (including the ability to snap and save receipts through the app)
  • Inventory tracking

By connecting your bank account to Quickbooks Online, your account activity gets downloaded and categorized in Quickbooks, saving you the time it would take to reconcile and compare your records with your actual account activity.

You can take Quickbooks online for a test drive with a mock business to see it in action.

Price: $15 to $40 per month

2. Freshbooks

accounting tools freshbooks

Freshbooks is a popular invoicing solution with built-in expense management and time-tracking features, as well as the ability to accept payments from clients.

Naturally, this makes it great for freelancers, agencies, and other service-based businesses with the ability to automate late payment reminders to customers, manage your different clients and projects with pricing that’s based on the number of active clients you have at a time.

Freshbooks is known for being user-friendly and providing stellar customer support when you need it, and is an easy choice if you sell services rather than products.

Price: $15 to $50 per month

3. Xero

accounting tools xero

Xero offers a wide breadth of accounting tools that include everything from bookkeeping to paperless expense management and the ability to get paid in over 160 currencies with automatic conversions and exchange rates updated hourly.

Xero lets you send invoices and quotes, as well as automatically reconcile your accounts, as you’d expect from a good accounting software. But the availability of inventory tracking and the ability to make purchase orders to your supplier on affordable plans makes it a good option if you are selling products online or offline.

Xero also offers you a directory of “Xero Champions” to work with—accountants and bookkeepers that specialize in different industries from retail to wholesale to professional services and more.

Price: $9 to $70 per month

4. Zoho Books

zoho books accounting tool

Zoho Books is part of the Zoho collection of business software that also includes a CRM, help desk and, in this case, bookkeeping applications. So if you are already using or plan to use other Zoho tools, particularly their CRM, it might make sense to use their business finance software too.

You get most of the features you’d come to expect from a bookkeeping software, plus time-tracking and other features that are perfect for selling services and not just products.

Price: $9 to $29 per month

5. Connector Apps

Getting your various software solutions to “speak” to one another can save you a lot of time and help you automate the transfer of data from one application to another or from you to one of your business partners.

That’s where “connectors” or integration apps come in.

The following connector apps let you seamlessly export product, payment, tax, and customer data with a single click, saving you from the monotony of manual data entry.

There are connector apps for:

Integration cloud solutions like Zapier offer a good alternative if you’re stumped to find a way to connect your different software or automatically update data in your spreadsheets.

Plus, you can also use the service to automate other workflows across your business.

6. SimplyCost

Without accounting for the cost of goods sold (COGS), you won’t be able to track the real profit you net from each sale or the true value of your inventory.

SimplyCost is a simple and affordable Shopify app that lets you generate profit-based reports based on cost of goods sold.

You can set the cost of your goods for specific variants and even time frames within your sales history to paint an accurate picture of your actual profit.

Price: $4.99 per month

7. Profiteer

Profiteer is another Shopify app that can help track COGS of your products and variants. It doesn’t integrate with accounting software directly but you can export a CSV report that shows the total cost of your inventory or even profits within a certain time frame.

You can even apply your cost pricing to your previous sales history.

It accounts for currency fluctuations as well, so that you have an accurate idea of your true profit at any given time if you don’t sell in USD.

Price: $15 to $30 per month

8. Xporter Data Export Tool

Xporter isn’t an accounting tool specifically, but it is a great way to create almost any kind of report you want by exporting your store’s data into an Excel file. It can also give you data and fields that you wouldn’t have access to in your store by default.

You can automate these reports to be emailed to yourself, your supplier, your accountant or anyone else who’s involved with your business on an ongoing basis.

In the words of one user:

“This app helps me generate reports any which way that I like. By date, country, fulfilled or not, product, and so much more. It is 100% customizable. I can use the Excel file (or CSV) to send to my supplier, or use reports for my own benefit.”

Price: $7 to $45 per month

Find an Accounting System That Works For You

Factors ranging from the size of your business, your industry, your employees, whether you sell products or services or both, among others, are important to consider when choosing an accounting system that works for your business and your budget.

If you don’t need all the extra features, such as payroll management, then you can choose a simpler solution that gets the job done. On the flip side, you might also want to consider software that’s able to scale with your business as you plan for growth.

As always, when investing in any software as part of your business’ technology ecosystem, it’s important to do your due diligence and know exactly what you’re paying for.

Building a Beautiful Online Store: 15 Design Experts Share Their Tips and Advice

Think back to the last time you bought something online.

Did you consciously think about the design of the site? Maybe not. If the design was doing its job, it wasn’t demanding attention. It was quietly allowing the products to shine, and helping you to make your purchase in the most seamless way possible.

Now, think about the last time you left an ecommerce store frustrated, abandoning your shopping mission before even reaching the cart. I’ll bet design was top of mind that time. Bad design is obvious, leaving customers confused and irritated, and costing merchants a sale.

It’s that important.

I’m not a designer. A little art school, and a lot of years of consuming culture have given me an appreciation for great design. But I can’t always put a finger on why it’s great. Or how the designer arrived at each aesthetic decision.

Ecommerce design involves more than just how the website looks—it considers how it works and the flow from one place to the next, how it tells a story and the mood it evokes. Ecommerce website design cares about the marriage between form (true-to-brand visual decisions) and function (a simple-to-navigate experience).

Ecommerce Website Design Best Practices

I spoke to 15 industry experts including designers, photographers, Shopify Experts, merchants, and the talented design teams here at Shopify. They lent me their years of experience to help curate the best tips, examples, and advice to help ecommerce merchants and newbie designers build brands on smart, thoughtful design.

Here are their words:

Mark Perini

Designer, Founder, Icee Social

“The first thing I do when I meet with a new client is to ask, “What do you want customers to feel when they come to your site?” It’s a question that inevitably sets clients a little off axis at first, but it’s vitally important. If you’re a fashion brand maybe you want people to feel inspired, if you’re a toy company maybe you want people to feel happy or excited. On the other hand, if you’re an accounting software company maybe you want people to feel secure or understood. Make sure that emotion or feeling is present throughout your entire site.”

What are some of the most common design mistakes you’ve noticed on ecommerce stores?

“By far and away the biggest mistake I see in ecommerce design is information overload. You’ll be tempted to showcase everything you have in your arsenal whether that be a plethora of information or a backlog of every product you’ve ever made.

While it’s true that there are going to be customers who want to see the entire history of your brand, those people are few and far between. Figure out what your top products are and give them a place of honor on your site.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

“One of my favorite, recently launched ecommerce websites that I worked on is Pinpaper Press. The reason I love this design is that it takes something that’s extremely complex and digital and still manages to come off simple and even human. Right from the homepage you know what the brand is about, and everything important is conveyed within the first five seconds of landing on the page.”

Helen Tran

Design Lead, Shopify

Consumers may not be able to articulate why something isn’t well designed but they can feel it when something isn’t done with intention. We are seeing the industry shift towards serving niche markets and niche markets demand that sellers understand their nuanced needs and desires.

Great design feels personable and reflects values. People resonate with that.

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer? What questions should they ask?

Be sure about what you need first. More seasoned designers will be able to design anything regardless of medium while novice designers tend to focus on one.

If you’re looking to do a brand redesign or pivot a company’s image, you’re looking for someone a bit more seasoned. If you’re looking for someone to do a website or an app, you’re looking for a designer with that specific skill-set.

Tell me about an ecommerce site that you love, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

Milk Makeup stands out to me. I think they did a fantastic job understanding their core demographic and how varied end consumers are.

Most makeup companies do a pretty poor job across the board. Usually what the end consumer sees is a product photo and a colour swatch. The consumer is then expected to understand how the makeup will look on their skin—it’s asking for industry-level knowledge from a consumer who has no reason to have industry-level knowledge.

Milk offered its products hand-in-hand with education (offering looks instead of simply shopping by product) and then supplemented it with videos on the product page showing how their products work on different skin tones.

Great design feels personable and reflects values. People resonate with that.

Josh Williams

Partner, W&P Design, powered by Shopify

“Designing a new ecommerce brand is a unique challenge, distinct from other types of branding mediums like packaging or print. People’s digital attention spans are growing shorter, so you need to be clear, concise and engaging in your brand’s message. From the moment someone arrives at your ecommerce store, they need to know where they have arrived and want to stay. This comes down to three key branding and UX elements:

  • Have a hook: answer the question ‘Who are you?’ and hit them with the quick answer right when they arrive to your store. Be as punchy and concise as possible.
  • Make it easy: read up on best UX practices and implement them ASAP. Customers’ expectations for ecommerce experience have gone up and you need to find a way to meet them without dumbing down or compromising your brand’s image.
  • Be consistent: make sure your shopper’s experience through the purchase process is consistent with your brand messaging.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecommerce websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

“I love Huckberry for their keen ability to tell compelling stories around the brands they work with. Pairing great content with products isn’t easy—you need to be careful about bogging down customers with too much of the story behind the products. There is always an extensive story behind any brand or product, but it’s up to the ecommerce retailer to parse through the details to get to the key message, and then translate that into a story with a clear call to action for the customer. Huckberry does a great job of that.”

Michael Wong

Designer, Founder of Mizko Media

“Design will either make or break your ecommerce brand. It’s that important. Your online store is the first touchpoint between you and your customers, and first impressions matter most.

You could probably get away with a poorly designed store back in the early 2000s. However, today’s consumer expectations have dramatically increased, while our attention span has dropped significantly. This means you have to do whatever it takes to really ‘WOW’ a potential customer within a few seconds.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecommerce websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

ASOS is probably one of my favourite ecommerce sites. Not only do they have well priced products, but the experience is great:

  • Their email marketing campaigns are always engaging and attention seeking; with short and relevant headlines.
  • Product images are high-res and clear. The use of models helps me visualize what their products look like in context.
  • Loading speeds are great and the web to mobile transition is seamless.
  • Lack of clutter: the website and app is very intuitive, clear, and concise.
  • Machine learning: they have utilized their data insights very well, always showing me relevant products that I actually would buy.”

Greg Moore

Interaction Designer, Google

“One of the keys to good design for a solid brand, especially in ecommerce, is understanding people (read: target market)—who this product or service is for, what they really want deep down, and why they will care about your product over others. It’s a designer’s role to take those user needs and use them as a toolkit to build a brand the user can trust.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

“I really dig the Nixon ecommerce site. They’ve got a great mix of lifestyle and product imagery and do a nice job of suggesting related products so the browsing experience feels exploratory with no dead ends. They also have an amazing support team on staff ready to answer questions about their products or checkout. Their communication style is casual, friendly and most importantly they know their stuff! The checkout flow is clean and simple, and Nixon will often will boost your cart with incentives like a free backpack to keep you feeling good while shopping.”

One of the keys to good design for a solid brand, especially in ecommerce, is understanding people.

Veronica Wong

Designer, Shopify

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer? What questions should they ask?

“Before you contact a designer, have a realistic budget in mind. Designers can often work within the constraints of the budget you have. If this is the first time you are hiring a designer and you are unfamiliar with how much your project might cost, ask the designer for their fees and politely ask them to explain it to you. It’s important to build trust in both directions.”

Shopify Themes are designed to be beautiful out of the box and easy to customize. Why then should merchants still consider working with a professional designer?

Shopify Themes are fantastic starting points, but they’re designed in order to satisfy large generalized types of merchants.

Merchants often pick the theme they like best but find it only reaches about 80% of what they want. Our merchants are so wonderfully unique and offer so many different types of products. It would be impossible to make themes that suit every single one of them! These are great opportunities to bring in a designer to think bigger than the themes we offer.”

What advice do you have for merchants on a budget, if they are unable to afford the services of a pro?

“Being a DIY-er myself, I’ve always tried to keep my own budgets low by doing things myself. Here are some resources that could help you do that:

Before you contact a designer, have a realistic budget in mind.

Loran Polder

Owner, Old World Kitchen

“It wasn’t until we made the switch from an Etsy shop to our first website that we realized the direct connection between ecommerce design and conversion rates. We made the switch to Shopify, and literally overnight conversions went up. We knew that it was hugely related to the professionalism of our new site. It definitely helped us build trust with our customers, and made their user experience better.”

Talk about some of the design choices you made when building your ecommerce store. Why did you make them? How do they impact customer experience?

“One design element we’ve always included on the homepage of our site is a slideshow near the top of the page. I love this feature because it allows us to show in just a few seconds all of the products we are really trying to promote, without the customer ever having to scroll or click around. We keep a fairly simple site, focusing mainly on the quality of our product and lifestyle photography.”

Did you hire a designer? Did you learn anything from that process?

“I have hired a designer to do one tiny tweak to the template we used, and everything else I’ve been able to do myself without any coding. That is a huge deal to me as the owner of a small business with a small budget. To me it makes sense that if I can do it myself then I can change it any time, and I have a lot more freedom.”

Jordy Heis

Fashion Ecommerce Consultant

“Great design versus good design can be your competitive advantage to help your business grow.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecommerce websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

Cienne has a great site, driven by well-styled photography, coupled with an on-trend colour palette. Large product images on product pages appear in a familiar “scroll down” sequence, mirroring the way their audience is used to behaving on social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. This offers a lesson for other brands to consider adopting ways of design or functionality that compliment their audience’s existing behaviour.

I also really like the unique, prominent placement of their referral program. These programs are usually squirrelled away in a footer menu somewhere, but Cienne has a dedicated header menu item intriguingly titled ‘Get $25’.”

What are some UX best practices for ecommerce?

“Online stores need to have a blend of both content and commerce to cater to new and returning visitors. New customers will often want to engage with your brand’s story to see if it aligns with their own values and beliefs, making your About page, lookbook, and blog powerful storytelling assets to build online trust and credibility.

Returning customers who already know and trust your brand have different needs and require search, product filtering, and deeper navigation functions so they can get to the checkout with the least possible friction.”

New customers will often want to engage with your brand’s story to see if it aligns with their own values and beliefs.

Amy Stringer-Mowat

Designer, Co-Owner, AHeirloom

“Good design can really mean instant credibility from both the front end and the back end of an online shop. Shoppers are drawn to professional looking pages—it gives them confidence in the product.”

Did you hire a designer? If so, what was that experience like? Would you recommend it to others? Did you learn anything from that process?

“We did hire a designer to update our website in 2014 and now we are in the midst of a re-launch. I would definitely recommend hiring one as they saw the way to total re-brand that we didn’t even realize we needed. When you are working daily on building an audience and getting traffic it takes a trained set of eyes to see your work in a fresh light. A professional designer is trained to see your brand as something bigger than your day to day work!”

Michael Brewer

Designer, Shopify

“Design is a language of quality. It’s important to portray the right vibe to your audience.”

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer?

Working with a designer who understands and believes in your business is key. Making a beautiful store is one thing, but creating a quality brand is another. That is what a professional does.”

What advice do you have for merchants on a budget, if they are unable to afford the services of a pro?

“Quality design doesn’t always need to be expensive. Simple pre-made graphics and relatable copy can go a long way.”

Design is a language of quality.

Anthony Spallone

Administrative Director, Arctic Grey, Inc.

“You can have the most beautiful design in the world, but if it’s difficult to use, potential customers will get frustrated and leave your online store almost instantly. To ensure the best conversion rates through design, it’s important to create clear and concise calls to action. I recommend having one main call to action per screen view, meaning one button per full screen scroll whether you’re on a desktop or mobile device.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

“With much reluctance in terms of having such a cliché choice, I’d have to say Apple has the best designed website. There are several things that make this site great:

  • Apple knows what to feature and when. The home page has a smooth slideshow featuring products based on popularity of sales. The home page is no more than a half scroll which almost forces you to click on something to go deeper into the site. This helps to avoid bounce rates which will help with your google ranking.
  • They make it very simple to get anywhere on the site within a few clicks. The menu bar is uncluttered and direct. When people are shopping online they tend to know what they’re going to be purchasing, so having an easy menu to navigate anywhere quickly is key.
  • The quality of their product photos is just amazing. Most of their images are 3D renderings which allow for the best quality shots every-time.
  • The way Apple lays out the options to customize your order is fantastic. They show you exactly what you’re purchasing using the actual product images, instead of swatches.
  • Apple’s use of parallax scrolling is like no other site. You see the glare off the product moves as you scroll down drawing you to focus even more on the product.”

Amy Fronczkiewicz

Photographer and Shopify Expert

Why is photography important in ecommerce design?

“Ecommerce businesses should never underestimate the importance of high quality photography of their products. Simply put, great photography sells merchandise and will boost success rates. Having powerful visual imagery on a website will not only attract customers and encourage them to purchase products, it also strengthens a brand image in the marketplace.”

What are some ecommerce sites that use design and photography in interesting ways? What can we learn from them?

Glossier, Hiut Denim, and Shwood are all very successful at combining both photography and design that engage customers and create a unique style for their look. Consistent quality photography establishes a brand’s identity and features product at its best. Through their visual content and design, these companies effectively create connection to their customers.”

Vinny Galiano

President and Project Lead, Minion Made

“Your customer will know within the first few seconds if they feel comfortable buying from you. Why buy from you when they know industry leading sites are secure? You must create a sense of security for your customers, giving them an overwhelming confidence in purchasing with you first and foremost.

Create a simple, user-friendly experience. Overwhelming content, menus, and imagery will lead to overwhelmed customers. A clean and efficient online experience will maximize on your chances of conversion. Focus on formula, then create a design to transcend your store, and parallel your branding.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

Mother Mantis is an online shop that we appreciate for its design. Even with over 16,000 products, the site’s design remains relatively simple through hidden menus or hamburger menus, clean and organized filtering, and mega menus while also having conversion optimization elements such as ajax cart dropdown for a simple purchasing process—all bundled up in a site that has a well-branded design that is cohesive on all devices and pages.”

Overwhelming content, menus, and imagery will lead to overwhelmed customers.

Jeremy Watt

Co-Founder, Province of Canada and Up Later Than You

Talk about some of the design choices you made when building your ecommerce store. Why did you make them? How do they impact customer experience, etc.?

“Our overall approach for design has always been minimal without sacrificing detail. We know our customers like a clean aesthetic but we always want to provide them with all the product education they need so they understand what they’re purchasing. This blend provides a somewhat boring experience but it’s also a gimmick-free experience.

Customers see a beautiful product shot, read the product details, and hit the add to cart button. The side benefit of this approach is a small percentage of customer questions and a small percentage of returns.”

Did you hire a designer? Would you recommend it to others?

“We’re lucky—our design team, who are actually our co-founders, are all in-house. If you can swing an in-house design team or at least one in-house designer, don’t hesitate to make that hire.”

Paul Pritchard

Designer, Shopify

“Design is how you establish trust with potential customers. If they see care in your design, they’ll know your products will follow suit. Trust is key in an online environment where customers can’t test out your products in person and the purchase needs to be made more on faith.”

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer? What questions should they ask?

“Define both what you want designed and why you want it. A good designer may think of better ways to address the why. Look at their portfolio, make sure you like it, and ask questions about why they made certain decisions on previous projects. You can get a good picture of what working with them will be like by reading into their answers.”

What advice do you have for merchants on a budget, if they are unable to afford the services of a pro?

“Put your time and effort into learning how to improve your product photography, everything else is secondary. Show your products from multiple angles, up close, and in the context they’ll be used. This will make a customer’s decision to purchase far easier.”

Put your time and effort into learning how to improve your product photography. Everything else is secondary.

7 Book Recommendations from Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans

7 Book Recommendations from Tim Ferriss's Tools of Titans [Giveaway]

It’s often said that we are the average of the people we spend the most time with. If your friends eat out a lot, chances are you don’t buy groceries very often. If your family spends more time reading than watching TV, chances are you do to.

So it follows, that, if you want to be more successful, you should spend more time with successful people. And reading Tim Ferriss’s new book, Tools of Titans, is a great way to start doing just that.

Over the years, Tim has interviewed tons successful people from a huge variety of fields on his podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show. Whether he’s speaking with a retired US Army general, a stand-up comedian, a tech company founder, or an Olympic coach, Tim delves into the secrets of their success that anyone can apply to their own lives and work.

Now, Tim has distilled all the key points from those interviews into a book you can easily reference any time.

It’s the kind of book you’ll want to keep on your desk for the next time you feel stuck and need a bit of inspiration. Want to know how Seth Godin thinks about money? Flip to page 238. Want Tracy DiNunzio’s advice on how to complain less? Flip to page 314.

Included among the countless stories, insights, and ideas are Tim’s guests’ personal book recommendations. Almost every expert interviewee was asked to share their favourite books, guaranteeing you won’t run out of things to read anytime soon. While you’ll need to check out Tools of Titans to get the full list, I’ve pulled out a few of my favourite recommendations, specifically tailored for entrepreneurs.

1. Invisible Selling Machine

Recommended by: Daymond John

Daymond John is CEO and founder of FUBU, a $6 billion lifestyle brand he started in 1992 with $40. Daymond has also won may industry awards and appears on ABC’s Shark Tank.

My parents always taught me that my day job would never make me rich. It’d be my homework.

Daymond’s book recommendations include Invisible Selling Machine by Ryan Deiss, a step-by-step guide to automating your entire sales process. A well structured sales funnel is the key to scaling your business and this book explains everything you need to know to do just that.

2. Stumbling on Happiness

Recommended by: Maria Popova

Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a content-rich website about living a more fulfilling life. It originally started as a weekly email to seven of Maria’s friends in 2006. Maria has also been published in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Wired UK.

Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honor that symbolizes work ethic, toughness, or some other virtue—but really, it’s a total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect.

Much of Maria’s work is about living a more fulfilling life so it’s not surprising that one of her recommendations included Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Written by a prominent Harvard psychologist, it includes ground-breaking research to demonstrate why we’re so bad at predicting what will make us happy—and what to do about it.

3. What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School: Notes From a Street-Smart Executive

Recommended by: Ramit Sethi

Ramit Sethi’s blog, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, dishes out regular advice on things like starting a business, improving your personal finances, and just generally winning at life. He’s also written a book by the same name.

My emails look like I am writing to you because I want to be your friend…at scale.

One of Ramit’s book recommendations is What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack. The author is credited with founding the modern-day sports marketing industry—his first client was golf giant, Arnold Palmer. In this book, he shares his advice on things like closing deals, being a more effective leader, and getting the most out of meetings.

4. The Willpower Instinct

Recommend by: Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal is an author and research affiliate at the Institute for the Future, but may be best known for her TED talks on games. She has been called one of the “Top Ten Innovators to Watch” by Business Week and her work has been featured in publications such as Wired and the New York Times.

I’ve learned an important trick: to develop foresight, you need to practice hindsight.

There’s no question that willpower presents a great challenge for all of us. It’s not an unlimited resource and when we’re tired, we make bad decisions, or feel unable to make decisions at all. Jane’s book recommendation, The Willpower Instinct, uses the latest research to help readers optimize their willpower for maximum output.

5. Ogilvy on Advertising

Recommended by: Noah Kagan

Noah Kagan was employee #30 at Facebook and #4 at Mint. Since then, he’s built his own company, SumoMe. Noah also teaches entrepreneurship through content and courses and has created several successful side businesses as case studies.

You have to ask for things and you have to put yourself out there.

Copywriting nerds will likely already be familiar with Noah’s book recommendation, Ogilvy on Advertising, written by one of the world’s most sought after advertisers David Ogilvy. This candid primer on all aspects of advertising is a must-read for anyone who wants to write more persuasive ads.

6. How to Be A Movie Star

Recommended by: Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho is an actress, comedian, fashion designer, and singer-songwriter. She has created a tremendous body of creative work and is well-known for her ability to quickly neutralize hecklers when she’s on stage.

I’m not the kind of artist that can go on autopilot.

Margaret’s book recommendation, How to Be a Movie Star by William J. Mann is a biography of the accomplished actress, Elizabeth Taylor. This biography follows the ups and downs of Elizabeth’s journey to stardom, with much to learn along the way.

7. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be

Recommended by: Casey Neistat

Casey Neistat is an New York-based filmmaker, YouTuber, and founder of Beme. His contributions to the film world have been significant, but what’s most impressive is how Casey built up his own success over time, having supported himself since the age of 15.

You can always work harder than the next guy.

As a self-made man, Casey is living proof that you don’t need to be born into wealth to become successful. His book recommendation, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, teaches a similar message. If you have big ambitions, hard work can get you there, and this book by Paul Arden has advice that will help—in an easily digestible format.

These seven book recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg. Tools of Titans features hundreds more book recommendations, insights, ideas, and success secrets for aspiring entrepreneurs.

How to Get Your First Sale In 30 Days: A Marketing Checklist For New Entrepreneurs

Whether you haven’t started marketing your new business or have been trying to get sales without any luck, getting your first real customer is a key milestone for every ecommerce entrepreneur.

But marketing takes time and it takes focus.

With literally hundreds of channels and tactics and different ways to promote your business, it can be hard to sift through them all to find the ones that make the most sense for your unique business and produce immediate results.

To add on to that, it’s easy to fall into the trap of tweaking your store endlessly in the pursuit of perfection, instead of investing that attention on the most important part: driving traffic to your store.

Why Traffic Is Especially Important For New Stores

As the owner of a new online store, it’s easy to fall under the “illusion of improvement”, changing brand colors, flip-flopping on fonts, second-guessing your pricing, and getting caught up in the details as you build a business behind closed doors.

Real improvement, on the other hand, is only possible when you expose your business to the world. You can’t really know what you’re improving unless you establish a benchmark that you can quantify through hard numbers. That’s why traffic is so important.

You won’t know if there’s any interest in your products if you don’t drive traffic.

You won’t know if your prices are too high if you don’t drive traffic.

You won’t know if your brand resonates with your intended audience if you don’t drive traffic.

That’s why I propose a challenge: If your store has already launched, spend the next 30 days focusing on driving traffic above all else.

To help you ramp up your marketing, I’ve organized some of the most widely applicable ecommerce marketing tactics into a checklist you can use to focus your efforts, along with beginner-friendly resources to learn how to execute them.

We’ll start this checklist with free, easy traffic sources to get warmed up, before moving on to more highly targeted marketing that might require you to invest some more time and money.

Take the 30-day first sale challenge.

Download this checklist and keep it on hand for the next 30 days, executing as many of these strategies as you can to drive as much traffic (and hopefully sales) as you can.

If a tactic doesn’t apply to your store and what you’re selling, skip it. If you’re selling computer keyboards, for example, Pinterest probably won’t be your first pick.

Be sure to set up Google Analytics in advance and keep a close eye on your traffic as you try each marketing tactic.

With that said, get ready to spend the next 30 days failing fast on your way to your first sale.

Free Traffic Sources: Going After the Low-Hanging Fruit

low hanging fruit traffic

The first sources of traffic you should consider exploring are the free ones that involve sharing your store manually with your network and relevant online communities.

Since these sources of traffic are so easy to create and are available to every online store owner, they’re a great place to start.

Keep the following tips in mind as you tackle these traffic sources:

  1. Consider offering a discount code to entice people to at least check your store out.
  2. Add your store URL to your personal online profiles (such as your Twitter bio or your Disqus profile for blog comments), so that every action you take online has the potential to drive traffic back to your store.
  3. Don’t spam the same audience repeatedly with low quality promotional messages.

Tap Into Your Personal Networks

1st sale quote

Many entrepreneurs get their first few sales from their personal connections and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So share your store on your personal Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts to announce it to your entire network.

Consider also emailing your closest connections directly to get the word out about your store’s launch. Explicitly ask them to donate a share—they don’t need to buy from you to show you their support.

While any sales you get this way aren’t going to be as satisfying as when you earn a complete stranger’s trust as a customer, this is a good way to solicit early feedback.

If you don’t get any sales from this, don’t be discouraged as this is the least qualified source of traffic in this entire list.

Recommended for: Everyone (since we all have friends/family/coworkers), but especially those who are already fairly active online with large personal networks on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Post on Forums, Subreddits, Facebook Groups, etc.

Don’t underestimate the value of putting a link to your store in the right place.

Forums like Reddit, and online communities like Facebook Groups represent an opportunity to reach people who have organized themselves around specific interests. Just do a search for interests that relate to your business.

Share a link to your store (perhaps with a discount code) in online communities and forums that your target customers frequent. You’ll have more success if you are already an active member.

Better yet, now that you’re officially embarking on your entrepreneurial journey, you can get help and support from other experienced entrepreneurs in the following communities:

Like I said, these are free sources of traffic and early feedback.

Recommended for: Stores that target specific interest groups, for example dog owners. However, anyone can take advantage of entrepreneur-focused support groups online to get great feedback from those who’ve been there and done that.

Paid Advertising: You Need to Spend Money to Make Money

paid advertising

Put simply, the best way to get targeted traffic quickly is through paid advertising.

The good news is that most paid advertising channels allow you to pay per click, and in some instances you can start with budgets as low as $10.

Each advertising platform is different, and you should choose these channels based on the kind of users you want access to and the tools they provide for you to reach them. If you’re targeting specific countries, you might even want to check out which social networks are popular in certain markets.

Before exploring paid social media marketing, be sure to populate your main profile’s feed with several posts (curating content is the easiest way), so it’s not barren of activity when visitors check it out.

If you’re having trouble, consider hiring Kit to help with your paid advertising efforts—a virtual employee that’s free until you make your 2nd sale.

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Kit can help you with that.

Kit has helped thousands of Shopify store owners market their online store. Kit handles Instagram and Facebook advertising, email marketing, and social posting to help drive sales and grow your business.

Hire Kit for free

Facebook Advertising

Facebook is one of the most popular social networks with the most diverse user base in terms of age, income, gender and ethnicity.

That’s why a wide range of brands can take advantage of Facebook advertising’s targeting options that include age, gender, job title, location, and interest to reach their ideal customers.

That last one—interests—is especially useful as you can use the pages that people have liked on Facebook as the basis to build psychographic profiles that determine who your ads reach.

Recommended for: Store owners that have a clear idea of who their ideal customers are and what they like. A store that sells t-shirts with pop culture references, for example, can easily find its audience on Facebook if you target people who expressed their interest in pop culture icons.

ReadAn Introduction to Facebook Ads for Ecommerce

Instagram Advertising

Instagram’s visual format and predominantly millennial audience aren’t the only appeals of the platform.

It also has one of the most highly engaged user bases among social networks, making it not only a great platform for influencer marketing (more on that later), but also for your regular unpaid posts to reach a good number of people if you use relevant hashtags.

But with Instagram advertising, you can display your own visual ad in others’ feeds to drive traffic to your store, among other goals.

Recommended for: Fashion, food, fitness and any verticals where being visual is a must. If you have high quality and enticing product photos, plus you want to market to millennials, give Instagram a try. 

Read: The Beginner’s Guide to Instagram Advertising

Pinterest Marketing

Pinterest is an often under-appreciated channel. But it’s also the one with the most clearly defined user base, consisting mostly (70%) of women, many of whom have disposable income. Plus, you can drive significant traffic through free and paid efforts.

The behavior on Pinterest is similar to scrapbooking wherein users create boards to collect and save “Pins” according to specific themes. It’s often used to plan events, save interesting articles, and curate wardrobes, so keep that in mind when you consider Pinterest.

From Promoted Pins to Buyable Pins, Pinterest offers a lot of tools that make it easy to market on.

Recommended for: Fashion, home decor, food, artwork, designs, and other verticals where visuals shine.

Read: 5 Powerful New Tools for Growing Your Business on Pinterest

Google AdWords

The first thing many people do when they want to buy something is search it up on Google. Google AdWords helps your site be there when they do so.

AdWords offers a few different options including text ads that show up prominently in search results, and Shopping Ads that show your product photo and price in a more purchasing-oriented format.

Do some keyword research to see how much search volume there is for terms that your target customers might be searching for.

Many people find AdWords intimidating because of i’s complicated interface, so consider hiring a Shopify Expert if you want to seize the opportunity, but would rather hand it off.

Recommended for: Trending products, local businesses, and products/services with high search volume.

ReadHow to Spend Your First $100 on AdWords

Outreach: Connecting With Existing Audiences

outreach tactics

Word about your brand won’t be very effective if it only comes from you. Thankfully, the internet has made it possible for anyone to build a platform and, as a result, for you to partner with them.

Not only do the following tactics help you drive traffic, but they often do so through the creation of a piece of content—a news story or a product review, for example—that helps you build your brand’s credibility online.

With each opportunity you successfully create with these outreach strategies, you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.

However, when you deliver you pitch to create these relationships, you need to constantly ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?”

Reach Out to Bloggers

1st sale quote

Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret about online content:

Publishers are always on the lookout for fresh content and stories to tell. 

With a solid pitch based on a good story or an interesting product, you can potentially win a spot on a blog or publication where the readers are your ideal customers.

Look for publications that overlap with your niche and trying pitching them about:

  • Writing a guest post: Sharing your expertise about a topic, using your author bio to describe and link to your business.
  • Asking for product reviews: Giving your product to a blogger for free in exchange for a review.
  • Pitching a news story: Using your compelling origin story or unique product as the hook for an interview-style piece.

Whatever you choose, your pitch needs to be interesting not just to the writer or editor you reach out to, but to their audience as well. Consider publications based on the right “fit” first, and look at the size of their readership second.

Recommended for: Entrepreneurs with interesting backstories, unique products that bloggers haven’t seen before, entrepreneurs with an expertise in their niche who can share it.


Seek Out Strategic Partnerships

Partnerships can be a great way to get your products in front of someone else’s customers.

The key here is to look for non-competitive and like-minded brands that already attract the kinds of people you’re looking for.

It can take some time and luck to find and create these opportunities, but the trade-off is you can get really creative with the nature of the partnership:

  • Run a contest with your product as a prize.
  • Package samples of your product or exclusive discounts with complementary products (e.g. a drink mix sample with every order of your partner’s water bottles).
  • Sponsor an event.

Recommended for: Entrepreneurs who are already connected to other entrepreneurs in their niche, have contacts at relevant organizations that don’t directly compete with them, or people with a knack for sales and business development.


Work with Influencers

Big brands aren’t the only ones that can harness celebrity endorsements to market their products.

You can work with influencers—creators with sizeable audiences in your niche—to tap into an existing fanbase for traffic and get some content created about your products while you’re at it.

Influencers exist on every channel from YouTube to Instagram. And while you can reach out to them directly to negotiate a deal, there are several influencer marketplaces that connect creators with brands:

  • Grapevine: One of the more popular influencer marketplaces.
  • Famebit: Endorsements start at $100, but influencers need a minimum of 5000 followers to list themselves here.
  • Crowdtap: Smaller in scale than the many others, this marketplaces lets you incentivize small content creation “tasks” with money and other rewards.

Recommended for: Fashion and technology products. There’s also ample opportunity for lifestyle brands to promote their products in the context of lifestyle photography by working with Instagram influencers in particular.


Guerilla Marketing

You don’t need to drive all your traffic online. If you’re struggling to make your early sales, take your marketing offline and spread the word yourself.

If you’re selling dog collars, for example, visit your local dog park and hand out flyers while you talk to people.

If you can easily turn your product into samples, consider giving some out for free. Or maybe run a pop-up shop?

Guerrilla marketing involves a combination of guts and creativity, but in the connected world we live in it’s never been easier to say, “Check out my website” to someone offline and see it translate into traffic online.

Recommended for: Local businesses or entrepreneurs who notice a place with the kind of offline traffic that attracts the kind of customers they want. It especially helps if you’re a people person with no problem putting yourself out there.

Analyze and Reflect: You’ll Get Better Every Time

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve tried enough tactics to see a jump in traffic, maybe even some sales.

This challenge is meant to be an exercise in creating a feedback loop, where you expose your store to traffic, set a benchmark for its performance, and then try to improve it.

So now you can begin diagnosing the problems with your store by looking at your analytics dashboard (both in Shopify and Google Analytics), as well as the feedback you’ve gotten from aggressively promoting your store.

There are a number of reasons customers might not be buying from you and you can make informed guesses based on how your traffic behaves:

  • If you have a high bounce rate—that is, visitors coming to your site and leaving immediately—your traffic might be low quality or your store might take too long to load (you can test the latter here).
  • If none of your visitors added products to their cart, it might be that you haven’t achieved product/market fit (in which case you need to find the right niche or try different products). Or maybe they just don’t trust your store enough to buy.
  • If you have a lot of abandoned carts during checkout, maybe you need to reconsider your shipping.

Based on these learnings, you can start changing things about your store so you’ll have a better chance when you have your go at another round of marketing.

If you’re in the mood for more marketing ideas, check out our guide: 50 Ways to Make Your First Sale.

You Need to Get Out There to Grow

Driving traffic is all about connecting the dots between your brand and your buyers in a world of ever-growing possibilities. That’s partly what makes marketing so overwhelming—the fact that there are just so many opportunities out there.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Exploring, trying, failing, and improving is the only way to find out what works for you.  So get your store out there, because it’s the only way to grow.