Six of My Online Stores Failed. One Didn’t. Here’s What I Learned.

six of my online stores failed one didnt

Five years ago when I first started selling online, all I wanted was a mentor to help me achieve success.

Unfortunately, with my measly $30k salary and the average mentors’ sky-high five-figure rates, I knew I couldn’t afford one.  

So, I had to learn how to succeed the hard (and super slow) way. I was left with no choice but to learn from experience.

This is basically what I’d tell my 25-year-old, bright-eyed self if I could go back in time.

Six of My Online Stores Failed. One Didn’t. Here’s What I Learned.

#1. Ignore the Headlines, It’s Not Easy

Hey you, heard you just quit your job to start a business. That’s exciting. But maybe you shouldn’t have jumped ship from that 9 to 5 just yet. I know there’s a ton of passive income blogs out there showing people making six figures, but that stuff just doesn’t happen overnight. You’re about to build your first business. The odds of achieving success your first try are stacked against you.

That doesn’t mean you’ll never make your dreams happen. Because you’ve got heart and I know you won’t quit. But you haven’t built up any real experience yet. I think you might’ve underestimated how much work is going to have to go into this. A lot of people will tell you to hustle. But hustle just doesn’t cut it. You need to be obsessed with this business. Even more obsessed than you were with Ryan Gosling when The Notebook came out.

You’re going to be building a lot of businesses over the next few years. Some will fail, others will flourish. But entrepreneurship is a patience game. Don’t put all your expectations in your first store. And most importantly, don’t give up after that first one fails. The secret to success is to keep building upon your experience. And so that means, keep on building. You didn’t need to quit your job to build something. It’s a lot easier to start it by building on the side.

#2. Don’t Pay for Something You Can Get for Free

Hey you, heard you just spent $2,500 on online courses, business books, and conferences. That’s a whole lot of dough to spend on education. Sure, you’ll learn some valuable stuff in everything you read and watch. But there are plenty of great online resources that are completely free that you can check out too.

Have you checked out Shopify Academy, which breaks down how to successfully build a dropshipping business for free? Or watched one of Shopify’s short but impactful webinars?

There are also millions of great blogs out there. If you read enough of them, you’ll suss out the great content from the crud. Plus, YouTube can also be a great place to learn more about starting an online store. Free education isn’t bad education. It might be a bit more work to organize. But you’d save some money that could be reinvested into your business.

#3. Don’t Create More Than One Store at a Time

Hey you, heard you launched four different stores this week. Does that mean your first store immediately took off? No? Then, why the heck are you launching another store?

You’re getting overly excited about the building process, but that’s not the part that makes money. I think you should consider zeroing in on one store.

I know, I know, you don’t know which store will succeed best. But by building several stores at once, I can already predict which one will fail. You’re not going to like the answer though, because it’s all of them.

If you want to win, you need to have focus. Building one store is actually a lot of work. It’s more than just adding products to your website, more than creating a Facebook ad, and more than occasionally posting on social media. You need to get obsessed with building your store’s blog to keep your acquisition costs low, post on social several times a day, and experiment with ads/emails/products. Those three things alone will eat up more than enough of your time. And they’re definitely not the only things you need to do.

#4. Don’t Neglect the Most Important Thing

Hey you, you’ve been in marketing roles for a few years now, but I’ve noticed that you’ve been neglecting that very thing. Success in ecommerce basically comes down to choosing the right product and marketing it. You’re not going to make any money if you never get your product out to the right people.

Why are you suddenly so afraid of marketing your store? It’s okay if your first few ads failed. Mine did too. You just need more practice. How about you try putting some content on that blog of yours? Have you tried sending your first email out to your list? I see that it’s been growing steadily, kinda like that plant you finally remembered to water!

How about you reach out to some influencers or fan pages and pay for a shout-out. It’s at least worth a try. In the meantime, don’t forget to keep experimenting with ads. I know it can be a lot of work in the beginning. But practice makes perfect!

#5. You’ve Got to Get Your Finances in Check

Hey you, heard you’re breaking even on all your shout-outs from that one influencer. So, why do you keep working with them?

Just because you’re getting sales doesn’t mean you’re on track to building a successful business. You need to consider profitability too. Take a look at all your costs and how much money you’re bringing in to make sure you’re actually making money. Because it sounds like you’ve got a major loss right now.

Are you charging enough for your products to account for your expenses? It might be time to try charging at a 3-5x multiple of your product cost.

Have you been trying lower your marketing costs? Because that could really help, too. Maybe it’s time to try affordable, long-term strategies like SEO instead of expensive, short-term wins like advertising and influencer marketing, especially if you’re selling products in a steady niche. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Once you’ve built up some cash flow, reinvest that money back into your business.

#6. Choose a Niche With a High Search Volume

Hey you, I finally created my first successful store. Remember how that narrow niche you were in resulted in so few sales? I decided to do the opposite and found success. Woo-hoo!

The strategy was to choose a niche so big that it had trending products within it. That way, I could benefit from having a niche that would stand the test of time. However, since it has trending products, I can also benefit from the sudden rush in sales from selling something trendy.

When choosing a niche, choose something with high search volume. I chose yoga which had 1.83 million monthly searches. You don’t have to choose the same thing. All you need to do is find something that gets hundreds of thousands or millions of searches a month. Then, you need to experiment with different products to find out what your home run best-seller is. But even after your best-seller has slowed down in popularity, you’ll at least still have a niche that will continue to have other best-sellers. You just need to be willing to always be on the lookout for them.

#7. Sell Impulse Buy Products You Can’t Find in Stores

Hey you, remember when fidget spinners were all the rage? Do you remember what killed those online sales? It was because you could buy them anywhere.

What’s the secret to selling a winning product? First, you need to make sure it’s an impulse buy product. Second, you need to make sure it’s not mainstream enough that someone could just buy it locally.

My best-selling product was a beach blanket, and boy did they sell like hot cakes. Thing is, no one was able to find them at a local store, so when they saw my ad they’d impulse buy from our website without doing any further research.

Sure, occasionally people would mention that they found it on Amazon cheaper. But that didn’t stop me from getting almost 11,000 orders (we were one away from hitting that number).

So what does an impulse buy product look like? Imagine you’re scrolling through your feed and suddenly you stop. What do you see? You see colors that pop on the screen, instantly catching your attention. The person in the photo reminds you of you. The product is different than anything you’ve seen. It’s something you’d never realized you’d ever want or need. But as soon as you see it, you know you need to have it.

#8. You’re Not Going to Realize You’re on The Right Track Until You’re Deep Within It

Hey you, you know that bestseller on your store? I know you don’t see it yet, but that product is going to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. I know the $2k in sales it’s made so far doesn’t seem like much right now. But you need to keep experimenting with your marketing. Keep testing different ad sets with Facebook ads. Try retargeting your blog traffic. Keep posting pictures on social media. Get some influencers to take photos you can use in exchange for a free product.

The truth is sometimes you can be on the right track and have no idea. You might be too early in the process. That $2k month you have will eventually turn into a $70k+ month. But the thing is you need to keep executing, marketing, and getting your products in front of customers to ever get to that level. A few months from now, you’ll start to see that you’re on the right track. But for now, all you need to do is focus on getting that product in front of even more people.

#9. Start with One Channel and Expand

Hey you, it’s me again. Remember how you used to try a little bit of everything to see what would stick? Well, with this new store, I experimented with the opposite strategy and it’s been a game-changer.

When it comes to marketing, instead of trying to master every social platform and marketing tactic, focus on one to start. Let’s face it, you’re doing this alone and have enough on your plate. You’ll eventually expand into other channels, but focus on one for now.

If you want a higher engagement and click through rate, try Instagram. If you want to run ads on an impulse buy product, master Facebook. Marketing search based products, play the long game and optimize your website and write a TON of blog content for your niche.

Choosing a strategy can help you find success, but it’s going to take a few months for you to have an impact. So pick a channel, study your competitors’ strategies on that channel meticulously, post often, and get better over time. You’re going to suck in the beginning, but hey we all do.

#10. Try Retargeting Blog Traffic

Hey you, remember the days when you’d constantly struggle to get your first sale? I learned this new trick, tried it out, and it worked!

Content marketing can be a powerhouse at driving traffic for a website. So start building out your blog with a long-term strategy in mind. Write content around certain keywords several times a week.

But if you’re looking for immediate returns, write an article featuring quotes from influencers in your niche. For example, if you’re selling yoga products, you’d write an article like “25 Inspiring Yoga Quotes from B.K.S. Iyengar.” Since Iyengar started a type of yoga but is no longer living, you can’t reach out to him. However, you can reach out to social media followers and those who mention Iyengar yoga in their posts. Before you reach out to them, set up a Facebook pixel on your website. Then, create a Facebook retargeting ad for $5. After that, you’ll want to reach out to groups that cater to that influencer. Since your article seems like a fun read, is relevant to the audience, and doesn’t mention your products in it, people are more likely to share it. And that retargeting ad will end up having a crazy high ROI for you because you’re retargeting content instead of a product. Plus, since you’re reaching out to niche influencers, you know that you’re driving the right type of traffic back to your website. This strategy will help you get your first few sales.

#11. Optimize Your Product Page

Hey you, you know how you love designing stores? Well, I found a way you can do that but in a way that actually helps you get more sales.

You can have the best ad in the world, but if your product page sucks (considering that it’s also your landing page) you’ll be met with a $0.00 in your sales report. I’ve been testing different ways to optimize your product page. You know countdown timers? Well, they definitely work. I accidentally removed it from my store yesterday because I thought it looked unprofessional. It resulted in my lowest sales day this month! And immediately after I added it back, sales skyrocketed.

We also decided to add Spin A Sale as an exit intent and it’s helped skyrocket our email list. Sales also started rolling in from people using the discount codes. Doing these two things helped us us better optimize our store for conversions. And the sales have been growing astronomically.

#12. Email Customers After The Sale

Hey you, after mastering Facebook ads a bit, I finally tried something different: email. We’re still bootstrapping so we decided not to email our massive list. Instead, we decided to only email people who’ve already bought from us once. We sent them these exact email campaigns and made an extra $6504.82. Pretty impressive considering they were all repeat customers.

Since our list was small, we were able to get by with the cheapest email plan keeping our costs low. And since they had already bought from us before, they were less hesitant to buy from us again. The coolest thing, though, is that we usually showed them other styles of the exact same product. So they were buying duplicates of what they had already originally purchased. Since we knew they purchased our beach blankets, we showed them more, and they bought more too! So don’t forget to give your customers more of what they like rather than trying to introduce them to something totally different.

#13. Making Your First Hire

Hey you, guess what? I just hired our first two freelancers. My sales have been skyrocketing and I can’t keep up with all the work. My first hire is helping by posting on social media and our second hire is helping by processing orders for our store. How cool!

There was a very minor bump that happened. My new social media hire shared some offensive body shaming content on our page. I had an important talk about inclusivity and his content has been improving ever since.

He helped us grow to over 50k Facebook followers. When managing new hires, remember that they start out just like you did. Remember all those mistakes you made when you were starting out? Well, they make mistakes because they’re just starting out too. Be patient, act like a mentor, and lead by example.

#14. Order Products from Different Suppliers

Hey you, before you start selling products, there’s something you should alway remember to do: order product samples. I don’t care if you sell 30k products on your store. You should never sell anything to a customer without knowing what they’re getting. Today you might look at your store as a way to make money online. However, once you start making six figures, you’re going to wish you had put more care into your store’s branding and reputation. You’ll minimize negative feedback and returns by ordering a sample of each product. Ask yourself these questions: Does the product look like the picture? Would I feel guilty selling this product? Does this product work? Will this product’s clothing size fit my target audience? The plus side is that you can also take your own product photos to better optimize your product pages.

#15. Don’t Give Up

Hey you, the real reason I’m sharing all these lessons with you is because I know some days you’ll feel like giving up. Entrepreneurship is hard. Even when I experienced my biggest wins, it’d sometimes follow up with an upsetting loss. There are moments when you’ll feel proud of what you’ve accomplished. And other times you’ll be embarrassed to answer the question, “So how’s your business doing?”

But all those mistakes adding up bring you so much closer to becoming a greater success. So don’t be afraid to fail. And don’t be ashamed of your setbacks. They’re all short moments in the grand entrepreneurial experience. One day you’ll look back and think to yourself, “I was so crazy for trying that. But it sure was one helluva a ride.”

You’ll never regret trying but you’ll always regret holding yourself back. So take risks. But most importantly, have fun building.

Conclusion

The secret to building a successful online store is to keep building. You’re going to have some epic failures under your belt. You’re going to make some big, fat mistakes. You’re going to lose some money. But all those lessons and skills you learn along the way build up on top of each other, making you a better entrepreneur. Eventually, you learn what makes money and what doesn’t. Whether you’re currently working a 9 to 5 job or working on a completely different side hustle, don’t discredit the skillset you build up. Your future success is built from the skills you learn from everything you experiment with and every job you ever hold.

When it comes to running an online store what’s been your biggest mistake and biggest win? Comment below!

Want to learn more?

Start using Oberlo today

All accounts have access to the forever free Starter Plan

Sign Up Free

Oberlo uses cookies to provide necessary site functionality and improve your experience. By using our website, you agree to our privacy policy.