I was in Miami for a couple of days last week for Sellers Summit and the finals of 5 Minute Pitch. Without putting out any spoilers, we’ve already picked a winner this season. I’m excited to meet with this person again to fulfill that mentoring session that comes as part of the prize.

For a show that’s on its initial run, we’ve had many interesting business ideas go through. One of which was from Jon Ford.

A Relaxing Hobby Turned Profitable Business

A firefighter by trade, Jon’s quest for a relaxing hobby has turned into a full-fledged business. He is the proud owner of SheaGarden Handmade, an online store that sells handmade soap.

Jon’s winning personality and passion for his product are proving to be quite a hit with customers. However, being a solopreneur with a full-time job can take its toll. In this episode, we identify Jon’s main struggle and I provide tips on how he can get past that.

Doing Marketing Right

From producing to pricing his handmade soaps, Jon’s got a lot on his plate. He wants to find a way to market his products more effectively.

You’ll often hear Dave and I talk about many different marketing strategies. But I’d like to emphasize that we don’t use all of them. And this is the first tip I gave Jon – choose one or two of these to try out for your business.

Tune in to the entire podcast for the full discussion and maybe learn a trick or two on how to leverage some out-of-the-box strategies to grow your own ecommerce store.

If you’re interested in getting onsite advice from Mike and have your business featured on the podcast, sign up for the EcomCrew Roadshow today!

Catch the latest episodes of the 5 Minute Pitch on YouTube. Join season two by filling out and submitting the application form.

Finally, if you enjoyed listening and think this episode has been useful to you, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. Happy selling!

Full Audio Transcript

Intro: This is Mike and welcome to episode number 252 and hello from Miami, Florida. I’ve been here for about a week, did the Seller’s Summit mastermind, did Seller’s Summit presentation, did a Seller’s Summit roundtable, did the finale of Five Minute Pitch, hung out with my Mastermind crew here, the ones that live in Miami and a whole bunch more. It’s been a very eventful week. From here, we’re heading off to Mexico City doing some personal travel for a couple of days for the Memorial Day weekend. And then it’s back to San Diego. 

It’s been a long trip. As a part of this trip, we did Seattle to go visit my buddy Grant, who used to do the podcast with us. I went over to Hong Kong, spoke at Global Sources Summit, went over to the Philippines office for a couple weeks, went over to Japan for a couple of days to transfer just where the airline miles tickets worked out and then off to Miami. It’s been a whirlwind. Tail end of it, we’re tired, we’re jetlagged still, but it’s been a great trip. It’s been a really, really just eventful and satisfying trip just meeting with all the friends that we’ve made in e-commerce. It’s been a lot of fun. 

Its at a point where we know people all over the world. And it’s kind of cool, being able to meet people in different circumstances and doing some cool different stuff. And the talks have been going really well which has been fun as well. And speaking of Five Minute Pitch, which we just did here in Miami, the finale happened. I’m not going to tell you who won because the episode of that hasn’t come out yet. But man, what a rewarding experience this was. It was live in a room here with about 70 people in the audience from Sellers Summit, somebody won a $50,000 check. I’m really excited about how this is going to change their life. It just was an incredible experience. 

The thing that was tough about it, it was one of these things where it was awesome and heartbreaking at the same time because we had someone who won $50,000, but there were people who didn’t win. And just the look on their face and just the disappointment you can see and it’s easy to say everybody is a winner and all these cliché things. And I think that they are certainly, but there only could be one winner. And that was tough. It really was. It was definitely, it was tough knowing that not everybody can win. 

So maybe next year, we might think about things and how we could do that a little bit differently. There were some interesting circumstances around how some of the people who finished in second or third place let’s say, had some cool things that came out of it. And sometimes you think you’re aiming for one goal and it turns out that another thing is what comes out of it. And one of the guest judges that we had, became kind of friends with one of the people that didn’t win and I thought that that was cool. And just the experience of being there and being able to make friends with all of us and us to make friends with them was definitely cool. 

But I’m excited to see those episodes come out. The finale, I’m excited to meet the winner in person in Austin later this summer, the four of us. The main judges are going to do a promised mentorship with the winner. And I think that that what comes out of that and what comes out of Five Minute Pitch can be really cool. And maybe this is one of these things where what our original goal when we set out to it will maybe be different the outcome in terms of what we get out of it might be different than what we originally set out. So that’s definitely neat. 

And speaking of Five Minute Pitch, I thought it would be the perfect timing to bring a Five Minute Pitch contestant onto the show. So Jon, who was one of the contestants that we all fell in love with, he makes some handmade soap. He is a firefighter and it was just a cool story. You got this firefighter dude, doing something, making handmade soap, something that you stereotypically would pay on a woman doing which I’m not saying that obviously,  good, bad or indifferent. I think the thing that’s neat about the day and age that we live in; that stereotypes are finally being broken. 

And this guy has done some really cool stuff. He just became a fan favorite. He’s a really cool story. And it shows you how branding and doing something different or something out of the box can really help launch a whole business. And that’s what’s happened with him. So hope you guys enjoy this episode with Jon. I certainly enjoyed doing this with him. I enjoyed having him on the show. And I think you guys are going to enjoy it as well. So without further ado, let’s get Jon on EcomCrew Podcast. 

Mike: Hey Jon, welcome to the EcomCrew Podcast.

Jon: Hey, man, nice to see you again.

Mike: Definitely. So we met each other through the Five Minute Pitch. 

Jon: Yeah.

Mike: And for those of you who are new to the podcast, Five Minute Pitch was a collaboration that I did with Steve Chou, Greg Mercer, Scott Voelker, and a weekly guest judge, where we’re kind of elimination style, getting down to a final winner that’s going to get $50,000. And it’s just a prize, it isn’t like an investment in their business and definitely excited to be doing that live on stage in May, not sure exactly when this podcast is going to come out. But as of recording this podcast, we got to kind of keep some of the results under wraps. So we won’t talk much about that. But I am curious how your experience was with that Jon, what did you think of coming on the show?

Jon: I mean, first of all, I thought it was really cool. I’ve kind of been following you guys for a long time. When I first started getting into e-commerce, of course I needed some experts. So looked up Steve Chou, looked at EcomCrew. I knew a little bit about Greg Mercer and everything. And I just kind of — I needed some input, I needed some feedback and everything so I’ve listened to the podcast for a while. So once the contest started, I’m like, hey, that’s me. This is where I need to be, I need to enter it. 

I had no aspirations whatsoever to winning the thing. But I figured I can learn something, and maybe kind of put my name out there and put my business out there. So it was a lot of fun right from the beginning. And of course, still enjoying, and I enjoy watching the other people and their pitches. There’s a lot of SaaS businesses out there, there’s people that have physical products like I do. Some of them kind of close to what I do, some of them very far off, but I’m enjoying seeing the variety.

Mike: There’s definitely been a huge variety on there. And there’s been some, I mean, for what it is, Season One of doing this with us not having a lot of exposure going into it, we have some pretty amazing businesses and ideas come through there, including yours, which I don’t know, all of us kind of we’re kind of just drawn to you and your story and your personality and what you’re doing there. So let’s talk a little bit about that so people have some context of what it is that you sell and what your business is.

Jon: Okay. So basically, I mean, I’m a full time firefighter. I work 24 hours shifts. I’m off for 48 hours. So it’s a pretty relaxed schedule. When I’m on shift, it can be physically and emotionally taxing work, but I have a lot of time to recover. So like with most firemen, a lot of them will do side jobs, some of them work two fire departments, or the ambulance of course, I’m a paramedic as well. And a lot of them just do a lot of different hobbies. So when I was looking for hobbies and things to do on the side, I wanted something relaxing. My job can be very chaotic. It can be bloody, it can be messy, it can be like I said, physically taxing. 

So I’d like to do something that was relaxing that just take my mind away from what I was doing for that 24 hours. So I like to put my hands on things, do a lot of woodworking, different projects and things, arts crafts, especially something my kids can get involved with. So that’s where I got into doing handmade soap. Of course, I like skincare products, I’ve been using shea butter for years, that’s where the name came from Shea Garden. I get my shea butter imported from Africa. I used it long before I ever heard of any handmade soap. I’d rub it on my skin, I’d rub it on my head, I’ve used it — I mean, you can put this stuff in your hair, you can even eat shea butter, there’s so many things you could do with shea butter. 

So it was naturally just a good product that I could put in soap. So that’s what I started doing. I tried out my first loaf; it came out great, perfect the first time. I’ve used up the whole thing. I had like 10 bars in one loaf and I have used them all, my friends use them. And so I started making a couple more loaves. And my friends really liked them, my family liked them and of course, I liked them. And I just kept doing that. And the more loaves I made, the more people wanted. And then of course, they had ideas, hey, why don’t you make this scent? Why don’t you make this exfoliant or make this, that, whatever. And that’s what I did. I just kept trying new things. And it turned from a hobby to eventually, a business.

Mike: Very cool. So a little budding side business you have now is hopefully eventually something that will let you do that full time. Is that kind of the goal or is it you want to just kind of always have it as a side business? 

Jon: I think absolutely full time. There’s a lot of plans I have for the future with this business and with e-commerce. That being said, I really love the fire department. Most firefighters that you talk to will tell you it’s the best job in the world. It’s very rewarding. It’s very taxing, but getting to help people, being able to get out there and in the middle of the chaos and be able to come out with something good, whether we save somebody, whether we just or save a structure or just have a lot of fun in the process, it’s very rewarding. So I’d probably stay in firefighting for any foreseeable future. But as far as e-commerce goes, I would love to keep moving with the soap and the natural skincare products. But at the same time, as with most professionals that I’ve seen people like you, Mike, people like Steve Chou people like…

Mike: Woah, woah, woah, you just called Steve Chou professional.

Jon: Absolutely.

Mike: That’s a stretch man, I don’t know.

Jon: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, where would I be without you guys? I mean, you guys are definitely, you guys are the pros. You guys are professionals. I mean, you guys are telling me where I’m at, but you guys teach people to do what you did. And I appreciate that about you guys, because it’s not just a matter of — you’re not out there just trying to make money, hey, I’m going to teach people so that I can make money. It’s not about that. I see that you guys have seen where people struggle where you might have struggled and had a hard time getting started. So you’re out there helping people like me to get this going. So I would love to do the same thing in the future.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, you’re dead on. I mean, it’s funny you were talking about the reason you like being in the fire department, obviously you get to help people and do those things. I’ve heard people say this stuff all the time throughout my life, and always even thought it was BS, or just didn’t quite relate to it until doing EcomCrew. I mean, it’s been definitely really rewarding that part of it. I feel like now it’s kind of like my calling and something I’ve been investing a lot more time into. And in fact, I can’t think of a better segue to get into what we really want to talk about today, which is how can I help you with Shea Garden and your business? And what questions do you have for me? You got half an hour of my time right now to just ask away anything I can do to help I’m happy to do.

Jon: Mike, I appreciate this so much. I was always hoping in the future that I can kind of network with some people that have been through my struggles and seeing what I’ve seen and found out how to come on the other side of this a winner. So there’s so many struggles I’ve dealt with. Right now, the biggest problem that I have is, first of all, I’ve got my hands in so many things. I do the products 100% myself, I make them, I package them, I do the labels, I do the shipping, I do everything. So I want a quality product like it is and I want to continue to be a quality product. 

But that being said, what I need is marketing. I need influencer marketing. I need to blog, I need to reach out to others that are in this space, in this business and I’m having a hard time with that. Upwork, they charge so much for a lot of their stuff. Fiverr, I’ve kind of just recently been getting into them a little bit. But it’s hard to know where and what to pay for and what to buy. So, I don’t know, just like where do I start? What should I, kind of, focus on?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, that’s a tough one, obviously, because there’s just so many things that you can focus on. And when you’re in this solopreneur mode, and you have another job, this is obviously the toughest part of any business, not just manage an online business. I think an e-commerce business on top of that makes it even a bigger struggle, because you’re actually making the product and you’re shipping the product, as you said, and doing all this stuff. 

So, I would pick one or two things and focus on that. You’ll hear about hundreds of different things on our podcast or Steve’s podcast or Scott’s podcast, like we’re all talking about all these ways that you can grow and innovate your business. And the tendency is to want to go out and do them all and not realize that the people that are talking about those things are either only focusing on one or two things themselves, or they have a team of, in my case, 15 people that can help with all those things, right. 

So it’s you got to be able to not compare, I keep using the saying all the time of not compare your first step with someone else’s hundred. You got to kind of look in your lane and what you think differentiates you and your company and how you’re going to go about getting business. And there’s tons of ways to do that. I mean, from just doing something simple as listing the stuff on a third party platform like an Etsy, which I know you already sell on or Amazon, even eBay. Those are great ways to get your initial sales because they already have the traffic, so you’re not having to leverage or do all these different things. You can leverage their traffic and not have to figure out the marketing angle as much. You can focus on getting the products made and getting them out the door and get those initial sales that can help you invest in your business moving forward. 

That would probably be the way that I would go about it. And I think that I have this other thing I always talk about is like you always have to be training your replacement no matter what you’re doing in life, whether you’re in a 9-to-5 job or an entrepreneur, whatever. So right now, the things that you know how to do well, I think that those are the things that kind of focus on potentially passing off to somebody else, instead of going out to Upwork and getting help with marketing, eventually figuring that out on your own, and getting someone else that you can pay locally to help make the products and do pick, pack and ship. 

Because the problem with the marketing stuff is it’s so easy to pull the wool over someone who’s inexperienced, pull it over their eyes. Because if you don’t have the ability to call BS on somebody, then you’re just going to have to agree with whatever they’re telling you. Whatever crap they’re putting down your throat, you don’t know if what they’re telling you was legit or not. And I think that that’s important. So for me, I find it to be important to know, to understand, have a basic understanding of all the aspects of my business. 

I don’t want to do all the aspects of my business because that would be impossible at this stage. But when someone is coming to me with a problem or a complaint, or a gripe or whatever, I can call BS on them if I think that they’re full of it. And if I don’t understand what they’re talking about, I feel like I can be shamed in my own business. And so those are some things I would digest and think about for you.

Jon: I see, you touched on as far as Etsy versus Amazon or my own dot com website. So that’s another question I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I’ve found success with Etsy. It’s actually, it’s been increasing, it’s doing better and better. Of course with Etsy, you could actually — as soon as you pull it up, it’ll tell you how many sales I have and how many reviews I have. So like right now, I’m a little over 400 sales, and I think I’ve got about 130 plus five star reviews. So it’s doing well, I’m happy with it. That being said, of course, they own me, they own shea soap garden, so of course that could fail tomorrow. They’re not as bad as probably Amazon is about their customer; they’re really good with the sellers. So I think I have a long term future with Etsy. 

That being said, they own the business. So I need to get my traffic moving on the website, of course, eventually. So where would you focus? Would you keep pushing Etsy, keep pushing it and get it better and better and get those sales up, get the reviews up, or would you kind of slack off on that a little bit and start focusing really on the dot com website?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, based on all the information I know, I’m coming at this with a little bit of an advantage, because we did talk a few months ago during the filming of Five Minute Pitch. And so based on the size of your business, which is still relatively small, and the fact that you’re a solopreneur, my recommendation, pretty strong recommendation would be to continue to focus on Etsy to actually– even though they own your platform, or your business “they own your business,” I would also work on Amazon as well. Because here’s the thing Jon, I mean, in order to launch your own website, there’s another whole set of skills that you have to acquire that I’m confident that you can do, there’s no doubt that you’re a bright guy and a go getter, you’ll figure all that out. But it’s just a lot to do while you’re also trying to grow this budding business. 

So what we did with ColorIt, I mean, I would follow the same exact framework that we used there, which was, we were selling actually on Etsy ironically, because we had the coloring books that we were selling on Etsy, we still do, and we were selling on Amazon. And we were doing like a million dollars a year before we launched ColorIt.com. And what I did was I put ColorIt.com there, which is kind of like a park page, it said, ColorIt.com is coming soon. If you’re interested in knowing more about ColorIt or finding out about products as they launch, give us your email address basically. Otherwise, click here to go shop for our products on Amazon. 

And I also had Google Analytics on the site. So what I did was I just waited until there was traffic already naturally coming to ColorIt before we launched. Otherwise, what’s going to happen is you’re going to launch to crickets, you’re going to launch this website, you put all this effort and work into it to get the website up and running, and without any source of traffic, you’re not going to have any sales. And that’s one thing that Etsy and Amazon provide is that initial sales volume that you can use to generate some revenue and all that. And I would just focus on that until you really have enough revenue to diversify and worry about growing that other part of your business.

Jon: Yeah, that makes sense, absolutely. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve got, what I found so far with Etsy. And it really, it seems like Etsy is kind of an untapped market. I’ve seen people on Etsy that have got 10,000 sales and whatnot. But most of your Etsy sellers, you’ll find them in that range where I’m at or even lower, 100, 200 sales. When you search for your products there, you’ll find most of them in that range. So I think that Etsy can be a strong platform for me. I think there actually could be a lot of revenue right there. And really just having — it’s kind of fun just learning Etsy and learning all the ins and outs. 

For example, when I’m doing my product descriptions and everything, you cannot put bullet points within Etsy. So if you’re on your laptop, you’re on your desktop, and you’re trying to add bullet points in there, it won’t allow you to do it. And if you notice most of the listings on Etsy, the products, they don’t have any bullet points. So I found a trick to that on my iPhone, you can actually go to — on the numbers and symbols, if you go to the third spot, you’ll find bullet points. And it’ll actually save to the Etsy platform. 

So it’s very rare you’ll see this among any of them. But I’ve found that this actually helps the product description. I’ve actually had people comment like, hey, how do you do that? And of course, I’ve told them how to do that. So I’m having a kind of a fun time just learning how to use Etsy, and how to really make my product stand out using things like that. 

Mike: Yeah man, I love it. And I agree, there’s definitely that struggle of the fact that it’s on another platform, and they kind of own you. But I would spin it around like, I was kind of saying earlier and look at it in terms of what you get for that, right? I mean, you get all the traffic and all the marketing that they are already doing. And you’re able to continue to learn and optimize other parts of your business until you can make that first hire, and then you make that second hire and then at some point down the road, you’ll be able to focus on Sheagarden.com or whatever your URL is going to be and work on your own website. 

And slowly, you build that up to the point where it’s as big or bigger than Etsy, and then you don’t have to worry about those third party platforms anymore. But it will be a much harder road to try to start doing a Shopify store right now from scratch. I would suggest it for people who don’t have the ability to get this outside traffic. You just happen to be in a niche and I think every business is different; you have to evaluate the fact that every business is different. And you happen to have a handmade product that’s allowed to be sold on Etsy that’s getting some traction on Etsy. 

So why not take advantage of that instead of trying to reinvent the wheel or diversify too early, diversify from what at this point, right? You don’t really — if Etsy goes to zero tomorrow, it’s not a huge deal for you because it’s not a huge amount of volume to begin with. So you got to kind of look at what you have at risk. You still have your products and you could then shift to the other platforms at that time if you’re kind of up against the wall. But right now things are going in the right direction and I would continue to push that.

Jon: Okay well, as far as my products go and that’s one of my other pain points right now is that initially tea tree of course is my favorite soap and always has been and probably always will be. It’s not for everyone. It’s a very earthy kind of mentally type of soap.  I use a lot of essential oils. I use fragrance oils as well, but I use essential oils a lot. And some people they’re turned off by the essential oils because they’re so strong, even like say for example, peppermint on your skin, it’ll actually tingle. So some people, that’s great. For some people, it’s not great. 

So the point is, I have some soaps that are good sellers, people love them, they keep coming back for them. But I also have people that are saying, hey, when are you going to come up with this soap or that soap or what about this scent or what about this size? How about double size? How about smaller? How about sample sizes? So one of the problems I’m having right now is with inventory because I’m bootstrapped because it’s all 100% me, I can’t afford to just go out there and make 1,000 of every soap out there. 

Plus, with experimentation, it actually takes — I have some scraps. Sometimes I’ll make a soap and it don’t come out right. So I’ll scrap it because I’m not going to give my customers something that I wouldn’t even use. So one of the problems I’m having right now is, should I stay with 5, 10, 15 really good products and just kind of ignore the customers that want all this variety, or should I just keep launching new products and constantly trying new things and experimentations?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I have another saying that — I got to come up with new sayings. I feel like I keep saying the same things over and over on the podcast, but there’s this thing I have of you can drown yourself an opportunity. So you have this opportunity to make all these different SKUs and there’s a lot of opportunity out there. But you can drown yourself in that as a small business by trying to do all of that and being everything to everybody. So I would just urge you to be careful with that. Another thing that I would urge you to just be careful of as well is making a mountain out of a molehill in terms of one person asks for a particular scent and you go make 1,000 bars based on that one comment. 

A really great example that we have in the ColorIt world is a color by number book that was requested over and over and over and over and over again by like one or two people. And it was just like always in our headspace that color by numbers and it’d be like this really popular thing. We need to make a colored by number book and we need to go invest thousands of dollars into getting this book made, because it keeps on getting requested. But then we did a survey, thank God, before we released the book of which books would people be interested in. And this might be a way for you to go as well, once you have a big enough customer base. But what would be the next book that you would like us to create? 

And we had like 10 ideas on there from like quilts to dragon theme or cat theme or mandala theme, obviously color by number. And color by number was literally the number one thing at the bottom. It was like the last place, nobody was really interested in it. There was a couple of people that were the squeaky wheels that were constantly mentioning it, but the reality was that our audience just wasn’t interested in it. So we averted disaster. And so the real point here is just don’t let one or two people that are commenting sway you into creating a bunch of new SKUs. 

I would stick, again, with what’s working; try to get as much volume out of what you have. And when you start seeing things kind of plateau on the thing that’s working, then I would start focusing on the next SKU. And maybe that’s sending a survey out and asking, what would you like to see as our next scent? Would it be lavender? Would it be tea tree, would it be Eucalyptus or whatever other things are out there? And whatever one gets the most votes, you probably know with a pretty good amount of certainty that that’s the thing that you should work on next. And I would take that approach and then when you kind of get to the point where that thing is kind of capped out to about as much you can do, then you can move on to the next SKU. 

And again, you got to be careful because you’re small, you can end up just running out of cash, or you put too much money into inventory for your one particular scent that’s not moving well and now you have all this money locked up into that. And you can’t pivot at that point, because the soap is already made and let’s say they’re on the shelf. And over time, as you get bigger, the stakes get even bigger, because now you’re paying for storage to have it in a warehouse somewhere, and you’re going to pay for money most likely, because a lot of inventory based businesses end up borrowing money, and so you have this cost of money just having it sitting there is like costing you money. 

And so if you can build your e-commerce business based on these good principles to start with, you’ll be more successful in the long run. And so basically, the long and short of it is just yeah, you definitely want to launch more SKUs because that’s going to be the path to profitability and growth for you, but just be careful about doing too much at once.

Jon: Right, I understand. So let me ask you this question. You have my business, okay, and you have your Facebook account and you’ve got let’s say, I think I’ve got like maybe 300 followers on there. And you made me think of it when you were talking about that as far as asking people what would you like next, lavender, you want this size, you want that size, whatever it may be? And I thought about that. And there’s times I’ve kind of posted those questions on Facebook. And I really like the traction that it gets, because people start commenting on it, hey, I like this or I like that, or this holiday is coming up, can you get some of this? And I get my best likes and everything during those questions. 

So if you have my business and you have this Facebook, what would you do with it? Would you advertise with it? Because I haven’t found a whole lot of success, of profitability when it comes to Facebook advertisement, but would you would you try to get more likes? Would you try to build it that way? Or would you maybe go towards Instagram and try to build it that way? What do you think?

Mike: Yeah. So I mean, I think that you’re going to want to try to build your engagement, get the type of posts up there that get that type of engagement, the things that are doing better. And so the open ended questions are definitely ones that work well with that, what kind of scent would you like to see? What’s your favorite scent that you use? Post some pictures of you using the product or whatever, which is tough, since people are using it in the shower, and they’re naked, so that’s a little bit more awkward and difficult for you than it was for us with ColorIt and other things that we’ve done. But just trying to get some pictures of the testimonials of people actually, that are using the product are definitely helpful. 

I do agree, I think that advertising is going to be a little bit more difficult for you than it would be for us and this is why I say that you got to treat every business differently. Facebook ads for us have been really the Holy Grail that helped our business grow by doing lead gen and eventually sales with our Facebook ads. Because again using ColorIt as an example, we could advertise to a bunch of people that like coloring, that’s an interest group on Facebook. What isn’t an interest group on Facebook is soap. There are people that are in the handcrafted soap or using handcrafted soap. So it’s going to be more difficult.

Now what there might be, there might be other larger handcrafted soap brands that are big enough that you could potentially advertise to people who like those brands if they have written that down. But I would imagine that the ads that would do best for you are going to be ones that are for gifting. So I would actually advertise it to women to give to men, and I would target key times of the year like Father’s Day and Christmas for that and see if you can get some traction out of that. I mean, you can advertise to men but you have to figure out what the secret combination is like, what unlocks the cipher lock. 

It’s not going to just be advertising to men, it’s going to be advertising to men who also like Whole Foods who are also like Bernie Sanders, or I don’t know all the liberal things. It seems like that that’s more of a liberal minded type guy would be into that stuff. Maybe I’m off but you have to figure out what the attributes are that it’s not just the fact that they are a man that they also like other things that are going to give them tendencies to like your product. And you might be surprised, I mean, there could be a Facebook audience there where that resonates. 

And maybe it’s a free plus shipping offer with your product where you can get a sample on their hands, and they just pay shipping. So they’re getting like a really good deal and hopefully they like the product and they buy more of it. So you can get unique with the offers and then also work on tweaking that audience until you find the right combination that just works. And what I found is over time, when I’m doing these Facebook ads with new things, when it just works, its almost like magic. You’ll be running a bunch of different combinations, and all of a sudden, something just kind of hits and gets some traction and does really well. 

And you can do these tests for relatively cheap, $20 a try or something. So you’re not blowing your life savings trying to run some Facebook ads. But I would think that there’s some audience layering that you can do that would get the result you’re looking for.

Jon: Yeah, and it is what you’re talking about as far as finding your audience and everything, that’s one of the things that I found interesting in this because initially, and I’ve said this in the past with my business, I’m a male that does a — it’s a feminine product, a lot of women use this, there’s men that use it, too, but it’s predominantly female, they buy this. And of course, there’s men that buy it for their mothers and their wives and whatnot. So initially, with this business, I didn’t put my face on there. I wanted people to be able to buy these products thinking that maybe a woman done it. 

And not that I would lie in that way, but I just didn’t want to put my face on there. I just didn’t think no one wants to buy a soap from a guy, come on, and I’m a fireman at that, so they’re going to think I don’t know what I’m doing. But it’s a good product; people really loved it, men and women, families. So for the longest, I kind of hid my face from the website or Etsy or whatever it may be. And of course, now I have found success with people actually wanting to hear about my story or hear about me, or how I make it, where I make it and what I’ll put in it. 

So it’s interesting. What I’ve found is that for example, the fire department when I first started making these soaps and I brought them to work to my firefighter buddies and everything, and some of them say, well, I’ll buy some for my wife, I’ll buy some for my mom. And they did but what happened is that when they would come back, they said, hey, do you have any more, that lavender or this that whatever, and they were buying it for themselves. So a lot of the new age males, the hipsters, the millennials, whatever you want to call them, like these soaps, they care about skincare products. And it’s something that surprised me because even though I liked it, I thought, well, maybe I’m a one of a kind. But I find that a lot of the new age males really enjoy these products. So it’s just something interesting that I found. When you think you know the market, you really don’t.

Mike: Yeah, that’s why you always gotta be testing and trying new things. And the reason I was mentioning the men thing quite a bit there in my example because I was thinking more in terms of the man bar product that you were working on. That’s what I was kind of talking that conversation. But yeah, I mean, for the other products, obviously, women are going to be a better targeted demographic. And I do think that there’s a combination of your creative ad unit that gets people to stop in their tracks and look at the ad, which is always the struggle, how do you get people’s attention? 

They’re scrolling through their feed, they don’t want you. Two seconds before they see your ad, they’re not thinking about you, they don’t know who the hell you are. All of a sudden, you’re occupying their feed, and they’d rather scroll right past you, how do you get them to stop and look at your ad? So you got to come up with something that’s clever and funny and whimsical, or whatever that gets people to want to stop and look at it. That’s the biggest part of the battle. So you got to come up with a good creative piece of content there that can do that within like three seconds because it happens really fast. 

So videos that start really high paced, that have something by jumping into the screen or whatever, and you’re a firefighter that’s making soap, you can come up with all kinds of funny content around that. It’s like such an off the cuff, left field thing that there’s all kinds of content to be made there. So I do think that before you just give up on the Facebook traffic stuff, I would think about that. But even still, so first of all, I mean, I think it’s worth it for you to spend some time doing that now because when you’re ready, when you hit that plateau in your business where Etsy just kind of hit a wall or you’re really are ready to diversify, you want to know the secret combination of things that makes your Facebook audience tick. 

So it is worth every week. It’s kind of like launching some cheap ad for 10 to $30 or something just to see which one is producing results. But the real thing is you don’t want to necessarily turn that on and go crazy because again, you can get in this drowning yourself an opportunity thing. I mean, if you got 10,000 orders, like how the hell would you fulfill them? So you got to slowly, organically grow to the point where you can handle the volume, because we just operated in a no pun intended, like just getting hit with the fire hose all day method, which trying to drink from the firehose for three to four years straight is not the best way to go either, which is the way that we went about it.

Jon: Well, that’s one thing you were talking about getting 10,000 orders, and you hit it on the nose right there. One thing I do appreciate that, of course, hey, I’d love for my business to just grow overnight and just be super successful. That being said, I have absolutely appreciated that it is taking its time and or organically growing because for example, when I first started making these soaps, the soap bars themselves were great, okay, it was a good product for your skin. And not much has changed in the recipe because it was a good recipe from the beginning. But that being said, my packaging was horrible. My website was horrible. My label was horrible. I didn’t know how to market it. Everything was just so rudimentary right from the beginning. 

So now, from the progression, my pictures, they’ve gotten better and better. I’ve found out how to do model photography with the lighting, how to use different back displays and everything for the soaps, I’ve found out some better labels, and so on. So what happens is that rather than getting 10,000 orders all at once, and then shipping out a bunch of  primitive product, I’ve been able to organically grow in from month to month, it gets better and better and better and better. Because if you were to look at my old stuff and my old website, you would say, wow, how was this even a business? So I appreciate the slow growth of it. And now I think I’m ready for this to really grow overnight but I appreciate the time that it took to get here because I think it’s more professional now.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, that’s dead on. So I mean, think about that in terms of your future as well. And I think that it’s important to try to grow at that same pace and not let things get out of control because it can happen pretty quickly. There’s a lot of moving parts in e-commerce and I would continue to build on what’s working right already and continue to grow that until you start to see some resistance. I mean, like Etsy is only so big of a marketplace. So I mean you are going to kind of tap that out at some point. And then you can work on the next thing, which might be Amazon and then that’ll never tap out because it’s like such a big marketplace. 

But at some point you’re going to want — then it’s all about diversifying and creating a brand and go into your own website. But I would probably do it in that order just to — because again, you’re a solopreneur, there’s only so much you can do in a day. And so, you need to get the sales that come with the least path of resistance, not going after things right now that are going to be way more difficult for you to figure out and more time consuming when you don’t have the time to deal with it right now. So work on the things that are going to be the least path of resistance to lowest hanging fruit. I think that that’s Etsy, I think that’s also Amazon. 

And eventually there’ll be this shift in your business of okay, I need to protect myself, we need to start worrying about Sheagarden.com or whatever again, whatever website. What is your website by the way, if people want to go buy your product?

Jon: It is Sheagarden.com, S-H-E-A Garden yeah. And then of course anything else is going — to whether it’s social media, or whether it’s – it is Shea Soap Garden. 

Mike: Got it. Perfect. Yeah. So if people are interested in that like I said, it’s a great product. I’ve used it; you were nice enough to give us samples during the Five Minute Pitch. Probably the biggest benefit of Five Minute Pitch is I got a bunch of random cool products I never thought that I would use, I’ve used up all of your soap. So it was definitely cool stuff. And I enjoyed going from bar to bar and being surprised by the next scent, so that was a pretty cool experience. But anyway, I digress. I mean, going back to the platform thing, I mean, I would just worry about one step at a time. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and think of it from that perspective.

 

Jon: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m glad, I’ll digress myself. So when you’re talking about the different, the pictures and everything, and I appreciate all the products too. In fact, I’m looking forward to getting some of each of them. In fact, Dave of the Bobblehead, he’s actually going to send me one of his…

Mike: Nice.

Jon: Yeah, I’ve got a cowboy Corona on the way. So I’m excited about that. And a lot of those, the poolside creations, the little cat box, there’s so many of them that are just really cool. If I can do it, I’ll probably get one of each of all the products.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny you mention those products specifically. So I mean, Dave lives here in San Diego so I had lunch with him. 

Jon: Oh, cool. 

Mike: He brought me like a whole bag full of all the different bobbleheads. And I had to give them back to him because I’m actually like a minimalist. So like I don’t have room for any of this stuff and I don’t want things. But I mean, I’m so enamored with his products because I mean, if I was going to have a bobblehead, it would be his. I mean, they are seriously the nicest. I think of bubbleheads as cheap plastic pieces of crap. There’s a guy that’s made like artwork out of a bobblehead. And so that’s pretty cool. 

And I was just talking on the — we just recorded a Facebook Live and you were in the audience when we recording it, I was actually just talking about how I put the poolside creations glasses in my RV because we have an RV that I travel around in. It’s kind of like our home and that’s why we’re kind of minimalist. But things shift as you’re driving down the road. It’s basically like driving in an earthquake every time you move the thing. And one of those poolside creation glasses came at my head the other day, and I ducked out of the way and the thing hit the ground that didn’t break. I was like, yep, that’s why those are there.

Jon: absolutely.

Mike: It’s cool to be utilizing some of the Five Minute Pitch products. And it just goes to show you what a great breath of contestants we had this year.

Jon: Yeah, yeah, I’m really excited about all the products there. So let me ask this Mike, you’ve been doing this for a long time now and you’ve had multiple products, you’ve helped a lot of people, of course now you’re doing the Five Minute Pitch and everything. Do you have the same — of course, the journey is what’s important, the journey is the fun part, it’s not about reaching a goal or getting a certain amount of money. Do you have the same enthusiasm now that you did in the beginning?

Mike: For like e-commerce specifically you mean?

Jon: Yes.

Mike: I would say yes and no. The thing that I don’t have the enthusiasm for anymore, there’s just a lot of headaches that I used to just shrug off really easily, and so that burns me out a little bit. It probably comes with the fact that we’ve been running really hard for five years and doubling every year and just never having any cash as we were always putting it back in the business. And I also have talked about this on the podcast quite a bit, I think the other thing that we’ve struggled with is that even though I’m not like a money guy, I didn’t come from a money perspective, but I guess being honest and looking back, I guess it kind of was more that, because I developed products I didn’t really have a personal passion or interest in. 

I’m not a colorist, I don’t have aches and pains where I need ice packs, I don’t have any kids, I don’t need the baby products. These are all things that were just more tactical in nature from that perspective. I thought my passion was in just making products that people will enjoy and seeing the joy that we gave people out of our products and just the business part of it. And I definitely I still am passionate in all that stuff. But what happens is at least in my world, I get bored with that relatively easy. So it’s not as exciting anymore, because like I know exactly what to do, which is kind of a weird way to be thinking about things in life, because that’s also when you make the most amount of money. But I don’t care as much about that. 

I mean, for me, it was way more exciting, I was more passionate about e-commerce when I would come in here every day, and have absolutely no idea what I was going to do, feel like I was going to get hit with the fire hose, had to figure out problems that I had no idea how to do, and to me, that’s fun. Again I’m kind of sick and twisted. Some people are super intimidated by that and I get that. But for me, it’s just like I have no idea how to launch a Shopify store but I’m going to go do it and I’m going to figure it out. And I have no idea how to run Facebook ads, and I’m going to probably waste a lot of money right now, but I’m going to go figure it out. And those stages are really exciting to me. 

But moving forward, what I’ve kind of settled on is first of all, I do love e-commerce. I’m definitely not getting out of e-commerce. I love doing it, especially because of the EcomCrew aspect. But the next brand that I launch will definitely be something that I have a personal interest and passion in. It’ll be something that I use in my personal life on a frequent basis. And I don’t know exactly what that is yet, because I am pretty boring. I don’t have an interest in a whole lot of things. I love traveling, but it’s hard to find travel products. I love playing tennis, but I’m not going to try to compete against Nike or Babolat. I love scuba diving, but just the complexity of scuba equipment and liability is something I’m not even close to willing to tackle. 

And besides that, I’m a pretty simple guy. And so I’m trying to figure out exactly what that is. Maybe it’s a food product or something to do with tea or something because I drink a lot of tea and I’m also, like, trying to eat healthier foods. So there’s a bunch of things I’ve been thinking about, but I haven’t really settled on one that I’m definitely going to do yet. And I’m also trying not to make that decision until we have less to think about with our business and try to do a little bit less, which actually is more. But that’s kind of where I’m at with a lot of that stuff.

Jon: Okay, well, I mean, then that sounds really cool. And I mean I’m glad to know that you’re still happy about all of it. And of course, because I have a future in this and I know that eventually I’ll make it where I want to be but just knowing where I’m going to be on each part of the journey. And because one of the things I’m impressed about with seeing you guys do what you’re doing, you and Steve and Scott and Greg is that you guys aren’t out here making a fortune off giving away $50,000 to somebody that’s starting in the business like I am. It’s not like you’re out here, you’re broke and you’re trying to find some way to make some change. You’re doing it for us. And I see that part of it and I appreciate that part of it. 

And that’s one of the things that’s attracted me to you guys’ podcast and to your blogs and things like that is because it’s not just about making money, it’s about actually helping people. So that’s why I asked that as far as the enjoyment and the enthusiasm, how much you get out of it and what you take. And hey, you’re talking about scuba diving; if you ever want to learn some scuba diving course we have a dive team in the fire department. So if you’re ever on the Birmingham area, we’re throwing a class, you need to come on.

Mike: Nice. I mean that’s awesome. I don’t find myself in Birmingham often but I’ve actually been on hundreds of dives so I feel pretty comfortable diving at this point, but you can always learn more. And it has been a while, I probably need some refresher. When I lived in the Cayman Islands for a while is when I did the bulk of my diving and I actually have my own boat. So I would be out there as much as I could. And we used to travel to a lot more tropical places before we got into e-commerce. When we are on vacations, we’d find ourselves in Hawaii or in Caribbean Island and I have all my own scuba gear and we would bring it and go diving. But lately it’s been like China or Hong Kong and places that aren’t exactly the hotbed for scuba diving, so I haven’t done a lot of it lately.

Jon: Yeah, that sounds cool, yeah, a lot more than I’ve done anyway. So hey, before I spend up all your time, let me ask you this, though, favorite SaaS. I’ve talked about like Fiverr, I’ve briefly just kind of talked about that and getting into them. Upwork, I’ve kind of checked them out, they’re really expensive and I’m sure there’s some others. Do you have any favorite ones that you would recommend for where I’m at in my business?

Mike: I think you’re talking more in terms of finding labor type platforms, right, more than just a SaaS. Okay, so the one that you didn’t mention there that is actually a sponsor of Five Minute Pitch so I definitely want to give them a plug is FreeeUp, F-R-E-E-E, three Es up.com. And they’ve done a special for us with EcomCrew that if you give them, just tell them after you sign up that  EcomCrew sent you, they’ll give you $50 credit for free. And that is not an affiliate link; we don’t get anything for that. We try to keep affiliate relations to a minimum or nonexistent so we can be non-biased. But they do give 50 bucks for free and I’ve heard really good things about their talent pool. 

What they do is they actually scan through all of the people that go on their platform and make them take a test and do things before they’re even allowed to participate on the FreeeUp platform. So unlike Fiverr and Upwork where it’s just kind of more of a free for all, FreeeUp is actually screening and qualifying all the people that are on the platform.

Jon: Okay, I’ll have to look them up then. I’ve never even heard of them. So I’ll definitely look them up.

Mike: Yeah, Nathan was a guest on one of the EcomCrew Podcasts; we’ll throw that in the show notes as he kind of went through the hiring process. You can just do a search on our website or whatever and look for FreeUp and Nathan but definitely a great platform to find people. The other thing that we use is Onlinejobs.Ph. But that’s more for looking for full time people in the Philippines. I don’t think you’re quite ready for that yet. I think you’re looking for like contractors.

Jon: Yeah, absolutely, anything that would give me a little boost because I know there’s some areas that I need some work. My Instagram, for example, I’ve done a little bit of work on that, I think I’ve got like over 1,000 followers, and I’ve just barely played with it. So I know if I actually put some real work into that, I could really build that audience. But it’s just one of those things on the back burner because I have so many things, so many irons in the fire, so to speak, where I just can’t tackle all of them. But I want to know which one should I tackle because if I tackle the right one who knows what it could do for me?

Mike: Yeah, no doubt, I mean, I would just — you got to take it slow one thing at a time, not trying to do everything. And you’ll figure out that next thing a month or two from now when you have a little bit more time after you’ve tried the thing that you’re going to try this month and try not to just overextend yourself.

Jon: Okay. Well, I appreciate that advice. I mean, if there’s anything you could tell me as far as where to go from here, I’ll appreciate that. I mean, there’s so much going on. And I’m enjoying watching all the other pitches and where they’re going with it. And some of them have some great ideas that after I see them on the episodes, I’m thinking, man, I should have done that done it that way but it’s always a learning process for me. So anything you got for me, I appreciate that.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I really think that it just comes down to what I was saying earlier, man, it’s just, you got to grow slow. And actually just before this, I interviewed Eric from Beard Brand. And we were talking about the growth of his YouTube channel. And the people want to grow so fast. And I’ve been through it myself; I just went through this process myself. I mean, you have a business that could be like this forever business with what you’re creating and a brand. And it just takes time. And he was like talking about how after one year, he had 300 people on his YouTube channel, and after two years it was like 2,500. And I just threw away that piece of paper so I don’t have all the numbers in front of me. But now he has a million people.

And so at some point, you’ll hit that hockey stick growth, but until you — you got to kind of — the beginning part is tough and slow. And it’s easy to dream and want to grow really quick and knock it out of the park. But this is not a SaaS business, you were just talking about SaaS, this is not an online affiliate marketing play. This is a physical products business that requires a lot of cash and capital, and you can only grow as fast as your underlying capital will allow you. And from what I know of your business, there’s only so much money to go around. 

So you got to be careful about that you could become a victim of your own success really quickly. You put yourself in a really bad position where you’re going to loan shark type loan places to get money, because you’re so desperate to get your hands on some cash to continue to grow your business. And that could just put you out of business. So you got to just be careful. Every time you sell a bar of soap, you’re making some money, that allows you to make more soap. 

But as you make some more money, that allows you to make more soap, and that flywheel effect will eventually spin up because if you increase your cash stockpile by 20% every time you sell a bar soap or whatever the number is in your business, slowly but surely, you’re going to build up to the level that you can be at and most likely the sales will not be the problem. I don’t think with your business, if you can start to build a following, I think that you’re going to be in good shape.

Jon: Okay. Well, absolutely. Well, I’m hoping in the future, I can go ahead and kind of, attend like the Sellers Summit and things like that as far as networking too, because I appreciate with something like this with a podcast where I can talk to people that are in the business that I’m in as far as e-commerce goes. Because right now I live in Alabama, there’s not a lot of people that do what I do. In fact, there’s no one that does what I do. So I don’t have anyone to talk to that I can bounce ideas off of. The only people that I have are people like you guys online, and I’m listening to you guys and of course now conversing with you guys. So other than that, maybe something like a Sellers Summit or these different conferences would probably help me out a lot as far as networking.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think that’s the one thing that doesn’t get talked about in entrepreneurship. Again another thing is how important networking is and being with people of your own kind. You can have all the firefighter friends in the world that you want. Most of them don’t understand what you’re doing in terms of running a business, and they probably think you’re crazy. And if you’re complaining about certain parts of your business, they don’t understand it, and you think you’re just whining and they don’t understand why. But when you tell someone like me the same things, I’m like, yeah man, I get it and I just want to give you a hug and tell you everything is going to be okay, I’ve been there myself.

So it’s important to make sure you’re around people like that. Going to things like Sellers Summit are super important. That’s why I’m in a couple of different masterminds with people that are kind of in the same stage as me. So I mean slowly as you get to a certain point, you’ll be able to get in circles like that. And those people have been revolutionary in my career. I can kind of connect the dots of how that kind of played out. So yeah, I mean, it’s just slow and steady wins the race. You’re growing and on the right path and I think there’s a lot of good things in your future.

Jon: Okay. Well, I appreciate that. I’ve been excited about this. And I’m certainly grateful for all the support you guys have given me.

Mike: Cool, awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Hopefully, this has been helpful. 

Jon: Absolutely.

Mike: And we’ll do a follow up six months or a year from now when you have something to report back, we’d love to hear how things are going. In the meantime, if you need anything, you know where to find us.

Jon: Okay, well, good day. I know you got a Hong Kong trip coming up soon. So good luck with that and everything else you’re doing and I appreciate your time. 

Mike: Of course man, no problem, best of luck with everything. 

Jon: All right, thanks Mike.

Mike: Alright guys, that’s going to wrap it up for the 252nd episode of the EcomCrew Podcast. You can go to EcomCrew.com/252 to get the show notes for this episode. As always, I want to thank you guys for supporting the podcast. And if you want to give us a little bit of love, head over to iTunes, you need to do it from your desktop computer, leave us a review. You guys don’t understand how much this really helps us. I read every one of the reviews. There’s been some really great ones that have come across our screen here lately. 

I really appreciate you guys that do take the time to do it. We put out all this free content. We never want anything in return except for a review. If you can do that, if you feel like we’ve given you enough free content over all this time that you’ve gotten a value out of it to give us five minutes of your time to leave that review. I’m trying to guilt you into it right now. I hope I’m doing a good job. But either way, I really do appreciate you guys’ support whether you leave us a review or not. Just by listening, it is support but the review does go that extra mile. And it is definitely appreciated by Dave and I. 

It helps get us up in the rankings. It helps keep us motivated to do this a couple of times a week. It is a lot of hard work. As I told you guys, I’m recording this on the road. And the more I travel, the harder it gets to continue to find the time, a quiet place, a good microphone, all that good stuff to do this. The review definitely helps the motivation. All right guys, that’s going to wrap it up for this episode. And until the next one happy selling, we’ll talk to you soon.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the EcomCrew Podcast. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/EcomCrew for weekly live recordings of the EcomCrew Podcast every Monday. And please, do us a favor, and leave an honest review on iTunes, it would really help us out. Again, thanks for listening, and until next week, happy selling.