By the time I’m writing these lines I already published three in-depth case studies about dropshipping (published by Shopify and Oberlo).
But the case study you are about to read digs even deeper.
You’ll learn the exact tactics how I built a profitable dropshipping business from scratch which made more than $3,600 in pure profit (aka. the money which ends up on my bank account) in just one month without spending any money!
Disclaimer: This post is 100% free for you but contains links to my own digital products and affiliate links of software I recommend.
*If you’re mainly interested in the marketing tactics, just click here.
The Purpose of This Case Study
I already mentioned that this case study should be more practical than ever and become the bridge between playing business and running a real one. So the goal of it had to be something which can help to build that bridge.
When I had the idea of this new case study, I asked the people in my Facebook group how much money they would need to cover their living costs per month.
Many people responded and the numbers were super different. Some only needed $800 and others $5,000.
Honestly, I was a bit surprised as I read those comments. No one actually came up with a number I could really believe.
How high are the chances that everyone needs a smooth sum to cover all costs?
It seemed a lot of people haven’t even calculated their actual monthly expenses. They missed a very crucial part. If you only assume how much money you actually need per month, you will never know when you can quit your day job to become a full-time entrepreneur.
So before doing anything business related, this case study has to start with taking one or two steps back; calculating monthly expenses.
How to Build a Profitable Dropshipping Business (and Make a Living out of it)
Every person has other responsibilities and costs in life. Some people have kids, some have expensive hobbies and others are super happy with only having a Netflix account. Obviously, the higher your monthly costs are, the harder it will be for you to become a full-time entrepreneur. However, this does not mean that you can’t make it. Maybe you don’t even want to do this full time and only need some cash on the side.
In any way, it’s always crucial to know how much money you actually need.
To figure that out, I created a spreadsheet for you which helps you to achieve this.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a professional financial advisor and this case study and/or spreadsheet is in no way a professional service. For real financial advice, please consult a professional.
I can highly recommend to take your time and calculate your actual monthly expenses. Even if you will never take action on the things in the case study you are about to read, having a basic understanding of your own finances will help you achieve your financial goals.
Obviously, just knowing how much money you need won’t help you at all. You have to take action. Everything which follows now is your roadmap!
Doing The Math
I preach (and practice) it all the time: a proper business needs a proper goal.
“Without a goal, you can’t score.“
Whenever I start a new project, I think about two kinds of goals. First, I want to set a short-term goal which is realistic but still requires a lot of work to achieve. Second, I like to set a more unrealistic goal I don’t even know how to achieve at the moment I set it – a long-term goal.
Because the business of this case study was never meant to be there for very long and I only built it for the purpose of showing how to start an online business from scratch, there was no need for a long-term goal.
However, if you’d like to build a similar business, I can highly recommend setting a long-term goal. Especially if you’d like to have a business which exists longer than 1 month.
Anyway, setting my short-term goal was crucial. Considering that I want my content to be the bridge between playing business and running a real business, my goal had to be in line with this ambition.
Even though I didn’t have the actual numbers of my group members, I took the numbers they gave to me. On average they need $2,512.12 to cover their monthly expenses. So my goal of this case study was to make $2,512.12 in profit.
Goal-wise, this wasn’t enough. I knew how much profit I needed to make, but not the revenue number. As revenue is easier to track there was no doubt that I needed to know exactly how much revenue I had to make to achieve my profit goal.
Time to do some math.
I created another simple spreadsheet which helped me figure out how many sales I needed to achieve my profit goal.
Obviously, the main variable when it comes down to making money is the profit margin. I calculated with two different profit-variables:
I wanted to know at what margin size it’s unrealistic to achieve my goal in one month.
As you can see on the image above, I had to make $167.47 in revenue per day with a 50% profit margin to achieve my goal.
I had to make $5,512.12 in total revenue per month to make $2,512.12 in profit.
As my business shouldn’t cost me any money upfront and there was no need for any ad spendings I felt comfortable that this was a realistic number.
Having these numbers, I was able to come up with my goal.
My S.M.A.R.T. Business Goal
In all of my case studies and my online course, I tell people that the SMART formula is the best way to come up with a proper goal for me (and you!)
Each letter of SMART has its own meaning and is important for the goal:
S – Specific
Your goal has to be as specific as possible. If you’d like to set a money goal, it’s not enough to say “I’d like to make some money on the side” – it’s not clear what you actually want to achieve.
M – Measurable
Your goal has to be measurable. You have to know if you’re on a good way to achieve your goal or running in the complete opposite direction. Money and metrics (like conversion rate, sign-ups, etc) are usually very easy to track.
This “measurable” point is the reason why I did the previous calculation on how much revenue I had to make.
A – Attractive
Your business – your goal.
Your goal has to be very attractive to you. If you don’t like your goal, you won’t be able to keep up (or develop) a great work ethic and motivation.
Don’t set a goal only to impress others.
R – Realistic
A good short-term goal has to be realistic. It doesn’t make any sense to aim for an incredible big goal if you have limited time resources to achieve it. The big ones are your long-term goals.
T – Time-bound
You need to have a deadline. If you miss setting a specific date when you want to have achieved your goal, there’s very little pressure on you. Pressure makes sure that you actually work. A good timeframe is between 4 weeks and 6 months. Obviously, with more time the “realistic”-aspect changes accordingly (more time = bigger goal).
In the end, your SMART goal has to be a goal which is slightly out of your reach and thinking about it has to feel a bit uncomfortable.
In my case study business, the SMART goal looked like this:
“I want to build a profitable dropshipping business and make $5,512.12 in revenue without spending any money. I love this goal because it will cover the average living costs of my Facebook group members which can help them quit their day job to become a full-time entrepreneur. I want to have achieved this goal at the 31st of October.”
Overall, I liked this goal and knew that I could make it if I work hard enough. However, success is not guaranteed and it’s always exciting to get a new business off the ground and see how (and if) the efforts pay off.
Setting a Budget For My Dropshipping Business
Total budget: $0.00 USD
That was actually my total budget. I wanted to take full advantage of the beauty of dropshipping: no risk at all. Also, having no budget at all forces me to work harder and become more creative.
Personally, I really like to work under a certain pressure. The uncomfortable feeling to not know how to achieve a goal always helped me to receive my best results.
The main reason, however, for setting a no-budget plan was a poll I ran on my Instagram story.
The majority of my followers don’t have a budget to work with. So it wouldn’t make any sense for me to start with a budget no one really could afford.
Some money can help speed up things, but it’s definitely not required. The case study you’re about to read is the ultimate proof.
At this point in time, I had everything prepared and I felt very good to get started.
Obviously, the first step was to find a niche. So let’s get started – we have a lot of ground to cover!
Find a Winning Dropshipping Business Niche
From what I see, the vast majority of people doing niche research just waste their time. Everyone’s so obsessed with “the next trend” that they even believe they can’t make a single dollar without an amazing trend.
If this would be true, how would I have been able to make $6,667 selling watches in under 8 weeks and how would I have been able to make $8,873 selling sunglasses in 31 days? Both niches are what people would call “saturated”. But somehow I was able to make quite some money. Am I a genius? Probably yes, but not in this context. When it comes down to dropshipping I’m just a normal dude.
The only thing which separates me from a lot of other dropshippers who are not making money with it is that I accepted two things:
- There are no saturated markets
- There are actually no saturated markets
The assumption that you’re “too late” in the market only slows you down. There’s nothing positive in that kind of attitude. If you want to win, you have to stay positive – no matter what happens! So forget about your assumptions and become a real entrepreneur!
Back to my niche. As I don’t just want to talk the talk but walk the walk, I wanted to have a niche which is considered to be “saturated” so everyone can apply the things I show in this case study to their business – no matter if it’s a trendy or steady niche.
When I look up niches I like to have the following points checked:
- Price below $5 USD
But these points are not set in stone. There are many people who have found success in selling electronic gadgets et cetera. Don’t let someone decide what to sell. You’re the business owner.
Anyway, my niche should have all these attributes.
Even though I wanted to have a steady niche, I started my niche exploring journey on the most popular page to begin with: AliExpress weekly bestsellers.
Within seconds I knew what I would sell: phone cases.
Not necessary the exact same as displayed, but at this point, I didn’t want to look up products. I was looking for a niche.
To, at least somehow, validate the niche, I additionally looked up the term “phone cases” on Google Trends.
If I can leave you with one thing here, then please don’t overthink the whole niche research process. There are no saturated markets and it’s never too late for you. Truth is if you can’t make sales without a trendy product, you should not start an e-commerce business.
But don’t worry, I’ll show you step by step how to actually make sales without the need of some fancy products.
Another reason for a non-trendy niche is the risk of losing it all in just a few days. In 2017, fidget spinners were the most trending product. The demand was huge!
A few weeks later, the trend was over and the demand was like zero.
Many successful online stores didn’t make a single penny after the trend ended. Some people even quit their day job to become full-time entrepreneurs based on the success of their fidget spinners stores. As the trend was over very soon those people were in deep trouble. They went all in on a trend and ended up making no money at all. Imagine having to feed a family and then, all of a sudden, you’re not able to do it anymore. Horrible.
The business I wanted to build for the case study should be a business that can last long. It may not be the most profitable ever and you probably won’t make millions of dollars with that kind of business, but that’s not even the goal. I will show you how to build a rock solid and profitable dropshipping business which can help you cover your monthly living costs and give you some free time so you’re able to do what you enjoy the most (eg. spending time with your family).
Alright, I believe you get the idea why I wanted to have a steady niche. Let’s move on to the next part: the VIPs of any business.
Defining My Target Audience
Without customers, your business is just a hobby.
Building an online store and doing all the fancy stuff is easy. Actually making money is the hard part. It’s not easy to get other people to spend their hard earned money on your online store. No one has “enough” money so they could waste it. Even if there are people who actually have more money than you have, they don’t see it this way. Everyone wants to have more money. And by spending it, they’re moving in the opposite direction of that goal. You, however, want them to spend their money at your store. It’s almost a battle of money.
If you see the whole transaction as a battle, you’ll lose. I promise.
The only thing we can do to get other people to spend their money at our online store is to provide one thing: VALUE.
Value comes in different sizes and shapes. But before we can even think about how to provide value, it’s important to figure out who our target audience actually is. Just trying to sell a product to everyone will end up in making no sales at all. Even if it’s a very broad product a ton of people use (like phone cases).
For me, the best way to figure out who my target audience is, is by looking at my competitors. They already have customers. It only makes sense to check them out.
As I’m personally one of those stupid people who spend almost $50 on an original iPhone case from Apple, I didn’t know anything about this niche. Luckily, I have smarter friends who don’t spend that much money on phone cases. So I just asked some of them if they know a good brand.
Especially my female friends told me quite some brands. Dudes don’t seem to care a bit. Anyway, the girls told me about different brands. Except for one. They all told me one brand they really love.
Due to privacy laws and liability, I’m not able to tell you the exact brand name. But it has something to do with Sweden. Please do your research.
I looked them up and damn! They’re doing a fantastic job! No wonder everyone likes them. I instantly knew these guys are worth checking out.
I looked up their Instagram account to see who their customers actually are. The best way to do this is by looking at the tagged posts.
Jackpot! Hundred of tagged images by people who already purchased my competitor’s products. Those people are not necessarily my future customers, but I was able to figure out how my target audience could look like in the end:
|Interests / Facts:||Fashion, Leo-Look, Apple Products, Nail Art, Living a Healthy Lifestyle (but showing burgers/fries/ice cream)|
|Income||Student (not many information about their income)|
This was a good start. From now on, I would do everything I do base on the interests of my target audience to provide value. From the language I use to the upsells I offer. But before I could offer any upsells, I had to find products I can sell.
Find Products to Sell On My Dropshipping Store
Just like on the niche research, beginners spending weeks and sometimes even months to find products they could sell. Unlike them, I like to have a more simple approach and just sell a product I know people use every day.
For the phone cases niche, it was very obvious that I will sell phone cases. But I didn’t know what kind of products I will sell exactly. It was time to figure that out.
Based on the interests of my target audience, I wanted to have products in my store which were somehow related to it. I started to break each interest down:
The phone cases had to be highly fashionable as I want my customers to share the product on their social media accounts. As social media and especially Instagram is mainly about sharing great images, the products had to look great.
There are several products which are obviously related to fitness. For example, those ones. But even if those products would fit the fitness term, they wouldn’t fit my target audience. During my target audience research on the competitor’s tagged images, I couldn’t find a single person who’s using that kind of product.
My products didn’t have to be obviously related to fitness. I checked my competitors tagged posts again and could see that many girls were using popsockets to make mirror selfies in the gym. Had a good feeling about this product so I added it to my list.
This was easy. I had to come up with leopard phone cases and accessories (eg. popsockets).
From what I could see, the vast majority of my competitor’s customers are using Apple products. During my research which also includes checking the comments on their Facebook page, I could see that quite some people asked for Samsung cases.
This meant that even though research-wise my potential audience mainly used iPhones, I had to be open to other brands/models. As a dropshipper, this is actually very simple and way more easy than it is for brands.
(Good thing, my considered main competitor seemed to have no intention to be open to other brands)
This one was tough and I couldn’t come up with any product idea which would make sense in the context of nail art. However, I kept this interest in mind for my marketing efforts later on.
One idea was to cross-sell cases in many different colors so my potential customers could match their cases with their current nail color
Healthy Lifestyle/Showing Burgers/Etc:
I had no product idea for this one. However, knowing this “interest” was still valuable as I could build up my social media feeds based on it.
In addition to all of that, I took a quick look at Burst. As Burst provides some great free product images I wanted to see if and what kind of phone cases they have on their pictures. Turned out that they have a ton of great product images I could use for my online store and get inspired to choose what kind of products I should sell.
As I now had a good (but still vague) idea what I wanted to sell, I needed to come up with actual products for my store. To find great products I considered three sources:
All three sources are easy to access and from my personal experience a good way to look for products. As the Oberlo Verified Supplier and Spocket product research require a Shopify account, it was time for me to sign up for Shopify’s 14 day free trial.
Building My Shopify Online Store
Personally, I’m a big fan of Shopify and so I chose to build my e-commerce business on this platform. The very intuitive backend and ability to set up the complete store in just minutes (including design) amazes me all the time.
Anyway, as I had to come up with a store name before signing up for Shopify, it was time to think about a proper name at this point in time.
Many people tend to waste quite some time thinking about a name. For me, I don’t really care. I just want to get at-bat as fast as possible. So the easiest way for me to come up with a solid name is to use a name generator which suggests unique names.
After about two minutes, a name I liked appeared.
Vana. Sounds very clean.
To make sure a good domain was available, I took a quick look at Checkdomain.
Vana.com was already taken so I had to come up with a new idea.
Vana-cases.com was available and I could move on to sign up for Shopify.
In terms of Shopify I only did three things at that time:
That’s it. The rest of the store building would come later. For now, it’s only about product research.
Dropshipping Product Research #1: Oberlo Verified Suppliers
Starting my research on Oberlo, I definitely wanted to take advantage of the suppliers who are verified by Oberlo. This means I can almost be 100% sure that there will be no issues with that supplier. A big advantage compared to a usual supplier from AliExpress.
I searched for the term “phone cases” and filtered the products by “Verified Suppliers” and “ePacket”. 657,703 products appeared. Many of them looked amazing and I’d have loved to sell those, but I didn’t have the feeling that any of those products match with the interests of my audience this time. If, for instance, my audience would have been a male/outdoor audience, I’m pretty sure I would have added tons of products from the list.
Anyway, no luck for me this time.
Dropshipping Product Research #2: Spocket
Next step on my product research journey was Spocket. They have tons of great products you hardly find anywhere else. So it was very obvious to me to take a look if they have products which match my audiences interests.
After searching for “phone cases” on Spocket, I was stunned by how many wooden phone cases there are available. Almost all products were wooden based.
I didn’t have the feeling that these wooden phone cases are products my target audience would be interested in.
Dropshipping Product Research #3: AliExpress
It was time to check out the most popular product sourcing platform; AliExpress.
To be 100% honest, I’m not a very big fan of AliExpress. Personally, I prefer to work with verified suppliers by Oberlo, or local suppliers.
As business is not about personal preferences but rational decisions, I had to check out AliExpress. Many great suppliers do a fantastic research job figuring out what kind of products have an actual demand. This helps a dropshipper like me tremendously.
I simply looked up the term “phone cases” and hit enter. A few milliseconds later many great products appeared. In fact, many products looked very similar to the product from the early stage competitor research (remember? The “Sweden” one).
I took a look at the first two pages of AliExpress and filled up my Oberlo import list using the Google Chrome extension. I had a good feeling that I could sell at least a few of my products as they matched with the “interests” of my target audience.
But to get at least some kind of real-life product validation, I sent about 20 product images (I took them from AliExpress) to the girl I was dating (now girlfriend) and asked her to tell me her favorite 6 case designs. I didn’t tell her why I needed her help. Otherwise, she wouldn’t think about her personal preferences and more about what could sell. But I really wanted her personal opinion from a customer perspective.
Luckily she sent some back and didn’t respond with something like “They’re all crap!”
This gave me a small confidence boost and I moved on to the next step.
Many new dropshippers are super worried about their competition. They believe they will never make a single dollar if there are so many other businesses selling similar or even the same products. To be honest, there’s always space for you! No brand really “owns” a market. Sure, there will be always brands who will make more money than you but who cares? Stop worrying about something you don’t even know will actually happen. Just start your business and trust me when I say that – if you work – you will win.
The first competitor I found was already very helpful so I wanted to find more and check out what they do. Maybe I would find something cool I can steal for my business.
My intention to do this was to find out…
- What kind of products they sell
- How their website looks like
- Are they collecting email addresses?
- What they do in terms of cross/upsells
- How their social media pages look like
- How their abandoned emails look like
- How their re-targeting strategy looks like
- (If running on Shopify) Which Theme they use
To help me keep track of my investigation progress, I created a simple Google spreadsheet.
I was ready to get started.
Google is always the first website I open when I start any kind of research.
I simply looked up the term “phone cases” and got quite a bunch of good competitors. Usually, doing that kind of research, I only take a look at the top three results. For me, it’s enough research at this early stage.
I deeply looked at the top three Google results and collected all the data I needed to fill my spreadsheet. At the end of it, I had quite some idea what my competitors are actually selling/doing.
A solid result. I felt very good about it and also got more product ideas. That kind of research was definitely worth the time. Actually, the time I spent was super little. Usually, getting that kind (and amount) of data by trying to figure out everything on your own costs way more time and a lot of money. You would need to spend hundreds/thousands of dollars on paid advertising to find out what kind of products sells the best and what type of cross/up-sell funnel actually works. By taking a look at what your competitors do, it’s like taking advantage of their budget and time.
Knowing some stuff about my competitors I was keen to find out which of those things actually work for me. But before I could build my store and start making money, I had to do some other things to make sure I was well prepared.
Branding For a Profitable Dropshipping Business
Building a real brand is ridiculously hard. I mean it – it’s something only very few people will ever be able to achieve. It takes time, money and an incredible skill set. Especially for this one-month case study business project, it was impossible to build a brand for obvious reasons. However, I wanted to have at least some kind of fake branding. What I mean by that is that everything I do in my business – from colors to wording – should be matching. Just like a real brand.
The starting point was the colors.
Build a Brand #1: Colors
Yes, colors are a thing. Yes, colors have an actual impact on customers purchasing decisions. Yes, colors define a brand… However, I didn’t want to overthink the process of finding colors for my brand. So I simply went to Coolors to generate some color schemes. I hit the space-bar until a color scheme appeared I thought could work.
Looked great to me.
I made my decision based on two factors:
- Colors of my competitors
- Trying to have at least 1 color that my competitors don’t use
I wanted to have a good mix of something that was already working and had a unique angle.
Took me 5 minutes to generate a great scheme and I could move on.
Build a Brand #2: Font
Every brand needs a font which will be used all the time.
As my target audience was female and my colors tried to express some kind of a girly style, the font had to match with it. It would have made no sense to use a “hard” font. I was looking for a clear-to-read calligraphy font.
Matched 100% with what I was looking for.
I downloaded the font and was good to go.
Build a Brand #3: Slogan
Coming up with a great slogan is something I struggle with all the time. Very often I just skip this part. But for this new business, I really wanted to have one. It didn’t have to be the best in the world. Just a solid one which matches with the rest of my branding efforts.
As I’m probably the most uncreative person on this planet, I had to rely on a slogan generator. Lucky me – Shopify has a good one.
The only thing I had to do was to type in a word/term that I wanted to include into my slogan and hit enter. I tried “phone cases”, “cellphone”, “vana”, “fashion”, “girl” and “style”.
It took me quite some time to find something I actually liked. In the end, a slogan appeared which I liked. Not the exact same wording, but I liked the idea behind this slogan.
“Don’t Forget The Style, …” seemed good to me. I just replaced “Mum” with “Hun” and felt very good about it.
“Don’t Forget The Style, Hun.”
Colors – Check!
Font – Check!
Slogan – Check!
Logo – …still missing!
Build a Brand #4: Logo
Having a logo is crucial for every brand. Coming up with a stunning one which also exactly represents the values of a company is, in most cases, not just super expensive and takes a ton of time, but also very hard to achieve. It’s nearly impossible for a non-designer like me.
However, creating a solid logo is possible. Using templates which are available for free will get the job done. And that’s what I did.
I’m a huge fan of Canva. If you’re like me and have no idea about design, it will save your day (or life). Canva has some great free logos you can use. Unfortunately, uploading a custom font is a paid feature. But as I really wanted to use Canva for this case study business I signed up for their 30-day free trial. If I would make no money, I simply cancel the subscription. Canva even sends you a reminder three days before your trial ends. Fair enough!
Creating a logo in Canva is simple. There are many great looking templates and I just spent some time browsing through them to discover a good one. My logo had to express a feminine and strong style. About 20 minutes later, I came up with three different logos. Two for general usage and one for the purpose of a favicon, which I would use later on designing my store.
Nothing fancy but, in my opinion, exactly what I needed.
I updated my brand assets in Canva and had everything in place.
Before closing the brand building section, I only had to do one more step.
Build a Brand #5: Topic-Based Business
Usually, a brand stands for specific values. Big brands actually own certain values. As my business wasn’t a real brand, I sort of had to fake this value and create something people can relate to anyway.
Instead of trying to implement great values, I wanted to come up with a “topic/theme” for my business. Just a simple topic I would build my business around.
Building a business around a topic can help big time when starting a “brand” from scratch. It helps to come up with content ideas for social media, helps to build the website and simply helps with all of your marketing efforts.
Obviously, my topic had to be very girly and feminine in nature. Something my target audience would really like.
My online course includes a list of several topics to choose from. One topic-category is to build a business around one specific color. This means that everything I do, branding-wise, had to match with this one color. From the social media content to my store design and all.
For me, this was the easiest way. I already had my brand colors set so I only had to choose from one of the five colors and make it as my “main color”.
I chose to go with my the brightest one, #F6C0D0 (Rose/Pink) – the girliest color.
Branding wise there was not too much I could do anymore. At least not at this point in time. It was time to move on and start to think about my marketing efforts.
Setting Up a Marketing Plan
Before it’s time to actually take action and start any marketing activities, I like to map out a short plan in order to not forget anything. Launching a new business is always exciting and you never know if you’ll find success with it. You can’t control the customer’s behavior and/or force people to purchase something from your store. However, your job, as the store owner, is to make sure you have done everything you possibly could in order to let other people know about your launch. Hoping that people will find your store by coincidence will never work.
I created a simple Google spreadsheet with some marketing ideas that I could apply instantly without any big efforts. Some of them were pre-launch and others were post-launch.
Usually, this list would have been way longer but as I only had very limited time and money resources for this case study business, I was forced to keep it short. At least at this point.
Marketing Idea #1: Giveaway
Giveaways are a great way to collect tons of useful leads and I’m a big fan of it. Obviously, running a giveaway cost money. Even though my intention with this case study was to build a profitable business without spending any money, I didn’t had the feeling that running a giveaway would be considered as cheating. I would run the giveaway for 10 days and announce the winner 5 days later. My goal was to pay the prize of the giveaway from the profits so I never had to pay anything upfront.
Marketing Idea #2: Pre-Launch Sale
Offering pre-launch discounts never really worked for me. In the past, I made some sales by doing it, but never achieved something big. However, like Gary Vaynerchuk would say; 1 > 0, and so I decided to give it a try again. Doesn’t cost anything but time anyway.
The execution of this idea is pretty simple. I’d just reach out to everyone who could potentially be interested in what I offer and tell them that I’m about to start a new business. If they would sign up for my newsletter, they’d get a pre-sale discount. Usually, this discount would be in a range between 30 – 50%. Whatever I could afford.
Marketing Idea #3: “Own” Collection
Great marketing makes people feel great. That’s what I try to achieve by doing this tactic.
In today’s world, where the attention is on social media, a lot of people would love to be an influencer and be in some kind of way, popular. Alongside with this fame come certain things like interviews, brand deals and also having an own product line.
Especially the last one is something only very few people will ever achieve. So this is the most attractive one.
Obviously, we, as dropshippers, can’t offer a unique product line. However, we can build a workaround which feels similar. By letting people, who have a small audience, assembling products we wanted to sell anyway into one collection and name this collection after them, will make them feel very special.
As this person (or persons) already have an audience, they will share this collection with them in a super passionate way. In fact, they will share it way more passionately and authentically than a usual product placement.
Marketing Idea #4: Pre-Opening Email Series
As the name of this marketing tactic already reveals, pre-opening emails are some emails which will be sent days before the store actually goes live. I do this to remind people that I’m about to launch the new business in order to make sure they visit my website once it’s live.
The content of this email series can be simple. But the last thing I want to do is “selling”. People usually hate sales-pitch emails from a brand they never heard about before and haven’t even seen the online store. My emails would be around the current status of the website and the business. Just to give them an update like I would if a friend asks me how things are going.
Marketing Idea #5: Instagram Direct Messages (DM)
Instagram direct messages are still one of the easiest ways to run qualified traffic to your store and make sales out of it. The only “secret” of a successful DM campaign is work. The more messages I would send, the bigger the reward. Good thing I like to work!
Marketing Idea #6: Facebook Group Posts
Facebook groups are incredible, but also very dangerous communities to promote new businesses for free.
Randomly posting about my new business and trying to sell something very obvious would probably lead to instant bans. Too many people, especially dropshippers, trying to take advantage of those communities and do nothing but destroy their reputation. I won’t do this mistake.
Posts in Facebook groups have to be valuable. In order to figure out what “value” means to the members, it’s important to listen. Then it’s time to engage with the members and bring real value to them. This will help become an authority in this group which is the only way to post about a business without being considered as a spammer.
I had to be very careful.
Overall, these six marketing ideas seemed like a solid start. With time and profits to reinvest in the business, I would add more ideas.
Having the list ready, it was finally time to build the online store. Even though I’m definitely not the best when it comes down to designing an online store, I always love building new stores from scratch! So I was very excited and happy to leave the early upfront work behind me.
Building My Shopify Store
Building online stores can become super complex. There are so many things you can do. Even though having all these opportunities is just great, it can be overwhelming. There’s no doubt about that. Additionally, there’s a ton of content online where people try to convince you from their approach. Some people even say opposite things. And, to make it even worse, all ideas seem to make sense in your head.
Obviously, this whole case study is just my approach and I’m definitely not the most experienced or most successful e-commerce entrepreneur ever. In fact, I’m far away from being even close to that. So everything you learn in this case study is my way to deal with certain things. This also applies to building an online shop.
I hate to overcomplicate things.
For me, an online store is mostly a place on the internet where my customers feel comfortable spending some money in exchange for good products. That’s it.
I don’t want to have a super fancy website with all kind of cool features. Most of them, at least in my experience, are useless anyway. If you’d like to play business, those apps/tools are great. But if you want to run a real business, I can highly recommend sticking to the proven things. New is not always better.
I signed up for the Basic Shopify Plan (incl 14 days free trial) and started my store building process.
Building The Backend Of My Shopify Store
Before doing anything frontend (the part your customer will see) related, I wanted to make sure the backend was ready. The backend work contains everything which makes operating the business actually possible. Having a weak backend can lead to big issues which will be so time-consuming I wouldn’t have any time left to work on the important things.
The very first steps I wanted to do was to implement my Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel code to my website. This is crucial for figuring out how customers actually behave and for growing my business.
Important Shopify Apps
Next up, I wanted to do is to add some apps which I believe help me and my business. Apps are a wonderful thing to expand a business. But it also can become very noisy and expensive. I just want to have apps at my store which bring real value.
Because I had plans to give other people the chance to make commissions if they refer customers to my store, I needed an affiliate system in place. Affiliatly was my go-to app.
Easy GDPR + Cookie Bar
Due to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which was set in place from the European Union to protect website visitor’s/customer’s data there are now certain things a website owner/business owner has to take care of. An app like “Easy GDPR + Cookie Bar” can help here and cover some things.
MailChimp for Shopify
For the purpose of proper email marketing, I needed an app which allows me to collect email addresses and push those into one big list so I can set up automated email campaigns. I choose to go with MailChimp as the free features are just incredible and the tool itself is very intuitive.
I used Oberlo as my go-to app for product importing and order fulfillment. Unless I reached 50 orders per month it’s free forever. Worked great with my no-budget approach.
For the purpose of product research, I also had Spocket as one of my apps installed.
Besides of MailChimp, I wanted to have another email marketing tool in place. Not necessary for sending emails, but for great ways to collect the email addresses of my potential customers. Additionally, the Sumo app for Shopify allowed me to create a call to action pop up which I could have used to force people on pages of my website I’d like to have them.
At this point in time, I didn’t feel that I would need more apps than those six. I was good to go.
Every online store needs at least some pages. Some of those pages are required by law and others are just nice to have for your customers.
I didn’t want to overdo it, so I only focused on a few important pages.
- Terms of Service*
- Refund Policy*
- Contact Us
*Those are legal pages and I’m not allowed to give any templates and/or advice on it.
I put all those pages into the footer of my website.
Obviously, I needed a way a customer could give me their money in exchange for the products. Payment gateways are the solution.
I decided to go with PayPal Express and Shopify Payments (credit card). There are definitely more gateways I could have added, but my experience told me that those two are more than enough.
My plan was to offer free worldwide shipping so I set all shipping zones in Shopify to “free”.
Having the backend ready, it was time to start building the part of my online store my audience will see; the frontend, right?
It was time to import my products!
Importing the Products
Because of my early stage product research work I already exactly knew which products I wanted to sell. I used the free Oberlo chrome extension to import products from AliExpress to my import list.
I renamed the variants, changed the product title, removed the AliExpress default product description and set a new price.
After my product price calculation, I decided to offer all products for each $29.99 USD. This allowed me to offer a 50% discount and still make a profit per sale of $5.57 – $6.99 USD. This calculation also included a 20% affiliate commission for my affiliates. If a customer purchases without being referred to my store from an affiliate, I would make even more.
The calculation also included:
- Product Costs
- Shipping Costs
- Transaction Fees
- Return Rate of 10%
After doing that I just had to split the two imported products into 19 different variants and push them all to my store. A no-brainer with Oberlo.
Once I had all the products pushed to my store, it was time to take care of the frontend!
Building The Frontend Of My Shopify Store
“There’s no second chance for a first impression”
I wanted to have my online store look solid. Nothing else. I had no interest in creating the best looking store ever. Simplicity wins.
All I was looking for was an easy to navigate website to showcase my products.
Read the line again;
All I was looking for was an easy to navigate website to showcase my products.
It contains two attributes:
- Easy to navigate website
- Showcase my products
In this context, easy navigation means that I wanted to have a very minimalistic website. The last thing I wanted to do is to confuse my website visitors with too many options. There’s only one thing I wanted them to do on my website: spend money.
The online store of this case study business shouldn’t be a place to get value in form of a blog, style guides or anything else which could have to make sense. My plan was to provide value via a giveaway, social media, and my newsletter, but not on the website itself.
Showcasing my products is the simple part. I would only need to create a long homepage showing all products/collections. No need to get fancy here. The very first step to achieve this was to find a good Shopify theme.
Picking a Shopify Theme
I’m far away from being a good web designer. In fact, I actually have no idea how to design anything at all. Luckily, these days no one has to have design knowledge to come up with a great looking website/online store. Shopify’s theme store gave me a lot of free themes to choose from.
As I already mentioned, I only wanted to focus on two things:
- Easy navigation
- Solid showcase design
So those were my main criteria when choosing the theme for my new store. Obviously not the hardest criteria but again, I didn’t want to build the fanciest store ever.
I decided to go with a theme called “Supply”.
With just a few clicks I installed this theme and was ready to design my store.
Besides picking a theme and installing it there was nothing else to do for me here. I was ready to move on!
Designing The Online Store
I finally came to the point in my business which scares many people; design.
Actually, I can totally relate to that! Proper designing is very hard. Like super hard. It’s not something you can learn by reading some posts or watching a YouTube video. It takes years to master.
As I have incredible deep respect for designers and know that even a little mistake in designing can have a massive (bad) impact on sales I stay away from designing at all. Instead of trying to create something cool I focus on what I know I’m good at: building a solid store which only has very basic features.
That said, no wonder my store ended up looking super pure and like it’s from 2005.
In the end, my store looked like this:
Actually, there were only two things I took care of at this store:
- Brand colors
- Products above the fold
Obviously, my store should match with my brand’s colors so I used those colors in my business. That’s it – no big deal.
Presenting my products above the fold, however, is a big deal.
Above the fold is the place on your website which is visible to your visitor without having to scroll down. This section of your website is the single most valuable space.
I showcased the following products on my website’s above the fold area:
Usually, this space is reserved for the best-selling products or something which should be promoted very hard. As I was about to start and didn’t have any data I could only assume which products would sell best. So I put in products which I figured out (during my early competitor research) seem to sell well: marble phone cases.
With time and more data, I would change this section and showcase my best-selling products.
Overall, designing, structuring and arranging the complete store took me around 30 minutes. But that was only the beginning of my store’s set-up.
Even though I have some experience in this field and know what can work, it’s never bad to ask other people for feedback. However, you have to be careful when asking for feedback.
Getting Store Feedback
Honestly, I don’t like asking for feedback on my store. The actual value I get out of this is not that big. Very often, in fact, this kind of feedback leads into the wrong direction. All of a sudden a certain thing is annoying even though it’s actually not. But as the person whose feedback you’re asking for wants to give at least some inputs they’re almost desperately looking for “mistakes” on a website.
That said, I had to be careful and super picky about the people I ask for feedback. I decided to ask six people: three of them are entrepreneurs and three of them not (to get a more customer perspective).
The feedback I received looked pretty much exactly how I imagined it: not that valuable. The entrepreneurs mostly said I needed to add more products or even change the complete inventory to something which is more “trending” and not that saturated in order to have less competition. Another big “suggestion” was to use a custom domain and not the free .myshopify.com domain. Maybe it was arrogant but I couldn’t see any reason to follow that advice and moved on to the non-entrepreneur’s feedback.
My non-entrepreneur friends also suggest to may change the products. But as this is mainly a personal preference and not necessarily subjective feedback, I didn’t listen. Again!
However, one of the entrepreneurs reminded me that I forgot something; an email signup form. I created an exit-intent pop-up (exit-intent = window appears as soon as the visitor tries to leave the website) with the help of “Sumo”.
Overall, the feedback at least reminded me to add an email signup form. Besides that, I didn’t take any action at all.
Having the store finally ready to pop, it was time for me to conquer the biggest opportunity since the invention of the internet: social media!
Setting up Business Social Media Pages
Social media is huge. Like really really huge. In marketing there are currently no better platforms than those social media platforms. Especially running on a tight budget or even having no budget at all.
Unfortunately, building organic reach on social media is incredibly hard. The algorithms of all social platforms prevent business pages from reaching new followers or even their already existing followers. But before I thought about how to approach people via social media, I had to create business pages.
There are many amazing social media platforms to be active on. But for this case study business, I decided to only be active on three:
As setting up these pages and getting the first followers on those platforms is not that hard it made sense to me to start with them. I could still add more later.
Dropshipping Social Media #1: Facebook
I started with Facebook for no special reason.
At the time I was creating the page, I didn’t have any intention to really take advantage of it. To master organic Facebook reach it takes a tremendous amount of time for content creation and distribution.
To begin, I kept the Facebook page very simple. It looked like this:
I used a Canva template for the cover image and included a discount code only to have at least one shot if someone discovers my page. But again, I had no real intention to promote this page in any way. Having one was mainly for my online reputation and being able to connect my Instagram account it in order to have an Instagram business account.
I didn’t upload any content to this page but still wanted to gain some followers/fans. My idea was to take advantage of the giveaway I already planned for my marketing efforts. People could get more entries if they like my Facebook page. More on that later in the marketing section of this case study.
Next up: Instagram
Dropshipping Social Media #2: Instagram
I’m not a big fan of falling in love with a certain platform but I absolutely love Instagram. Personally, with my own personal brand, I’m the most active on Instagram.
I really wanted to have my Instagram page on point and – later on – nail the marketing and interactions. Still without spending any money on ads or influencers.
To start, I needed a good Instagram bio. From my observations, people really look at it. It’s not like Facebook where not too many people actually take the time to read the page description. I had to come up with something I believe my target audience can somehow relate to and fits to my branding efforts.
I took the slogan I created earlier and added a few more lines and emojis. Additionally, I used a bit.ly link as my website’s link. I didn’t purchase a custom domain so I had to work with an url shortener. Using the given .myshopify.com domain wouldn’t look that good at all.
I chose my font logo as the profile picture and connected my Facebook page to Instagram in order to have a business account. Bio wise I was good to go but the biggest challenge was still in front of me: great content.
Coming up with content for Instagram or any other social media platform from scratch is hard. Especially as I had a zero budget and couldn’t even take product pictures with my phone. I had to be creative as I didn’t want to upload AliExpress product images.
So instead of just using the default AliExpress images for my Instagram account, I wanted to edit those a little bit. As I’m not a big creative, I needed help from a designer or at least someone who has more experience in this than I do.
The easy and usual way would be to hire a designer from 99designs or Fiverr. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it as I had no money to spend on this business.
I asked almost everyone I know in my personal network if they know someone who could be interested in doing some designs for me. In return, I offered a 20% commission on all Instagram sales.
It took some time but after a couple of hours, I found someone who was willing to help.
I sent over the images I wanted to have edited and my designer came up with a bunch of designs I really liked:
Looked great to me! He also added a unique style to it. I was very happy with the result. Unfortunately, I couldn’t upload all designs straightaway because some of the colors didn’t match with the branding I was trying to create.
My solution to that problem was to use stock images which fit to my branding efforts. I simply went to Unsplash and searched for the term “pink” as this A.) represented my main-color the best and B.) is the “topic” of my business.
Having the content together I posted everything which lead to an Instagram account that looked like this:
Not bad at all for a brand new Instagram account.
As the Instagram eco-system mainly runs on hashtags, I needed to find some good ones. I went to All-Hashtag.com and let the hashtag generator generate some hashtags (top) based on the term “fashion”.
After adding all the hashtags to each post, my Instagram account was set up and good to go!
Dropshipping Social Media #3: Twitter
Twitter is amazing and for many dropshippers, it’s an untapped field. The ability to jump into potential customer’s conversations is a great opportunity for every marketing person. But before thinking about the marketing aspect of it, I had to create an account.
I pretty much did the same thing I did on Facebook. I even used almost the same cover image. The only change I made was the discount code I applied. The reason for this was to have a way to track my sales.
Content wise, I decided against creating unique content. I wanted to fill my feed with other people’s content aka retweets. To do this I had to figure out which content is good and actually liked by my target audience. To get somehow started, I just googled “most influential fashion influencers on Twitter”.
Took me very little time and I had some solid content up.
Having my Twitter account up I finished the social media setup process and was ready to start my first little marketing efforts.
My First Marketing Efforts
Unfortunately, I got so lost in all the tasks (and starting to write this case study) that I totally forgot about all of my pre-launch marketing efforts. At this point, I didn’t have time left to do any kind of pre-marketing. The store went live silently and I missed the first opportunity.
Luckily, the only one I could blame for messing this up was myself. But that’s business.
To reduce the damage I needed to come up with a solution. So instead of complaining and being frustrated about the situation, I changed the purpose of all my pre-launch marketing efforts.
The giveaway which I wanted to use pre and post became a pure post-launch tactic, the pre-launch sale turned into a pre-launch sale for a new collection (instead of opening the store) and the pre-opening email series would turn into a welcome series to welcome each new subscriber to my email list.
I didn’t know if this will work out in the end but this was way better than doing nothing at all and just leave it as it was.
I started to reduce the damage by creating a welcome email in MailChimp.
Creating a Welcome E-Mail Series
Welcoming new email list subscribers with a nice little email won’t bring in any sales, but it builds trust and engagement. I didn’t want to sell anything to new people on the list.
I kept the purpose of the welcome email to actually welcome my new subscribers. That’s why I also didn’t want to put in any call to action into my email.
In MailChimp, there are several free automated email themes to choose from. I picked the “Giftgiving” and edited it a little bit so it would fit my needs.
Subject line: “YAS! You made it, hun!”
Nothing fancy at all but gets the job done.
For the purpose of branding, I included the main color, brand name, and the slogan.
The automated campaign went live and I could start to build a landing page which collects some email addresses so someone could actually see this welcome message. Makes sense, right?
Building a Landing Page For a New Collection
Building a landing page to collect potential customer’s email addresses is simple. As I already used MailChimp for building up my email lists, it was obvious to me to use their landing page templates as well. It’s a free feature and they look amazing.
This new collection pre-launch landing page shouldn’t become a big thing. It was only there for the purpose of reducing the damage of my messed up pre-marketing strategy. As I knew that I would add more products soon I wanted to make it right this time.
All I had to do was to choose a landing page template (I picked an empty one on MailChimp) and do a little bit of design.
Building this landing page cost me around three minutes.
Marketing-wise I promoted this page on my Instagram stories and use it as part of the giveaway I wanted to set up. But more on that later.
The people who signed up on this landing page received three emails. The first email was sent instantly after signing up and thanked them for their interest in the new collection, the second email was sent one day before the new collection would go live, and the third and final email was sent on the day the new collection was published. The third email will come along with a 30% discount code which is only valid for one day.
Already working in MailChimp, my next step was to set up an abandoned checkout sequence.
Creating an Abandoned Checkout Sequence
Abandoned checkouts are a goldmine. The information obtained in abandoned checkouts are one of the most valuable pieces of customer information (email addresses/contact information) an ecommerce business has.
There are several reasons why a website visitor won’t purchase something from a store instantly. They may get interrupted, had no money at this specific time, or any other reason which caused them to forget or get distracted about the order for a second. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested in buying the product(s) anymore. They just have to be reminded. That’s why I built an automated email sequence which reminded people that they forgot to complete their checkout.
Having the MailChimp app installed on my Shopify store it was a no-brainer to get this done.
I decided to not change too much of the default settings and went with the three email sequence of MailChimp.
At the time I set this automated sequence up I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about my target audience so I couldn’t customize the emails in a way which would have to make more sense (in terms of wording/language). This was something I wanted to change later. But for that moment it was definitely enough.
Starting an Affiliate/Partner Program
Even though I was 100% on my own on this case study business journey, I wanted some helping hands. Especially with the marketing.
Having a good partner program in place can literally multiply a business’ marketing efforts. It’s simple to set up and based on my experience with affiliates I came up with the 4 C’s of a partner program:
The amount of money a partner can make per sale had to be competitive. At the same time, I had to make sure that I can actually afford a competitive cut of my margins. That’s why I added the 20% affiliate commission top of my product prices when I was doing the calculations.
Communication is the key to success. Without proper communications with my partners, it would have been an agreement instead of a real partnership. It didn’t have to be daily communication but I had to give them the feeling that they could ask me anything at any time.
I couldn’t expect my partners to create content for me. Partners are mostly marketers and not necessarily content creators. That’s why I had to create a package full of content they could use for the purpose of marketing. Including brand assets, images and designs in different sizes and shapes for all big social media platforms and/or email headers.
Pay day is always the most important day and so I didn’t want to be late when paying my affiliates. Even worse: I never wanted to pay the wrong amount of money.
Due to ease, I choose to pay my partners via PayPal.
I created these rules for myself quite some time ago and all I needed to do was to follow them.
The starting point for setting up my partner program was to get an affiliate app for Shopify. I choose to go with Affiliatly. With just a few clicks I could access my Affiliatly dashboard and start to set the partner program.
I would set up every new partner/affiliate like this:
I kept the rest as it was by default.
Setting the partner program technically up was just the first part. I obviously needed partners to make this whole thing work.
Finding the right people to work with is actually very hard and can become a real headache. There are tons of people online who love the idea of promoting some products and get money in return. Unfortunately, not too many people actually know how to promote a product that will end up in a sale.
Even though there are hundreds of “affiliate marketing” groups on Facebook where I could have posted my offer, I decided to only offer an affiliate position to people who are at least somewhat familiar with my business.
I wanted to source affiliates from:
- The leads I would collect from the giveaway
- The followers/fans of my social media accounts
- The leads I would collect from the pre-sale landing page
- The leads I would collect from my website (pop-up)
- My customers
- Referrals from my customers
As I was on the 30-day free “Starter” trial of Affiliatly, I was able to add 50 affiliates.
The process of getting people on-board had to wait for a moment. Capturing leads had to be priority number one. In other words: It was time to start with some real marketing.
Before I jumped into marketing I created a “partner program” page on my website so visitors could apply for the program. I simply used the “page.contact” template for pages in Shopify and wrote some lines above the contact field.
I also added this page to the footer of my website.
Whenever someone would fill out this “Partner Program” form I would reply with an email and send them the link to the sign-up page. I didn’t want to automate this as communication is, like I mentioned, a very important part to me and an autoresponder wouldn’t help me.
The whole set up process of this partner program didn’t cost too much time. Doing this properly is essential to find success.
Marketing of a Profitable Dropshipping Business in 2018
Compared to actually making sales with a business, the things I did for setting up the business, was easy.
Marketing is what most people struggle with. In my personal experience, I believe the most common mistake the beginner dropshipper makes with their marketing is A.) tryining to be too fancy/creative and B.) jumping into paid advertising (like Facebook ads) way too early. In other words: they burn their money. Good thing I had no budget for this case study business.
I had my marketing plan already set up so it was time to execute on it!
Running a Viral Giveaway to Make Sales
A viral giveaway is my favorite way to build up an email list from scratch. Everyone loves free stuff! Running a giveaway doesn’t cost any money upfront (only once I award the winner) and just takes a couple of minutes to set up.
There’s not much I had to take care of. I only had to:
- Find a prize my audience really loves
- Set up the giveaway
- Promote the giveaway
Not that much work.
First things first: I had to find an amazing price.
I simply went to Instagram, looked up the hashtag #giveaway and spent around 30 minutes discovering some giveaways from other brands/people which received a good amount of attention. Two of them caught my attention:
Giveaway #1: Instax mini 9 giveaway
Giveaway #2: Unicorn makeup giveaway
I spent another 1.5 hours doing audience research. I actually looked up every single person who liked the giveaway post on Instagram and tried to figure out if they match with my target audience.
It seemed that the audience of giveaway #1, Instax mini 9, had more attributes of my target audience than giveaway #2’s audience. Especially the age and interests. So I went with the same product + case + instant film. In total it cost $150.
Having finished the hard part, I was ready to set up the giveaway. I used a tool called KingSumo. This tool allowed me to create a giveaway which let the people who entered receive more entries. They only had to refer a friend/follower and/or take a certain action.
After I filled out the basic information of this giveaway (title, description) I had to come up with an appealing cover image. So I went to Adobe Stock and searched for “InstaX”. Lucky as I was, I found a perfectly matching image.
The colors matched with my branding, the girls matched with my target audience and the picture included the prize I wanted to give away. Jackpot.
I signed up for the 30 day free trial of Adobe Stock, purchased the license of this image and created a decent looking giveaway cover.
As mentioned before, the people who entered the giveaway received several opportunities to earn more entries if they refer a friend/follower and/or take a certain action.
I choose to give them 15 more entries if they become a brand ambassador.
Actually, as soon as they would click on “become a brand ambassador” they received the +15 entries. It didn’t matter if they actually became a brand ambassador or not.
By clicking the link they end up on the previously mentioned affiliate signup/contact form page. Quite a lot of people used the contact form and wanted to become a brand ambassador. I simply replied with an email which includes the link to the Affiliatly sign-up page.
The brand ambassador program looked like this:
- 50% discount
- Free shipping
- 20% commission on referred customers
It was very simple and managing such a program doesn’t take too much time.
The final giveaway looked like this:
I embedded the giveaway on my website to have the traffic and collect data for my Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics.
As mentioned in the very early stages of this case study, I had a simple email collection pop-up on my website. The moment I started my giveaway, I replaced it with a giveaway promotion pop-up I created with the Sumo app in Shopify.
Besides promoting the giveaway on my website, I also promoted it on my Instagram bio and Instagram stories.
I ran the giveaway for seven days. In the end, I collected 865 email addresses. I was extremely happy with the result.
I was even more happy with the number of sales I received because of the “brand ambassador” opportunity I gave people who entered the giveaway.
$591.24 in sales. Deducting the $150 cost of the prize, I will end up earning $441.24.
Additionally to the direct sales of this case study, I used the leads to for email marketing. More on that later.
Overall, the giveaway went very well.
My next step was to dedicate a collection to micro influencer.
Dedicating a Collection
Make people feel special.
That was my intention in giving people their own collection.
By dedicating a collection of products to one person, in the best case a person with some followers on social media, I wanted to promote my products to their audience. As the collection is named after this person, for example, “Erica’s Essentials”, they will feel very bound to it and share this collection way more excited and authentic than they would do it for a usual brand/product promotion.
I wanted to keep this “exclusive” and didn’t want to offer this to everyone. So I decided to just pick two girls who would receive the honor of having an own collection.
My plan was to find so-called micro-influencer (people with 5k – 20k followers) on Instagram, approach them with my idea and send them product images so they can choose which product they would like to have in their collection.
The starting point was to find the right people.
I simply went to the Instagram account of one of my competitors and took a look at their tagged posts and most and foremost took a look at the people who posted those images. Chances are very high that some of these people are micro influencers I could approach them with my idea.
So that’s what I did.
I sent two direct messages and both girls agreed.
After sending over AliExpress product images, they told me which products they would like to have in their collection. I created two new collections in Shopify and added the products they wanted to it.
Both micro-influencer signed up for the affiliate program and started to promote their collections on social media.
Unfortunately, they didn’t promote it as good as I hoped for. The result was making 0 dollars out of it and their posts barely received any attention.
As not all efforts can pay off, I didn’t feel bad at all. I just started my new business and there were several ways of promoting it left. I had no time to lose and went on.
Instagram Direct Messages
The most common question I receive is always “how do I make sales”?
95% of the time I answer “have you tried Instagram direct messages?”
I’m obsessed with Instagram direct messages and the opportunities which lies beneath them. If done correctly, they can be a real game changer for the vast majority of dropshipping businesses. I have no doubts about that.
In order to make sales, there are two ways how to take advantage of the Instagram direct message eco-system:
- Asking for feedback in return of a discount.
- Ask people to become a brand ambassador/promoter.
Both variants have been proven to work for me in the past.
This fact and because I am so damn repetitive on it let me made the decision to use this strategy here as well.
The theory about it is actually super simple:
- Find people who could be interested in my niche.
- Reach out to them.
- Make the offer (ask for feedback or brand ambassador opportunity).
- Send the discount code.
- Wait for the *ka-ching*.
Five steps which are easy to understand and even more easy to execute. I just had to put in the hard and sometimes boring work. No fancy sales strategy – just going from “door to door” like salesmen use to do in the good old times, when the internet wasn’t even a consideration.
As mentioned before, there are two different approaches on the direct messages: asking for feedback and/or offering a brand ambassador opportunity.
Even though I don’t have any psychological background, I think both approaches are, psychologically seen, almost the opposite.
Giving feedback to a stranger (which I am for the people I would approach) is a way more selfless act than agreeing to become a brand ambassador. From my experience, most people who would like to become a brand ambassador are extroverts and not necessarily want to support a business. They probably want to support their careers. The conclusion to this is that both kind of people have to be treated differently. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here.
For the direct messages, I choose to go with asking for feedback instead of offering a brand ambassador position as it involves the person more into the building process of my business.
To make the direct messages actually work, there are four ingredients which are required:
The right audience
Sending the right message to the wrong people won’t lead me anywhere. The people I approach have to be actually interested in my niche/products.
The right direct message texts/offers
Messing up the messages and confusing the people would be the worst case. I had to make sure that the texts are nailing it and my offer is actually appealing.
Instagram page which is on point
Having a bad looking Instagram page will lead to many unread/unanswered direct messages. I didn’t worry about this as I was very happy with my Instagram page.
Obviously, my website had to look good and trustworthy as well. This is the place people spend their money on. If they would feel like they’re about to get scammed, chances are very low that they would place an order.
I started with the people.
There are two ways to find people who could be interested in my offer. I decided to focus on just one way.
The approach I choose for my case study business was simple:
- Look up niche relevant hashtags.
- Check out the hashtag related posts on Instagram.
- Send direct messages to the people who posted these images.
Step 1: Look up niche relevant hashtags
This was easy. I already did the necessary research on the Instagram set up the process. I choose to go with them.
Step 2: Check out the hashtag related posts on Instagram
I only had to use the Instagram search bar, type in #fashion (and the other hashtags) and hit enter. I clicked on “Recent” to discover the recently uploaded images and looked up a ton of images and pages which could potentially match with my target audience.
The reason why I didn’t go with the “Top” posts was my intention to only reach out to people who only have a small/mid-size audience. Most of the top-posts are from people who have a very big audience. Chances are not very high that they have the time/interest in working with a small business like mine.
Step 3: Send direct messages to the people who posted these images
Obviously, I didn’t reach out to everyone who posted a related post. I only wanted to have conversations with people who are in my target audience.
So I started to send direct messages at scale. Actually, I spent about 2 hours per day for 29 days straight on Instagram direct messages. I used almost all the free spots I have per day. I don’t lie about the fact that there were times where I didn’t like it at all. But those are minor sacrifices.
To make the whole process work, I mapped out a plan and stuck to it:
- Send 10 personal/customized direct messages (no copy/paste)*.
- Leave 10 comments to let people know I sent a direct message.
- Respond to incoming direct messages or take a break.
*After around ten days I had some insights about the best performing messages and only would customize the name and mention something from their last post.
Let me give you an example what I mean by “mention something from their last post”.
There are several “things” you can take from this picture and build a personalized message around:
- Relaxed position
- Sitting on stairs instead of the couch from the background
- The sweet lady in the background
- Black fashion/style
I didn’t go super deep into coming up with new texts for each person but actually had at least the opening line 100% personalized.
A usual direct message conversation (asking for feedback) looked like this:
The direct message I sent including the personalized line (there was a puppy on the image).
The comment I left below a recent post to let them know I sent a direct message. I did this because direct messages from people they don’t follow will end up in the “request” folder. The person won’t get a notification. Leaving comments was my solution to this.
The rest of the conversation including the feedback I received and my response with the discount code.
At the end of my marketing efforts, I made $2,971.24 USD in sales from this feedback direct message strategy.
104 orders over a period of 29 days was pretty solid and I was happy with the result.
After every successful purchase, I asked the people who gave me feedback if they’d like to become an affiliate for me. If they agreed, I sent them a link to the Affiliatly sign-up page.
Talking about Affilitaly…
Working With Affiliates
I really wanted to make the people who agreed to work with me successful. If they would make money, I would do it, too. A win-win situation.
My partner program was already in place and the only thing I had to do to make this work was to communicate with my affiliates every day. A simple email to figure out what their main problems are so I can find a solution for them. Such emails also helped me to keep them accountable.
Some minor problems occurred but nothing hard to deal with. I always found a solution within 24 hours so my affiliates could move on with their work.
They mostly promoted my store on their social media accounts and some really put in a ton of work. Which paid off.
3 of my affiliates generated a total amount of $953.51. Deducting their 20% commission, I end up making $762.81 in sales. Not bad at all.
I’m never satisfied – so I moved on to my next step in my marketing plan.
Facebook Group Posts
I had Facebook group posts on my marketing plan but spontaneously decided against it. I noticed an increasing amount of spammy posts of dropshippers in fashion related groups. I didn’t want to do that as it could have hurt my online reputation.
Having made this decision, I moved on to a part of my marketing I was very excited about!
Email marketing For a Dropshipping Business
There are rumors that email marketing died a couple of years ago. Customers won’t open emails anymore. Well, believe it or not, at the end of my email marketing efforts for this case study project I made $1,671.14 in sales.
I had four sources of getting email addresses:
- Email pop-up on the online store
- New collection landing page
At the time I started my email marketing efforts I had a list of 1069 emails. I definitely wanted to take advantage of it. So I decided to split my one big list into two smaller lists. The first one only included people who entered the giveaway (except form the winner) and the second list included everyone else.
I did this because I wanted to send two different emails which I believed fit more for those audiences.
I started with the giveaway list.
As there was only one winner of the giveaway, I sent an email to the remaining 864 people who didn’t win. I wanted to give them some kind of consolation prize for entering the giveaway.
To do this, I picked the free “Cutout” email theme on MailChimp and customized it a little bit.
Subject line: “Sorry, hun…”
If they would click on the “Shop Vana Cases” button, they ended up on a collection page where I displayed the best selling products at that time. I also used a shareable discount link so the 50% discount was automatically applied to my customers carts.
To my astonishment, this email worked out very well. I made $894.79 in sales from 42 orders. That’s a conversion rate of 4.86%. I couldn’t be happier!
The second list had a size of 205 email addresses. Deducting the existing customers, the list only had 101 people left. Not that much.
Sending a mass email to 101 people didn’t feel right so I made the decision to reach out to those 101 people personally.
I used a free Gmail email address and sent personalized messages. A usual email looked like this:
After quite some back and forth over a couple of days, 21 people decided to go for it and placed an order at my store.
I believe the very high conversion rate of 20% was the result of hours/days of sending personal emails. A mass email would have never received the same result.
Not that I just received some orders, but also gained quite some more affiliates who helped me spread the word. It couldn’t be better.
With these efforts, the very exciting one-month case study business project came to an end.
Let’s see if I achieved my profit goal…
The Final Result
When I started this project my goal was to make enough profit (not revenue!) to cover the average living costs of the members of my Facebook group. Additionally, I wanted to create a business which only takes 1-4 hours to run per day. A pretty tough goal.
Let’s see if I made it.
$6,242.21 in sales. Not bad, right?
However, this is not the profit. I had to deduct quite some costs:
- Giveaway costs
- 1 month Shopify
- Product costs
- Shipping costs
- PayPal transaction fees
- Shopify transaction fees
- 10% return rate (on-hold)
I had total costs of $2,265.84.
My goal was to make $2,512.12 in profit!
At the end of this one month and deducting all costs, I made $3,635.65 in pure profit!
I achieved my goal – heck yeah!
Considering I still work 9-5 have, have my own e-commerce businesses and doing this case study on the side of all of that should give you a real confidence boost that you’ll also be able to make something like this happen! I have no doubts about that!
Let’s talk about the time it took me to build and run this business.
This was very hard for me to track. However, on average I didn’t spend more than 4 hours per day on that business.
To be honest, there were some days where I worked 6-7 hours and on others 1-2 hours or even nothing at all. But whenever I worked, I worked very focused and didn’t play around with unnecessary things. This was the key to my success.
Overall, I achieved both of my goals and I am very happy about it. Actually, I’m super excited about it!
It’s the proof that…
- You don’t need a single dollar to start a profitable business.
- There are no so-called “saturated markets”.
- You can start and run a profitable business on the side of a fulltime job.
- There are many amazing free tools available (or at least free trial versions).
There’s no doubt about that.
It’s now up to you what you make out of this in-depth case study. You have the knowledge and you have the proof – what are you gonna do about that?
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business in 2018
Even though I never had any intentions to keep the business after this case study project, I always treated this business in a way which I would have done it if I would like to keep it.
There are quite some things I would like to grow this business:
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business #1: Start Blogging
Content marketing is, in my opinion, the very best marketing strategy out there. Even though I personally don’t have fashion knowledge and don’t know what to write about for this niche, I would hire a freelance writer (paid from the profits of the first month) and create some great articles for me.
Even better: Find an established blogger and hire her/him for a guest-post on my store’s blog.
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business #2: Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is hot.
Even though I am personally very careful with doing it lately, it is always worth a shot. Spending a couple of hundred dollars from the profits on an influencer campaign can not just help spread the words, but may even end up in making sales.
Pro tip: Run a giveaway with them so they share the giveaway with their already existing audience.
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business #3: Facebook Ads
Having some Pixel data and some money to invest, I probably would slowly but surely start running Facebook ads.
Paid ads, however, are risky at this early stage if you don’t know what you do. Please be careful. Remember, I made $3,635.65 in profit without spending any money – there’s not necessary a need to think about paid advertisement at this very early stage of a business.
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business #4: Social Media Marketing
As I haven’t done any proper social media marketing, this would be one of my first steps to grow my business in the next months. Posting niche relevant content on all platforms, sharing customer’s images/experiences and simply engage with my audience.
A great way to gain real followers on Instagram is Gary Vaynerchuk’s $1.80 Strategy.
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business #5: Add More Products
Having more knowledge about the niche and my customer’s needs, I am able to add more products which they like. This will give me the opportunity to create cross- and upsells.
A great cross- and upsell app is Product Upsell by Bold.
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business #6: Hiring Virtual Assistants
Once I am on a very steady level and really want to work on my business’ growth, I would hire a virtual assistant to help me out with certain things. This will give me more free time I could spend on the beach… erm… on the business (of course!).
Please be super careful when hiring a virtual assistant and giving her/him your credit card credentials.
If you never worked with an assistant before, asking friends or family to help you out can be a good start. You’ll learn how to explain certain tasks very clear.
How to Grow a Profitable Dropshipping Business #7: Keep Doing What Works
I know what works. I simply would do more of that.
Even if I would stop all of the efforts which have been proven to work and fail with all my new ideas, I could always go back to the things which I know worked out very well in the past!
I honestly believe everyone who can read these lines can achieve the same or even better results. No matter if you already have an online store up or just thinking about starting your very exciting journey to become an entrepreneur, I tried my very best to keep things as simple and practical as possible!
However, there’s no doubt about the fact that you actually have to work. Even though dropshipping is not very time consuming compared to other business models, it’s still not passive. Especially not in the beginning when it’s only you.
Maybe I’m a bit more experienced than you are right now, but believe it or not, there was a time where I had no business knowledge at all. I never even worked for a real company in my whole entire life. I dropped out of college and joined the army – and trust me, you learn a lot of bullsh*t in the army, but definitely nothing you need in the real life.
Don’t let missing knowledge stop you from pursuing your dreams! If you really want to have your own e-commerce business, this post can be the foundation of it. But it always has to be you who has to put in the hours. You have to be the one who says “no” to your friends when they ask to go out. It has to be you who find the time in your day to make this work!
That said, I asked a few dropshipper/entrepreneur friends if they could share their thoughts on “the single most important thing to find success”.
Here’s what they came up with:
“It is true that most people think of success as marking 5 6 7 figures sales but the reality is profit is the real indicator of success. Will the profit help you reinvest in your business for it to grow or be enough to live out of it. Keeping that in mind, patience, realistic goals and commitment to hard work is the ingredients for success. There is no overnight success so work smart, work hard and be willing to accept that with time you will reach your goal”
-Jean-Luc Kouassi, Dropshipping Entrepreneur (United States of America)
“The most important thing to remember when it comes to dropshipping is to market your product on the right platform. If you’re selling impulse buy products – focus on platforms like Facebook (posts, groups or ads), Instagram (hashtagging your posts or ads). If you sell search based products and you’re on a tight budget, you need to play the slow and steady SEO game. You’ll not only want to optimize your product pages for search but you’ll also want to create niche blog content as well. Once you’ve got more budget to play with you can spend some money on retargeting ads on your blog content (don’t worry, they’re the cheapest ads to run) and it’ll allow you to monetize your blog content as you can run an ad that shows your best-selling, relevant products. However, building out that blog content will help you drive relevant qualified traffic to your blog. It’s more work so people don’t do it but it’ll allow you to outperform your competitors.”
-Nicole Martins Ferreira, Dropshipping Entrepreneur (Canada)
“I think the most important thing to have is a burning desire to create a successful business/life. You can’t simply want it, because most people do and most people don’t create successful businesses; you have to “buy in” to the idea that you will become successful and have a successful business no matter what. This commitment and belief will allow you to go the extra mile, be persistent, and be creative.”
-Paul Lee, Shopify Mentor (United States of America)
“Consistency: In my humble opinion, the biggest factor that determines your success (or failure) is consistency. No successful business was ever built on inconsistency, no matter how good the branding or how clever your marketing is. Neither your competitors nor the market will wait for you to work on your business. You have to be consistent in order to grow your business”
-Tarek Borhan, Dropshipping Entrepreneur (Austria)
“To get success, I always believed in one quote “Clear the basics, Trust the process and put in the work” because in the end all matters is how hard did you tried for it.”
-Garvit Maheshwari, Dropshipping Entrepreneur (India)
If you’re now excited and want to start your own profitable dropshipping business from scratch, here’s your 8-step success-checklist:
- Bookmark this post and come back whenever you struggle!
- Sign up for your 14 days free Shopify trial.
- Download all resources of this case study for free.
- Invite a friend to read the case study and get the Marketing Checklist
- Join this free dropshipping webinar with me!
- Join the dropshipping Facebook group.
- Enter this giveaway to win a consulting session with me.
- Execute on the things I told you in this post!
I honestly wish you tremendous success and that you’re finally able to have your own successful business.
You know how it can be done – now it’s up to you to execute!
What was your main takeaway from this case study? Leave a comment below!