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[E4C4] A Quarter Million Dollars On 10 Hours A Week – Green Earth Bamboo

In this podcast, we’ll look at Green Earth Bamboo. Green Earth Bamboo is a family owned e-commerce business that specializes in bamboo viscose products, such as bamboo bedding, towels and bathrobes, clothing, and accessories. Doug Bancorn, Co-Founder of Green Earth Bamboo, shares the nitty gritty of what went into setting up their drop shipping business and offers valuable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to set up a green online business, such as: During this interview, Doug will share:

  • What it took to become a profitable 6 figure business in one year, with nearly a quarter million in sales by the end of their second year
  • How to research and identify a product to drop ship, and what goes into selecting a drop shipping supplier
  • How much it cost to set up their e-commerce business and what they would have done differently
  • What marketing channels provide the greatest return and why he believes SEO is the way to go
  • The content strategies he uses to drive search engine traffic and rankings
  • And much more!

Mentioned in this Podcast

 Where to find Green Earth Bamboo

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Lorna: Doug Bancor, founding partner and marketing manager of Green Earth Bamboo will share with us what it took to get this dropshipping business off the ground, why most internet marketers don’t have the proper SEO mindset and why content is truly king.

Thank you so much for joining us today on this interview. I am really impressed at how beautiful your website looks and I’d like to ask you how this whole business venture got started.

Doug: Ok, well thanks for having me. It got started with me relocating back to my hometown Chicago and my sister had been pushing me to go on a business with her. And so, it was got into a conclusion that we’re going to start a website, an ecommerce site. We honestly at that point did not know what we’re going to sell. And so we started doing some research and just got a random research looking at random products. We had some loose criteria in mind. We wanted something that was somewhat unique and wasn’t a saturated market. I think it only took us roughly a week or two of research before we stumbled upon the bamboo textiles which neither one of us had never heard of. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as clothing made from bamboo. Then again, we went and researched it and then we followed that up with getting some samples from a supplier and we were quite impressed with the product itself. Irrespective of any green qualities or that type of thing which just really, it’s a great product. Even for people who are not interested in the green aspects of things it’s still a great product as compared to like cotton when you’re talking about bedding. So we knew at that point that that was what we’re going to do. We decided upfront that we just wanted to just keep the site strictly to bamboo textiles and we ddin’t want to start introducing other products and so we’ve done that for the last two and half years. I think we probably have about a hundred SKUs. So, that’s how it came about.

Lorna: So what does bamboo fabric feel like? Is it kind of like silk or is it more like cotton or linen?

Dough: Well, technically, it’s a rayon. That’s what the government will tell you because there was a lot of controversy over the way bamboo textiles was being marketing. I’d say it probably started about two years ago, not too long after we got into it. We found out that it really had not been set in stone as far as what you could or couldn’t say about the product. And so, everybody in the industry, of course, there were hundreds of sites that were selling it. A lot of affiliate sites and some were drop shipped and there’s not too many suppliers, direct suppliers that manufacture or bringing it indirectly from a factory. In any case, we were all marketing it as organic material, bamboo t-shirts or sheets from bamboo. The government came in and said, “No, you have to refer to it as viscous from bamboo.” Viscous is kind of synonymous with rayon. And that’s based on the designation on the manufacturing process which has got a lot of bad press particularly because we were all marketing it with some green character traits. The manufacturing process is not the friendliest in the world. I can’t sit here and tell you that it is. But there’s a lot of positives too as far as the natural material is the most abundant materials that we have and it’s self-regenerating.

You cut the bamboo a couple of feet above the ground and it just grows back by itself. It doesn’t need water, other than the water that it gets from its natural environment. It doesn’t need chemicals, pesticides and things like that. It does have a lot of good sustainable aspects to it. But the processing of it is not the most friendly in the world.

Lorna: Yes, when I think about rayon, I think about something that’s made out of like plastic or petroleum products. And this bamboo fabric is actually made from bamboo pulp? Is that how it comes to be?

Doug: It comes directly from just the actual bamboo. Which technically they refer to it as a woody plant or a grass depending on what you are looking at when you go to Wikipedia or something. It’s considered like a woody plant or a grass. But as I said, it’s one of the most abundant resource that we have. As far as the fabric itself, it’s incredibly soft. Anybody that we have given a product, on a personal level, people that we know that we can talk to them first hand, and we give them a set of sheets for Christmas or a set of bath towels, everybody is thoroughly impressed. Again, irrespective of any green traits, just the product on its own merit, most people that I know that I’ve talked to, including myself, I can tell you that the bamboo sheets, that’s all we use in our family. The bamboo sheets are more comfortable. They’re softer and they breathe and they’re just more comfortable than if you were to go out and spend $500 on some 1300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. They’re very soft.

Lorna: And so in addition to the wonderfully renewable qualities of bamboo, are there other sustainability criteria in the products that you carry?

Doug: As far as like, in house criteria that we have or?

Lorna: Yes, I mean, in house criteria or maybe, do you go as far as like making sure that you’re using all natural dyes, for example.

Doug: Our supplier does use all natural dyes. Honestly, we don’t have any in house criteria with regard to the product because it’s quite frankly, we don’t really have any control, other than to say, we have control who buy it from. However, the reality is that there’s only two methods to process the bamboo. And one is the main process that any bamboo textile product that you buy in the United States is made from the same process. There is a mechanical process that it gives you a totally different product. And it’s actually not an appealing product because it doesn’t have the near the soft character traits that the other bamboo does, the main bamboo, the way it’s processed.

We can’t control how the supplier does things but our supplier is very green conscious and they do a lot of things in-house. They have their delivery trucks that run natural gas. They do various things themselves so they are green conscious and they do travel over to their factory that they have a relationship with. They don’t use a big factory, it’s a smaller factory that they have a personal relationship with over there. I know that they do whatever they can to try to make strides as far as making sure that the process is eco-friendly as it can be. That’s pretty much where we’re at with that.

Lorna: Before you guys got into selling your bamboo products on the internet, had you actually been involved with any type of ecommerce or internet marketing type of work before or is it your trial by fire learning experience on running an ecommerce store?

Doug: it was pretty much trial by fire. I had actually briefly started a small website in the mid-90s just very small and I did it because I was running a wholesale company in Las Vegas so I had access to these products basically at wholesale cost. But it was short-lived. And of course, internet marketing and ecommerce is ever evolving so there was really nothing that I had done or learned back in the mid-90s that was applicable today. I had to go and start learning just like a mad man. I spend 80-100 hours a week just researching and studying mostly how to market a website, search engine optimization, that type of thing.

My sister has her own graphics design business which she’s had for about 15 years. She had been doing a lot of small jobs for local companies with their websites. She knew a little bit to code and of course the design elements. She’s more than capable of doing that kind of work. As far as marketing an ecommerce website, that I had to start from scratch.

Lorna: What I love about the whole evolution of the web these days is that the technology platforms have evolved to the point where the barriers to entry have significantly lowered for people. Like before back in the 1990s you had to know how to code. You build these sites by hand. Hand coding all the HTML. Now you can use content management systems (CMS). It’s all become so much more user friendly on the backend. I think the whole world of internet business has really revolutionized with the whole advent of web 2.0 and content management systems. Nowadays, an entrepreneur can get into an internet based business for significantly less that it would cost to actually start a traditional business.

Doug: I couldn’t agree more with you. Yes, nowadays you can have access to something like WordPress which is free. I’ve seen people create stores on WordPress sites. And of course, there are thousands of plugins that work with WordPress that will handle all these various different types of tasks for you. And these plugins are for free and so, I couldn’t agree with you more. I myself, I don’t know a bit of code but I can do my job in an efficient competent manner as far as marketing without having to be well versed in code. I’m familiar with best practices when it comes to things involving code but as far as actual, really doing the code, my sister does that or we’ll pay somebody to do it if it’s something more sophisticated. I totally agree with you.

Lorna: Yes, gone are the days when we actually had to get a programmer to get involved anytime we needed to change the text or image on the page. (Laughs)

Doug: Yes, exactly. I love WordPress. And we have our blog setup on our site and it utilizes WordPress but our shopping cart system it’s what they call a turnkey system and Volusion is the company that we use.

Lorna: Volusion? How do you spell that?

Doug: V-O-L-U-S-I-O-N

Lorna: And what caused you to choose this particular platform over others? Did you go to an evaluation process?

Doug: Oh yes. I’m really analytic when it comes to researching. I don’t leave the house without Googling. So yes, we did. We did a lot of research. That was at the beginning and so, you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t know anything about shopping cart systems. And so, as I said, I didn’t know how to code and so, I had to start from scratch and try to go out there and look at all the different platforms and then just look at what people are saying in the forums and evaluate what features the different platforms have and then just had to make a decision and we chose Volusion. I don’t know if I necessarily recommend it to somebody. It will really depend on what your product is. But it’s pretty robust shopping cart system. It has a lot of features. A lot of stuff that’s already built into it as far as being able to automate things, inventory management and all that type of stuff. It’s all built in there.

But one of the drawbacks is, you can only modify your site so much. There’s certain restrictions because you don’t have 100% access to all the code. We had some headaches with it but for the most part we’re happy with it.

Lorna: Is it search engine friendly?

Doug: It is search engine friendly, yes. That was a big concern of mine upfront even though again, I didn’t have a lot of SEO knowledge at that time. But I did know enough to know SEO is something that is at the top of my list when considering one of these shopping cart systems. I did research that aspect of Volusion and yes, I would say that it does give you the controls that you need in order to be SEO friendly. You can override. If you want it to automatically take from your descriptions of our products and you want it to automatically assign URLs or title tags, it will do all that stuff. But of course, we don’t utilize that feature. We prefer to do that by hand. And so every title tag, every meta description, even the URLs for the product pages we do that stuff manually for SEO purposes.

Lorna: If you don’t mind me asking, what were your startup costs like? So you have your ecommerce platform and for that was a chunk of change. What other things you guys invested to get your business off the ground and how much did it cost you?

Doug: It was mostly just a ton of time and research. We had our own labor so I guess we could say that we’re not going to associate a direct cost to our time. With respect to just hard cost, we had to put out some monies to have some coding done for the site.

Lorna: To customize Volusion?

Doug: Yes. It’s just to handle all the design elements of the site. But there were certain things that we had to customize and so, we probably spent a couple grand so, roughly, encoding and then just getting started with Volusion. All in all probably it’s less than $5000.

Lorna: That is a fantastic startup cost for a business! (Laughs)

Doug: Yes.

Lorna: Can you imagine if you actually had a store like how much that would cost you? You have to rent the space, warehouse and all that.

Doug: Exactly. It’s one of the great things about the internet.

Lorna Absolutely. So when you were looking for developers to customize Volusion it’s something that the actual company or platform provider didn’t actually offer you guys? You had to go the external developer marketplace and find someone to customize that platform?

Doug: Volusion will do it. They do offer it. They will do it. But in my opinion it’s cost prohibitive because I can get it done cheaper. But they do offer it. And honestly, Volusion’s a pretty big, one of the biggest so-called turnkey shopping cart systems out there. They’re a good size company but when it comes to their customer service and the knowledge that their customer service people have we found that it’s often times lacking. We’ve had a lot of instances where we wanted to be able to do something, something that we wanted to change or adjust, we couldn’t figure out how to do it on their system and my sister invariably would end up calling them sitting on hold for a while, talk to somebody and then they would tell her no. It can’t be done. Then we would consult with one of our coders that we know that’s really confident and we have him go in and look and even though he can’t see 100% of the code that makes up the system he would tell us, “Oh no, it can be done.” So we would actually have the coder do it for us and it was something that Volusion had said no, you can’t do that.

That’s been a little bit sketchy with regards to the customer service.

Lorna: You know what the biggest challenges I find as a website owner is finding developers that I first of all trust that they’re not going to inject some sketch codes into my website that will spam the hell out of the internet.

Doug: Or hidden backlinks on all your pages going to their site.

Lorna: Oh god, exactly right. And then two, understanding whether or not they’re confident enough to write good code and they’re not, in terms of addressing customization and features that I want, doing it in such a poorly coded way that it does something like slows up my site significantly, or break something else. Do you have any best practices on how to find a good developer? I know a lot of our internet business, ecommerce folks struggle with that.

Doug: Well, honestly, the couple of people that we mainly use, and it’s really just very sporadically because my sister, like I said, she can handle basic stuff. But sometimes we’re running into something complicated but because she’s had her graphic design business locally here for 15 years, she knew a couple of people or knew somebody that knew somebody and so for the most part that the couple of guys that we have used for coding on our site have been through personal relationships. However, I would still recommend that people go to the sites out there, the outsourcing sites like in Elance. Admittedly, I have done very little with these sites but I know that there are a lot of competent coders on these sites. They’re around the world. You can get people that are competent in other parts of the world that will work for a lot less and the benefits of going into one of these sites that are strictly for outsourcing, for people that do the coding, and people that are looking for coding is you can look at the reviews of the people that you think are good candidates for the task at hand. You can see what people are saying about them, people that have had them do jobs for them. And so to me that’s a great resource. It’s just like, if I go to buy a Bluetooth headset, it might be on Amazon looking at the reviews and seeing what people are saying about the product, and that’s always worked out pretty well for me so I would say the same thing would apply with outsourcing.

Look at the reviews, look at what other people are saying about your potential candidates.

Lorna: There are some pitfalls too that I would like to point people out to is that, there’s a bit of trick that some of these companies use where they have a number of employees that work for a particular company on oDesk and like they have the more senior developers rack up some really good reviews. And so you might think that you are hiring someone that is a five star oDesk candidate for example and all of a sudden, they’ll actually turn around and put a junior person on you, and say, can you hire this person. And I’m like, “hey this person has no history whatsoever”. Oh but don’t worry, I’ll be managing that person. And so, I think it’s good like if you’re going to hire someone to just do some due diligence make sure you’re hiring an individual. Do not fall for the bait and switch thing. Also, the same thing that applies when you have a number of contractors working for a particular company that they’re representing via oDesk, sometimes they’ll give you a portfolio of their previous work. That’s actually the company’s portfolio but they’ve never actually done the sites themselves. I actually get numerous bids from different developers working for the same company and they’re showing me the same portfolio of sites. And like, wait a second… (Laughs)

Doug: That doesn’t surprise me.

Lorna: There’s an art to outsourcing too. And I can go on and on about that.

Doug: You can buy courses just on outsourcing and frankly I would probably recommend that for somebody that is starting up and if they have the resources, the bankroll, it would be worth educating themselves then paying a few hundred dollars for what have you to get a decent course on outsourcing and just putting out a little time upfront to learn the ins and outs for those pitfalls that you just mentioned and that type of thing.

Lorna: Yeah, totally. So how long did it take for you guys to become profitable?

Doug: Well, again, I can’t give you ah….

Lorna: Roughly….

Doug: Day 13 of month 6 (Laughs) No. I would say, somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 6-9 months something like that.

Lorna: Wow that’s really not bad at all.

Doug: Yeah, it’s a niche market. It’s not a big market obviously, because probably the vast majority of the population has never even heard of bamboo textiles or didn’t know that there was such a thing as clothing or bedding or towels made from bamboo. And so, it’s a niche market but there’s still hundreds of sites out there and there’s still hundreds of sites, be it dropship models, wholesale models or affiliate models. But there’s hundreds of them that sell the bamboo products and so we had to overcome some sites that had been in business for 4 or 5 years when we got started.

With zero backlinks and nothing, and so we had to start from scratch.

Lorna: Well, I used to own the domain, sustainablebamboo.com but I couldn’t figure out what on earth to do with it so I let that one go.

Doug: That’s a lot of work to market a site. It really is.

Lorna: It can be. So how much do you guys work on your business a week. Because it sounded like you had mentioned that you used to work day and night on this thing. Is that the case right now? Or was there a period of time were you work all the time and now it’s just tapered off because you’ve done all the groundwork?

Doug: In the beginning we worked all the time and now it’s tapered off greatly. I’m an information junkie by nature and so when I delved into something new, it’s all I think about. And I’ll just spend hours on it researching. And so of course, with starting a new business, that’s something that you’re going to want to do anyway. In the beginning, probably in the first six months, i was spending 80-100 hours a week just studying internet marketing and SEO. I started studying it day and night, pretty much every waking moment well before the site actually got up. Because of course that was a process to actually get the site up and running and so my sister, she has a graphic design business (as I’ve said) and so that varies. Some weeks she’s got 30-40-50 hours a week. Some other weeks are slower depends on the time of the year but she worked a lot on the side as well.

Slowly but surely, over time we started to get things down. Get things automated. Get systems in place. We have staff but mostly just a full time girl that handles the administrative stuff, customer service, some miscellaneous things. And then, we have some outsourcing be it out of the country or be it through local friends that are coders, as I had mentioned. Today, approximately three years later, maybe a little less, today I would say, she might spend roughly 10-15 hours a week and I spend probably, less than 15 hours a week.

Lorna: And does this business sustain the both of you guys? Or do you have other sources of income from other projects or companies as well?

Doug: The business definitely would not support both of us or one of us for that matter. But it is profitable and it is an asset. If we wanted to sell it tomorrow it does have decent value to it. I would hesitate to draw the number but it does have value to it. As I’ve said, she has a graphic design business that she’s had for years. I also do some consulting for some local businesses that are starting up websites from scratch or they’re a brick and mortar maybe that has a website but they have no idea how to do SEO or how to go about marketing their website. I’ve done some consulting for just a handful, small local businesses.

Lorna: So you mentioned that research was a huge part of getting started for you. I have a couple of research questions. Let me dive into the internet marketing research question which is; given that there is so much information on the web and I’ve been through this process before as well, I know that there’s just so many systems and methodologies and there’s a lot of information out there that’s wrong, how did you go about educating yourself about internet marketing? Did you find it useful to invest in courses or products that would actually help you just eliminate all the junk and just stay laser focused on information that you knew worked and wasn’t get you penalized by Google?

Doug: Oh boy, this is going to be a long answer. Yes, initially, it was just doing what probably anybody would do. Just searching SEO and then invariably I would start finding these sites, forums, SEO blogs and frequenting them. I used to spent a lot of time in a couple of SEO forums like the Warrior Forum.

Lorna: I love the Warrior Forum. It’s great! Everytime I have some kind of obscure internet marketing question or even a very good one that a lot of people have questions about it’s always the Warrior Forum thread that comes up from my search results. (Laughs)

Doug: I spend a lot of time there in the beginning, maybe the first year, on and off. At some point, I realized that a lot of the information that’s in here, they pass off information as fact, they represent themselves as real knowledgeable and competent with SEO and then invariably I will find out that the information that I was reading was incorrect. There’s definitely some good information to be had there but the problem is, when you’re starting out, you don’t know what you don’t know and so you don’t know if you’re reading an information that is correct or if it’s really best practice or if this person is just stating their opinion as fact because they did a little bit of testing on their website and they think that they have an answer to what it was they’re testing. There’s just so many variables when it comes to ranking pages in Google that it’s hard to test things.

I realized that I’m better off just spending some money and learning from some people that have been doing this for 10 or 15 years that are well respected by other SEO people in the business. That’s what I ended up doing and I would say, most of what I’ve learned has been on my own. I don’t really go to the forums anymore and there might be a couple blogs or websites that are dedicated to SEO that I will go from time to time and look at various blog posts that they’ve done because I know that it’s credible information. I did learn a lot. I took a couple of courses with Dan Theis [33:17] who’s been doing SEO forever and he’s well respected.

Lorna: He has a really good link building course, I hear.

Doug: Link Liberation. I was in the original Link Liberation that first came out in 2010, I think it was. And so, I signed up for that as one of his first students and I think it was something like $1500 for an 8week course. But I did learn a lot of stuff. And really, it helped to shape my mindset about SEO and that to me is the biggest issue. Ninety percent of the so-called internet marketers out there don’t even have the right mindset about SEO. Their mindset is one of just trying product after product or system after system or backlink system or backlink package after backlink package and they’re just trying all these different things. yes, you’re going to get some positive results from some things but to really be successful in marketing your website for the long haul and keeping it up there ranked for the keywords that you want to be ranked for in Google, it all comes down to content. You have to resign yourself to, I have to produce quality content. Content that people will want to link to. Content that people will organically link to. That content can be text. It can be a blog post. It can be a video that you put on YouTube. It can be entertainment. It can informational. Whatever it is, it just needs to be of a pretty high caliber and if you just keep doing that [35:15] and repeat, that is going to get you a lot further in the long run than just doling out money for paid to buy backlinks or to do this various backlinking schemes. There’s just so much crap out there. There’s just so many products be it informational, or people selling you a service where they go out and get you backlinks. There’s just all kinds of products out there and most of it is crap. Most of it is not going to benefit you in the long haul and so to me, you are just throwing money anyway.

Lorna: Some of it will actually get your site penalized. You’ll spend money and then your site gets de-indexed, that would totally suck.

Doug: Absolutely. Yes, and that’s the tough part. That’s one of the main negatives. There’s so many great things about having a business online. Like you’ve mentioned, the low startup cost and there’s just so many great things about it. Being able to research the supply and being actually able to see how many people a month are searching for this product that I want to sell. You can’t do that with a brick and mortar. It would cost you a fortune to have some demographics study done and try to figure out how many people are shopping for furniture in your local town. Should I open up this furniture store or that kind of thing. So the internet affords us these great things but one of the big negatives is you kind of have all your eggs in one basket. There are ways to avoid it but if Google deindexes your site and you’ve spent three years throwing a lot of money and resources into this site and you’re getting solid traffic, a solid revenue from the site and Google reindexes it, you’re done. That’s it. You just went from whatever you are making, down to nothing.

Lorna: Yeah, can you imagine if that happens to BMW. I can’t even imagine how much money they will lose if that happens.

Doug: Yeah, there was that, was it JC Penny? Because their SEO company, I don’t remember if it’s in-house or if they hired a third party company but whoever was doing their SEO, I guess they were utilizing some sketchy backlinking processes. And so Google slapped them. They didn’t deindex them but they dramatically reduced their rankings for five thousand or tens of thousands of keywords. So you have to be careful and do the white hat thing, so to speak.

Lorna: So what marketing strategies do you find to be the most effective for your business?

Doug: I’m a big believer in social media and the future of social media. But I have to admit that we’re not doing it right at present. We do have a presence of course, on Facebook, on Twitter and we do push stuff out to our Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis but we haven’t really allocated resources to where we got our employee that spends two hours a day or what have you in the social media arena engaging people one on one. To me that’s the future. That’s what people should be doing today. I’m a big believer in putting resources towards social media. And again, it depends on the nature of your business too. Certain businesses lean more towards that whereas others may not have the same positive impact. So it all depends on what your business is. If you are service oriented business, then absolutely, you should be allocating some resources to engaging people in the social media arenas and I think that’s only going to be more important as time goes on.

Now that I’ve explained that I think social media is important but I’m not doing it right so please don’t go and look at our Facebook or Twitter and try to emulate what we are doing. Just doing a couple of posts on Twitter everyday is not the proper thing to do. You want to be active and engage people. That’s what you really should be doing.

Lorna: So you guys sell stuff. So let’s say you have the resources and the manpower to actually have a robust social media department in your company, what would that look like on a day to day basis? What do you imagine doing? What kind of campaigns would you launch?

Doug: What we would do is, for example, I’ll use Twitter, what I would do is I would have my employee say that I would train him to do certain tasks everyday as an example, I would say, you’re going to do. There’s tools for everything. I have tons of software that I use for all kinds of different things.

Lorna: Can you share with us some of your software picks?

Doug: I can. But let me finish the Twitter thing.

Lorna: Okay.

Doug: Because this is something that I’m not doing but it’s something that I think a small business should be doing. As an example, I have my employee and she spends X amounts of hours everyday in the social media arena and so one of the things that I would have her do is (or him) go to Twitter everyday and I want you to run these searches. I’m going to come up with a list of say a dozen different searches. Searches that I deem pertinent to the products that I sell.

Lorna: For example?

Doug: Bamboo, bamboo sheets, green clothing or sustainable clothing or environmentally sustainable clothing. And so, I’d probably come up with dozens of queries of keywords. This will be a daily task for her to run these through Twitter and see if there’s any real conversations going on where somebody has asked a question using that keyword. Like, “Hey my friend just bought bamboo beddings.” Of course we’re limited on the characters there. But if somebody is implying that they’re interested in bamboo bedding. Hey, are you familiar with it, blah blah blah, something like that. Then I would want her to jump in on the conversation and of course this is where you have to be very tactful. You can’t just jump in and be all “salesy” and say “Hey we have bamboo bedding, go here.” You want to help that person and give them some information and you’re not trying to sell them per se. But you’re just trying to be helpful and genuine.

So that would be one of the things just in broad strokes, it’s finding people who are already discussing products that you sell or something similar to what you sell that you feel that that person might be a target customer. And if they’re seeking some sort of advice or there’s something that you can offer them in a way of information then go and do that. That would be the type of thing that I would recommend that a small business should be doing. Just being genuine and not trying to sell people. Just engaging them and being helpful, providing them information. That’s in broad strokes, what I would say.

Lorna: Does social media actually drive business for you?

Doug: Yeah it does. A little bit. Not anything significant.

Lorna: How do you track this? Do you use a specific URLs to track some of the businesses that come through social media or do you just check in Google Analytics and know that a percentage of your social media traffic is actually converting to sales?

Doug: The thing is because, as I said, since I’m not doing this social media the way it should be, I’ll use Twitter again as an example, because I’m not out there engaging the people. If I was, yes, you can track it through Twitter. Actually you use URL shorteners but then, I think now Twitter just made a change recently and maybe you know the answer, I’m not sure. But I think Twitter made a change recently where I noticed that in my analytics.

Honestly, I use GetClickly just for my daily, getting a general feel for what’s going on on my site and where the traffic’s coming from and the keywords that people are coming in from. I just use GetClicky. Of course we have Google Analytics setup and we use Google Analytics for certain things but GetClicky is very simple. It has a lot of features and it gives me a nice snapshot of where my visitors are coming from and what keywords they’re coming in from a search engine, what URLs they’re coming from and that type of thing.

Anyway, sorry, I got off track. My point was I think Twitter changed something where any link that is clicked on within their site is going to show up in your analytics as (I forgot what it was. I can’t remember it now). The bottom line is, it’s very simple to look at your referral logs and see. And that’s something that I recommend that any small business, once they start getting significant traffic, I glance at my referral logs everyday. I don’t spend more than a minute looking at them but I want to see where people are coming in from because I might see some site that I recognize that’s a big site like Huffington Post and I see, “Oh wow, I got some traffic from Huffington Post, I have to go check that out.” Or maybe it’s a smaller blog and not the biggest blog in the world and it might be somebody who wrote an article and they linked to you and now you have an opportunity to perhaps develop a relationship with them where they can provide you with some more links in the future and that type of thing. So, it’s just a good practice but yes, there are ways by looking at your referral logs and using URL shorteners to be able to track things and that type of stuff.

We don’t do a lot of that because like I said, we don’t get a lot of traffic from the social media but we get some from Facebook, some Twitter, some Stumbleupon and these types of things.

Lorna: Linkbuilding as a small business, linkbuilding can be so time consuiming. And some of them are not even worth it. What kind of linkbuilding do you do? And what do you think is worth actually getting?

Doug: This has evolved for me greatly. In the beginning, it was just actually thinking about going out and getting each link on an individual basis. I haven’t thought in that manner in quite a while. Nowadays it’s more about if you produce the content on a regular basis then you’re going to get links organically.

Lorna: Really? I mean come on, the web is just vast. You can create the most scintillating content out there and if no one finds it, no one’s going to link to it!

Doug: I certainly wouldn’t suggest that as your only method for procuring links. I think the contrived link has its place in your toolbox. But I think that your main focus and your main resources should be on creating the quality content. We have blog posts that were written a year and a half or two years ago that still get a link here and there today. Your content essentially becomes an asset for you. Over time, it can snowball a little bit. It certainly helps once you start getting some significant traffic, which is of course is hard to do until you start getting some links because you need the links to rank. It’s kind of a Catch-22. I certainly would never tell anyone not to do any of the manual Linkbuilding so-to-speak or to pay for any of the linkbuilding services. But I think that it should be a smaller part of your overall plan.

Lorna: Okay, so, directories, is it worth it? Yes or no.

Doug: I wouldn’t bother with the, oh I’m going to pay a service $100 just to go get me links to 2000 directories. I wouldn’t buy software that’s going to auto submit to 5000 directories. We went out, we pay the money for the Yahoo directory which I probably wouldn’t advice somebody to do it today. I don’t know if they’re still doing it but it was a couple of hundred bucks I think.

Lorna: Yeah, it’s like a couple hundred bucks a year and there’s also like, bestoftheweb and business.com and some of the other established directories that cost about the same.

Doug: I did best of the web and then I stopped doing that.

Lorna: Yeah, maybe in the beginning. You need kind of a high page rank authority site linking to you.

Doug: Yeah, you can’t just produce great quality content and think that everything is going to work out all hunky-dory. You do have to do some, specially in the beginning. You have to do the manual type stuff. And I don’t suggest that the business owner themselves do it. I suggest they outsource it. So just real quick. A little fact to weight for anybody out there who happens to listens to this, if they have already paid for like Yahoo Directory listing, Yahoo, the way their system is setup, if you stop paying for it annually, you will stay in the directory even though they certainly don’t tell you this. You’re suppose to have to pay the annual fee every year but we stopped paying it two years ago, we’re still in the directory. I learned that from somebody else so it’s not like it was unique to me. It seems to be the general theme with regard to Yahoo’s directory.

Lorna: What about guest blogging?

Doug: I think guest blogging is a great thing. Admittedly, we don’t really do it. I did do a little bit of that in the beginning as far as just trying to do a little bit of relationship building/guest blogging. I think that’s definitely a great thing. It should be in your toolbox for a lot of reasons. Not just hey, I got a link. But you’re networking and you’re building relationships. Yes, I’m a believer in guest blogging absolutely.

Lorna: Okay, any other links besides the links that you’re getting through your blog content and your content strategy?

Doug: I would say another thing that I would suggest to a small business owner is video. I’m a big proponent of video and video is obviously most people know that it’s huge and it’s only getting bigger. I think YouTube is number three behind Facebook and Google.

Lorna: So building links by creating videos? But I mean, each video you post to YouTube is still getting a link from YouTube back to your website or do you use YouTube to deep link into your specific pages.

Doug: The links on YouTube is no follow and so I wouldn’t do it because I’m going to get a link from YouTube because the link is no follow anyway which we won’t get into whether that can have a positive effect or not.

Lorna: I think you get one do-follow link from your YouTube profile.

Doug: Okay, yeah.

Lorna: So the strategy around YouTube linkbuilding is to get comments from other high page rank YouTube profiles to your one profile which then powers all those links back to your site. But that’s also kind of spammy and really time consuming.

Doug: My main reason for mentioning it is its exposure. If you create something that is of value to people, be it informational and it teaches them something that answers a question that they were looking to get answered or because it’s entertaining or what have you, it’s going to get exposure. And of course, YouTube makes it very simple for people to download the videos. So if it’s something of value, people will ultimately download it and put on their websites. And so you can then get mentions, citations/backlinks from third party sites that have grabbed your video from YouTube and put it on their site. It can be a source of traffic for you because people watch this video on the third party site and get a backlink out of it too. So in general it’s just about getting the exposure which can result in both traffic or backlinks.

Lorna: It sounds like you guys rely pretty heavily on your content strategy via your blog.

Doug: Yeah. That’s a fair statement.

Lorna: And I see a lot of green ecommerce sites that they’re selling stuff through their ecommerce site and they also have a blog too but I noticed that the often don’t really leverage their blog in a way that supports SEO keyword strategy. So what the blog has become is yet another time suck where they’re blogging about green living but they’re not actually creating SEO optimized blog posts around particular keywords which they then link back to their product page. I’m curious to know how you guys leverage the power of your blog.

Doug: I totally agree with what you has said. For starters I would advise that they just need to learn, specially if there’s somebody who’s a control freak. They have to give that up and let go and just resign themselves to paying somebody to produce content for them. Because as a business owner, or even as a manager, other business where you are contributing to the online presence, it is not a good use of your time to spend 45 minutes or an hour writing a five or six hundred word blog post. There’s exceptions to that. If you’re marketing yourself, that’s different. If your product is yourself, which for a lot of online presence is, blogs, people are marketing themselves for one reason or another. And that’s different. But if you’re selling a product then ultimately, it’s not a good use of your time to spend time writing your content.

We have a couple of writers that we pay that produce blog posts for us. My sister handles that relationship with our writers. It’s three or four posts a week. Every week, religiously. And we’ve been doing that for a couple few years. So I think we have about 300 blog posts now that we’ve accumulated over the last couple few years. They are competent writers. It’s pretty well written. The topic is, like our little narrow niche of bamboo textiles, you can’t write 300 blog post about bamboo textiles.

Lorna: (Laughs) You can run out of ideas at a certain point.

Doug: People don’t want to read that crap and then I can come back to read a post on bamboo sheets because the post that they read about bamboo clothing the week before was just so compelling. (Laughs)

Lorna: So what do you write about?

Doug: You don’t have to write about your product. It’s very easy to bridge, to take a topic and write a nice 500-600 word post and at some point in one of your paragraphs you can bridge over and tie it in to your product. And that is of course where you want to put keyword, the appropriate keyword because you’ve spent many, many hours doing much research on your keywords which is of paramount importance. That is something you don’t want to outsource. That’s something that business owners need to educate themselves on keyword research and they need to build their keyword bible so-to-speak.

Even for my little narrow niche, I have several hundred keywords that I deem targeted traffic. People are searching these keywords. Sorry I’m getting off topic.

Lorna: I love this conversation, I can talk on and on about internet marketing but I want to make use of our last few minutes to address the whole art of dropshipping specially for someone out there who are aspiring entrepreneurs who wants to start a green home based business and they’re looking into ecommerce and getting into selling sustainable products. I was wondering if you might be able to help us with the experience that you had, like knowing the mistakes that you made along the way and what you do differently. How would you advise an aspiring entrepreneur looking to start an eco homebased internet business how to get into a dropshipping ecommerce store line of work.

Doug: Sure. Well, it’s a pretty arduous task. Once we decided on our product then of course the next step was, were going to find any and every supplier that either manufactures it themselves or buys directly from a factory. We’re going to find everyone that we can find and then we’re going to start evaluating them. We’re ultimately going to make a decision in the end on which company we think will be best. And of course there are a lot of things that you have to factor in when you’re evaluating the company.

Lorna: Like what? What are your evaluation criteria?

Doug: When you have a dropship model the thing is, you’re handling your customer service. The customer is actually, they’re purchasing the product on your website as opposed to an affiliate website where your simply sending traffic to another site. With the dropship model, the relationship with the customer is yours. You’re responsible for that. And so, the last thing that you want is to have a supplier, because you’re dependent on them, this is not a wholesale business so you’re not shipping the product out yourself, you’re dependent on that supplier to have the products in stock that you’re selling and not run out. You’re depending on them to ship the order to the customer in a timely manner. And, you’re depending on them not to screw it up and send the wrong order or get the address wrong. All these types of things that can go wrong when you’re dealing with customer orders.

Lorna: But how do you know? How do you know if that supplier is not going to be fully stock or is going to run out or whether they’re going to completely ignore, drop out of sight with communications with you as their customer.

Doug: Well, what you do is,
1. You have to use your instincts as a business person.
2. You have to use your instincts with regard to your ability to assess people and the way that you do that is by opening up a dialogue with these candidates, your shortlist. You start a dialogue with them. “Hey, I’m Joe Blow and we are starting up this website and we are going to carry these XYZ product that I see that you sell.” Obviously you have to first ascertain whether or not they actually offer dropshipping because not all companies that manufacture or are out there wholesaling, not all wholesalers offer dropship. So you have to establish that first. But once you have established that, then you have to communicate with these companies and try to get a sense for whether they’re going to be efficient with things in general. I found that just through half a dozen emails back and forth with the company, with an individual, once I got to talking to somebody I could get a sense. Where they timely in their email responses to me? Did it look like they just sent me canned response or did they really read what I wrote to them and did they really address my questions.

You start to get a sense for how they might be overall as a company, as far as whether they’re going to be efficient or not in this important things with regard to getting customers their orders, making sure things are right, communicating with you when you have problems or questions, so that type of thing. You get a sense for that when you communicate with people back and forth. That’s one important thing.

3. I also look at, how big is this company? How big is this site? How long have they been in business? We have these great tools where we can see approximately how much traffic a website is getting and so, if Company A, I can see that they’ve been in business for three years but their website is not getting any traffic to speak of and Company B, they’ve been in business for three years but I can see that their website is getting approximately 10,000 visitors a month then that’s one thing that I factor in. They’re probably more substantial. They’ve built their website out. They’re getting traffic, you can look at how they’re ranking in the search engines for the queries and the [1:05:21] that you’re interested in for that product. And that type of thing, and so, some of it is business instincts and some of it is just trying to get a sense for how big the company is and whether they’re going to be good to work with or not.

Lorna: Do you have a short list of evaluation criteria? You mentioned traffic is one, response time is another.

Doug: Traffic, response time, the site itself. What is the site look like? Does it look like they paid Joey the next door neighbor to design it or is it very professional? They’re copy. Is it well written? People know just from traversing the internet and buying things and participating in forums and all kinds of things. People know, when you land on the websites that are just maybe a little bit sleazy or not the most professional, you start to get a sense for that. I look for that company that looks professional, all the various things about the website look professional. There’s so many things you can do. You can run a Google search and find citations out there where they’re talked about on third party sites or other sites and see what other people are saying about them.

Lorna: A really good search to do, “Company Name sucks” And then if you start seeing a lot of results with that company name sucks in it then you know to avoid them like a plague.

Doug: Right, right! I make use of Google everyday. There’s just all kinds of search queries that I do that help me to evaluate things, help me to evaluate websites and tell me information about them.

Lorna: So you research your suppliers individually and you choose not to go through like a database of one of those companies that has a database of companies that dropship?

Doug: I wouldn’t do that. I shouldn’t say that. I’m sure that there are some instances where maybe that would be the smart play. For starter, it’s hard to market a website nowadays. It’s competitive and so the last thing you want to do is open up a website and say, “hey I’m going to sell 2 dozen unrelated products” You need to find a niche. You need to focus on, it doesn’t have to be one product but they should be tightly related. So to me, I’m not a proponent of those databases where you have access to all these different products that can be dropshipped for you. You need to find something that is interesting to you. A product that you believe in or something that you’re knowledgeable about and focus on that. Find a competent company that has a dropship program and work with them directly.

Lorna: Okay, so identify your supplier then what? How do you negotiate with the dropship arrangement and how do you make sure that the orders through your website are tracked and that you’re getting whatever percentage you’re owed.

Doug: Since it’s a dropship, you don’t have to worry about tracking. Obviously you have to be on top of your debits and credits, and what the company is charging you. But essentially, the customer comes in, they buy the item on your site and so that credit card gets processed and when you run your batch with your merchant account, that money goes directly into your business bank account and then the dropshipper they ship that order out to the customer and they charge you whatever the pre-determined pricing is for that product(s). Upfront, there’s really not a lot of negotiating you can do because you’re not negotiating for any sort of position of strength at all because they don’t know you and people start up websites all the time and then a few months later ii shuts
down. I think these companies pretty well just expect that a large percentage of the people that come to them that are starting up a website are not going to be real successful and so you don’t really have much of a position to negotiate pricing or “hey we want that 30” that type f thing.

We had it pretty much accept whatever their terms were in the beginning. I think they probably have a hundred dropshippers or so roughly. I know we’re their number one dropshipper. I know that we outrank not just the other dropshippers but we outrank the suppliers too for the majority of the keywords that we’re interested in.

Lorna: Good job!

Doug: So, they see that and the sales are there and they can see that you’re doing into the six figure in sales with them and so, you’re somewhat of a substantial player. Then you can try to negotiate pricing and terms and that type of thing. There’s little things to negotiate too with regard to how the orders go out and just different things.

Lorna: When you first approach them, did you already have a website to show them that you are serious or did you have nothing?

Doug: When we first approached them we have registered the domain and I think my sister put something together but you really can’t have any kind of a real website because you don’t even have the products yet. Because the products that we would get from them are not going to be identical to the products that we would get from the supplier B if we were to go with supplier B. It wasn’t like we could actually have product pages with copy and pricing. We put something together but I think it was just a few pages. But we really worked hard to sell them on us because they have a bit of a process that didn’t just take anybody who called and accept them as a dropship customer. We had to sell them. The fact that we were very serious, that we had the skillset to design the site in a professional manner, that we had the skillset to market the website and so, we sold ourselves to them to help forge the relationship. Have them accept us and be willing to do business with us and that type of thing.

Lorna: Okay great! So you identified your supplier or suppliers, you now start building the website, then what?

Doug: The biggest hurdle upfront was getting all these SKUs and everything entered into the software system, the shopping cart. Once we got that done then we just worked on just setting up a blog and all the other stuff.

Lorna: And then marketing the hell out of your site!

Doug: Yeah, exactly.

Lorna: Excellent! Cool.

Well, thank you so much for your time. We’re just about at the end of the segment. I do want to ask you, you mentioned your list of software that you used so if you would end this call with some software or application picks for aspiring eco entrepreneurs or even existing eco entrepreneurs that would be fabulous.

Doug: Sure, okay.

Market Samurai – it’s robust. It’s got a lot of features but people would term it as a SEO type of software.
Link-Assistant.com – they have several software. I use their rank tracker as the main software that I use from them.
I have some other little custom things that I had written that I use. I have other things but they’re more specific to what I do. Those are the Market Samurai and the Rank tracker are the two main ones that I would recommend. It’s not terribly costly and so for SEO purposes I would recommend that somebody get those.

Lorna: Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time. I want to wish you all the best on your ecommerce internet marketing adventures. I hope that your business grows and that you are able to enjoy the internet business lifestyle, whatever that might be. At 10 hours a week though, that isn’t too bad.

Doug: Thank you for having me Lorna. I appreciate it.

Lorna: Alright, thank you so much. Bye for now.

Doug: Take care.
[END OF RECORDING]

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  1. this is a interesting podcast…

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