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It was the early months of 2019, and Erin Rafferty had made a decision. She had spent the past year researching social media and e-commerce and this year, she was ready.
She was going to start her own ecommerce business.
She was going to be her own boss.
Erin’s career had taken her from working in a bank’s loan department to waitressing to car dealerships–but now, she was done with the 9 to 5 routine. Being a woman on the job hadn’t been easy–it had often been exhausting, negative, and challenging.
Now, she wanted to work on her own terms.
She was ready to tackle a project she could call her own. She quit her full-time job and single-handedly built a dropshipping business.
Her only goal? Be able to pay her rent and make enough till she found another job that’d help her pay the bills.
Things didn’t turn out like she expected.
Within 3 weeks of opening her store, Erin had made 4 times her rent.
She had so many orders she struggled to get them through.
Within a few months, she was making close to $70,000 per month—per store.
The entire year she had spent learning and researching had paid off. Her 16-hour workdays and enthusiasm had made its mark.
It was clear: Erin would never have to work a ‘normal’ job again.
She had found her calling. It was entrepreneurship.
In a world where we just don’t hear enough of badass female entrepreneurs, we were interested in knowing how she built an overwhelmingly successful dropshipping business from scratch. We wanted to know how she navigated the confusing e-commerce world and created 3 booming online stores that people loved and bought from over and over again.
So we scheduled an interview and asked her to tell us her story — and now we bring it to you.
This is how she did it and YOU can too.
Choosing a niche was one of the easiest parts of the process for me–because I knew, right away, that I had to select one that I understood.
I knew that the customers I wanted to sell to would be people like me. This would allow me to actually understand the audience and the products they would like. I always built the store and my marketing by asking the question: Would this work for me, as a customer?
The first store that I started focussed on women’s clothing. This category was broad enough to appeal to a lot of people, but still specific.
From my experience and research, I would definitely not recommend general stores. In an effort to appeal to everybody, you target nobody. It is an incredibly difficult task to create a successful general online store, because you’ll struggle to find the right fit of customers.
You’ll waste a lot of money and a lot of effort choosing products and discarding them if they don’t work, running ads for different products and catering to a large demographic with no road signs to point the right way.
Especially with the marketing strategy I had in mind, I knew it would never work.
The more specific you can get, the better–as long as the need/desire for the products existed.
The second store I built centred around baby clothing. This was a topic I knew and understood as well. As a mother, I knew what kind of clothes would appeal to the market.
Another one of my online stores was built around pet products! I have two lovely huskies, so this was a market I understood too.
Never choose a category that you’re not interested in or know nothing about. That is a recipe for disaster, because you will not know how to market your products or find the same enthusiasm for your store!
The names: I had to choose names that would look great on a logo. Your logo is going to be up on your social media, on your website–it’s everywhere, and you don’t want to select a name that’s too hard to read or pronounce.
Ideally, it should look something like this:
But apart from this readability, I also chose names that were close to my heart. For my pet store, this meant it was the names of my two dogs combined.
For my baby products store, it was the month my baby was born in + a word I love.
It made my store feel personal, and the story showed how this store was owned by a real person with a life!
It involved a LOT of YouTube tutorials!
Coming from a completely different background, I had to learn a ton of stuff before I could even bring my online store to life.
I learned how to become an entrepreneur entirely through the internet.
I started out using Ecwid because it had a free version, but was struggling with different payment gateways. It was something I did not know much about, and did not want to spend time worrying.
Shopify Payments took care of all of it, and more.
As soon as I started selling on Shopify, my work became 100% easier. There were Shopify apps to help me with my business, the customer support was great and building my store was simple.
My goal with my online store was to make the whole shopping process a breeze:
Here are some things that were super important while building my dropshipping business:
- I had to have a good selection of products. When a store has only 10 products, it is difficult to trust it. You need at least 25-50 products if you want to build a long-term brand.
- I wanted all return policies, privacy policies, contact information and legal information accessible on every page. And have FAQs! You need these if you want your customers to see you as a legitimate business.
- The store had to be easy to navigate. Clean design with products sorted into categories and a collapsible menu in the side-bar did the trick!
I designed the store myself, after going over a hundred stores and YouTube tutorials.
As new entrepreneurs, you might have limited funds–but you do have access to the internet, and there’s nothing one can’t learn online.
I have constantly been tweaking the store design as I learn, to make it more approachable and easy for customers!
You don’t need tons of money to start your own business online. There’s enough guides out there on how to start a business with no money.
I think you can start an ecommerce business with as little as $500. But if you want to accelerate your business fast and invest heavily in marketing, you would need about $5,000 – $10,000.
A business can be successful no matter how much you start with. The only difference is the speed at which it grows.
I always select products that I know I would not think twice before buying. I check the prices, the shipping costs and the information dropshipping wholesalers provide. Then I ask the question: Would I really buy this product myself?
If the answer is NO, I drop the product.
Once I started selling on Shopify, I had the option of using Shopify dropshipping apps like Spocket and Oberlo to find products.
Shopify dropshipping made my job 100% better, in all ways.
I understood what dropshipping is, and wanted to try it out. It was amazing because I did not have to be limited to a few dropshipping wholesalers and the range of products available at my fingertips was crazy.
I was a little iffy about selling AliExpress products–they were cheaper in quality and took a long period of delivery time. I installed Oberlo anyway, but the app was complicated and as a new entrepreneur, I was definitely looking for ease of use.
At the same time, I had installed Spocket as well. Their USA dropshipping suppliers and branding instantly appealed to me.
I found a lot of products that fit my stores and allowed for good profit margins–and the app has been a companion since the early days on my entrepreneurial journey.
With pet products, I need collars and kennels and bags: all you could think of in the niche. I found a number of reliable dropshipping wholesalers for these products on Spocket, at prices my target market could afford.
Baby clothing had a lot of cute products that I knew my audience would love.
But the women’s clothing category was the one that took the cake! There were thousands of products I could dropship from dropshipping wholesalers all over the world.
Dropshipping with Spocket was incredibly simple as well. All I had to do was click ‘import’ when I saw a product I liked, edit the details and push it.
When I received an order, it was a one-click affair.
That really settled it for me.
Over the past seven months, I’d contacted support multiple times and have always found eager, helpful people behind the screen.
All the problems I’ve had have been resolved and fixes have been deployed–and fast, which makes Spocket a team that I enjoy doing business with.
As far as product testing goes, Shopify allows you to see which of your products get clicked on the most, which products have been sold the most and other useful data.
This has helped me understand what my audience loves. If I see that a particular sweater is garnering a lot of attention, I hunt down other products similar to it.
Through constant iteration, I keep building a product list that sells well, no matter what time of the year.
My eCommerce marketing strategy was at the core of my success, and it can essentially be boiled down to three words: Personalised Sales Conversations.
This means that from the moment I started my first store, I used social media to find the ‘right’ kind of people who would be interested in the products I sell and initiated conversations with them.
I would research groups and hashtags on Facebook, Instagram and other media and find people to target.
I reached out to people through direct messages or by leaving comments on their photos–whatever way I could. After that I would introduce them to what I do.
These conversations are incredibly personalised, with me manually recommending products that they would like.
No automation. No shortcut.
You can find out a lot about a person–what they wear, what products they use, where they live, all through social media. This helped me find the ideal customers for my products.
You don’t get this information with a real retail store, and I knew I had to use this superpower to grow my store. It helped me understand what they would like and how I could optimise my pitch.
I worked on building a relationship with my prospects, helping them through every step of the process: from selecting products to setting delivery expectations.
Just like any other dropshipping business, eCommerce entrepreneurship is also about building relationships with people.
In the beginning, I manually messaged every single prospect single-handedly. I would wake up in the morning, with my phone in hand, already talking to people. I would work 16 hours, non-stop–just to make sure I got a sale.
Gradually, I built a team of equally enthusiastic people around me who helped me with the process.
From the time we received 3 orders a day to now, when we receive 120 orders a day, our one-to-one conversations with people have been our #1 strategy.
This brings us the most traffic and this is what has helped us make a total of 200 thousand dollars per store.
When you are selling on Shopify, and dropshipping, you get the time to focus on your marketing strategy.
I tried all forms of traditional marketing, and still do. But the truth is–Facebook ads hardly have an impact on me. I simply tune them out.
I have learned how to completely ignore Facebook ads in a way that they don’t stand out to me at all.
With a younger audience who has grown up with social media, you have to create marketing strategies that catch attention and make a mark.
Otherwise, you’re just wasting hundreds of dollars on ads no one will ever see.
If you have a truly unique product that can be demonstrated using video, then, by all means, do Facebook ads.
But my products were not exciting or unique enough to break the barrier–I knew it wouldn’t be Facebook ads that boosted my stores.
I saw the potential in Snapchat and Instagram–in fact, I love how Instagram ads are embedded into the feed just like posts. Instagram ads have been a secondary strategy since the beginning, but nothing beats actually talking to people.
I think of it as shopping with a personal consultant–not a commercial corporation with automated bots.
I supplement our unique, personal marketing with freebies thrown in with customers’ orders and notes and postcards in my own handwriting.
This is what makes a brand stand out. Not the exquisite store design, not the lofty prices. In eCommerce, you have to build a brand that feels human and connects with your customers.
Even with our professional social media handles, we have tried to keep it super real. We encourage people to use our hashtags and tag us when they wear our products, so that we can regram them! This helps build social proof and gets our name out there.
All our offers are posted there with special codes–so there’s a lot of incentives for our customers to follow us!
People can also see our real social media handles and see who is behind the store, which makes them trust our business.
Another thing that has really been the rage is influencer marketing! I haven’t made this one a priority, but I think it still has a lot of potential.
The instagram influencer style of marketing isn’t dead yet, it just needs to grow more authentic.
Lastly, there’s email marketing: this one, I definitely do not discount.
Having an email list is immensely helpful, but you cannot simply bombard people with product recommendations.
You have to create content that engages your audience and then mix it up with product recommendations that are catered to their choices.
Creating content specific to your audience’s interest requires that you have an interest in the subject yourself–so do not choose a niche you are bored to death by!
It was 1 PM on an April afternoon. I had JUST launched my store. I had worked for days on end, on minimal sleep, getting everything ready. Everything had led up to this.
I kept refreshing the site. I was nervous and hopeful. I could hardly sit.
Work. Work. Work.
In the evening, my boyfriend and I headed out to the movies.
As we stood in line, I heard my phone ding.
And there it was.
The elusive first sale. I was practically dancing. In the line for the movies.
If one person liked my products enough to buy them, it meant there were others as well!
I remember being excited throughout the movie–but I don’t remember anything about the movie itself!
I spent the whole time squirming in my seat due to the possibilities open to my dropshipping business.
I had taken a chance at entrepreneurship and it had been all worth it–for this one sale!
(And many more to follow!)
– Applying a uniform shipping rate
Initially, I started out getting all products shipped to myself from dropshipping wholesalers, so I could package them properly and then send them over to the customer.
But as you would expect, it took way longer and was way more expensive than was sustainable.
I would be standing at the post office with 20 parcels, struggling to find my wallet in my pockets.
This strategy was quickly abandoned. I learned what dropshipping is and shifted to that model.
But I still wanted to ship all over the world. Because when I was talking to interested people through social media, I realised they were spread all over the world.
I didn’t want to tell people who wanted to buy my products that I couldn’t send it over because of policy.
Thanks to Spocket, I could clearly see what I was going to be paying for shipping to any and all countries–but conveying this to my customers was still a trouble spot.
I couldn’t levy a different shipping rate for every product in my store. That would be complicated and confusing.
So I did the next best thing: I created a uniform shipping rate that almost always covered me.
The rates balanced out and it worked out exceptionally.
Additionally, I offer an incentive for people to shop more. Shipping for orders over $59 is free all over the world—which works as a great upsell strategy!
I also found out that my major target market lay in the US, and this helped me further refine not just my shipping policies but also my marketing efforts!
– Incorporating my business
I did this at a much later stage in my dropshipping business, but I would definitely recommend entrepreneurs do this.
It releases personal liability–if your online store business goes bankrupt or if someone sues your business, you won’t be in trouble personally.
It also gives your business an air of professionalism and is a great tax strategy!
Of course, this is not legal advice and I am in no way qualified to do that–but definitely talk to your local legal professionals and work out a way to help your business!
– Product descriptions and photos
I have mostly used product descriptions provided by manufacturers and have found the ones on Spocket to be clean and grammatically correct.
However, I definitely have customising the descriptions on my to-do list for the future.
Using manufacturer-supplied descriptions can make your product page look like every other eCommerce store out there.
You can set the tone of your brand and connect with your customers through the descriptions, and I would definitely recommend that store-owners do that if they wish to build a strong brand!
Everyday when I wake up, I create an intention list for the day, which I feel is something everybody should do.
It is a list of things you want to achieve that day—breakdowns of your long term goals.
I have always set goals for my dropshipping business as well. In the beginning, it was just paying my rent.
As my dropshipping business grew, I started thinking about things I wanted to achieve in my life. Like taking my mom on a trip to Italy!
I would then calculate it in monetary terms, and set that up as a goal for my online store.
It has helped to keep my professional and personal life balanced. It has allowed me to stay motivated and enthused about everything I do.
I have found that a lot of people abandon their carts not because they didn’t want to buy, but because their session got interrupted.
And with a single abandoned cart message, you can make sure they complete their purchase. But the key here is connection.
‘You have left something in your cart’ is impersonal, robotic and I would definitely not respond to something like that.
This is one big mistake dropshipping businesses make.
You have to make all your conversations with your audience personal—whether it is sales or support or marketing.
And abandoned cart messages are no exception.
But instead of emails, I decided to go the SMS route. Because the average open rate of a text message sits at about 99%, with 97% of messages being read within 15 minutes of delivery.
And with abandoned carts, once the moment passes, you might lose the customer forever.
Speed is of essence.
Sending out text messages has proven to be a great strategy, and has recovered as many as 50% of our abandoned carts.
Here’s an example of how to word them:
The super conversational tone, and the personal touch ensures most of these messages get a reply!
I think what makes our stores extra-special is the cause they stand for.
It is my belief that we should give back if we receive.
Every store of mine donates a part of the profit to local charities. Today’s audience, especially millennials, do not want to spend on just a dress. They want to feel good about their purchases.
They want to support businesses that are ethically motivated. They want to help in a way that is convenient.
Donating to a cause is a way for your dropshipping business to do good AND get customers. It’s a complete win-win.
Your cause should be something you really care about. My women’s clothing store gives back to a local charity which helps trafficking victims.
My baby clothes store donates to a non-profit that helps victims of domestic abuse.
Being able to contribute to the community is one thing I am super grateful about. We have had conversations with our customers who have been in the same circumstances as the people we are helping—which makes me realise how powerful this is.
If you are choosing a cause to donate to, make sure it is inclusive, as non-controversial as possible (unless you are Nike) and something you deeply care about.
It has helped me make a small impact and grow my business—and I am glad that more and more dropshipping businesses are leaning towards this!
The first app that has helped me immensely is SaveMySales SMS/MMS Marketing. This is the app I use to send out those abandoned cart messages I have been talking about.
It allows you to send personalized texts to your customers and drive revenue to your store!
The second app I would really recommend is AfterShip Returns Centre, which allows customers to send a return request to our store without the complicated email back and forth and order information.
It integrates completely with your online store and makes returns hassle-free.
I take help from a number of apps that allow bulk-editing, sticky-carts, adding trust badges and creating videos for products!
My advice to all entrepreneurs on Shopify is to constantly keep an eye on the best apps in the app store—you never know when you’ll find an app that reduces your workload by half and improves revenue!
Right now, my lovely team and I are prepping to launch our fourth online store!
My fourth dropshipping business has always been a way for me to test out what sells online. It has been a space for me to experiment and try out different niches. It has been a men’s store, a jewelry store and now it’s going to transform into something new and exciting!
It will be live before the year ends and while I can’t give any spoilers yet—I can tell you it’s going to be fantastic!
We’re planning a blend of content and products, so it’s going to be a whole different genre.
The second goal before 2019 ends is to hit the 600K line. We have made it far enough to 442K and these two months are the last lap for us!
The third goal for my future is to help other entrepreneurs create dropshipping businesses through conversations. I feel like this personal style of marketing can make a huge difference in the industry, and I want it to spread to as many people as possible!
My advice to new entrepreneurs would be to just start.
I did NOT know what I was doing when I started. I had no experience running a dropshipping business. I made a lot of mistakes. Expensive ones. Stupid ones.
I tried a lot of things. Some succeeded. Others failed.
I had frustrating conversations with customers. I tried applications that disappointed me and my wallet.
But I went from working alone to working with a team that felt like family. I went from zero orders a day to making over a total of $114K per month.
I travelled across Canada in an RV, I had the freedom and flexibility to do business as I wanted to.
And none of this would have happened if I hadn’t started my dropshipping business.
Stop waiting. Just start.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Every entrepreneur makes them—and they will allow you to succeed.
And lastly, keep at it. Keep experimenting and show up everyday.
I found what worked for me and my brand, did not spend time comparing myself to others. I was laser-focussed on my customers, creating an identity for my dropshipping business and kept at it.
Every. Single. Day.
Stop strategizing. Take action. Start now, and keep at it!
Trust me, the results are worth it.