I know what you’re thinking…well isn’t that just about the most obnoxious blog title you’ve ever read. What ecomm-guru-clickbait BS trap did I just fall into?
Well, I promise you, I don’t have any one-size-fits-all tricks up my sleeve. But if you’re anything like me, I love a good story and I’m pretty proud of this one.
Last July, I was brought into Demac as their first Merchant in Residence— a new position/project where I was given a brand (Pela) and the shop keys (to Shopify) and a pretty singular mission: Grow baby grow!
Having had previous experience growing an online jewelry brand that made $250k in its first year (that later ended up dissolving in a traumatizing fashion), to crashing and burning out on a second jewelry line and in between just trying to keep some semblance of a functional adult life with the odd consulting gig, I came into this role with all the anxiety of a person who had no clue what they had just signed up for.
And I think this anxiety (which some might read as ambition) was a really good place to start.
From day one, I had a target: get Pela to $1k/day in 6 months. Where did I get that number? I guess during the height of my first jewelry venture, that’s the number that excited me every day it rolled around and I guess it made sense to chase a familiar high.
And while I missed that audacious goal by half a year, the compounded growth was the result of stacking bricks horizontally, not just vertically. I mean, you wouldn’t build a house that way, so why would a business be any different.
Laying The Foundation
I promise I didn’t plan to do a house analogy, yet here we are.
There’s a lot of successful eCommerce shops out there (in terms of revenue) that sell random products. Whether it be the latest bag of wind you can sit on to the newest innovation in sticky bras. And while there is a great chance these shops can cash in on the short-term virility of these products, it’s up to you to decide if you want to build a house of cards or a real home.
At first glance, Pela sells an eco-friendly, sustainable phone case. A single product business. I mean, that sounds like a pretty flimsy foundation if I’ve ever seen one.
That’s why the first thing I set out to do is to uncover, not just what we were selling or could sell, but what were we building? What was our mission? What is our why?
The big picture: To make sustainable plastic alternatives the new standard and to lessen our environmental impact on the planet.
The starting point: To create less plastic waste, one case at a time.
Laying the foundation of Pela meant we had to get clear of what our mission was. A clear mission means a clear message. Once we knew our mission and message, we could then look for our tribe: a community of people pushing forward towards a similar goal.
This was much bigger than a product, this was a movement.
If you want growth for your business, grow something that matters.
Stack Your Tactics
Alright, so now that I’ve made my impassioned plea to stop building crappy businesses for a quick buck, what the eff did we actually do to grow Pela. I mean after all, even after 12 months (and countless product ideas) we are still only selling one sku (iphone case) but with multiple variants. Even I had questions on how we could grow this without easy upsells and casting a wider net.
But what we lacked in products, we made up for in simple strategy. You know the song and dance number: fill that funnel, nurture your leads and close that sale. Lather, rinse, repeat.
And while there are a million and one articles out there on how to do that, here’s a breakdown of what we did.
1. Tactic 1: Refine Our Product
Before any marketing happens, ask who is the customer and do our products fill their needs.
Through feedback, we iterated our product line to be more durable with an amazing look and feel.
We also noticed that a majority of our traffic and past customers were women and that key movements like zero waste and sustainable fashion were also dominated young, millennial women.
Pulling from my past experience in jewelry, I picked out four new colours to add to our product offering, simply based on the best-selling bracelets we sold. While our existing colours were standard enough to have wide appeal, there are just certain colours that people are obsessed with. And obsession is powerful.
Obsession can lead to user generated content and word of mouth. People were proud to show off their new Ocean Turquoise eco-friendly cases. Rose gold lovers? Well you’ll love our Rose Quartz case.
A beautiful and loved product is its own marketing machine. Immerse yourself into the communities you’re appealing to and get great at observing these nuances with time and practice.
Tactic 2: Paid Ads – Top of the Funnel
Stack a good product with some ad spend. Set up a ratio right from the start for every dollar you spend what kind of return you are after.
Matt (CEO of Demac, Pela co-founder) took the lead of one of our biggest marketing tools, and one of the most experimental. I know it’s a cop out to gloss over writing this section but…hey Matt! Want to take this one?
My cliff notes on our ad strategy was to pick a channel and double down. Our channel was Facebook/Instagram because that’s where most of our engagement comes from. Sure there are lots of options out there but for us to get smarter and better at ads, having one dashboard as our reference point is huge for our small team.
Our first phase was more about discovery than anything else. A big win would be to have more people see Pela to create a remarketing machine. While we struggled with converting this traffic in the first six months, we kept the machine running while we did a lot of other things alongside.
Tactic 3: Influencer Outreach
Again, nothing you haven’t heard of before if you’ve been studying this space for a while. Influencer marketing is a complicated beast only made more complicated once it came out of the shadows in the early days (before anyone ever called it Influencer Marketing) to become itd own (HUGE) thing.
Giving influencer advice is a weird one, but here are my tips in no particular order:
1. Be a good person (okay, this is first because it is the most important to me!) Be kind, get to know who you want to collaborate with and actually be yourself. There are parts to influencer marketing that are absolutely transactional but I promise you, you will win in this area (and at life) if you treat people with kindness and speak human. Some of the first influencers we’ve collaborated with at Pela are still our biggest supporters today and I have email threads, a hundred levels deep to prove it.
2. Look at engagement. Reach is a vanity metric that we all need to let go of because algorithms are out to ruin your life. Sorry that was dramatic. All I’m saying is, a person who has REAL influence is not the one with the highest follower count, it’s the ones who have the best ratios. Ten thousand likes and not a single comment…that’s pretty suspect, non?
3. The rise of the micro influencers. I don’t love the term micro influencers, but tis the way the industry speaks of people with smaller follower accounts. Not to sound like a broken record but, see point #2. Also, these people are awesome and what is a big influencer but a “micro” influencer before they grow their community. So again, please see point #1. Because being nice to people at every stage in the journey is a good thing and will never work against you.
4. Influencer Market Fit. This one is simple. If the influencer you’re thinking about working with is influential in a space that your product wouldn’t make sense, consider passing. For example, we worked with an influencer who was popular for her fashion sense. While she was a pleasure to work with and took some awesome photos for us, we saw no lift at all in our followers, traffic or sales. People thought the case was cool but what they really wanted to know was where her bag was from. A good example of a bad influencer market fit.
5. Sometimes They Find You. I consider ourselves very lucky to have awesome influencers find our product on their own. It’s no question that a genuine and unsponsored post will always carry more cachet. But don’t just float on the high of being discovered. Make sure to reach out to say thank you, offer to work together on something more formal in the future (a giveaway or exclusive discount code is nice) and cross promote back to their channels as well.
Photo Credit: Natalie from sustainably-chic.com
Now I’m sure I could go on and on about influencer marketing, but to get back to the main point of this section—stacking your tactics—having a good product that you can advertise yourself and shared by influential people creates another great cog in the machine: social proof and more qualified traffic. Traffic that converts and traffic that can help you create better audiences for your ads.
Wait….I can’t remember, did I mention be a good person in this section? It’s really important so I don’t want you to leave this blog without hammering this point home. Influencers are humans, not launchpads.
Tactic 4: Smartners
Smartner: a smart partner. I just totally made it up, let’s see if it sticks.
Now partners could mean many things to many different brands but here’s what it means at Pela. A collaborative project that is mutually beneficial and long-term.
One partnership that was a game changer for us was a charity collaboration with Save The Waves Coalition. Together we created an engraved case that was sold on both of our stores with proceeds going to protecting coastal ecosystems all over the world.
This aligned perfectly with our mission to reduce plastic waste and spoke to a specific cause that was near and dear to thousands of people: the ocean, our coastlines and marine life.
While Pela has always been a member of 1% of the Planet, donating to clean water and clean ocean environmental organizations, our Save The Waves case made tangible a cause that matters to many.
Another partnership we value is with a publisher of viral content, Zinc based in the UK. Together we created a video that has (at the time of publishing) been seen by over 6 million viewers worldwide. Pela gets amazing exposure and Zinc receives a commission from sales generated.
We use this asset to help get our story across and are still working with their partnership team to work on future content together.
Stacking partnerships on our product-ads-influencer layers, increases our exposure, our user generated content (social proof) and the spread of our mission.
Process Your Progress
I’m going for the double meaning of process here.
1. Process your progress means to look back at what has worked, what hasn’t and use these lessons to guide you forward. Get in the habit of doing post mortems after campaigns and using trackers to keep a pulse on all your efforts. With a small team, this is easier said than done but that takes me to my next bit of wordplay.
2. Process your progress, as in, create process around what is working. Assess what parts of your business can be automated, what needs to be structured into a new role and taken over by a hire and what things are repeatable and scaleable. This has been the hardest part for me as an entrepreneur. I have always flown by the seat of my pants and might be allergic to process (or at least creating them) but luckily for me, the Merchant in Residence position at Demac gives me access to coaching and workshops to help me get through this pain point.
Without process, growth will feel like chaos and the quality of your work and service will suffer. You will not be able to sustain $1k/day if you do not have processes for customer service, product development, sales, events and so on.
And what’s the point of reaching your goal to squander it away recklessly?
If you’re still reading this, I hope there was a nugget of information in here to help you reach your targets. Also, I’m sorry I wrote smartners. It’s been a crazy time at Pela.