Your browser doesn't support the features required by impress.js, so you are presented with a simplified version of this presentation.

For the best experience please use the latest Chrome, Safari or Firefox browser.

Jessica’s As to your Qs for Product-based business

[greeting and trip and “did my best”]

Deeper Dive Questions for Possible Case Study or Spotlight

1. How you started out in your business - how the idea came about, any fears you had, any course corrections, and how you found the strength to keep going.

For years I had the dream of having my own organic skincare company, but it always felt like a completely random thing to want…I’ve always had a passion for all things buttery and nice smelling, also, I love love love my skin and taking care of it, and eventually I wanted to share this obsession. But making this into my career? It seemed unthinkable. I didn’t want to work as an aesthetician or in a spa, and the idea went to the backburner. So, many years I was in university for something completely unrelated (human geography, yo!), and I remember talking to a friend about this “hare-brained” idea of making beautiful, natural skincare products and selling them to pay off school debt (and not work for other people and THEIR businesses…that always bothered me). It felt like an honest-to-god pipe dream.

It took me nearly 10 years to finally do it. I had my then-boyfriend (now husband and babydaddy) push me, truly believe in me, and lend me $5000. I invested mostly in design and, of course, enough raw materials to pay back that initial $5000. Within 6 weeks of launch, with one really good marketing push (woo those bigshots! Don’t be scared…they are people too, and probably WAY nicer than you think and more willing to help out than you’d ever know…until you try!), I made back all that money and right away my business was established along the more established brands in my industry.

A few months after that, I enrolled in Bschool, which gave me a community that has been indispensable to me. Yes, Marie’s advice is golden, but the Babes are my colleagues and confidantes. (They knew I was pregnant before the rest of my Facebook friends did!!) When you work alone, having literally thousands of amazing, warm and super-smart women have your back is absolutely necessary. They’ve talked me down from “the ledge” of my business more than once! I’ve also discovered great businesses, and made some lifelong clients through the Babes.

2. Insights or Learnings from B-School - this can be anything from what made you decide to sign up to something you learned during the 8 weeks. How does B-School play into your business journey.

I have learned that investing in myself AND the business are incredibly important. Continually improving on skills and knowledge, whether directly related to your product field (a course on sewing leather?) or not (learning basic website design?) is key to keeping ideas and creativity in business fresh. It’s also THE THING to counteract the hardest part of any business… impostor syndrome. It isn’t just coaches and info-product people that can get this. In fact, I think Makers have this problem even worse as we can literally hold a competing products and measure it directly against our own. This can be heart-breakingly hard. For us, it’s not just that our style resonates better with one avatar or another, it’s that our product, shoes let’s say, can be quantitatively measured against another pair of competitor shoes, based on quality of leather, craftsmanship, style, comfort, durability. Certain things that are hard to brush of as a “to each their own” preference kinda thing. Performance matters to us. The good thing is that knowing your weaknesses is a blessing. As my friend said “how wonderful that you know EXACTLY what you want to improve! Imagine having no clue?” Knowing comes from the constant quest of honing my craft, and related crafts. Never stop learning! Never stop investing…. the ROI on intellectual expenditures is massive. Massive. it just depends on how much you want to implement your knowledge. (Hint: implement! Stop thinking! Just do it!)

l definitely took Marie’s advice to “start before your ready” to heart. I think I would still be hemming and hawing about perfecting my products if I didn’t just make some firm decisions and plow ahead. I felt it was really important to get out there in the market before I had even MORE competitors…I mean, colleagues. ;) Bschool gave me a lot of confidence. I knew a lot of the material in the course, but “knowing” is not the same as knowing how to implement it, or how to make the knowledge part of your business vernacular. In fact, when I asked my husband what has changed since BSchool (2012) he says “Bschool is your business vocabulary. When we talk about business, it’s Marie’s words that you use to help you describe what you’re working on, what you need to do, and what you’re succeeding at.” Hardly a day goes by without me mentioning my avatar. Even though it is the HARDEST part in Bschool to really nail, and I don’t think I’ve totally perfected my avatar either, it will be the thing running through your mind for, literally, years.

3. Advice you would give someone else starting a product-based business - this can be things you wish you knew starting out, wisdom you learned along the way, or even just motivation for the challenges. I remember one product-based business owner saying that having enough inventory, or knowing how to get more fast, would be her biggest advice!

Definitely second the advice on having enough stock. Assume you’re going to hit the big time. Assume you will sell out in 3 weeks. Before the 3 month trip I am on, I prepared for 5 months + 50% stock in my warehouses. Why? Well, now I can market my buns off without fear of running out of goods. There is nothing worse than standing in your own way (we ALL do this. Normal, ,but sucky.) and worse yet is not even wanting to sell because you’re out of stock and don’t want to disappoint customers.

Also, make sure you and your materials are scaleable. Don’t even THINK about selling something unless you know how to make and sell many of them…or they can be priced very high, like if you’re building cars or houses. My guess is you’re probably not, in which case, you MUST figure out how many you need to sell in a month, and how you can do that. Outsource some of the work? Contract manufacturing? Get better, faster tools? Price items higher? Buy materials in bulk? Cut costs/overheard in all other areas so you can afford to sell fewer items and still pay the bills? Make your items so premium, there’s a 2 year waiting list (with a deposit, of course) that your customers are happy to be on?
There’s only so much YOU can do, as a Maker. Remember that manufacturing 20 (and shipping. SHIPPING!) things a day is not the same as making (SHIPPING!!!) 200. Seems obvious, but wait until business picks up and this totally blindsides you and you feel like you live at the post-office!

Keeping up with demand is as Marie says a “luxury problem”, but if you’re pissing off customers, then it’s just a problem-problem.

Think long and hard about this part, or else you are shooting yourself in the foot. And that sucks.

4. Anything else you want to share - we are such fans of your work and delighted to have you as an ambassador for this program so we’ll take whatever you’ve got!

Over the past couple of years, I have been exposed to so many entrepreneurs. Hundreds. There’s one major, crushing problem that I have seen with nearly all of us, the one thing that can make or break any business (or relationship, for that matter). The biggest challenge in any business is you. We stand in our own way, in all areas of life. We often have some inner dialogue that is just unhealthy, telling us a thousand reasons why we can’t have what we want, why we’re not qualified, not good enough or why it’s not the right time. It’s bullshit. Running your own business is not just about putting in the hours and coming up with a good strategy and a nicely organized journal, it’s about getting out of your own way, of breaking through resistance (thank you Mr. Pressfield!!) and just getting down to the real work of your craft. Keep making things, Maker. Keep making them until you run out of materials, then go out and get more. Sell those things. Stop making excuses as to why you can’t. You can. You will. It wants you, and you want it. The world needs those special things that only you can make, Maker! ;)

Overall B-School Questions

Module One : Profit Plan

1. As a products based business, I have a hard time coming up with what my clients fears are. Is it that the products aren’t returnable after a week? That they fear it won’t work in their space? I feel like I’m not getting deep enough or that I’m missing something for product based peeps.

I would say the fear is the exact need in the market that your product addresses. It’s the fear of not looking good, of not choosing healthy-enough, of buying the wrong brand, the wrong vegan shoe or of not buying the sweetest gift for their mother-in-law.

Your product fills some sort of void in their life, and the fear is having that need unfulfilled. Address that need first, as that positions your product both as a problem-solver and enjoyable to actually purchase (the thrill of buying and waiting for an amazing package in the post that will be instantly gratifying —spritzing on the perfume, giving the gift, hanging up the picture, for example. They can’t WAIT to get their hands on it.)

Then, you want to assuage any secondary fears, regarding return policies and shipping and whatnot, which will close the sale. A return policy does not a sale make.

2. I finished doing the Ideal Customer Avatar for my product, but my imagination invented this whole scenario of a young stay at home mom who’s worried her husband will lose his job and will have to go back to live with her alienated parents and, well, my product never really came into it. Am I doing it right? Should I be focusing on the objections to purchasing my product and then why it makes her life better… I don’t sell high ticket, life-changing stuff… just a simple knitting tool. My poor customer is so tragic.

I had a little trouble with the customer avatar as well, until she was actually a real person. I know this isn’t the point of the customer avatar, but I feel perhaps with products, we need to diverge from getting into their minds 1000% (since we are not selling “intellectual” material, like coaching) and actually get to know a REAL paying customer and what makes her tick…and spend. I chose my avatar and modeled her around a real customer. I exchanged emails with her so I knew how she wrote, what she liked, her hobbies, and all kinds of details about her life (she’s soooo nice and smart!). I made up details about her as well, but I really got to know why she decided to buy my products, why she loved them and exactly how they fit into her life and lifestyle. If you do not have a paying customer, then I would look at everyone who has used your products, and pay attention to their feedback (negative, positive and even the neutral comments). Invent your avatar based on this feedback. Letting your imagination fly is fun and cute, but might actually paint you into a corner. I know this has happened to many.

3. I have a product based business and I know my prices are low, but I also know I need to do a better job of communicating value. I’m scared to do it because I’ve been in business for a while and have some loyal customers. I don’t want to piss them off, but I also know my ideal customer will pay for what I ask. I also think part of my fear comes from sometimes thinking that my packaging isn’t good enough or that handmade isn’t premium, so people won’t pay department store prices for something that I made. I know! That’s BS. Any tips?

Be premium if that’s what you want to be…but BE it. Seriously. Don’t half-ass it here. Raise those prices (I bet your sales will increase…it’s the strangest but most empowering phenomena in sales…) You already know your people WILL pay your price if you walk the walk, so perhaps your gut is right if you don’t think your packaging is premium. Branding and packaging is some of the BEST money you can spend on products… so show your brand some respect! If you have a proven product that does sell, then don’t cheap out. It’s a one-time cost that pays itself back in no time, and the ROI is huge.

4. I understand that stories are a good way to connect with customers but I’m having trouble seeing where it would fit into my product based business. And where I would express these stories?

I have stories in my product description a la J. Peterman. This isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s fun and unexpected. Blogging and newsletters are another great way to story-tell. You could use case studies, testimonials, etc as stories too… and never, ever underestimate YOUR story. People LOVE “makers” and what makes us tick!

5. I’m working on my strategy canvas and have realized that my competitors can provide free shipping and returns and have money to spend on marketing campaigns etc etc. So I feel lost as to look ‘in between the lines’ and find something special to provide. Apart from providing a community between my customers, I seem to be STUCK! Any ideas on what other possibilities could be provided for a product based business?

Being small is beautiful. In fact, I may purposefully keep my company small forever because it is what makes it special and precious. This needs to be reinforced every step of the way, in your messaging and branding, in all your emails and promo material in your packages, etc. Handwritten notes are VERY appreciated. Thank-you follow-up emails go a long, long way. Being on a first-name basis is huge. Making your customers feel like an “insider” in your business builds an intimate relationship that makes them truly want to support you through thick and thin. My customers know practically everything about my life, which I thought would feel invasive, but it’s actually wonderful. Of course, you need SOME filters, but letting people in is a beautiful thing that only small co’s can do.

Also, you can provide free shipping IF a small part of shipping costs are absorbed in the price of your products. After a while, you will know what shipping costs tend to look like for you, and you might be able to offer promos like “free domestic shipping over $100", which in reality is offering about $5-10 free to your customers, which isn’t huge, but FEELS huge to your customers, and often urges an up-sell.

6. Can you give some specific examples for those of us just starting a new product based business on how to answer this B-School Fun Sheet question: ‘How can you use your brand models to inspire your premium brand position? What three actionable words, practices or insights can you apply immediately.’

This was, to me, very easy. Look at the pioneers in your field. Look at those who have blazed the trail before you, even if it’s not 100% the path you intend on taking (hey…nothing is really THAT original, someone has already made the thing you’re selling, you just want to sell it in a different way.) See what has worked for them, what makes them unique and honor it, DO NOT COPY IT. Nuh-uh. What makes their brand make you feel all warm and fuzzy? How do you want to make your customers feel? Throw some words around, see what sticks. But be yourself. You will never build a sustainable business trying to be something you are not.

7. I have a question regarding the sheet ‘Money Tracking.’ In your example you offer a service - and it makes perfect sense - but what about selling various products that have different % production costs and thus different profit margins? How do I compare these, when e.g. the product that makes the highest % of total Rev is not bringing me the most profit?

Raise your prices! Also, having some items that aren’t really there for major profit, but rather to “lure” customers your way is ok as a strategy, just make sure it isn’t actually ruining your profit margins overall. I think you should look at the overall profit, and consider the outliers periodically and whether or not they make sense for your business. Rely on intuition as well, not just what a spreadsheet is telling you.

8. For me it’s harder to find that emotional connectivity point for product based because you really need to amp up your offering to get there. What do you suggest?

Your product probably solves some kind of problem, right? Dig deep. It does. There. That’s a pain point. You don’t have to overly dramatize it, nobody is losing sleep over the wrong kind of ponytail holders, but there’s a pain point that some people might not even realize until you point it out.

Module Two: Website

2. Since I sell a product, is Wordpress the best platform for a product-based business or should I stick with something like Shopify? And if Do Wordpress IS great - is there a good plugin for e-commerce?

I use Shopify and although it’s not cheap, I love it. It is worth considering if you can afford it, as it’s extremely simple to set-up and use, there are beautiful themes, both paid and free, and it has never failed me ONCE in the 2.5 years I have used it. It also keeps getting better as companies create amazing apps (both free, like Sumall (amaze) and Yotpo, and paid like Sloyalty.) It’s also easy to integrate Mailchimp, Paypal, Stripe, etc.

3. Paypal seems common for online product sales, is it okay to use or why don’t you use it?

Paypal is good because ppl have trusted it for a loooong time when it comes to online shopping. It’s also great to use as you can print shipping labels and placking lists directly from their site, BUT it’s a nightmare for accounting…at least in Canada with our taxes. Yikes. There are transactional fees, but welcome to online commerce.

I ASSUME there will be a ton of discussion on pricing, but when you sell products you need to keep in mind not just the cost of creating your products, but also all the hidden fees that come with online selling and shipping. There are many. Be forewarned.

5. Since we’re focusing so much on websites in this module, I’m wondering about the importance or necessity of also engaging with my prospective clients in-person as well as online? Do I need to build my brand both ways as a product-based business owner, or is it okay to only be online?

I am the somewhat hidden personality behind my brand, and although I do think engaging with my customers face-to-face would be great, I have not needed to in order to be successful. So, if you’re a bit of a social hermit like me it’s doable, but customers LOVE meeting makers. (I know…I’ve actually been recognized on the street!) Make sure that even if you don’t want to be an in-person kind of personality, that you are still very accessible in other way. Accessibility is key.

6. For the opt-in offers or freebies, what are some good ideas for a product-based business like an art gallery or clothing store or jewelry?

Seriously. Still working on this one, but right now I have a series of 3 e-books that ppl can get for free. I definitely need to edit them and refine them, but for now, they get three nice juicy ebooks when they sign up, plus a so-so resource page (again, something I am working on) with free downloadable posters, recipes, videos etc.

7. I’m selling a product (not coaching or services). Do I need to put my photo front and center on my website or even formally introduce myself at all?

No front-and-center pic…unless you are selling pictures of yourself? No. Didn’t think so. But your story is VITAL. Make sure it is findable, but will NOT be what ultimately sells your do-hickeys. Actually, the thought of a front-and-centre selfie for products is creepy.

8. What advice do you have for those of us that retail PRODUCTS online (such as clothing) that want to maintain a super premium/clean look for their site? I started adding in opt-ins, and all the other suggestions last night as well as free content etc and now I feel like my site looks like an infomercial. How do you find that balance?

Pages and tabs, no pop-ups, no front-and-centre sales page. You have your store-front, which must be kept classy and beautiful, and easy navigation to get to the goods. Don’t make your website into an infomercial. Also, this isn’t 1997… you don’t need ALL your info as soon as someone kinds themselves on your site.

Module Three: Communication

1. I can easily see how free content sits in a service industry, but I have a product based business and am scratching my head a bit. Help! What kind of “free content” do you recommend people who sell physical products? Do photo blog posts or social media posts count, or giving a one-time discount for signing up for the mailing list? Or should I focus on making behind-the-scenes videos, tips about lingerie, etc?

I stayed away from discounts for a long time, but this year I will experiment more with loyalty programs, friend recommendations and the like. There’s a fine balance between being generous and encouraging repeat sales (it’s ALL ABOUT THE REPEATS) and cheapening your brand….I hope i am doing the former and not the latter, but I feel established enough to experiment a little at this point. I also take cues from brands I look up to and maintain the same pace for sales as they do.

2. Can I communicate with the list I have before my product is ready or do I need to wait to send my newsletters until I have a product I’m ready to offer?

Yes. The story of your launch, of your struggles and successes can be very interesting. Don’t overdo it, and don’t send stuff out needlessly. But make it an interesting story, make it a journey people want to follow, get them excited for the BIG DAY.

3. As a product-based business that only sells one type of product, I don’t feel like I have enough content to create a weekly newsletter from here on out and I have no idea what to write about. Any suggestions?

Ha! Nice try. That takes lots of brainstorming. Keep a notebook on you ALWAYS. DIYS and “x-ways to x” are always popular and easy. Remember, you are the expert in your field, you know a lot more than you think and what you know is really interesting to your people, even if you think it’s redundant info.

6. I am running an online shop for organic cosmetics. When thinking about list building I am a bit confused how to approach the topics I will cover. I am thinking about offering my expertise in the field of maintaining beauty with the help of organic cosmetics in general not so much focus in the products but I am not sure if this will be really beneficial for my business list building. What would be your advice for those of us who sell products and don’t know what to present - the products or their expertise in the field?


Module Four: List Building

1. As a products-based business owner, I’m struggling with wooing big shots and nobody writing back. My question is two fold: I know you said to offer something of value to big shots. Since I don’t know any other big shots to introduce them to like your example that you gave, is offering something like a big giveaway of your stuff enough? Second part of the question - would it be a better idea to send her a product in the mail to show her my quality and what do you think about that way of wooing big shots?

The way I’ve done it is to write to them to introduce myself after telling them why I like them/their blog/their stuff and offer to send them some items, no strings attached. Include a nice handwritten note with the package and follow-up with them after a reasonable amount of time, to make sure the package arrived safely. No expectations. If they love you, they will tell the world.