Mike O’Donnell Describes Grill Set Product Launch

Posted on October 17th, 2013 in Amazon, Business Development, Cave Tools, My Story | No Comments »

***First off, I’m a total ass hole because I just went another 2 months without posting on my blog (This happens every time). I just did a brainstorm on everything that has happened since August 11 and I’m hoping I can fit it all into 5 or 6 blog posts (excluding 2 speeches I never uploaded and critiqued) without making them monsters. Time to start writing***

My first batch of 1,000 grill sets has finally finished being manufactured! After working through a bank wire fiasco yesterday/today (topic of a different post), they should be picked up in China tomorrow morning and hopefully be live by the start of November. Due to time restrictions with missing the holiday season, I had to split up between a plane and ocean shipment again. I did the math and it was in my best interest to do so, but it still sucks because I’m spending more money than needed again #profit margins. Working with Unlimit3d has been an absolute mess, so luckily for me my dad offered to front some initial investment to get the set manufactured.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this grill set is my pretty much my baby. I designed every aspect of this set and also got the chance to employ some pretty cool marketing strategies on the packaging. Needless to say, I am very excited about finally launching this new product line in a few weeks.

Product Packaging

When my manufacturer shipped over my sample products, they forgot to send them with sample packaging as I requested. They acknowledged their error and sent over 2 pieces of cardboard with varying thicknesses, but they were not the correct size to fit my tools and I couldn’t get a feel for if I should use twisty ties or plastic zips to secure them to the packaging. Of course, I now had to make these decisions on my own with nothing to use as a reference. Each day that passed was another day I wasn’t making sales, so I had to act quickly.

I designed the grill set to be a premium product so the packaging had to match, especially if I wanted to sell them in retail stores in the future.  I played with each piece of sample cardboard and held the tools against them to see how well they could support the tool set without bending. Since the cardboard pieces were not full size, I couldn’t get a good estimate. I knew I’d be pissed off if I went with the lighter weight to save a few cents and it didn’t come out well, so I immediately decided to go with the heavier cardboard.

My next decision was to go with either a shiny finish or a matte finish. Initially, I thought I should go with the shiny finish because it would look nicer. However, I did a little bit of research and found that many people actually think matte finish looks higher class. I also found out that shiny finish shows finger prints when it is touched. My grill sets would be handled quite a few times by people before reaching the customer, so I decided that matte finish would be the way to go. The only trade off was that matte finish isn’t waterproof and shiny finish is. Not that I would ever find myself in a claims situation with a shipping company…

My instinct on the ties was to go with the plastic zip ties because they look nicer. However, I probed my manufacturer on this question and found out that plastic zips can sometimes snap during the shipping process. Twisty ties would be the way to go to ensure no quality issues.

Now that I decided on the heavier cardboard with matte finish and twisty ties, I had to take measurements to figure out my dimensions. I would expect my manufacturer to provide this for me based on other similar grill sets, but they would not. So I took out a ruler and a pencil and went to work. I taped a bunch of pieces of paper together so I could have a large canvas and I took my best guess at measurements. Later we actually had to resize all of my artwork because the manufacturer thought there was too much extra cardboard. Adam Sandler summarized my feelings perfectly in The Wedding Singer with one of the best quotes of all time:

I decided to go with a similar template as my grill brush tag on the front of the packaging. On the back I dug into my bag of marketing tricks. The back starts out with a personal letter from the owner of the company (me) with cursive font to symbolize my signature. I thank them for their purchase, tell them a little bit about our company philosophy and values, express that we are there for them with customer support, and finish up with a soft request for a review using a vanity url http://grillsetreview.com that automatically takes them to the review page on Amazon. Underneath my letter I promote my social media links. Most people just ignore the social media links, so I give them an actionable reason to go online and actually follow us (grilling tips, videos, only place for insiders discounts). I follow up with a comment to check out our members area and I throw in a big ass 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed badge. Research has proven that these badges decrease shopping cart abandonment online because they instil consumer confidence. These people are already customers, but I’m hoping this will decrease my chances of receiving negative reviews and encourage people to contact us first. I also threw in a nice “Please Recycle” sign above my UPC Code for all the greenies out there. I had to purchase 10 UPC Codes at once, so I guess I need to come out with 9 more products 🙂

Grill Set Front

 

 

Grill Set Back

 

After I created my packaging design, I sent the mock-ups over to Bangladesh to my boy Ibrahim who converted them into print ready Illustrator files. Then my manufacturer told me that I needed to show the measurements for where the tools would tie in. Once again, I took out my trusty ruler and figured out all of my exact measurements and had to carefully place them on the artwork so they were in perfect position after printing. This was a lot harder than it sounds because you need to use the rulers on your computer screen to match up to life size. In the end, the manufacturer changed these positions as well when we resized the art work. Thanks again Adam Sandler in the Wedding Singer!

Writing Sales Copy

After the product and packaging process was complete, we started manufacturing and I had about a 30 day window to start getting ready for the launch. First up was writing my sales copy. My sales copy for the grill brush page was converting at a high percentage, so I decided to go with a similar format. My 5 big features (written in benefit oriented copy) were the 20% thicker stainless steel, extra wide tool hangers, spatula bottle opener, oversized tong clamps, air pressure and interlocked handle welds, and the strict quality control process. Here is an image for my original sales copy for this page:

Grill Set Sales Copy

 

 

High Quality Product Images

 

Next, I had to get super high quality product images so I could draw visitors in and get them to actually read my beloved sales copy. I was working in Philly one day near my good friend Chef Matt Budhenstein and he just so happened to invite me over for lunch. I just so happened to have my sample sets in the car and he just so happens to have a very expensive camera. We took about 60 pictures from varying angles. This wasn’t a planned photo shoot, but the pictures came out great! I sent them over to Ibrahim to do some professional touch ups (remove shadows and backgrounds, sharpen edges, etc.) Amazon requires your main image to be on a pure white background, but you can do whatever you want with  the other pictures. A black background really made the images POP! Here’s a peak at 2 of them:

Spatula Close

 

Tongs Close

 

 

Email Follow Up Sequence

Manufacturing was now underway and product page was complete. Time to write an email follow up sequence to increase the chances that people will leave product reviews. My email sequence for the grill brushes was 4 emails over the course of 3 weeks after the person ordered from Amazon. I took a somewhat hard angle at asking people for reviews under the thin veil of contacting them to give them “Grilling Tips from Bobby Flay.” I’ve gotten a bunch of reviews from these emails, but I think most people saw right through my ploys and just got pissed off and never left a review. Even worse, some people may have given lower star reviews because they were annoyed at my continuous fake attempts to provide value. Don’t get me wrong, the grilling tips did provide value, but when coupled with repeated review requests, I think I was harming my brand a little bit.

My product packaging is personal and already asks for a review, so I wanted to pair the follow ups by going with the personal touch. Customers will no longer receive an email from Nick Giordano or Mike O’Donnell the “Customer Support Rep.” They will be receiving personal emails from Michael “Medium Rare” O’Donnell. The founder and owner of Cave Tools. I think this gives an entirely different feel for the customer because it is rare (no pun intended) that the owner of a company actually follows up with you. My new email sequence is only 2 emails long and I tell them that we spent a lot of hard work designing these products (we did!) and that we really want to hear back from them on what they think. I read through and respond to every email personally and will reply to them ASAP.

The first email goes out the next morning and tells them that we just shipped their grill set out to them. The second email (this is the key) goes out 6 days later to confirm they received their set and encourages them to grill up a nice juicy steak to try out their grill set and let me know if they have any comments. The big part of this strategy (I spoke with other sellers using this strategy at high success rates) is that most people choose standard shipping which is 7 days. Since I am confirming they received their shipment, this initiates a dialogue in which I can confirm they will receive their set within another day or two. Now that we are speaking personally, I can request feedback, acknowledge concerns, and have permission to ask them to post their feedback as a review.

This creates more email handling on my part, but the responses are very predictable. I can use a template response and slightly modify each time to fit the customer.  From my discussions with other sellers, this should dramatically increase my reviews. If I start to receive too many emails I can modify my copy a little bit and have my assistant Caecilia handle the emails. I recently changed my grill brush email sequence to this strategy as well because it is proven to work.

 

Facebook Launch

The final piece of the puzzle is my facebook launch, which I just started today. Up until now, I have done a piss poor job of building an email list. None of my previous attempts have worked out, so I don’t even have a list to email when I launch my grill set. If I had a list of even 200 email addresses, I could probably generate a significant initial boost of sales to get me rolling.

Just like with the grill brush, I am offering a huge discount so I can get momentum and initial sales in the door. However, I learned from last time to give a limited number of coupons away and to price myself so I can still make money on this first burst of sales. Oh the mistakes I have made so far on this journey. Anyways, capturing emails is a huge part of my strategy so I set up an opt in page on my fan page with a video explaining how people can get a 37% off coupon for the coolest Christmas gift ever! I’m using Facebook ads to promote my opt in page and get as many views as possible. On this initial round I don’t give away a lot of info at all about the grill set. I’m trying to sell them first on the opt in. Once we become closer to the launch, I will release more info about the grill set and keep promoting my opt in page each time. I’m really hoping that I can get a solid group of emails this time around. Here is a peak at what this initial opt in page looks like today:

Facebook Opt In

 

That’s about it for now with the Grill Set Product launch. There’s a lot more ongoing marketing to come to make this product a success!

Inside the Mind of Mike O’Donnell – August 2013

Posted on August 11th, 2013 in Amazon, Business Development, Cave Tools, Couch Surfing, Efficiency, Goal Setting, Lessons, Management, Media Buying, My Story, Self Improvement, Shipping | No Comments »

This is more of a general update kind of post where I want to touch on a bunch of different things that are going on and also take a snapshot of what I’m thinking right now and planning for in the coming months.

Hyacinth Marketing

First things first, we have Hyacinth Marketing. The company is doing pretty well right now and I have been using almost all of the profits to support the growth of Cave Tools. If I didn’t have my clients at Hyacinth, I wouldn’t have nearly enough capital to be as aggressive as I am with Cave Tools. Right now the only sales I’m doing for the company is attending my breakfast meetings with the Million Dollar Marketing (MDM) group. In the past 2 months I’ve given 3 prepared speeches to this group of Doylestown business owners and these guys literally think I’m the smartest marketing person they’ve ever met. I share a ton of strategies and advice with them and they have been referring a good amount of clients over to me. It’s literally like having my own sales team working for me. They actually invited me to a golf outing next Friday with a ton of business owners in the area, so I’m really excited about that. Apparently the keg is tapped 2 hours prior to tee off so it should be a fun day.

Unlimit3d

The Unlimit3d project also started almost a month ago. I built a project management platform for this entire project and between my team and theirs, we have about 9 people communicating and sharing files every day. However, even with the ease of collaboration we are already falling behind schedule. As far as my estimates go now, I think we are between 10-20 working days behind where we need to be to keep pace. The problem is that we are still stuck in the graphic design phase and because Unlimit3d has so many people involved on their end, nobody is taking the lead on feedback because they are afraid everyone wont agree. This is causing us to have feedback response times of close to 48 hours sometimes and it is really slowing things down. I’ve had a bunch of talks with Unlimit3d and my development team on ways to improve efficiency with the feedback process. They’re getting better, but at this point we are already behind and there’s not much we can do about it because we don’t want to start coding and then have to do a ton of rework. The entire website is broken into 6 milestones, so the longer milestone 1 takes, the longer I need to wait for my milestone 2 payment and the less aggressive I can be with using that money on Cave Tools.

Cave Tools

Speaking of Cave Tools, we’ve gone profitable! Well…only for a short period of time. I described Cave Tools to my friend the other day like this, “I started out by digging a 2 inch deep whole with my initial investment. As soon as I filled it up to the surface, I decided to dig a 4 inch hole in the same spot. I’ve filled that up a couple inches so far, but then the other day I just dug another 6 inches deep.” Basically, due to such a lengthy supply chain (approx 2 months), even though I am making profit, I am not making enough to support growth on the timeframe that I need it. Therefore, I’m drawing money from Hyacinth to drive growth and hoping to make it back on the backend.

Right now I have another shipment of 2,000 grill brushes on its way to me now. Due to the money restrictions, I was late on placing my replenishment order in time to make sure I don’t stock out. It took 20 days to manufacture the next batch of brushes, but because of my tardiness I had to split the shipment into 400 brushes via air and 1,600 via boat. To put the cost in perspective, it costs me about $900 to ship 400 brushes via air and about $1,200 to ship 1,600 brushes via boat. That’s a ton of money I’m now losing because I don’t want to be faced with a stock out. This also counts as 2 separate imports, so instead of paying the fees twice, I decided to get a continuous import bond. Now, I’m a registered importer and can do as many imports as I want for a year without paying a fee each time. It’ll pay off by the end of the year, but for now it’s more money. The 2,000 grill brushes was my 4 inch hole. My new product line is the 6 inch hole…

Product Development

My next product line is a 3 piece grill set: Spatula, Fork, Tongs. From a money standpoint, this is pretty much triple my initial investment for just the brush because we have 3 new items. Depending on my cash flow, I may have to actually take investment to afford it, but I really don’t want to do that.

I haven’t paid to start manufacturing yet though because I’m waiting on my samples to arrive, hopefully this upcoming week. I’m super excited about this because I literally spent hours researching different sets and designing these samples. For the grill brush I just picked out a certain model, but the 3 piece set I actually designed. I also had a mold developed so I can brand them with the Cave Tools logo. Here’s a few pictures of what they look like:

 

IMG_4593

IMG_4601

 

I can’t wait to get my hands on them and just hold them! My goal with this set was to make them incredibly strong and durable. I took the average steel thickness in the grilling utensils market and increased my thickness by 20%. For approximately $0.40 per unit extra in steel, I will probably be able to increase my sell price by about $4-5. I have 2 sample sets coming in right now. One has a strengthen slot, which curves the metal a little bit to make it stronger and the other is just flat steel. I’m going to be comparing the two and also soliciting feedback from people to see which they prefer more.

These sets will most likely retail in the $30 dollar range. The best Weber set sells for $31 so I’m thinking of charging $32-35. I have a bunch of marketing ideas planned for when I finally launch the set and I’m also going to be building an early bird waiting list primarily via facebook where people can get a 20% coupon. I’m also thinking of doing a direct mail campaign to all of my grill brush customers. Something like a teaser post card with a coupon code.

Sales Trends

From a trend standpoint, I have noticed that my week to week growth has started to level out. We’re still making solid sales numbers, but the growth has slowed down, which is not good at all. I think it is do to a combination of our promotion efforts slacking a bit (Because I am very busy with Hyacinth) and possibly the seasonal effect. We are getting closer to the end of the summer so people are probably just not buying as many brushes. I have a couple of solutions on my success list to keep my growth trending up and protect against a winter slump in sales. My success list is different from my daily to-do list in the sense that these are strategic business advancements that will take my business to the next level. Building my wholesale program for instance was something on my success list.

Success List

At the top of my list right now is utilizing Multichannel Fulfillment to increase my ecommerce footprint. So what does this mean? I’ve outsourced all of my warehousing and customer service to Amazon and yes, they charge me an arm and a leg for it. Since I’m already paying them for this stuff, I might as well use them for sales I make outside of Amazon. Basically, my goal is to get listed on as many ecommerce stores as I can and when orders come in from those channels, I pass them through to Amazon and have Amazon ship for me. This means I can now get listed on websites like Buy.com and newegg.com and the other big ecommerce stores on the internet. There are many benefits to this from a marketing standpoint, sales, brand awareness, etc. I’m in the process of compiling a list of sites right now that I want to target. Then I need to build the processes to automate order handling from the various websites. This creates more of a management aspect for me unlike Amazon where when I make a sale they instantly do all of the order management. If I’m late on passing my orders through, then I get bad feedback and pissed off customers. That can’t happen. I also need to build processes to track my profit and loss on each website so I can be sure to focus my marketing efforts at the high converting channels. Finally, I need to figure out how to simplify all of this so my assistant can handle everything for me and just give me a weekly progress report. Sounds difficult, but I get a chubby for business development work, so I’m excited to take on the challenge.

Next up on the success list is becoming an expert at media buying. Media buying scares the shit out of me because it costs a lot of money and I have heard tons of stories of people losing their shirt with poor purchases. In short, media buying entails building out a profile for my ideal customer (ex: Male, 21-35 yrs old, interested in grilling, etc.) and then running targeted banner advertisements on the websites that the person hangs out on. I could run the adds by going through an advertising network or by doing direct purchases from individual websites. In order to do direct purchases, I need to build my own ad server to rotate and serve my ads. This is cheaper in the long run, but to get enough test data I’m going to need to go through an ad network.

The ad networks used to be reserved for just the big brands like Coke because they have outrageous minimum budgets like $10,000. Just to get enough sample data to optimize a campaign, you need to blow through at least $5,000 and have enough money left over to make it all back. However, Real Time Bid (RTB) networks have become readily available in the past few years which makes it easier for someone like me to break in. Basically, I’ll be able to bid in real time on remnant advertizing inventory that wasn’t sold via the big networks. I’ll still have to blow through about $500 in a test budget, but then I can optimize my campaign for the highest converting websites and approach them for direct buys.

My strategy for Media Buying is to target websites with a large visitor base that matches up to my demographic and also target sites with a visitor base primarily in the southern U.S. states. This way I can keep my sales consistent during the winter time in the north. In order to do this the right way and not lose a bunch of money, I need to do significant competitive intelligence research to figure out what the highest converting offers are for the grilling industry (ex: Free Recipe books, discount coupons, etc.). Once I figure out what my offer will be, I need to create it and then drive traffic to an email opt in form where I will give it away. Then I need to convert email leads into product sales on the back end. It sounds funny, but I don’t want to do what Weber is doing because they are very corporate. A lot of their marketing is designed for branding, not direct response marketing. I’ll probably end up breaking down all of Grill Daddy’s advertising because they are more of an internet based company.

Retargeting is also going to be a big factor in boosting my conversions. Retargeting is placing a cookie on someone’s browser when they visit your site, which then shows your ads all over the internet and literally follows them around to make it look like you’re everywhere. The majority of people will leave my offer page right away without giving me their email, but if I retarget them I will reclaim a lot of those visitors at a later date.

To be clear, my experience with paid advertising is limited to just Google pay per click. I’m pretty good, but I’ve never run any type of campaign this complex before or built a significant email list. I have a shit ton to learn and I want to get this all set up by October so I can be ready for the winter. I purchased a media buying course the other day from some pretty respectable internet marketers and I also got my hands on some training documents from Gauher Chaudhry, who is one of the biggest paid traffic guys in the world. I’m trying to do about an hour a day of studying and then I need to start testing on a small scale so I can scale up. As scary as this is to me, I know that if I master Media Buying, I can scale the shit out of my company and start to become a big player.

Traditional Marketing

I decided I need to be doing some more traditional marketing for myself as well. Instead of just doing online press releases, I need to start getting featured in newspapers and branding myself as a young up and coming entrepreneur. This will bring publicity to both of my companies and will also help drive traffic online and give me back links from authority news services. Regardless of how much money I’ve made so far in my career (very little compared to if I had a job), my on paper resume sounds ridiculous right now: “23 year old entrepreneur who has started 2 companies in the past 2 years, conducts business all over the world, and has 8 employees in 4 different countries. Has never accepted any investment and has built everything from scratch with hard work, determination, and virtually no budget.”

I dropped a quick email to a reporter that covers the bucks county area and I have an interview coming up next week. My plan is to get featured in the business section for print and online and then use that credibility to approach larger newspapers.

Couch Surfing

I originally planned to leave for my couch surfing across America trip in September after our fantasy football draft in Atlantic City. There is no way in hell that’s a realistic option for me anymore. I have way too much shit going on to just pick up and leave. I’m also strapped for cash right now because of everything I’m working on. I’m thinking a realistic departure date is going to be sometime in March/April of 2014 because it will be getting warmer for my trip and that also gives me time to do test runs where I couch surf for say a week at a time and learn how the logistics are going to work.

Working From Starbucks

I had quite the week this week working out of different Starbucks. The only people that are in a Starbucks during the day for the most part are entrepreneurs and people doing business meetings. I always have my headphones on, but when I hear an interesting conversation going on, I turn the music off and eavesdrop with absolutely no shame. They think I’m working and listening to music, but really what I’m doing is qualifying them. For the most part, I listen for a couple minutes and then go back to work, but sometimes I find some gems. This week was a good week for me.

Early in the week, I overheard people discussing a business plan for some SAT tutoring service. They talked about SEO and the need for a website multiple times in the convo, so as soon as their meeting was done I introduced myself and gave them each my card. Later in the day, they both checked out my LinkedIn profile and then within a half hour I had a voicemail on my business line asking for a meeting with me. Easy Peasy.

On Thursday, I overheard a conversation between a real young kid and a business attorney. He’s only 21 years old and his business which I will not include here, has already done over $1 million in revenue for the year. He recently fired his cofounder because she blew 250K on bull shit and now she is causing legal problems for him. After the meeting was over, I grabbed the kid and went with the I love meeting other young entrepreneurs approach. We talked for 15 minutes about different stuff and exchanged cards. I’m planning on following up with him sometime this upcoming week and seeing if he wants to grab a few drinks. Surround yourself by smart people and build relationships with movers and shakers and somewhere down the line it will pay off.

On Friday, I was working out of a starbucks in Philadelphia. This old dude was working behind me and looked at my screen and asked if I was building a website. I wasn’t, but a conversation ensued and this guy who I thought was a kook, actually turned out to be incredibly interesting. He went from being a taxi driver, to landing a job from a passenger in his taxi, to becoming a self taught programmer, to designing one of the world’s first heart monitoring machine software’s, to becoming #1 ranked in the world at competitive air hockey, to having an asthma attack in which the doctors fucked up and paralysed him. Ever since the accident, he has problems focusing and he talks weird, which is why I thought he was kooky, but he is intelligent as fuck. We literally talked and exchange stories for 3 hours on Friday (which I made up by working until 8:30pm fml) and he has invited me to stay at his house in South Texas when I do my couch surfing trip. He also took my card and wants to introduce me to a bunch of business people he knows in Texas. During our talk, we got onto the subject of encryption and I got an entire rundown of how to encrypt devices and back them up. He was at Starbucks on Friday rebuilding a computer’s operating system and he had a bag of flash drives. Each flash drive contained its own linux operating system on it. He basically had 7 different portable operating systems stored on these encrypted flash drives that he could plug into any computer and boom he was up and running.

Based on what I learned from Joe, I set up a bunch of encrypted files on my computer today. With my level of encryption, not even the NSA could break into my computer to look at my documents if they wanted to. Seriously, and the NSA knows it, which really pisses them off. Not that the NSA would ever solicit my documents or anything like that, but if my computer were ever stolen like it was in Montreal, all of my information is safe. Furthermore, I now plan to back up my files everyday on my encrypted flash drive so I can be completely portable instead of having to drag my laptop around. Bad Ass!

Mike O’Donnell Reaches The 30 Day Milestone For Selling Physical Products With Cave Tools

Posted on June 30th, 2013 in Amazon, Business Development, Goal Setting, Sales | No Comments »

Wow! I can’t believe I have finally reached my 30 day mark for selling physical products online. I remember back in March when I was winding things down with Wayne and trying to regroup so I could focus on Hyacinth Marketing again. I was thinking of importing some cell phone batteries and selling them on the side so I could learn the ropes of physical products and working with China. Then my idea transformed into making Fat Head style wall stickers and selling them because the unit price was so low and I could form a white label relationship with a domestic printer. One thing led to another and I spent about 2 months learning and building up the infrastructure for Cave Tools to get ready for the big launch on May 28, 2013.

Before I get to the results for the first 30 days, I’d like to talk a little bit about what’s going on behind the scenes. Everything in this business revolves around driving qualified traffic to the product page. Right now my product page is converting at around 10-11%, which is really good considering that ecommerce conversions are typically around the 3-5% range. My goal is to be making 15 sales per day on average by the end of month 5 because that would put me on track for 100K per year revenue with just this one product. Based on my math, that means I need to get about 150 people to the product page every single day. This assumes people only purchase 1 at a time, which in my case I’m selling 1.14 brushes per purchase. I’m working on a couple strategies to increase that number so people start buying multiple brushes and giving them away as gifts.

In one of my updates a couple posts ago, I talked about the excel dashboard I was creating to manage the entire marketing of the business. I didn’t really know what I was building when I first started on it, but every time I go into it I upgrade it. This dashboard is ridiculously awesome and is allowing me to track and manage literally every aspect of my marketing strategy. Right now I’m executing 15 different marketing strategies to drive traffic and build SEO value of my various websites. In SEO terms, I’m using a nice mix of White hat on the front end, a little bit of Grey hat to boost them up, and then a couple sneaky Black hat strategies to promote my promotions.

Without going into the details for each strategy, this is what we are doing for promotion right now: Press Releases, Blogs, Squidoo Lenses, Videos, Social Media, Reviews promotions, Amazon ads, Facebook Ads, Coupons Code Websites, Article directories, Wikis, Pdf Directories, RSS syndication, Commenting, and Autoresponders. Getting all of these strategies up and running was difficult because they all needed to be interconnected and congruent across the board. Without my dashboard, it would all fall apart. Lately, I’ve been focusing on going back to each individual strategy and making them more efficient and powerful. I still have a few more strategies I need to add to my list. Building an Email List is at the top of the priority list right now because it opens the doors for so much more customer contact.

I’ve also mentioned about hiring people and “Silo-ing” the business. I haven’t really been doing much of that yet. My assistant Caecilia has 9 jobs she is doing for me on a weekly basis right now. This is a huge help because it frees up tons of my time to focus on strategy and managing the business. I also just hired a new person a few days ago named Anj. It’s taking a little longer than expected to get her up to speed, but once she gets rolling I’m planning on giving her close to 25-30 hours per week worth of work. I’m super excited to get her to that point because that will kick all of my SEO and traffic efforts into overdrive.

Pretty soon, I will also be selling in the Sears marketplace. My application is still under review right now, but I am expecting to hear back by tomorrow afternoon. Once I get approved, I will be sending a small batch of 150 brushes over to the Sears fulfillment centers and then the rest will go out to my Amazon warehouses. I was able to get my inventory limit raised by 30% this week, which is cool because it gives me more flexibility. The Unlimit3d website is set to begin within the week, so I’m planning on taking some of the profit from the first milestone payment and placing another order for grill brushes. Since I need to project out at least a month in advance, I think I’m actually behind schedule for my next order. The worst thing that can happen right now is to stock out of inventory, so if I need to I’ll just have to put them on a plane again instead of a boat.

I’ve also been doing a lot of research trying to figure out what my next product is going to be. Right now, I’m thinking it will be a 3 piece grill set with a Spatula, Tongs, and Grill Fork. My only concern is that right now I want to spend as much money as possible getting the grill brushes into a top position. If I start splitting my resources between the 2 products I will spread myself too thin. By the time the set releases it will also be winter time so I won’t be selling as much volume in the northern states. Definitely still have a lot of thinking to do before going down this road.

Now for the first month’s results…In the first 30 days, we sold 192 grill brushes for total revenue of $2,847.69. I’m happy with these numbers for the first month, but they are definitely not where I would like them to be. I’m still well in the hole for my investment and it might take another 2 months before the business goes positive. My next mini goal is to do 5K in revenue in one month. Everything I’m doing is building on itself, so I’m hoping to be able to reach this goal by the end of month 3 at the latest!

Mike O’Donnell Gives His Amazon Launch Update – Murphy’s Law Alert

Posted on June 24th, 2013 in Amazon, Lessons, My Story, Shipping | No Comments »

I said I would write an update post when I made my first sale and of course that never happened. Been way to busy writing content for SEO purposes to write for my own personal blog. That’s all about to change soon though because I’m testing out a key hire this week. If she does good, she gets the job and I get to start cranking things up. I’ll write about that later though. For now, I need to back track and write about how “un smoothly” the launch went.

Mike O’Donnell has a run in with Murphy’s Law

Hopefully I don’t mess up the details too much because we’re talking about events from a month ago. Murphy’s Law states that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  During the launch, I ran into a ton of problems. Starting with the shipping, the grill brushes were continuously delayed. They sat in China at the airport for 6 working days before they ever left. No updates were given to me because the people in the U.S. didn’t know why they weren’t shipping. I finally got notice that they shipped on a Sunday. They were received that Tuesday morning and I told my shipping agent to coordinate the trucking so I could get them shipped to my drop point. There were no trucks available so I was told they would be out Wednesday morning. Keep in mind, I was going down the shore for Memorial day weekend and I needed to receive the boxes and ship them back out to 3 different fulfillment centers across the U.S. before I left. Wednesday came and went without the boxes ever getting on a truck.

We never received the boxes until around 2pm on Thursday and the last UPS truck out on Thursday was at 5pm. I ran down to The Parcel Place in Newtown where I received the boxes and started trying to coordinate 3 outbound shipments and get all of my shipping labels in place in time. We also had to open all of the boxes to put Amazon labels inside. I basically took over the place and was running around like crazy trying to get everything set up before the UPS guy arrived. While coordinating the shipments, I found out that since my grill brushes were 21 inches long and not 20 inches (the cut off), that my products qualified as oversized. I took over the Parcel Place manager’s computer in the back and was going back and forth with Amazon customer service, but rules were rules and I got screwed. Oversized products means higher shipping fees to get out to the fulfillment centers, higher shipping fees to send to customers, and lower inventory limits in the fulfillment centers. My inventory capacity went from 5,000 units down to 500 units across the board.

So I scrambled around and got everything in order just in time for the UPS guy. Helped him load them onto the truck, then I had to bring 2 cars down so we could take an additional 500 units (10 big boxes) and store them in my garage until I had more room in the warehouses. I need to post solid sales numbers for 9 weeks straight before they will lift my capacity limit. After sending the brushes out to Tennessee, Arizona, and Virginia, I cut out and went to the shore for the weekend with a bunch of friends. My inventory was never stocked until about 4 days later because of the holiday.

My launch day was on May 28th. I set up a big Facebook event and a coupon code so people could get free shipping. I announced the company and the promotion week sale via video and tons of people all over Facebook were liking and sharing everything. I got tons of support from everyone, including neighbors of friends and cousins. It was really cool to see everyone getting behind me. The only problem was that the coupon code I set up for free shipping wouldn’t work because I’m a fulfillment by Amazon seller and can’t offer that (even though the system let me do it and it doesn’t say that anywhere). So after being told by tons of people that my coupons weren’t working, I decided to just bring the price down to $8 a brush so I could cover any shipping costs they would have had. Of course I had to then post an update video because of all the people it didn’t work for. Some people went back, but I lost a lot of potential sales on the initial momentum. It wasn’t until a week later that I finally realized that since my products were oversized my Amazon fees went up as well. This threw off all of my projected numbers  for unit price and I actually ended up losing close to $250 on my launch sale. The special was also only supposed to be for people I knew, but like a dumbass I advertised the coupon code and ended up selling 70 units. That’s almost a 10th of my inventory sold at a loss!

Mid week I went into my Facebook page and noticed that it wasn’t facebook.com/cavetools like I had set the url to and had included in all of my press releases, lead magnets, and marketing materials. My page link was still the really long url.  Facebook had a technological error and I lost the ability to manage the /cavetools page and was stuck with the other page. My likes had been split between the 2 pages and none of my updates went to the short url page. Facebook of course is impossible to reach and after 3 weeks of continuous complaints I still haven’t heard back from them. I had to cut my losses and create a new vanity url Cave Tools Facebook. Still working on updating all of my past marketing efforts to include the new link.

I feel like I’m forgetting some other things that happened, but overall I just pushed through and things are going great now. June 28th marks my 1 month anniversary for selling physical products online, so I will hold off on the good news until then 😉

Mike O’Donnell Gives a Shipping Update

Posted on May 7th, 2013 in Amazon, Business Development, Outsourcing | No Comments »

I was sitting on my computer watching T.V. around 11-11:30pm on Sunday night and my manufacturer in China sent me a Skype message saying that they would be finishing up my order 4 days ahead of time. I was extremely excited at first, but then I started thinking of how my deadlines just got shortened and I had a ton of work to do in even less time now.

Building my marketing and business operations systems has been the easiest part so far for me because it is familiar. I know what I need to do and I know how to build the systems to automate it for me. The importing and shipping piece however is completely foreign to me and has been taking up a ton of my time throughout this whole process.

Of course while I was talking to Tracy (Chinese lady with fake American name), she informed me that the dimensions and weights of all the boxes were now different than what she originally told me. She then sent me a bunch of pictures to show me my order, and I noticed that now my shipping mark, which was printed on the boxes, had to be changed.

 

Ready To Go!

 

Wrong Information

 

Since all of the boxes were already made and the shipping marks were printed on, we decided to go with a small brown sticker to show the updated information. A nice cheap solution.

 

Fixed

 

 

That’s A Lot Of Brushes!

 

Now that all of the information was changed, I was starting back at square 1 with my shipping quotes. Since the deadlines were shortened, I needed to lock in my rates ASAP.

My 2 best options for the international transport were Fedex and DHL. Fedex has basically held my hand through this entire process and have gone above and beyond in terms of customer service. They even have what’s called the Great Rates Hotline where you can call in and get quotes on the spot with deep discounts on your shipments. DHL on the other hand has been absolutely horrible and it can take days to weeks to receive a quote.

Yesterday, I figured screw DHL (still hadn’t received a quote after a full week of phone calls with my rep), I’m going with Fedex. I was able to get a 67% discount on my shipping rate through them and the deal seemed unbeatable to me anyways. I locked in my rate and sent the information over to my manufacturer. About an hour later, they responded by telling me that the price they quoted me (and I paid for) was the unit price of the brushes and not FOB Shenzhen as I expected. This meant that I also needed to schedule a pick up at the manufacturing facility to take the boxes to the airport. I tried negotiating to get them to deliver for me, but there was no room to budge. I squeezed them pretty hard on my rates already and they said there wasn’t enough profit in the order for them to do the drop off for me.

A couple of phone calls later to Fedex International and I was able to schedule a pickup for Wednesday. All problems solved. Or so I thought…

Tracy was surprised that I went with Fedex because they are normally more expensive. As our conversation progressed, we decided to share rates. Low and behold, her Fedex China rate was a little less than half the price of mine. I was obviously taken in by the classic Kohls trick of always offering discounts to make people feel like they got a deal. To put the icing on the cake, at 5:30pm yesterday I finally received my quote from DHL. You guessed it…half the price of my Fedex quote. Rat Bastards!

I’ve always been one to reward companies with great customer service, but half the price is hard to swallow. Especially when I look at what that would do to my unit prices and margins. I just got off the phone with Fedex about a half hour ago and canceled everything. Now I’ll probably need to hound the shit out of my DHL rep so we can get a pickup in place and schedule everything. Regardless of the extra work and time that I now need to devote to DHL, using them for my shipment is going to be the best option. I just hope it doesn’t delay my shipment too much longer because the suspense is killing me!

Mike O’Donnell Working Hard On New Amazon Business

Posted on April 27th, 2013 in Amazon, Business Development, Efficiency, Goal Setting, My Story, Outsourcing, Reflection | No Comments »

I made a pretty bold claim in my last post. 20 days ago I said I was going to be building a new business and would be generating good cash flow by May 10th. Well, I’ve worked for 18 of those 20 days on weekends and at nights and I’m ready to give an update.

Once I decided on grill brushes, I started interviewing manufacturers and negotiating. I decided to go with a manufacturer in China because they were obviously more competitive than the domestic manufacturers. I did however receive sample products from my Chinese manufacturer and then ship them out to a domestic manufacturer out in Wisconsin. The manager there was very aggressive and wanted to win my business. She took the specs of the product and figured out her price, but she still wasn’t even close. It would be nice to be a made in the USA product, but that’s not going to happen.

This happened during one of my first Skype conversations with the Chinese manufacturer. Not the most professional verbiage, but she’s definitely a keeper!

[4/08/13 12:31:46 PM] Tracy: so.. do you still have any question about the order?

[4/08/13 12:32:29 PM] Michael O’Donnell: Not at the moment. I need to have a discussion with my partner and then I will get back in touch with you

[4/08/13 12:33:38 PM] Tracy: Ok .. then I am going to take a bath .. BTW.. you are so handsome on that pic .. 😉

[4/08/13 12:36:34 PM] Tracy: have a nice day .. bye !

[4/08/13 12:48:05 PM] Michael O’Donnell: haha Thank you

 

Another Chinese lady from a different manufacturing facility said this to me:

hello Michael

[4/22/13 9:25:42 AM] Ruby.Y: Do you see the series “the Vampire Diaries”?I see your pic,and think you and Stephen who in the series something look like 😛

 

I looked him up. I don’t see the resemblance, but I’ll take the compliment. All these Chinese ladies trying to woo me into working with them. Americans should take some notes 😉

 

Sourcing from China has been interesting because I knew absolutely nothing about shipping 20 days ago. I think I’ve shipped maybe 3 boxes in my lifetime and they were domestic, so I had a lot to learn. Luckily for me Bob’s job is to ship things all over the world, so I had him as a resource.

The first step was to figure out how all of my brushes would be packed and how many boxes I was shipping. We’re placing 40 brushes into each box with dimensions of 56X26X58 cms and each box weighs approximately 8 kilos. We’re shipping 25 boxes (do the math and I’m importing 1,000 brushes), so that translates into 2.1 CBMs.

Now that I had my dimensions all figured out, it was time to start speaking with shipping companies. Bob was a major help with all of this. I also introduced him as my logistics manager to the Chinese manager Tracy and he started speaking Chinese to her. She got super wet over that and I think if he was over there she would have invited him into the bath with her. But that’s beside the point.

We figured out the HTS code (still not sure what this is) and Bob hooked me up with his friend Michael O’Donnell (truth) who is an import broker. I paid Mike to set up my import bond so I could place it on my shipping mark and send to China so they could place on the boxes. Then came the confusing part. Once in America, I need to split up the boxes and send to 3 different fulfillment centers (East coast, Midwest, West coast). I kept changing my mind on where things were going and switching up the addresses, which caused a mess. Then I decided to ship them all directly to my house so I could inspect them and then ship out. That caused more issues because now I needed port to door service and since I’m residential it costs more than shipping to a commercial location. Such a mess!

When I shipped my sample brush out to Wisconsin, I noticed that the Parcel Place in Newtown counted as a commercial shipping location. Boom, problems solved! For 3 bucks a package I could have them all shipped there, inspect them, and then ship out to each fulfillment center that day!

Now that that’s figured out, I’m in the process of pinning DHL and Fedex sales reps against each other so I can negotiate the cheapest shipping price. We’re shipping these via air cargo instead of by boat so I can get up and running quicker. Next shipment will be by boat, but for now I’m stuck paying the more expensive air freight prices. We still don’t know what the actual shipping price is going to be because the rates change daily and our shipment date is May 10th (gonna push my cash flow deadline back a few days). I’m expecting it to be around $4,000 to ship them all in. On the surface, that’s a HOLY SHIT high number, but for 1,000 brushes that just adds $4 to my unit price for each. Considering I’m saving a ton of money going to China, that’s actually not that bad. This first shipment is all about getting the business up and running. If I tried to be perfect and maximize my profit at this stage I’d never get off the ground. I’m moving at a blazing speed right now and there is no time for me to be perfect. I’ll refine later.

Next step was to create a brand name. I decided to go with Cave Tools because I want to play on the whole Man Cave theme and eventually expand into other manly products. Being the cheap ass that I am, I hired a designer from Sri Lanka. The dude could barely speak English, so I had to do a lot of back and forth with revisions before the Hand Tag design as complete. In hindsight, I should have paid a few extra bucks to get someone I could communicate with. It would have saved me money in my time.

 

 

Looks pretty damn good though if I do say so myself! A whopping $22 out the door for this gem!

Next thing I had to do was get high quality pictures for my product listing. Online shopping is highly visual, so you need to have kickass pictures if you want to get attention. I originally was going to have a Photoshop master create a digital image for me. Basically, I was going to have him create my product from scratch in Photoshop so I could show more details than a picture would ever capture. This was going to run me around $100 and I didn’t really feel like paying that. I also didn’t want to hire a professional photographer to take pictures for me with their super high end cameras. What to do? What to do? Solution: take pictures with my regular camera and have them professionally retouched to enhance the details.

So that’s what I did, I enlisted my mother to be my camera person and we went out to our grill and started taking pictures. Problem was that our grill grates look like shit after years of poor cleaning and there was rust everywhere. Hardly the image I want to portray for my grill “cleaning” brush. Fran had the bright idea of going to Home Depot and taking pictures using their brand new grills. Perfect! People were giving us really weird looks, but we had no shame. Upwards and onwards!

Once I had my pictures, I needed to get someone to retouch them. I have been burned by Bangladeshis in the past, so as a rule I never hire anyone from Bangladesh anymore. This time however, I made an exception because my man Ibrahim had a hell of a portfolio and his rates were dirt cheap! Before I share some before and after pics, I have to share this message that he sent me because it’s hilarious. His profile picture makes it even more hilarious haha

 

hello boss
how are you ?
i hope you are well by the grace of almighty .
boss i have completed your other 5 images work.
please see the attachment and if you have any problem please inform me and i will be trying to overcome it.
thank to you.
regards
ibrahim

Here are 2 before after pictures to show how great he did:

 

Before:

 

After:

 

 

Before:

 

 

After:

 

As you can see in these pictures, Ibrahim is the Fucking Man! I had him retouch 8 pictures for me at a negotiated rate of………. $2 an image. Being the gentlemen that I am, I gave him a bonus and paid him $20 for all 8 images. I’ll be working with him again in the future for sure!

 

Ok, shipping taken care of (almost), packaging and branding complete (Need website to finish branding), High quality pictures finished, now I need some sales copy.

Sales copy was written by yours truly. Started off by doing deep keyword research on both Amazon and Google and then dove right in. Amazon only allows 2,000 characters including the html tags for formatting (bolding, italicizing, etc.) o that’s not a lot to work with. This stuff may change over time, so instead of linking to it I will show a picture:

 

 

So now that everything is set up, we need to start marketing the hell out of this thing. Of course, I don’t want to have to do everything myself. That would be silly!

Right now, I am in the process of hiring a writer that will provide me with press releases, articles, and blog posts on a weekly basis. I’m thinking we’ll do 1 of each per week and then I will turn them into videos as well. All of this will be templated out in the next week. For example, all articles will be 500 words (100 intro, 300 body, 100 conclusion), standard article resource box and contact box. I will generate a list of headlines and my writer will fill in the places to make them unique per each article. All articles will be focused on 1 keyword specifically with the ability to target other keywords in the list I provide. You get the point. When I’m ready, everything will be pretty much drag and drop for the writer and I will order content in bulk so I can clump their research time and get cheaper rates. Every piece of content will also be “Spun” into about 50 slightly different versions of the same piece of content. This is so we can avoid duplicate content all over the internet. Make sense?

Each type of content is going to have specific instructions as to where to post, what automated tools to run it through, and what to do with each piece of content on certain days of the week. We are literally going to be building thousands of links per month to my product page and my Cave Tools website to blast this thing to the top of the search engines. Since I’m leveraging Amazon’s authority, I can build a ton of links without getting in trouble. As you can imagine with 1000s of links per month, this can get out of control very quickly.

Well, on Thursday night I stayed up until 1am building a ridiculous excel dashboard that is going to track everything. Every single link I build will be tracked on a micro level down to the exact keywords that are used in every post. Then I have a clean macro dashboard sheet that will tell me with one glance, how many blog posts have been done (and on which platform: wordpress, tumblr, blogger), how many press releases, how many articles, videos, micro blog posts (twitter, etc.), etc. On top of that, I also have a pie chart that shows the percentage of times each keyword has been used so I can keep track of my keyword usage and add substract keywords as necessary.

What I have built (still designing parts of it) is a massively complex personal SEO system that I can manage with very little personal time of my own. Why you ask? Because I have templated everything out and I’m in the process of dumbing all tasks down into instructions that a robot can follow without messing up. However, instead of having a robot do it, I will have my personal assistant in the Philippines, Caecilia, run this system for $2.50 an hour.

I just stopped writing this blog post for 45 minutes because I remembered an article I read over a year ago. With a little bit of research, I just figured out how to build my own web scraper by modifying the code from other people’s scrapers. On top of that, I figured out how to set up an automated timed scrape that streams directly into a Google Docs. What does this mean?

Well, part of SEO is to promote links you have built, not just build new links all the time. When you send a press release out to 100 sites, you end up getting much more links because other news sites pick your release up. This normally within a week or two news websites will stop picking it up because it’s old news. If you do a search for your exact press release title a week later, you may see there are 500 links to it because of the additional pick up. On top of my current system, I am now going to build a timed Google scraper that automatically finds all of my extra press release links a week later, drops them into a spreadsheet, which I will then create a process for Caecilia to add to my URL booster. Remembering that article right now probably just tripled the effectiveness of what I am going to do.

In the last 20 days I have gone from knowing nothing about physical products to building the processes and systems to go into Beast Status all while running my marketing company. The anticipation for my first shipment to come in is literally killing me right now. Let’s get this show on the road! http://www.amazon.com/Grill-Brush-Stainless-Porcelain-Char-broil/dp/B00CATVET0