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