I recently made a post about my own personal eCommerce journey in a Facebook group I frequent.
By popular demand, I’m resharing that post here so others can read it and hopefully get some value out of it to apply in their own journey.
Success Is Not a Straight Line
- Why are others doing so well with eCommerce while I’m failing?
- Did they luck out and pick a great niche?
- Are they smarter than me?
- Do they just have more money to throw at it than I do?
- Do they have advantages that I do not?
These are the type of questions I used to ask myself when I first started on this journey.
I had a knack for failing miserably! It seemed like everything I touched turned to crap in one way or another.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was learning something from each failure.
And believe me when I tell you I did A LOT of learning because I was the king of failure. My very first eCommerce store was a luggage site (don’t laugh).
Looking back, I have no idea WHY I chose the luggage niche, but I was convinced that store was my path to riches. I had no doubt I would be sitting next to a lake, enjoying a cold beer, and fishing every day for the rest of my life and I’d get there in just a few months once this store took off.
I had no idea how naive that was until much later.
I now had to be available during business hours to answer the phone, deal with cranky customers, manage several vendors and inventory.
It was a nightmare and the problems kept stacking up.
Worse than the problems, I had less time for me than I EVER had before.
I thought this online stuff was going to be passive! Yeah right!
About six months after opening my luggage store I made the decision to close it down.
This was NOT an easy decision. I had an emotional connection to this store.
After all, I had spent a lot of time building it. Countless hours agonizing over how to make it work.
Ultimately, I did make the store profitable.
I was in the black after months of hard work.
I closed the store because while I was making a bit of money, I had no clear picture on how I could improve it and scale it to make the kind of money I felt my time was worth.
I was competing with the likes of eBags and I was feeling the wear and tear of the David and Goliath battle I was in just to scrape by.
Another big factor in my closing that store was seeing all the great posts in Facebook groups of people making 10-20 times what I was making in sales.
Judging myself against others to determine my own success was something that took me awhile to get past.
Once I did get past it, my story took an abrupt turn.
If all my friends were asked to describe me in a single word, most would probably choose the word stubborn. (I’m guessing my wife would add a few words to this list)
Some would say it affectionately and others would say it while rolling their eyes and remembering at least a few times I held my ground on something they felt was trivial.
I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that being my defining label, but I can’t argue against its accuracy.
Closing my luggage store was my eCommerce rock bottom.
I felt like Rocky must have after being beat senseless in the first half of every fight he had.
Everything about the experience told me to admit I was beat and move on.
I had other businesses I was running and I really didn’t need this online stuff.
But that’s not what someone who earned a reputation for being stubborn would do.
So after a few days, I chose another niche and started all over again.
This time I knew what I was getting into.
I’d been here once before.
What I wasn’t expecting was that this new store was up and running WAY faster and easier than the luggage store.
All the lessons I had learned from failing were paying off.
Things were getting easier and within two months my newest store was running in the black making almost 2-3 times what the luggage store was making when I closed the doors.
But it wasn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs.
A new store meant new problems.
I was running into things I had never dealt with before.
More sales turned into more customer support, more processing orders, more returns, more work period.
I was “Learning” again.
Everytime I took a step forward, the eCommerce gods would kick me two steps back.
Sure I was making money, but man was I taking a beating doing it.
I needed help.
I needed someone in my corner to help take some of the pressure off me.
I knew others in the Facebook groups were talking about hiring cheap VA’s to handle the day to day stuff so they could run their stores passively and travel the world.
Why couldn’t I do the same? (minus the travel).
So I did.
I started bringing on a few cheap Filipino VAs to do all sorts of day to day stuff.
Upload products, answer phones, process orders, you name it.
I mean if Timothy Ferriss can work a four hour work week, so could I right?
Have you ever heard the term “You get what you pay for”?
That’s exactly the kind of help I was getting.
- My product pages did not look as good when they did the job.
- The wording and descriptions were not as good.
- Phone support was horrific compared to what my customers were used to.
- My vendor relationships had become impersonal and they had no reason to go above and beyond for me because they barely knew me.
Every aspect of my business started to decline.
My newest store was taking a nosedive back towards the no profit zone.
My opinion on Tim Ferriss and the 4hr Work Week had changed. (temporarily)
The guy is full of Sh!*
He’s a fraud.
I’ll bet he was running 15-16 hour days for months just promoting and touring to sell his book!
4 hours my foot!
I learned from my mistake and quickly reverted back to the old way.
If you want something done right, do it yourself. Right?
This was another failure on my part.
It took me nearly a year to figure out my stubbornness had caused this particular failure and more importantly realize what lesson this failure taught me.
I struggle to find an example of a single person in history who became super successful all by themselves.
Every success story has a team or at least a solid support system from family and friends pushing in the same direction.
The problem was not that other people could not help me succeed, the problem was I chose the wrong people.
Trust me when I tell you, I put some time into screening these VAs.
I did the best I could and I still feel like I got some of the best people I could have from the process.
The problem is, no matter how talented they were, they were on their own team, not mine.
Maybe it’s selfish but I wanted someone wearing my colors, chanting my fight song, and trying to grow my team.
I began my hiring process with a goal of working less myself.
THAT was my biggest mistake.
My new goal was to grow my business while keeping to my high standards of quality.
I knew if I was going to have this, I needed enough money to bring in the right people.
Someone local, someone who could interact with me face to face.
Someone I could teach and give growth opportunities to so I could build a well oiled, loyal, dedicated team.
Then the irony hit me like a ton of bricks.
I needed a team to grow, but I needed to grow to build a team.
Talk about a chicken or egg moment.
It seemed like I had put myself in the perfect place to fail once again.
I remember having a long conversation with my wife Teresa about this time in my journey.
I explained the issues I was facing and genuinely hoped a second set of eyes would have the answers I needed.
Her response… “Suck it up buttercup, what do you want me to do about it.”
In short, she was saying “stop talking to me about it and go do something about it.”
So I did…
She had just made herself my first superstar employee and she had no idea yet.
I was going to hire her away from her corporate accounting job that she loved.
I decided I had to build enough stability into the business and enough income to keep paying myself, but to also pay her exactly what she made at her job including all her benefits.
She could take over accounting and cross train on customer service and phones.
I was going to need every stubborn bone in my body to pull this off.
I was on my own and I saw only one way to accomplish this goal in a short time…
Build 3 more stores.
This meant I would be running 4 stores full time all by myself.
Every aspect of these stores would be on my shoulders.
Every phone call, every return, every everything.
I knew I was asking more from myself that was probably sane at the time, but my desire to grow a team outweighed my desire to watch netflix, so I gave up my free time and got to work.
Have you ever seen Shark Week on TV when there’s a giant bait ball in the ocean and sharks are attacking from all sides?
For the next 7 months, I was the bait ball.
I got my butt kicked for 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I loved every minute of it.
Sure it was miserable, but do bodybuilders worry about how much it hurts to lift the big weights?
I’m not a bodybuilder but I’ll bet they focus on the gains they are making more than the pain it’s causing.
Everyday my 4 dropshipping stores got bigger, every day they grew more profitable.
Each day my vendor relationships got stronger and I was getting better deals that turned into better profits.
By the end of month 7, I had run 90 days straight with very steady and growing profits that equaled MORE than enough to ask Teresa to quit her job.
Even better, I had made so many mistakes in those 7 months that I was SURE if I started a new store now, I had enough experience from lessons learned to make it a success within the first 30 days.
When the day came to let Teresa know my master plan (her leaving her job), I almost backed out.
I knew she loved her job.
She loved the people she worked with.
This was not going to be an easy sell.
I once got a disciplinary action in the military for smoking in a no smoking area when I was just a private.
It was 3 days of questioning and counseling that left me feeling like I had murdered someone instead of having a smoke where it wasn’t permitted.
That experience pales in comparison to getting Teresa to leave her job.
Almost three months of discussions.
More spreadsheets and number crunching than the IRS deals with.
Long talks about longevity of the company, health insurance, and retirement plans.
She was not the type of person to make an uninformed decision and she certainly didn’t let me off easy just because we have been married for over 20 years.
To my delight, my hard work paid off and she put in a two week notice.
I had my first superstar employee.
Since this time, I have opened and grown several stores.
Some for the sole purpose of infusing my business with a set amount of cash and then giving the store away.
In other words, I was willing to take on the work of building and running the store short term because I needed a set amount of money to accomplish something else.
Somewhere in the middle of this journey, I took the time to attend an eCommerce convention/retreat in Hawaii.
My reason for going was pretty selfish.
I wanted to learn something to take my business to the next level once again.
I also figured the trip could double as a vacation for Teresa and I.
We both had a great time in Kona Hawaii.
When we got home, Teresa asked me if I had learned anything that we could use in our own business.
At first, I struggled to think of anything actionable I picked up while there.
Sure the presentations were great, but most of it I was already doing at some level.
Did I waste my time going to Hawaii?
It just took me a few days to realize what value I actually got from the retreat.
First, I made some great connections and friendships while there.
These have been invaluable to me.
Second, I made an observation that reinforced my business direction.
While many people there were amazed at some of the more successful eCommerce owners numbers, the successful business owners didn’t seem to pay them any mind.
The more successful owners also seemed to all share a bit of my stubbornness.
They had proven time and again they could fail and bounce back higher each time.
They had made personal sacrifices in time and money to grow their companies.
Not One of them talked about being an overnight success.
The story was different in the details for each one of them but the common theme was they struggled.
When you stop comparing your success to that of others, and you plant your feet and DECIDE you are going to win, you win.
It’s not magic, it’s stubbornness, it’s determination, it’s persistence.
Owning a business is not for everyone.
Some are not willing to give so much of themselves to be successful in business.
But some are.
And lucky for all of us, our success is not based on skill or talent.
It’s determined by our determination not to let failures stop us from moving forward.
For those willing to train hard and run the race, we’ll see you in the winner’s circle.
Thanks for reading… Please share some of your own journey with others in the comments below!