Oh, what I wish I knew when I started dropshipping. It’s amazing how much you learn from experience. It takes a while for it to happen, but one day you’ll look back at mistakes and realize how you got to where you are today. Those tiny little lessons you learn along the way give you the hands-on experience that helps you know what works… and what doesn’t. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the past six years so you can get a head start.
1. Content Marketing is Essential
When I first launched my yoga store, I created yoga quote articles. I would tag influencers featured in the article on Twitter. They’d share the article with their audience. And I’d benefit from free qualified traffic to my website that converted into sales.
But this section is actually not really about that. Shortly after I had got my first few sales from these articles, we stopped creating content for my blog. The reason that was a big mistake is that we didn’t have a back-up plan to fall on when the store failed about a year later.
Content marketing is one of the most impactful ways to grow a business and keep it alive a heck of a lot longer. What I wish I did more than anything was turn the blog into an affiliate site until the next winning product in my niche came around. Since 99 percent of our store’s sales came from one product, I put myself at risk but not building a bigger audience that I can promote to long after the trend died out.
2. Don’t Switch Suppliers to Save Money
While the mandala blanket trend died out around the time our business failed, it wasn’t actually the thing that ended up killing my business. I saw that our ad costs were getting higher so I wanted to save money on the product. So I found a supplier with a lower price selling the same product. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read reviews or looked at the supplier’s ratings. And this decision hurt me more than I could imagine.
Let’s just say the new supplier wasn’t as good. This mistake cost me tens of thousands of dollars. I ended up getting a refund on the cost of products and the supplier was immediately removed from the platform. However, the biggest loss of money was with our Facebook ad costs, which had been at an all-time high. Facebook doesn’t do refunds for choosing the wrong dropshipping supplier.
3. Sell Globally Immediately
Most people focus on selling to an American audience for most of their ads. And when it comes to “international,” they expand into Australia, UK, and Canada. But the truth is, there are 191 other countries you can sell to. If you’ve secretly always wanted to “take over the world,” dropshipping is the perfect business model to do that. And with ePacket delivery routes expanding over the years, it’s never been easier to build an international brand.
Unfortunately, I learned this lesson a little too late. It wasn’t until we had skyrocketing growth from a small country we had never heard of called Jersey that we started to experiment with other countries. And by then there were so many other sellers selling the same product as me. If you start marketing internationally early on, you can find countries that no one else is selling to. The reality is for most countries outside the big four, there’s a much smaller number of sellers making it the biggest opportunities for dropshippers.
4. Take Your Products’ Weaknesses and Show them Positively
The first time you get a negative review on your products you can’t help but think to yourself, “Oh man, I chose a low-quality product.” And when I got my first few negative emails, I’d panic and apologize profusely. I’d worry about how many others would complain.
Truth is, the only thing I needed to do was be honest about the product. For example, one of the biggest complaints about the beach blanket I was selling was that the material was too thin. So what did I do? On the product page, I wrote under a bullet point “thin material for easy folding and to help feel the texture of the sand at the beach.” That way I set realistic expectations for the product while also showcasing why that negative aspect was actually a great thing. This helped reduce complaints by a landslide. Look for the benefit that a negative aspect of a product can have.
5. You Learn from All Your Failures
Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Fail. Fail. Win. That’s basically the formula to success when it comes to making passive income. If you look at all of your mistakes as business lessons, you’ll grow into becoming a successful entrepreneur. There’ll be times when the lessons are painful or costly, but your ability to overcome those challenges will be what makes or breaks you. The best success stories always start out as failure stories. Don’t get caught up in how far away you are from your goal you are right now. And don’t question your ability to get to the end goal based on a couple of challenging obstacles thrown your way. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail, all that matters is that you push through those failures so you can eventually succeed.
6. The Best Way to Find Winning Products is by Looking at Ads
Hitting the dropshipping jackpot often comes from the success of one explosive product. The upside is that you only need to find one product to make it big. The downside is that it takes a bit of work to find the product that’ll go big. I actually found the best product of my ecommerce career from a successful Facebook ad. The ad had a ton of comments, friend-tagging, and likes on the post. I then searched for the same product on AliExpress and the rest is history.
By being more observant about what’s performing well for other brands, you can gain a competitive advantage over other competitors and store owners. It can help you catch the trend before it really explodes. So don’t be afraid to look through best seller lists and scroll through social media feeds. But more importantly, don’t forget to act fast as in within the next couple hours fast. The sooner you jump in on the trend the better off you’ll be.
7. Test Everything
That said, you always want to test things a lot early on. However, as we just mentioned focus is important. For example, say you chose Pinterest for your free marketing channel, you might experiment with different photos, keywords, and landing pages (product page, blog post).
Another example of experimentation could be with product ideas. Rather than testing out products from 20 different niches, you pick a niche and pick products within that niche. When it comes to Facebook ads, you might create an ad and test several different countries for the same ad.
So when it comes to experimentation, make sure that you’re experimenting deep instead of wide.
8. Focus on Niches That are Retention- Focused
A retention- focused niche is a niche where you can own and remarket to your customer list for years to come. For example, yoga is a good niche where you can retain your audience as it’s a niche people tend to stick with for a long time – same with women’s and men’s fashion, beauty, and certain niche hobbies.
An acquisition- focused niche is one where you constantly need to acquire new customers because the customer moves on from the niche. For example, weddings, children’s fashion, and maternity.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t find success with acquisition niches, it just means that the strategy usually involves more upfront work (creating blog content multiple times a week) or more money (paid ads).
The only reason why I’m suggesting retention-focused niches is that most people who are just starting out with dropshipping work 9 to 5 jobs and have limited budgets. I’ve also heard from people in different spaces that it really sucks when you build up an email list only for you to be unable to sell them anything in a couple of years.
So if you’re building a long-term store, you might want to stick with something with an audience that you can remarket to for years to come.
9. You Don’t Need to Get Fancy
When building your first store, most people tend to go all out. They install a ton of apps, they buy the most expensive theme, they spend $1,000 on their first ad. And then a couple of weeks later when they’ve got zero sales, they freak out about how much money they’ve spent. They blame everyone except for themselves. Don’t worry, I did this a lot in the beginning too.
Your first store might suck. And that’s totally ok. I made an animated video for a bridal store when I was starting out. It was literally the world’s worst animated video anyone has ever made. It was cheesy, low-quality, and totally off brand. And yet I proudly showed it off to everyone I knew. That store only ended up making about $30. So it basically made my first and last sale.
But as you gain experience, you actually start doing and using less. The only apps I use these days are a dropshipping and print on demand app, along with a bundle/upsell app. In the event that I really want a special feature added to my website, I usually just pay a Shopify expert a one-time fee to add it so I don’t need to get caught up in a monthly plan for something so small but impactful.
10. Pick a Paid and Free Marketing Channel to Focus on
When you’re just starting out, you’re excited and want to try a little bit of everything. That plan will blow up in your face. Instead, focus on two channels: one paid and one free. For example, your two channels might be Facebook ads and Instagram, or Google Shopping Ads and Pinterest.
This is effective is because focus allows you to become a master. Also, high advertising costs can eat away at your margins. So if you’re promoting in your free channel every day, over time you’ll be getting sales without ad spend. The paid focus is mostly to help you in the short-term. But if you build for the long-term, you’ll want to keep your marketing costs as low as possible.
11. You Can Still Use Your Audience Long After Your Store Ends
After my yoga store died off, I kind of just left it there unused for years. We didn’t post on social media, we didn’t promote any products to our massive email list, we kind of just killed it. But that’s actually the exact opposite of what we should’ve done.
The reality is we still have over 50k Facebook followers and over 10,000 email subscribers. Our site still shows up in search engines and people still visit it even though there aren’t any products on it. It made me realize how much of a wasted opportunity it’s been.
If your best-seller loses steam, you don’t need to abandon your store. You can instead continue to build an audience while experimenting with new products. By continuing to grow your audience, you give yourself the best chance to succeed down the road when you strike gold again. Plus, this time the marketing costs will be lower since you can remarket to an audience you’ve already built up.
12. Stuff Will Go Wrong
You can fret and worry about what will go wrong, but you’ll never be able to prepare for what happens. It’s almost always the thing you least suspect.
For example, when I hired my first social media freelancer, he had so many positive reviews that I knew that he was great at building an audience. I didn’t think he needed any training and he seemed confident in his abilities.
Unfortunately, one of his first few posts was of him fat-shaming people in yoga pants. My jaw literally dropped. At that point, we already had a sizeable following so I deleted the post immediately without a second thought. He never posted content like that again.
However, it was my responsibility to set the guidelines and tone for how I wanted him to portray the brand.
Even still, all you can do when something goes wrong is take immediate action to fix it. You don’t need to blow it up. Acknowledge that the mistake was made and resolve it.
Don’t stress about what you don’t know yet or what could go wrong. You have the skills and determination to overcome every obstacle you face. Some lessons may be more challenging than others but those lessons can really open your eyes to how to properly start a dropshipping business. An important thing to remember is that just because one ad bombs or one supplier fails you, it doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong track. Sometimes mistakes happen. All we can do is learn from them.