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This week we have Cort Caldwell! Read what he has to say below:
What were you doing for work before you started eCommerce?
I worked in the Telecom sector for about 10 years doing sales and marketing after I finished college. I went to school for English Language and Psych undergrad and then went to Law school for a Law degree. Mostly I was interested in politics and did a lot of volunteer work in the Canadian political field. I even ran for mayor of a major city when I was in my early 20s.
How did you get your start in eCommerce / Amazon / etc?
I did the website for a college club I had joined during Law school about 15 years ago, gaining some very modest design and coding ability along the way. A few years later, in 2008, I discovered Pat Flynn and Gary Vaynerchuk and used my design and writing skills to start article marketing with WordPress blogs in the dietary niche. These sites were a good side hustle for a few years with Adsense until one of the Google algorithm updates crushed me a bit. It was also during this time that I found some early success with Amazon Associates doing contextual product placement in my blog articles. Fast forward to 2015 and I had been testing affiliate products and platforms, really hoping to get a good side hustle going that I could turn into a full time gig eventually. In Dec 2015, I heard about MBA and since I was trying my hand at Teespring, I signed up for Merch. About 6 months later, I was doing POD full time.
What were some of your struggles at first?
Before Merch, I used Facebook ads a fair bit during political campaigning, but when I tried my hand at Teespring in late 2015 and early 2016, I was not very successful, even while absorbing as much “guru” info as I could. I would be nervous even today if I had to rely mostly on Facebook Ads to support myself and my family.
As for Merch, in the beginning I was not diversifying my niches enough. When I started to find success, I knew that my earnings would be flattened when the 2016 election cycle ended. I recognized very early on that I needed to diversify, and it was still a big challenge. I expected too much, and cared too little about some of the niches I tackled. When the 2016 big freeze hit Merch I was pretty stressed out, and learned quickly not to keep all of my eggs in one basket. I quickly started to spread my portfolio and efforts out across many PODs.
When was the moment when you “made it” or realized that you were on to something? How did you feel?
Honestly? The best feeling was the first sale I ever made. But in terms of a career, I was accepted in Apr 2016, and I was tiering up 1-2 times per month from May to Sept 2016 (up to 4K tier). I quit my job in the summer of 2016 when I started hitting 1K+ weeks regularly. My best design that summer had literally several hundred copycats on and off of MBA.
How much time and work would you say you put in to your store?
I do POD full time, and balance a family with that, so 30-100 hrs per week, whatever I can spare. I am always thinking about POD and I always have a Google Doc at hand to write down ideas, so I think it is a lifestyle, not something I ever come home from, or put away.
What would you say to anyone who is interested or considering entering the eCommerce market? Where would you begin?
When you find something that sells and that you can do or learn to do well enough to succeed, focus on it and double down with your time and energy, resist ‘shiny object syndrome’ and when it gets tough, work harder. When it gets easier, work harder, too.
I recommend starting creating designs or products in a niche you love to read and talk about. I think all of my MBA sales may have come from social media in my first few weeks. The industry has matured a bit and it is more and more helpful to find niches you are interested talking about, and create social profiles, build out social media properties like facebook pages and to engage, making sure to add as much value as you possible can before, and between, pitching or posting your products. Being interested in your niche and curious will help you communicate better with your market as well as do wonders to help prevent burnout. You might also be aware of the ‘fringes’ of a niche that others are not and take advantage of untapped smaller sub-niches.
Finally, I started out very slow as a designer. I could only make, like, 5 designs or variations per day to upload to Teespring. When I had finished making a dozen, it felt like a lot. Now I know that 1000 designs really isn’t very much since I have gotten more and more proficient and efficient, and also learned to scale a concept better. I have done maybe 5-6000 designs now over the two years since I began and try for 30-80 new designs per day, all without a VA. My advice, if you are waiting to be accepted to Merch, practice, take a course, work with the tools that you will work with in your business, for fun or for profit, and you will not regret it.