The third day of my shoe-string entrepreneur project started off fairly calm and wrapped up in a whirlwind of craziness. I'm guessing that's pretty common in the world of building a business. What started off as another day to work on the store with hopes to spend some time on viral marketing resulted in me realizing that I'd already made a massive mistake in one area, and possibly scored a massive coup in another.
(If you're just catching up with this series of articles, be sure to swing into the ongoing discussion thread at the Small Business Ideas forum. You'll be able to link to each day's article and participate in the discussion going along with it.)
Adding New Products
I started off the morning with plans to expand the product offerings by coming up with some new slogans. Like many entrepreneurs, my brain had been hard at work even while I was trying to sleep, and new slogans were popping into my head left and right. Some of them seemed like sure fire hits with the crowd I was targeting. I added a series of kids products that read "Ain't yet quit the tit" in support of child-led weaning. I also added new products for both children and adults that support breastfeeding in public. ("My baby doesn't like to eat in the bathroom...do you?" for adults and "I don't like to eat in the bathroom...do you?" for the kidlets.)
I also added two new sections to the site. One that will feature shirts for pumping moms, and another that will feature shirts designed to help support human milk banks. The latter one featured some of my more creative moments, featuring shirts that say "Modern Day Wet Nurse" and "These Breasts Save Lives" in big letters with "(Ask me about milk banks)" in smaller text underneath. These were the types of shirts that I would have loved to have worn while I was an active donor, which led me to a great idea on potential viral marketing and public relations. (More on that below.)
Adding new products also saw me coming up with some flops. I wanted to add "got breastmilk?" to the site, but ended up scrapping it for two reasons. One, because one of our guest authors just happened to write an article talking about how many people have stolen from that campaign (which caused me to feel a bit embarrassed) and also because CafePress knocked out that graphic for copyright violations. Not worth fighting. I also had a flop in a milk bank shirt that would have said "You can take THAT to the bank?!" when both Robert and my husband responded with "huh?"
Just goes to show that for every brilliant moment you have, you're likely also going to have some that are duller than dirt.
From there I decided to try and expand my options as far as driving traffic to the site. I knew it would be awhile before any search engine traffic would kick in and Froogle won't accept a feed from an individual CafePress store. That meant heading over to eBay to check out my options for selling the shirts there. Unfortunately, eBay has a 25 cent listing fee whether you sell the item or not. Since the rules of this game were that I couldn't spend any money out of pocket, that meant that an eBay listing was out of the question until I generated some profits another way.
Viral Marketing and Public Relations
From the start of the project, I knew that viral marketing and that free AdWords coupons were likely to be the two things that would give me a real shot at making this work. I needed to find a way to generate some interest in both the project and the store so that bloggers, discussion boards and eventually, the mainstream press, might pick up the story and run with it. I'd already dropped a note to Jason Dowdell at MarketingShift and was pleased to see that he'd blogged on the lactivist store at his site. It wasn't long after that his wife heard about the project and added it to her own blog as well. Viral marketing was already at work.
At the same time, I started receiving emails from Search Engine Guide readers that were excited about what they'd read so far. Some, like Jaan Kanellis blogged about it because they liked the marketing experiment side of things. Others simply wrote to share their own stories about nursing their children or to comment on the slogans. Taking the time to run a few quick searches on Technorati and Google's Blog search showed me that other links were starting to trickle in from sites like The Internet Income Blog and SearchViews. I'd also had some discussion sparked at a discussion forum that I frequent to discuss children's nutrition, breastfeeding and other issues.
While I was happy to see viral marketing starting to take off, I was struggling to think of an angle that I could use to distribute a press release. I know that if I can manage to get the site into some type of mainstream media, my chances of making it work were going to increase dramatically.
That's where the milk bank awareness shirts caused my second bright idea of the day. That morning, I had frozen the last few ounces of breast milk that I was going to be able to donate to the milk bank. (Once your child turns a year old, you can no longer donate your milk.) I'd been trying to think for months of a way that I could continue to help the milk bank grow and hadn't been able to come up with anything. (They don't have a web site, so I couldn't volunteer to help promote it.) That's when I realized that not only could I create shirts that would help promote awareness of milk banks, but that I could also donate 100% of the proceeds from those shirts to the local bank.
The thing that you need to realize about press releases is that you have to have a reason to send one. Just sending out a release saying that you have a new product or that you landed a new contract isn't going to catch someone's attention. In fact, it's a great way to get put on someone's ignore list. So, if you are going to use a press release as a marketing tool, you have to have a real reason to send one out.
Using these shirts as a way to promote the milk bank and donating 100% of the profits seemed like it just might be a way to spark some interest. However, because some of the products on the site are a little bit irreverent, I knew that I needed to tread carefully. I sent an email to the director of the milk bank to share the idea and ask her if she would be willing to let me send out a press release that prominently mentioned them and that perhaps had some quotes from her in it. She absolutely loved the idea and said that she would be taking it to the hospital board for approval. She also said that she'd be sharing the site with her friends that run the other milk banks throughout the country as well as several lactation consultants that she knows in the area. I'm waiting to hear back to see if we can move forward, but the potential here is looking good.
Paying Attention to Usability
By this point, I'd realized that I was getting too many products online to have them all featured on a single page. That meant spending a good hour learning how to set up categories on CafePress and moving products into them so that they were neatly arranged and easy to get to. It also meant taking the time to create images for each product line and writing copy for each page. It was time well spent as feedback from most of my test market (ok, so my test market is my husband and Robert) was that it is now much easier to navigate through the site.
Landing Pages, Landing Pages, Landing Pages
Anyone that has heard me speak about pay-per-click, or read my articles knows that I'm a big proponent of landing pages. While I understand that most small businesses simply don't have the time or budget to put a lot of effort into creating original landing pages for every PPC campaign, I still believe that every site owner can point a PPC listing at the single most relevant existing page on their site.
Now that I'd taken the time to setup individual product categories, I had "landing pages" ready to go. That meant taking the time to go into my AdWords campaign to direct any phrases I could to a specific landing page. Phrases like "tandem nursing" and "extended breastfeeding" got pointed straight to the child led weaning shirts. Phrases like "nursing in public" now lead straight to the breastfeeding in public shirts. This is one of those quick, small changes that so many site owners don't take the time to make, but that can make a dramatic difference in your conversion rates.
On the down side, I'd still only had about six clicks on my AdWords campaign. Granted, I had only put about three dozen phrases into my campaign and most were highly targeted, so I was still dealing with a 3% click-thru rate, but I realized that as soon as I have time, I'll need to go add some more words to my campaign.
My First Major Mistake
The day seemed to have gone incredibly well, until I discovered that I'd made a potentially huge mistake. Apparently, when you are uploading images for CafePress, you need to make sure that you upload high dpi .png image files. That way they will print without any pixelation on all of the products offered in the store. I realized that I had uploaded .jpg images that were only set to 72 dpi. That meant that I'd have to take the time to redo every image that I'd already uploaded and take the time to change the file for every shirt and product section.
This was a major setback as it took up the rest of my free time that evening (and some of day 4 as well) and meant that I couldn't put any more time into viral marketing or product ideas. It also served to remind me that no matter how much we want to go full speed ahead, we sometimes need to stop and read the directions. A few moments reading through CafePress's image guide would have saved me a few hours worth of work in Photoshop. A lesson learned the hard way.
Be sure to check in tomorrow to find out what happens on day four, which turned out to be the most hectic, and likely most realistic day yet. You'll find out what happened to make me have a true appreciation of what it's like to try and start a business on a shoe string while still living your every day life.
Jump to Day four.
(Want to read the entire 30 Day article series at once? Download the free 30 Day ebook!)
November 11, 2005
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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