Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Critique of Ecommerce Training

Critique of Training in E-commerce - What you should be getting, what to avoid

Having nearly completed some very expensive training in e-commerce, I can tell you what I've learned.

1) Listen to your heart. It's always right - even when it doesn't seem to be.

2) When you buy anything, get a complete description of what they are going to do for you - and then hold them to it.

3) Don't sign up for future commitments unless you know about them (I've already told you about "BidFuel.com" and their complete waste of your money and sending telemarketers your way for months..." Another is Stamps.com - which tells you there is going to be a fee, just not clearly how much or how you are going to afford it if you don't send out mailings as a business. (Not only that, you have to jump through hoops to cancel their nagging fees.)

4) Take every experience as a learning one - good or bad, there is a lesson to be learned.

At this point, I can see that I'm going to be on my own in terms of paying off that debt I just racked up for this training.
Am I prepared for it?
Yes, more or less.
Am I satisfied that my training is complete?
No.
Do I think that training company upheld their guarantee? No.
Will I figure it all out and get it done anyway?
You can count on it.
Was the cost worth it?
Only when I've achieved my goals of paying down all my debts and getting financially free. (I've already found other training courses which seem to get better results for less - but we're not going there.)

What was I expecting? Well, after 12 lessons every other week (3 months' worth), I figured to be well on my way. And I do have four products which routinely sell well. But I'm still doing my day job and also now working just as hard at my eBay work - which tends to take me away from the stuff I love to do. If I'd replaced my day job by now, I'd still have time for the things I love to do and working at my own business as well.

I had actually expected I'd be well on my way to paying off that expense plus the other bills I'd racked up by now. I'm on my way, just not well on my way.

This means that the rest is up to me. Like always. A little deeper in debt, a little wiser.

What this feels like is being taught how to swim and given simple lessons in several styles of swimming and then left (free boat rife, though) on a floating dock out in the middle of the lake. Now it's all over to me to get to that distant shore of "financial freedom." I can do it - it's just quite a surprise to see how far that shore seems to be when the fog lifts.

And so I'm sharing this with you. Before you find out you don't have to get more in debt to simply get wiser.

- - - -

A critique of my recent training course -


This company turned out to be a webhosting company with training tacked on.

What I received:
  • 12 15-minute sessions with an advisor, who basically just rolled through a prepared set of items he needed to cover in order to get me started and briefed on how to use their proprietary webhost services. He listened well, but that was the extent of it.
  • Access to a wealth of data on how to make it on eBay and in ecommerce. But don't underestimate the value here. They have amassed a great lot of data and it goes pretty deep. But like the old philosopher said, "Knowledge isn't power, it's potential power." What you do when you learn how is all up to you.
  • Access to special software and webhosting. Except for their version of HammerTap, I didn't need the rest - or could get it much cheaper. Their special listing tool doesn't work as easily as the free tools at Auctiva. OSCommerce (free with my existing host via cpanel) can get me listed on Froogle - while I'm still investigating MyDD for delivering my digital goods. Their prices for getting domain names and upgrades, etc. are average for the industry, but I already have these services cheaper - since I've been my own webmaster for years.
The results I did get:
  • A substantial education in how eBay and auction sites work.
  • A thorough grounding in the reality of ecommerce as a business - not just a hobby.
  • Some light at the end of this tunnel called work-til-you-drop-with-no-retirement called "modern living for boomers and post-boomers."
  • A hands-on introduction into getting really financially free.

What I needed:
  • More direction and guidance - more atta-boys and encouragement on what I had accomplished that last week.
  • I should have been required to build a plan and execute it. My advisor should have been keepng my own feet to my own fire and making sure I was executing what I had planned out.
  • Every two weeks, I should have submitted my own analysis of my business and what I had gotten done in that time. The advisor should have taken that analysis and then critiqued it.
  • Those bi-weekly periods should have been about 30-45 minutes if I needed it. (Instead, it was "I've got to get to my next appointment" if I needed to go over something. When I ran into actual problems with their software, my advisor was helpful - but that burned up our scheduled time.)
What does this section cover - that I needed more structure in my life to ensure that I didn't just drop off lines again.

Lessons learned:
  1. Go with what you know. Look, I've been designing websites for years - and had already been researching keywords and content and all that stuff. I even told my advisor that I was able to already take top spots on Google (I've even put up a video which shows how I did it) for various keyword combinations. So for someone to tell me I had to subscribe to their particular $40/month website with analysis tools was a no-starter. (And that's just for 500 products - you pay more for more products.) I know webhosting is cheaper than that - if you want to roll your own. What I was paying for was hand-holding I didn't need.
  2. eBay is the definite way to get started. They got it right here. You want to start out with learning how to write sales pages and how to pick stuff that people are looking to buy. Then grab their email addresses and turn them into returning customers. eBay forces you to do both in order to succeed at it. You have to have HammerTap in order to do this - that's the analysis tool which tells you how others are succeeding and how well you are. (That was one tool included with the package which is actually worth that monthly fee - which is what about what HammerTap costs on it's own subscription.)
  3. Two things you need: Vision and your Plan. You have to have an idea where you're going and then start off in that direction, writing your plan and updating it as you go. Read Napoleon Hill on this count. He's got the clearest statement of it. (And interviewed over 500 successful businessmen and world leaders to find it.) BUT -- once you have that vision, review it daily and weekly. Write your plan and stick to it.
  4. Keep a written record of what you're doing and when. This is so you can retrace your steps. And will tell you what you're doing and where you could still improve.
  5. There are no free lunches, most lottery winners end up broke, things can't be fixed as fast as they can break, don't believe someone saying you can get rich overnight - or in a few months.
  6. Buyers are the right target for businesses - not just "traffic". This was what I set out to study with all this intensive training I've just been through. And this proved true. But I'll save more on this for a different post...
  7. eBay is just the start - not the whole thing. With all their fees, plus their current bent to build and keep people in a commerce silo (rather tricky, since they have to avoid stepping on their inherited community "toes"), they are increasing fees and limitations at every turn, so it's harder to get started and become a professional at just selling on eBay. The best use of eBay is to attract buyers to your own ecommerce site. (And if they persist in closing off emails, there are other auctions to attend...)
Where I went off the rails - and where I needed help

First point is that I didn't want to sell what everyone else was selling - stuff. My analysis is and has been to sell information products - which seems a lot harder than selling physical objects. But that's my bent and that's what I've been doing, so that's what I know. I'm a writer and editor - and found that people want their information in digital forms these days rather than printed. As it's easier to publish online than ever, this is a no-brainer. Who needs an agent?
As well, this is the easiest way to get into selling something, as Tim Knox will tell you. Also, the cost of creating these is next to nothing, as is delivery. So it's a nearly sheer-profit scene -- once you figure out how to do it. (Of course eBay now needs you to burn and ship an actual CD, but this is pretty minimal as well...)
Their training revolved around selling stuff - although the basics are the same. But their advisor scripts deal with telling you how to use their site to build an ecommerce host to sell stuff. Their website doesn't handle digital downloads. And they don't cover what you have to do to take Public Domain or PLR material or the research and work-methods needed in writing to create your own bestselling books. You have to do this on your own. And there is a lot of material out there on this subject. You are going to have to test is all out for yourself, however, since there's a lot of hype out there and as well, it's changing all the time (like eBay kicking out digital downloads the week I started listing there...)

Second, I got over-involved in the efficiency of my sales and quit concentrating on getting more products to sell. Although this is its own learning experience, I needed to keep getting more products up to sell rather than worry so much about how to deliver them. Burn your CD's, label them, ship them off. Always look for cheaper ways to do things, but add at least one product per week until you have at least 14 products on sale at all times - which is some sort of magic number which boosts all your sales on eBay.
And that's the point here. Get stuff selling first. Yes, you'll want to take advantage of these sales to sell them more stuff through your website - but you have to achieve critical mass first. Only THEN will you be able to refine your backend and get your time back. THAT's the point where you need to build your website and get it running for real. (With 14 products selling two and three per week routinely, you are getting over a hundred new email addresses every week - just stacking up in your files...)
Sure, my own analysis point was that I never built my own backend - meaning set up my own store and started driving people to it. But first is sales, then making the whole scene efficient comes after. Because you have to make money to afford to continue your business. Lots of people sell without websites. There are several ways to do this, Bum Marketing being one (promoting affiliate links through social media). So don't get stuck on the website right off - get into finding new products and making sales so much you can do it easily. THEN get your website running to increase the sales you already have. You can auto-schedule your sales through Auctiva for free - and then just keep delivering.
When you do the reverse, you spend a lot of money which isn't coming in - so you are stuck in your day job and just created another "job" do to at home. In my case, those four bestsellers I have are at least paying my bills - but it doesn't seem to be much of progress when they are only paying for the extra payments you just put on some credit card...

Third, I didn't review my vision in writing and look over my plan every day I sat down to work at this. I even stuck this up in front of me by my monitor - I had 14 products laid out, but only got seven of them up. When three bombed, I didn't continue right on with the other seven, but stuck into those four and improving them. So three bombed - learn from them and then get six more up. Find the holes where people AREN'T providing a solution. But continually get more products up until you have 14 successful products.
I can't state this enough:
Review your vision three times a day, write ToDo lists daily to accomplish your plan, then do a thorough analysis once per week in order to review your progress and adapt.

The sequence should be:
- get 14 successful products selling on eBay and
- then put those products on your website, setting them up for easier delivery.
- Then get some more products up on eBay.

Now, if you're not selling on eBay, it's different. And I'm not going to diverge here on how to do it. Like eBay, there is no one successful way to do this - but if you follow people who have actually done this, like Tim Knox or Michael Cambell ("Nothing but Net"), then you'll get plenty of hints on how to set yourself up.
We're selling on eBay, so we need to subscribe to people like Skip McGrath, who successfully sells on eBay and writes about it. (And he actually answers his emails when you write him!) The other two sources for real data about how to make it on eBay are HammerTap and WorldWide Brands. Both have (free) subscription email newsletters and lots of links to videos they've done as well as ebooks, etc. Those three sources will tell you more than you want to know about how to get started. But once you wade through a few stacks of stuff, the same few data keep showing up - and then you just have to see those few trees in spite of the surrounding forest and do just those few things every single day and week.

Where to from here:

Now that I know how to swim and how far the shore is, I just have to start the workmanlike job of swimming and pacing myself.
Business consists of sales, delivery, customer service, and promotion. Or Supply, Demand, Information, Service. These four are interrelated. You have to promote to get sales. You have to have a quality product and answer all your customers' questions. If delivery sucks, your sales won't hold up - your best promotion is word of mouth, but you get this through good delivery and can't pay for it. I have to balance all these factors for my own business. So far, I've been doing pretty good at it.
The economics of any business consists of income and out-go. If you drop down the overhead, you can have higher profits. A business has to make profits to continue to succeed. In my business, I need to lower costs of shipping, and make these as invisible as possible to my clients.
The other point to improve on is quality of product. My CD's should be professionally printed, not worked up with an adhesive label on a b/w laser printer. Oddly, the cost is comparable in getting these printed. Some of these I could actually get bulk printed - these continuing sellers of mine.
One thing became clear during all this. On eBay, you spend either time or money. With dropshipping, the profits are smaller because they are doing the shipping for you. If you buy in bulk, you are doing the shipping - your time or your dime. Fulfillment centers? More cost, more free time. This is why digitally delivered information products are the simplest and most high-profit items to offer. Your computer (and your paid-for server) does all the work. You are free to concentrate on polishing up your sales pages and finding more stuff to sell.
This was my problem in that I was spending time learning how to get things done effectively and then had little time left. Lots of time polishing up existing products (4) to sell well and then when I did research, it took me off into promising new routes and products while I hadn't exhausted the list of products I already had researched and needed to produce. There's the rub. My training was over too soon, I felt.
But there is only so much one can train on about swimming and then you have to hit the pool. I just figured we'd be doing more laps with more time in the deep end with lifeguards before I was left on that floating dock out in the middle of the lake.

My immediate plan is mostly outlined above:
- build up regular sellers by creating more info products and their CD's. Get 14 of these (at least.)
- cut costs on shipping and mailing to the bone and pass these savings on.
- get MyDD up and running, along with OSCommerce. Gives me digital delivery and Froogle presence. Get WordPress running on this site for content.
- load this site up with all my products.
- get back into social media for promotion, linking into my sites and blog posts.
- get into affiliate sales, both promoting affiliate products and getting affiliates to sell for me.
- move all my traffic over to my site after I get them to buy on eBay.

Goals:
- replace day job
- get up to $1K per week and pay off all bills - financially independent
- turn business corporate to minimize tax liabilities.
- reinvest profits into more diverse income-making activities.

- - - -

I hope you've had a chance to learn from my mistakes.

The sum of this training is going to show up over at Online Millionaire Plan as an additional chapter. There I'll sketch out this whole scene for you and hopefully lay it out in more sensible form. It will also probably become an online course - so stay tuned to that site for more details...

Luck to us all.
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