Early Growth - Finding What Will Work in the Long Run

  •    Tim is an advertising expert at Dandelion, helping small businesses grow through online advertising.

When first starting up your business, you’re in a bit of a weird position. You have an idea, a vision, a rough plan for what you want your website and business to be, but you don’t know whether or not it’s going to work. You want to see early results, but in order to do that you need to figure out what your customers want. In this article, we'll discuss how to learn what customers really want by talking to your friends/family and starting some paid advertising.

We’ve all seen or read the stories about people who start up their website and within a week are making tens of thousands of dollars a day. Unfortunately experiences like that are incredibly rare. For most store owners, it’s a bit more of a grind at the beginning. Figuring out what your customers want and who your customers are/should be is not an instantaneous process. It takes time and testing and tweaking to get things right, but once you do you’ll be much much more successful down the road.

Testing and Tweaking

There’s not just one thing you need to figure out in order to have a successful website. You can’t just make an amazing product and then go online and instantly be successful selling it. You need to figure out exactly what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, and how you are going to sell it. Thankfully you can do all three of these things from the moment you launch your site, and it doesn’t take a ton of time or money to begin to figure them out. But how do you do it?

Let’s say I want to open an eCommerce store that’s focused on selling shoes. I have a ton of different types of shoes I could sell, but to simplify things a bit I’m going to start out by focusing on selling high heels. Where do I go from here? How do I start figuring out how to make my store successful?

Step 1 - Friends and Family

Call up your parents, your siblings, your friends. Tell all of them what you’re doing and that you’d love for them to check out your site. Ask them to actually go through the process of ordering the shoes and ask them what they think of each step along the way. What do they like? what do they hate? What things made them want to leave your website without buying the shoes? Then ask them to look around the site for general feedback. Are the images good? Are the products jumbled and hard to navigate? How easy is it to use on their phone?

The answers to these questions are invaluable as you’re first getting started. As the creator of the site I might think that it’s so obvious where to find shoes by a certain brand. My friends, however, might have no idea how to do it and might get frustrated by the experience. If they’re running into these issues then your customers will definitely run into them down the road.

Step 2 - Fix the Early Issues

Fix the early problems you come across. Seems simple but it's easy to overlook. You don’t necessarily need to fix every tiny issue 100%, but make sure you actually act on the feedback you receive (especially the negative feedback) so that you’re able to make the most out of the next step.

Step 3 - Test With Paid Advertising:

Now you’ve had people you know take a look at your site. Unfortunately they probably won’t be your main customers down the line. You need to start finding out who your customers are and what they like and don’t like about your site. Some people will say you should do this over a long period, spending no money, and just focusing on growing through organic traffic. I hate this approach. Yes, it can work, and it will be cheaper from an initial financial perspective, but it will be way more expensive from a time perspective. Why spend weeks and weeks of your time promoting your site on various avenues to small audiences, slowly growing the number of users until you finally have enough to make an informed decision about what changes you need to make to your site?

Now I’m not talking about spending thousands of dollars in a week. Start small, say between $50 and $100 on search ads (Google Adwords) or social media ads (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). The purpose of this spend isn’t really to drive sales (although they’re often a nice byproduct), but instead to gather as much information about who is using your site and how they’re using it.

Let’s say I decided to spend $50 on Facebook ads for my high heel store. I should split it into three even groups to target three different groups of potential buyers, maybe different age ranges, different locations, different income levels. Then I can see how these users interact with my ads.

Assume I test 3 different groups of equal size. If Group 1 has 45 people click my ad and 3 people buy, Group 2 has 24 people click and 1 person buy, and Group 3 has 8 people click and no one buy, then I can start to draw some initial conclusions about who is looking to buy my shoes. It’s a bit of a small sample size, but you can start to figure out that maybe Group 1 is more interested. Maybe they’re who I should be targeting for my site. By running these tests, I can keep improving my marketing efforts going forward.

Topheels Product Recommendation Screenshot

This small amount of ad spend has already started to give me an idea about who my target audience is going to be for my site, but there is way more information I can draw out of these tests. Analytics sites like Google Analytics or Kissmetrics can give detailed information about how users are moving through my site. Information like where they are coming from, when they leave my site, who makes purchases and who doesn’t. If I start to see that of the 75 or so people whom I sent to my site, 60 stop when they estimate shipping, then I might want to change how I charge for shipping. Maybe I should up the price of the product a bit and give all my customers free shipping.

Screenshot of Google Analytics Behavior Flow

Screenshot of Google Analytics Behavior Flow

​These small scale tests can help you to understand a large part about who uses your site, what they’re looking for, and what their on site experience is like in a short time frame. You shouldn’t wait for months to realize that the reason you’re not making sales is because your checkout page is too slow to load, or that your actual customers are in LA and not in NYC. Test early and test often and you’ll make your website much more successful.

The other advantage of paying for traffic for testing is it gives you an idea of what your marketing strategy should be down the road. You’ve already started to figure out who your customers are and what they respond to, which are two of the biggest roadblocks to successful advertising. One of the biggest frustrations to new business owners is that finding new customers isn’t an instantaneous process, it takes time and effort to figure out. But now you have a head start on advertising

Obviously you want to be cautious with how you’re spending money as you are starting out. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on something that doesn’t result in any revenue. But, spending a little bit of money to drive traffic as you’re getting started can help you solve some of the biggest problems that your website might run into down the road, saving you time and money.