In this series you’ll be right on my side during the process of building a new dropshipping business from scratch. Every Thursday, for the next four weeks I will update this post with a new section. From the beginnings on how I find products to actually making sales.
I have no idea if this will work out, but I like some good challenges and believe a real behind the scenes story is an interesting read for you.
The best part: at the end of this live case study, you can win that store and continue to make sales.
Here’s the deal:
The business I’m building is not here to keep me busy. I will only work on it as much as I need to to achieve the $1k goal.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
If you’re new to this website and dropshipping, here’s a brief explanation and example of the dropshipping business model:
You sell a product for $100 in your online store
The order information will be forwarded to your supplier
You only have to pay $30 for the product you’ve already sold to your customer
The supplier (not you!) will ship the products to your customer
You keep* the difference of $70
*Taxes and transaction costs are not applied in this calculation.
You don’t need to buy any products upfront, so there’s no financial risk for you. You only pay for products when you already received money from your customer.
When it comes to finding products, there are basically just two approaches:
The big benefit of trending products is the ability to make a ton of sales. The combination of a super trending product and a great Facebook ad campaign is crazy. But, as you can imagine, finding these products and running a successful Facebook ad campaign is very hard. It can take months and will eat quite some budget.
With evergreen products you probably don’t have the ability to make a crazy amount of of money in a short period of time. BUT: it’s a no-brainer to find and sell these products.
Therefore, starting with an evergreen product and going the easy path is, in my opinion, the better approach when you have a limited budget. Since I only have $200 to spend on my complete business during this live dropshipping experiment, I will go with evergreen products.
There’s no real necessity to “find” such products. Everything that you know have been selling well during the last years is considered to be an evergreen product.
Here are some:
No need to get fancy.
To find out which products I want to sell, I did two quick checks.
Enter the main-keyword on AliExpress into the search bar, sort by “orders”.
Pick the top three products.
If the products still performing well (couple of sales every day), you’re good to go.
That being said: I’m good to go with 9 products (Bracelets, Necklaces and Earrings)
I didn’t want to overthink this part.
All I did was to hit my space bar a couple of times on a free name generator, picked one that I liked and checked some domains for their availabilty.
Turns out, “cezyjewelry.com” was still free and so I bought it.
Logo-wise I signed up for Canva’s free 30 day trial, set a calendar reminder to not forget to cancel the free trial, and looked through their logo templates.
Nothing special but it gets the job done:
I created a couple of variants, a favicon and a few social media banners and moved on to the next step.
*Disclaimer: This link is an affiliate link, meaning, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase or register for a tool.
I immediately started to set up the fundamentals:
Some important notes:
For this business, I only sell products to Germany and not worldwide. It’s easier for me to do my taxes.
This is very important and I highly recommend spending money on a lawyer or legal text provider. Personally, I use a German service called IT-Recht Kanzlei. It’s only €9.90 per month. If you need English ones, a quick Google search will help.
If you can only collect money in one way, don’t worry. It’s 2020 and most people have multiple ways to pay you.
To set up my store for success, I installed a few apps.
Whenever I start a new store, I keep it simple and only install apps that are essential. More apps come later as soon as I start making money.
Apps I installed:
I didn’t need more at that point.
I already knew what I wanted to sell, so all that was left was to import the products with the help of Oberlo, give the product names, write some descriptions and calculate the prices.
I started with importing the products from AliExpress to the Oberlo import list.
Since all of the products are products for women, I gave all of them female names. Here’s a list of female names.
Description-wise I removed the default description and just described in simple words what I could see on the product images. I focused on getting the store started, not writing down some amazing sales copy. This might come later, let’s see.
Note: because of legal reasons, my store is in German language. Here’s one product description, translated from German to English:
“The Caitlyn bracelet set consists of five beautiful bracelets, which also work flawless wearing them individually. Combining all of the bracelets from the set, you will get a combination that radiates love for detail.”
Next, I calculated the prices with the help of my self-developed product calculator. You can access it for free here.
I calculated all of my prices in a way that allows me to A.) offer free shipping and B.) offer a 50% discount.
In order to have more products in my store, I split the products in Oberlo into its variants.
I ended up with 196 products. A bit overkill but I don’t care for now and so I pushed all products to my Shopify store.
In Shopify, I created nine different collections. One collection for each parent product.
Since I’m a lazy boy, I set up automated collections so Shopify automatically push all products that have a certain product title into one collection.
That’s it – onward!
I can promise one thing:
You will regret not collecting emails from your store visitors from day one!
It’s an incredibly cost-effective way of marketing. Whether you set up automations or send broadcast campaigns.
For my ecommerce email marketing, I prefer Klaviyo. With Klaviyo, you can collect up to 250 emails for free. That’s a good start.
I set up two automated emails in a “Customer Thank You” flow:
I wanted to have my customers smile after they purchase. So I wrote a confirmation email that is “different”.
Here’s the order confirmation email (translated from German to English):
“Peter, our logistics manager, who fell asleep on his forklift after his break, didn’t even notice (as expected) that you ordered…
And the men from the shipping department also extended their break a little and played table tennis in the break room.
We don’t even need to start with our intern Hannes…
Luckily we have Marina in the team!
Seconds after we received your order here, she jumped up and ran from her home (she is currently working in her home office) into the holy halls where our products are stored!
A loud “HEY! Wake up! [CUSTOMER’S FIRST NAME] has ordered!!” was enough to startle and motivate everyone. You should see what is going on right now! You rarely see the people here so motivated. And all this just for you!
Your order will now be processed personally and shipped in the next few days – but you will receive a separate email from us again, so don’t worry.
We promise you that Marina will keep an eye on your order so that nothing will go wrong!”
The free earrings offer is actually a free + shipping offer. My customers get the earrings for free and have to pay €9 for shipping and handling. Usually, these offers won’t make a big difference on your bank account but hey – I only have one month. Let’s see if that works.
In addition to these emails, I set up three abandoned checkout emails.
Since I had little interest in coming up with an abandoned checkout series on my own, I went to reallygoodemails.com, looked through some abandoned checkout inspirations and set up my own series.
Want me to write your order confirmation email (for free)? It’ll be unique and something that stands out from the crowd. Leave a comment at the end of this post and with a little bit of luck, I will pick you.
Setting up social media for a dropshipping business with a very limited budget is tricky. Especially Instagram. There are not many pictures you can post and taking the raw AliExpress product images and upload them on Instagram is something I definitely want to avoid.
So what’s left? A theme-based Instagram account.
I picked a topic I think can attract my target audience (neon) and downloaded some free stock images.
To level up the my neon-game, I also signed up for Adobe Stock’s 30 day free trial to get some high quality images (for social media and my website).
I also wanted to have at least some product images on Instagram. To add these, I downloaded a phone app called “Neon“, did some editing and uploaded the pictures on Instagram.
My Instagram account:
Even though I knew that my “initial social media setup” isn’t the best (okay, it sucks…), I went on. No time to waste, my friend.
The only thing that was left before setting my store live was picking a Shopify theme and designing it.
Same as before, I also didn’t want to overcomplicate things here. All I need was a solid store. Nothing special.
I picked the free theme “Narrative”.
With my “neon-style” from social media in mind and the images on my computer, it was time to customize my theme:
After finishing the “first draft” of my online store, I went to bed, woke up the next morning, and was still happy with the result. Especially considering it only took me around 15 minutes. I only changed a few things (mostly wording) and finished everything I wanted to get done in week one.
The store will go live in week number two.
Time spent in week one: Around 3.5 hours
Money spent in week one: €23.90 ($28.12)
After some nice days off, I went back on it, removed the store password and set the store live.
I picked Shopify’s $29 / month basic plan. I didn’t need more at that point.
Before I start promoting the store, I wanted to make sure everything is running smoothly. Especially the order process. So I did a test order to check all the payment gateways.
In the past, I often had issues with Klarna. And again, Klarna actually didn’t work (for whatsoever reasons). I tried to call them but couldn’t reach anyone. So I was forced to start without Klarna and find a solution to that later.
Overall I was happy with the store. Nothing special but I was confident that it will work. However, the more I looked at the logo, the more I hated it.
So I downloaded a simple neon logo from Adobe Stock (I still had free credits from the trial) and used this as my logo.
Having finally set up the complete store, it was time for me to think about the target audience.
But who are the people that will buy my stuff?
To answer this question, I created a customer persona (aka. my “dream customer”). This person is totally made up and had the purpose to help me get the right message to the right people.
I opened Canva, picked a template and create my customer persona.
Say hi to Melissa:
From now on, I will have Melissa in my mind whenever I create something new for my business. Whether that’s an email, a social media post or adding new products.
I will always ask myself “will Melissa like this?” if the answer is “yes!”, I will go ahead.
Having everything set up and live, it was time to think about my marketing and starting the first attempts to make sales.
When it comes to marketing, I always have the same approach:
It’s very simple and effective.
If it works out, awesome! Double down! If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry: Just pick something else.
At some point, something will work out. It’s actually that simple. You just have to continue.
Okay, enough motivational speeches for now…
So I set up my usual marketing idea plan. I did this in Notion.
You can access this marketing idea board for free. Just click the button below:
Considering all the circumstances of this live case study (just a few days left, no real budget), It turned out that running a giveaway, email marketing, and having an own affiliate program seemed the most promising.
It was time to execute.
The first thing I wanted to do was to set up my own affiliate program.
Set up wise it wasn’t that hard. I just had to install an affiliate app from the Shopify app store. I picked “Affiliatley”. It has a nice 90-day free trial and has all the features I need.
The “issue” with own affiliate programs is the promotion. Where do I find people who want to promote my store?
Usually, affiliate marketers are well educated people who know their stuff. Winning these people for my store would be the best. Unfortunately, these people also know about dropshipping. This means they don’t need someone like me who’s in the middle.
That being said, I need people who haven’t heard about dropshipping but also could be able and willing to promote someone else’s business. Easier said than done.
Here are a few ideas:
Except from customers, I could do all of it straight away.
I asked a few friends:
Me: “Yo, interested to make some money? I just started a new online store and need some help promoting it. I will give you 20% of the sales you’re making.”
Him: “Sounds nice, what do I have to do?”
I reached out to micro-influencer on Instagram:
Translation (opening message):
Me: “Hey Sarah, how are you? We’re currently looking for promotion manager for our online store. Meaning you can promote our products to your audience and will get 20% in commission from us. How does that sound to you?”
I also wanted to post something similar to German student Facebook groups. But all admins deleted these kind of posts instantly and I even got banned from 6 out of 8 groups I joined. Seems I have to find a different way to approach students.
At the end of the day I had 3 friends and 5 micro influencer joined. Not bad at all.
Note: I sent Instagram direct messages to around 141 people to get 5 join my affiliate program. Be careful when sending DMs on Instagram. You can get blocked very fast.
Who doesn’t love free stuff? Right, everyone loves some good freebies.
My plan was to start a giveaway that attracts many potential customers. To enter the giveaway, people have to enter their email address. I will then use these emails to promote my store. It’s a pretty straight forward plan that worked out very well in the past for me.
Since I’m limited on the budget and only had $176.10 left in the pocket, I didn’t want to spend more than $70 on the prize.
When it comes to running a successful giveaway, the prize itself is super important. It should be something your audience loves and isn’t very useful to the vast majority of people (don’t give away Amazon gift cards).
Finding such a prize can be tricky.
I grabbed my customer persona and thought “what kind of things want Melissa in her life?”
Honestly, I had no idea.
Candles and make up seemed the most interesting to me. Without any further thinking I picked the make up and looked up some potential prizes.
To run the giveaway I used KingSumo. It’s a solid free alternative to Gleam (if I would have more money to spend, I’d picked Gleam here).
After designing a cover with Canva and embedding the giveaway on my store, I was (almost) ready to promote it.
Doing giveaways can lead to some good amount of new email addresses. Unfortunately, most of them are trash and will never be interested in what you do. Since owning a big email list that isn’t very active can become expensive and hurt my overall deliverability, I don’t even want them to be part of my main email list.
Here’s what I did:
First, I created a free SendFox account (up to 4,000 free emails), then I connected KingSumo to SendFox so I can send all emails for the giveaway through SendFox. As soon as the winner is picked and I can see what emails can be useful for my business, I will only export the good ones and push them into my main list.
I had no traffic on my site and just hoping that someone will stumble upon this giveaway isn’t very smart. So I picked a few websites and communities where I can promote the giveaway for free.
Note: My giveaway will only run in Germany. Unfortunately, there are not many good sites where you can promote a German giveaway. However, if you run an international giveaway (especially USA and Canada), there are TONS of websites where you can promote your giveaway for free.
You can download a full list of websites where to promote your giveaway. Just click the yellow button below.
For Germany, I could only find one legit looking website and a handful of Facebook groups.
I wasn’t sure about this but since all participants will get bonus entries for referring people there was a fair chance to attract at least some people. Also, my giveaway will run for 14 days. This is enough time to make adjustments if things won’t work out.
To make sure every store visitor will know about my giveaway, I installed the Sumo Shopify app and created a call to action pop-up.
In addition to that I also set up an automated email (trigger: 1 day after subscription) that is letting customers and subscribers know about the giveaway.
I wasn’t working on the store when a notification on my phone popped up.
I just made my first order!
3 products worth €35.88 ($42.42)!
Two days after launching the store, still in the free trial and without spending any money on ads.
This first sale came from a micro influencer (1,531 followers) who did 14 stories on Instagram.
Want a list of 100 micro-influencers who could join your affiliate program? Guess how many sales (number of sales, not revenue) I made after 3 weeks in the comments below. Everyone who gets it right will receive a unique micro-influencer list.
Luckily, the day wasn’t over. At the end of the first day, I made €76.75 in sales. Solid start.
The other three sales came also from other affiliates. So far, the affiliate program was working.
The first sales are always exciting. No matter how many sales you’ve made before with other stores. And with that excitement I stopped working for that day.
Time spent in week two: around 5 hours
Money spent in week two: €71.90 ($85.04)
Revenue in week two: €76.75 ($90.78)
If you want to see how I move on, making more sales, and improving the business, enter your email below and I will send you part 3 as soon as it’s live.
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