10 Biggest eCommerce Lessons I Learned In 2018 (I Think)

cartoon of person using eCommerce smartphone app
Last year I learned some of the biggest eCommerce lessons I think I could have. In fact, it was a big year of successes, failures, and lessons in all aspects of my life. I learned a lot of new things, and some things also ended up just being affirmations of what I already “knew”. Needless to say, it was a wild 2018.
eCommerce has always fascinated me. This last year was my first real solid effort at it trying to do something in eCommerce almost entirely on my own. I always liked the idea of being an online entrepreneur with a small eCommerce empire, but I knew it was going to take work and lessons from failure to succeed. Let me be clear, I did not expect to wake up with $10k in my bank account one morning after my first few shots at eCommerce. But now that I’ve had a round of failures and a chance to assess them, it’s time to put my assessments into words, and take the appropriate action.

college graduates throwing their hats in the air symbolizing learningHere are the 10 biggest eCommerce lessons I learned In 2018

…at least, I think. Because I may be writing another blog post in six months to a year on how a few of these turned out to be wrong.

If you don’t have an audience, you don’t have anything (affirmation)

If no one is finding you, how are you even going to have a chance in being able to make a sale or being able to grow? People don’t need to just become aware of you, they need to trust you, and get something out of what you are doing. Therefor if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have anything. This leads me to my next point. Differentiating between an audience and traffic.

an audience clapping and cheeringHaving traffic does not mean you have an audience (learned)

From an eCommerce perspective, having a great location on the internet is the same as having a great commercial location in New York City. But you need to give that traffic a reason to stop and check out your business. A high bounce rate on an eCommerce site that gets lots of traffic is the same as having a store on a busy street that no one bothers to enter. They see you and just keep going on their way. Trying to sell stuff right off the bat will probably turn them off. As a result you will never make a sale.

Focus on building an audience first, not an eCommerce site (learned)

If you have an audience, that means people are paying attention to you. This is the first sign that things are moving in a positive direction. If you can start to build that audience, then you are starting to build that trust factor. You are building a relationship with your audience and your customers are going to eventually come from your audience.

a cartoon silhouette of a man with gears showing in his head symbolizing thoughtOne purpose of my sites so far

In fact, that is exactly what I am trying to do with SpencerMcLeod.com, CalgaryRecording.com, WebsiteBuilt.com, and my YouTube channel. That’s why I am blogging and making videos. I am trying to offer up things that I think either people will either find useful or entertaining in some way. I know I have something to offer, it’s a matter of trying to clarify what it is and figure out how best to present it to the world.

Start with something you’re passionate about (learned)

I’ve heard this before, but I don’t think I ever took it seriously. Frankly, I think being told to follow your passion can be dangerous advice. I wouldn’t say it is always bad advice, but it can be dangerous.

man showing his empty pockets symbolizing the starving artist analogyThe starving artist

Depending on your passion it can be virtually impossible to make any kind of decent living from it. If you stick at something long enough you may find you become passionate about it and it was worth it. However, you could end up just being miserable. If you follow your passion, the risk you take is that you end up struggling to make ends meet all the time. Art is a prime example of this. The stereotypical starving artist is a stereotype for a reason.

Content creation is key

Trying to start with something online that you’re not passionate about will make learning how to create a successful blog, eCommerce, or Affiliate Marketing business substantially more difficult. If we’re talking about building an audience and trust with that audience, then you’re going to have a really hard time creating content. Let alone quality content. Fresh, unique, high-quality content is the key. So, if you’re starting out and struggling with what to create, maybe it’s time to reconsider your niche. It’s hard enough as it is to come up with unique, high-quality content. It will be even harder if you don’t even know what to content to create in the first place.

dream spelled out on a desk with a pen, notebook, and laptop symbolizing passion and ecommerceThe trade-offs of following your passion in eCommerce

If your passion is basket weaving, it’s probably a very small market. There is a tipping point where starting with your passion in eCommerce or blogging maybe is not a good thing to do. It really does depend on the size of the market. In contrast, if your passion is an extremely large market, then you will have a lot of competition. For example, one of my passions is music and audio. This is a huge market with lots of competition. I’ll admit that this could be the wrong thing to have a focus on, but I think I will have a better chance at building an audience over time before bringing in any eCommerce or affiliate marketing component. It seems like I can create content with it.

a couple and their young baby sitting on a blanket in the grass symbolizing starting in your own back yardStart in your own backyard (learned)

I avoided starting in my own backyard because I didn’t like the idea of having my friends, family, and acquaintances see or know what I was up to. It felt like very few people would believe I could do this, so it was up to me to believe in myself. Frankly, I just didn’t think they would care, nor did I want to make it sound like it was going to be a success because it was early on.

I was not happy

It was risking a lot. I gave up most of my social life, my own down time, and some money as well. I could just sense (probably not an accurate assessment) most people saying, “Why bother? You have a good career now.” People didn’t understand why I would get home from work every day, then go sit in a coffee shop and build websites for 3 hours in the evening. The assumption was I would finally be content with my cushy 8-5 Monday to Friday career. Wrong. I was completely miserable.

emoticon showing a sad face but also thinkingThe bad attitude

Let me be clear, that is not a cheap shot at the company I was with. They were great people and they didn’t want me to leave. But because I was so miserable every day for 5 months, I seemed like I had to sit in a coffee shop every night researching, building blogs, eCommerce, or affiliate marketing as well as cruise jobs in web development in order to find a way out. Most noteworthy however, what it boiled down to was this: I was tired of feeling like an utter failure all the time and just wanted to quietly find success… then I’d share it with everyone. That attitude was garbage.

a group of friends looking over a ridge with the sun in the background symbolizing your first audience is going to be your friends and familyYour first audience is going to be your friends, family, and acquaintances

The problem with this is that you need your friends, family, and acquaintances to help you get started. They are your audience when you first start out. You need to start building your trust with them! Furthermore, getting out and talking to people casually during social events will also inevitably provide you with an opportunity to spread the word a little more and get constructive feedback. Your earliest successes will have to come from your immediate community, not from waiting for your SEO efforts to kick in six months later as people start to find your site, but still don’t trust you.

ecommerce cartoon showing an online store on a computer screenIf you don’t have sales, you still don’t really have anything (affirmation)

Having an audience is the first part of the battle. But once you have an audience, the next step is figuring out how to turn your audience into a source of revenue… without losing your audience in the process.

It’s only a hobby

Unless you are satisfied with running a blog or YouTube channel just because, then very little will likely change in your lifestyle or income. As a result you are just donating your time to a hobby, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hobbies help people keep their sanity and can be very healthy distractions from daily life.

Are you content with your hobby?

If you are content with your hobby, it implies you are probably relatively content with your lifestyle and your income. In fact, I kind of envy you if that’s your scenario. If you can turn your audience into a source of revenue, then this opens many more doors for expansion, further development, hiring help, adding to & diversifying your revenue streams, not to mention additional freedom in your lifestyle.

a cartoon of a storefront with the facebook logo symbolizing the connection between ecommerce and social mediaUse your social media accounts as a means of promotion early on (learned)

Introverts unite! But only over text… and maybe I’ll respond next week after the rally is over. I feel like this will be the hardest one for me moving forward. I’m fairly antisocial on social media. Seeking attention typically makes me very uncomfortable. I sometimes associate people who post stuff all the time on social media with attention seeking behavior. I am not saying that’s always true, but I hate the idea of being “that guy” in peoples news feeds.

the facebook thumbs down cartoonYeah social media can suck but get over it

Also, yes, obviously I have posted stuff in the past. Probably because I figured something was funny as hell and thought someone might get a kick out of it. Or maybe I thought it could be useful for someone. But I usually sit back and think, “Why would, or should, anyone care what I have to say?”. Everyone has their own lives, and so do I. I rarely feel the need to share things online with strangers or acquaintances. Yet, here I am blogging and sharing stuff online now.

a camera man and sound man behind the scenesDon’t be behind the scenes

I’ve always enjoyed being a quiet, behind-the-scenes kind of person. Being the face of an idea or brand makes me want to start crushing up Ativan and snorting it. For that reason, I would probably have a hard time being able to “get ahead”. However, this goes back to the point about starting in your own backyard. Social media is the simplest, and most logical way of starting online in your own backyard. This is how you can start to build your audience. So, it’s time for me to suck it up and start to post things… strategically.

Blogging, eCommerce, & Affiliate Marketing is a marathon, not a race (affirmation)

You can’t expect success to happen overnight. Those stories are few and far in between. Hence, I didn’t expect my first few attempts to work great. However, there is almost always something to learn from the failures. Yes, it can get discouraging and I would be lying if I said that hasn’t happened to me. However, once you have had a chance to assess the failures and what can be learned from them, it is time to apply the changes and keep going. This will likely take some time to figure out. It could be a few months in the best case, but rather likely on the order of a few years. You need to constantly assess, re-evaluate, and implement the changes. It’s not about getting there first. It’s about just getting there.

close up of computer code symbolizing the technical side of ecommerceFocus more on general eCommerce operations and analytics than the technical (affirmed & learned)

The whole reason I got into web development was two-fold. First of all, the economy took a nose dive when I finished university and a bunch of jobs dried up. Being able to code is a very marketable skill today and I already had a background in it with electrical engineering. Secondly, I wanted to learn how to build real world websites or applications and turn them into businesses. I didn’t do it because I wanted to spend the rest of my working life developing websites for other people. I want to further knowledge and experience doing that, but it’s not my end game.

Being technical doesn’t mean your product or service will have an audience

I recently concluded from a personal perspective that I don’t need to keep getting deeper into the technical skills with what I’m trying to do. It seems like I am getting to the point where I’m confident I can get something off the ground with the technical skills I have and minimal financial investment.

ecommerce cartoon of a hand with a credit card and another hand with products, both reaching through computer screensGreat products or services are useless if you don’t have customers

You could have the greatest website or web application in the world. It could run on bleeding edge technology and be the best product or service in the world. Consequently if you can’t market, generate awareness, build an audience, and thus make a sale, then it does not matter in the slightest. Not to say I don’t like the technical stuff, because I do. I would prefer spending more time on learning back-end web development. However, it seems like where I am lacking is furthering my knowledge and skills in SEO, SEM, SMM, & Analytics.

Balance the technical side with the operations side

Focusing on the technical side is a whole rabbit hole of its own, and I like it. While in contrast it will not build an audience or generate sales. Which is another reason I started blogging and using my three main websites to organize content. Now I can focus on content creation, analytics, SEO, and the marketing side.

laptop with book called "Failed It", symbolizing ecommerce failures and lessonsDon’t give up (affirmation)

As soon as you give up, it will never happen. I have all but given up entirely for some periods of time. However, it seems like it ends up being more a break and a chance to reassess the situation for me. Once you’ve had a chance to collect your thoughts, analyze, and strategize, then it’s time to pick up where you left off and implement those changes you need to make. If you just give up completely, then obviously you won’t have a chance in being successful. It’s not going to come to you. You have to go get it.

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