Allen Brouwer is a co-founder of BestSelf Co, an ecommerce start-up selling journals and associated products to help customers to live a more fulfilling life while maximising their effectiveness and productivity.
As well as being an inspirational example of what’s achievable in ecommerce, Allen is also very good at breaking down complex information into actionable insights. Who knows? After listening to this podcast, you may very well come away with several practical tips that can instantly transform the fortunes of your business.
“When we try to make things complicated, we fail”
Allen Brouwer’s story is nothing short of remarkable. In just 24 months he launched an ecommerce business, alongside co-founder Cathryn Lavery, which included a Kickstarter campaign that raised in excess of $322,000 in 24 days. Since then it has gone on to become an 8 figure company, winning the acclaimed Shopify Build a Business Competition in 2016 and the Shopify Build a Bigger Business in 2017.
He’s been personally mentored by the likes of Tony Robbins, Tim Ferris, Marie Foleo and Russell Simmons. In addition, he’s partnered with FUBU clothing founder and global entrepreneur superstar, Daymond John. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also made it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 list for retail and commerce.
Today he’s telling his inspirational story and sharing some key insights into how he was able to rapidly scale his business.
1:33 – Allen’s Intro
3:14 – What makes a successful Kickstarter campaign
10:50 – Methods of sharing content
14:32 – The difficulties of delivering on a Kickstarter promise
17:15 – Building a fan base and the power of a Facebook Group
20:07 – Paid advertising vs content marketing for Kickstarter
23:50 – The power of a subscription model and customer acquisition
28:25 – Reinvesting profit to fund rapid growth
31:25 – Traffic sources and offer pages
41:45 – Managing CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost)
45:00 – Tactics to boost AOV (Average Order Value) and LV (Lifetime Value) of customers
51:54 – The 4 Pillars to successful growth
54:28 – Building systems and SOPs (Standard Operating Practices)
58:17 – Enhancing the customer experience
1:07:53 – Winning Shopify’s Build a Business and Build a Bigger Business competitions
While there’s no substitute for listening to the live podcast (over and over again if necessary) and taking notes, below are some of the key takeaways and excellent strategies that were discussed.
If you’re planning on launching a Kickstarter campaign, Allen is very clear about one thing: promote before you launch, not the other way round. He’s also an advocate of quality over quantity. While his initial database of 3,700 subscribers may not seem like a lot, 800 of those ended up supporting the campaign. Rather than getting as many signups as possible, Allen ensured his list was only made up of individuals who were interested in what he had to say.
If he were to do things over again, he would have utilised paid advertising via Facebook and LinkedIn posts, finding ad formulas that get results before putting money into campaigns. “Once you fine tune it, it’s almost like you can set it and now it just pumps in leads for you on a consistent basis.”
He would also use Jeff Walker’s Product Launch formula, whereby quality content is displayed over the course of three videos before a call to action (in this case, the Kickstarter campaign) is delivered at the end. He actually used this tactic the first time around – and it worked incredibly well!
The final piece of advice Allen gives is “If you launch a Kickstarter campaign, then promise a delivery date well into the future.” Potentially devastating problems with his shipping company almost delayed customer deliveries. That’s why he recommends giving yourself some breathing space after the campaign comes to an end to ensure you can comfortably fulfil your promises to your customers.
While any business model depends on the product your selling, Allen was quick to recognise that his journals were a consumable product. Therefore, he wisely set up a subscription model, offering website and Amazon customers a 10% discount by buying a subscription.
During the early days, Allen’s co-founder, Cathryn, would write quality content in the form of blog posts. It was then Allen’s job to get these distributed and in front of relevant audiences. His strategy was to share with relevant Facebook Groups, as well as on Reddit forums.
Rather than merely copying and pasting a generic message, however, he would already have an understanding of the language, interests and motivations for each and every group he was posting to. That way, he could write personalised comments and messages for each group or forum that would get his blog posts noticed by members.
Later on, Allen built his own Facebook Group for fans of his product. Not only did this allow him to stay in touch with customers about updates and new products, but members actually contributed user-generated content and suggested invaluable product improvements.
In fact, after spending a small fortune getting professional photoshoot images, Allen resorted back to using user generated content for his Facebook Ads. “What really drives the value and highest conversions are user generated content. Because it looks natural in the feed… Because we have the Facebook group”
Customising a product landing page was a top priority. Allen wasn’t content to go with one of Shopify’s templates, citing Apple’s landing pages as an aesthetic inspiration. Before coming up with the perfect page, he went through multiple split tests that included testing everything from headings to layouts. After he fine-tuned everything the landing page was then duplicated and utilised for all products.
How effective is this strategy? In one specific example Allen talks about a 22% conversion in add to carts that he attributes from inserting three customer reviews directly below the product images. Most businesses don’t prioritise reviews or testimonials and place them after the copy.
While the general rule of thumb for customer acquisition cost (CAC) is for it to be below break-even, Allen will let it creep above this guideline for new products in order to gain valuable data, before tweaking certain variables that bring it down. After doing this job for over three years, he lets his intuition take over, rather than relying on specific stop-gaps
To boost his AOV and LTV he employed the following tactics, to great effect:
1. A post-purchase sales sequence was put in place, whereby customers were given a special offer on another product before being directed to a confirmation page. In order to make things simple, the customer merely had to click a single button for the special offer to be added to their order – no entering bank or shipping details a second time. While 6% of customers went for the upsell, Allen increased this to 13% by changing the offer from one product, to a choice between three products.
2. Allen has identified that if a customer hasn’t purchased in 72 days, then it’s likely that they’ve gone for good. To significantly reduce this drop-off rate, he implemented what he calls his “win back series” of emails which would initially be sent to the customer at 60 days. This gave them a chance of holding onto the customer by dripping out valuable content.
So, how exactly do you grow to 8 figures within the space of two years? Here are four essential pillars to success that Allen has laid out:
Taking money out of your business early can stifle your growth. As Allen puts it: “delay your gratification until a future date.” He paid himself a minimal salary for 18 months and now gets to enjoy a much better life than if he never reinvested his profits. He put his dollars to work by acquiring new customers – which generated even higher rates of profit.
This doesn’t only refer to the use of tools but also creating your own SOPs that allow you to get reoccurring tasks completed efficiently. For example, if you have to do your book on a monthly basis, it helps to have a sequenced list that tells you what needs to be done every step of the way.
While Allen recognises that setting up SOPs can feel like a real chore, in his words “Just know that when you’re building out these systems and SOPs for your business, the beauty is, you’re just gonna do it once… And that’s what you have to keep reminding yourself. And then you have an asset.”
While the life of a start-up entrepreneur can be exciting, there will also be tasks that you aren’t naturally good at and dislike. It’s in these areas that Allen recommends focusing your recruitment efforts.
“Find the people who enjoy the things that you don’t like, and have them do that. And then you only focus on the things that you enjoy. And that’s how the business moves. Further, faster!”
If you spend any amount of time checking out Bestself.co or the brand’s content, you’ll recognise that it’s not just about selling a product. The brand offers a customer experience that goes way above and beyond a journal.
According to Allen, “people don’t really care about the product, as such. They care about the solution it provides and how the product makes them feel when they purchase it.”
In order to elevate the customer experience, Allen realised that a key area to focus on was the period after the customer handed over money. While many businesses feel their job is done at this point, for Allen, it’s only just begun. “The biggest buyer’s remorse happens is when someone clicks checkout or places the order, to the time the product arrives.” This is why services like Amazon Prime offer such a quick delivery times.
BestSelf Co has ensured their return rates are below 1% by using the following methods:
– Upon purchasing, customers are sent a text message and email that essentially lets them know what an excellent decision they’ve made. They’re granted access to the Facebook community and are given additional video content that shows them how to make the most of their new product.
– Customers are informed of the status of their order and can track it at every step of the way. For this, Allen uses a tool called Aftership.
– A free PDF of the journal is available, where the customer can print and begin using it instantly. After all, nothing qualifies a lead like giving them access to the product before buying.
We’re always hiring. So, we don’t see it as “hey, we need to fill this hole. Let’s put out a job posting!” It’s more like “Let’s make connections with people and see how they would fit into our business,” whether it’s today, whether it’s six months from now, whether it’s two years from now. Let’s keep in touch with them. Because we’re gonna be growing and we need to be hiring. And, we hate the hiring process.
So, coming back to those systems and SOPs, we have a system that we have on autopilot where we’re collecting people who are interested in roles like marketing or product or development, all the time. We always have a job posting up and are always gathering leads from those job postings. And if you have a role that needs to be filled, we have a spreadsheet of dozens or hundreds of people that we can start interviewing immediately.
Slack, Zoom, and Shopify.
Early on, I tried to do everything myself and realized that wasn’t sustainable. I wasn’t building a business, I was building a full time job for myself.
Use value videos in your advertising as your first touch point. And then, provide as much value as possible in those videos. And then give people an opportunity to get more value from them.
One book that I really like is called The Narrow Road. It’s probably my favourite business book and it’s written by Felix Dennis.
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