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On today’s episode, we will be talking to Shabbir Nooruddin from Bootstrapping Ecommerce. This is the Ecommerce Marketing Podcast Episode 2.

Robert: Welcome to the podcast today. Our guest today is Shabbir Nooruddin. Shabbir has been selling stuffs online since eBay and Amazon came around. And now he blogs about his experiments with businesses that can be bootstrapped to achieve growth. How are you doing, Shabbir? Thank you for coming to the podcast and welcome.

Shabbir: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on. I’m doing very well. How about yourself?

Robert: I’m doing fine. Thanks for asking. To start off, if you can please share your history in selling in eBay and Amazon and how you transitioned from selling to blogging.

Shabbir: Sure thing. So like you mentioned, I’ve been selling on eBay and Amazon since they came around, but back then I think I must have been 12 or 13 years old, so my main model of business back then was selling my old video games when I wanted to finance new ones. And I also used to collect basketball cards, which if I found a good one then I would sell those online too. I just generally find things around. To me, selling was fun. The thrill of seeing your item get bid up on eBay or getting an email from Amazon saying “something you had was sold.” It’s a nice way to get some extra cash and just get rid of old junk that was lying around the house. Doing that from the start really taught me a lot about how to sell things online, how to write a quick description, how to price your listings so people are going to bid it up or what things would be bid up, what things would you have to put a “buy it now” and so on and so forth; valuable lessons that I’ve learned.

Robert: So this all started as a passion and then eventually you learned some business lessons on how to sell things online. Can you share some of the lessons, like the main lesson you think you learned from selling stuff online? And with those lessons, if you can tell us the one thing that an ecommerce business can do right now, they can do it today to make their business better.

Shabbir: Sure. Back then, in the early days of Amazon and eBay, selling online was obviously a lot, lot easier than it is right now. It works two ways because back then there were very few sellers but at the same time there were very few buyers as well. Today you have that many more sellers but you also have that many more buyers. One of the lessons that I have learned running my online business is that you have to really, really focus. And that might sound counterintuitive. Somebody might think the more products you have, the greater likelihood that you have of selling something. But actually it’s the other way around. Right now I believe that the fewer products you have, well not necessarily fewer but the more targeted your products are, the more specific your products are, the more likelihood there is going to be of selling something. I think the #1 advice that I would give anyone looking to start a business is don’t look to open a mall. Look to open a small boutique shop.

Robert: And why does that work? Why does it work to focus on one product or fewer products than a lot of products?

Shabbir: If you focus on one product or just a handful of really very specific product, you can position yourself as an expert in that particular niche. You could be the guy that everyone goes to get blue widgets whereas if somebody wants to buy a paper towel or bed sheets or something, then there’s no reason that they should come to you. They’re better to go over to Amazon or Wal-Mart or someplace like that and get it from there, because you’re not really adding any value to really generic products, whereas if you have something very specific that you’re specializing, so there’s a lot of chance for you to add your own value and really set yourself apart from everyone else and you’re carving out a name for yourself. Otherwise, you’re just trying to fight against Amazon and that’s a battle you’re going to lose.

Robert: And with your own personal experience, when did you get that lesson? What happened that you realized “it’s better if I just focus on this product, become an expert, rather than sell all these things I have” when did you make that realization?

Shabbir: I think the realization began setting in after my first store. I was relatively specific with that store but I still was pretty diverse. I was selling eco-friendly items back then and the store didn’t really do too well and I think it’s probably because I didn’t have any focus with it. I tried to add every eco-friendly item that I could find for sale on the store. The second time around I was a bit more specific. I was focused on one niche. I was selling one kind of equipment and its accessories, but even then while running the store I began to realize that even this is too broad. The particular equipment that I sold was fish finders. Even in fish finders there was a wide diversity of products, so you have low end fish finders, mid range and higher end. I realized that if I were to focus on just low range fish finders or just mid range or just high range, just be as specific as possible, the likelihood of me selling something would be much higher.

Robert: Okay, so first you decided to focus on individual products. Then after you focused, how are you able to get more traffic to get people to come in and buy these products. Were there any strategies that you had to do just for getting the traffic, or immediately once you started focusing on one product, people started naturally coming to your store?

Shabbir: It’s tricky actually because the thing with traffic with the fish finder store, I had already done quite a bit of SEO and I was getting a lot of traffic, but the store itself wasn’t the focus. The sales that I did make, I noticed that I was only selling a particular type of fish finder. With regards to getting traffic, you might try focusing your SEO efforts on more specific keywords or you can try bidding on Google AdWords for more specific keywords or you could find forums or social media groups that specifically targeted towards whatever you want to use your product and that’s how you will get traffic, but I think just by focusing, you should be able to see an increase in your conversion rate, even with your existing traffic, if you focus. This isn’t a guaranteed rule but this is what you should see most of the time if you do it right.

Robert: Are there resources that you can mention that our listeners can look at to learn about SEO and traffic?

Shabbir: Sure. To learn the basics of SEO, then I would recommend checking out Moz has a very good very detailed guide on SEO.

Robert: Moz? What’s the website for that?

Shabbir: For more specific ecommerce SEO…I’m not exactly sure where the guide is located exactly, but if you search for ‘Moz SEO guide’ in Google, you should be able to find it.

Robert: And Moz is M-O-Z?

Shabbir: M-O-Z, yeah.

Robert: So Moz is one you think people should look at for the basics of SEO. What’s another one for SEO and traffic?

Shabbir: For more targeted ecommerce SEO, I would recommend that…I’ve actually written a post on my blog on 50 ways to build links to an ecommerce site and it’s been pretty well received and it’s been pretty well shared also. It’s a pretty decent resource for somebody looking to build links specifically to ecommerce sites and obviously building links is a big part of the SEO effort.

Robert: And what’s your blog? Where can the listeners find your blog and find that resource you just mentioned?

Shabbir: My blog is called Bootstrapping Ecommerce. You can find it bootstrappingecommerce.com, that’s one word, no hyphen. On the blog, if you just search for 50 ways to build links, you should be able to find it. If you want, I’ll send you the URL to put in your show notes.

Robert: Okay, so I will share that link and resource to your blog in the show notes so that the listeners can find it easily. So you first started with selling, then you transitioned to blogging. When did you made that switch and why did you make that switch?

Shabbir: Well I believe I started this blog, I think it’s been almost exactly one year since I started the blog and the blog is mainly a way for me to document what I was doing, like a diary of sorts, and it’s also been a very excellent platform to meet with other like-minded people, other people that are in the same boat as I am, and in the same stages building their business. It’s a lot of fun getting to know all these different people and getting to talk with them and understanding what their issues are and helping each other out particularly to work towards that common goal.

Robert: Are there any parallels between creating an ecommerce store and selling more with creating your blog and getting traffic for your blog? Have you noticed any parallels and has your experience from selling online helped with creating and maintaining your blog?

Shabbir: It’s a terrific question actually. I think the one parallel that I can find is you should treat your product descriptions as blog posts because while blogging, I’ve seen that blog posts are a lot easier to share with people and people are a lot more receptive of getting an email about a blog post than they would be about getting a random email about some product. If you treat each product as a blog post and make it that valuable and informative, then you just add so much more value right off the bat. It’s good for both SEO and it’s good for networking as well.

Robert: You mentioned that you send emails for blog posts. Do you think ecommerce business owners should be collecting emails and if so, how can they collect emails?

Shabbir: Email marketing is definitely something that all ecommerce stores should do because not everybody buys from a particular store on their first visit and unless you collect their email address, they’re probably never going to come back to your store. Getting that email address is vital for getting new customers and more importantly for making repeat customers out of existing ones. Some of good ways to collect emails is try to offer a freebie or some sort, like offer a bribe for an email address. You can have like little pop up on your site saying “sign up on our mailing list and get $10 off or 10% off” or whatever product discount you want to offer. Most stores they employ this tactic – offer a discount or a bribe of some sort and ask for an email address in exchange.

Robert: For the bribe that you mentioned to exchange for the email, this can be something free that their store is giving out. Do you have an example of a bribe, like some type of example just to give the listeners some ideas of what bribes they can come up with?

Shabbir: The easiest one is a coupon code of any sort. Offer a free shipping or offer 20% off, $10 off, basically any coupon or promotion should do a good trick most of the time. Anything else won’t be financially viable. You can offer to send something free to everyone that signs up to your email list.

Robert: So far you’ve mentioned you need to focus. You need to collect emails. To collect the emails you can use bribes. You’ve mentioned about blogging. Do you think blogging is something that ecommerce businesses should be doing?

Shabbir: Definitely, in whatever manner they can manage. Ecommerce should blog. It’s a great way to connect with customers. It’s a great way to tell your story. It adds a human side to your store, as opposed to just being some place where people can buy stuff and spend money. It’s also a place where people can just go and hang out, learn new things, find out cool stuff.

Robert: What are some…you mentioned it’s a great way for sharing your stories, so you’re saying that stores and ecommerce businesses should blog. When they’re blogging, they shouldn’t only be talking about the product. Should they be talking about behind the scenes? What are some good topics they should be focusing on and how can they use up blog to get customers?

Shabbir: You could obviously talk about products to a certain extent but that’s not the only thing you want to talk about. A behind the scenes look is a very powerful tactic. It basically shows people that your business is run by normal people and they’re just normal guys, just like you and me and everyone else. It’s not like some giant machine that’s running the business. It’s actually people who are working hard and it just adds that human factor to it. You can actually blog about a lot of topics. You can find out what things your customers like to do. If you sell fishing equipment for example, then you can blog about anything related to fishing, anything that somebody that would buy fishing equipment would find valuable – fishing tips, good places to fish, even recipes for fish for example – basically anything that your customer will be interested in is all fair game. You can blog about any of that and you should rather blog about any of that.

Robert: You mentioned you should find out what your customers are interested in. Is there something in particular that you do for your own blog to figure out what your readers and subscribers are interested in? Do you ask them questions? How can you find out this information?

Shabbir: For a blog it’s a lot easier than it would be for an ecommerce store. Usually the way I find out stuff on my blog is either through what people say in the comments or the emails that people send me through the contact form. That’s usually a good enough gauge of what people are looking for, at least for the blog. It’s a little bit tougher for an ecommerce store obviously but you could use surveys or your social media channels and following to really see what your customers want. Sometimes it’s just as simple as asking them directly. “What do you guys think we should be doing next? or “what kind of stuff would you like to see from us next?” Instead of beating around the bush, just being direct with whatever you want to ask, it’s very surprising how many valuable responses you would get.

Robert: Those are great suggestions. Comments from the blog, emails, social media or just directly asking them, or even using surveys. Those are great suggestions that listeners should be using. As far as resources, books, is there anything in particular that you’ve come across that really made a difference in your business? In ecommerce, in blogging, has there been that one thing that has had an impact on you that you think it helped with my ecommerce, it helped with blogging, and you think that other people should be looking at or should this resource or book, whatever it is.

Shabbir: Yeah. There’s actually 3 books that I really like. The first one is The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It’s a great book just to open your mind to what you can do in terms of opening an online business or the amount of things that you can do, at least to start to free up your time and then to actually to build a business. Another really good book that I read is called The Millionaire Fastlane. It’s by MJ DeMarco. It’s a pretty unknown book. It’s not as popular as the 4-hour Workweek but MJ DeMarco he doesn’t focus so much on ecommerce, as just on how to basically build a business that can make millions of dollars at some point in time. He’s not trying to sell you a get rich quick scheme but what he says is very solid and it resonates with everyone very well, at least it did with me. The last one is called 80/20 Sales and Marketing and it’s by Perry Marshall. He really shows how you can target your marketing to get the most bang for your buck and to go after those customers which are most likely to buy from you again and to pay more for your services, as opposed to going after people that you don’t know are going to buy or not and wasting your time on them.

Robert: Okay Shabbir, thank you for coming to the podcast. It’s been great. You’ve shared a lot of great information and strategies. If people wanted to find you, what’s your Twitter? What’s the website again? It was ecommerce bootstrapping?

Shabbir: Yeah, the website is bootstrappingecommerce and my Twitter handle is bootstrapecom. You can find me there.

Robert: The website is bootstrappingecommerce.com.

Shabbir: Yeah and the Twitter handle is @bootstrapecom.

Robert: Okay Shabbir, I will share that information in the show notes for any listeners who are interested in finding more information about Shabbir or following him. Thanks again, Shabbir.

Shabbir: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Ecommerce Marketing Podcast. If you have a question for us, email us at [email protected]. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for Ecommerce Marketing Podcast or by RSS at www.ecommercemarketingpodcast.com, where you can also find a full transcript and show notes of each episode. Thank you for listening. See you next time.