Shopify & Ecommerce Ramblings

A blog about building and extending awesome Shopify stores

Focus on BFCM
Photo by Kevin Ku

As an ecommerce brand you probably have these auspicious dates circled in red on your calendar, those specific holidays or seasons that affect shopping behaviour in such a massive way that you plan your business strategies around it. We’re talking about Black Friday, Cyber Monday - and the festive season that follows shortly on after that. BFCM and the gifting season combined are the bread and butter of many online retailers, who refine their marketing campaigns and boost their production efforts to meet the demands.

Every year we have seen BFCM grow, with more and more brands being represented online; the ecommerce aspect of the gifting season has simply skyrocketed. Shopify merchants broke records in 2019, with $2.9+ billion in worldwide sales over Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. Online commerce has brought independent businesses and direct-to-consumer businesses to the fore, allowing them to compete with the multinational conglomerates who previously stole the show. 

Even though the first notion of Black Friday sales were documented in Philadelphia, America, this sales holiday has now become a global phenomenon regardless of whether Thanksgiving is celebrated or not. But all this was before 2020; and so much has changed.

The pandemic inadvertently set off a global shutdown, retail has been limited - in many countries even for ecommerce. Yet ecommerce has also been the first to reopen due to the convenience and safety of shopping from home. Thousands of retailers who had never been online launched their stores during this time, and tens of thousands of online shoppers who had never shopped online now did so out of necessity. The global pandemic has accelerated nearly a decade of ecommerce evolution into just ninety days as businesses pivoted to thrive in this new environment. 

This is our first of a three-part article series wherein we get you thinking about BFCM readiness and what you should be doing in the coming months running up to (hopefully) your busiest time of year. We will also share some valuable tips on how to adapt your business to thrive online.

Get an early start on BFCM

BFCM and the subsequent gifting season is the period when many merchants see the lion’s share of their annual sales in the year, and could be the much needed monetary relief that many are relying on. While we cannot predict how things will be for merchants during this holiday season, it does appear that it could be a favorable one for ecommerce again. Our best advice would be to get an early start on your BFCM strategy - and especially for ecommerce brands that will have a strong website focus. 

Bear in mind that even a modest amount of custom functionality can take over a month to progress from specification to go-live, so focusing on making your website ready - with BFCM in mind - this early in the year allows you ample time to iron out the kinks and squash pesky bugs in time for the big day. You can even test your new functionality or processes in the market by using seasonal sales as a kind of pilot run. This will quickly expose any positives or negatives, in real-time, for you to revisit in retrospection. Also, it is inadvisable to put any extra pressure on yourself during BFCM if you’re worried about your website infrastructure not being thoroughly tested - because let’s face it, your attention will be pulled to putting out fires! Knowing that your platform is sound, and also optimized to convert the maximum sales, will allow you to divert your energies where they’re needed.  

Website Improvements

There are always things to be done that can drastically improve your online store, not just your conversion rate but also your search results, user experience and marketability. These will include bugs that you or customers have encountered, improvements to the User Interface (UI), new features that you would like to implement, improving website discoverability (SEO related), and other changes to boost upsell and conversions.

Review the current performance of your website using all the tools at your disposal, including performance measurement tools like Google Analytics, Google PageSpeed Insights, Google Mobile-Friendly Test, Backlink Checker, etc. Using real data from your users allows you to make more informed decisions when it comes to prioritizing your tasks. Obviously, pain points that directly affect your customers will be your most pressing issues to tackle (as opposed to backend issues that only affect you and your team) such as 1) things that affect your customer’s experience and 2) things that affect sales/conversions. 

Compare the results to your goals as it will highlight any glaring issues and help you identify where you need to be focusing your improvements. These items will become your to-do list, and your next step is to determine the importance or urgency of each. If this is too much of an undertaking for your business right now, then ConversionBoost is far better suited to help you see exponential growth in your online store conversion. ConversionBoost is one of our specialised services, where we use an evidence-based approach, with data collection and analysis, to improve and enhance your store. It is designed for established stores that already have a baseline of performance, and stores that already have a certain level of traffic and sales will see the best results.

Marketing Infrastructure

Digital Marketing forms a firm pillar in the model for successful ecommerce, and a well-thought out marketing plan for growing your audience in preparation for the gifting season is key. You will be competing against every other ecommerce store during this time, so try to grow your marketing base and social following as much as possible from now. 

These are our top six marketing initiatives to channel your energies into:

  • Organic - includes word-of-mouth, viral marketing, PR, social media, network marketing, direct sales, and anything else where customers come to you naturally over time.
  • Content - these include blogs or articles, creating education media (about your product or the need thereof), useful pieces of content like free guides or infographics.
  • Paid - online affords many places to pay for advertising including Google Ads and Facebook/Instagram Ads (this includes boosted or sponsored content).
  • Social - all the social platforms that your market frequents, often includes Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.
  • Email - keep in touch with your potential customers via email through newsletters and other email campaigns. Optimise your transactional emails to boost repeat sales using tools like Spently to automate it. Get to grips with a tool like this so that you can use it for your BFCM campaigns with full confidence. 
  • Automation - automated marketing campaigns can be ‘always-on’ lead generating channels. They can be set up once and run automatically, warming up leads and bringing in sales - if you start now you can have some hot leads by the time BFCM rolls in. Look into implementing an automation flow tool like Klaviyo to take full advantage. 
  • Reviews - customer reviews are new age, ‘word-of-mouth’ gold. Incorporate social proof into your completed sales follow up and your automated processes to ensure that most of your products have reviews on them. 

Product/Stock Functionalities or Apps

Take a moment to go back to the basics - starting with your product. Make sure it is these 5 things:

  1. In demand
  2. Of high quality
  3. Well explained on your website
  4. Well presented
  5. Correctly priced

If even one of these don’t meet the criteria, then you still have time to tweak your product and website. Implement at least these three functionalities (listed below) now, so that you know they’re solid later because they will help you boost your sales conversions and have happier customers:

Stock level indication: Nothing gives a sense of urgency or touches on the consumer’s sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) like a stock level indication (only 6 items left in stock!). An app like While Supplies Last will enable you to implement this functionality.

Back-in-stock notification: Don’t lose out on sales simply because a product is temporarily out of stock, capture the consumer’s details and send them an automated reminder when the product is back-in-stock again with functionality like that of the BackInStock app.

Abandoned cart recovery: “The typical shopping cart abandonment rate for online retailers varies between 60% and 80%, with an average of 67.91%.” Abandoned carts are the ultimate low-hanging fruit for picking up on lost sales - consumers were literally selecting items for purchase and for some or other reason didn’t complete the sale. Provide an opportunity for them to pick up where they left off (or even offer a discount to tip them over the edge). If you're on Shopify Plus or higher, you already have abandoned checkouts available to you as a feature, otherwise for a lower plan there are still plenty of options in the form of apps.

Fulfillment

Will you be able to keep up without compromising on something? Be smart about keeping track of your stock, look into implementing Shopify apps like Stock2Shop to monitor stock levels to ensure you don’t sell products you don’t have stock of. This helps you to avoid customer frustration and to keep to shipping deadlines. If the turnover for shipping is expected to be longer, due to greater demand such as over BFCM weekend, then strategise now how you will make your customers aware of changes to expected delivery times or find a way to optimise your fulfillment processes well ahead of time. Try as much as possible to keep your fulfillment fast and efficient, while keeping your customers in the loop as much as possible.

We hope that we’ve given you something to think about, and that you will take our advice and use this time wisely to get ahead and capitalise on the opportunities ahead for your ecommerce store.

Focus on BFCM
Photo by Kevin Ku

BFCM and the subsequent gifting season is the period when many merchants see the lion’s share of their annual sales in the year, and could be the much needed monetary relief that many are relying on. While we cannot predict how things will be for merchants during this holiday season, it does appear that it could be a favorable one for ecommerce again. 

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BJ Minson, founder of Grip6 inspecting his product made in USA

Grip6’s BJ Minson talks belt flaps, Chinese manufacturing, and marketing mess-ups

Grip6 Work Belt

Taking risks, accepting failure and doing things himself are all part of Grip6 founder BJ Minson’s recipe for success. The American belt manufacturer, and ShopCreatify client, sold 350,000 belts in 2019.

Grip6 has humble beginnings. For 10 years after school, Minson did odd jobs from construction to painting houses. He also tried to start a business making and selling specialized hospital beds, but was frustrated when he was faced with structural problems he couldn’t solve.  

“I was sawing and welding and doing what an engineer without a degree would do. I realized projects weren’t working out as well as I’d hoped,” says Minson. During this time, he started a family and soon realized he couldn’t afford a house or reach his other financial goals on odd jobs alone. So Minson went back to school. It was a long process and he had to take six semesters of math before he was at the level of the other mechanical engineering students.

While Minson wrapped up his studies, he worked as a junior engineer for a medical company. He continued with his own side-projects in the hope it would give him the experience he needed to apply for a product design job.

The beginnings of a belt

One of Minson’s side-projects was a wallet: small, flat and rectangular. It fitted six cards which popped up when the sides were squeezed. “The wallets were fairly complicated inside, mechanically, and I couldn’t just make them myself because I knew nothing about manufacturing.” After failing to find an affordable, local manufacturer, he gave up on the wallet.

BJ Minson demonstrating the strength of the Grip6 beltDemonstrating the strength of the G6 belt in a video on the Kickstarter campaign back in 2014

Soon after that he designed a belt – Grip6’s signature product – after being irritated by his own belts. He’d thought cutting his leather belt shorter to stop it from flapping around was a good solution, but his wife disagreed. “She said it was the ugliest belt she’d ever seen and that it looked ridiculous!” He then used a nylon army belt, but didn’t like how the thick buckle stuck out under his shirt.

“I then thought if I design a belt that’s really simple, it should be easy enough to manufacture myself.” The belt he designed uses a single piece of webbing, a single piece of metal for the buckle, doesn’t require any sewing and has no buckle holes. Unlike traditional belts, the material properties of the Grip6 belt creates friction that holds it in place without slipping.

Marketing and manufacturing mishaps

In 2014 Minson launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. He was stunned when he received 10,000 belt orders. He reached out to local manufacturers to make the belts but was met with slow responses, long timelines and quotes that were much higher than he’d priced the belts. Even worse, Minson was repeatedly encouraged to manufacture his belts in China. “Everybody told us that if you don’t make your belts in China, you’re dumb and probably not going to succeed.”

Minson was dead set against this. He’d been astounded by the bad quality of his children’s toys, most of which were made in China. “They’d use the toys once before they’d break. It made no sense from a moral perspective that people were producing garbage and shipping it around the world just to be thrown away almost immediately.

“I wanted to make the belts locally in the United States, so that the quality would be high and to reinvest in ourselves as a country and in manufacturing.”

Without a manufacturer, Minson and a friend set about making the 10,000 belts themselves, by hand. “I bought a couple of small hand tools and started production in my garage. For six months we worked our butts off. We’d finish at our full-time jobs and then work another eight to 10 hours at night. I had got myself stuck in a situation that I hadn’t thought through very well, but at least I had a product people wanted.”

Minson spent the following year figuring out how to market his belts. “We didn’t know anything about marketing and that scared me.” He hired the best marketing company he could find, paying them with money left over from his Kickstarter campaign and by selling belts at county fairs and trade shows.

But the marketing company let Minson down with a website that despite being attractive, was built on the wrong platform and marketing campaigns that lead nowhere. He then hired someone a friend recommended to do Facebook marketing for his company. It worked and Grip6 sold 70,000 belts in its third year.

Now in its sixth year, Grip6 employs 43 people and its sales are up 80% from 2019.

Grip6’s belt sales have increased significantly since it launched in 2014

We do it ourselves

After his negative experiences with manufacturers and marketers, Minson decided to do as much as he could inhouse.

“If we can do something ourselves, we should so that when a problem comes along, we’re not relying on somebody else to fix it. We like to be in control. This concept of relying on somebody else just means you’re running away from gaining the knowledge yourself.”

This philosophy has seen Grip6 invest significant amounts in machinery, people and learning processes. “Ultimately that’s meant we’ve been able to do things cheaper, more efficiently and at a better quality.”  

Grip6 Product PageGrip6's conversion optimized product page showcasing their unique products.

Despite this, Minson says it wouldn’t have made financial sense to hire a full-time web developer. After using numerous Shopify developers, they found ShopCreatify two years ago and have been a client ever since. “Ross [Allchorn] fills that gap and his team does well as an extension of Grip6. If you have to use outside people, use those who are as close philosophically and capability-wise as you are.”

Take risks, learn from failures

Minson’s philosophy doesn’t stop at doing things in-house. He isn’t afraid of taking risks or failing, so much so that the Grip6 website says: “Follow us as we struggle, misstep and learn.”

He’s trying to add two new products to the Grip6 range: the wallet he designed eight years ago, and socks. Both have already seen Grip6 make significant investments into failed manufacturing, new machinery and time spent learning how to use the machines. Six months after starting on the wallet and a year after starting on the socks, Grip6 is at last producing test products before being manufactured for sale. The socks endeavor alone cost the company around $250,000.

“If we’re not risking something, we get into a mental state where we’re too afraid to grow, because growth involves risks. We’re willing to take many risks as long as it’s not so big it puts the company out of business. It might cost us a lot of money but if we’re successful it really pays off. I’m perfectly fine with failure as long as it comes with a lesson to be learnt.”

Minson says that despite taking so many risks he’s actually financially conservative. Grip6 has only ever taken out a loan to buy a particularly expensive laser cutting machine. “Every other machine in our shop, millions of dollars’ worth, has been paid for in cash. We’ve been cash positive from the garage onwards. We don’t believe in getting into debt.”

Covid-19 and the future

Minson believes that these philosophies have helped Grip6 weather the Covid-19 crisis. When the virus hit the USA, sales dropped by 25%. But Minson’s best friend, who is now in charge of Grip6’s marketing, noticed that online advertising had become significantly cheaper after many people stopped advertising when the pandemic started. Grip6 decided to increase their ad spend and “all of a sudden we’re hitting months that are far above what we’re used to and very similar to our busiest time of year”.

And because Grip6 manufactures everything itself, it wasn’t affected when international trade came to a grinding halt. It’s business as usual at the Salt Lake City, Utah plant, with staff wearing masks and adhering to other safety and social distancing protocol.

Despite this, Minson is nervous about the future. He knows that Covid-19 is likely to slow the world economy down for the next 12 to 18 months and is aware that his good business run is unlikely to continue indefinitely.

“We’re being extra cautious financially and building up the bank account in the expectation that the sales will probably drop off in the near future. We’re saving our money, launching new products and looking for other growth opportunities.”

He has encouraging words for other online businesses:

“There’s this once in a lifetime thing happening, and it’s pretty bad. But if you’re smart and you look around, there are opportunities to grow and to find silver linings.”

BJ Minson, founder of Grip6 inspecting his product made in USA

Taking risks, accepting failure and doing things himself are all part of Grip6 founder BJ Minson’s recipe for success. The American belt manufacturer, and ShopCreatify client, sold 350,000 belts in 2019. BJ Minson talks belt flaps, Chinese manufacturing, and marketing mess-ups.

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Chase Clymer, host of Honest Ecommerce's interviewed ShopCreatify's Ross Allchorn in a recent podcast. In this episode they discuss how the pandemic has affected Ecommerce in South Africa and around the world, and what merchants should be focusing on during this time. 

While ShopCreatify has a distributed team that spans the world, there are a couple of teammates and customers with Ecommerce stores based in South Africa, giving Ross a unique perspective to offer.

Chase Clymer, Ross Allchorn

Chase Clymer, host of Honest Ecommerce's interviewed ShopCreatify's Ross Allchorn in a recent podcast. In this episode they discuss how the pandemic has affected Ecommerce in South Africa and around the world, and what merchants should be focusing on during this time. 

While ShopCreatify has a distributed team that spans the world, there are a couple of teammates and customers with Ecommerce stores based in South Africa, giving Ross a unique perspective to offer.

read time.

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Working from home during COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Roberto Nickson.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are left with an uncertain future. Many brick and mortar businesses have closed their doors indefinitely (some will reopen, others not so lucky), and retailers are looking to ecommerce to secure their brand a future. The fate of ecommerce has a lot to do with the regulations in your country, some are able to continue with business as usual whereas some do not fall under ‘essential services’ and cannot sell, or fulfill orders due to being unable to make use of courier services. However, ecommerce stores are most likely in a safer footing for the current and immediate future climate - provided they can still use this time to convert sales or grow their business in some way.

While there has been an increase in offline stores going online, existing ecommerce stores are intensifying their efforts to turn inventory into cash while they still can. Some are using lockdown time in inventive and productive ways to set themselves up to their advantage for when things are back to business as usual. Wherever you are in these turbulent times, there are some strategies you can use to make the best of things - which includes what you need to do right now and what you can use your downtime for to your advantage.

What you should be doing right now:

Communicate with your customers

Depending on where you are in the world you may have certain restrictions that will affect your ability to fulfill orders. However, if you are still able to make sales with the intention to ship as soon as those restrictions are lifted, then communicate this to your customers in big bold letters on your website and via email. If you can still run business as usual you need to tell your customers exactly that on all your platforms, because they will assume you are closed like most other businesses.

Be honest with your customers and compassionate to what they too are going through, this isn’t the time to ‘cash in’ on this pandemic as an opportunity for business (think how tacky a ‘Coronavirus’ sale would sound or a #COVID19 voucher code!) but for many of us it is our bread and butter and so necessary that business goes on. That’s not to say that your products or services won’t make a profound difference to your customers’ lives. Communicate to your customers how your products or services can be useful to them during this time, eg. how buying your (for example) stationery catalogue will enable them to run their business from home, keep their children entertained, allow creative expression for boredom busting, or even play an important role in homeschooling, etc.

Pivot your business model

If your current business model does not work in the current climate, consider pivoting your business in such a way that it can thrive online. If you previously only had a physical store, bring your retail online (many brands are offering this service for free and now is a good time to do it).

Consider offering subscription services either monthly or prepaying 3 - 6 months upfront. You will then have some cash to operate on and your customers can relax in knowing they will be getting their product/service in the coming months regardless of their cash flow. You can even offer ‘buy now, ship later’ options for customers who still want to shop now but are happy to wait until restrictions have lifted.

Diversify your product range, if you previously only sold physical products, consider adding some digital products eg. if you sold books before, consider adding eBooks to your catalogue.

If you’re concerned about the investment in pivoting your business model, consider how uncertain the future is and how waiting out the pandemic could mean running your business dry. There is a lot of help out there - we’ve compiled a list of brands currently offering help to the ecommerce industry either for free or at huge discounts.

Intensify your marketing efforts

A lot of brands make the mistake of cutting back on their marketing efforts, when they should be redoubling them. Marketing is where your leads are being generated, so it would not make sense to cut costs such as online advertising.

Many advertisers are pulling out which means that ad prices are going down, so now is actually the time to be increasing your Google Ad and Facebook ad spend.
This will help keep the customers coming in, and hopefully the conversions ticking over. The only marketing channels you might need to pull are experimental marginal channels that aren’t driving leads or pushing revenue.

 

Cut out unnecessary expenditure

Invest some time in going over your expenditures, grouping your nice-to-haves (expense) and your ‘necessaries’ (investment). Reviewing these and cutting out unnecessary expenditure will ensure that you don’t burn through savings too quickly.

Your investments will have a demonstrable ROI (return on investment). These will include your online ad expenditure, email marketing (such as abandoned cart recovery), and content marketing. These serve to build your business by directly driving revenue.

You might consider cutting out some of your SAAS (software as a service) subscriptions that were convenient to have and which you can suspend while you are cutting costs but pick up later. These might include Music licensing software, full stock image database access, etc. which you can get away with by only purchasing what you need when you need it rather than all-access subscriptions.

Get social and personal

Now is a good time to get to know your customers. Reach out to them on social media as a leader in your space to offer compassion and any advice that you can offer; social media engagement rates have never been this high. Your compassion and authenticity now will be remembered long after the pandemic has passed, and it will become part of the personality of your brand.

Use downtime to improve Operations:

Now that you have all of that in place it is time to use your extra time to improve your Operations. A lot of us are finding ourselves with a lot more time on our hands than before, and while we are all dealing with the anxiety and fear of the unknown, keeping busy helps to feel in control - not to mention putting us in better stead for when things are a bit more normal again.

While you’re working from home or piloting the ship alone, there are still some things that you can do for your online store that will help improve your Operations and put you in better stead for the coming months, here’s a quick checklist:

  1. Go through your product descriptions and improve them where you can. Perhaps add a creative spin on them, eg. some humour or a theme. Take note that you can optimise your descriptions for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) by using keywords associated with that product.
  2. Improve your SEO by adding appropriate keywords in all your page titles, meta descriptions, ALT tags (what appears when images don’t load, and tells Google what the image is), and the page’s body content.
  3. Map out your marketing campaign strategy for the rest of the year; when things start to normalise you will want to hit the ground running with a well thought out marketing campaign.
  4. Use this time to be creative - write a series of blog posts, even one a day, so that you can post these throughout the year. When things get busy over peak periods you will thank yourself for getting ahead on your content strategy.
  5. Do a thorough audit of your product photography. If you have better photos (or can request them from suppliers or take them yourself) replace them on your website. Product photography can make or break your ecommerce website.
  6. Reach out to your customer base to review items or write testimonials, hopefully they also have more time on their hands to submit something you can use in your social media strategy and on your website. Nearly 95% of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase!
  7. Follow some tips on how to boost the speed of your Shopify website. There are many ways of doing this, eg. go through your store and remove any apps that you are not using as well as minimise redirects and broken links.
  8. Browse Shopify’s free tools for anything that might be useful to your store, including an image resizer tool, refund policy generator, privacy policy generator, shipping label template, and more.

All these improvements will result in a site that loads faster, is more efficient at converting leads into sales, and attracts more organic leads via search engines. This will not only benefit you now, but it will put you in better stead for months to come - and perhaps change the way you approach operations on your website forever, for the better.

Working from home during COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Roberto Nickson

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are left with an uncertain future. Many brick and mortar businesses have closed their doors indefinitely (some will reopen, others not so lucky), and retailers are looking to ecommerce to secure their brand a future.

read time.

Read More

 

Shopify Ecommerce Covid-19 Helping HandPhoto by Austin Kehmeier

Online resources to help guide your ecommerce business through this pandemic

These are extremely uncertain times for everyone, as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the world. Many businesses have already been forced to shut their doors and send their employees home. Stock markets are plummeting and economies are on the brink of collapse, but it’s too soon to tell exactly how this virus will affect the ecommerce industry.

As dark as these days may seem, there are some silver linings that could help you see your online business through this pandemic or even assist you in getting your business online. A number of tech companies and digital brands are finding ways to help businesses by offering discounts on their services and opening up access to software and content.

We encourage you to take a look and see if any of these might benefit your online store and help you weather this storm a little better.

Monitor The Ecommerce Situation

Performance branding company WITHIN are monitoring the effects of COVID-19 on ecommerce, offering a Retail Pulse report with daily updates that could help you navigate the current climate.

What Shopify Themselves Are Offering

Shopify are supporting business owners in a number of ways:

Get your Offline Business Online

In a massive collaborative effort, professionals in the ecommerce industry (not even just Shopify) are working together to help businesses get online. In their own words

"Offline2on.com is a community-led, not for profit, cross platform initiative to support businesses in ramping their e-commerce efforts due to COVID-19 by connecting them with the resources, developers, platforms, and partners..."

Check out Offline2on.com if you need to get your business online or get it to perform better in these interesting times.

Free Shopify Setups

Some service providers offer free Shopify setups, which is ideal for stores that need to take their sales online - and quickly!

Free Enterprise Grade Push Notifications for 6 Months

Pushnami are offering free push notifications for the next 6 months.

In their own words:

"Pushnami.com will be offering our push marketing platform free to any business for the next 6 months. No contracts, credit cards or holding subscribers hostage. Our platform was built for Enterprise businesses (min 1k/month pricing) and we know bringing that sophistication to businesses struggling right now is going to make a huge difference.
- Eric Stiner"

Savings and Specials on Adobe Software

Adobe are offering substantial savings/special offers:

  • Adobe Portfolio is free (until May 15), so you can start building your portfolio site and get free hosting, plus unlimited pages.
  • Adobe Talent on Behance is free (until May 15) so that companies and recruiters can post job opportunities for creatives at no charge.
  • Adobe Summit will be digital so that you can get free access to the digital experience conference, which starts March 31.

Discount & Extended Trials on Affinity Software

    Affinity are offering these three measures:

    • A new 90-day free trial of the Mac and Windows versions of the whole Affinity suite.
    • 50% discount for those who would rather buy and keep the apps on Mac, Windows PC and iPad.
    • A pledge to engage more than 100 freelance creatives for work, spending the equivalent of their annual commissioning budget in the next three months.

    Verso eBook & Book Specials

    Verso will be offering major savings and free ebooks during the pandemic:

    • 80% off ALL ebooks and 40% off ALL print books.
    • Some ebooks for free when purchasing paperbacks at 40% off.
    • Free Verso Reports collection (covers the various political and cultural moments with interventions that ask the essential questions of the current moment).

    Member Perks ($5k worth) Unlocked on Hey Carson 

    For the next couple of months, Hey Carson has unlocked their member perks section where they’ve collected over 150 Shopify app perks since January 2019. These perks come to a combined value of $5000+!

    Use ShoppingGives To Donate Directly to Those Affected

    ShoppingGives are helping stores (who process in USD) direct donations to those affected by COVID-19 through their Shopify App, Change Commerce:

    • Sign up for Change Commerce.
    • Enterprise partners who do over $500K annual revenue will work on deferred payment terms and custom agreements so that they can create an impact right away. They are also waiving any integration fees for a faster launch.

    Free Upsell App With Bold Commerce

    Bold Commerce are offering the following:

    • Bold Upsell free for 3 months to create upsell and cross-sell offers that can increase average order value (useful now that cart sizes are smaller than normal).

    25% Off Out of the Sandbox Themes

    Out of the Sandbox is offering 25% off Flex and Turbo themes to help you get your business online or use this time to upgrade your theme:

    • Use the code SPREADJOY at checkout

    Free Webex with Cisco

    Cisco are making it easier to keep in touch with your team remotely:

    • Unlimited usage (no time restrictions).
    • Supports up to 100 participants.
    • Offers toll dial-in (in addition to existing VoIP capabilities).
    • Free 90-day licenses to businesses who are not Webex customers.

    The ecommerce community is banding together in these trying times, and with a mixture of resourcefulness, hope and widespread support in the community we can help many businesses weather the storm. Share these online resources with your colleagues and other business owners so that they reach everyone who needs support right now.

    Shopify Ecommerce Covid-19 Helping HandPhoto by Austin Kehmeier

    Online resources to help guide your ecommerce business through this pandemic

    These are extremely uncertain times for everyone, as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the world. Many businesses have already been forced to shut their doors and send their employees home. Stock markets are plummeting and economies are on the brink of collapse, but it’s too soon to tell exactly how this virus will affect the ecommerce industry.

    read time.

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    ShopCreatify Core Clients on a map

    Ah, remote - a word that drums up visions of working in one’s pyjamas, regular trips to the local coffee shop, the ability to work your own hours and for some, including me, the joy of not needing to participate in forced associations with people not of my picking... nor office politics. Is remote working all it’s purported to be? Well… in short… at least for me and my current team, yes.

    Building a remote workforce like ours is perhaps not for everyone. Personally I’ve found it to be an incredible, rewarding experience with us now having a multi talented, multicultural and close knit team of 15 people distributed all around the world. With myself, a dual British / South African citizen living in Cape Town, David, a Brit living in Vienna, Alfredo in Chicago and the rest of the team -present and future- being completely non-dependant on their physical location, I believe we’re operating a truly globally distributed yet highly efficient setup.

    Why we're intentionally and proudly remote

    To sum up some of the reasons that there is currently no intention of us changing our remote ethos on the most part, here are a few beneficial factors that come to mind:

    1. We’re happier and healthier
      There is an argument to be made that us not being forced to congregate with potentially sick -or undesirable- colleagues in the same space allows us to have a better state of mind and health. We can choose who we share physical space with which may sometimes be our families, sometimes just our pets, or maybe just the waitress at the local coffee shop.
    2. It saves us time
      By not needing to commute nor needing to do things like book and wait for meeting rooms or boardrooms, we're more agile and able to get things done quickly, without the red tape nor time spent on the road or in packed trains. 
    3. It saves us money
      From a cost to company perspective, by not needing to invest in largely superfluous, showy and likely redundant commercial real estate we're able to not even factor these costs into our pricing to merchants. Without the need to commute this also helps each team member financially and this money can be invested into other areas of their lives, further improving the quality thereof and their general wellbeing.
    4. It improves productivity
      Through our ability to manage our own time and block out distractions we're able to avoid what is probably one of the biggest headache of traditional agency life, distractions. The time cost of context switching can be immense, so if one is good at blocking out time to focus, being in a position to do so without distraction allows the individual to get more done. Productivity is largely up to the individual… but suffice to say, you don’t have a middle manager tapping you on the shoulder every 5 minutes. If you don't believe me, I'm not the only one claiming this to be the case.
    5. It widens our selection pool of talent
      This should actually be point #1 for the business aspect. With no barriers in terms of physical location of the team members and a propensity for highly talented and specialised individuals desiring remote positions, we have a far larger pool of available talent to bring onboard. As long as communication skills, an exceptional work ethic and an above average ability to do the work is present, they’re eligible to be considered to work with us.
    6. Our carbon footprint is smaller
      Since we’re commuting less, not only to and from work, but also through applying the same principles of remote contact with our clients, our impact on the environment is considerably less than those that do commute regularly. Yes we’ll meet clients face to face when necessary or convenient, but as it stands, of our entire current clientbase (including some engagements spanning over 4+ years), we’ve rarely -if ever- met them them face to face other than Zoom / Skype video calls.

    There are some pretty big name tech companies that operate with or were even founded with a remote mindset and workforce. Some of the bigger names I found in our industry of web technology and ecommerce include Github, Harvest, Zapier, Invision and Shopify’s star player Recharge. I'd need to confirm it to be the case but even Shopify's team is largely a remote workforce. Interestingly, even the company (Automattic) behind the platform that powers over 30% of the internet (Wordpress) makes use of an almost entirely distributed workforce. There is an amusingly titled book on it too which I will not confirm nor deny whether it forms an integral part in my thoughts on the topic.

    Quintin -our creative director- recently gave a talk at our local Shopify Meetup and a couple of the slides in his presentation were actually the inspiration for this article. In them, he neatly pinned out the locations of our core client base on a map of the world:

    ShopCreatify Clients

    as well as doing the same for our team:

    ShopCreatify Team

    How we manage to do this

    Giving a "paint-by-numbers" guide to getting an operation to a point where it's running like ours is not really possible but I'll attempt to articulate how we have managed to get it as right as we have. Essentially for us it has been a case of very intentionally aiming to make it work in spite of the challenges that the approach poses, and it does pose challenges.

    There are some downsides to having a remote workforce, so to be open about them, acknowledging them and either addressing them or accepting them for what they are was really important.

    Some people do crave the watercooler discussions, the office romances, the sense of community you may find in a workspace where you're physically present. In my research for this article I found that while some agency owners fully embrace remote as a legitimate approach to building their businesses, others are either not convinced, or only allow it in a limited fashion. The main reason for their aversion seems to revolve around team building and a sense of community and while I don't disregard their views on this, I feel that while it will be different, this can still be achieved with a remote team.

    Ultimately, what I'd attribute our ability to operate effectively can be narrowed down to the below factors.

    1. Clear and regular communication
    2. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
    3. Strong project management

    Of course there are many factors that will result in an operation moving forward strongly like good selection of team members, paying the team well, focusing on delivering quality and meeting milestones / deadlines, but those are factors that should apply to any business, remote or not.

    The three factors above I believe have been the key elements that have allowed us to not only operate smoothly, but gradually and iteratively grow the business without even needing to add more people. It's truly inspiring to see how efficient a business can be when the focus has been on making things run smoothly while concurrently focusing 100% on the success of our merchant clients.

    Software

    Of course there are tools that we're using that are absolutely indispensable, and without them this business would not have even been possible. The list of software solutions we use is reasonably long and mileage will vary depending on each organisation and their specific needs, and people have preferences, but to name some of the key players here goes:

    Google GSuite is without a doubt one of the most useful solutions to the whole email / collaborative documents & spreadsheets and forms debacle. It's a solution we recommend to all of our clients and find little reason to look elsewhere.

    Slack has become one of those ubiquitous solutions in most tech companies around the world and it really does bring a significant amount of value to our operation. Communication is fluent, prompt and it allows us to keep all the right people in the loop on all relevant fronts.

    Asana is another key component in our day to day running. We took a fair bit of time deciding on what project management software to use -Basecamp, Jira and Teamwork were the runner ups- and while it takes a bit of time to tame, we don't regret the decision one bit. Interesting to note that we "graduated" from Trello to Asana since ultimately while the former is great software, it was too generic for our needs and Asana brought a lot more to the table for our business.

    There are of course plenty of other solutions we've implemented including business / workflow / productivity solutions like Zapier, Harvest, Calendly, aText, Zoom, Jotform and design & development tools / platforms like Github, Deploybot, Sketch, Invision and Loom.

    As mentioned above, the list can be reasonably long and ever changing and while they're not all free, having kept a keen eye on the costs over time and remaining vigilant with culling the redundant wares as we progress, they're still -cumulatively- extremely affordable on the grand scheme of things.

    Conclusion

    Yeah, this is a bit of an opinion piece, but I've tried to apply some reasoning and maybe it will be of benefit to others in a similar situation.

    My overriding feeling currently, after creating and growing this business over the past 4.5yrs is that embracing a remote approach to building a business in modern times is perfectly viable and possibly the better option for many entrepreneurs. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for us, to date it has been a great model.

    I hope this article was useful to you and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me via our contact page and I'll do my best to help.

    ShopCreatify Core Clients on a map

    Ah, remote - a word that drums up visions of working in one’s pyjamas, regular trips to the local coffee shop, the ability to work your own hours and for some, including me, the joy of not needing to participate in forced associations with people not of my picking... nor office politics. Is remote working all it’s purported to be? Well… in short… at least for me and my current team, yes.

    read time.

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