Photos. Get good photos. If you have a product-based business, make sure they’re in front of a white background because many wholesalers or other platforms will request it!
Get an email list going. We don’t have the privilege of foot traffic, so you have to get everyone’s attention in a different way.
As much as I hate it, get a social media account to connect with your community. When I’m active on social media, I can see the difference in my site traffic.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily McNabb Butler, owner of The Good Hippie, an artisan, all natural, vegan, handcrafted skincare line in Austin, TX. As a professional dancer, McNabb Butler supplemented income with jobs in the selfcare industry to maintain a healthy mind and body. After 10 years in the holistic health industry, taking on The Good Hippie was a natural step.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I got my degree in dance performance, moved to NYC where I got certified as a yoga instructor to heal my relationship with my body (being in front of a mirror in a leotard your entire life has its consequences), and started pursuing healthier alternatives in self-care. I moved to Austin and met the founder of The Good Hippie, and she and I became friends quickly! When I met her, she was hand-writing every individual label for every product. Needless to say, the company has grown significantly since then! The founder of TGH moved on to start another very successful business and wanted someone to purchase TGH. Of course, when she told me that, I told her that the company had to “stay in the family,” so I pulled together loans and funding and bought the business from her. After watching the company grow, and loving the products and everything it stood for, it seemed like such a natural step to pick up where she left off. I started growing the company, rebranded the look and feel, and launched 14 skus since taking over in 2018! I’ve been in the spa world for several years as a side gig to my dance career but needed to step away from the stage and concentrate on my other passion- healthy, sustainable living!
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I’ve had SEVERAL since starting, but my real A-HA moment was when I connected with so many other amazing female entrepreneurs in Austin. I felt like I could really make a difference and not just be another brand. There truly isn’t, at least on my side, the feeling of competition with other women or business owners that own companies like mine. There’s room for all of us to make a difference and we’re all trying to change the world. And we NEED each other to make that happen.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
COVID-19 has been the most challenging time. I know that’s the answer you’ve received from most business owners. But this is my second year of owning the business, and I was expecting to grow and hit the ground running this year (maybe even make good dollars), but alas, the world stopped turning right before SXSW and that’s when I realized I was in trouble. As far as giving up- I wanted to. A lot. But I know I never would and never will and that’s a testament to the amazing women I have around me. My drive to continue things was the progress I’d made so far and the belief that all of the deals we were making or finalizing at the beginning of the year will appear again in 2021. I’ve been hanging my hat on those opportunities that still linger but have been postponed. Also, I have an obligation to our nonprofits for which we want to raise money during these hard times. It’s not just about me. It’s about setting a good example for my fellow entrepreneurs, pushing for my family, working for the non-profits, and ultimately helping change the beauty world dynamic for the better.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things today are still rough. Grit and resilience come from my village and their brainstorm sessions and passion to keep pushing helps. We’re now entering the holiday season and we all want to see our friend business owners succeed. There are more opportunities now than before and we wouldn’t have seen them through if we weren’t working together to keep the lights on. I’d do anything for my community, and they’d do anything for me. It’s really beautiful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Packing orders and never noticing when someone ordered TWO or THREE of a product and I only mailed one. This happened a lot. I spent a lot of extra money in shipping fees in my first few months of owning the business. But you live and you learn! Plus, my customer base is amazing and so gracious. Other than that, small “whoopsie,” I got a lot of challenging questions that forced me to continue my education in very specific corners of the products. Now I know that I will only ever use Vitamin E that’s derived from soy rather than wheat to protect my client base with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerances. It’s little things like this that only make me a better business and make the products even more amazing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We stand out because of our process. I love that I have my hands in every part of the process. All of our recipes are our intellectual property, rather than bought from a manufacturer that pumps out the same recipes all the time. And we hand craft every product in Texas. Having that extra human eye on every product makes it better! We also are able to hold our company to a higher standard as far as better environmental practices! I haven’t emptied the trash can in the studio for 3 months or so. We recycle, upcycle, and reuse so much and I’m very proud of that!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Discover your community. We’re all here to help keep each other motivated and to share tips and tricks. But if you’re not feeling up to it for a day or two, STEP AWAY! I’ve had many moments where I’ve felt like I have to push through and get things done, but if I had stepped back for 24hrs to take care of myself, I would have gotten so much more done and my final product would have been better.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Bre from Radical Girl Gang has been a rock for me and for all of the woman owned businesses she represents. She and I will always work together and ask for advice. Because we also believe in never working for free, we have 20 dollars in Venmo that bounces back and forth between us when we need some consulting or product. She’s the best and biggest champion for women entrepreneurs I know, and I will be forever grateful for her friendship and business acumen.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
We’ve been sending a lot more emails. I believe, as a society, that we’ve become numb to ads and we click or scroll past them without blinking. I’ve tried to connect more with our die-hard fans by implementing an affiliate program. I’d rather connect with people that know us and love us rather than spend thousands of dollars. We don’t have to find new customers in a not-so effective way.
Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Advertise your morals and showcase the ethos of your company. If we want to make a change in the world, we have to be smarter consumers. If you want American made, then buy American made. If you want an eco-friendly product that creates ethical jobs for humans, then do your research. You can’t complain about the things you tolerate. And we complain about a lot of the wrongs in the world but do nothing to change our spending habits.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Oof… I don’t know. Maybe expecting there to be movement without social media (unfortunately.) I only say that because I made that mistake.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The amount of work that goes into setting up the logistics of pricing and shipping, while keeping in mind that smaller brands like me have one to maybe 3 employees. A lot of people expect us to function like Amazon because people are so used to instant gratification, but when you’re ordering quality, it’s going to take longer. If prices are higher, it’s because the product is better. Period. And that seems to be the biggest complaint I hear. People believe that you’re getting a more expensive product that’s not as good as what you can get from a manufacturer overseas. That’s the work of really good marketing and it’s a complete lie.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
SHIPSTATION! Gotta love them. And an inventory system that helps you price your products with acceptable margins and reminds you to pay yourself.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Bundle things together! Offer two sizes! Have a product that is truly made better by using another product- but only if this is necessary. I’m not a big believer in making people spend more if they don’t need to. But when you have quality products that really make a difference, you’re doing your customer a favor!
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Reach out your base often. When someone leaves a review on my site, I always reply to them personally and directly thank them. If you’re a regular, I will also throw in a free sample or small product too to show my appreciation! All of my thank you cards are handwritten, and I’ll always go back to see what that customer purchased last time. If they’re purchasing something different or something was only a one-time purchase, I ask about it! I always want to check it and nurture my relationships with customers. It’s the perk of being small!
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
If I get a poor review, I always start by thanking the customer for their feedback. It only makes us better and gives us an opportunity to make it right or to explain why something is the way it is. If you treat that customer with compassion and gratitude, you’ll often come to an understanding and you’ll keep that customer. If someone doesn’t prefer something, I encourage them to keep it after explaining how to use it differently, or re-gift it, but then I’ll always replace that product with something they know they love.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Get a professional to help you set up the platform. Sometimes it’s worth the money so you save time and it’s done right! I’ve spent many nights crying over my website, and I finally break down and get a professional to help. But I’ve wasted a week and a lot of tears!
- Photos. Get good photos. If you have a product-based business, make sure they’re in front of a white background because many wholesalers or other platforms will request it!
- Get an email list going. We don’t have the privilege of foot traffic, so you have to get everyone’s attention in a different way.
- As much as I hate it, get a social media account to connect with your community. When I’m active on social media, I can see the difference in my site traffic.
- Be patient and gentle with yourself. Reach out and ask for help.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d start the movement of spending less and taking care of yourself more. We don’t need many of the normal comforts we think we do. If you have a quality bar of soap, it’ll last you longer, you won’t be contributing to waste, and you can use it for many different things. While my business requires sales to stay afloat, I want people to understand that the products are designed to last you longer, so you don’t have to buy more. Spend less and take care of you and the planet more.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!