Find your Niche. When I began selling Print on Demand shirts with horse designs were hot, people love their horses. I had my designer made a few horse designs. After putting them on sale, the amount of negative comments on my listings was nonstop. I had no idea a horse looked different from other races. To find a winning product, you have to first find the niche you are passionate about. You cannot focus on selling something you don’t believe on. Creating content on something you know nothing about can end of causing exhaustion and eventually quitting.
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 Fernando Sustaita, Founder of the Print on Demand University, an E-Commerce Education platform. Fernando has been on the Print on Demand business for almost 5 years. Before, He worked as Senior Contracts Specialist for the Oil and Gas Industry. E-Commerce began as a side income opportunity which in no time became his whole focus. Fernando has helped hundreds of people achieve their dream, the dream of having a business of their own.
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?
Mypassion for E-Commerce began in 1998 when I discovered EBay. I am a toy collector and as any college student it was an expensive hobby to maintain. One day I learned about EBay and I began selling toys as well other random products I found while shopping. It was a hobby that was profiting me a couple of thousand dollars a month while I was working at my family’s business.
Moving forward to 2003, I was ready to start a family and decided to find a corporate job. After 8 years in the Oil and Gas Industry, I got promoted to manage my own team. In 2015, funny enough I got laid off 2 months after when the company I worked for went bankrupt. During all this years, every time I needed money I always sold something online I was good at it and it was fast. So, the obvious move after I got laid off is to be a full time E-Commerce Seller.
Time forward 5 years, I sell on Amazon, Etsy, have my own Shopify stores and have helped hundreds of people do the same.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
To become an online coach/influencer was never in my plans. To be honest, my plan was to business owner and selling products on my own Amazon. Yet, as I began to help people I began getting more and more attracted to the idea. The problem is that it was actually costing me money. I had no idea how to do it. I had a few successful course launches, and followed what others were doing in my industry but with no plan in hand.
So, first I hired a mindset coach, I was serving two masters at the time, my home that I needed to support and my students. I needed to make a decision of what was important to me. My coached helped me focus and set goals and an agenda to do things more efficiently.
One day, I was having a call with my business coach and he told me something like why don’t you create a University? Later that day, I shared the idea with my wife. She told me “Fernando universities have more than one professor” and at Moment, I said I am doing this. My mind a thousand miles per hour, I had my epiphany. I reached out to a couple of content creators I know and invited to be part of the project. That day the Print on Demand University came to exist.
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?
Hell, more than once… Being and influencer is not easy. As an influencer, you get attacked all the time. People don’t like that you charge for your knowledge, people want what you know for Free. They accuse you of trying to get rich out of their needs to get better in life. It is a very vicious cycle, but I have learned to accept that is part of the business. To only focus on the people that want to be helped.
When I created my first course, I had no idea how to create one. Members of an old Facebook group I used to manage kept asking for one. So, I invested on camera, lights, software and began recording. As I was completing my course, I began getting serious Impostor Syndrome. I was like how in hell am I dare to teach this people when I am not certified to educate? Why would they want to learn from someone that has only been selling for a year? So I began asking other people if they would help me promote and if they wanted to be part of the course. About 20 people agreed, and I named the course Mastering Print on Demand.
When it was time to promote none of they did. I had priced my course at 147 dollars and they thought it was too expensive. The day I launched I only sold 3 copies and my course died. After 3 Months of recordings, editing, interviewing people it was all for nothing?
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Well, I was about to get there with my previous story, A couple of days later, I opened a new Facebook Group, named it Mastering Print on Demand and in a few months I sold over 300 of those courses, the same course nobody wanted to promote… Today that course is outdated and out of the market. The success of my first launch set me as a person to follow in the Industry. Now, I have 4 courses, a Membership program, coaching and a thankful community.
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?
When I was recording my first course, I made a lot of mistakes. While editing the videos I was able to extract a lot of material to make a blooper video for laughs. I thought about adding it to the course but I didn’t. One day, I was trying to upload a video for my YouTube channel to promote the course. I ended up uploading this video my mistake. What came next was surprising; I sold about 20 courses in 3 days. It wasn’t until people began commenting on my group. The comments ranged from how funny I was to how down to earth I was when compared to other “Gurus”. I had no idea what they meant until they pointed me to the video. It was the whole reason they purchased.
That day I learned I didn’t have to be perfect, that I had to be myself, relaxed and give the best I can when I am coaching.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The University is unique because simply there is no other website like it. Most online instructors focus only on their own products. They all want to sell what they created, but in my case I know I cannot teach everything related to my industry. In the University, you can learn about book publishing, social media and e-commerce. The opportunities are endless and every day we look to add even more coaches to the list.
As an online seller I am very dependent on Social Media. For example, Instagram. One day I thought it would be a great idea to teach my audience about Instagram so I made a challenge. It was free and a lot of people joined and they were happy with their results. So I said, hey let’s do it again but this time I’ll charge 47 dollars… Nobody bought it. Why? Because I had zero credibility as an Instagram instructor. Since that day, I stick to my lane and use the knowledge of others to compliment my teachings.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Listen to your audience; always ask them what they need. Although, sometimes it may be true that they don’t know what they need until you present it to them. It is always best to know that what you are working on actually has a market.
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?
I got where I am because of hard work but I didn’t get here alone. There has always been a person or two along the way that has shown me the path.
I would say my business coach, Gregory. One day he asked me a question I will never forget. I was stressed because money was not coming in and I was always busy. Working like no tomorrow because there was no other way to bring money. He got me on a call and said I watched your last recording and what I saw today is not you. You were pushing the sale!
Then he asked me to name all the business I was managing at the time. I named one by one and at the end he asked me the following question: which one would you Marry? He continued… when you are young and dating you know when that woman is only a girlfriend or if she could be your wife? Sit down and think of all the businesses that you mentioned which one would you marry?
After thinking about it, my answer was clear. I said coaching; I love coaching but is what makes me the less money… He said then marry that one. Which one you cannot stand? I named a couple, then he said is time to say goodbye to them. I was afraid but I followed his advice, a week later the Print on Demand University was born.
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?
Amazon and even Wal-Mart 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?
I have been selling on Amazon for 5 years now and at the same time have operated my own stores on Shopify and Etsy. Covid hit us hard, there is no doubt about it. Yet, one thing I have seen is that people have prioritized buying from small companies. There is a reason why Etsy has record sales this year. Not everyone needs their purchases shipped in less than 2 days. China can always sell for cheaper but shipping has become a headache to them.
More people are buying online this year than any other time in history. It is a huge opportunity for small E-commerce sellers. Daily I hear people in my community say they are having strong sales and record months.
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?
They over complicate things, people like things simple. They want to know why they need it and what problem it will solve. The attention span of an ecommerce buyer is very small. You have seconds to grab their attention. A long boring never getting to the point copy is why most products fail to sell.
In your experience, which aspect of running an ecommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Credibility, costumers need to feel they trust you to buy from you. I have seen websites without a contact me page which in my point of view is business suicide.
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?
I wouldn’t have a business without being able to capture emails. To me not having an auto-responder like Active campaign is unimaginable. I use Acuity for scheduling my prospect and coaching calls. Google calendar is a free option that helps me stay organized.
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?
Running Facebook Ads is all good and stuff but is a small part of the equation. Being able to retarget the potential customers that visit your stores is essential. Being able to capture e-mails to re-engage them back to our stores is must. Conversion rates are a small percentage of all the visitors on our store. Even a small variance on the conversion rate could mean thousands of dollars more on sales.
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?
Besides product quality, what customers appreciate the most is timely customer service. Investing on quality training on how to keep customers happy is fundamental to keep them coming back. A brand is useless unless you can get a costumer back to buy more.
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?
A person that received bad support or a low quality product is more inclined on leaving a review. Sometimes, customers don’t even bother reaching out to solve a problem. They go to and post a negative review. Most of this reviews could be avoided by lettings the customer know from day one, that you have an open line of communication. Having a phone number or an easy to locate contact us page can decrease negative reviews. In any case you get one; you should always reach out to the customer and try to rectify whatever it is bothering them. Most customers will remove any negative feedback if you are a helpful problem solver. They may even change it to a positive review.
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.
1. Find your Niche. When I began selling Print on Demand shirts with horse designs were hot, people love their horses. I had my designer made a few horse designs. After putting them on sale, the amount of negative comments on my listings was nonstop. I had no idea a horse looked different from other races. To find a winning product, you have to first find the niche you are passionate about. You cannot focus on selling something you don’t believe on. Creating content on something you know nothing about can end of causing exhaustion and eventually quitting.
2. Do your Research. Before you even begin selling something, always do some research and see if there is a market. Creating a product because you think it will be a success is always bound to fail.
Knowing how much people pay for similar products. Also, identifying if such product will be profitable. 2 Years ago, Laser etched Tumblers were the hottest product on Etsy. I used to sell them for 35 dollars each plus shipping. Today, you are lucky if you get 19.99 dollars. Sellers are making the tumblers from home. Eliminating the middle men hence the cost of goods sold. Sellers still try to get the 35 dollars but no sales, less than that would be unprofitable if using a production partner.
3. Build an Email List. An E-Commerce business without an Email list is bad business. You cannot build a business without growing your list. You need it invite your customers to come back. Yes, you can run ads and bring new ones, but ads are costly. Emails are the most affordable marketing technique with the greatest return on investment.
4. Read the terms and conditions of the marketplace or tools you are using for your business. One of the most common causes a person gets their accounts terminated at Marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon is because they infringe on their Terms and Conditions. Mostly because of silly reasons but nonetheless a breach. Knowing what is and what is not allowed will help you stay in business for the long term. Every day I learn of people whose accounts got shutdown claiming there was no reason for it. Yet, after digging a little deeper there always a reason.
5. Outsource. It is difficult to be an Entrepreneur but is even more to be a Solopreneur. Most people I coach are exhausted because they cannot keep up with their schedule. It gets overwhelming with all they have to do. Hiring a Virtual Assistant “VA” to do simple tasks can release a lot of stress from your day to day operations. I have 2 VA helping me with tasks I don’t want to do or that are too time consuming and a little value to my daily operations.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amounts of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My goal is to help people find happiness in their business. Convert hard work into passion and to grow financially to a point of independence. I worked for corporate and although I got paid really well (6 figures) I was never happy as nothing was mine and always had to please someone but myself. I want people to enjoy working on their schedule. I got to watch my third child grow; she was 6 months old when I quit the industry. I was there for her first words, for her first steps, her first day of school and for her first dentist appointment. I haven’t missed anything important in her life. I wasn’t that lucky with my first 2. This is what I want people to enjoy. To live life.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can learn more about my business here https://printondemanduniversity.net/
And they can follow me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/fernando.sustaita.3110
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!