Find a product that can solve a problem. It could be as specific as preventing other animals from eating your chicken feed to as simple as providing an organic oral breath spray to make you feel more confident with a fresh mouth all day. At the end of the day, if you can sell a product that will make another human’s life better by helping them either survive or thrive then you have a good chance of building a business.
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 Russell Masters.
Self-styled idea designer, Russell is not your average nerd. His superpower in the digital marketing tech-space is finding solutions to just about any challenge or idea thrown at him. An award-winning web designer, Russell brings over two decades of experience blending the worlds of hospitality, tourism, and digital marketing. He has helped many businesses navigate and adapt to the technological age of marketing and branding.
Russell now serves as the Chief Operations Officer and Co-founder of Creatively Disruptive, a full-service digital marketing agency that helps small businesses grow through web development, design & marketing services.
When not at his desk, he will either be found hanging out at the mountains skiing or his local surf beach in New Zealand with his best friend, who happens to be his wife.
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 started my professional career as a chef in New Zealand. After about a decade in that field traveling around New Zealand and Australia, I discovered a passion and talent for helping struggling restaurants understand their “why” and help them better position themselves for their diner’s market, which gave me a taste for marketing and branding.
After getting married, I quickly saw that the chef life was not for me as a family man, which, after studying Psychology for three years, led me into web development by having dabbled in it recreationally. The natural progression was back to the interest I had developed for branding and marketing, but with a new skill of really understanding the systematic frameworks behind most things digital.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Visiting San Diego with my cousin and now business partner, Andy Seely, we were both involved in tourism marketing at some level. Both, not 100% satisfied with where we were within our current businesses. After having a casual conversation about working together to create something remarkable and within a couple of hours, Creatively Disruptive was born. The real “aha” moment was us understanding how, with Andy being a natural sales guy and me a natural tech guy, we were the perfect team.
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?
Starting out was tough, we had a great idea but no customers and no real idea of how to get them as quickly as we needed to actually get paid from this new venture. Working two jobs almost gave my family enough money to live on and the pair of us settled into a lot of very long weeks, grinding to build a company from scratch. I never really thought about quitting, I am just not really wired that way but that’s not to say I didn’t question what we were doing and how. The key, for me, was having an unshakeable belief in success in the form of “what will my life look like when I succeed” I truly painted that picture and when you do that it becomes a very powerful driver to push through the pain.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I looked at my “picture of success” from 4 years ago and one thing that really stood out was having the freedom to grab my skis, surfboard or mountain bike, put them on the rack of my new SUV and enjoy a relatively stress free lifestyle. Everyone has their own “why” and finding mine became a mark in the sand for success. While I am still very busy and active in the company, we have a great team and culture within that team that has helped us smash our financial goals every year. This year, COVID notwithstanding, we are set to hit our biggest year of revenue growth.
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?
I was pretty new to conversion optimized landing page design and our first major goal was to design a landing page that could convert visitors into leads. I went through at least 15 iterations of beautifully designed landing pages, focusing on typography and images with layouts that even made me go WOW, and none of them worked. We had a good friend provide some input and she helped us design a landing page, which to this day I cringe whenever I see it. It was text heavy, had hardly any imagery and just looked downright terrible, and it converted visitors into leads, day after day for a year. The lesson in this is to truly understand that your customer is the central person in any story you tell through the copy on your website or landing page. Speak to them, these potential customers, speak with empathy to their internal and external pains and frustrations and present a solution that alleviates those painful frustrations for them and you will have a much better chance of converting than a beautiful landing page that tells them how amazing you are as a business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have always said to our customers that we are there for them, that our goal is to help them, to be the team behind their team. Everyone knows that many companies love throwing statements like that around in their advertising but how many people truly believe it, how many customers truly experience it? When the COVID pandemic started sweeping through the world almost every customer of ours was affected in some way or other. This was our chance to prove that our statements were more than lip service and though waived fees, free training programs, creating virtual products for clients to use at no cost to help generate revenue in new and innovative ways to simply being in our clients corner offering help, we were able to put our money where our mouth is. I really learned from this and from comments from so many clients that it’s not enough to simply say you have the clients best interests at heart, you need to seek ways to truly demonstrate it. To this day we have kept our marketing academy open to all small business owners as a “Pay What You Can” model so that they can have access to a resource to teach themselves how to do what we do for other businesses.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Get a team and make sure that everyone on that team is smarter than you in at least one area and then learn to delegate. Add to that by constantly looking at your internal systems for ways to increase efficiency, not so you can squeeze every last dollar from your employees, but rather so your employees can work in an efficient environment that allows them to be the best version of themselves. Wrap that up with a weekly CEO report that you get every one of your team leads complete with a where are we at, what have we done to improve and is there anything preventing us from achieving our goals. Read it every week and use it to give you the pulse of the business from individual client accounts to entire departments.
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?
There are three key people, my wife Donna, my business partner and our CEO Andy Seeley, and my mentor from our formative days, Cat Howell. Cat was the one that helped us create the horrible looking landing page that made a lot of money for us in our early years. A story I will share is about my business partner, he is a great CEO with an unwavering passion for success and a heart as big as that passion. I received a huge parcel in the mail one day and upon opening it found a large canvas print of a guy standing at the top of a mountain pinnacle with the words “The Person On Top Of The Mountain Didn’t Fall There” This small gesture had potentially the biggest impact on me as a partner and a business person and something inside me shifted that day. Because sometimes, it’s the smallest acts that can propel you forward on a journey of success.
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?
The first thing I highly recommend, if you are already selling online, is to start spending more money. All of our established eCommerce clients have had budgets increased from as low as 50% to as high as 300% in their pay per click budgets simply due to the fact that more people are at home.
The second tip, which follows the fact that more people are at home and potentially spending more time online, is to really invest in your brand messaging. Videos, user generated content and stories from your business go a long way to building credibility with new audiences and we are seeing an increase in brand story consumption right now. This is the perfect strategy for building audiences that really start to “get you” as a brand.
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?
Understand your “why” and tell your story, Simon Sinek gave a fantastic Ted Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action on understanding your why back in 2009 and we encourage all our clients to watch it. By understanding your why and learning how to tell stories using tools such as https://www.mystorybrand.com/ from Story Brand you will be able to build a community of people who want to be a part of that story. This, I believe, has been the future of ecommerce marketing for some time now. When people become inspired by your stories and want to become characters, they will buy.
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?
The biggest mistake we see is not being invested into actually growing a brand and a community of customers around that brand. Following that, when new eCommerce business owners buy into tactics that are purported to generate ridiculously high conversions using methodologies such as misleading or completely false, click bait style elements on ads and landing pages like false stock alerts and promotions they can find it very hard to build customer lifetime values and good return customer rates. This hurts the potential longevity of a business and should be avoided at all costs.take the time to build your brand, to create your story and to build a community of raving fans by sharing it. Finally, and this is the most common of all mistakes seen, is a poorly targeted, scattergun approach to digital marketing. Spending time understanding and testing all elements of your digital marketing from targeted audiences to creative and messaging will pay off in dividends when you get it right.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Customer service, so many clients we work with find themselves either burning the midnight oil responding to customers or simply falling short of responding to clients due to lack of time. When your online business starts to scale your customer service requirements are going to grow very quickly and almost exponentially. A tip here is to use a live chat with programmable automations so that you can allow customers to lookup up order statuses, automatically answer FAQs and direct people to find parts of your website easily by asking questions.
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?
Build on your store on Shopify, integrate your email marketing with Klaviyo, setup a CRM with Hubspot, learn to create amazing graphics with Canva and get good at using Zapier for any automations you need to create to make life easier.
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?
Increasing conversions comes down to fully understanding the buyer’s journey from seeing an ad right through to the final step of purchasing a product. Within the agency, when looking at conversions, we teach our team to break down the journey into ad delivery, ad engagement, and the transaction stage, view product, add to cart, initiate checkout and purchase. When you break it down like this then as an eCommerce owner you will be able to see where, in the buyer’s journey, the conversions are having issues. For example, poor sales conversions are identified with low engagement due to audience targeting being off and this gives you the knowledge to test new audiences to increase engagement and ultimately purchase conversions.
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?
One of the key pieces of advice when responding to negative reviews is to write your response for the next person who is going to read it. For example if Bob leaves a negative review, while obviously addressing the concern whether fair or not, think of how the response will be read by a new customer when they see what you wrote in response to a negative review that they have just read when checking your business out. Be honest, tactful, and be sincere in your offer to correct whatever problem may have arisen.
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.
- Do something you are passionate about and have knowledge on — One of our clients who sells organic tea, absolutely loves her tea, the ceremonies around tea and the intricacies of making various tea varieties. This shows in her creativity, her website and her community where she is very active. If you don’t have that passion, hire someone, or take on a partner who does.
- Find a product that will sell and please do your market research. Plenty of your friends may tell you it’s great but ask them to do two things, 1: open their wallet and 2: get two of their friends to do the same. Extend your marketing research using platforms like Kickstarter to research and launch new ideas.
- Find a product that can solve a problem. It could be as specific as preventing other animals from eating your chicken feed to as simple as providing an organic oral breath spray to make you feel more confident with a fresh mouth all day. At the end of the day, if you can sell a product that will make another human’s life better by helping them either survive or thrive then you have a good chance of building a business.
- Find your why so that it can create a brand story and learn how to tell it in a narrative that is engaging and inspiring. At Creatively Disruptive we want to help as many business owners, their families and the families of the people who work for them, by removing financial worries. We have been through the struggles of starting a small business and we understand how the success can impact not only our own families but also the families of our employees. We want other business owners to experience that. Oh, and by the way, we do this by helping them get more customers everyday with digital marketing. So find your why and tell your story, that’s what people are buying from you.
- Do not shy away from spending money on the operational and production side of your eCommerce business. Free can be good but it’s not always great. This includes your website and the platform it’s built on, advertising, graphic design, CRM (customer relationship management software, email marketing, video production, photography, copywriting and brand building. Poor infrastructure will fail you, good infrastructure will grow with you.
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 would love to have a “HUMAN” badge that was worn by anyone on this earth who believed they are human first and that there is no larger community than the one we call humanity.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!