Episode 54 is the second of four shows in a series on Starting Your WordPress Online Store, sponsored by Bluehost. In this show, we talk with Patrick Rauland, eCommerce consultant and educator on Lynda.com.
This is Patrick’s second appearance on our podcast. Last week, we talked about choosing your eCommerce plugin, but we all know there is so much more to an online store than just building it. Patrick walks us through some of the key elements you need to consider in the early stages of planning your eCommerce site.
We chatted about:
- The essentials to get in place before you start your online store
- What mistakes store owners often make in the beginning
- The importance of planning how you are going to market your new endeavor
- The questions you should ask yourself about whether to start a blog on your site
- Resources Patrick recommends to help you get started
Bob Dunn: Hey everyone and welcome back to the WP eCommerce Show. Bob Dunn here, also known as BobWP on the web. Today’s guest and I share a lot of history. Not only is he my first returning guest—he appeared on show 3 of the first season—but he helped in the months before I started this podcast with some thoughts about the direction that I was thinking about taking with it. This is the second show of our new series, “Starting your WordPress Online Store.” Last Monday, we talked about choosing your eCommerce plugin. If you are going the route of a plugin versus a platform, it plays an important part in the process. That is, we all know it takes a heck of a lot more than just getting that plugin and building your site. Many store owners approach start their E-commerce site without some of these important pieces in place.
Welcome returning guest, Patrick Rauland
This is where our guest Patrick Rauland is going to take us today. Hey Patrick, welcome back to the show.
Patrick Rauland: Hey Bob, thanks for having me. It’s fun to be back.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, in fact I’m going to even drop in a little something here that Patrick will also be joining us a third time. We’ll be doing a live broadcast at Word Camp Miami in the latter part of March. Patrick will make a third appearance and we’re going to do that show live. You’re actually probably going to see our faces, so that’s going to be fun as well.
Patrick Rauland: I have to put on clothes?
Bob Dunn: Yeah, yeah. If I can’t wear pajamas… Or maybe we’ll do it from the neck up or something. Now, the last time you were here you were the lead product manager for Woo Commerce, and I know that lives, careers, things often take twists and turns along the way. We do know that you’re still immersed heavily into eCommerce, so why don’t you catch us up on what you’re doing these days?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I love product management and I wanted to get back into it at some point. I like developing software. I’ve been in the eCommerce world for so long that I’m kind of taking a break from project management, and I’m turning all of my eCommerce knowledge into courses on lynda.com. I am developing most of the eCommerce content for Lynda.com. There’s WordPress stuff, there’s WooCommerce stuff, there’s going to be an EDD course, all sorts of fun things. It’s fun, it’s like a nice change of pace for me to like … I’ve been in eCommerce for three, four, five years, something like that. It’s nice to just package that up into little courses that anyone can consume easily, and get up to speed. It’s fun.
Bob Dunn: Very cool. We’ll be talking a little bit more about your courses later on. I know that I did the training and courses and all that stuff for five or six years. I just loved it. You find you have that certain passion when you start doing it. You think, “Wow, I like this part of it.” Yeah, we’re looking forward to all those cool courses.
Essentials to have in place when you start your online store
I’m going to dive right into these questions. These are really broad questions, but at the same time I know you, and I know the experience you have, and all the coaching you’ve done with helping people get sites online, especially online stores. I think that you’re going to bring some good content here to our listeners.
Now, first. Depending on all the things that you have to have for your online store, and there are so many variables because every online store is different. What are the top essentials to get in place before you start that online store?
Set up your tax structure
Patrick Rauland: Generally I’m a fan of launching your store right away and learning as you go. But, there are some things that are worth setting up before you launch. Probably the most important thing is taxes. It’s just because taxes are so complicated, and so location- specific. Your friend in the next town might only have to charge taxes on one thing, but you being in this different town have to charge taxes on 20 million things. You have to know what Nexus is, and where you have it, and if you have employees somewhere, if you sell on Amazon. It’s really complicated.
I generally recommend getting a third-party service to do all of it for you. I know that the guy from, I’m going to mess up his name, Mark Faggiano, from Tax Jar spoke at last year’s Woo Conf. and he talked about how complicated it is. Then there are so many services that can do all that for you for like, I think Tax Jar does it for like 20 bucks a month, and they just do all of your taxes, all of … They just know everything for you, and they help prepare your taxes at the end of the year. It just saves so much time. When you think about paying someone 20 bucks a month to save you 40 hours at the end of the year, that’s like a no brainer.
Start collecting analytics data on day one
The second thing, I think is Google Analytics. Just because it’s never too early to start collecting data. If you start collecting data on day one, then when you want to start looking at getting more customers, you have a place to start.
Bob Dunn: I think that most of those are really good because sometimes, especially with analytics, and the taxes, there’s so much around that. But with that Linux, that people tend to think, “Oh, now I’m hearing everyone talking about analytics, I’ve been doing this for a while. Maybe I should start looking at things that could save me a lot of time.”
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, I think with analytics , there’s a proverb. I’m going to mess it up. It’s something like, “The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago, the second best time to plant a tree is today.” Which is kind of like, analytics are one of those things that are only useful when you have months or years of data. Just set it up on day one, then if a year from now you need that data, now you have it. Where as if you need the data a year from now and you set it up, you have to wait another year. It’s just worth setting it up right away.
Bob Dunn: That’s excellent. That’s what I’ve done. I started analytics way back when I started my blog. Now I have all this history because as I started to actually monetize the blog more versus selling services, I could go back and look at what’s working, what’s not, and that … Moving this whole site, and starting this podcast around E-commerce was a huge part of that.
Patrick Rauland: Yep, yep.
The biggest mistakes people make when planning their online store
Bob Dunn: Now on the other side, you told us a couple of things there. What are a couple of the biggest mistakes that you see people make when they start planning their online store?
Patrick Rauland: I think the hardest thing is not the technology, the technology is not the hardest part of eCommerce. I think the hardest thing is to get traction: to get traffic, which is traction. That means … It is hard enough. If you have an email signup form on your website, you know how hard it is to get people to sign up for that. Let alone to get someone to trust you enough to purchase something from you. I think planning on how to get people to your site, and through your funnel, through the checkout, is the most important thing you can kind of do now.
Just a couple weeks ago I was talking to a store owner here in Denver, and they sell leather purses, and bags, and they tried SEO, and content marketing. Things that other people are like, “Oh, this is the best. You have to try this.” They kept experimenting, and they found out that what works really well for them is micro influencers, meaning like people posting pictures on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, does more for their site then all the SEO and all the content marketing they do. They’ve now focused on, they’ve made it as easy as possible for people to take pictures of their leather bags and post it on Twitter, and that just works better for them.
I just want to, I want to emphasize that you don’t know what’s going to work for your brand, so you have to be willing to experiment. You have to go, “Hm, I think SEO and content marketing are going to be good,” and for most eCommerce sites they are. But, really what sells a leather bag? Probably the picture. They kept experimenting, and they eventually found what got them traction.
A plan for getting traffic and traction
Bob Dunn: That kind of touches on what I was going to ask in the next question that segues into it as far as marketing your site, because you’re marketing your product, which in turn you’re marketing your site, and trying to get traffic and traction. Are there any real tips besides … And I totally get what you’re saying, because this is what I’ve done. I’ve learned to be incredibly flexible. I’ve always done this in business, whether it’s online or way back when I was in the print business, or actually designing print material, is practice, do things, things that fail, move on. Just keep experimenting. When you are marketing your site, or thinking about marketing your site and you’re starting that online store, are there any specific tips you might want to pre-plan for just as far as, “Okay, I’m going to try all these different things, see how they work out.” Is there any solid basis to start with?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, so I mean you don’t want to jump out of a plane without a parachute. You have to have a plan. I think kind of like with, this is such a weird metaphor. If you jump out of a plane and your parachute doesn’t work, you have a backup. Just have, “Here’s what we’re going to do, and if that doesn’t work we have some other ideas.” I think that’s the best way to handle it. I do think it’s important to think about … Right off the gate, for E-commerce people, when you think about marketing your site I think SEO is solid, content marketing is solid, and social media can be solid depending on what type of product you have. If it’s a very visual product, then I think that works very well. Those three are probably some of the best areas to start with.
This is a crazy random world, and you need to be able to adapt. Bob, do you listen to Planet Money?
Bob Dunn: No, I’m not. I’ll have to check it out.
Lemons to lemonade: one farmer’s story
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, it’s this awesome podcast about economics, and I think it’s NPR. It just talks about money, and economics, and how everything works. They had this amazing episode last week, about this organic farmer uses chickens to fertilize his fields, and he lets them run around, and poop on the ground, which fertilizes the fields so that the cows can eat the grass. The problem is that it’s an open field, so bald eagles started showing up. After a couple years he had 80 eagles on his property, and they killed over 100 chickens a day. Because they’re endangered, he can’t do anything about it.
He’s like, “Well now if I want to be organic, I can’t, what do I do?” Instead of complaining about it, or breaking the law, or suing the government, which is what other people would do, he just decided to charge people entrance fees to take pictures of the eagles. Enough photographers come to his farm, they take pictures of the eagles, and the fee that the photographers pay offsets the cost of how many chickens they eat everyday. I just, I just think it’s a great metaphor for life. I promise you, any marketing plan you have will explode at some point. Maybe not in this year, maybe like five years from now, something will explode or break. You just need to be ready to adapt. When life gives you murderous bald eagles, just start charging entrance fees.
Bob Dunn: That’s really interesting because it is, it’s like being flexible, and not … Too many people get bogged down when they get hit with something like that. Like you said, they’re, “How can I get around this? Am I just going to go ahead and keep doing it?” Whatever, you know? There’s this idea that, “Oh, I’m doomed, I’m doomed, there’s no way.”
Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep.
Bob Dunn: Looking at it from a totally different perspective. It’s kind of that optimistic, looking at the glass half empty or half full.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, that’s a perfect example Bob. This farmer, he could have complained, he could have started a multi-year process of suing the government about endangered species ruining his blah, blah, blah. But he didn’t. He’s like, “Okay, that could work but it’s going to take years, and I’ll probably go out of business in the meantime. How do I fix the problem with what’s in my control today?” There are a lot of unfair things in the world, and we should try to fix those, but we should also work with what we have right now today to fix our immediate problems.
Bob Dunn: Right, exactly. That sounds like a great story, wow.
Should an online shop owner have a blog?
Now, you talked a bit about content marketing, and I know that we had Nichole from WooCommerce come on and talk about blogging, and online stories sometime back. I just want to kind of revisit that as far as what you think a store owner should ask themselves if they start thinking about, “Okay, should I have a blog, or shouldn’t I? What should I do? Is it really worth it, is it just going to be a time suck?” Or does it really depend on what they’re selling, what their own efforts are putting into marketing. There’s all these questions they’re going to be asking themselves. What’s your words of wisdom?
Patrick Rauland: I think it’s a good question, and I think you need to answer this question honestly. I think it’s like realistically, how often are you going to post on your blog? If you’re going to post once a year on your blog, just about any eCommerce platform can handle that. Even the most basic ones can handle that, just like a once a year update about Christmas or something. Any eCommerce platform can do it, and it adds a teensy marginal bit of value.
I think if you plan on blogging often, let’s say like once a week, then I think that’s where WordPress shines. If you can commit to blogging once a week about a certain set of topics, then I think WordPress is awesome. I just read this book, it’s called, “Big Magic,” which is about creativity and writing. I have to say, don’t blog just for the sake of blogging. Do it because you’re genuinely interested in writing, or interested in talking about your products. If you’re just doing it because that’s the best way to get customers, I think that will show up in your writing. It’ll be fake, it’ll be forced, it’ll seem empty.
I have to say, like me personally, I started writing about WooCommerce years ago because I was genuinely interested. Someone would send in a support ticket and be like, “Hey, can I do this?” I’m like, “Pfft, I don’t know.” I would spend the entire afternoon figuring out how to do it, and then I’d write up a blog post on how to do that thing. It was genuinely interesting to me, and I think that’s why my early blog posts are still, some of them still show up in the search results even though they’re like three years old, because they were genuinely useful, interesting stuff.
Now, like if someone asks me a very similar question, I don’t tend to write about it because it doesn’t interest me anymore. I tend to write more about business topics, and entrepreneurship, cash flow, maybe more boring topics to other people. If you don’t write about something that’s not … If you try to write about something that’s boring to you, I think it’ll show up in your writing. If you can genuinely write about something interesting related to your products, then definitely do blogging. If you don’t, then maybe pick a different channel.
Bob Dunn: Exactly, and I think that’s a good point because if you force yourself to start writing about your products, I think that’s going to come across as a big ad. Your blogs are just going to look like ads, you know?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah.
Bob Dunn: “Here’s this product, blah, blah, blah. Here’s this product, blah, blah, blah.” I know that we talked a little bit about story telling. Everybody talks about story telling, and bringing in people to talk about your products which I think is a good option, but it’s something that, again, you would want to mix it up, I think. You just wouldn’t want story after story after story, you would want to be able to bring in some other content.
I think, again, that’s an option if it works for you. It’s tough to get people to actually … I mean, some people love telling, they’re excited about what they bought, or how they used it. But on the other hand there’s some people that just freeze up. You say, “Could you write a post, or could I interview you or talk to you about how you enjoy the product?” They’re like, “Oh my god, I’d love to but I don’t want to talk about it.”
Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep. Yep, yep.
Some go-to resources from Patrick
Bob Dunn: There’s got to be some resources that are your go-to resources. I want to hear a little bit more detailed about some of your courses, but also what else do you find out there that’s really helpful in the eCommerce space?
Check out Patrick’s courses on Lynda.com
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, so I do talk a lot about WooCommerce, and setting up WordPress in general on lynda.com, which is also by the way known as like “LinkedIn Learning.” You can find it on either of those two places. If you want to know how to set up analytics, how to track profits within analytics, not just revenue, or how to customize your WooCommerce theme, I have courses on all of that stuff. I do have a free trial link. If you want to just, most of my courses are an hour to two hours, so you can get through them in a day. If you want to have a free trial for 10 days, there’s a link, I have it. It’s lynda.com/Trial/PatrickRauland, and that’s R-A-U-L-A-N-D.
That’s the free trial link. You can use it for free for 10 days. If you were efficient you could get everything for free, which would be, props to you. Some other good resources though. I think when you’re talking about marketing, there’s this phenomenal book called, “Traction.” Now here’s the thing, it is made for startups. They talk about how technology companies can get traction for their technology, for their startup. But I’d say three quarters of the tactics also apply to E-commerce. It just talks about how does SEO work, how does content marketing work, how does getting referrals work, or how does going to a trade show work, or how does public speaking work. How do you measure the results of all of those? It analyzes all these different channels. It’s really useful.
A couple of useful books
There are a couple other books. You want to get the one by Gabriel Weinberg, and Justin Mares. I hope I’m pronouncing their names right. Yeah, get that one. There’s one more book. I’m a huge reader, I try to read two books a month, mostly non-fiction. I think my favorite book from last year was probably, “Originals” by Adam Grant. It’s phenomenal. It talks about how we learn, how we build coalitions within a company, which is like getting everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction. It talks about how we trust people. It’s sort of all the soft skills you need to know to run a company, to live a good life. It’s just all these really useful things. Yeah, Originals by Adam Grant, and Traction By Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares are two awesome books.
Bob Dunn: Do you have any top blog that you tend to visit a lot that talks around eCommerce?
Advice about learning from blogs and podcasts
Patrick Rauland: The way I listen to blogs and podcasts too actually, is I tend to listen to them for like a year, and then I think after a year you’ve kind of absorbed like 80% of all the stuff they’ll ever tell you. Sorry, I realized I’m saying this on a podcast, which is just like terrible.
Bob Dunn: That’s okay.
Patrick Rauland: I tend to listen to podcasts or read a blog for a year. For the last year I’ve been reading Shopify’s blog all the time, and now I’ve kind of, I think I’ve gotten most of what I want out of it. I focus in different directions. How about this? I’ll tell you one of the things I’ve been trying to do more of, is instead of reading blogs, I’ve been following newsletters that pick up different articles from different blogs, and just share them with me. Think like a roundup. There is, let me quickly, I think it’s 2 … Yeah, it’s 2PML.com. It’s basically a newsletter. I think it’s every couple of days, and they just send you stuff about eCommerce.
It tends to be really big picture stuff about what Amazon is doing, and patents that they’re filing. The thing I like about it is I don’t have to read Forbes everyday, I don’t have to read Fortune everyday. They pick up all the awesome eCommerce stuff and put it in the newsletter, and then I scan through it. Most, I’d say every other, most days I don’t even click on any of the links. But maybe every other day I’ll click on a link and read the article. I think it’s a time saving measure now. Yeah, 2PML is a solid newsletter that I’ve been reading.
Bob Dunn: That sounds like a good idea. I like that kind of a resource too where I can just scan things, find what interests me, and move on. Rather than visiting blog after blog. I’ve even found that I’ve over time, there’s some blogs that I do lean to quite a bit. Even then, I usually try to subscribe to them, and just peruse them through the feed because I can’t go from blog to blog obviously. Still, it is time consuming. You’re right, there are some blogs. I can think of certain blogs that I’ve been an avid reader of, and after awhile it’s like, “Okay, well I think it’s time to move on to a different one, and kind of focus on something else.” They taught me, I think, everything they’re going to teach me at this point.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, and that’s fine, right?
Bob Dunn: Oh yeah.
Patrick Rauland: I’m sure WooCommerce and Shopify are targeting the right people. They’re targeting people who are getting into WooCommerce, or getting into eCommerce, and they need to know, “How do I take product photos?” They need to talk about that stuff. Then once you’ve been in the eCommerce space for a year or two it’s like, “Okay, now I need to focus on building a team, or cash flow,” or some other topics.
Bob Dunn: I know even the visitors to my blog, they’re going to be there to a certain point. I’m constantly getting new readers. I’ve had some for years, which God bless their little hearts that they’ve stuck with me that long. There are others who’ve learned what they wanted in that space. Then if you’re specifically, like you said WooCommerce, Shopify, WordPress and eCommerce for me, if they stop using WordPress, or they stop using Shopify for whatever reason in their lives, hey, there’s no interest in it anymore. That unsubscribe makes sense.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah. That’s cool.
Where to find Patrick on the web
Bob Dunn: Well, you certainly gave us some good resources there I think, as far as people pursuing the online store route, and also some broad tips. I know there’s a lot more, we could probably talk forever and ever. Besides Lynda.com, which obviously there’s a lot of great courses there that you have going on. Where else can people find you on the web?
Patrick Rauland: You can find me on my blog, which is SpeakingInBytes, B-Y-T-E-S dot com, where I talk about eCommerce, WooCommerce, Shopify, analytics, all that sort of stuff. You can also find me on Twitter @BFTrick. In probably the next, what, couple months Bob? You and I are working on a super secret project that we can announce a little bit later?
Bob Dunn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I was going to say, do we dare mention that? That’s all we’re going to say is it’s a super secret project from Patrick and Bob. That sounds like a good enough teaser.
Patrick Rauland: I like that.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, no more than that, you’ll just have to wait. You’ll have to subscribe to both of our sites, and follow us on Twitter, and we’ll let you know when it actually evolves. Again, great stuff for today’s show. I just want to thank you, Patrick, for taking the time.
Patrick Rauland: Thank you Bob.