SBI! Reviews: Selling Your Own Products
The last update was in 2010 I think and there has been so much that has happened that it is kind of a blur in my mind. But hopefully your visitors will enjoy this and benefit from it in their solopreneur journey, as I surely have learned a lot.
For those of you who are not aware, I run two sides to my business. There is DecksGo.com (an information-rich website with evergreen content) and TitanBuildingProducts.com (our corporate website for everything about our building products business that also includes a dealer map and a store).
DecksGo, our SBI! site since 2004, has been the ultimate performer and one of the most important reasons I have been able to bring new, never seen before products to market.
It's also worth mentioning that DecksGo has never provided a significant income by way of Google Adsense or affiliate commissions. It was always intended to sell our proprietary products so that we would make our own income.
This is all the more relevant today as ad revenue strategies require vast amounts of traffic, which is increasingly difficult to attract. Whereas using the traffic we have to sell our own products, we can generate much higher income and scale up our business. With that being said, here we go...
My site ideas-for-deck-designs.com (as it was known from 2004 until 2013) continued to enjoy organic traffic growth even though I did little updating during the years 2009 to 2012. The building products business was really growing, so I had no time to work on my website.
We bring in readers to DecksGo; that's the funnel where we sell our products that are not yet in stores. We build a large following as they begin to plan their next deck building or backyard project. Building this following is a critical step to our success.
Well, in 2011 and 2012 the bloodletting caused by various Google algorithms began. Our traffic dropped like a stone. We lost at least 50% of our traffic during this period. Our reason for the loss among others was mostly Panda (content quality) issues. We had virtually zero Penguin (bad links) issues.
Traffic went from as high as 11,000 visitors on one day (our zenith) to about 1500 monthly. In peak times, we were averaging easily around 5000 a day during the main season.
I had soooo much work to do it was daunting. I followed all of SiteSell's advice. I had my site converted to BB2 and totally redesigned with the help of a fabulous Sitesell Pro. We also rebuilt the store (store.decksgo.com). We did a 301 redirect and changed to a much better, more brandable name. I hated ideas-for-deck-designs.com since day one but it was considered state of the art at the time.
When traffic drops, so do sales in my store. So the pain was real. To make it even worse, we were having problems with a distribution partner. He was selling almost all our products to a couple of online resellers rather than building physical distribution through lumberyards.
The upshot of all of this was a price war and a big drop in our company revenues. This was quite severe and an existential moment. I did the only thing I could and cut off inventory to the distributor and that channel. We tried to work things out but in the end our businesses were pointed in different directions and so the relationship ended. But the cutting off of inventory resulted in a rather quick improvement, verifying that it was the right decision.
One of the ways we fund R&D and can pay for sales on the road is by also retailing our product, especially to parts of the country where we do not have stores yet.
This is essential if you are trying to build a company like this because you cannot live off of reduced margins until the volumes are quite high. Most companies like mine have to find an investor, or wither. The result of that is you lose part or much of your company. Not me. I own the company 100% and hope to keep it that way, but you have to be realistic.
Amidst all of this doom and gloom I was digging down, meeting with a great mentor, planning exactly what had to be done. I began systematically executing every step on the To Do list. As a result, the fortunes of DecksGo and Titan Building Products were about to rise.
Re-Think, Re-Brand, Re-Build, Re-Commit
Emerging out of 2013 and into 2014 I had...
- rebranded and rebuilt DecksGo.com and the store,
- increased the number of products for sale,
- set up a quarterly newsletter,
- grew the list to over 1500 (and growing),
- created a 7-part deck-building e-course as a free incentive for signing up,
- a brand new corporate website for Titan with a dealer map search function and store
... and the work was just beginning.
2014 and 2015: We Rise Again
Our organic traffic has come back nicely, and we keep working on it. During our peak season we are averaging around 3500 unique visitors a day with as many as 4600 on a single day. A far cry from the heady days of 2011 but we were on firmer ground and our quality of content was much improved.
Our online sales rebounded significantly and our efforts to replace the income stream from the former distributor paid off as we worked very hard to set up new lumberyards ourselves.
Our sales increased 40% in 2014 and increased about 80% from that in 2015. Our products were now really catching on in the US and Canada. Our sales rep continues to push for new distributor and lumberyard accounts and is slowly but surely building a solid base, which in turn is making larger partners take notice.
We were recently brought into the national distribution centers of the Home Hardware network across Canada, which provides easy access for all 1,100 stores to get products without shipping costs within seven days if they do not already stock.
One of our new products, a helical footing system for decks that drills into the ground with a hand held impact wrench, has taken off. Fine Homebuilding magazine wrote an article on it in August 2015 which caught lots of attention and is helping increase sales even more on this product. We have a real link to our site now from the number one magazine in my industry. That took many years to achieve.
I am continuing to develop many new and very, very cool products. This is what I love doing, and then feeding them into the business channel.
We also are doing interesting articles for experts in my industry. We will tell our readers how a new type of decking material is made and how it can help them in various ways. We have the article authored by the expert but I ghost write it to make if fit. We work with the person to ensure that the article satisfies our quality standards. Then we develop high quality links based on real informational and editorial content. We also blast it out in our newsletter.
We hired a student to help us build a Pinterest account and maintain our Facebook page. The online world has become many times more complicated since 2011. We realized that — as Ken has said — it's doing a lot of little things that make the difference.
Need More Space, More Help
Sales have grown so much that we had to start buying 40' containers and using them to store more inventory. If things continue to go well we will need to move to a larger location. For now we adapt without spending a lot of money.
It's also time to hire a person to curate content, work on graphics and marketing for DecksGo and our corporate site. I am no longer able to do the things I used to do.
Our Partner in Success: SiteSell and SBI!
We survived the living hell of 2011 to 2013. Through faith and determination we came out the other side. I have to tell you that SiteSell is one of the finest, if not the very finest company that you as an entrepreneur or solopreneur could ever use.
The things that happened in 2011 were bigger, more global than anything and yet they forced all of us to raise our game. I became so busy growing my products business I could not give the same attention to my site. The pain forced me to dig down and plough through or go home and cry.
I chose to fight with everything I had and that, thank goodness, with some good guidance from SiteSell and my mentor, made the difference.
I am amazed at the wisdom contained in all the products and literature published by SiteSell. If you are starting out you may not yet have come to appreciate this. But you have the very best information right in front of you and it stays current.
Surround yourself with knowledgeable successful people — like the SiteSell team — and you will become the same over time.
Many of my friends continue to try to do it all by hiring a separate web developer, an SEO company. They never learn the little bits, the principal concepts that are needed for you to see how the big picture works. They still feel the pain of tossing money away but continue to think it is the way to go.
Now that I am much bigger than I was I can see the way the thinking arises... You just need a site up and you have no time because you are running another business already. So that is what happens.
With a demanding business and a family, time is my most precious resource. So I understand how that thinking arises. But if you are starting out, you would be very wise indeed to take a deep serious look at all the resources and tools packed into SiteSell. It's ridiculous really. What, $300 or so a year. Enough said.
I am so glad I learned that lesson early on and had the time to focus on using SBI! back in 2004 to get the concepts in my head. We will use SBI! for DecksGo indefinitely.You should too.
More hard work ahead but we are wiser and better prepared. More great articles coming. It's exciting that I will soon have some help to implement my visions for more content. And I can't wait to bring more of my new products to market and make people smile when they use them.
Richard Bergman, LLB
President, Titan Building Products