We’re all familiar with the concept of making money off the internet. Some of us may have even been burned by get-rich schemes that lure people in with the promise of quick returns with minimal effort (translation: truckloads of money while you sleep).
Lucky for us, there are folks like John Lawson who are willing to share the real deal on starting and growing a home-business. John is the CEO of 3rd Power Outlet, a home-business which has he successfully grew over the years through eBay.com and Amazon.com. He also founded ColderIce.com, an award-winning online business industry blog. He’s bound to frustrate you if you’re looking for magic schemes to wealth but for those who want real answers, here’s how he earned his powerseller status as a small retailer:
Can you tell us more about yourself? How did you get started on e-commerce?
I got started in ecommerce by need, not by a career choice. I was about to file bankruptcy and needed more money to pay the mortgage on a house that I owned. So I signed up with ebay to sell off some technology books I had in my personal library. They were those thick code books for developers that cost about 40-60 bucks new and would go for about 20-30 on eBay. So I started selling mine and got enough to pay the mortgage and from that day I was hooked. So much so, in fact, that I was going to my parent’s and my sibling’s houses looking for stuff I could sell from them!
That was probably the beginning of my obsession with eBay back then. What started as a way to make money in desperation turned into a part time job with great income. But one day I was sitting at my desk at my day job and wondered, “If I wasn’t spending 8 hours a day working for THEIR company and instead worked 8 hours a day on my OWN company, sourcing and selling products, how successful could my part time gig really become?”
So that day, I started planning my escape (i.e. the exit strategy). Finally, in 2004 I walked out of my position as an information technology consultant at Accenture and became a full time eBay seller. Today we sell products on ebay, Amazon and our webstore at www.3rdpoweroutlet.com
Was there a time when you felt your venture wouldn’t make it?
Yes absolutely, back in 2010 we decided to expand out off our home based business and into a fulfilment house. We moved all the inventory we had up to North Carolina to the fulfilment facility and transitioned the entire operation there. 6 months later, they abruptly shut down with a few weeks’ notice. We have to get that stuff out of the warehouse by the end of the month or it would be in danger of being confiscated! So this was dire straights! We ended up quickly negotiating a deal with another center, but the cost to do the same tasks as the old center nearly tripled in price. But we had really no choice at that point because the stuff need to move. The overhead cost of having to make 2 moves in the same year, plus the unplanned expense of the new fulfilment house nearly brought this business to its knees. But we persevered and now we have our own warehouse facility and our inventory is back in our own possession and we are on track for a killer year in 2012.
What’s the secret to business success – is it ever as simple as driving traffic to your sites or do you need other things?
That question is like asking what is the secret to losing weight … eat less and exercise! I know, no one wants to hear it. We all want to believe in the magic diet pill or the book that will make us slim, but the truth is eat less, exercise more.
So the secret to business success is work hard and don’t over-think the competition. The basics are there and we all know them. Yes you need to drive traffic, optimize for conversion, market to your list and blah, blah blah. It is all there. It’s the doing that is the place we most often falter, and since that is the case, the one that DOES do it, wins. Be different than the crowd, do what it takes to be successful, and you will be successful.
Aside from having a successful online business, you’re also a sought-after small business consultant. What problems usually send small business owners running to you?
I have been fortunate to have the ability to take complex strategies and distil them down to the core components and communicate that understanding for fast, actionable, profitable results in their business. You want to check out ColderICE when your business is ready to make that leap to the next level in your market and you want deep market discovery. If you are an offline entity and are ready to branch into online commerce, then I am your guy. If you want to take your single channel and spread the inventory to multiple channels, call me. And if you want to find your market and use social strategies to reach that base, you really need to check us out.
You’re also known not only for being social media savvy but also for the ability to leverage social media for business. We’re a bit intrigued by the concept of social commerce – or the use of social media to sell to people. Can you tell us more about this – what is your definition of social commerce? Isn’t “don’t sell” the number one rule of social media marketing?
Nobody wants be sold to, but we all want to buy. If you’ve got the remedy to the ailment, you don’t need to sell it to the ailing, you just need to show him the results of the product. Social media is completely about human to human interaction. What makes me excited is that social commerce is not NEW, yet many so-called experts on the topic speak as if this were some great phenomenon about to jump to the front of the line. Walk around any ecommerce partner pavilion and they are on every aisle with flashy booths touting the “new social commerce” model.
But to a guy like me who has been on eBay for over 10 years, I realize that eBay was social commerce BEFORE there was a name for it. eBay connected people for one reason and one reason only, commerce. Human to human connection over buying stuff…HELLO!!! That is social commerce and I have been doing it, studying it, living it for over a decade. You want to know what is coming with social commerce, look to the path blazed by eBay, especially in the early years. It is about the marketing of niches to the ones interested and ready to purchase. The tools today just make the spread easier, they make the finding of the niche buyer more precise and the transaction smoother.
But to sum up the definition in a sentence for social commerce … My mom went to the corner butcher shop back in the day and that butcher knew the cut of meat my mom liked, and he had it ready for her every Wednesday afternoon to pick up … that IS social commerce.
What should small businesses do in order to get themselves heard above the noise (not just on social media but in the Internet in general)?
There was a “lie” being spread a few years ago, that lie was that “content is king” … So not true! Content was not king, and never was – it was CONTEXT that was and is the supreme ruler of the web. It is not the words, but the context that precedes and follows the words. You stand out above the noise when what you are saying is NOT noise. Oh, I want to rank for this keyword, so I create noise with 30 mentions of the keyword to try and fool the Google crawler. But we forget, the Google crawler does not buy from us, the customer does, humans do. If you write and create content that speaks to the reader and NOT the search engine, you win!
And ultimately Google and its robots will catch up with YOU and not the other way around. Google Panda did not hurt those who created good reader content, simply because Google is always improving to get to be more and more like what a human would look for. If you write for the human reader, Google will catch up, and most importantly you will not be part of the noise, and your content will stand out.
As one of the speakers for Conversion Conference, what can attendees look forward to at your session in Chicago?
The session is called “Social Persuasion: Selling More Through Influence & Authority.” I have been really working with persuasion in long copy and recently it occurred to me that using the tactics of persuasion in the world of social media and commerce in particular was a perfect match. When it comes to social media, you don’t just want to be part of the conversation, you want to be heard, repeated, valued and influential. In Chicago you will leave that session with the 6 weapons of influence and the 5 methods for transactional success in online commerce. Small or large retail, you need to know the words that will make them click.
So, if you plan to start your own business or already own one and are looking for techniques to grow it through social commerce, don’t miss out on John’s session at Conversion Conference Chicago. Do register by midnight on Friday, May 11th to save as much as $600 on your pass with Early Bird price + SEJ exclusive discount.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!