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"There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path." Buddha

Platforms

March 4th, 2014

They are generally 2 types of online selling platforms.

Type A: One that allow others to sell on it (eBay, Lelong, Rakuten, Mudah.my, Taobao) and ,

Type B: One that sells directly to customers (Amazon, Home Depot).

Note to merchants (sellers) who are offered both platforms from the same company. If you don’t manufacture your own products or owns the brand you sell, it’s a matter of time before your sales is ‘usurped’ by the company because they know exactly what you sell and who your customers are.

That’s what big companies do. They eat the small ones to get bigger.

Read about how Amazon utilizes 3rd party sellers (The Everything Store by Brad Stone) to gain insights on market trends and demands.

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Success is Overrated, Endorse Failure Instead

January 27th, 2014

We always like to hear about the success stories of a business, or an entrepreneur who struck jackpot on his first start up. Or a killer product that spread like wildfire on Facebook. But be careful with all these sweet glossy stories of ‘success’, because if you really notice, most of these success stories don’t tell you the whole picture. These success stories barely touch the surface of the struggles and the inner revolution that constantly send the entrepreneur to the brink of their sanity. Until they gave up that is.

When someone successful tells you why he is successful, you would believe everything that he says. Even if he tells you that his success is largely attributed to his vegan diet. You see, successful people often times don’t know why they are successful. Hence the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Because if you try to improve the recipe, you might wreck what’s the already working, and since nobody can really pinpoint what’s making it tick, it’s better not to touch anything. “FRAGILE” is labeled all over the glass of success.

See all the big companies that’s making millions everyday? They are bloody dull and boring companies, but hey, at least their bottom line has been black for the 50 years. So, if you try something creative here, you are not going to last very long.

The thing about success is, it’s an oxymoron. Like a sad joker. A faithful playboy. You see, all worthy successes is almost always built on failures.

In fact, what’s most important is the failure stories, which most of the success people seldom describe in details. Partly because those are the chapters in their lives where their ego is most threatened and bruised. No, they are not going to reveal their weakness to the world unless of course, you are smart enough to read between the lines. That’s why it’s good to read an unauthorized autobiography, because you get the author’s actual perspective on the subject, not what the subject wants the author to write.

And the good thing about learning from other’s failures is you save yourself a heck load of trouble. It’s like getting a good discount. Of course, not every failures you read is applicable to your situation, but so are the successes. The really good successful people I know shared with me of the pitfalls they faced in their ventures, and how they overcome it. There’s really no point for me to ask, “Where did all those figures in your bank account comes from?” How do you think they are going to answer that? Oh, you have to be honest in your dealings. Oh, you have to be good to your customers. Oh, you have to build a system. Oh crap!

There’s so much we can learn from a single failure than a hundred successes. There’s a Chinese saying that goes, “Failures is the Mother of All Success.” Yes, failure is female in the Chinese 5000-year culture. And the 5000-year culture has collectively concluded that you can only build the tower of success using bricks of failures. If not, your success is unlikely to last very long.

And Michael Jordan said this, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

And when Michael Jordan says he failed over and over again, I believe him. To me, his words is as true as truth. This is coming from the God of basketball. And when Michael Jordan says failure is the way to success, you better believe it. Or you’re not going to Heaven.

For a change, if you find yourself not seeing any positive changes after reading all these success stories, maybe there’s really something wrong with your reading material. In all likelihood, what you probably lack are the lessons on failure.

Remember this: We are born to fail, but we are never born as failure.

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Stock What You Sell

January 18th, 2014

Selling your products online may sound easy, but if you are going to make it a full time job, then be prepared to go through the same survival-of-the-fittest challenges that will be thrown upon you.

The reality is much tougher than it looks. You may have heard of the term ‘drop-ship’, where you actually sell something that is not in your own inventory. Instead, you actually ask your supplier or manufacturer to drop-ship your orders for you. This may sound like a very good arrangement, but very often, your customer service’s quality will be compromised. Speed of delivery is out of your control. The way the items are packaged is out of your control. The stock level is out of your control. With so many things out of your control, you are risking your reputation.

Yes, drop-shipping may help to alleviate your cash flow issue, but it also introduces many problems into your operation. When you drop ship, you don’t receive the goods in your warehouse hence causing your stock level to be negative. You then setup a virtual warehouse for each of your suppliers to solve the goods receiving problem. And virtual warehouses can become an administrative nightmare when it comes to tallying your stocks.

So, I can only tell you this- if you are indeed serious about selling your products, stock them. Stock just enough to last for a 2 weeks if cash is tight. If possible, stock up to 30 days.

Why are you not stocking them now? Probably you are not confident about selling them. If so, talk to your suppliers and ask them for consignment. If you can’t get consignment, ask them if you can exchange the goods with similar value products. If you want to return the stocks for good, is there a restocking fee (usually 10-15%)? Some suppliers demand cash on delivery, but if you can find suppliers who can provide you with 30 days credit, then you get yourself some breathing space. When we started 12v.com.my, one of our suppliers was kind enough to give us 120 days credit. That was one of the critical factors that allowed the company to last till today.

Back to the stock issue. Since you don’t have all the money in the world (at least not yet), you cannot stock everything you are selling on your website. So, the key in stocking up is priority. Naturally, you want to stock the items that you sell the most, but starting out, you probably don’t have the data to back you up on which item would be in demand, and most importantly, if certain demand trend is picking up, or dying off.

This is where your intuition plays a big role. Yup, logic can only help with facts and figures, but if you are trying to look into the future, you have to start using your sixth sense. By that, I don’t mean you are gambling. Real entrepreneurs don’t gamble, because in a game of chance, they know the odds are always against them.

There are a number of factors that will cause your product to sell like hot cakes or turn your hot cakes into cold turkeys. Here are a few reasons I can think of:
1) competition; some is good, too much or too little is no good
2) stock availability; if it’s easy to get anywhere, it’s probably more challenging to sell
3) profit margin; the higher the profit, the better you can wage a price war, but don’t get addicted as the winner of a price war means you just created a low profit business for yourself
4) mass appeal; if given a choice between selling chicken eggs or a Bugatti Veyron gearbox, always choose the eggs.

But the most important factor, more than any of the ones listed above, is your opinion towards the product itself. Simply because your opinion on the object you are selling matters. Are you already sold on the product yourself? Would you disown your own family members if they don’t buy from you? Would your friend associate you as the ambassador of the product you are selling? If you don’t have a favorable opinion on the product you are selling, you won’t go the extra mile in pushing them to the market. No, you cannot be neutral about it either. In fact, you have to be extremely biased.

So, you now know how to get the right product to stock. Now, go sell it.

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How to Build Traffic to Your New e-Commerce Store

November 25th, 2013

73/365 : a walk in pasar malam

We all know that getting the first throng of traffic to our site is always the hardest. And this challenge is further amplified when you have no idea how you should measure your traffic building strategies, and whether you are getting more noise than real prospects.

If you don’t know what you want, that’s exactly what you are going to get.

In other words, you must be specific. When it comes to traffic building for your website, there are really many things that you can and should try. While applying this scatter-shot approach, it’s equally important to measure how effective each of these methods are so that you can allocate your resources accordingly.

Before we go into the specifics, we must know where we now stand. Simply look at these 3 things first on your Landing Pages:
1) Unique visitors
2) Bounce rate – how sticky are your pages?
3) Average time spent on site by each visitors – Quality information? Are you selling your products or just describing your product using the descriptions provided by your manufacturer?

Notice I mentioned Landing Pages, not your Home Page. Measuring those metrics on your Home Page isn’t very useful if you are a store selling many products, since the Home Page will not have any specific mission, other than to impress your visitors.

Your Home Page usually will likely be an informational page, giving your visitors an idea what kind of product categories you carry and also giving first time visitors a general idea how your website is structured. There are just too many things a visitor can do (which may not be a good thing in some cases) on your Home Page making the data your get from it rather ambiguous. This doesn’t mean it’s not useful but we must now focus on the more pressing issues, such as sales and conversions.

So, all your pages in your website must be optimized and be treated with the same TLC you give to your Home Page, and yes, that includes your Terms and Condition page. Every pages on your website has its unique functions, and it should be designed to accomplish them. Otherwise, they should be removed from your sitemap.

For instance, your “Contact Us” should list down as many information as possible where your customers can contact. Emails, phone numbers, address, GPS location should be in there. If you also have a retail front, include a Waze link or a Google Map link. Instead of using a clip art of a phone, put in a friendly photo of your sales team to give it a personal touch. If getting an enquiry is all you need from your website, then let the visitors know that they will get a mysterious free gift if they ask you a question via email.

Signaller with his instruments makes himself a comfortable seat in an old bath tub

In short, you want to keep improvising the pages on your site so they really work hard for your business.

Next, we are going to figure a strategy to boost these numbers. And a good strategy is first to get a pair of socks and then place yourself in your customer’s shoes. No one other than yourself can provide the most useful inputs in this section. There’s a reason why consultants are not running your business. Consultants are useful for their advice on best practices, upcoming trends and identifying opportunities outside your core business. But they should never ever tell you how to run your business.

So now you are ready to start looking at things from your customer’s viewpoint. Let’s start with the questions they are likely to ask when it comes to searching for products/services that your company offers- the ‘Hows’ and the ‘Whats’. Answering the ‘Hows’ allows you to give an air of authority to your prospects, that you really know your stuff.

If you are selling vintage clocks, you can write about ‘HOW’ to evaluate these clocks in an auction. ‘HOW’ to refurbish a vintage clock. ‘HOW’ to verify authenticity of a vintage clock. From these content, you may get a lot of emails soliciting for free advice, but that’s the whole idea- the ‘Hows’ really gets the conversation going and conversations is the foundation of building trust.

The ‘Whats’ is somewhat definitive, you basically write about the common questions relevant to your industry. Again, it’s to show them your credibility and give a more established feel to your site. Try not to plagiarize if you can help it since major search engines reward originality and visitors prefer reading opinions and reviews, rather than plain product descriptions. Compare an official product description provided by a manufacturer and a simple 100 words testimonial from a recent customer, which one do you think has a higher impact in convincing a customer?

How to Respond to Online Reviews

Also, take into account that you are not the only one offering the products/services. In fact, the odds are very much against you on the web. But fear not, if you are very confident with your products and customer service, in the long run, you are going to win. In the short run, run as fast as you can to get there ;-)

In the next post, I am going to share how you can buy traffic. Like one of my friends always tell me, “if you can solve a problem with money, it’s not really a problem.” And in our context of traffic building, I would like to add that although you can have all the traffic in the world, but what you really need is “Highly Targeted Traffic”.

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No More Whipping the Llama’s Ass

November 21st, 2013

The first ever MP3 player we had back then. There was really lots of awesome skins and visualizations effects you could play with.

WinAmp No More!

On WinAmp.com’s homepage:

“Winamp.com and associated web services will no longer be available past December 20, 2013. Additionally, Winamp Media players will no longer be available for download. Please download the latest version before that date. See release notes for latest improvements to this last release.
Thanks for supporting the Winamp community for over 15 years.”

You’ll be remembered, Mr Llama.

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How to Make Your Family Rich

November 18th, 2013

Rice paddy fields at Dawn

“No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.”

That’s a very interesting quote I keep referring to from Gladwell’s Outliers. It’s a saying originated by Chinese paddy farmers, which literally means, wealth comes to those who works hard with consistency and perseverance. In the book, this is contrasted with the Western culture’s wheat cultivation, where there’s a gap of about a 3-4 months where no significant labor is performed on the field because of the unsuitability of the soil during those period.

Note that, the quote refers to paddy farmers. Hence, their work cycle has to start in the morning, before the sun’s first light.

Today, many of us no longer toil the fields, and we’ve come a long way since the industrial era. Many enterprises I know no longer practice such orthodox way of running their business. Case in point, the very platform I am using to write this short essay is built by Automattic, the company that did away with cubicles and every employee works from home.

Some even say that by not reporting to work by a certain time of a day, one is considered an individual lack of discipline. Of course, if one first agree with the working hours, and has the same idea on productivity and efficiency. If by working from 9 to 5 implies great efficiency, we would have a very effective government service- just look at the hours they put in and the number of people employed by the government. We could easily be the most productive and efficient government on Planet Earth.

What do you say about working hours and it’s effect on productivity and efficiency, especially in the context of a technology-based enterprises (where creativity, innovation, effective problem-solving and decision-making is of utmost importance)?

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