The complete ecommerce launch strategy guide for companies not named Nike or Apple. Inside the pre-launch campaign of a one-person startup that collected over 1K email addresses from enthusiastic buyers on less than $100.00.
Who Needs an Ecommerce Launch Strategy?
This ecommerce launch strategy guide will not be the guide you were expecting, and it’s not only for entrepreneurs who are in the pre-launch phase of their business.
This guide is for anyone who wants to design a successful pre-launch campaign. It’s also for anyone who had an unsuccessful launch and wants to back up and try again. And really, for anyone who will ever launch a new product or a new brand at any point in the future.
But like I said, it won’t be what you were expecting.
We’ve all read those inspirational stories about amazing ecommerce launch strategies. Like the guy who did $20,000 in sales in his first week on a tiny marketing budget making. Or the company that took over a million dollars in pre-orders before their product launch. Or the girl that gained 200K followers on Instagram and was flooded with sales the minute her website went live.
This guide will not be anything like that.
Those stories are inspirational, but there is little in them that can be replicated. Either they had deep pockets and a huge marketing budget, or they created a lucky product that went viral on kickstarter, or they were already Instafamous and were able to parlay that into a lucrative business. But all of those campaigns share one thing in common. And that’s that they are extremely uncommon.
This guide is for the rest of us. This guide is to show you how companies not named Nike or Apple can form a real line of people hungry to buy from you before you launch, just as though you’re about to drop limited edition Jordans or the new iPhone.
In this guide I am going to show you the inner workings of my own pre-launch campaign. I created it without investors and without the help of any web developers to design the automated process.
In grand total I spent less than $100 (I’ll show you what you should spend a little money on and what you shouldn’t), and I did all of the programming myself in a little less than two hours. “Programming” is a strong word because I don’t know anything about programming.
Virtually anyone can replicate what I did in just a few simple steps, even if you don’t know much about websites or marketing campaigns. And the results will speak for themselves.
In the months leading up to my store’s launch, I captured over 1000 email addresses from future customers itching to shop with me while gaining a staggering 6000 followers on Instagram.
And I accomplished all of that before I even knew exactly what my product would be. Yes, I’m completely serious. My pre-launch campaign worked around the clock for me on autopilot, freeing me to focus on finishing my website and focus-group testing product ideas to ensure a successful launch.
In fact, my launch was too successful. When the moment of truth came, I opened my store and we completely sold out of everything within six hours. It was a small test launch (as all test launches should be) and represented about $1000 in sales. Still this was about $1000 more than I had made during the first six hours of any other launch I had ever done.
I had spent the previous three months planning the perfect launch, and now I was out of stock after just six hours. Slightly dazed, I decided the pre-launch campaign had worked so well that I would revert my site back to “pre-launch” status and continue collecting emails while we scrambled to restock. Now it’s growing even faster than before.
Not only will this method allow you to actually form a line of hungry buyers before your launch, it’s possible to repeat the process again and again with every additional product that you launch.
Infrastructure: The exact tools you’ll need for your ecommerce launch
No matter what your background is, no matter what skill level you are, if you are reading this you already possess within yourself the ability to build a pre-launch campaign that captures 1000 shoppers before launch day — many of you will capture far more than 1000…
But you can’t do it without a specific set of tools.
Go ahead and accept that you will have to acquire a collection of tools in order to build your pre-launch campaign. Don’t worry, I’m going to show you where you should spend a little money, and where you shouldn’t. Most of the tools I recommend are completely free, but our goal is to spend less than $100 in total.
Can you afford $100 to get your business off the ground? Go ahead and set that money aside in your head so that it’s no longer an obstacle when we get to that point.
Here’s a checklist of everything you’ll need to pull off the pre-launch campaign of the century.
- Shopify account ($$)
- Shopify theme (free)
- Email list integration (free)
- Instagram account (free)
- Instagress account ($)
Tool #1: Why Shopify?
This is where most guides will give you the option to choose from seventeen different ecommerce platforms, carefully listing the pros and cons of each service and encouraging you to choose whatever suits you best.
I’m not going to do that. I recommend Shopify because it will save you hundreds of hours over the next 12 months. And if your time is worth anything, that means it will save you thousands of dollars.
I setup my first store (BEC Sport) on the Woocommerce platform. I had looked at Shopify, but ultimately decided to “save the money”. Have you ever tried to “save” money on something that ended up costing you thousands later? Well, that’s what happened.
Don’t get me wrong, Woocommerce is a great platform and I love that it’s free. But I encountered a number of problems over the past year that cost me big. Each time, I persisted because I was “competent” in WordPress. Why spend the money, right?
It turned out the Woocommerce theme I bought was poorly supported for some browsers. It looked incredible in my browser, but was a disaster for some of my customers. I actually had customers contact me and complain that they weren’t able to check out because the site wouldn’t load correctly on their mobile device.
Then I never heard from them again. Sale lost. And if two people contacted me, how many others experienced the same checkout issue but instead just said “screw it” and left?
Sure you could be a full time developer and vigilantly check your site in every browser after every plugin update. Of course, sometimes Woocommerce will update and your Theme won’t offer a compatible update for months.
Or you could just use Shopify. I chose Shopify for my second store, and I’m now in the process of moving BEC Sport over to Shopify as well. More lost time I could have saved if I had just spent a little money in the first place.
If you already have a Shopify account, great — you’re a step ahead.
If not, go ahead and sign up for an account while you’re reading this. You can start your pre-launch campaign with a free 14-day trial.
Plus, Shopify is already hardwired to help you setup your pre-launch campaign with minimal extra work, which I’ll show you later. The second reason I recommend Shopify is tool #2.
Tool #2: Shopify Theme
The next and arguably most important tool you’ll need to acquire for your pre-launch campaign is a “Capture Page”. Also known as a landing page or a squeeze page. The purpose of this page is simple: persuade people to join your email list.
You know how when Nike drops a new pair of limited edition Jordans, there’s a line standing outside of every Footlocker on earth, all waiting to buy the minute the store opens? Your email list is your “line”. The more people on your list waiting for you to launch, the more you’ll sell on day one.
You want a capture page that will convert a high percentage of your visitors to your email list. Not all capture pages are created equal. There is a lot of very sophisticated psychology that goes into creating a high-performing capture page.
Luckily, Shopify has a capture page baked right into their default theme. It comes free with your Shopify account, no extra purchase necessary. You can turn it on with one click. And with a few simple edits you will have a capture page that outperforms even the most expensive capture page on the market.
By the way, this is the exact capture tool that I used for my own pre-launch campaign, and I captured over 1000 email addresses.
Tool #3: Email List Integration
Next, you’ll need a place to dump those email addresses after you capture them. I recommend MailChimp. It’s easy to link up with your Shopify page, so that your email addresses are dropped into MailChimp automatically.
I’ve used three different major emailer companies, and MailChimp is by far the easiest to learn. Especially for a non-geek. Other emailers offer me a lot of money to recommend their product here, while MailChimp offers nothing. But from an ease-of-use perspective MailChimp is just the best.
You can set up an auto-responder in about five minutes (I’ll show you why you need this later), and then you can just step out of the process entirely.
Customer visits your capture page → enters email address → is dumped into MailChimp → sent an autoresponder.
The entire loop operates automatically without your involvement.
MailChimp is free for your first 2,000 subscribers, and you can turn on the auto-responder feature for as little a $10/month (well worth it). So you won’t spend much until you already have a very valuable list. Go setup an account now.
Tool #4: Instagram Account
Okay, you almost have all the tools you’ll need to pull this off. Just two more tools, and the first one is free.
You need an Instagram account. Some of you already see how this is going to fit into your pre-launch campaign. For the rest of you, don’t worry. It will all come together for you in a few minutes.
Instagram is going to be your single largest source of traffic and leads over the months leading up to your launch.
In fact, it was my only source of traffic during my pre-launch campaign. And remember, I was able to do this before I was even sure what my product was going to be, let alone had any pictures of it.
None of that is important right now. Just make sure you have an Instagram account in your brand’s name.
Tool #5: Instagress
The last tool you need to acquire is an Instagram automation service called Instagress. This is another tool I don’t get paid to promote. I just like it.
Combined with Instagram, this tool has been responsible for about 80% of the ecommerce sales I have generated over the past two years. And it’s how I attracted the bulk of the customers I collected emails from.
Instagress automates your Instagram activity to generate followers around the clock. All you have to do is post content once or twice a day, and you’ll have visitors crawling all over your Instagram and ultimately your capture page.
This tool allows you to completely remove yourself from the pre-launch sequence and instead focus on developing your products and finishing your website.
It’s not free, but don’t worry, it will easily fit into our $100 budget. I recommend the 90-day package for $25.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have acquired all the tools you’ll need to start building your line of hungry customers, I’m going to show you step-by-step how I built my pre-launch campaign.
Remember, you don’t need to be a programmer or have any background in computers to replicate this. All you need is to be able to follow a few simple directions.
If you have not yet acquired all five of the tools above, stop and go do that first. If you are missing even one of the tools, the whole system will fail. You need all five. Go get them and then come back to this later.
The Psychology of an Effective Capture Page
I made a very important statement above. Not all capture pages are created equal. A normal capture page might convert 10% of all traffic. A great capture page will convert 40% or even more.
That may seem like an insignificant difference with your modest traffic numbers, but what if you send 30 customers a day to your capture page for a total of 90 days.
The first capture page will collect 270 email addresses. The second capture page will collect 1,080. That difference could represent thousands of dollars in sales. So it’s worth the effort to understand the psychology of an effective capture page.
Most people won’t give up their email address for no reason. If you want to get people to start lining up for your product, you’ll need to give them an incentive. In fact, that’s the first of four basic elements you’ll need on your capture page.
- Call to action
You can be as creative as you want with your incentive, but I’ll share a few basic rules to follow. In my case, I gave away $25 gift cards to the first 500 subscribers. When we passed 500 subscribers faster than I ever imagined, we extended the offer to another 500 and so on.
I could afford to give away $25 because I knew my desired price range would allow me give $25 off and still make a nice profit. If you’re targeting a lower price range you may need to adjust accordingly.
Some will be tempted to offer a discount “code” for 10 or 20% off. Resist the temptation. Psychologically, $25 cash just feels more valuable than a percent off. And a “gift card” feels more valuable than a promo code. Language is important.
Every incentive needs a deadline or people will procrastinate. They will tell themselves they’ll do it later. But then they’ll never get around to it. Give people a reason to act now versus later.
My campaign included a cut-off at the first 500 subscribers. Then I let them know with a counter that time is running out to claim their gift card.
Things that are scarce are more valuable than things that are abundant. It has been proven over and over again that people will take advantage of an offer at a much higher rate if there are only a few left.
I snuck in a “counter” onto my capture page that displays that there are only 18 gift cards remaining. Now, this counter doesn’t ever move. It’s just a replica of a real counter. There are complicated ways to program in a real counter but I prefer to keep things simple.
All I want to do is communicate that most of the gift cards have already been claimed. This seems to do the trick, so I won’t bother with a fancy programming solution.
Call to Action
The final element of our capture page will be the call to action. Testing demonstrates that a call to action that is more congruent with the user’s wishes will convert at a much higher rate over a generic message like “Submit” or “Sign up”.
I use the phrase “Get My Gift Card Now”, but you can experiment.
If you include all four of those elements you should be able to achieve a very strong capture rate. The default Shopify theme doesn’t have any of these elements, so you’ll need to do some minimal editing but the basic layout of the page is good.
I documented exactly how I edited my Shopify page, and you don’t need to have any programming experience to pull it off as long as you can follow a few simple steps.
How to Deliver Your Incentive with a MailChimp Auto-Responder
At this point, if you’re a non-geek or don’t have a background in computers, you’re probably thinking you’re in way over your head. We just promised everyone that signs up at your capture page that we would personally deliver a gift card to them.
How the heck are we going to do that? Relax. When I sat down to solve this problem for myself, all of the complicated solutions I found online made my head spin.
Remember, I’m not a programmer. And even if I was, I don’t have time to build an app to create a new gift card on the spot for each new subscriber and then somehow deliver it to them.
I also don’t have time to do it manually. My pre-launch campaign captures 5-10 new subscribers per day. Manually contacting each subscriber with their own personal gift card? What a nightmare.
So I reminded myself. Keep it simple, stupid.
First, you don’t need to send an actual gift card. Most people would prefer a simple gift card code by email. Easier to keep track of. Second, you don’t need to create a unique code for each subscriber. You just need to give the appearance of a unique code.
Here’s how I solved the problem.
i. Go to your Shopify account and add a new discount code.
ii. Create one universal discount code. Allow Shopify to generate a random code. This will give it the appearance of being unique to the subscriber versus a generic word code like “25OFF”.
iii. Add an expiration date. Give your customer at least a week after your launch to use the gift card, but not too much time. Remember cut-offs encourage people to act now rather than later or never.
iv. Finally, insert the code into a great looking auto-responder in MailChimp. MailChimp already offers killer tutorials on creating an auto-responder so I won’t go into that here.
This is what my solution ended up looking like.
Turning Your Traffic On
Now that you have a capture page that will hold its own with virtually any major company’s pre-launch operation (actually, it’s better than many), and you have a sophisticated delivery system to stay in touch with your subscribers, it’s time to press the “on” button.
Remember, having the greatest capture page on the earth doesn’t mean anything unless people are visiting it. After all, you might have an incredible 40% capture rate. But 40% of zero visitors is still zero.
In this section we are going to build a simple traffic generation machine that will begin sending dozens of super-targeted customers to your landing page, all day long every day.
All you need for this machine is the last two tools on our list: an Instagram account and Instagress.
How to Start Instagramming before You Have a Real Brand
If you don’t have any interesting pictures of your product or brand — many don’t during the pre-launch phase — you can use a method known as moodboarding.
The idea behind moodboarding is posting photos that align with your brand and will appeal to your target customers.
For now you are a content curator, not a content creator, so always credit photos appropriately. Give it a try. It’s not as hard as you think.
Use your Instagram bio to tell your visitors who you are and then direct them to your capture page. Here is the bio I use for my pre-launch campaign:
Using Instagress to Generate Tons of Targeted Traffic
The final piece of the puzzle is: customers.
If you have an Instagram account, you know that gaining new followers can be very difficult. The “if you build it, they will come” thinking won’t work. If you want people to visit your page, you have to engage with them first.
When I first started using Instagram, I would engage other users in my preferred hashtag for two hours every night after I got off work. The results were pretty astounding. Suddenly I was getting followers from all over the world. Five to ten new followers a day.
But as you can imagine, it was miserable, and that only lasted for about three days before I decided that I needed a system to do it for me.
I went out looking for a service that could automate the process for me, and I found Instagress. Instagress will allow you to take yourself out of the process and expand from just two hours of activity per day to twenty-four.
Now you’re targeting people who are likely to be interested in your brand around the clock on autopilot. You’ll generate a huge number of clicks back to your Instagram page every day. Those visitors, in turn, will visit your capture page.
I have already written a detailed guide on how to use Instagress to attract customers, so I won’t rehash it here.
And that’s it. You’ll start creating a “line”. Three to four people per day, maybe even more. All waiting for your store to open, with a gift card burning a hole in their pocket. Soon they’ll start asking about your exact launch date. They can’t wait.
That is how you build a powerful pre-launch campaign for under $100. That’s how I personally formed a line of 1000 rabid buyers beating my door down before we ever opened.
We were able to do it without any investors, special connections, or industry influencers. And we were able to do it without sinking any money upfront into ad campaigns.
Now it’s your turn. Don’t be one of those entrepreneurs that sits on information like this. Use it to create your own pre-launch campaign. And be sure to sure your results with me.
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