3 Traffic Sources that Bootstrapped a $1M+ eCommerce Business

In today’s video tutorial, I cover the traffic strategies that I employ with my eCommerce business, delve a bit into how we got started, and divulge some of the big lessons learned along the way.

 

Tutorial Part 1

 

Tutorial Part 2

 

When you’re looking to employ traffic strategies, there’s a big difference between starting off with a cushion and getting started with zero, zilch, nada in the back account. When I first started looking for traffic sources, we didn’t have a fancy PR firm (still don’t) or any other resources; it was more or less me in the back of my first brick-and-mortar business with no real funds to dedicate to the process. We built our initial email list off of guest blogging, and from there worked through the following strategies in sequence:

1 – Affiliate Email

In your niche, you’ll need to find people who have courses or products in which your subscriber base would also be interested. This step requires networking and employing a number of affiliate marketing strategies, including building a “hit list” of affiliates. We use a simple Google Docs spreadsheet to track metrics on affiliate progress and success and to help ensure that the relationship is a mutually beneficial one for the long-term.

You also have to be prepared to ramp this strategy up over the long haul. You can’t count on even 1 in 10 affiliates responding positively after the first email. There have been multi-million-dollar affiliates whose products we promoted for 6 months before they were willing to take a chance and promote for us. This is why it’s important to build an active hit list and follow up with affiliates and metrics on a regular basis.

Leading with value is also required to get affiliates on board. By consistently selling their products and by asking how we could be of help, were able to build valuable relationships.

Need to Know Numbers

  • Customer lifetime value (CLV) on front-end purchases. If you know your average stick rate for a particular product or service, you can determine a payout for affiliate sales that leaves a buffer for margin but still gives affiliates a sizable payout.
  • Maximum cost per sale or cost per acquisition (CPA). How much are you spending with affiliates to get a paying customer? Read this article by Social Media Explorer for a solid overview on calculating your CPA numbers.
  • Refund stats per lead source. Your affiliates or other lead sources may have a much lower or higher CLV than the norm, so you need to test offers with affiliates in a reasonable way. If you throw everything in on your first big offer and it doesn’t go well, you might just set your bottom line back for 6 months. Test a certain number of sales and look at the CLV after month 3, 4, 5, even month 6, and assess how much higher or lower your lead source is than with promotions on your own site.

2 – Paid Email

We began leveraging a paid email strategy once we were confident that we had a consistent CPA from our affiliate sources (which for us was just over $100K per month, with just our affiliate channel). Paid email can be valuable, but it requires you to pay an often sizable upfront free for an online news aggregator to drive sales with banner ads or send an email out to their entire list, which can cost anywhere from $1K to $7K per email.

When going this route, it’s imperative that you find TRUSTWORTHY representatives and that you get a warm introduction to an experienced sales representative by a reference who is already spending money with this traffic source (we learned this lesson the hard way). Having a solid reference helps ensure that whoever handles your account is less likely to rip you off (it happens), because their company’s reputation is now on the line with two buyers.

Similarly to affiliate emails, slow and steady wins the race. Start off with smaller tests of various offers to determine the most viable option for your business. Only once you have a sponsorship or offer with a consistently profitable CPA is it time to consider throwing down a lot of money for that forecasted higher return on investment (ROI).

Need to Know Numbers

  • General conversion rate. If your general conversion rate is much lower than with your affiliate sources, even from day one, this could be an early flag that paid traffic is not a great source for your business.
  • Refund stats per lead source. Refunds should start materializing within the first month; a high number of refunds (you’re losing more than you’re making) may indicate a less-than-stellar opportunity.
  • Maximum CPA. If this number looks promising over time, then we usually go big on an investment with a paid email source, but we always “shoot bullets before we shoot cannonballs”, so to speak, especially when the stakes are high.

3 – Affiliate Social Networks

Once you’ve got your affiliate network built and decided whether or not paid lists are a good option for you, you can look at investing in cross-promotions with affiliates on their social media channels.

It’s essential that any affiliates with which you do cross promotions have a responsive social media page; this is usually Facebook, but it could be another valid one depending on your niche. Developing positive and sustainable relationships follows the same principles as the affiliate email strategy, and again requires leading with value; your offer to affiliates should build their bottom line first.

Need to Know Numbers

  • Return on investment (ROI) on your own social promotion. How many new leads can you generate on Facebook i.e. what is your ROI? Are these “leads” already subscribers and simply also following and liking your Facebook page? Figure out how many leads are duplicates of subscribers and how many fresh leads you’re getting; the latter is your real ROI. You’ll need this number even before you get started doing cross promotions with affiliates.
  • Cohort testing to determine CLV of fresh leads. You’ll often find that being featured somewhere new will get you more opt-ins. An affiliate that promotes for you on their social media page can have a “novelty factor” effect on potential leads who might otherwise not have subscribed to your list. Keep track of this number to determine whether the relationship is a good one for both you and the affiliate over time.

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-Daniel Faggella
CLVboost Founder

Image credit: MarketingTechBlog

About The Author

Daniel Faggella

I grow businesses with marketing automation, email marketing, and conversion-rate optimization. I've spoken on business and emerging technologies internationally and at some of America's finest schools (Yale, Stanford, Cornell, etc...). My marketing strategies have been featured in the Boston Business Journal, MarketingProfs, Direct Marketing News, and much more. CLVboost is where I share marketing strategies, TechEmergence.com is my major pursuit.