Interview with Earnest Epps about Conversion Optimization, Niche Selection, and Recruiting Suppliers
Trevor here with the eCommerce Paradise podcast.
In this episode, I got Ernest Epps with me, and we're going to talk with him a little bit and let him introduce himself to what he's doing. He's the guy behind Built to Sell and Clarity commerce events. He actually helped me out about a year ago. He really helped me out with my conversion rate optimization for my store. He's one of my mentors and good friends as well.
Welcome to the podcast, Ernest.
Hey, what's up, everybody? Super, super excited to be here. Yeah. And, you know, just it's been so amazing. Has been an awesome journey these last couple of years since I started the eCommerce world.
Like Trevor had mentioned, I recently launched a Built to Sell program and kicking butt in the eCommerce world outside of the info product business that we have put together. We're actually sitting out here in Bangkok, Thailand, at this moment at a place called the Sky Bar. This place is absolutely amazing. I believe we're like 60 floors in the air overlooking the entire city. We have some really cool photos. Maybe Trevor will be able to post a couple but, man, it is absolutely spectacular. I got invited to speak at a Philly at world conferences. They did their event in Asia this time around. And, man, it was super awesome to be able to share the stage with Neil Patel and tons of other phenomenal, influential people. And yeah, we're just here to give you guys some value in, rock things out.
Yeah, it's pretty incredible this year. You talked a little bit about what led you here. But I mean, you've been on such an amazing journey the last six months to a year. You kind of become like a digital nomad, sir. And it's really cool to see you traveling so much and doing all these events and stuff like that.
You talk about what led you to where you are now with the built to sell academy that you're doing and clarity the commerce events. Because I know it's really Poppy. You had a huge following now. Huge fan base. Can you talk a little bit about what led to doing that?
Built to Sell is an eCommerce academy. Over about a year or so, I was doing many one-on-one coaching with people. I started getting to where I was doing roughly about 40 to 60 sessions a week. I pretty much gave myself another job after getting out of corporate America. And I was like, man, that's not cool. But the reason why I was doing so many calls is that I love helping people. I'm actually passionate about helping people model the results that I've been able to achieve. That was a big component of one of the reasons why I was so passionate about growing in the eCommerce arena outside of being able to walk away from my full-time job and provide for my family.
I got to figure out a way to be able to add value to people, but not have to have a super-duper ridiculous schedule doing it and connecting with my business partner, Darrell. And we were just like, hey, you know, let's put together a program to pretty much walk everyone through, you know, exactly what you do on a from a coaching call respect, but through a modulated arena. It's still in a touch of like a ton of incentives and just gives everybody everything, every single thing they need in order to create success, even if they weren't even able to talk to you. We decided to put that together.
We launched it on a virtual summit called Gaza, the Internet. We got a lot of positive feedback from it. And so we knew we were doing the right thing. We just add an added value to the marketplace through that format. We put together live events for people that are in our community. And that's another thing we want to do, a little bit different than a lot of these other programs that are out here is just bring together people more often and on a more consistent basis, because it can get very challenging when you're starting on your own. You might not have a lot of positive friends and family.
I know when I started my journey, I didn't tell anybody because I don't want to hear any negative feedback because that will just crush me. I want to be able to help bring people together more from a personal standpoint and a community type basis to build something spectacular. And along with that, I started an event company called Clarity with Commerce, where we put together events worldwide for people helping to bring people together on a local level. And for me, the reason why that came around is that I'm a person that if I want to do something, I'll not come up with a bunch of excuses on why I can't work or why we can't do it, let's just find a way to do it. A lot of people see me create some pretty decent success.
You've got to network, surround yourself with phenomenal individuals. You know, like Trevor here. And, you know, a lot of people say, hey, Ernest, you know, I don't know how to network. I don't know how to connect with people. Nothing's going on in my area. I'm just like, go on, meet up ICOM, get engaged in Facebook groups. People just come up with a bunch of excuses.
If I start an event company and I put on events, you can have an excuse. All right. So you know that that was the premise. Like, you know, because I want to as we do these events, you know, we pull together people in the area. That's that's local. And we connect people, people that are very successful specifically in business in general. It's not just geared towards just eCommerce. We cleared it with commerce. It's clarity with commerce like clarity with business. So if anybody was looking to become more stewed in the business arena that's the company's premises, it is just, you know, help people, you know, get around people who are shaking and moving and creating success. Because the only difference between where you are and where you want to be is, is it really just kind of boils down to two things.
And my personal opinion is just energy and effort (combined) is one, and then the other thing I would say is information. Lack of information and energy and effort that just separates you from us from where you want to be. If you got the information that you want to put in the energy and effort, I believe that anybody can achieve whatever you want to be and whatever it is that you want to do, as long as you have those two components. Clarity with eCommerce is that arena to help people get the information so they can then apply that to their business and create success and have a team and a local community that they can lean on so they can be able to surround themselves with awesome people.
Thanks for breaking all that down is really, truly an amazing thing that you're doing. I think that the courage it takes and the time and effort it takes to build all this kind of stuff really help so many people. And it really it reaches a huge, wider audience. And I think that that the physical events really do help people on another level because when you go online and watch a video on YouTube, you'll watch it. And then after that, after the video's over, you might think, oh, yeah, that's great and all. But like, what do I actually do with this now, you know? But when you're into the line, then it's totally different.
What you're doing is really cool. And I just think that I like doing that, as opposed to just doing it on my courses, is really neat and super inspirational.
Like like I said, I'm super duper excited and passionate about helping and serving the marketplace. We're putting together the next event that's going to be in Australia, in Sydney, and then we're going to put together a meet up out in Auckland, New Zealand. And then I'm going to bounce back to Bangkok, Thailand, and then I'm going to head back to the States.
You mentioned the beginners and stuff like that and getting caught up when you're a beginner and trying to get through those challenges and overcome those obstacles and stuff like that.
What are your biggest tips for getting your store up and running and getting conversions? I think the effort for optimizing your store for conversions.
Man, that's a that's that's a big one right there. That's part of what the whole entire Built to Sell program was about. But, you know, if I was like brand new or if I was talking to someone rather this that's brand new because obviously I deal with many people in that stage is the first thing is that don't overcomplicate the process. Don't overcomplicate; I just see many people get stuck in what I call the paralysis of analysis.
You get all this information, and you get fired up. You're excited, but then you get stuck on the application of it.
You start to take action, and then you question it. Take whatever you think it's supposed to mean and act on it. If you make a mistake, it's OK to fail if you do something silly, just fail forward. I make tons of mistakes all the time, actually. Even when we did our last mansion party out in Atlanta, I was going through my presentation. I was talking about a particular app that would like Shopify and, like the entire room, like, showed me how to use the app more simply. I'm more focused on getting the end result that I didn't care about how to do it the right way, or the correct way is about getting it done, and that's that's how I really operate.
You've got to find ways to increase and improve your value and give people a unique experience when engaging with your brand or website. That's what it's all about. The experience when you think about where you shop or where you do business. It's all based on that experience. Like you continually go and buy from the different places you buy.
Do you have a certain expectation of what's going to happen when you go there? For people who like to shop at Wal-Mart, this might not necessarily be like the coolest retail place to go. But at the same time, when you go to Wal-Mart, your expectation is, you know what they pitch in there. They're selling proposition, which is always low prices. Usually, Wal-Mart does what you think of, and that's why you go shopping there. And, I'm not sure if you guys follow a lot of their pricing structure and things of that nature. But in most cases, a lot of the products listed at Target are more expensive than Wal-Mart. So knowing that, why would people shop at Target?
The reason why Target is thriving in the marketplace is that when you go to Target, you also get a different, unique experience. You get a welcoming experience. People actually smile at you. They greet you, and the store is in a nice environment in comparison to Wal-Mart. It's not always the case for anybody. Listen to this from Wal-Mart. You guys need to tighten up. But, when you look at this from an online perspective, the big bully in the room is Amazon. You go to Amazon because you expect quick shipping. You call someone, and they answer. Now, they might not know exactly what you're talking about, or you could be on hold for 20, 30 minutes, but at the same time, you know what that expectation level is. It's like setting that right expectation level, then managing the customer's expectation, but more importantly, figuring out ways to add value to your industry in your marketplace that's unique to whatever it is that you're doing.
Take that and run with it and actually take action on it. I think that was the biggest takeaway. There was like; you can learn all the things in the world if you don't actually take action on it you'll literally just go nowhere with it.
What about for the people that are just starting out? What are tips for niche selection and actually narrowing down a niche? How does someone choose what to sell online?
Choosing what to sell online is a simple thing for me is just. Ask yourself, is there enough demand for what I want to sell? That's the first thing I always look at and walk people through. Now, when I say demand, I mean, there are people actively searching for whatever I want to sell on a consistent monthly basis.
Now, if you're brand new, you actually don't get access to the tool that I would prefer. We like you to use Google keyword planner. I'm not going to get into why you can't use it, but I'll recommend you to use a tool called SDM Rush in this early step in the process. Now, don't use the paid version. Don't pay. Don't even sign up because they're going to put you in a funnel and are going to try to upset you for three thousand miles. If you pay for it, don't say Earnest did that to me, okay? You're on your own if that happens. But SDM Rush, if you just go to the website and you put in whatever the product idea is that you're looking at potentially selling it to actually give you the same information as if you are going to as if you were using Google keyword planner.
My personal goal is I want to see if there are at least twenty thousand people a month that are looking for whatever it is that I want to sell because that is pretty consistent. That's a pretty good amount of volume. I know if I get just a fraction of that traffic to my website, let's say even just one percent, that's like two thousand visitors a month. That's pretty conservative. That's the first thing that I want to make sure there's a lot of people surged forward.
I want to make sure that something is actually of interest to the market at this point time. Meaning, I wanted to be something in demand, not only from a searching perspective but also from an interest perspective, meaning it's not seasonal. It's going to be very challenging to sell surfboards in Virginia at this point this year because it's December, and it's freezing outside.
If you choose a product, you have to understand how you need to position yourself strategically so you don't get blindsided. Strategically cut off advertising for certain areas out of the country and focus on other areas where there is actually demand. Make sure that there are people that are advertising the products to cause some competition. It is a good thing because there is validation that there are companies that actually spend money on advertising the product and not just an accident. But, from a competition standpoint, I don't want to get into a niche where there's like an immense amount of competition. Specifically, I always like to measure that from the shopping section on Google, where you can see how many actual stores are listing to different products and stuff. If there's like 50, 100 different stores, that's a lot. But, if it's twenty-five, twenty or less like, that's something for me to feel comfortable. With that number, I know that people advertise. There's a little bit of wiggle room for me to be able to slide into the marketplace and not having to spend an immense amount of budget on advertising to compete.
With that being said to when you look at stuff that's super competitive that that isn't necessarily a bad thing in all cases because I have a store that's nice that's pretty competitive. And I'm doing pretty well within that niche. It's only because there's a lot of demand for the product. If you look at, like the less competition you have, the less expensive it is going to be, potentially from an advertising perspective. The more competition, there's probably going to be a little more calls to enter into the marketplace. Ultimately, if we can summarize it a little bit, what I'm looking for is high demand, high interest, moderate to low competition.
A really good teacher right there. That goes for people in our positions where we have successful stories already, and we're trying to build multiple stores out and scale that way.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned through this journey is not to go wide in any one store too wide, but to set up separate stores for different niches and different product niches. You can sell products that are very similar but not too wide in any one store because it can actually decrease your conversion rates and cause a lot of trouble in your paid ads. The last thing I wanted to ask you about is that you are an amazing person on the phone; that's the first thing that I could tell about you because you are a DSL coach. You've always been really good at getting suppliers and the hardest suppliers to get together. You even made a post in your group a little while back about how you got a gold supplier, and it was one of the hardest suppliers to get. You had to be on the phone for a long time.
Can you explain that process you go through with recruiting new suppliers to your store a little bit and all the different tactics you take to convince them to do business with you?
That's good stuff. It's kind of challenging for me to kind of position this question or answer the right way instead because the way I talked to suppliers when I was new is completely different from the way I talk to suppliers now. I got a lot more experience. I got a lot more success. I got a little bit more room to kind of bully the suppliers around a little bit, with the knowledge that I have.
I would give you guys, two different perspectives. If I was brand new, I want to make sure that I have at least two or three things that I understand or know about the company when I contact the supplier.
How long they've been in business?
What is unique about their products versus their competitors?
How many other companies might be already working with at this point time?
When I reach out to them, I always like to keep the conversations simple and just give them just enough information to where they feel comfortable about potentially just moving forward. I don't give them much information where I don't have anything left to say in the conversation. It's all about creating a connection. I always tell everybody, everyone communicates, but few connect.
When reaching out to suppliers, know that having some knowledge and information would help you. I think a lot of new people get on the phone, call and just pitch themselves without having any value to bring to the table. Have a plan. Think of the next steps. Have a marketing strategy and game plan that you can actually walk them through while you're on the phone. Have a literal entier module laid out when contacting suppliers and specifically from the marketing perspective, like your game plan for the next six to 12 months. That's one thing that I strategically cover with everyone who comes to my Built to Sell program. Research your suppliers, know some of the competition and know why they are better.
If you're already in the game, hopefully you're creating some moderate success right now.
When I talk to companies is I'm really strong about my ability to help them get results. I say, "my goal is to help you guys make an additional hundred thousand dollars in revenue this year like it would that help your organization out?"
One of the things that you can use that has helped out with a lot of people if you get denied by a supplier is to wait to get a few results, and then you want to go back to a process supplier. One of the things I strategically had stated when that had occurred was, "We've started creating some success in the marketplace, as we told you we would. We're going into a bit of a challenge here right now because we actually got some customers reaching out to us, and they want to buy your products. And, you know, we have to sell your competitive products. We really like to sell your products to help you guys make some money because it's a little weird. You know, someone's coming looking for your stuff. But we had to sell other stuff and, we'd rather just put that money in your pocket. We just want to give you a call and let you know we're doing pretty well. And we'd like to help you out. Are you guys looking to bring us on or make some extra revenue this year by adding this as a retail partner and then just seeing what the conversation goes from there?" People tell me it works like a charm.
Position yourself the right way and position yourself to let them see that you're going to be an asset and not a liability to their organization. The sky's the limit. It's actually very rare for me to pick up the phone and not get approval to supply it. Be confident. Make it sound like you are going to sell their products. The only asset you got is your tone of voice. If your tone is weak, they'll think your business is weak. Rehearse whatever it is that you want to say, and you want to say it.
You've got to remember how retail works in general. Even though you're a new brand, you got to remember that you have the ability to add value to that company and give them more shelf space, even if it's just on the Internet, because the more their brand is out in the marketplace, the more that increases their awareness, the more that increases the credibility and the higher the likelihood of them being able to get in front of a potential customer. Everybody wants that. There's a lot of components that you've got to remember when you contact the suppliers. And with all those things being said, don't forget who you are and don't forget that as a business, have some really good value to bring to the marketplace and that by working with you, that you're going to do anything and everything that you can and you have the ability to do to help their brand be successful. You've got to be real.
I don't necessarily care about the niche itself. I should say to products. I don't care about the niche. I do care about the products. I know that if those products can help a person in this situation, whether it's like getting a dining room set to help out the family, I know that their product solves a solution that every product pretty much does. That's what I get wrapped up around. I know my goal is to get those products in front of the right people looking for it and profit in the process.
That was amazing. Thank you so much. That was so much good explanation and value. It just blew my mind. I hope you guys are taking notes. Listen to the podcast again because he just gave you call scripts. He just told you how to use your tonality and your voice to get suppliers. There's just so much good value there.
Can you tell people where they can find your course and get connected with you?
Just go to builtosell.us
If you want to connect with me personally, you can follow me on all social media platforms, Earnest Epps, that is the name I use on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, pictures, all that good stuff. I look forward to seeing every person as listeners right now create during success because I know that if you want to do better and be better, you can definitely do so well.
Thanks for being on the podcast, Earnest.
See you guys out there.
eCommerce Paradise was created by Trevor Fenner of Seattle, Washington in 2015 to help you, the entrepreneur, to start and scale your own eCommerce business selling high-ticket products online with the drop shipping fulfillment method so you can make more profit per sale, have a sustainable and evergreen online business, get started with very little upfront investment, and live a location independent lifestyle. Trevor owns multiple 7-figure High-Ticket Drop Shipping eCommerce stores and is a digital nomad, traveling the world while working remotely with the help of his team of over 10 virtual assistants from around the world. Trevor is currently located in Bali, Indonesia. Trevor is also a passionate skateboarder, surfer, scuba diver, photographer, environmentalist, outdoorsman, fitness and tattoo enthusiast.
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