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Running A Successful eCommerce Business with Earnest Epps
I am with the one the only Earnest Epps. Earnest, how are you doing?
I am spectacular. Thanks for having me on.
I’m excited to talk to you. For those of you who don’t know, Earnest is an international speaker, eCommerce entrepreneur and CEO of eCom Success Academy, High Ticket eCom Secrets and Earnest Associates. He has ten years of marketing and sales experience and has been able to take both offline and online marketing strategies to help people combine them both in the marketing powerhouse for running a successful online eCommerce business. Earnest, we’re going to talk about all of that. We’re talking about marketing, eCommerce and growing businesses but first, let’s take a big step back. Growing up, what kind of a kid were you? Did you know you want to be an entrepreneur? Were you a straight-A student? Were you a rebel? Take us back.
I was one of those inbetweeners. I was into playing sports when I was in high school. I did football, wrestling and track. I was in four different clubs. I stay super active. In terms of entrepreneurship, my mom did her best striving to condition me to be an employee. I was very much going down the traditional path because even starting off, my late elementary and middle school, my mom had me and my oldest sister think about what we were going to do from a career standpoint for college. We were groomed for an employee mindset. We’ve got to go to school and got to get a good job. I know everyone talks about that so much these days. Somebody reading this might be like, “Somebody was talking about that again,” but that’s what happened.
My oldest sister and I went to college. She got a dual bachelor’s degrees. She went to law school. She did another four years there. She got all the different paperwork, accolades and things of that nature. Hopefully, no one has had to experience this, but when she got out of school, she couldn’t find a job anywhere because before, when she didn’t have the degree, she was underqualified. When she came out of school, she was overqualified. That’s not made up. That’s what happened to her. For me, as I was working and going to school full-time, we have these things called bills. They’re pretty much residual.
We hear about residual money, but we fall into residual bills very quickly when we become adults like cell phone bill and gas. Gas technically is a bill. You’ve got to put gas in the car and all these other things. I was working and going to school full-time. I had opportunities in terms of promotion and being able to work more at the places where I was working. It was school, bills, school, bills. The bills keep coming in every single month and I keep getting more and more loans year after year. I was like, “Maybe I should focus more on work.” That’s the direction that I take from my ascension from the college to why I focus more on the work stuff versus finishing up with school.
Let’s talk about work. Did you get a real “job” after college?
Starting off, I never had a real job. My first real job was I went door to door. I was passing out flyers and trying to sell people remodeling projects. That’s what I started off with. That was the company that gave me the opportunity in terms of promotions and stuff like that. I figured out there was this thing called a commission check, which was foreign to me because when I went to school, they never talked about commission checks. It was like, “You get paid this much to do this amount of work and you had to work X number of hours.” When I started working, after the first one or two paychecks, I heard about this thing called a commission around the office. I was like, “What’s that? What’s a commission? What do you mean you get an extra check on top of your check? My mom’s never gotten that before.” I started being inquisitive and find out what that was. It was like, “If the people that you brought in for leads bought stuff, we would give you a percentage of the sale.”Commit to the process of doing everything that you've been learning and studying. Click To Tweet
I was like, “That’s crazy. I need to focus more on that stuff to get these extra checks versus what you are paying me hourly.” I got good at that and I started moving up. I became a Marketing Director for them. I got other opportunities at other companies to run different marketing and sales programs on my journey throughout Corporate America. I started chasing that corporate dream, climbing up the ladder, promotion after promotion, which led me to no security with the different companies and stuff that I was working for. A lot of places, there’s no such thing as a pension program or anything of that nature. There’s no loyalty like you stay there for 40 years or more. Those things are extremely foreign in this day and age. That made me aggressively want to look to do something else because I was like, “I can’t place my future in the hands of some other individual.” What made me proactively get into entrepreneurship was if we rewind my journey a little bit as I was in corporate in 2009, I started poking at entrepreneurship. That’s where most people get started.
They say, “I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to start an agency or I want to start a business.” You get started and you’re working full-time, but you’ve still got to pay your bills and you do stuff when it’s convenient, when you feel good and if you like to do something. You don’t stay committed to the process like you stay committed to the job that you go to every single day. That was Earnest for six years. I tried to do all these things, network marketing, affiliate marketing, starting a blog website, trying to do eCom and try to start a remodeling company. I failed and failed at all of these other things and the reason is that I wasn’t committed to the process of what I needed to do in order to create success and maximize those opportunities I had at hand. In 2013, I had gotten fired from a company that I was working for. I had two kids, one on the way, and it was like, “If you’re going to be able to take care of your family, you might not want to put that in someone else’s hands.” I’m not saying that people that work regular jobs are ever going always to get fired or something like that, but for me, I took it personally and that’s what made me aggressively look into starting a business of my own.
It’s interesting, you said a bunch of stuff there. That trial and error approach makes the best entrepreneurs. I almost feel the people have an idea in their head and they’re like, “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m only going to do that.” They’re not willing to deviate or try different things. A lot of times they fail when that idea isn’t good. Back in the day, I tried selling everything on Amazon. I eventually came across baby products in 2008. I hit the jackpot and found a big business. Had I been like, “I’m going to start a video game company,” I would’ve failed pretty hard. The other thing that I find interesting is I started a business when I was in college. I had no risk. If I failed, I would go out and get a real job. You said you had one kid and another kid on the way.
We had two and we had the third one on the way.
That’s not exactly the ideal time to be taking big risks in your life, the average person would think. What was that like? You’re saying, “I don’t want to be relying on this one employer. I’ve got people that are depending on me. I’ve got my family. I’m going to become an entrepreneur.” What was that first year like?
When I decided to take it seriously from 2013 to 2015, I was still in that hazy phase a little bit saying, “I’m not going to work for someone else. I’m trying to get educated and figure out what I want to do.” The savings account is getting depleted month after month. Eventually, it was like, “Earnest, you’ve got to do something.” It’s like Beyoncé is looking at me like, “I’m not having some fun laying around the house and we have to file bankruptcy.” I was like, “I’ve got to do something.” I got a job but when I got the job, I was like, “I need to start something for myself right now,” which ultimately led me to do eCom and drop shipping. I remember like it was yesterday. It was September 2nd, 2015 and I was like, “Earnest, the reason why you weren’t successful with everything else you did was that you didn’t treat the business like a business.” If you treat any business as a hobby, it’s going to pay you like a hobby, but if you treat it like a business, it’s going to pay you like a business.
I held myself accountable that day and I said, “For 30 days, I will commit to the process.” For me, I chose eCom and dropship. I was like, “Commit to the process of doing everything that you’ve been learning, studying and seeing that is what you’re supposed to do like picking a niche, build a website, find suppliers, upload products, run traffic, do all that stuff and see what happens.” It didn’t even take me 30 days. It only took me 22 days and I had everything all knocked out. Red traffic and I got my first sale ever on the internet within 48 hours. The person never talked to me, never said anything to me, just bought online. I was like, “This stuff works.” Within my first year, I was able to replace my full-time income and shortly after that, replaced my fiancée’s full-time income. We’ve been a stay-at-home parent for the last couple of years. That’s pretty much been the journey.
Let’s talk about drop shipping. I was a big drop shipper. I sold over $20 million drop shipping and times changed from 2008 to 2015. It’s very hard to date. Talk about drop shipping for the average person that doesn’t understand it and that thinks it’s a get quick rich scheme. There’s a lot of quality assurance that goes into it. Talk about drop shipping a little bit.
In my opinion, the best way to do drop shipping, because there are a lot of different strategies. Once you go to YouTube and you start googling stuff, you want to see all different things under the sun and to date this point, you will see a lot of people like, “You can put up a website and get risk tomorrow.” That’s not the case. One of my approaches and how I like to look at the process of drop shipping is I liked to find real brands and real manufacturers that are here specifically in the US that can fulfill orders for a product. The whole process of drop shipping is you market a product and you have a relationship with the supplier. When you get the order for the product, you send in the order to your supplier and they will ship it directly to the customer. That’s what drop shipping is.
A lot of people like to go through the process of drop shipping overseas from China directly because there are a lot of products that get made in China. The cost of these products is extremely low. There’s a lot of quality assurance things that can go wrong with that. Sometimes your product might not even get there and all sorts of crazy stuff. I said, “Earnest, I don’t want to do all the crazy potential headaches. I’d rather just find real companies here that make the product and have them fulfill those.” I have agreements with Samsung, Panasonic and LG. I sell their stuff. When I get orders for their products, I send them in and they ship them directly to the customer. That’s the process of drop shipping. Once you get that system down in terms with marketing everything, you start hiring and bringing on people. That’s when you start to have fun with the business. When I started hiring, outsourcing and onboarding people, that’s when I went from $400,000 a year to $1.4 million a year. It’s when I brought on the team of people to help me run the day-to-day stuff rather than me doing it myself.
We have a lot in common. I only dropship from US companies as well. I didn’t know that before we talked about it. Let’s talk about hiring. With drop shipping, there is a lot of stuff going on. When I was doing it, there wasn’t even repricing software. I would hire people to change the prices, to go along with the listing products and customer service. Talk about building a team. You’re trying to automate it as much as possible. You’re hiring people for a lot of repetitive tasks. What tips would you tell the audience that is trying to get their business to the point where it’s running like that?
The biggest challenges I see with people when they look at outsourcing and hiring people is that, when they put out their jobs, they’re looking for someone and they hire that person. They give them access to their store, their email or whatever they’re going to be managing and then they walk away. When they come back, two weeks later, they’re like, “I don’t want to pay you. You didn’t do what I wanted you to do.” It’s like, “Where have you been for the last two weeks? You haven’t even shown them how to do what you want them to do. Is it their fault or is it your fault?” It’s your fault for not showing them.
Even if someone says like, “I’m spectacular building the Shopify store,” you don’t tell them what type of design you want or logos or color palette. If you’re mad at the orange and you wanted the blue, you never told them that you wanted the blue. You assumed that they were going to do whatever you wanted them to do. That’s the biggest challenges I see people run into. It does not have that clear direction. In addition to that is having material for them to review and the process of doing the day-to-day task and doing the actual work. It’s funny because most people that are hiring people for their business, they had a job at some point. Could you imagine getting hired for a company that they didn’t have an onboarding process? They didn’t even show you where the power button is on the computer or show you where the folders were at that you had to access.
They just hired you and said, “Here’s your computer. Here’s your desk. You’ve got to do all these spreadsheets, all of these operations stuff,” and they don’t show you where anything’s at. That would never exist in a company. Why would you think your company is any different? It doesn’t have to be anything sexy or amazing. That’s the other part too, the over-analyzer like, “I don’t have everything in place. Everything has to be perfect when I hire this person.” The thing that you can do is create the processes and create the procedures as you bring that person on. That way, they could have it. Not only can they have it as far as watching you do everything you want them to do, but you can have everything documented in the process too as well. It’s like having an idea of all the day-to-day stuff that you want to have done and having material that you can walk them through. Showing them how to potentially do, depending on what the job is, what you want them to do. That way, the expectation level is set properly.
It’s something that I preach all the time on our blog and our YouTube channel, creating those SOPs, holding people accountable and giving feedback. You hired a lot of people. I’m assuming that you’ve had some bad hires along the way. Is there any bad hire or horror story that stands out that you could share with the audience?
Not necessarily from a hiring standpoint because the cool thing is I hang around a lot of rock stars like you. I’ve heard other people’s horror stories. I have different things that I do that they might not have done. An example is instead of giving them access to my direct account, I will create them an email where they have their own email and I will share documents with them. If they’re not going to be here any longer. I can remove their access and they can’t go and shut down my entire business because they’re the admin to everything. I avoided that by being around people and learning from them. For me, I’ve had more challenges with business partners trying to partner with people to scale my business. That came down to trusting people too soon. Let people earn your trust. A lot of times, especially now and the way the internet is, everybody can be a superstar, everybody can be a rock star, everybody’s running 200 stores a year, whatever the case is. There’s no real proof of that potential.Everybody can be a superstar and a rock star with the way the internet is now. Click To Tweet
I was really naive in 2018, with a lot of different people, it led to not good productivity. It has slowed me down and a lot of different things that I was doing. That would be one recommendation I would have. If you’re looking to partner with people or bring people on in your company that you might be giving ownership to is take your time in vetting people positively and maybe work together on a personal standpoint. Let’s say you want to partner with someone, “What we’re going to do this 50/50. We’re not going to create an LLC yet. I’m going to create the LLC and then I will add you to it through the articles. We will redo everything in a year, but let’s work together. We will split everything even across the board, but if something doesn’t work out, you can go your separate way, I can go my separate ways. Let’s work together first and see how things go.” That was the headache I had to deal with. It was getting people out the paperwork and redoing all the legal stuff. I was losing three or four months per diem from the business that I was running. It was a headache. That’s some pretty good info to have.
For someone who’s drop shipping or working with different suppliers, it’s almost the same way, you build that relationship and trust. I didn’t get 1,000 orders, crossed my fingers, hope they shipped it and that everything was good. I started small with a few products and make sure they delivered it on time, and they didn’t get returns and complaints. We built the relationship from there and all of that. That’s great advice. Growing the Shopify businesses, you are having success, you replace your income and your wife’s income. Bridge the gap between that and international speaker. I feel we’re missing a bit.
As I’ve created some decent success myself with my stores, I’ve been proactive with talking about it from a public perspective through all my social media accounts, through different groups and stuff that I’m a part of online and offline. By having a servant mentality, because when I first started, we’re just helping people in their businesses and stuff. I wasn’t even trying to get paid, nothing. I was doing it because when I got started, I didn’t have anybody there. I post a question and someone will immediately answer if anything of that nature. I’ve always been very proactive about helping people. It so happened that one of the people that ended up being a coaching client of mine was one of the speakers for an international event in Barcelona. They were on a call and they were like, “We want somebody to come and talk about drop shipping. We don’t have anybody yet.” He was like, “I know this guy, Earnest. He’s awesome. He’s amazing.”
He put me in contact with the person and then he put me in contact with the event organizer. That’s what kicked off my international speaking career. That was my first paid speaking engagement I ever had. Shortly after that, I had another company reached out to me and this was Affiliate World and they flew me out to Thailand in 2017. When they called me, it was like, “I’m a speaker.” It was like, “What do you mean you’re a speaker?” I was like, “I’m speaking in Barcelona.” They were like, “Okay.” After that, it was that and that one presentation took off like a wildfire. It took over its entire media network. I’ve got the most viewed video on the entire channel with the biggest marketers that are out here, the Ryan Deiss and the Neil Patels. I’m still kicking their butt in terms of views on their channels specifically. That’s pretty cool.
That’s what I love about you too because we’ve talked before and you’re a very humble guy. It comes from that place where you were an employee, you know what it’s like to be in that position, to have responsibilities, to take some risks, have some success and then take the opportunities that come up and make the most out of them. Talk to me a little bit about being a public speaker. I know in 2018, I spoke on stage for the first time. At first, it was terrifying. Even the year before that, being on my first podcast and now I’ve done 150 of them. The first few, I was terrified and it was a brand new element. What advice do you have for people out there that are thinking about getting into guest speaking?
If you want to get into speaking and that’s something that you have some interest in, the thing that you’ve got to be at doing the best and depending on who you speak with, they might have different opinions of this. You might have read the book Expert Secrets. I have it, I own it but I haven’t read it. One of the things that I’ve been told, and I don’t know because I haven’t read it, is the fact that you don’t necessarily have to be an expert on the thing that you want to teach, sell, speak about or something like that in order to get paid to do it. You can be a few steps ahead of your audience.
In my personal opinion, in order to have success from what I’ve seen with the people that I run with, you’ve got to be an expert on the thing. Content should never be an issue. That’s one of the unique things that happens when people want to bring me in. It’s like, “What do you want me to talk about?” I’ve done every single element of this business and it’s not something I’m making up. It’s something that I actually do. There’s nothing that I can’t talk about a cover in the process of doing this. Number one, being an expert on the topic that you want to talk about. If you’re not an expert on it, it’s okay. Go start putting in the work and putting in the action like doing the things that you want to speak about and that’s going to make it so much easier so you don’t have to be worried about the content.
Any question that Nathan wants to ask me or throw across my way, I would never have an issue whether I’m sitting in front of one person or I’m sitting in front of 10,000 people, which has happened. I’m comfortable in both settings with answering the question because I’ve done the thing. Number two is one of the things I like to focus on is the delivery in the messaging. Giving to the audience and not thinking like, “Do they see me sweating? Am I talking too fast? Am I out of breath when I’m saying stuff?” I just let it rip and I’m passionate about it. The third thing is to make sure that you bring energy to every single thing that you do. Even if what you’re saying is corny, but you’re excited about it. Somebody is like, “That dude is stupid, but he is fired up.” You’ve got to have good energy.
Where do you see eCommerce in marketing going the rest of 2019 and beyond?
If you are getting connected with FreeeUp, marketing and scaling your business shouldn’t be an issue because these people are vetting rock stars and bringing them through their program and system for you to get connected to. As long as you’re being plugged into a good community and you’ve got the right resources of people that can help you with scaling your business, I don’t foresee any challenges coming in the eCom game. If anything, there’s more and more opportunity that’s being created when people are taking this thing seriously. It’s like the people that get started and they’re running a website, they dropped 50 visitors to it, and nobody buys something and it frustrated them. I’m like, “You haven’t even brought any real traffic to your website yet. You haven’t really spend any money.” I can’t even remember the statistics, anybody could go online and Google them, but I highly recommend. You can see the percentage of sales that are coming from eCom versus what’s left. It’s still such a huge untapped market that is crazy as much stuff as we hear about it. It’s so much being talked about, then you have people like, “What about Amazon? What about Wayfair?” It’s the same thing like, “Why does someone shop at a mom and pop shop versus a Home Depot?” They get a different type of experience and it’s like that online.
When you build your business the right way, people will buy from you for different reasons than what they would for Amazon. I remember I had a customer who spent $2,000 on my site. He said that the reason why he bought from us is that he doesn’t like to buy from big box retailers. You will have a lot of people that buy to support small businesses. If you’re thinking about where’s the future of eCom? Where’s this thing going? It’s only going to get bigger, better and more amazing, especially when you’ve got people like FreeeUp that’s helping you along the way, that you can outsource stuff too.
I appreciate the kind words. I appreciate you coming on and spending some time with us. Where can people find out more about you and what are you excited about for the rest of the year?
If you want to check Earnest out, you can easily go to EarnestEpps.com. We also have a free Facebook group, it’s eCom Dropshipping for Entrepreneurs. If you want to come in for free, hang out and see all the cool stuff that’s happening to eCom and get educated. That’s what you can do. For the rest of the year, I’m focusing on outsourcing more. You own an outsourcing company. Outsourcing more and get more off of my plate so I could focus on the high-level income producing activities. That’s what I’m excited about, getting more things off my plate, focusing on scaling and bringing on phenomenal people so we can hit that eight figure a year and beyond.
Have a great rest of the day and thanks again.
- Earnest Epps
- High Ticket eCom Secrets
- Affiliate World
- Expert Secrets
- eCom Dropshipping for Entrepreneurs – Facebook Group
About Earnest Epps
Earnest Epps is an international speaker, eCommerce entrepreneur, and CEO of eCom Success Academy, High Ticket eCom Secrets, and Earnest Associates. Earnest has 10 years of marketing and sales experience and has been able to take both offline and online marketing strategies to help people combine them both into a marketing powerhouse for running successful online e-commerce businesses.