How to overcome imposter syndrome, source products, and find a fulfilment warehouse: my ecommerce empire false start

How to overcome imposter syndrome, source products, and find a fulfilment warehouse: my ecommerce empire false start

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In my heart, I know there’s a good reason why many ecommerce ventures don’t make it. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. But with the adrenaline rush of getting started on an exciting new project, I was feeling pretty emboldened when I wrote my last post.

Since then I’ve been treated to a couple of reality checks. Nothing major. Nothing I couldn’t have predicted if you’d asked me to write about some of the challenges facing a new ecommerce business a month ago. But it’s different when you’re in the thick of it.

Dispassionate analysis and practical thinking are great. But when you’re desperate to get going with your ecommerce business, these little setbacks hit hard.

What were these setbacks, I hear you ask? Well, here's how my ecommerce business got off to a false start and how you can avoid the same problems.

Imposter syndrome

I wasn’t really expecting this one. At least, I wasn’t expecting it to this degree.

Sure, there’s always a bit of uncertainty and the feeling of being a fish out of water when starting a new job. But I’ve been experiencing serious imposter syndrome.

I have the skills to do this. Juni has hired me because they recognised that I have the skills to do this.

And yet I’ve been experiencing self-doubt, second-guessing myself, and questioning whether I actually do have what it takes to turn this idea into a successful company.

To make matters worse, after attending an event with dozens of entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses my imposter syndrome kicked into overdrive. It's funny how seeing other people’s success at close quarters can provoke that sort of reaction.

How do I stop imposter syndrome holding me back?

Bram Stoker wrote: "We learn from failure, not from success." Nike says: “Just do it.”

Sometimes it just takes a few words to keep the imposter syndrome at bay. An entrepreneur's journey is never easy, but there's a reason why we work through the challenges we face along the way. It’s important to keep that in mind. Push the self-doubt aside and plough on with the things that are in your control until the evidence that you can do this is there for everyone — including you — to see.

Ecommerce product problems

Call me cliché but I figured a clothing business would be an interesting route to explore for my first ecommerce business. It’s a tried and tested first port of call for many ecommerce entrepreneurs.

My initial idea was for a print-on-demand dropshipping business that I’d run via Printful. Low overheads, very little inventory — what’s not to love? That’s before it became clear that negotiating warehousing, Incoterms and taxes across the EU would generate lower margins and a bigger headache than expected. That aside, to be honest I wasn’t impressed with the quality. The products were not up to scratch for what I wanted to sell. Back to the drawing board.

That led me across the water to Canadian brand Kotn. They're an awesome sustainable clothing and home decor brand based in Toronto. The team is amazing and really helpful. But with my target customers and me in Europe, and Kotn on the other side of the Atlantic, finding a way to work with them and stay within my sustainability targets proved to be hugely problematic.

At one stage, it looked like working with the charity One Tree Planted might save the day.  They plant trees to offset the carbon footprint of deliveries. But even factoring that in, the transatlantic deliveries still didn’t stack up. My venture needs to align with Juni’s sustainability values, and working with Kotn wouldn’t have done that.

The fog of despair soon lifted when a bit more digging led me to Full Circle Clothing. They have a similar ethos to Kotn, an incredible business model, and the distinct advantage of being based in Europe. There’s the potential for some very exciting development and, if all goes to plan, I’ll also dive into their business model in a future post.

How to save time when sourcing products

If you’re currently sourcing products for your ecommerce stores, here are my tips for making that process as easy as possible:

Open up your LinkedIn DMs. Don’t be shy about telling people what you’re looking for. In a business environment like LinkedIn, companies who are hungry for your business will reach out to you (and that saves you time reaching out to all of them).

Plan a production radius. For me, this was driven by sustainability considerations. That might be a consideration for you or it could come down to logistics, import taxes or lead times. Narrow your search down to the places where you want your products to come from.

Find shared values. You know my focus is on sustainability. Some businesses might prioritise a luxury element. Others might take a ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ approach. My advice is to find a manufacturer or supplier that shares some or all of your core values. That’s going to make life much easier than trying to work with a supplier with a completely different ethos.

Abandon shop

My first foray into setting up a Shopify store for the business did not exactly go to plan. Do you remember what it was like getting a new toy as a kid? And sometimes you played with it so excitedly and enthusiastically that it broke? Well, that’s short of what happened here.

After conducting lots of testing and experimenting with different scenarios, it all got a bit too experimental and I had to abandon the store. A web of mock transactions, dummy charges and partial refunds turned the back-end into a bit of a mess. Meanwhile, experimenting with different versions of product pages offended Google. An error message in Google Merchant Center indicated that I was effectively sabotaging my own SEO.

Sometimes it pays dividends to clear up a mess you’ve made. In this case, there was no sense in doing anything except start again with a fresh Shopify store and hopefully a clearer idea of what I want to achieve. Time will tell.

How to experiment with your startup ecommerce store

I learnt some valuable lessons from my tests and experiments. The mistake I made was believing that this ecommerce testing ground would eventually become my store. I’d suggest:

  • Creating a separate Shopify installation to act as a sandbox. Keep the experiments away from your actual store.
  • Having a clear understanding of site structure, transaction functionality and the fundamentals of your ecommerce store before you start to build it.
  • Doing any unavoidable testing on your actual site well in advance of launch to give Google plenty of time to crawl your site and remove any penalties that might impact SEO.

Where to warehouse?

I’m soon going to have products and, as you may know from your own business, the problem with having products is that before too long you need a warehouse. I started the process of interviewing some of the candidates. Interviews aren't the most exciting activity at the best of times, let alone when the subject matter is essentially a big shed in which to store things. But putting in the time to find the right partner at the outset will save you headaches — and potentially money — down the road.

After searching online, I stumbled across Huboo. They're advertised as an award-winning ecommerce fulfilment company and their website is pretty impressive. Their tech-driven micro-hub model (a mini-warehouse of your products within a warehouse for efficient picking) is really smart. Unfortunately, since I’m hoping to experiment with selling various different products at a wide range of price points, my business is an awkward fit for this model. High-ticket items are stored differently to lower value items. Since I want to do both, it was impossible to have a single micro-hub. But if your products are all around the same price points, this is definitely an option worth exploring.

Byrd  — a promising option with a warehouse in the Netherlands — was the next on my list. This would tick boxes for easy EU fulfilment, so I was feeling positive. But after travelling to meet The SMS Group, I started thinking about Juni’s deep roots in Sweden. My parent company was founded in Gothenburg and has a lot of Swedish connections, so a warehouse in our home country makes sense on a lot of levels (as well as being the perfect starting place for fulfilment within the EU).

Back in the UK, I had a promising conversation with Logistica and took a trip to their warehouse in Northampton. They’re a prime candidate but seem to be a bit inflexible on packaging options. I’ll pick up the conversation again to see if there’s room for manoeuvre to get the packaging I want.

I’ve been in discussions with haulage firm Viking Logistics, too. They seem like a good option for a logistics partnership, and I’m starting to think I might need Viking and Logistica on board. I’ll explain why in a future post.

In any case, I’m hopeful of signing a warehouse contract (or contracts) very soon.

What should you look for in a good warehouse for fulfilment?

As you’ll have gathered, I’ve looked at quite a few different warehouse and fulfilment options. If you’re looking for a good warehouse for fulfilment of your products, these are my recommendations of what to consider when choosing your logistics partner:

  • Hunger. Do you get the impression that this warehouse wants your business and wants to do the job right? If not, they probably don’t and they probably won’t.
  • Packaging options. This is something that varies quite a lot between different warehouses. If packaging is important for your customer experiences or branding, make sure you choose a warehouse that’s prepared to adapt and work with you to get custom packaging right.
  • Price. Again, this varies quite a bit. Compare different pricing models to see what’s going to deliver the best value for your requirements.
  • Location. Where do you want your products to be? Where will your warehouse be in relation to your customers? And how will this impact the total cost to your business? Will your choice of warehouse location impact your tax status?

Two steps forward, one step back

Or is it one step forward, two steps back? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. But it’s definitely been helpful to write this blog post. I can see now that I’ve made more progress than I probably thought I had when I started writing this.

I’m pretty confident I’ve got my first products lined up. And I’m very close to having warehousing space in which to store them and a fulfilment service to get them to customers.

Have you found a warehouse or logistics partner for your store? What was the biggest problem you faced? I’d love to hear from you and compare notes. Send me an email to community@juni.co to share your story.

How to overcome imposter syndrome, source products, and find a fulfilment warehouse: my ecommerce empire false start
Stephen Bourke
Ecommerce Store Manager

Stephen has over 4 years of experience running businesses and assisting entrepreneurs with Shopify stores. When he's not setting up shop, Stephen enjoys a good board game with his husband and friends. He's known for trying adventurous vegan cuisines.

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