Growing up, I always wanted to create something. I was the type of kid that would be taking apart things and putting them back together or hacking it with something else to create something new. All grown up, I had a desire to create a physical product that would be used by people other than my family. I didn’t know what to create though and thought it would cost a lot to create something physical.
It’s funny, ideas and opportunities can come up anywhere if your mind is tuned to seeking them out. I just started an inside sales position (cold reaching out to people) at a software company. I consider myself an introvert and was struggling to pick up the phone and make the dials, which was an important part of the job, as a result I was losing focus as well. In another interview before I got this inside sales position, one of the employees there told me how he gamifies his calls - moving toothpicks from one glass to another until the original glass is empty. I gave this a go, but instead of moving toothpicks I drew circles on a page and colored them in.
I started doing this everyday on a blank sheet of paper. Also, using productivity and focus principles I read in The One Thing (recommended by David Priemer), I would write down my one important task to get accomplished for the day and then reflect at the end of the day to make the next day better. One day, I walked into a local bookstore and came across the Productivity Planner (created by great local Toronto entrepreneurs) and I thought there should be one specifically for insides sales professionals. I thought there had to more than just me going through the struggles and would benefit from something like the system I hacked for myself on a blank piece of paper everyday.
POWER OF AN INFLUENCER
How could I test this out? One thing I could do is ask my colleagues and the local sales community but I wanted to reach out to a larger audience for an unbiased feedback. Using the confidence built up from cold reaching out to people, I cold emailed a sales coach/extraordinaire/influencer - Trish Bertuzzi (if you are in sales and haven’t read her book, it is a must - The Sales Development Playbook). She graciously accepted to have a quick chat on the phone about the idea. During our call, Trish suggested I write a blog post about the idea and she would put it out to her audience.
A few months go by and the post goes live.
An overwhelming response. It was being shared on LinkedIn and being picked up by other influencers in the space. A weekly review of tools for inside sales featured it in their must-have for sales people. Requests were coming in on where they could buy it.
Here is a link to the post, I photoshopped what a page would look like and explained the benefits and features of the “Sales Journal”.
“Strike when the iron is hot”
I knew this moment wouldn’t last long and had to act quick on it to capture the attention and demand. I didn’t even know what I was calling it at that point. I kept everything simple and stuck with the name “The Sales Journal”. I registered the domain name (using a .co) and put a Shopify site to accept pre-orders. The pre-orders started rolling in and it was exciting to see they were coming from all over the country (to people I didn’t know!).
How did I choose the price?
With a bit of market research, I looked into other planners, journals, agendas and gather data on how many pages, size, and price. I figured with the access to suppliers anyone has with an internet connection, I could get my margins low enough to support the market retail price of similar journals (assuming they were all making a profit).
FINDING A SUPPLIER
Concurrently, I hopped on Alibaba and posted an RFQ for a journal with the specs I did in my research. My four important criteria for choosing a supplier to build this was: Quality, Communication, Price, MOQ. I didn’t want to keep my pre-order customers waiting too long so I stayed up throughout the night talking with suppliers over Whatsapp (this is normal business, feels weird, but is very convenient).
Within a week I had some blank page samples shipped to me, this was to check the quality of the pages and construction of the books. Narrowed it down to 2 and it came down to price and MOQ. I was going to store the journals in my condo storage locker, so I couldn’t bring in too much. Also, after working in corporate retail on buying teams I knew the troubles associated with too much inventory.
Once I had a supplier chosen, I had two options for shipping: boat or plane. Shipping them by plane was much more expensive but the timeframe would be a week. Shipping them by boat the time frame was 30+ days. I didn’t want my pre-order customers to wait that long so I took the hit on the margin to get a portion sent by air and the rest by boat.
The journals turned out to be amazing in quality. There is a feeling about seeing, holding, smelling a product that you created from an idea that can’t be matched. It was my baby, you could say. I kept the shipping simple, no fancy packaging, I figured for this type of product the most important thing is the contents not what it comes in. I used standard bubble-lined shipping envelopes, wrote the addresses by hand and dropped them off at the local post office. For my Canadian merchants, I was shipping these from Toronto to primarily the United States. I didn’t take this into account prior, but found out that shipping a book across the border was in a classification to not be charged duty.
The majority of the early orders came from the original idea blog post. After that, I started getting requests from podcasteres to be on there show. The majority of the sales came from these channels. I didn’t invest any money into paid campaigns. As a result, after the podcasts and the original article, sales started to slow down. I was still working full-time and my focusses got pulled into other directions. When orders came in, it was great to see (sometimes a company would order books for their team). I didn’t do any social media marketing as well (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn).
There was a lot of opportunity for the business, but as I was focussing on other ventures I decided to sell it through Flippa.com. As of November 2017, after just over a year, I sold The Sales Journal. I was profitable after the pre-orders. If you’re interested in the economics, please message me, I will not post it publicly out of respect for the new owner.
- Minimize the non-selling time as much as possible (packaging/shipping)
- Test the pricing
- Invest in social channels
- Run paid campaigns
If there was something in the process that you would like to know more about, please leave it in the comments.
To purchase a Sales Journal, please visit salesjournal.co (full disclosure, I do not receive any commission from this link or from any sales of the journal).