A shared love of the outdoors and travel acted as a catalyst for Jonathan Holmes and his wife Lejaun to start CrowSurvival.com. “I had run a few websites over the years,” says Jonathan, “and my wife was a social media pro. Once we fell upon the idea of our website, everything just clicked into place and it quickly grew into something that would allow us both to work for ourselves. It was a dream job and opportunity come true.” But this success didn’t come easily.
Jonathan started blogging in 2012. “For the first few years, it was largely an unmitigated disaster,” he says. “I spent hours plugging away writing articles that, in hindsight, had absolutely no chance of generating any traffic. There just wasn't an audience for my topics.”
After these unsuccessful blogging efforts, the Holmeses tried to launch a tea company geared towards pregnant women. “We spent thousands on stock, weeks working on branding and then ended up not being able to find an audience,” says Jonathan. “I also tried dropshipping jewelry at one point.” Nothing was working.
Eventually, Jonathan & Lejaun launched an online store selling survival products through dropshipping.
“After a few months, it became apparent that a couple of related products were accounting for 90 percent of the online sales,” says Jonathan. “So we doubled down on those, rebranded and specialized in becoming the go-to resource for that survival product line. From there, we quickly gained the number one ranking for a number of related keywords. It wasn't until we began really digging into SEO and other online business success stories that we began to find our way.”
Finding the right niche has become the tipping point in ecommerce. It can be very hard to successfully advertise and sell a product when countless others are doing the same thing with the same product. Trends are changing all the time, so it is up to the dropshipper to keep up and cash in on this while they can.
In the early days, the couple dropshipped their products from China, where a large number of suppliers are based. “This, of course, has its own distinct set of challenges and perks,” says Jonathan. The importance of doing business with good quality, communicative suppliers has long been emphasised by successful dropshippers. However, with so many suppliers in the market along with stiff competition, it’s not always smooth sailing—something the Holmeses will certainly attest to. “Chinese suppliers caused a number of headaches. The quality was often poor and shipping times were sometimes ludicrously long. We changed Chinese suppliers several times until we found one that worked for us.”
Following their frustration with shipping times, the couple sought out a local supplier for their products. “It took a lot of persuasion and back and forth to get a local supplier to work with us and use dropshipping,” says Jonathan. For quality assurance, the Holmeses would order several samples and review customer feedback continuously. “It took a while to find a partner that we were 100 percent happy with that continuously received positive feedback from our customers,” he says.
Sourcing local suppliers is a worthy consideration for any dropshipper, and can be done with a few resources you’re likely to have on hand already.
“Check out the Yellow Pages for wholesalers in your area,” says Simon Slade, CEO of SaleHoo.com. “Watch out for liquidation auctions by checking newspaper classifieds or go along to yard sales and thrift stores. This is time consuming but lucrative for high-return items like used clothing. For example, you can often source a dress for $0.50 and sell for $35. Attending trade shows will give you a good idea of what is up-and-coming for the new year or season.”
Once the Holmses paired up with the right supplier, their online store thrived. “It was this endeavour that really opened the floodgates and made us realize that we could make it online,” Jonathan says. After two years, the couple sold the dropshipping business for a nice profit in order to pursue other endeavors, including what is now their primary website: CrowSurvival.com.
Content marketing played an enormous role in the success of CrowSurvival.com. “It took almost exactly a year before we made any sort of profit,” says Jonathan, “but that was largely a result of a massive push to create content six months prior.” The couple published almost 100 articles within two months and six months later, those articles started to generate traffic and convert customers. “Our first profitable month pulled in around $50,” Jonathan says. “Profit and income then began to snowball from there, more than doubling every month until it plateaued at around $10,000 a month.”
The couple says online success sort of “snuck up” on them. “Every month our revenue was increasing until all of a sudden we took a look at our online income and realised ‘Wow, we can live off this,’” Jonathan remembers.
Jonathan advises online sellers to know their strengths and use them. “There's a reason why a weakness is a weakness,” he says. “Just understand what yours are and do the stuff that you're really good at.” He goes on to add that having a partner can make all the difference. “There's a very good chance your partner will succeed in areas that you fail,” he says.
In hindsight, Jonathan also recognizes that it’s important to take time to appreciate your progress. “One of our biggest challenges has been knowing when to stop,” he says. “We started this business because we wanted to control our own time and be responsible for our success. There were periods where it felt like the business was controlling us and we deliberately had to take a step back and reassess our work-life balance. It's easy to always work towards your next goal and milestone, but you sometimes need to take a step back and look back at everything you've done.”