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Welcome to the Side Hustle Success Stories interview series where we chat with real people about real side hustles! Today, we learn how to make money with an E-commerce side hustle. Jeff from The Critter Depot teaches us how he makes $2,000 profit per month on the side by focusing on SEO and crickets. Crickets for sale!
Take it away Jeff!
Hey all, I’m Jeff, the sole provider for a household of five! I work full time as a project estimator for an epoxy flooring contractor, and I thoroughly enjoy the work I do for a living. It provides enough to pay the bills, feed the kids, and take the family on a vacation once or twice a year. I’m pretty lucky.
Aside from the necessities, there’s still plenty of endeavors, upgrades, and vacations that we’re just not able to afford. We practice parsimony with a passion. But no matter how much wasteful spending we eliminate, it never feels like there’s enough money. So to pull in a little more, I did what any sane and rational father/husband would do: I began selling crickets online.
My Side Hustle Experiences
Selling crickets online wasn’t my first side hustle. I started side hustling in 2014, performing various labor gigs I found posted on Craigslist. Although the average payout for each gig was over $18 an hour, it was still time-consuming. I’d have to hunt for gigs, email the person posting the gig, try and secure the gig, coordinate a time to perform the gig, and then drive to the gig to do the labor.
This wasn’t terrible, and it was certainly better than getting a formal, part-time job. But I needed more. I needed something that demanded less time and offered a bigger payout.
So, I turned to the holy grail of passive income: making money online. I didn’t know what I was getting into, nor the rabbit hole I would enter.
My expectations were simple: build a website, and start collecting profits! Simple and easy. However, after 3 years of experimenting, I learned that it was neither simple nor easy.
Why I Chose to Sell Crickets Online
I crashed and burned through a few online projects before discovering crickets. I created e-commerce sites selling women’s shoes and binoculars. But these turned into quick flops after failing to compete with Zappos. And the binocular site went bust when I couldn’t find a supplier (I also learned it’s important to find your supplier first, before buying and building the site).
I tried creating an affiliate marketing website that reviewed thermometers. But securing backlinks proved very difficult, and I was never able to secure top Google rankings.
I even bought a coupon website for $6000 off Flippa, which gave me my first taste of success. I tweaked the site, which resulted in more monthly income. Then sold the site 1 year later for $20,000!
After all of these trial and errors (and some success), the most critical lesson I learned was that I needed to select a product that has high search volume on Google and very few ranking competitors. I needed to start focusing on SEO. The high search volume will indicate that there is a good amount of interest for the product/service you’re trying to discuss. Low competition means it’ll be easier to get a higher organic ranking on Google.
‘Crickets for Sale’ Has A High Search Volume
It took a few months of research, but with the help from these tools, I was able to identify that crickets and other live critters could yield some potential:
- Check out Google Trends, and
- Google Keyword Planner
Google Trends isn’t going to give you a competitive analysis. But it will give you a nice overview of search trends for specific keywords. And you can then compare those specific keywords with other keywords, to see which is trending up, or trending down. This tool won’t provide the competitive analysis you’ll need. But it can offer a nice, quick and easy overview of how much traffic your target keywords could attract.
Google’s Keyword Planner will offer a competitive analysis that’s missing from Google Trends. And, it’ll provide suggestions for similar keywords. The benefit of this is you can diversify your site with a large number of high ranking keywords, which should gradually increase the traffic. Trying to rank for more keywords will take more time, but if executed properly, it can yield more success.
How I Launched My E-Commerce Crickets Side Gig
Since I had already gone through the website rodeo numerous times, I knew what steps to take:
1. Find a Supplier
2. Create a name and logo
3. Build a site using Shopify
4. Market product, focusing on SEO
Find a Supplier
This is the absolute first step. I didn’t want to spend time and money building a site, buying a domain, and hiring a designer without knowing I had a cricket supplier. When I built the binocular site, I built the site and hired a designer before knowing who the supplier was. And it turned out, I couldn’t find a supplier. So the website turned into a big waste of time and money. So it’s worth repeating that finding a supplier is unquestionably the first step to launching the site.
Create a Name and Logo
Once I was sure I had a cricket supplier available, it was time to do some creative thinking. I needed a name that implied crickets, but that was also ambiguous enough to expand the product line in the future. And after a few rounds of brainstorming, The Critter Depot proved to be the best choice available. And the domain was available, which influenced the decision.
For the logo, I went to Upwork.com to hire a freelance graphic designer. Upwork is a great place to find freelancers, that can help you with designs, content, and coding for any digital projects. We went through a few revisions, but finally created something that was simple and playful.
Building the Shopify Store
Shopify is one of the most well advertise e-commerce platforms. And their service isn’t too bad either. One reason I like them is that they have 24/7 chat and phone support. As a side hustler, I’m working on the site during irregular hours. So, if I’m having problems at 2 AM, it’s nice to know I can give them a call or a chat and get some support. Typically, this the best selling point for most of my endeavors.
Furthermore, their app store is full of useful tools designed by highly qualified 3rd party developers. As an added bonus, they offer a nice amount of free templates for your store.
One downside is that they’re not the cheapest option available. However, they do come with a 14-day free trial. If you’re really bootstrapped, WordPress is always an excellent option. But creating an e-commerce site out of WordPress requires more technical knowledge than if you were to create one with Shopify.
Marketing and SEO
I secured some product pictures from the suppliers, created some social media accounts, and was ready to push this site into the wild. I didn’t want to spend money on advertising, so I began soliciting pet forums, and pet bloggers to review our products. It took some time to gain traction, but after 2 years of on and off again marketing, I was finally able to gain some decent search rankings for specific keywords. Backlinks to my site are key!
The key takeaway with my marketing efforts is that it took 2 years. It wasn’t instant gratification. It took time to write blogs, research keywords, get to know other bloggers, and learn how to create a website that provided value for visitors. I could have bought instant gratification with Google or Facebook ads. But, I believe the organic roots developed through networking will offer a greater reward than through purchased ads.
How Well It’s Going
As mentioned, this side hustle took 2 years to start gaining any traction. It was a slow grind to develop quality content and reach out to bloggers who might be interested in sharing the content on the site.
But after 2 years of grinding, this project is now starting to bear fruit. July 2018 yielded nearly $12,000 in sales, the biggest month the site has ever seen. And I pocket about $2,000 from these sales, which is also the largest amount of profits I’ve been able to take from selling crickets.
How I Plan to Grow It
Some people have suggested that I start paying for advertisements with the profits to grow the business. And although there may be some credence to that suggestion, I’m more inclined to stick with organic growth and gaining organic rankings. I think the best way to accomplish this is by creating excellent content for my customers and visitors. The customers have grown the business; not paid advertisements. I’d rather find ways to improve the customer experience, which will hopefully increase repeat customers, and who will also help promote the site to their fellow friends.
The traffic demographics are primarily reptile owners, or people thinking about owning a reptile. And learning how to properly care for their beloved pets can be valuable information. So I went back to Upwork, and hired a freelance writer with a background in biology and herpetology. I instructed her to compose in-depth articles on how to care for bearded dragons, including their feeding schedule, bathing schedule, and habitat set up. This not only helps ensure the safety of the pet but gives the owner accurate and reliable instructions to ensure their pet’s health and happiness.
And these in-depth articles are a long-term project. The ultimate goal is to create a catalog of valuable, in-depth care guides for popular reptile and amphibian pets. And my writer has proven very capable of delivering the quality content that can help the visitors to my site. Here’s another article she composed that discusses how to care for leopard geckos, which discusses how to set up a habitat, maintain its sanitation, and their feeding schedule.
This growth strategy may sound altruistic. But turning this site into a valuable source of information could reap valuable SEO rewards. The quality information that’s already on the site is what earned the site’s current search engine. And if it’s a strategy that worked for Sam Walton and Jeff Bezos, then I’m willing to bet there’s some credence behind the strategy.