My first two clients in e-commerce

I reflect on my new journey in e-commerce.

How are you doing? The weather here in Toronto has gotten warmer and the sun has been shining for longer. I’ve been going through lots of changes on my end, but I’ll spare you the long read and share what’s relevant.

Building my e-commerce business

Right now, I am working on building my e-commerce consultancy business. It’s powered by a lot of fear and anxiety. It’s hard for me to believe, but I managed to successfully complete two client engagements. Both were pro-bono. So I got into e-commerce and within one month, I had found two clients. Buckle down, it’s story time.

The first client found me in a strange and unexpected way. He works in an elementary school in Los Angeles and has recently done some dataviz work in his role. He saw no one was tracking attendance and realized it would be useful to the school to have this information. He went on YouTube looking for tutorials and found my videos. He clicked on my Instagram link in the YouTube description, saw that I was at the time working on a handmade project in dataviz, and DM’d me. He reached out to me saying how he found me and asked if I offered services that could help his new business. Last November, he started a new handmade rug business and has found a steady stream of customers. That’s one interesting trend I noticed on Instagram, which is there was this massive boom of new creative handmade businesses that opened up from August to November last year. I think he trusted me enough to reach out to me because he saw my videos. Videos are so powerful because it’s a great way to start a relationship with people, especially clients. I went through four strategy sessions with this client and I learned a great deal about his challenges and business questions. I kept refining my process after each meeting with him. After our engagement, I shared what I knew about dataviz in case he wanted to get into it and pivot into an analytics role.

My second client came from Reddit, lol. I love reddit. There’s a subreddit called “reviewmyshopify”. I found it by accident and have been on it weekly to listen to what challenges Shopify owners face. I see the websites they build and give feedback. There was one shop that I really liked. He was getting no sales and I provided detailed suggestions on what he could do. I then sent him a personal message and pitched him my services pro-bono. All I ask is for testimonial and a case study in my portfolio. The real value of working with him is to learn what his deepest challenges are. If I can understand that, then I can help more clients like him in the future. Thankfully, he accepted my pitch and we just finished working together. I had an even more refined process with him and carried forward what I learned with my first client. It has been so humbling to work with him, he has a crazy back story. He is from Detroit and is in his early 20’s. In the first call, he told me he never saw himself working in the office, so he is building his online store selling gaming chairs. He was joining my Zoom call from the Middle East, where he is currently deployed in the military until the end of this year. During his own time, he is working with suppliers and building his store on Shopify. What I loved about working with him was watching him change. In our third strategy call, he suddenly became a different person. He saw how he needed to become more competitive in the market and I helped him identify ways to build a community around his products. I actually cried after that call because I was so moved by how much he grew. It was emotionally overwhelming.

As I am writing all this here, I think to myself how I couldn’t apply my marketing skills to dataviz. It puzzles me. I am so good at marketing myself and I am so confident when it comes to strategy. I ask good questions and I can identify the pain point quite quickly. One factor I could think of is that I was too specialized in dataviz, I think to the point where I was the only one doing what I do. Here’s a wonderful image from David C. Baker:

Read this diagram from right to left. We all start out undifferentiated. Then we need to progress to being more specialized. There is an ideal point to specialize, where there’s enough opportunity and still some competition. I went way past that point and was met with insufficient opportunity. This is my guess for now, maybe after some more reflecting, I will come up with a different answer.

Ask Jane

A segment where I post questions I get asked from people who are curious about my process and work.

The following question was asked by a follower on Instagram:

Should I pursue a masters in information design?

So this is a loaded question and I didn’t have any context. I asked these two questions back:

1) why do you want to do a masters
2) what is holding you back

Their response:

1. To start my own business. In the bigger picture, I want to be play a role in improving the education system.
2. I'm starting to have a nagging doubt if Information Design skills are actually in demand and can pay well.

I think if you can afford the costs and time to attain more higher education, then why not. But, the real question I am being asked is not about getting a masters, it’s about market demand. In all honesty, dataviz is diverse and there are many niches that are profitable. If you go into business analytics or editorial world, there’s a lot of demand for dataviz design. This is just based on my own personal experience and it might be different for you because you live in a different country. So, I recommend you to find out for yourself. If you are looking for a job at a company, you can identify demand by the number of jobs available. You can do a quick search on LinkedIn to see how frequently postings are made. But, if you are trying to identify demand as a freelancer, then that’s a different approach. So how do you identify demand? At this point, we ask the question a new question, which is “what defines demand?” Demand for a service in a market is driven by the existence of problems. If there is a problem that needs to be solved, there’s demand.

Think deeper about this. Why do you buy what you buy? Everything you’ve exchanged money for is a solution. Signed up for a Netflix subscription because you want an escape at value pricing. Paid for a meditation app because you were anxious and you can’t stay focused. Freelancing in dataviz is no different. You need to find problems to solve.

The next question you should ask is: “How do I find a problem to solve?”. It’s not too hard, but it requires a bit of courage and thinking. It helps if you niche down because it makes it easier to search. If you just say “I want to solve problems”, that’s not a helpful question to answer. But, if you say “I want to solve problems for first response professionals so they can make a faster decision on how to best save a patient”, then you will get better answers. Once you have a general idea of who you want to help, go into your network and see who loosely works in your target field. Ask them to chat for 30 minutes and see what there most painful challenges are. Are any of them related to data and do they overlap with your skills?

Now, if you don’t have a network of people you can reach out to, then the next best thing is to find where they tend to hang out. Go on Facebook groups, LinkedIn, or Reddit. Join communities they might be part of and look at the questions they are asking. Listen to them and try and understand what must be so difficult for them to solve by themselves that they need to go online and type out a question for strangers to answer? Try to answer them, and if you can’t, do your research to help them resolve this.

To know if something will pay well will depend on how painful the problem is and how much supply is available. If the problem is intense and it’s hard to find professionals to solve this, people will pay more for it. You can also assess this by estimating what it costs to not solve this problem. Say if someone relies on their website to get sales and it goes down. Each day the site is down translates to lost sales. You can calculate that based on how many sales they get per month. In dataviz, this is can be tricky. Because how much is a dataviz deliverable worth to a client? I don’t have a good answer to this, but this is how you need to think about this.