SelfTaught Series #1: 7-Figures E-commerce Brands & A Digital Agency By 23
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Sean Tan is a self-taught digital marketeer who now runs a boutique digital agency, Wolves Digital. In this interview, he shares on his journey getting to where he is today while giving tips on the self-taught digital marketing route, the right mindset to have and how to start making money, without a Marketing degree.
Can you give us a short introduction for people who want to know more about you?
Hey guys, I'm Shaun. I graduated from Monash University and I majored in a degree in Economics and Finance. However, after awhile I realized that I would probably struggle to pursue a career in Finance. I've been failing in university so at some point, I said okay let me try something new. Marketing was just getting on back in the days and it really interests me so I took up a role in Monash University Student Association as the Head of Marketing
We were given a budget to run student initiatives. We actually managed to fill up every single event regardless of the school, regardless of the the the size we managed to do well.
This made me realise the power of Facebook marketing and digital advertising where a lot of businesses out there are not using.
Shortly after that, i begun freelancing. This is pretty much how it all started.
That's cool. How did you start freelancing?
Back in 2018, I got to know my current business partner now, Eric. He hired me to freelance as a Media Buyer back then. We were focused on lead generation and e-commerce. That was when I just started, barely knew anything and I just took on the project and learned on the job, on my own. I was paid at a way lower rate, and it's completely understandable.
However, don't be so harsh on yourself. Take this as an opportunity to you train yourself well during the freelance project, by adding value and bringing optimal results for your clients. You get to improve your skills, as well as build up your own personal portfolio.
In short, just go all out. Reach out to businesses. Show them your passion. Show them your enthusiasm. Perhaps you could even do it a dirt-cheap rate, or even do it for free if you're really new, this helps them take a bet on you and you get to apply your skills on real-world projects. If it works out, they're probably going to hire you or partner up with you. Win-win.
What's a typical day like for you now?
So the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) started about two weeks ago right? Yeah so 2 weeks ago. So basically, businesses are not doing well and times are bad right but I'm really thankful and grateful to be having a lot of clients. Right now, I see some clients are on the edge already, digital marketing is necessary to push and sustain their business. Without it, their business would probably be dying off really soon. So I can really feel a very heavy responsibility, now more than ever, put on my shoulders to help support these clients of ours.
We are getting so many clients coming in, begging us for to pull a miracle for them and all that! So we've been working quite tiredlessly for the past two weeks or so trying to make sure that all our services are top notch. At the same time, internally we're still a really new company at Wolves Digital so we have to manage our processess and systems really really well. We try our best to make sure there's no politics and the team knows their role to avoid anything from going wrong.
But yeah, if we're talking about my daily routine it would pretty much be starting off my day at 8, have breakfast, hit to the office, have meetings around 9AM to 1PM to have meetings and disccusions on how we plan to carry forward because right now systems and SOPs are really important to my new business. Then 1PM to 4PM I would either be meeting clients or carrying out the work, actually personally delivering the services for my clients there. Because yes, I like to manage business and all but I still strongly believe in my skills for media so I still actively manage the campaigns for all my clients. Then late afternoon it's more of a chill and debrief session where we plan for the next day.
It's quite hectic actually because we have a lot of clients here and there, running meetings, interviews and all but it's good! It helpts to keep us occupied, especially during MCO when times are bad we still have a lot of things to do.
What was your most memorable investment into e-commerce?
This will be the best time to talk about my Amazon FBA experience. So basically this was my first and largest investment into e-commerce and fully put myself through it. So i told myself I don't want to do dropshipping. Dropshipping is you getting a product from China, run marketing dollars behind to show countries with high purchasing power like USA, Canada, Australia and if someone orders we'll ship it out from China, directly to USA. I didn't really like that because I don't think it's a sustainable model.
So, I decided, let me buy the products, warehouse in Amazon, and I'll spend marketing dollars behind this. It was probably in 2017, when I was around 20 years old. I put in up to RM80,000 buying inventory. I went into the kid's niche because I found out in most western countries it's compulsory for kids to sit in a casket if they're below four years old.
The problem about this is when babies are placed a caste they always cry and move around, it's quite annoying for the parents. So I said okay, a good solution to this would be to attach something on them so the babies can play and use the iPad. So, I branded it, stored it in Amazon warehouse and shipped it from China all the way to America. I created a website, marketed it on Amazon and I did all the fulfillment, all the shipping and all the tactics. I know the entire flow of it from A to Z, but I did not factor in the fact that if I were to do this everyone else can do it too. There's not much differentiation to it so after awhile I only broke even.
I spent about RM80,000 and got back about RM70,000, yes it's a loss. But I've learned so much from this experience. So whenever any clients need help with E-commerce I know exactly what to do from A-Z, be it media buying, fulfillment, branding stratgies, marketing. I knew the entire flow.
How can people start, learn and implement what you did?
Sure! You can definitely learn from my experience here. So initially there's a lot of courses out there. I mean, I'm sure if you're into entrepreneurship, you would've seen tons of courses. 99% of those courses are cheats, scammers, fakers. They teach you and you learn for the sake of learning. It's all rubbish to me. To me, at the end of the day, it's not about the paid courses. I went on YouTube and I just learned from there. Without paying at all. I just searched "How to start an online business in 2017". There are tons of information out there, digital marketing, dropshipping, ecommerce, fulfillment. Choose One!
Let's talk about fulfillment. Let's say you have some money in your pocket and you want to develop a product. There are so many softwares out there and I don't think there's enough time for me to do it there. There will be software to help you filter good products and bad products, they will show sales volume for each products. Do your research on the product and BRAND IT. Moving forward into 2020, it's all about branding. Without branding, you just want to create a quick buck I you won't be able to do it for long. Back then you could do things like wholesale flipping, dropshipping, etc that takes awhile for shipping. But right now, it's all about branding. Focus on your brand name and pump marketing dollars on it.
The takeaway here is: Think in terms of brand, focus on the brand and make sure your quality is good.
For a new business, organic or paid marketing?
I would say allocate 90% into paid and 10% organic initially. This goes the same for every business. Selling coffee beans, air cond fixing services, any business at all.
First thing you need in a business is ROI. You need to have revenue. That's why I suggest spend 90% fo your effort on adverts. As soon as you get that up, spend small amounts, say RM5/day? Start targeting a small area. Offer your services via your adverts, get leads to fill up a form, and contact them right after to follow up and close the deal.
And then at some point you will see traction, you get more people actually calling up to use your services or buy your products, you get more motivated and now you have some money to start and allocate on organic content plus branding.
This again comes back to the importance of branding. Another point here also, in the future you may want to sell your brand, the bigger your brand name is, the higher the valuation will be.
What are your dreams for the future?
To help as many businesses / SMEs in Malaysia go online!