What is the best ecommerce platform?
Business

Battle of the ecommerce platforms.

Most people realize that blogging is a stepping stone to other things. Those things normally include writing a book, becoming a public speaker, or opening some sort of online business (consulting or whatever). It makes sense. You get a great introduction into writing, building a brand and you get a taste of what being your own boss feels like.

So, here I am, a year and a half after starting this blog, getting ready to start a full-blown business. And it’s only partially online (which is what I’m going to write in-depthly about here).

I’ve been pretty chummy with WordPress, so naturally I had no idea that other platforms existed to help people sell stuff online. I had heard in the past that people somehow integrated shopping carts into their WordPress systems through WooCommerce. But I couldn’t actually find anyone who was utilizing this setup efficiently. I knew that I was going to have to abandon my beloved WordPress for a newer, sleeker, sexier ecommerce platform. The question was, which one?

I asked Google to show me the best options for ecommerce platforms. Google lovingly obliged. I needed something that could process recurring payments (monthly subscription for products) and something that wouldn’t bang me over the head financially. My Googling was pretty extensive, and it led me to Mt. Doom and back, but it helped me narrow down my decision.

The first that I checked out was BigCommerce. They don’t inherently have the ability to process product subscriptions. This was kind of a deal breaker. There’s an app that you can add to your stored called “Recurhub” but you have to manually enter the code. No thanks. I’m decent with code implementation, but I want something that I have to do almost no work for that will act properly without question. There’s nothing worse than botching something yourself and then not know how to fix it.

The second ecommerce site that I tried was Magento. They’re owned by ebay, so my initial thought was that they’d be super user friendly — I mean, they own PayPal for fuck’s sake. Not the case. Their platform is geared more toward enormous online entities. And some of their example websites in their portfolio were terrible too (even for multi-million dollar companies). Again, no thanks.

Next I checked out Volusion. For a few minutes I thought I found our brand’s new home. They inherently support product subscriptions. Boom. Then, I messed around a little more. I signed up for a free trial to check out what it felt like under the hood. The admin dashboard didn’t impress me. It seemed clunky and like there was too much going on at once. Then I realized that the themes (which are necessary) cost upwards of $900. Holy crap. They might as well be custom made for you by Jesus at a price like that.

Finally, after touring the decent, the bad, and the ugly I landed on Shopify (who I had already predetermined that we would go with before I started shopping around). Shopify had pretty much everything we needed. Great customer service. Beautiful affordable themes. Hundreds of add-on apps to make the store do exactly what you need it to do. Plus, they have an add-on for subscription payments (without having to manually enter code).

I messed around in their admin dashboard. It felt comfortable and like I had control over what I was doing. It’s inherently set up to use the payment gateway that I wanted to use (Stripe). And they have a Point of Sale system that you can set up in your brick-and-mortar for just a few extra bucks per month.

Within 5 minutes I had a beautiful (demo) store up and running. I added a premium theme to the store for trial purposes, and after adding a few pictures, and our company’s logo my store looked like a legitimate place that people would spend money.

A monthly subscription to Shopify ranges from $29 to $179 depending on the needs of your site. For us, the $29 plan is going to work for quite a while. They offer a 14-day trial to make sure that it’s going to work for your business model.

There are a bunch of other ecommerce sites out there too, that I either wasn’t interested in or just plain didn’t have time to try. Some of them include Drupal, Wix and FastSpring.  Some of them make you do ALL of the work yourself. Some of them cost an obscene amount of money to operate. And others, still, let you have almost no control over the design of your site.

Customer service means a lot to me as a potential subscriber, so I sent a message to the contact email on each platform. I heard directly back from Shopify and even got a phone call from Volusion. Otherwise, my email box remained dead for a few days, but the remaining sites eventually all sent emails. If immediacy is a necessity, then definitely send a few test contact emails to weed out the noncompliant sites.

The cool thing about ecommerce — and this brood of ecommerce platforms — is that you don’t really need much experience or money to start your own store. If you can afford $29/month then you can afford to have a store. And you can sell anything you want (well, anything legal). You can sell books off your bookshelf. You can sell bracelets that you make in your spare time. Whatever you want. It’s a great way to make extra money. And if it works well, it may be a springboard for bigger and better things.

I highly recommend starting your ecommerce store through Shopify. Use this link and enjoy your first 2-weeks for free.

If you already have a store up and running what is your preferred platform, and why?

 


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Spend less

Republic Wireless wants to buy you Chipotle burritos.

Republic Wireless logo

One year ago this month I made the switch to Republic Wireless. They were offering these ridiculously cheap cell phone plans that Verizon (my at-the-time current carrier) couldn’t match. They were boasting unlimited everything. Ha! Naturally, I was skeptical. How could you not be when the average monthly bill was upward of $100?

Being the eager and frugal gentleman that I am, I paid the $99 for their flagship smartphone, the Motorola Defy XT. I also kept my $95 Verizon plan in place just in case Republic ended up sucking.

What I realized quickly was that they weren’t joking around. While the Defy ended up being the worst phone I’ve ever owned, the service that the phone operated on was incredible. The customer service, the no-bullshit billing, the coverage. Everything had been incredible – besides the phone itself.

I had been in contact with their PR team who assured me that they were going to be releasing a not horrible phone in the near future. They actually told me the phone was going to be amazing and about a 30 million% upgrade from the Defy. The phone in question was the Moto X, my current phone (and the best phone I’ve ever owned to date).

The Moto X that I bought from Republic was $299. The same phone was available from other carriers for $100 with contracts. The great thing about Republic’s phone pricing is that they don’t put the subsidy on the customer. They don’t trick you into a contract by giving you a “$100″ phone that you’ll pay the entire $650 price tag of over the next year or two.

When I bought my phone I owned it. I could cancel my plan with no penalty. I could then root the phone and do whatever I wanted with it. But where would I possibly go when I could get a practically unlimited plan for $25? Nowhere, besides Republic.

If I had told one of the other carriers that I wanted to cancel my plan after purchasing the phone for $100, they would have billed me   “the rest of the phone”, or $550. They would have also charged me an early termination fee somewhere in the ballpark of $200.

Over the past year I’ve been encouraging friends, family members and blog readers to make the switch to Republic. I’ve gone on-and-on about how the coverage is just as good as all of the major carriers (because it uses Sprint towers). I’ve explained how you’ll never be under contract. I’ve explained that you can drop your phone down to a $5 WiFi-only plan which still works really well, and that you can switch right back to the $40 4G plan with just a few clicks on the Republic Wireless app. I’ve even explained the amazing-ness of WiFi calling, and somehow only a few (smart) people have made the switch.

So, I think it’s time for a different approach in terms that everyone can appreciate: Chipotle burritos.

Chipotle Burrito Bowl

When you’re comparing cell phone plans it’s important to understand how many more burritos you’ll  be able to buy each month. If your new plan causes you to have less money for burritos, your decision should be a quick one.

Chipotle burritos — or burrito bowls, if you prefer — cost about $9 on average. My previous plan with Verizon was $95 per month. That’s nearly 10.5 burritos/bowls. 10.5 servings of rice, beans, fajitas, meat/sofritas, salsa, corn, sour cream, guacamole, cheese and lettuce. Enough to sustain myself for over 3 full days. And 10.5 burritos that I’d sadly never get to eat.

After switching to Republic Wireless my plan went down to $28 after taxes. In burrito terms, my new plan would only cost me the equivalent of 3 burritos/bowls per month. That’s a savings of 7.5 burritos/bowls, of which I give full credit to Republic.

Over the course of one year my Republic Wireless plan is going to let me purchase an additional 90 burritos/bowls than normal. If you were wondering 90 burritos or burrito bowls contain nearly 2.5 gallons of guacamole, 1.5 gallons of sour cream, and 22.5 pounds of your favorite meat (or non-meat).

Because of my switch, I’m able to enjoy one (free) burrito or bowl every 4 days at no extra cost than if I had stayed with Verizon. And if I choose not to eat at Chipotle (for some absurd reason) then that money stays in my wallet or in my bank account.

You can have an expensive phone plan and eat at Chipotle every 4 days, but you’d be spending twice as much as me to get the SAME EXACT RESULT.

The decision is clear: switch to Republic Wireless and find Chipotle happiness.

I’m also going to offer an at least $50 Chipotle gift card to the person that can guess my exact Chipotle order. You don’t need to switch to Republic Wireless to win, although I highly encourage it for maximum burrito satisfaction. The only submissions that are valid are the ones in the comments below. Since there are thousands of flavor combinations, I’m not going to make a stipulation about multiple winners. I just don’t see it happening.  The value of the card will be $50 until the 50 comment line, after that the value will increase by $1 for every comment. Limit one entry per person. You have until 7pm EST on Monday August 11.

Images from Chipotle and Republic Wireless.


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Business

I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur.

Mark Cuban Quote

I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur. My goal was to quit working when I built up enough money to sustain my family for the rest of our lives. How the hell did I convince myself that starting a business would be a good idea? It’s the old argument of the Easy Road vs. the Hard Road, although the terms have now changed meaning slightly.

Early retirement was getting closer by the day and I started dreading it – it’s not the kind of reaction you’d expect from someone who has been writing about saving money for the past year and a half.

But my goals changed when I realized that I don’t want to not work, I just don’t want to work for someone else. I don’t want to help build another person’s dream. I want something of my own that I built from the ground up. From the Articles of Organization to the first sale — I wanted it to be 100% because of the decisions that I made.

In a way it sounds vain, but I think that it’s more than that. Human beings have the unique ability to create goals. We’re built with a driving force inside our hearts and minds that push up toward success. Sometimes life gets in the way and you get bogged down by the small stuff. Other times, life makes the decisions and you end up doing what’s best in the moment rather than what’s best for the long term.

Life was getting to that point within our household. Things were nuts. We had just had our third child, my wife told me that she decided that she’s going to leave her full time job in September, and the little things were starting to take over the majority of our time. We weren’t the Moneyseeds anymore. We were just employees by day, diaper changers by night, and an added stress of “what-the-fuck-are-we-going-to-do-when-we-only-have-one-income” started to set in.

Then, over a cup of great coffee, it hit me. It was a tiny idea, and it just seemed to resonate. It started to slowly takeover our waking conscious and subconscious thoughts, and kept us up in bed at night. We were going to start a business.

I’m not going to go into detail about what our plan is. Instead, I’ll talk about how a small idea turned into a huge idea, how the intensely bureaucratic process of organizing a business works, how a bring-you-back-to-earth reality check can change everything, and some of the small trials and tribulations of starting a business.

If you’re not of the business mind and don’t want to learn about how the process (or my personal creative process) works, then by all means skip the next few articles. Otherwise, let’s get ready to make some money the good-old-fashion American way.


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fi2point0
FI

Financial Independence 2.0

If you asked me one year ago what my definition of financial independence was, I would have replied with something along the lines of “it’s when you have enough money where you don’t have to work ever again”. While I still think this definition is sufficient, there is another level of financial independence that I think deserves even more credit that its predecessor: Financial Independence 2.0.

The premise behind FI2.0 is that instead of building up an enormous mountain of cash, we hone the power of money creation. When you master the ability to earn and create money in your life you’ll be better off than cubicle slaves and even the average person that’s able to live off of their wealth.

You might have felt the itch to start a business, or simply to have a yard sale to make a little extra cash. Acting on these ideas is paramount to our future success — especially when we’re stuck in careers that bring us absolutely no overt happiness. Every single person in America has the power to start a business (especially sole-proprietorships). And it could take as little as 5 minutes to make your idea a reality.

Get inspired.

I kept nagging my wife about starting her own business. She’ll be out of employment fairly soon, and instead of filling an available position at an already established business, I urged her to start something of her own that revolved around her interests. Basically, I wanted her to choose the path of FI2.0.

She insisted that her brain didn’t function like that. She didn’t have the entrepreneurial bug, and didn’t think she’d be able to create her own company. While she struggled with the idea, I sat back and left her to her own devices, because I knew she was moments away from finding her niche.

Eventually it hit her like a ton of bricks. In an effort to reduce the clutter in our house, she decided to list every book on our bookshelf on an Amazon store that she created. Within the first week she had already made a $400 profit.

She thanked me for pushing her, because she realized that she loved the process of selling stuff (even though Amazon and the post office eats most of her profit). And instead of just letting her inventory dwindle and eventually run out, she made the decision to replenish her stock on a bi-weekly basis by shopping at Goodwill media clearance sales.

Inspired by herself, she decided to start a second business as well. And a third. She literally went from having a single source of income (her primary job) to having 4 sources of income within a few short months. All it took was a slight change in her mindset.

When you adapt to the mentality of income creation rather than paycheck chasing, you’ll feel a sense of relief. You’ll know that you’ll be able to make it through the hardest times. You’ll also know that YOU are in control of your future — it all depends on how hard you’re willing to work.

Avoid poisonous thinking.

Chances are that you’ll talk yourself out of starting your own business. You’ll come up with a list of reasons of why you shouldn’t start a business before you even try. Fear is the number one reason why people get cold feet. The fear of the unknown, the fear of losing money, the fear of uncertainty, and the fear of failure.

Think about all of the successful companies you’ve ever heard of. Think about all of the new tech companies that pop up every day with awesome apps, websites or ideas. Think about all of the shitty businesses you pass by on a daily basis. The owners of these businesses had a vision at one point. They were inspired. And for at least a moment, they didn’t let fear get the better of them.

A pro/con list will be your best friend, when you get the FI2.0 bug. If you have thoughts of owning a big retail store you might realize that it just isn’t worth it financially to make the move. You may, on the other hand, decide that you want to start a lawn mowing service. Since you already own a lawnmower and a weed whacker you already have the required equipment to perform your first job. Only you can make the determination if it’s worth it, so allow yourself to think through every situation possible.

Envision success and you will be successful. Would you start a business if you had an overwhelming feeling that you were going to fail? Probably not, but even if you did you’d have a reduced chance of success, simply because you have the wrong mindset.

I’m not telling you to go out and start a business right this second, but I want you to dig deep into your inner cortex. Figure out what makes you happy, and look for holes in the marketplace. Chances are that you’d love to be your own boss, and that you have a great idea that you can put into action with relatively low start-up costs.

You’re a success story waiting to happen! Don’t let other people get rich while you sit on the couch eating ice cream and watching Shark Tank.

If you haven’t read it already, check out Tim Ferriss’s classic “The 4-Hour Workweek“. In it he describes how he created — and later automated — a significant income stream. This is a must-read for anyone interested in being FI2.0.


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drive your life forward
lifehacking

Drive your life Forward

Why do we spend the better portion of our lives obsessing over the trivial, while neglecting objects of true significance? Most people have life goals that mean an incredible amount to them, but they allow life to get the better of them. They tend to push their goals off to “someday” or “in a few years”. If these are the things that we’re so passionate about, then why aren’t we doing anything about them now?

The answer is easy. Our brains have been conditioned to prioritize the short-term, because our early pre-civilization ancestors didn’t know if they’d survive another week. Their main goal was to find shelter, hunt and gather food and to reproduce. While thousands of years have passed, we’ve never really been able to shake the idea of being short-term centric.

We’re at an enormous evolutionary disadvantage, but we have the ability to overcome our psychological shortcomings by tricking our genetics. We can re-learn how to approach and accomplish our goals, and we can trick our brains into focusing on the future. And all it takes is an alarm clock.

I have an alarm set for 10:30PM EVERY SINGLE NIGHT — just around the time that I’ll be getting ready for bed (hopefully) — to remind myself to partake in my daily ritual.

When the alarm goes off, I drop whatever I’m doing (if I’m home) or I’ll reset my alarm for later in the night (if I’m out with friends or on a date with my wife).

I’ll typically spend about 10-15 minutes reflecting on my day. During this time, I attempt to determine whether the events of my day had any impact on my short-, long-, and eventual- goals.

For a long time I was in a personal rut. I was going through the motions each day, and not actually accomplishing anything real. Sure, I had a few small wins here and there, but even though I was a task-oriented person I never really felt like I was getting anywhere. The gears were spinning, but the wheels weren’t moving.

Eventually I realized that I had been placing too much stock in the daily bullshit that always seems so important at the time. I became disinterested in small wins, and I began treating my daily task list as instructions on how to maintain homeostasis. I’d have to develop further instructions to actually move forward.

It all started with the concept of Zeroing my Brain, where I began to write down every actionable thought that went through my head. After I got everything out the creativity started flowing and it needed an outlet. I needed to create a new path for a second life — one where I acted on my long term goals on a daily basis.

There’s only one way to keep yourself accountable to a plan like this: by reflecting on your day, and determining whether you pushed your goals forward, and if you didn’t, what you’d need to do the next day to make up for it — then write that down.

Every day of your life you have the opportunity to move toward mastery. Of what? That’s up to you to decide. You might be a scientist by day. And you might have a goal of learning to play the cello — but you’ve never picked one up before. Imagine if you had spent 30 minutes each day over the past 10 years playing the cello? Or reading and studying music?

Odds are you’d rock the hell out of the cello. And you’d be accomplished enough to the point where you could refer to yourself as a scientist and a musician.

Obviously it’s okay to take days off from pushing your life forward. Sometimes you just need to relax, unwind and de-stress. On those days, you should still be spending a few minutes reflecting on your day. It’s good to know whether you’re still on track, or if you’ve somehow pushed your goals in the wrong direction.

Currently, I spend most of my day at a job where I have no creative control. I follow procedures, I reply to emails, I tell people what they need to be doing, and at the end of the day I try to leave work at work. After that, I’m able to focus on my life and my goals for the rest of the night. After playing with my kids, and cooking/eating dinner, I spend about two hours working for myself.

When I work for myself, I’m the boss and I have the ability to decide what I’m going to focus my efforts on. My options are unlimited as long as I follow one rule: push myself toward a goal. If my goal was to open a small business (and it is my actual goal), then I could spend an hour or two learning about how to start a small business in my state, by reading books by business veterans, or by perfecting the product that I’d be selling. Why would I wait until I leave my current job to master the art of my craft and small business?

It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll get to the big stuff in life “someday”. Retirement is a huge one for most people. Why not start planning for your retirement now? You don’t necessarily need to know what you’re going to be doing every day of your life, but financially planning your retirement will allow that date to come sooner. Mastering finances and the art of frugality could make your retirement date much much closer.

I received this comment on my blog, literally seconds ago, and I think that it perfectly describes the mindset of the uninitiated:

Thanks for an excellent read. I have been planning to retire and just be my own boss but of course, there are so many considerations that must be looked into. I still wish that someday, I will be able to do something I love and probably create a financially rewarding blog just like yours! :)

Amazing! This is exactly what we’re talking about. Whether the commenter knows it or not, she has at least 3 solid goals that she’d like to achieve:

  1. To retire.
  2. To become her own boss.
  3. To create a blog. (She should definitely check out this page then)

She should have an alarm set EVERY SINGLE NIGHT to remind her to reflect on the actions of her day. It will be extremely easy for her to determine whether she’s made progress in any of these three key topics. Did she do research or commit money to retirement accounts? Did she take the initiative to learn how to actually be her own boss? Or did she take the single step of creating a blog?

If no action steps were taken, and life kinda just stood still today, she should determine what she could do tomorrow to get on track. Then she should write it down, get some sleep, go to work, then finally start moving her life forward.

Great resources to help you get on track.

Duolingo – If you’re the kind of person that wants to learn another language, then this is literally the best resource currently available. Duolingo is a smartphone-based application that teaches you the basics of a bunch of different languages. 15-30 minutes per day of practice with this app will have you speaking fluent in your language of choice within no time. Oh yeah, and it’s free.

Personal Capital – If you’re getting serious about saving for retirement — or about saving money in general — then you should invest in this FREE service that helps keep track of your financial assets. At a glance you’ll be able to check your net worth, your average spending vs. average income, and you can see the daily movement of your stock portfolio. They have a beautiful website and a great companion app, so you can keep track of your future at any time.

Lift – This is easily the BEST resource available for people that are tying to create habits within their lives. Do you want to remind yourself to do pushups every day? Or to spend a few minutes learning Spanish? Or to perform your daily recap each night? Then this app was created for you. It’s FREE, and community driven. You can join others in their quests to create habits, or you can start you own to keep yourself accountable.

If you have other suggestions for other resources that would encourage long-term personal growth, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or send them to me via my contact page.

Photo attribution: Miguel Virkkunen Cavalho. Overlay and cropping done by me.


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