Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Oliver - I run two businesses Carpe Diem Rome Tours and Create Circus Agency. Today I am sharing how I started Create Circus - a UK-based Shopify development agency focusing on high-quality e-commerce store creation.
From the knowledge I gained building a Shopify business, I started Create Circus during the later end of the pandemic. I began to build stores for clients on a freelance basis and subsequently launched Create Circus.
We noticed that many stores lack great branding and quality. We began offering custom-built templates and designs to make the store unique and stand out.
Today Create Circus turnover around $24,000 a month with two amazing full-time project managers and three full-time developers.
We also have two incredible freelance designers and copywriters. When we initially started, we focused solely on new store builds.
Now, we are branching out to retainer clients for services including SEO and SEM. And after some great results with some clients recently, we are looking to build a Tik Tok marketing service section.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Pre-covid, I was working in the tourism industry. When the pandemic hit, there was no business in tourism at all, and I was forced to look at something else. During the global lockdowns, I began to work on my own Shopify branded business and navigate the world of marketing, eCommerce, and business.
I tried to start my own business several times and move to a nomadic lifestyle but had little success. This time felt different - with no work, my back was against the wall, and I pushed through.
Create Circus has been an amazing business for me. Firstly, it has given me the freedom to work anywhere. Secondly, having an agency with the excellent staff has been paramount in supporting my other businesses.
My financial situation when starting Create Circus was comfortable as I had made several investments and saved a good amount of money during my 20s. I was able to use some of this money to get my brands off the ground. With everything, it took less than $2,500USD to officially launch Create Circus.
Fill your downtime with courses and materials. Swap Netflix for Udemy. And keep great notes.
Take us through the process of designing your first product.
Setting up Create Circus taught me the importance of spending money to make money. Investing in your brand, culture, and customer service is essential, but most of all, your people.
My company's success is mainly due to the great team of project managers I have working for me, Alina and Diliara.
I used a mixture of personal savings and a credit card to finance my business. At the time, I was working two part-time jobs as my usual business in tourism was silent due to lockdowns.
When I started, I was on my own, so I only worked on basic changes and edits for low sales value (average 300-500USD for my work). My main focus was to build up my social proofing and maintain excellent reviews.
One of the first things I did was sign up for an American Express cashback card to collect cashback on all expenses for freelancers, salaries, and equipment. I still use this daily as it is a great way to add business value.
I also researched methods of maximizing my potential income. For example, my clients typically need affiliate schemes on hosting, domain names, and software/apps.
When you start a business, cash flow is a difficult thing to manage. If you want to grow, you need to keep investing heavily in branding, identity, and development to maximize returns.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Gaining new clients is the most challenging part of any business. The most effective way we’ve acquired clients is by registering ourselves in as many places as possible, such as directories and freelancing websites. Many sites such as Fiverr, People per Hour, and Upwork have been vital for us to gain a loyal customer base.
We began investing heavily in our digital presence with our generated income. We created a community with our blog, which now has over 2000 monthly readers and shows on the first page for multiple search terms. We share blog posts with our clients and publish bite-sized guides that help clients manage their stores.
We focus on services we do not sell, so there is no conflict, mainly quick and easy tasks such as something basic like how to remove Shopify branding. We also offer a newsletter sign-up to keep returning visitors interested. The blog is still growing, but our process has been successful so far.
We are now investing in a complete website redesign which we plan to launch in October. This will come in hand when helping convert our newly acquired traffic. You can see our recent traffic growth below; we are just getting started.
Below is our new Instagram layout and design, which will help create our brand identity and display our capabilities with design and development.
We are also starting to attend networking events. We have successfully converted some businesses locally by getting out there and introducing ourselves. We are excited to attend the world-famous Web Summit in Lisbon this November.
For retaining customers, we are very hands-on with our clients and excel in communicating project progress and updates. We have developed a personal relationship with many of our clients, who keep in touch and always circle back to us if they ever need help.
Swap your dinner out a month for a monthly sub with Ahrefs or SemRush or a monthly subscription to Shopify. All gains often require sacrifices, but they pay off with great persistence.
Thanks to our unique relationships, we have reconverted many customers who have either come back to us for another project or recommended us to a friend or family member.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we are doing great - our progress has been slow, but we are on an upward trend. Organic ranking positions are increasing daily, along with our five-star reviews.
Reviewing our pricing has been a priority as of late. The quality of work we deliver and time spent on each project has left us priced extremely low compared to other agencies. We will begin working out a plan to increase the average value of our orders while also increasing the value of our service.
When we launch the new website, we plan to run a highly targeted Google advertising campaign to acquire new clients. We will also propose an ongoing retainer that provides SEO, marketing, or launch advice. Having clients on retainer will support our business further, allowing the staff more time to grow and innovate as we work on our eventual goal of building a SaaS within the eCommerce industry.
Our current distribution of customer acquisition is around 70% Freelance platforms and 30% direct or referral. The means of our income is about 95% new store builds and projects and 5% retainers. We aim to bring this to about 50% / 50% on the organic and marketplace acquisitions by mid-2023.
We also aim to shift to a 70% / 30% model with a 30% retainer option and are proactively implementing systems to achieve this. Our ideal scenario is that the retainers can cover our running costs.
Currently, we have 10,000USD on the side ready for marketing, and we are saving around 2-3000 USD per month to get started. We have a close eye on Tik Tok after running some extremely successful advertising for Carpe Diem Rome we are now looking at how we can create ads that appeal to a younger audience in the service industry.
Our blog is crucial for us, and our goal is to become the second biggest source of Shopify reading material in the world (after Shopify). Of course, we have a long way to go, but we are excited about the current results and plan to continue to improve each day.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The main platforms we use for the business include the Shopify Partner account (and expert account). We also use Fiverr Pro for sales and business growth /development.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One of the absolute best resources for our team has been Udemy. We have studied multiple courses here and aim to complete a couple per month. We add all notes from each course to our Notion with a table of contents.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Keep learning. Since starting the business, I have been proactive in developing my skills to support my business further. This includes SEO, marketing, sales copy, and leadership.
- Fill your downtime with courses and materials. - Swap Netflix for Udemy. And keep good notes, I use Notion to keep on track of everything I learn to refer back to it.
- Just start. Getting started is easy, but the hard bit is gaining momentum. I highly recommend searching for the right tools to monitor your progress and keep on top of how you grow.
- Spend money on things that matter. Swap the meal out a month for a month of Ahrefs or SemRush or a monthly subscription to Shopify. All gains often require sacrifices, but they pay off with great persistence.
- Take breaks. Sometimes, it was hard for us to turn things off as sales kept coming, but we had to take a break to understand our faults and rework our structure. It can be hard to say no to project after project. However, resets are important for the long term.
- Jump on trends early. not just the platform itself (such as Tik Tok) but all the businesses that can be built around it, for example, niche SEO sites, advertising monitoring platforms, and influencer marketing.
- Appeal to your audience and set yourself up for success. This can be with your social profiles, personal websites, or local community advert.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Each business has multiple income streams, including different satellite websites and eCommerce stores. I would like someone to help me grow and develop certain aspects of the business. This is a fully paid position, if interested, I would love to hear from you [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
You can visit our website or any of our social media. We are expanding the blog, and there is some great content for new and existing store owners.
The Management Team
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
- 4,818 founder case studies
- Access to our founder directory
- Live events, courses and recordings
- 8,628 business ideas
- $1M in software savings