This is a follow up story for ESL With Purpose. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Alex and I started ESL With Purpose and the brand Phrase It in 2017 to help English learners practice phrases that native speakers use in daily conversation. Phrase It has both a card game and dice game version which focuses on learning English phrasal verbs and vocabulary.
What is a phrasal verb? Its a 2-3 word expression including both a verb and preposition, such as “come up with” and “fill out.” Native speakers learn these words from childhood, yet English language learners often struggle with them as they do business or try to relate with native speakers.
Last Fall in 2019, I launched “Phrase It 2,” an expansion version with more phrasal verbs and matching noun cards. This expansion deck can be used with the Phrase It original deck. I also sell teacher shirts on my Shopify store which say Teaching is Not a Job. It’s Love.
I used to average $1,000 a month, and I plan to see this increase when schools start again in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Sales were steady and increasing each month until COVID-19 hit in March 2020. When schools closed and educational conferences got canceled, I saw a huge decrease in sales. Some steps I have taken to try to increase sales have been running Amazon Sponsored ads, continuing to market to my English learner audience on Facebook, growing my YouTube channel, and pivot my messaging so people can use the game as a homeschool curriculum supplement or in a one-on-one online teaching scenario.
Get clear on “who” you serve for your marketing and how you can solve their problem.
I finally received my official trademark registration with the USPTO which unlocked Amazon’s Brand Registry program. This allows me to run sponsored headline ads, create my own storefront landing page on Amazon, and it unlocks more data and analytics I can track which will inform me of better strategies. Recently, Amazon launched a new “bundle” program for registered brands where you can add all of your products or mix and match a few for a bundled discount. See my bundle image here as an example:
Future Product Development
I have a new product and flashcard set in the pipeline called “Contraction Action,” which will focus on contractions such as “I’ll = I will” and “couldn’t = could not,” for example. This will help learners at the 1st or 2nd-grade level and up to practice English. Kids and adult English learners can use it. I also plan to couple this with a video training series on learning contractions. I plan to launch it in Fall 2020 or Spring 2021. See this prototype image as an example:
I also launched an online course called Learn American English Online: English on the Street which has helped grow awareness of my product and brand. The image below I used to advertise on social media with a lead ad on Facebook to collect email addresses.
I started using hand-written thank you postcards for my Amazon customers. This has generated some honest, quality reviews that are legitimate and I’m thankful for all the teachers and English learners who are supporting me. I also send weekly emails with free English lessons and updates on Phrase It with product links in my emails.
I have an automated email responder series using Constant Contact that drips out 8-9 emails when English learners sign up for my list of free 70 words you need to know pop-up. I used Privy to integrate that into my website. I also use a 15-email and 15-video lesson automated email series when running my Facebook Lead Ads. Students get a free lesson for 15 days and it builds trust so by day 15 they are more likely to buy my online course or get Phrase It as referenced in each lesson.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
For me, I still want to grow my own brand rather than finding a “hot product opportunity,” which is what many Amazon sellers tend to do for money. I do believe in the long-term, I still need to search product opportunities and grow financially, yet “making money” was not my reason for developing Phrase It in the first place. Most people running an Amazon business start with the product opportunity. I went about it the opposite way. Do I want to run this as a sustainable and profitable business? Of course! Who doesn’t? It’s just that my “why” has been more about creating fun educational resources to change lives over the ambition to “make millions.”
Imagine if Phrase It was in the hands of kids and adults in multiple countries who want to get better jobs and change their lives? I want my games and resources to help them achieve their dreams. English is the key to a better career and job because it’s the language of commerce. Understanding my “why” for the business, this past year helps me focus on the right products instead of chasing shiny objects which take me off-brand.
Due to connections with educators at conferences, a wonderful opportunity came my way this year to develop an online course with the company Bridge. Bridge equips and certifies teachers worldwide to teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), either for an online platform or teaching English in your home country or abroad. They are an academically accredited institution, so most educational institutions recognize their certifications worldwide. The course I developed for them is about teaching English with games in the classroom. It will be released sometime this year. I anticipate this will get the Phrase It game in front of thousands of teachers. Teaching English online has become a nice side gig for a lot of people stuck at home, and Bridge provides multiple levels of certification so you can do this effectively. I even obtained my certification from them back in 2008 when I traveled to Taiwan to teach English.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I plan to expand to Amazon Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, as those areas are hot spots for English language learners. Then I plan to expand to Amazon Japan. The only issue is the FBA fees will stack up as you have to enroll in a “monthly” payment plan in those countries as well as a seller. For example, in the U.S. it’s $39.99/month to be a seller. If I stack that similar price in Singapore, UAE, and Japan, I’m looking at paying over $160/month just to be a seller in all those countries. However, if I test it for a few months and see a significant increase in international sales, it’s worth it.
My other plans are to develop more educational card games or products, workbooks, and online courses. I will continue to provide free lessons on YouTube and continue to monetize my YouTube channel. I plan to sync the teacher T-shirts to Amazon and see I can generate more sales through that channel. Revamping my website will help too as my Google Analytics revealed to me that my current website has a high bounce rate.
From a marketing perspective, I plan to spend $50/month or more on Facebook advertising as I generated 140 email sign up leads at that price-point and it seems consistent each month. I’m growing over time within the low budgets I have to work with. I also plan to reach out individually to educational influencers and decision-makers.
I’m most excited about branching into other countries and seeing the impact ESL With Purpose will have. Long-term, I see multiple courses and products generating cash flow so I can focus on ESL With Purpose full-time.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Yes, my favorite book has been Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller with Dr. J.J. Peterson. It breaks down your marketing strategy in practical steps rather than theoretical marketing fluff which is common in most marketing books. I also enjoy their StoryBrand podcast. I plan to revamp my website and messaging now based on their principles.
Another book for fun that I read is The Money Tree: A Story About Finding a Fortune in Your Own Backyard by Chris Guillebeau.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Get clear on “who” you serve for your marketing and how you can solve their problem. Consider running a business based on passion + income versus just money or just passion. If you only focus on money and metrics, you may make a lot, but you can lose your soul in the process. If you focus only on passion, you have a lot of energy and charisma, but if not channeled or focused, can cause you to chase too much or not think realistically about how a business actually functions and operates.
Find your why and don’t give up. I wrote this notecard in my office to keep me motivated: “I will not quit. I will make progress every day.” It’s simple, yet encouraging.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Currently, I don’t have the cash flow to hire. I anticipate hiring someone as a part-time contract in 2021 or 2022 for ongoing social media posts and a few digital communication tasks.
Where can we go to learn more?
I recently branched out on TikTok to share fun lessons. You can also learn more about my ESL With Purpose and Phrase It brand with these links:
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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