This is a follow up story for AlmondClear. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey everybody! I’m super excited to report back on how Almond Clear has been doing since my first Starter Story post. In case you missed that first post, I’ll do a quick rundown of my business.
Almond Clear is a line of specialty skincare products for people suffering from acne, folliculitis, and ingrown hairs. When you have an embarrassing, unsightly skin condition, it can really make you feel inhibited and insecure. Almond Clear helps to clear blemishes and ingrown (and other skin concerns, as well) because it’s naturally antibacterial, antifungal, exfoliating, and anti-inflammatory. But most importantly, Almond Clear gives people CONFIDENCE and FREEDOM so that they can enjoy the moment without being distracted by the appearance of their skin. Almond Clear products are fueled by mandelic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid derived from bitter almonds.
Almond Clear is currently a line of three products: a Level 1 serum that’s great for the face and body, a Level 2 serum that’s extra-strength and designed for the body, and a Face & Body Wash. We’re currently developing a moisturizer that will be acne and folliculitis-safe. It was supposed to be ready during Quarter 2 of 2020, but we’ve had some delays and it looks like it won’t be ready until the end of Quarter 3. Last year, Almond Clear grossed $400,000, and for 2020, we’re projecting approximately $1 million in revenue.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
I’m really proud to report that since my first post, Almond Clear has grown significantly! Year-over-year revenue has basically grown 100% since the business started in late 2017. I believe that Almond Clear has been successful because it's products solve a real problem in people’s lives, and because it’s more effective than many of its competitors. This has resulted in a repurchase rate above 33%.
If I’m not a strong leader, then no one will be inspired by my mission. So I believe that we have to work on ourselves alongside the business.
Sales and traffic have mainly grown because we rank very highly for relevant search terms on Amazon and because we have tons of positive reviews that validate the efficacy of the products. We do sponsor product ads to maintain our placement for the most important search terms. Advertising on Amazon is very straightforward. I manage all of the ads myself and it only takes me about an hour per week!
Outside of Amazon, traffic and sales have grown in a few ways:
- Affiliate sales through influencers! We’ve found a couple of great partners who really speak to the value of Almond Clear products on Instagram. These influencers actually use and love Almond Clear- they’re not just getting paid to say that they do. I think that’s the key to good affiliates- they have to genuinely love your products!
This amazing influencer helps to bring in many sales each month. She is a priceless partner in our success.
- Content marketing. We have a couple of blog posts that rank highly for long-tail search terms. This helps to direct traffic to our site.
- Social media presence. I don’t enjoy being plugged into Instagram, and I avoided it for a long time, but once I started posting regularly and getting more involved in the skincare community, sales started to increase measurably.
Almond Clear is still run almost entirely by me alone, though I’ve had some very part-time contractors come in go in the past year. However, the business has now grown to the point where I can’t manage doing everything on my own, and trying to do it all myself is detrimental. In the next three months, I’m aiming to hire two contractors (in the 20 hours per month range). I’m looking for someone experienced in CFO-like responsibilities, and also someone for marketing strategy and implementation. I prefer to hire someone in Portland, Oregon who I can have face-to-face meetings with.
Almond Clear’s business model is all about repeat customers. More than ⅓ of customers make repeat purchases, and many of these people end up buying more than four times. One of our core values is to be “your long term skincare partner,” so it’s critically important to keep customers happy and coming back.
We keep people coming back with free shipping on all USA orders, substantial bundle discounts, steady pricing (many of our Amazon competitors use algorithms that change their pricing daily to maximize profits), and by creating a strong brand and story that fosters a sense of community. Also, people like buying from a brand that has a person behind it instead of just a faceless company that feels really corporate.
We haven’t done any paid advertising on Facebook, Instagram, or Google Adwords. We may run these kinds of ads in the future, but first I’d like to implement a more robust content marketing strategy.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Being an entrepreneur is FULL OF LESSONS! Whether it’s in the area of personal development or business know-how and strategy, I honestly learn something new every week. It’s funny to look back on the first Starter Story Post that I did a year ago. I have come so far since then!
First of all, I’ve learned to be strategic, to make quarterly and yearly goals, and to maintain discipline on achieving those goals. In business, there’s always new, shiny objects that pop up. I hear about a new type of advertising that someone else is doing that’s been successful, or I get an offer to expand into a new market, or I get approached by contractors who promise to grow your business by doing X, Y and Z. But are those new, shiny objects directly tied to my quarterly goals?? If not, then I’ve learned to keep my eyes on the prize and say no. Otherwise, I get too many balls in the air and they almost all end up getting dropped. I’ve definitely learned that lesson the hard way!
I’ve also learned that if you don’t have a great product with great margins, then you’d better go back to the drawing board! Almond Clear has been successful because it’s a great product that really works, and its value is clear to its potential audience of buyers. Also, thus far, the margins are large enough to fund the business’s growth without having to rely on outside investments or loans.
In contrast, I’ve come into contact with a few business owners who are really struggling because their product’s value is hard to explain or isn’t readily apparent, or because their margins are just too small to make a living off of, let alone to fund the growth of the business. These business owners have taken large personal losses and have serious regrets. So my advice would be that if you can’t explain the value of the product within two short sentences, then you should think carefully about whether to proceed. Also, if your margins are less than 40% profit, you may have a hard time both paying yourself and paying for growth.
Another lesson that I learned a while back is that if I’m going to introduce a new product, it needs to be perfect, something that I’m super proud of, and something that I’ll stand behind 100%. Unfortunately, I also learned this the hard way. I knew that I wanted to introduce a face and body wash into our product lineup, but at the time I didn’t have money for an extended product development process. To save money, I cut corners and green-lighted a product that I knew wasn’t the best it could be. And guess what?!?! The customers knew it too, and the product was a flop. I went back to the drawing board, paid for the formulation to be substantially revised and improved, and now that product is my #2 bestseller. Lesson learned.
On a more personal development level, I’ve learned that as a business owner, I have to examine my mindset and fears and constantly strive for growth. I believe that personal growth and business growth are intertwined. If I’m afraid of making money, then my business won’t be as successful as it could be. If I’m afraid of hiring people, then I won’t be able to grow my business and hire for my weaknesses. If I’m not a strong leader, then no one will be inspired by my mission. So I believe that we have to work on ourselves alongside the business.
One cool update that blends business and personal is that from August through December of 2019, I lived the digital nomad life and traveled with my two kids and my husband. He homeschooled our kids while I worked during the morning and early afternoon, and then around 2:30 every day we went out and explored. We traveled all over Europe and then settled down in Oaxaca, Mexico for a while. It was totally incredible and life-changing. I never would have had that experience without being an eCommerce business owner who can work from anywhere. We hope to do the same thing again in a few years!
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Almond Clear has big plans for 2020 (though we’ll have to see what happens with the CoronaVirus- it looks like it’s changing everything). Here are my plans:
- Introduce an amazing, unique moisturizer into the product lineup by November 1st. So many customers have asked for a moisturizer. I’m letting customer demand drive new product creation, so the moisturizer will be the first step in product expansion, and every six months to one year we’ll release a new product based on customer requests. I imagine that the Almond Clear line will top out at 6 - 8 products.
- Triple our affiliate sales. When you find the right affiliates, this kind of increase is totally achievable. I spend time each week searching Instagram and YouTube for micro-influencers who have good alignment with the Almond Clear mission and core values.
- Double website and Amazon sales from 2019. So far, we’re on track to more than double sales on Amazon. This is due to organic growth, excellent reviews, and strategic pay-per-click ads. Doubling website sales will be more challenging, but I’m in the process of hiring an SEO and Content Marketing specialist to help with this.
- Get the Almond Clear website to rank on page one for multiple search terms related to folliculitis, body breakouts, and butt acne. This will help fuel awareness and sales. As stated in #3, I need to find the right contractor to help with this goal.
Our BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) for the next 5 years is to put Almond Clear in the hands of every person in the United States who suffers from chronic folliculitis. I know how awful it feels to deal with an embarrassing, unsightly skin condition, so my #1 goal is to end this needless suffering. To meet this goal, we’ll need to grow awareness of the brand by leaps and bounds. We’ll also have to develop new sales channels. It’s a big goal, and a good North Star to orient our quarterly and yearly planning.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I’m always reading a book on business or personal development, and I average completing 1 to 2 books per month. I also listen to tons of podcasts about the same subject. I’d like to recommend one must-read book and one outstanding podcast.
BOOK : Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. This book was introduced to me through EOA (Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator Program). This worldwide accelerator organization aims to help businesses scale from $250,000 in revenue to 1 million in revenue, when they can then join EO (Entrepreneur's Organization). The book “Scaling Up” provides the framework for the accelerator program. The book analyzes the most common pitfalls that stop companies’ growth and makes recommendations for how to overcome these barriers. It has four major sections: people (attracting and hiring the right people for your team, strategy, execution, and cash (how to fund the growth of your business). “Scaling Up” is super dense with case studies, recommendations, and planning exercises. The nuts-and-bolts information that it contains is invaluable for founders like me who lack a business background.
Podcast: Be That 1% is a newer, lesser-known podcast that’s had a huge influence on me. It’s aimed towards entrepreneurs and is all about developing an unlimited mindset, overcoming self-limiting beliefs and fears, pinpointing your dreams, and then making smart, strategic steps to make your own particular dreams a reality.
Through listening to this podcast, I’ve learned to overcome some of my own fears and to recognize, analyze, and let go of my own unhelpful thoughts. I’ve also developed some very helpful habits like meditation and gratitude journaling. I’m sure that this all sounds very woo-woo to some of you out there, but there’s a reason that there’s a lot of woo-woo thinking in the entrepreneurial world- because it can be very helpful!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I’m a little uncomfortable with giving “advice” because everyone’s business goals and personal circumstances are so different, but here are two things that have worked for Almond Clear:
- Streamline your business as much as possible. Try to run a ship that’s lean, mean, and scrappy. Avoid unnecessary complications, excess spending, and vanity spending. Keep the money in your operating expenses for when you really need it.
- Check out the “Profit First” model (read the book by Mike Michalowicz, or read it's companion, “Profit First for Ecommerce”). I follow this model religiously, and it’s allowed me to pay myself, fuel business growth without debt, and get an easy, constantly updated snapshot of the business’s finances.
Twice monthly, I allocate sales earnings into different bank accounts based off of set percentages: Inventory, Taxes, Profit, Owners Compensation, Operating Expenses. This system assures that I get paid, money is saved for longer-term, recurring expenses as well as occasional, unanticipated expenses, and that a small amount of quarterly profit is withdrawn. Whatever cash is left over goes into Operating Expenses, and this forces you to run a lean, streamlined business. If you don’t want to use the Profit First model, then choose a different system of accounting and budgeting and stick with it.
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