I got an email on Dec 20th from Jeff at TheCritterDepot.com who wanted to share his side hustle story with you. He has one of the most interesting side hustles I've come across so far.
It's not too far off from what I've done in the past (selling stuff online), but what makes it unique is that Jeff sells live animals like crickets! Go check his website out if you want to see all of the critters he's got for sale. Also he sent me the draft for this guest post on Christmas Eve at 8pm. How's that for hustle!
Here's Jeff's story in his own words. Enjoy!
I have an unusual side hustle. I sell live crickets on the internet to caring reptile owners. It's not glamorous or sexy. But it does pull in about $15,000 per month, and nets about $2000 in monthly profit. This may sound lucrative, but it's certainly not passive.
I spend about 20 hours a week on website mechanics, SEO, and customer service. And because I'm not passionate about crickets, all my spare reading time is spent studying cricket keeping, breeding, and care-taking.
But as the sole provider for a family of 5, I have no choice but to hustle and find ways to make extra money. And selling live crickets proved to be the most obvious way.
How’d I Pick Crickets?
My background has nothing to do with animals, pets, or insects. But I do have years of professional experience, executing internet marketing campaigns and building websites.
So when it came time to find a source of supplemental income, a drop ship website would be the best place to start.
Identifying the product is the first objective. It might sound tempting to choose something more popular like socks, or cookware. But the fundamental problem with popular products is that you'll be competing against and Walmarts and Amazons of the internet.
And someone working from a shoe-string budget wouldn't stand a chance. So it's important to be strategic, and select a product that follows these core search engine statistics:
- Low Competition
- High Search Volume
I like using KWFinder.com. Its basic plan is free, and you can use it to find specific keywords that display how much search volume, and how difficult it would be to rank for those keywords. It may take a few weeks or even months until an ideal product is found.
But it's worth putting time and effort into finding the product that meets these criteria. Because it will determine how easy or difficult your marketing will be.
Finding Your Supplier
An eager entrepreneur’s first instincts might be to get his website built and launched right away. This is what I did when I tried launching a binocular drop ship site years ago. I spent hours writing content, putting together product pages, researching different optics and price points, and I even spent money on an expensive theme for my website.
But when it came time to find a binocular supplier, I had no luck. I couldn’t find any business or supplier that would drop ship binoculars. All that time and effort was done in vain, and I had to scrap the idea.
And this is why it’s important to actually find a supplier before starting the website. This can be a little challenging, because some suppliers may want to know your business’s history first.
So it would be better to contact the suppliers, and just feel them out for information. “Hello, do you guys have a drop ship program” Or, “does your company drop ship for any current business?”
This is a nice, soft approach that can extract the information you need, without getting overly committed.
Which is how I needed to find my cricket supplier. I didn't have a website or a business. But I needed to know who I could find to fulfill my orders. It led to a few confusing conversations: “You want to buy crickets, but send them to someone else?!”
But after some clarifications and education on what it means to drop ship, I was able to find some excellent suppliers (1 is great, but more is better!).
Now We Can Build!
We know our product, and we have some potential suppliers lined up. Now is time to build our website. There are a few things to consider:
- Which website platform to use
When it came time to build an e-commerce store for crickets, I went with Shopify. Shopify is specifically designed for e-commerce stores. They have a built-in payment processor, they offer numerous variants for products, they give shipping options, and they give the ability to charge taxes to the appropriate customers.
But one of the better features they offer is 24/7 customer support. I’m not a programmer, and since this is a side hustle, I’m often working on my site at 2 AM. So knowing that I can reach out to someone with a technical problem during my side-hustle work schedule is a big big big bonus.
Shopify isn't perfect. My biggest complaint is their blog is very basic and lacks very helpful features that you find on WordPress (for example, if someone comments on a blog, there is no way to reply directly to that person!).
WordPress can be converted into an e-commerce store with the plugin Woocommerce, making WordPress a nice option as well. But the drawback with WordPress is that it requires a little more technical skills than Shopify.
Sidenote: Jim here, just wanted to say I'd highly recommend Shopify if you want to sell stuff on your own site. Managing the payment processing, security and everything is pretty difficult on WordPress.
Graphics will be an important part of your site. And a nice, professional logo will help emphasize the professional service you want to offer. Upwork.com is my preferred resource for finding graphic designers. For $150, I was able to get a logo designed, with some additional supplemental pictures.
Fiverr might seem like a popular and cheap source. But there’s been numerous reports of graphics being plagiarized. So it would be in your best interest to just spend a little more to get some digital pics that you actually own.
The Marketing Meat-Grinder
Finding the niche, the supplier, and building the website will be the least time-consuming in your pursuit of e-commerce glory. My most time-consuming activity is SEO. I knew going into this project that I was on a shoestring budget. So all my site traffic had to be organic. As mentioned, I do have experience with internet marketing. I know what moves to make, but I know it's a grind, and that it could take a few years before I start seeing some traffic.
First Year selling Crickets - 2016
As the picture indicates, my first year only yielded $2000 in sales. This is not an impressive number and certainly doesn't justify the amount of work put into the operation. But that's how SEO works. It's a slow process, that requires digital networking and experimenting with content to see what reacts positively with visitors.
Second Year Selling Crickets - 2017
Again, up to this point, $6000 in annual sales doesn't justify the amount of work put into the site. However, this is 200% growth compared to the previous year, which has also seen a nice increase in organic traffic to the site. This is due to valuable content discussing reptile tanks, heating pads, and other important products reptile owners find necessary and interesting. This expansion and distribution of content is a positive SEO factor, which helped improve organic rankings. So a big motivation for 2018 was to create more valuable content.
Third Year Selling Crickets - 2018
2018 has been a breakthrough year. My sales grew aggressively, and I reached a new personal record of $15,000 in sales per month. The sales figures grew steadily into the beginning of 2018, but around the end of spring, I saw a big jump in traffic. And this was due to some content that reacted very well with customers.
Reptile owners are some of the most caring and loving pet owners I’ve ever interacted with. Since they love their pets so much, I needed to provide more value for them other than live crickets. So I hired a former zoologist to write some in-depth care guides on bearded dragons. This in-depth care guide discusses proper habitat sanitation, when to give bearded dragons a bath, what and how often to feed them, and critical habitat requirements. This valuable information increased the retention rate on my site and drew in new traffic from people who indirectly need feeder crickets. So when they reviewed my site to read the bearded dragon care guide, they also saw that I sell crickets, which increased the value of my website for each visitor.
Since this content strategy proved successful, I requested the zoologist also write a care guide on leopard geckos, and many other popular reptile and amphibian pets. These articles discuss the same habitat requirements, feeding schedules, and sanitation requirements. And this content helps caring pet owners take better care of their beloved pets.
My pursuit of financial independence started for the sole purpose of acquiring money. But after the first 2 years, my mental focus on money was misguided. This didn't have my visitors' best interests in mind. It wasn't until I refocused my goals into providing excellent, helpful, and informative content, that genuinely helped people. And as an indirect result of charitable information, I'm reaching my goal of a profitable side hustle.