Content marketing can feel laborious and intensive, especially for shop owners. But there are productivity hacks and tools to help with e-commerce content marketing that not only serve your end buyer but also help you find new customers without spending too much time on content creation.
Today, Ashley Alderson from The Boutique Hub, shares a great behind-the-scenes story about growing her business and weaves in six quick, actionable, and valuable tips for creating a manageable ecommerce content marketing strategy.
Ashley is the founder and CEO at The Boutique Hub, a membership that brings together all the resources boutique owners need in a community of over 7,000 members from the United States and eight other countries. It is the largest global connection point in the world for boutique owners.
How The Boutique Hub Came to Be
Her business is great success story to share. But it sometimes seems like every good business success story starts with a failure — Ashley’s is no exception.
Ashley grew up in North Dakota (not exactly the fashion mecca of the world) and had a love for fashion. Rodeo was a big part of her life and as she traveled to rodeos she discovered boutiques in all the cute towns she visited. The idea grew in her mind that she wanted to be able to shop these cute stores in one central place.
I felt like fashion was so New York or LA and believed the rest of us in this world deserve to feel beautiful and have unique things too.— Ashley
The idea for the Boutique Hub became Ashley’s answer to the “What about us?” question. It started as an online shopping mall for boutiques and then took off from there.
While building her online shopping mall of boutiques, Ashley talked to boutique owners and found what they needed more than anything was a community where someone could help them see the forest through the trees and be a voice for the industry.
She noted that at that time, it was such a dog-eat-dog world and the concept of community did not exist. She thought to herself, “there’s got to be a better way to do this.”
So The Boutique Hub evolved from that online shopping mall. Ashley launched it with the motto of community over competition. It resonated with people because they needed connection more than they needed anything else.
Unfortunately, we all make mistakes and when Ashley made this pivot to a new idea, she met a real pain point in her journey. While she was building her membership in The Boutique, Ashley met a guy on Twitter who seemed to be building something very similar to what she was trying to do.
Imposter syndrome was hitting her hard at this time. She was questioning “Who am I to launch a startup and build a membership? What do I know?” So, having a shared vision, it seemed natural to partner with this guy.
They teamed up and he convinced Ashley to give him a majority share of the company, change the name, and add him to her bank account. Ashley already had an initial version of The Boutique Hub established with a healthy list of clients. He convinced her to merge her list with his.
It all seemed great until she discovered his client list was nonexistent. He kept putting Ashley off, telling her the legal papers are in the mail and they would get everything finalized soon. But those papers never came.
After several months of this, she and her husband started wondering what was happening. Was this a real deal or not? Eventually, they called the guy out as a fraud and informed him they were going to go their own way.
Ashley describes herself as a “trusting person from North Dakota” who would never assume people were going to take advantage of her. But after parting ways with her “partner”, she discovered he had drained the bank account, blocked her from her own customer list, and blocked her out of the Facebook groups.
Everything she had started was gone.
Ashley found herself in a sink or swim moment and withdrew into mourning for a few weeks. Ashley says her husband came up to her one day, as she was laying there on their couch in a fetal position, and told her she had every right to feel angry, upset, and defeated. She had a choice to make and whatever choice she made he was going to support her in it.
Starting Over By Serving Her Business Community
It was a real pivotal point in her life. At that moment, she began to put one foot in front of the other and became determined to start over by simply serving people.
Ashley’s heart has always been geared toward serving small business owners. She feels very strongly that when you change your business, you change your life, your family, and your community.
She resurrected an old Facebook group she started with her first version of The Boutique Hub. There were about 400 boutique owners in the group. She started to serve them the content they needed, working for free helping them. She invested into her community this way for about a year.
Ashley’s dream had always been to create a Boutique Summit, a conference for boutique owners. The guy she had the falling out with knew that. He continued his deceitful ways, told everyone he was going to start a conference, charged them to attend, and then just before the conference was to start, as everyone was headed to the airport, he canceled everything and kept all their money. Then he just disappeared from the face of the earth.
So Ashley moved forward creating the current version of The Boutique Hub. Now they host the largest conference in the world for boutique owners. She is serving people with that same passion every single day and it’s beautiful. But it all came out of something so ugly.
She now sees the upside of her experience and believes this was the universe’s way of pushing her into what the Hub has become today.
I hope everybody takes hope from that. Sometimes our biggest mistakes or failures can be our best opportunities. — Ashley
I think it’s so important to hear Ashley’s story.
In this online business world, we see snippets of people’s success and we compare our failure to all of their successes. We don’t hear the stories of being in the fetal position on the couch for weeks not knowing what to do or how to go forward.
It’s really hard to be brave and put one foot in front of the other after you’ve been duped like Ashley was. It’s hard to trust and have faith after something like that.
I especially liked what Ashley said about investing in your community. She did it for free for a year! Joe Pulizzi (of Content Inc.) has always said that you have to invest in people if you want them to trust you.
Ashley believes the experience was the biggest blessing in the end because it led her to become so intimately familiar with her community — she learned exactly who they are and what they need.
Ashley has learned many things from her experience and we can benefit from what she has shared.
First, you can’t expect to start a business and be successful tomorrow.
We need to temper this expectation of instant gratification. Once in a while, you see a situation where a business idea took off for someone right away, but that’s the exception. Building a business just doesn’t work like that. You have to invest time into getting to know your customer and building trust.
Second, if you are a shop owner, expect to fail with products and have inventory that just doesn’t sell. Every single day you try, fail, and try again until you find something new that works for you. It’s a long-term game, but Ashley believes it’s worth it in the end.
Over the last couple of years, I have sought to understand those unique things that retail owners have to deal with. Buying and stocking inventory is one of those things. As boutique owners, you’re kind of guessing what you think people will like. If they don’t like it then you’re kind of stuck with it.
That is so different from people who have a digital product and can put something out there with a relatively small investment. The boutique owner has extra marketing pressure because their product investment can be so huge.
eCommerce Content Creation: A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Ashley also learned to embrace being authentic and encourages us to do the same. In fact, one of her very first coaching topics in The Hub was authenticity. Ashley says this was during the polished, perfect Instagram days, before authenticity was such a buzzword.
She encouraged boutique owners to use video to share the messy, “behind the scenes” with their customers.
Ashley started to build entire strategies for boutique owners around that notion of having soft skills. She created what she calls a content recipe for boutique owners.
In this content recipe, there are many layers, but the highest layer starts with three ingredients:
- Branded Content – sharing who you are as a brand, going behind the scenes of the brand, talking about your mission, your why, what you’re up to every day;
- Engaging Content – sharing things your customer can relate to like asking them questions, using memes, quotes, and personal stories;
- Sales Content – regularly showcasing the product(s) you sell.
Everyone loves a strategy and a step-by-step process. When Ashley created this recipe and presented it to the Boutique Hub community, the response was great.
Initially, there is occasional pushback from people. Specifically, boutique owners often want to know if they really had to be the face of their company. Ashley says it isn’t a “have to” but with the social selling culture we’re in today, she thinks you’re better off if your customers really know you. People love the behind-the-scenes reality-type show that they can follow along with. It’s important to tap into that.
So it took her community of people a bit of time to get used to it. She sees that the community loves having a step-by-step plan that lets them know what they can do tomorrow to be successful.
We realize that some of you feel intimidated by the thought of creating Instagram Reels, TikTok videos, voiceovers, and other catchy things. It can even be paralyzing for some of you.
So where can you start?
Content Creation for Shop Owners: Where to Start
In Ashley’s recipe, she feels that branded content (where you need to be raw with your audience) can be the most challenging for people but also very effective.
Ashley says she leads with her heart every day and she’s not scared to be completely vulnerable. The branded content piece is the part she loves the most. The feedback she’s received over time is that people resonate with that type of content.
Even though it might not be the easiest for everyone when you are raw, people will show up for you and they can relate to you. They begin to trust you more because of your willingness to share the painful parts.
Ashley says that although IG Reels and TikTok are part of their team strategy, and creating those comes easy to her, she avoids creating this type of e-commerce content herself. The reason for this is that she is so competitive so when she creates them, she wants them to be perfect. She is in such a busy season right now and she has learned that even though she loves this creating this content, having her team carry that responsibility frees her up to focus where she is needed most in her business.
I think she makes such a good point.
We can put so much pressure on ourselves to manage all these areas, even those that don’t make the biggest impact. I have heard of people spending six or seven hours to perfect their Instagram Reel when they could have spent six or seven hours on something else that would have been much more valuable for the business (like writing an email or building a sales page).
In this engagement-driven world, we’re easily lured into spending large amounts of time where we feel most comfortable or that we enjoy the most. But keep in mind that maybe it’s not where you can have the biggest impact. You have to call yourself out on that and spend your time where it is most impactful.
Ashley has also learned that you have to transition from being the entrepreneur and the jack of all trades to being the CEO. You eventually understand that time is literally money. Once you do, you will become really aware of the income-generating activities you need to work on each day.
I encourage everyone to analyze their activities. Is this a CEO $100 an hour thing that I’m doing right now or is this a $10 an hour thing that I can get an intern to help me with?— Ashley
Sometimes we hit a wall and we feel burned out a little bit but we still really care about our product. Maybe some of you have experienced this, going through the pandemic and facing all the supply chain issues. Maybe you’ve either slowed down or completely stopped the whole e-commerce content marketing piece.
I asked Ashley to share the one thing that she would tell you to do. What would she say to help you put one foot in front of the other to get motivated again and to step back into content marketing?
A Winning Formula for Content MARKETING
Ashley advocates a plan-ahead strategy.
When Ashley shares her e-commerce content marketing recipe, she’s often met with “but how?” question. To drill down more to more concrete action items, Ashley shares a list of six pieces of content her team creates every week. They can be created once, in batch, and used across every single channel in multiple ways.
- Video – it can be live or not, but decide what video you will create this week
- Try-On Sessions – short 10-second demos to use in reels, stories, Pinterest, everywhere
- Product Photos
- Quotes and Memes – nothing fluffy but something that gets to the heart of who your customer is. It’s the things they want to say but can’t and it’s the things that will be shared.
- Personal Stories – something you’re living this week, have lived, or the world is living that your customers will relate with.
- Collections – look at everything you’re sharing and decide how you could make it a collection. Holiday collections are a great example. Think like your customer. What will they be Googling? Then look at what you have that’s going to come up in that search.
If you pre-plan your content like this, when Monday arrives, you can create all of these pieces of content and batch them to use across every social media channel. You can get hours and hours of your life back and be excited about your business. You have time to engage with customers the rest of the week because you don’t have to be married to social media every day.
I agree with Ashley that people need those steps laid out for them. Once they get those steps down I see that they get more creative. It’s like this little launchpad that says “Start Here and then Go.”
I love that Ashley broke this ecommerce content marketing strategy down into those six steps because it feels very attainable. It takes away that feeling that you’re going to spend hours every day on content creation and you just don’t have it in you anymore.
I know we will have some shop owners who are just craving community and structure so Ashley is a great resource for you. Go check out The Boutique Hub. If you are a boutique owner this is a place for you to be.
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