Bootstrapping a tea merchant website with only Instagram influencers.

My recent side gig is a loose leaf tea website. I decided to get this started as my pregnant wife will soon be unable to work her usual role and as the child comes on the scene, she’s looking for something she can do from home while her staff run her other business.

I’ve been into coffee and tea for years, having owned restaurants, cafes and a coffee roastery. I’ve got a great relationship with the tea importer and although I want to aim for mainly the affiliate mummy bloggers for ‘teatox and cleanse subscriptions’, I also have a great range of loose leaf teas for sale that any tea drinker would appreciate.

I’m a digital marketing guy and work for a Hong Kong based agency called 7&7. Although we don’t do a lot of eCommerce startupwork, I wanted to stay in vogue with all things Shopify, Instagram and B2C marketing. This tea website will only ever be a side gig, while I concentrate on my day job of optimising clients adspend and seo.

I wanted to bootstrap this website as much as possible so I’m going to reply on Instagram for influencer marketing and viral posting — I am purposely steering clear of Facebook ads etc to see how this goes organically). I’m a digital marketer by day so I’ve got plenty of tricks up my sleeve to assist in the growth.

My steps so far:

  1. I’m a massive learner (as in, I continually am a student of marketing and am a sponge to all things new). I used a lot of the Shopify blogs to help guide myself through their eComm platform as traditionally I’d been a WooCommerce guy. Ezra Firestone and the other Shopify bloggers are a wealth of knowledge on all things eComm and even I (the salty ol’ eComm master) learned a tonne from their videos and blogs.
  2. create the ecommerce site on Shopify —

3. get Instagram (@ruucy.tea) humming along and get as many followers organically as I can (sitting on about 300 now and it’s growing daily (I’ll be aiming for a 5+ figure following)).

4. Use Instapage for my landing pages for affiliate signups is the initial page I’ve got in the journey to qualify any leads.

5. Use AutopilotHQ for my marketing and email automation (sign up on that above landing page if you are interested in the nurture marketing that I am implementing).

6. Start to reach out for influencers to build my database.

The concept is that I will set up an affiliate network and use a Shopify app like Lead Dyno to manage the affiliate links and the payments. I’m currently researching the best app to use and if none of them work like I want, I’ll build my own system to make it work.

I’m going to try and run this like a stripped back MLM scheme. I want two levels of affiliates, where the top percentage paid will be 30% per sale. I’ve got some good friends that are successful in MLM and have been filled in on the good and bad things to do to make it successful (I’d never be a downstream MLM person, I don’t see the value in it — Being at the top, however, is something I’m interested in.)

I wanted to make it a point of difference from other affiliate/influencer programs and definitely different from MLM platforms.

As part of this point of difference, I’ll try not to actually pay money to ‘buy influencers’ posts. They’ll have to align with the brand and WANT to post the product details. I am also using my experience in Digital Marketing to teach the affiliates as they go. My affiliate dashboard will have imagery, post suggestions and digital marketing workshops to help them learn how to sell my products (obviously it is in my best interest to get them selling more).

The affiliates will be able to BOOST their profit margins by taking part in marketing lessons as well as earning points for doing things like sending me video testimonials of them and their clients (a great way for me to build my social proof).

Once an affiliate reaches a certain revenue milestone, I’ll also build them a dedicated landing page with their links and codes built in — totally easy for them to share

I intend to follow up this initial Reddit post with results as they happen. I’m not only keen to learn about what I’m doing myself, but also help others if what I do actually works.

Wish me luck and I’d appreciate your opinions on anything that I may have missed out. If you have any questions, feel free to ask as well.

- Dave