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Ep. 103 - Building out a Real Foundation for your Online Store with Ross Beyeler

Ross is the Chief Operating Officer of Trellis, a full-service agency that makes complex commerce easy. Previously, Ross was the Founder and CEO of Growth Spark, another e-commerce agency founded in 2008 that was ultimately acquired by Trellis in 2018.

Over his career, Ross has led hundreds of projects, having worked with brands including Bose, Newbury Comics, Johnny Cupcakes and many more.

Prior to Growth Spark, Ross co-founded For Art’s Sake Media, Inc., a technology company servicing the art industry, where he led the organization through its seed funding, team building and product launch. 

Ross is a proud alumni of Babson College where he occasionally guest lectures on topics including e-commerce, design and entrepreneurship. 

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [00:37] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [01:49] What led Ross to where he is now
  • [04:07] Sponsor: Avalara avalara.com/honest
  • [04:56] Startup, scaling, and enterprise
  • [08:42] You should find product-market fit yourself
  • [09:38] The “happy medium” of branding focus
  • [11:45] Focus on scaling instead of custom branding
  • [13:17] Expectations for investing in a website
  • [15:16] Subscriptions and Shopify
  • [16:11] Benefits to hiring freelancers and agencies
  • [17:03] “Forcing” clients to do tasks
  • [17:26] The “corners” that you don’t want to cut
  • [19:13] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [20:00] Marketing expectations for easy wins
  • [23:15] Get started with your content strategy
  • [24:43] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.com/honest
  • [25:21] Cheaping out does not get results
  • [26:37] Optimizing your sales
  • [27:55] Budgeting for your custom theme
  • [30:39] Budgets of enterprise-level brands
  • [33:15] Advantages of a custom theme
  • [35:30] Marketing spend for enterprise level brands
  • [36:52] Be honest and make relationships
  • [37:48] Where you should focus your efforts
  • [39:38] Where to find Ross


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Ross Beyeler  

Think about your social media strategy from a content marketing and organic perspective.

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. 

I'm your host Chase Clymer, and I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show.

Sponsor: Klaviyo  

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Klaviyo is the ultimate marketing platform for ecommerce. With targeted segmentation, email automation, SMS marketing, and more… 

Klaviyo helps you create your ideal customer experience. 

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Chase Clymer  

Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. Today, bringing to the show, a super smart guy. I definitely am familiar with his old agency and now his new agency. 

He's a subject matter expert, I would say in the Ecommerce space,and he's gonna bring a lot to the table here. 

We're gonna really dive in and discuss what you should be looking at as an investment in partners and technologies and solutions from a brand's perspective, and how to evaluate stuff like that. 

Without further ado, Ross Beyeler, welcome to the show. How are you doing? 

Ross Beyeler  

I'm doing well. Thanks, Chase.

Chase Clymer  

Cool. So I gave a quick kind of background on you. But I guess let's dive a little bit more and talk about your history and just like, what was the path that led you to your current job as the CEO of Trellis?

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I actually started doing freelance web design and development while I was at college, Babson College, and was crazy enough, lucky enough --I don't know, whatever you want to call it-- to be able to have just enough client work, where when I graduated, I could move back home in my parents, do it in the basement and just see how long that would kind of take me, take me on. 

Luckily, that turned into not just a freelance practice but a small agency, which grew over time. That agency was called Growth Spark. We sort of grew that for myself to a team of about a dozen or so folks.

We had a very strong focus on WordPress back when it started in 2008. We actually had our first experience working with Shopify in 2010. So pretty early days at Shopify. 

And by 2000, probably 2013, we actually made the decision to go all in on Shopify. We had done a really big custom design Shopify project for Johnny Cupcakes in 2012. 

It's one of the first more custom design sites at the time. We just had a great experience with it, they had a great experience with it, we fell in love with Shopify, and we basically didn't look back. 

So continue doing that until about 2018, where I had the opportunity to team up with the folks here at Trellis. 

We merged Growth Spark and Trellis into what our agency is now. So when I came in, after the dust settled, you know, in the beginning of 2019, we probably have 35 people. And we grew to just over 60 people by the end of 2019. So we had a pretty crazy year last year. 

This year has obviously been a little nuts with COVID and everything like that. But we are back on a growth trajectory. We're almost 70 people now. 

And things are going strong and Ecommerce,  all the crazy growth that's had this year is not going anywhere but up soon. So very exciting stuff.

Chase Clymer  

Oh yeah. It's fantastic. So you essentially have been in the Shopify game and ecosystem for about 10 years, which is probably about as long as most people can say they've been doing it unless they were on like the core team over there. 

Ross Beyeler  

Pretty much. Yeah, exactly. 

Chase Clymer  


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Chase Clymer  

So with that experience, and then obviously my experience as well on my side. 

Essentially, we had a conversation before and an episode that we've never or topic we've never touched on the show is really like the investment levels and the dollars and cents behind all the stuff we talk about on this show. 

We have founders on here all the time or other subject matter experts and say "You should do this. You should do that." 

We don't really talk about the dollars behind it, and the expectations that you should be having when it comes to making these investments and growing your brand. So with that, where do you think we should start the conversation?

Ross Beyeler  

That's a great question. Because we have had so many client conversations, merchants come to us and they're looking to make some sort of investment in their business and their site, and they obviously, are... 

Everyone's budget conscious, even if you have a $100 million budget, you still have to keep it $100 million. So I think for us --or for me at least-- when I'm having those conversations, I always try to understand what their real goal is, what the outcome is that they're looking for but also what stage of business they're in. 

I think that's something that it's very easy, you know, especially for new emergence startup companies, to sort of look at the bigger players in the market, and get really excited to try and do a lot of the same stuff and build a lot of the same infrastructure. 

And that's all good and great. And eventually, you do have to make those investments. But I think there's a certain amount of consideration that needs to be given to the timing of those investments. 

So, the way I like to just create a little system around it [and] generally think about these things is sort of putting companies in sort of 1 of 3 buckets. 

The first are those that really are getting off the ground.Let's say they at least have their product figured out. --so we're not talking about product creation or development here-- but they got a product. 

They've got some semblance of how they want to position themselves, who their audience is. And they're working on establishing the foundational Ecommerce infrastructure that they can manage with a really lean team on a really lean budget, and then get to a million dollars in revenue, or maybe even a couple million dollars in revenue. 

That [is] that first group. The second group are those that have really locked out foundation in. And now it's about scale. It's about, "Hey, we want to go from a million to 10 or from 5 to 50." 

And they're thinking about things like automation and streamlining and how do you replace job functions with technology, and how do you centralize customer data? And they're really starting to get into creating more of a machine behind their business. 

And then that third group is what I would consider more the enterprise stage where you're not just worried about, some automation and standardization, you're actually now thinking about global market reach, managing multiple business units at the same time.

You're thinking about translation, you're thinking about multi currency, you're thinking about maybe disparate technologies, and not just worrying about how your email marketing data marries with your customer data. 

But now you have multiple email marketing platforms or multiple inventory management systems. So to try and keep it simple. 

I think those 3 groups, the startup, the scaling, and then the enterprise-sized businesses seems to be a good way to start conversations by figuring out where a merchant fits into that little spectrum. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think that's a great way to approach it. It's pretty spot on to how we approach things over here. 

And I would just say, for the majority of this conversation, what we're going to talk about, as far as investment levels and expectations are probably gonna fall more into the startup and the scaling side of things. 

Ross Beyeler  


Chase Clymer  

Enterprise is such a wild card that it's just like budgets oftentimes aren't really a problem when you're talking about solving for enterprise.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah absolutely. And then the technologies and the stakeholders involved and all that type of stuff. It's a whole different game. So yeah, I totally agree.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. So the one thing that I think is often when you're talking about startups is there's that phase before when you're talking about the product ideation and stuff, and finding that product-market fit? 

That is often what people need at that stage. And it's something that I don't think any agencies can do for you.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, I agree. I mean, there certainly are agencies out there that can help founders navigate some of the tooling and systems out there, like the Lean Startup Method, helping people with prototyping. 

I think there are some agencies out there that can help with aspects of that. 

But oftentimes, people are so budget constrained and so aggressive in their timelines that even then, it's hard to take advantage of outside. 

Folks, you really got to take a DIY approach and just do it all on your own.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And that's actually probably the first thing we should talk about. If you have more time than budget, you should probably be DIY-ing a lot of this stuff. 

Ross Beyeler  

(laughs) Yup.

Chase Clymer  

So I think that's a great little segue into our favorite do it yourself tools for, you know, a young hustler, trying to get out there and make their brand. 

If you were in a coffee shop, and someone was asking you stuff and they had no budget, but they had time, where would you point them?

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, that's a great question. So let's elaborate on that use case. So someone's got... They got, like you said, more time than budget. 

They've got a product in mind already. So it's about "Okay, let's get something built off the ground." Let's assume they're using Shopify. 

Chase Clymer  

That's key. You have to have a product. 

Ross Beyeler  


Chase Clymer  

A real product. 

Ross Beyeler  


Chase Clymer  

We're not talking about doing a Printful Dropshipping brand here. You don't want to do that, you're gonna make no money.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, exactly. It's a whole different world. So let's say you got your product and you're like, "I really want to build that foundational Ecommerce infrastructure." We'll assume Shopify. 

I think it's honestly hard to make a case not to use one of the pre-built themes that are available between pre-built themes from Pixel Union and Out of the Sandbox

They've got just such well-built, easy-to-customize themes that really help younger brands position themselves in a professional, clean, intuitive way that a great logo, some great marketing, collateral, some great imagery, great video, can really take one of those pre-built themes and make it feel fairly unique. 

Of course, there are limitations down the line as you grow as an organization. But for almost any brand that's getting off the ground, it's hard not to make a case, to have that first build, just take advantage of one of those pre built themes. 

So I would definitely start there before I worry about any custom design work beyond the branding. I would say that when it comes to branding, that's one thing that people seem to fall into 1 of 2 camps: Either they don't care at all, and they under-invest in branding. 

And the problem there is that it doesn't have the level of differentiation or the level of professionalism that needs to. Or they way over-invest in branding, and they overthink everything. 

And they try to make everything super branded to the point that they run out of time or money. 

So there's sort of a happy medium, where you work out identity, you work out packaging, you work out some of that key collateral, but you don't become too obsessed with it so that it becomes a limiter in you being able to move forward.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I cannot agree anymore. If you have no sales record, you do not need a custom theme. Period. 

Honestly, I even can say, while you're scaling up to $1 million, and you're in that startup phase, you can get away with a premium theme. 

You do not need a custom theme at that size, because you're going to be investing more time, energy and money in that when you should be focusing all that energy into scaling, trying to get to the next step in the marketing and into collateral to use for more sales. 

Ross Beyeler  

Yep. Exactly. And then honestly, one of the biggest pieces of pushback we get from clients, when it comes to recommending pre-built themes is they'll say things like, "Well, I want to create custom landing pages." Or "I want to do something different that the theme can't do out of the box." 

And that's often true. There are only so many templates that these pre-built themes offer. My recommendation, almost across the board, is to install Shogun

Shogun is one of the best apps out there for Shopify merchants, super affordable, and allows you to create custom layouts for product pages, collections, landing pages, blog posts. You name it, you can do it. 

And it's a drag and drop tool. So it's extremely intuitive for non technical users. So a great option for a DIY startup founder.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And I do just want to shout out at our agency. We actually will push people towards Impulse by Archetype Themes. That's our favorite theme to use these days, if it's, something where we have to use an out of the box solution. That was a great one, too. 

I'm pretty sure that the guys from that team are ex-Shopify employees. So they make a really good product. 

Ross Beyeler  

Nice. Awesome. 

Chase Clymer  

Cool. So if you've got a little bit of a budget, and you fall into this camp, I guess, let's talk about what expectations would be having a... 

Someone that knows what they're doing, build you a store and maybe use one of these out of the box solutions. It's like you get what you pay for. 

But I guess where should the starting investment be? There's obviously a lot of moving parts, because every website is different, but just to level and set expectations for people.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, great question. I think a good way to look at it is --from my experience of production-- a prebuilt theme, minimal apps to install... You're not doing any... You're not touching any code. 

And it's really more about populating with the theme settings and content and things like that. You're probably looking at someone knowing Shopify, 20 to 50 hours worth of work, if you're really going to go through and spend some time. 

So you often can find freelancers to do that work, you could find agencies to do that work. It seems like most organizations offer like a fixed fee, a productized version of this. They'll do a store setup for $3,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 or whatever it is. 

If you're remotely technical, there's almost no doubt in my mind that you can do it yourself. If you're talking about staying within the constraints of a prebuilt theme and using Shogun and keeping the apps pretty tight. 

So it really comes down to "Do you want to save that time?" Because if you've never worked with Shopify, you're definitely going to have a learning curve. 

You're going to be on the 50+ hour timeframe of getting things done, versus hiring a freelancer who's done it 20 times and they can probably bang it out that 20 hour range. 

Chase Clymer  


Ross Beyeler  

So that that is one of those things where you have to think about you know, the the value of your time and do you want to invest that in other spaces, but I would say you know, on the freelancer side, I've seen a lot of people charge $3k to $5k, that seems pretty reasonable. agencies have a little bit more overhead. 

You're gonna see bigger budgets, they're oftentimes they'll want to bundle in additional services. 

Maybe they're including branding, maybe they're including some sort of, you know, marketing kickoff strategy or something like that. So those tend to be more in the 10 k plus range, depending on what they're bundling.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, absolutely. And then it's something that is to be said here is if you have a product, that's pretty normal that you're not having anything a little bit more out of the box. it's something you definitely probably do yourself. 

But if you start talking about things a little bit less normal --and I'm sorry to be vague here-- but if you're talking subscription, setting up subscription, the right way is actually a pain in the butt. 

Ross Beyeler  


Chase Clymer  

Especially with Shopify. Actually, today, they just announced some cool new stuff on the subscription front. So I can't wait for that to be rolled out. But it's still...

Ross Beyeler  


Chase Clymer  

It's still a pain in the butt because computers only do what you tell them to do. And if your subscription is weird, where now you're tying it to certain dates, or you need some sort of custom functionality built out to buy a product with the certain expectations of the product, weird variants or weird customizations to your product, you are no longer talking "easy". 

That's actually pretty custom.

Ross Beyeler  

Yep absolutely. And I would add to, I think one benefit of hiring a freelancer or an agency to help you out with this stuff is that they tend to know the app ecosystem really, really well. 

So as a merchant, you can go to them and say, "Listen, I've got to figure out how I want to handle returns and support, inventory tracking, and subscription and email marketing. I don't know where to go for all these things." 

Because Shopify is great, it does a lot, but it doesn't do everything out of the box. You inevitably have to have some set of apps installed along with it. Working with a partner, they often can recommend --and they've used-- all the top options out there. 

They know how to install them, they know the quirks, they know all the subtle requirements of getting them up and running. 

So I think that's where --especially if you're talking about building out a real foundation for your Ecommerce business-- that's where taking advantage of another partner and having them do this work and can end up saving you a ton of time.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And then just going back to what you said earlier about it being a little bit more expensive to use agencies and they want to bundle stuff in, that's true. 

We're more expensive than those numbers you quoted, but we force you to do other things. For example, we force you to set up email automation from day one, and get an actual email collection strategy in place. 

Because without that, you're going to like to pace yourself later on. So we literally force every client to do it from day one.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah. And I think that's smart. I think it's, it's one of those things where... If you're looking at it and saying, "Okay, what is the absolute bare minimum I need to do?" 

You can really, you can pare it back. You could use a Shopify pre-built theme. You could use their marketing, email marketing tool. 

You could stick to their transactional email templates. You could keep it absolutely bare bones if you want to. But those are the corners to cut that aren't really going to benefit you in the end. 

Thinking through the email marketing strategy, thinking through your email signup strategy, thinking through your support strategy, it's pretty critical because you're gonna see those things break very quickly, if you don't have a strategy in place pretty early on in the sales process.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And then just talking about, how long things take and doing it yourself versus having someone else that knows what they're doing. It takes, honestly, 40 hours to do Klaviyo the right way, which is our favorite tool for email automations. 

And it is usually people that like, "Oh, I have Klaviyo." And we look at it and it's like, they're not utilizing it. And it's not working for them because so many things weren't done, because it is a beast of a setup.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah. Yeah. It absolutely is. And I think, especially where a lot of merchants are coming into this often for the first time. 

Technical setup aside, I mean, they're not necessarily familiar with all the different types of flows, all the different types of campaigns that you would want to consider running. 

[An] agency or a freelancer already has that experience can come in and say listen, "We know almost without a doubt, you do this for reactivation, you do this for VIP, you do this for the first time, you do this for loyalty." 

Get a couple of those set up out of the box, and you're gonna see some pretty quick return on those campaigns almost right away. 

Chase Clymer  


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Chase Clymer  

And then I guess let's pivot a bit to... Not on the project side of things, which [is] the biggest project in that neck of the woods would be building out your theme and building out your website. 

What should people be expecting when they're talking about marketing? What budget should they be bringing to the table? And where are they going to actually see some real wins?

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, that's a good question. I like to think about marketing, as a couple of different areas. You've got your acquisition-related marketing. 

So this is all about getting new first time customers either ideally, to buy or at least in your marketing automation system. There's sort of that aspect of it. 

And then you have your sort of retention aspect of marketing. So re-engaging with existing customers, getting them to buy more, upsell, participate in your community. That sort of thing. And of course, there's a data side of marketing as well. 

So let's focus on this startup sized company. Really, what you want to do is think about your social media strategy from a content marketing and organic perspective. 

You want to think about social media from an advertising perspective, and search, and display, and all that type of stuff. That's going to help you the most on the acquisition side. 

Of course there's offline marketing, there's traditional marketing, there's voice marketing, it's all sorts of different channels. 

But really being able to just hone in on those 2 things and have a concrete strategy on those 2 areas is going to be the most critical on the retention side. Email marketing, without a doubt, it's not even a question. 

If anything, I would even say, you need to be pretty not just focused on email, but you need to be pretty confident in your strategy around SMS, around Messenger, around a few other retention channels as well, because email is great and it's still proven to be very effective. 

But it's not the only channel that you can engage with customers. So thinking about costs associated with those types of things, I would say, for social and organic and content marketing, that's one of those things that I really like to see brands own themselves early on. 

Just because you're telling your story, you're building your audience, or you're trying to hone that voice. There's some great content marketing agencies out there. But I really think that brands tend to do better when they own themselves early on. 

On the paid side, the thing with paid advertising is that you have to be willing to make mistakes and spend dollars to discover what ads work for your brand. And so, the first couple months, probably the first $10,00 to $20,000 of ad spend, that's really just discovery money. 

That's just you getting in there figuring out what the market looks like, figuring out if there's any opportunities, how expensive things are, what can you optimize around. 

Generally, if you're willing to spend, $5k-$10k a month and hire an agency, you're going to see most agencies are either charging, some sort of retainer --usually a couple $1,000-- or maybe a flat monthly fee, plus some sort of ad spend fee. 

Or they'll do just an ad spend or revenue share type model. At our agency, we do either ad spend or revenue share, which we really liked, just because it puts our capabilities on the line. 

We only get paid if we produce results for our clients. So we like seeing merchants find marketing partners that are as invested in their own success, and are compensated in their merchant success as they are in their own.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Awesome. You hit the nail on the head there. I would say that the brands that I see that win and the brands that are going to escape that startup phase and hit that scaling phase faster are the brands that have a content production system built within their business. I harp on this on almost every single episode. 

So I hope the person listening says, "Oh, man, I should probably go do that, they just go get started with it." 

Because it's such a big difference in the brands that are actually winning on like paid media through Facebook and Instagram are producing something like 10 or 11 times more content than like everyone else. And there's a reason it's because it works.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, absolutely. And I think diversity of content, too. Play around with video, play around with photography, play around with written [content]. There's so many great channels. At the same time, you don't want to try to optimize for all of them all at once. 

I think that's something that I have seen: Merchants spread themselves too thin, where they're trying to do everything across every channel. And that's just too much. Maybe pick 2 or 3. Pick those that obviously align with your audience. 

If you're a fashion brand, Instagram makes a ton of sense. Why would you go there, if it's a more technical product. You might have a lot of success on a video platform like YouTube, where you're talking about product demos, and walkthroughs, and tutorials, and things like that. 

So really knowing where your audience lives and how you can best represent and educate people on your product relative to the medium and use that as a means of prioritizing which mediums you're investing in and which platforms you're investing in. 

I think that can really help a lot of the earlier merchants.

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Chase Clymer  

Alright, so Ross, I got one last question for you here on this phase. You're telling me that I can't really see any results with this guy. He's gonna charge me $300 bucks a month, and I'm going to spend $1,000 on ads?

Ross Beyeler  

I would say, I could be wrong. There might be a couple of gems out there who can just produce absolute amazing results. 

But the experience that I've had is that if you really want someone who's going in there, and who's thinking about your business, and thinking about your customers, and experimenting, and fine tuning, their marketing approach based on the data they collect, $300 is not going to get a lot of their time, and $1,000 is not going to get a lot of clicks. 

So it's pretty hard to produce major results with that.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. Just from the get go, we're launching a course here soon trying to help people DIY it on the Facebook and Instagram side of things. And we literally say you cannot come to the table with less than $1,000 a month to spend on these ads. 

And we'd say you're going to get more results if you can even double or triple that for like just getting started. 

Ross Beyeler  

Yep. Yeah, absolutely. 

Chase Clymer  

And it's unfortunate. Back in the day, Facebook was cheaper and it was like the Wild West. And you could make a lot of cool money there. 

That's how our agency got started. But it is different. Now, it is not cheap anymore. It is mature, it is expensive, and it's extremely volatile right now, actually.

Ross Beyeler  

Yep. Yeah. It seems everyday things are just all over the place. And one thing too, that I'll throw out there is you want to optimize for the sale. You want to get the customer to buy the product, of course. 

But sometimes there are other opportunities to just focus on getting them in your marketing machine, getting them on your email marketing list, getting them to engage with you on social media, sometimes it's worth spending dollars just on that. 

And looking at that is the ultimate goal and working on nurturing that relationship with them over time. 

That's where you really have to pair a strong advertising strategy with a strong email marketing, and ideally SMS, and messenger marketing platform as well. Because the two of them marry well.

Chase Clymer  

That's the easiest strategy to go for in this like 0 to $1 million range. Honestly if you're optimizing for purchase conversions on Facebook, and it's not working for you, dial it back a little bit and optimize for emails, and then let Klaviyo do the heavy lifting for you. And once you get that flywheel going, it works.

Ross Beyeler  

Yep, yeah, exactly. Especially when you start to introduce loyalty, and referral, and bundling, and upsell and all this type of stuff, all of a sudden, you find you can really, just turn that dial up a little bit at a time. 

And an extra 5% here and extra $10 there things can really start to become pretty profitable with a decent sized mailing list.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So let's fast forward. Now someone's listening to our advice, and they've gotten over the hump. And they've entered this now scaling phase of things. It's a little bit of a different world here. 

And the main thing here is going to be like, when am I ready for a custom theme? And what kind of budget should I be expecting?

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, that's a good question. I think when it comes to custom themes, you want to understand what it is that you're trying to achieve. Is it, "[Do] you want to improve conversion?" 

And it's about having a more unique way of telling your story or creating a more narrative driven website or finding a way to just visually engage with the customer better? Or are you starting to look at CMS and technical limitations in terms of how data is presented? 

Or what you can do an update on the website. Or are we starting to get into more back end related issues. 

Things where you've got multiple third parties, you need to worry about data integration and data flow across different systems. 

So I think when we've entertained conversations around custom theme builds, what we're always trying to understand is, what is the ultimate goal? Is it increasing in conversion? Is it increasing some sort of control? 

Is it improving operational efficiency, decreasing some sort of costs somewhere? I think you really got to start there. 

Once you've got a sense of that, let's assume someone says, "Hey listen, we're looking for a custom design. We want to sell more, but we also have a new ERP we're gonna plug into the back end. So we're talking about a little integration work. And by the way, we want to make our search and filtering experience better. So we want to plug in something like an Algolia."

Okay, so now you're hitting all 3 of these realms. Generally, at least in our experience, it's hard to get too far with a custom design theme with some of this integration work for anything under $50k. 

Yeah, you might be able to do some stuff, maybe if you're just doing the design, or you're just doing a custom integration, maybe you can piecemeal it. But I think under $50k, you're not really giving yourself a lot of room for really thinking through these things, and investing in building a private app or in multiple design phases or whatever it might be.

Once you start to get north of that, and more in the $100,000-$150,000 range, that's when you have a lot more options. You can really go crazy. On the design side, that's when you're starting to talk about potential, media production budgets, you can incorporate. 

And honestly, I think incorporating custom media on the website --whether it's photography or video-- that's where you create some amazing experiences. 

So I think what we like to see is merchants that are coming into it with budgets that are healthy enough to meet the objectives they have, and be able to have some flexibility. 

So they can experiment with things like multiple design concepts, or that media budget or whatever it might be.

Chase Clymer  

Hey, I can't thank you enough for being transparent there. Pricing is always the thing that some agencies keep close to their vest. 

And it's mostly just because it's hard to set expectations, and then someone wants something that's completely off the wall. And it's like, you got to have a weird conversation to that point.

But yeah, first and foremost, we should talk about the higher-end of those budgets there. That's the kind of budget that all the brands that people are usually saying, I want to be inspired by this brand. 

So like, like the Allbirds of the world. All of these brands that everyone's kind of like looking to for advice. they're spending 6-figures in more on their experiences. And you can't expect to get that in that startup phase.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, that's absolutely right. It's something that I think merchants always have big ambitions, which is great. But if they're working with constrained budgets, you just really need to think about what's going to take the business to the next level. 

And once you're at around that growth stage or scaling stage and you're into several million dollars in revenue, oftentimes, it's not design and customer acquisition and conversion challenges that are the biggest obstacles for the business. 

A lot of times, you start to get into more operational aspects of running the business. All of a sudden, when you've got $5 million in revenue and you're fulfilling tens of thousands of orders, you're not using Google Sheets to track inventory or order status. 

You're not manually handling customer support through email. You can't do that, because those systems break when you start to scale beyond that size. 

So a lot of times when merchants are coming to us, and they're in that range, one of the things that we like to really take our time with in exploring with them is what are the operations look like behind the scenes, because a lot of that those can be quicker fixes for the business that could open up new revenue or reduce costs, and allow us to then reinvest that into the growth areas like customer acquisition, or redesigns for conversion improvements and things along those lines. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I got 2 things I want to talk about there. One, I want to talk about why a custom theme might make sense from a more technical side of you. 

But then two, I want to talk about the differences in like priorities between startup and that scaling phase. 

So what you said there is in the scaling phase, you are actually focused more on margin and finding efficiencies in where you're allocating your time and energy and your budgets. Whereas in the startup phase, you're seeing what the hell works?

Ross Beyeler  

Absolutely. Yeah, it's almost like you think about a startup as sort of very revenue-focused, and scaling is very much margin or profit-focused.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. So once you get to that scaling part of it, you can start to almost realize, you know, you might have some budget for a new website. 

And I think that the reason a custom theme would make sense for your brand would come down to needing some of the following things I jotted down here as we were chatting. 

First is if your experience is based on a premium theme, it's going to be an experience that's very broad, and not really kind of focused on the experience that you want to deliver as a brand. 

So what I mean here is it's not tailor made to the journey that you really want to get across. And it's not tailor made to the design of your brand. It's like you took your brand and slapped it into a template. 

Whereas when you go more tailor made with a custom theme, you can make it exactly what it needs to be. So the journey can match there. Another advantage of a custom theme is that it can be fast as crap. These premium themes are really slow, once you start tying in a bunch of apps and stuff like that. 

Whereas if you have a custom theme, it's only going to include what needs to be included. And it's going to be pretty fast if you have a good partner building it out for you. 

Another thing with these premium themes, not premium themes with a custom theme is you actually can start to replace functionalities that apps are doing for you when you control the whole thing. 

And that will speed things up a lot. And speed is key. It definitely helps with conversions. And then another thing when it makes more sense to go like custom is like you're talking about custom functionalities. And this is when you're getting into upsells, cross sells, and bundles and like product builders. 

It's a lot easier to do that on a custom stack than it is to make it work on a premium theme. 

With that being said budget wise there is like a hybrid approach that I've seen a lot of people do where they'll take a premium theme and use it as the base, and then customize on top of that, and you'll see those fall in between the numbers mentioned earlier. 

So you know, do like a $20,00 to $50,000 range to do a more hybrid approach like that. But you're definitely gonna lose out on some of the performance elements of it.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah, absolutely. And you can't underestimate the impact that performance has not just on conversion, but nowadays also on search engine rankings. Google's putting a ton of emphasis on performance in their algorithm now.

Chase Clymer  

So yeah, I completely agree. Awesome. And then, I mean, on the marketing side of things, it's pretty much the same type of billing, you're just kind of spending more money.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think you can start to have a little bit more fun experimenting with other other channels. Maybe you're not just doing Facebook and Instagram. 

Maybe we're adding in Google or Pinterest or you're experimenting with stuff on Amazon if you happen to sell through that channel or you're getting into other mediums.

People are doing podcast sponsorships, and they're doing voice ads, and they're doing TV ads, and they're doing all sorts of cool stuff there. And you can start to get into retargeting, of course, and more personalization tied to advertisements. 

There's a lot of cool stuff you could build on. But a lot of it is still the basics. You're just spending more money, reaching more audience, getting more clicks and buys. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Man, that was a fun conversation. And I'm sure that we're gonna get more questions about, "Well, what does this specific thing cost?" And it's like, I don't know. If it's super custom talk to a partner that you trust.

Ross Beyeler  

(laughs) Pretty much.

Chase Clymer  

We're trying to be really general here. But the ranges here are pretty standard across the board. You're probably gonna get cheaper service if you go outside of the states. 

But it's gonna be harder to communicate. And you know, at the end of the day, everyone, you get what you pay for. And value is subjective.

Ross Beyeler  

Yep, I couldn't agree more. And part of it too is just being honest. If you just need someone who can come in and tactically execute a punch list of things, great, don't overpay for that. There's fantastic services out there that can help you with that. 

But if you're looking for a consultant, partner, someone who understands Ecommerce to understand strategy, that's where you need to be comfortable investing a little bit more in those relationships because they're going to help guide you through a lot of the difficult decisions you need to make as a merchant.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And I mean, just one thing to point out there is when you're talking about investing in a partner and a consultant, you may be a wizard when it comes to your brand and in your understanding of Ecommerce, but you have to really let it be known that... 

These people that you're talking to are working with dozens of clients every day. And they're learning way faster than you so they're gonna definitely help you solve faster. Time is money and efficiency is the difference in this game?

Ross Beyeler  

Mm-hmm. Absolutely. 

Chase Clymer 

Ross, is there anything I forgot to ask you that you think would be important to share with our audience?

No. We've covered a lot of stuff. This is all really good. 

I think maybe one other thing I'll throw out there a little bonus takeaway is I have noticed that there's often a big difference between what I would consider single product or near-single product companies versus more of marketplace or brand-type plays where the companies that have a core product, or maybe a core product with sort of a range of accessories or related products but we're talking to SKU count of 10 or less. 

There, you're often focused on more of a --what I would consider-- "narrative driven journey" [or a] "narrative driven design", where it's more about the storytelling. It's more about that product, why that product, the history, the background, all the things that get people excited to buy it. 

And I think in those instances, often you actually are a little bit more reliant on the design of the site. You are a little bit more reliant on the media that you're using and things like that. 

Whereas with larger SKU count merchants, that's when you're starting to get into maybe more complicated search experiences, browsing experiences, inventory management issues, cross-selling, upselling. 

So a lot of times, depending on where you fall into those 2 camps, you might see that you prioritize certain investments a little bit more than other merchants. So I think it's something to note. 

Are you a merchant that would benefit from this deeper focus on narrative-driven design? 

Or are you a merchant that benefits from a deeper focus on sort of the browsing and shopping experience through additional apps? Just a little thing I'd like to throw out there to merchants to think about.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I always bring up [that] if you got a low SKU count, you're gonna have an easier time with your remarketing stuff. But again, you might not have what someone's looking for.

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Chase Clymer  

Oh, man. This is a great conversation. I know I'm gonna have you back on the podcast. If people are curious, how do they get a hold of you? And to learn more about what you guys are up to?

Ross Beyeler  

Yeah. Awesome. Yeah, feel free to reach out. Trellis.co. Couldn't pony up the full ".com" there but (laughs) I'm ross@trellis.com. Happy to connect over email. LinkedIn: Ross Beyeler. Not super active on Twitter, but you could probably track me down there if you wanted to. But yeah. Always happy to chat.

Chase Clymer  

I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well. 

If anything in this podcast resonated with you and your business, feel free to reach out and learn more at electriceye.io/connect. Also, make sure you subscribe and leave an amazing review. Thank you!