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Ep. 61 - What Makes Brands Successful from an Agency and Store Owner Perspective with Kelly Vaughn

Kelly Vaughn is the founder of The Taproom, a full-service agency specializing in complex development solutions for Shopify and Shopify Plus merchants. 

During evenings and weekends Kelly runs her store, KVLLY.com, which sells developer merch you didn’t know you needed.

She also co-hosts the Ladybug Podcast which is an all lady-hosted tech podcast for all developers that talks about code and career.

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [1:51] Early freelancing brought Kelly to the Ecommerce space.
  • [3:09] What makes a Shopify store successful from its competitors?
  • [4:27] The traits of more established brands, in Kelly’s experience
  • [6:05] As a business owner, what’s the best way to reach out to an agency or a developer?
  • [7:26] What’s the difference between having a list of requirements and explaining the job that will be accomplished?
  • [7:59] Helping you reach your goals is what an agency does best, not just following your demands
  • [9:21] Being a vendor vs being a partner
  • [10:31] Always tell your agency or consultant WHY you want something done
  • [10:54] Kelly’s optimization tip: Have a solid Customer Support strategy
  • [12:27] Kelly recommends Octane AI join.octaneai.com/features/shopify
  • [13:44] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.link/honest
  • [14:32] Kelly’s experience as a Shopify merchant
  • [16:29] How did Kelly get her store off the ground?
  • [17:54] The importance of reviews on your online store
  • [19:21] Other tips for small merchants for them to grow their brand
  • [20:29] For business owners, get in a group of like-minded people
  • [22:14] What is Kelly’s spaghetti recipe?
  • [23:20] How does Kelly delegate tasks?

Resources:

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Transcript:

 

Kelly Vaughn  

The main thing is that you're producing content on a regular basis where people have a reason to keep on coming back to your store; not just to buy things, but to also keep updated with what's happening.

 

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.

 

Hey, everybody, welcome back to Honest Ecommerce. This is the first episode that I'm recording in 2020. I almost said the wrong date. I'm not gonna lie. And today we welcome to the show... 

 

Oh, by the way, I'm your host, Chase Clymer. I don't know if I said that already. But today, we welcome to the show, --this is my arch enemy and rival-- Kelly from The Taproom. Kelly Vaughn, welcome to the show.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah. Thanks for having me. Thanks for welcoming a rival.

 

Chase Clymer  

Yes. So Kelly and I have... We're not rivals. We're in a mastermind together. We're good friends. But she and I have a very, very fun, competition --friendly-competition-- going on between our agencies.

 

So, I like to just give her some shit. But other than that, Kelly runs the Taproom, which is an amazing development shop down in Atlanta, Georgia. 

 

She also is going to start hosting meetups for Shopify Plus stores down in that area as well. She is very active on Twitter. What is your Twitter handle one more time?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

It's @kvlly.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, I was going to screw it up. 

 

Kelly Vaughn 

That's why I'm here. 

 

Chase Clymer  

So she's got a lot of good content on Twitter. And she's now also a merchant and she sells awesome developer-based clothing items. You probably have a better one-liner than I do

 

Kelly Vaughn  

It’s merch for developers. (laughs)

 

Chase Clymer  

Yes, exactly. We're going to get into all of that today. But first, I guess, let's get into the background. What led you here? Not on the podcast per se, but what led you to be an agency owner and then get into this space?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah, so I have been... I'm a front-end developer myself. I've been coding since I was 11. I had my first freelance client when I was 14 years old. I was paid a t-shirt. 

 

I recommend paying your agencies more than a t-shirt but it was a good deal for a 14-year-old, so I wasn't complaining. And basically, it just took off from there just getting more experience working with clients. 

 

And I went full time freelancing in 2015. And 2015 is also when I started working with Shopify, too. Maybe it was 2014? Years blend together now. 

 

But yeah, so I hit a point in my freelancing where I want to bring on larger clients, but working under my own freelance name and just partnering with other freelancers wasn't really cutting it. 

 

So I decided to rebrand to The Taproom and that was October 2017. So we're over 2 years old now.

 

Chase Clymer  

And I met you right around --I think-- that rebrand maybe a couple of months later. 

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah.

 

Chase Clymer  

So our agencies are similar in age. Well, we're a little bit older but we didn't know we're doing until we met Kelly.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

(laughs) I take full credit for that. 

 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So Kelly and I are both pretty active in the Shopify space with our agencies. So being agency owners, we deal with a lot of different Ecommerce businesses. 

 

So, the first thing we were going to discuss today on the show was what separates... Not the winners from the losers, but what are the successful brands doing? 

 

And what are the traits of a successful brand, coming from an outside perspective? 

 

So the first one that we discussed a little bit off the air was, oftentimes is what separates a winning brand from it... I need a better analogy than that. Kelly, you got a better idea?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

What sets the more successful brands apart? How about that?

 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, let's go with that. 

 

Kelly Vaughn 

Yeah, we'll go with that. 

 

Chase Clymer  

So what we agreed upon was that they have a content production system built into the business. I know we see that a lot with lifestyle brands. And that's something that separates dropshipping from a more established brand, as well, I think.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Agreed. And I see a lot of direct-to-consumer brands really focusing on their content. And you don't have to be a direct-to-consumer brand to really be successful here, you can be selling other people's products. 

 

But the main thing is that you're producing content on a regular basis, where people have a reason to keep on coming back to your store, not just to buy things, but to also keep updated with what's happening.

 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. What are some of the other traits that you're seeing across the board with some of your more established brands?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

The more established brands are definitely putting a very strong focus on mobile optimization. And it seems weird talking about this in 2020 as if it's a new idea. It's not a new idea, whatsoever. 

 

We've been making websites responsive for mobile for years now. 

 

But we tend to focus so much on the desktop-user experience because we're often running our businesses from a computer and not from your phone so, we often miss the little nuances that can go wrong in the user experience when you're actually shopping on mobile devices.

 

Chase Clymer  

I think what might have happened was people were focusing on just checking the box that "This is responsive." versus this is a journey where I can actually do what I need to do.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

For sure. And I think at a certain point, it just became a buzzword. "This is my list of things that I need, 'responsive' has to be on that list." 

 

And we had people reaching out to us saying, "I need my website to be responsive, but not knowing what that actually means." So there was an educational component that had to come with that as well.

 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So that's it. That's a good pivot right there, which is if someone is reaching out to an agency or reaching out to a developer, --I know you have a lot of experience there-- what is the best way to communicate their needs? 

 

Is it, do a lot of research and come with a laundry list of ideas or come up with a basic skeleton of it and let the agency come up with the ideas? What do you think is the best way to approach an agency if you're getting to that level of your business?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

What I look for most, what I see to be the most successful brands reaching out to us who need help in knowing what they want their future state to look like or what they want their future state to be, but maybe not know how to get there. 

 

We work with a lot of brands who are making at least $500,000 annually, anywhere from $2 million to $10 million, it's where our sweet range is. And these are merchants who have gotten to a certain point in their business where they're, they feel like they're doing a great job. 

 

And I mean, you're doing half a million a year, you're doing a great job, but they don't really know where to go next. They have some ideas, but they don't really know how to get that down on paper and actually, build that out on their website, make it actually happen. 

 

So the more successful leader requests or yeah, I guess the requests that come in are the ones who have an idea of where they want to go. They don't need to tell me how to do it. That's what the agency exists for. 

 

And quite often, we can usually take your ideas and shift them a little bit that's going to be more optimal for your brand. Because we often get ideas from other stores like our competitors and we fall into this trap of wanting to copy them. 

 

And your brand is very unique. And you need to be focusing on what's best for your own brand.

 

Chase Clymer  

So I shouldn't have a laundry list of requirements and hand those to you and a brief?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

I prefer not to have that.

 

Chase Clymer  

So what separates a laundry list of requirements from just explaining to me or explaining to you what the job is to be done?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

We help frame what the job is to be done. That's our role as the subject matter expert here. We are the ones... You're hiring us, not just to do what you want us to do, but help tell you what it is that you need to actually continue to grow. 

 

So I'd rather know more about your goals and your future state and what you envision the business looking like and then let us guide you there

 

Chase Clymer 

And how many times does someone reach out and they want x, but in the end, you actually end up moving towards delivering y? --Y isn't the word-- But they wanted one thing, but you come up together and you deliver something completely different. And why does that happen?

 

Kelly Vaughn 

It happens all the time. Again, because we focus so much on what other people are doing, and not necessarily what we need to do. So we help position what it is that you need to actually be doing if that makes sense.

 

Chase Clymer  

No, it does. I see, oftentimes, people are like, "I need to move this button here and I need to change this page design to look like my competitor." 

 

And then if you unpack it a bit more, and it's like, well, why do you want to do that? It's like, "Oh, we want to increase our conversion rate." 

 

And you're like, well, if that's the actual issue, here's what you should really be doing. And then you know, and that's how working together with subject matter experts such as myself or Kelly is really going to change your business. 

 

You're looking for someone that has some experience here and can take your ideas and help you grow the business as opposed to someone that just executes on what you want.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

And that's what really sets agencies and freelancers apart from people who can just do what you ask them to do, versus those who are actually guiding you to what you need to do. And then, of course, doing it.

 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. I think once people stop referring to themselves as a freelancer and they start referring to themselves as a consultant, is when they made that shift where it's like "What you want may not be what you need, but I want to help you." 

 

And then you have more conversations.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

That's totally true. I think another comparison there is being a vendor versus being a partner.

 

Chase Clymer  

Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

We don't want to be seen as just another vendor that you're working with. We would rather be basically an extension of your team.

 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think when you're going and hiring a partner, they're a team member. They're not an employee, and you need to remember that you're hiring them for their expertise. 

 

You're not hiring them just to do what you say. And some people need to hear that out loud.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yep. I do want to bring back one point that you brought up, where you unpack what they're saying. 

 

And you ask why they want to move on to the left or and why they want to make the change to a certain page. 

 

We're like the toddler that's learned the word why, and we just want to keep on asking you why, why, why, why? I know it can be annoying, but I promise that we're just trying to unpack exactly what it is that you really need at the very base level.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah. Actually, that's a key takeaway from this: If you're going to reach out to someone to help grow your business, tell them what you want to be done and then also say why. 

 

And that will give us way more information and allow us to really help you so much better and cut out half of a phone call because the first question we're going to have on that phone call is "Why?" 

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yep, that's right. 

 

Chase Clymer

So...

 

Kelly Vaughn

I have another big optimization tip. 

 

Chase Clymer  

Go ahead. 

 

Kelly Vaughn

I see certain brands do better at others is their support system. And I'm not talking, "I have friends to talk to." like "I have Chase to talk to." I'm talking [about] your customer support. Do you have chat on your website? 

 

Do you have a really solid FAQs page that outlines everything that a customer might need to know? Are you quick to respond to emails? Is it the same person responding to the emails in a specific email chain? Or does it switch from person to person to person? 

 

I see the more successful brands have a really solid customer support strategy in place. And it doesn't have to be an expensive setup. You don't have to hire a huge team of customer support people. There are other services out there to actually help streamline it for you.

 

Chase Clymer

I saw a wild stat on Twitter yesterday and it's so funny you brought this up because I was talking about it this morning. It was talking about ticketing and customer service platforms.

 

And it was a comparison between the lifetime value of a customer that had reached out to support versus the lifetime value of a customer that had never interacted with support. 

 

And the people that had reached out and opened a ticket through this brand’s website, their lifetime value, --I want to say-- was almost double.

 

Kelly Vaughn

Yeah, it was 2 or 3 times more. It was nuts.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, we'll definitely find that and hopefully link to it in the show notes. But that just goes hand-in-hand with what Kelly's saying here. If you can support your customers and answer their questions, they're going to want to buy from you again or for the first time.

 

Kelly Vaughn

For sure. Can I plug an app that I really like? 

 

Chase Clymer  

Go for it.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Octane AI, it is fully worth the expense to pay for it. It basically allows you to create a conversational customer support strategy through Facebook Messenger. And you can preload-in the common questions like you see on your FAQs. 

 

And it lets people basically click through menus to find out how much things cost and what shipping might... Or how long shipping might take and basically, whatever is most relatable to your brand. How do I clean certain items? You can do literally whatever. 

 

And then that really speeds up the customer support time for you and lightens your load because you're not having to manually respond to each of those customers support requests.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, they have an extremely powerful solution over there. It's got a lot that you can do. And I know that they wrote a playbook on how you can set it up and that thing is thick. They printed it out and they're walking around a conference with it last fall.

 

Kelly Vaughn

It's daunting, but it's well worth the time to read through that playbook.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, but once you get it set up, you're gonna have so much more support for your customer which is going to immediately pay off in actual revenue in dollars for the business

 

Kelly Vaughn

For sure.

 

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Chase Clymer  

So speaking of businesses, you launched a Shopify brand yourself. So now you are not only a consultant, but you're a merchant. What does that experience like?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

It's so much fun because it really puts into perspective the things that I recommend that my clients do. And apparently, I'm a really bad client to myself, because I don't do anything that I'm recommending that my clients actually do.

 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, that's the classic case of the cobbler's kids have no shoes.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Exactly. Yeah, it's been really cool though, I'm really thankful that I have such a large audience on Twitter, because I was able to very quickly push out my products and begin making a profit, basically, on day one. 

 

Actually, I had people guarantee that they wanted to buy some things before I even opened up my store. So that was pretty cool. Definitely a unique position to be in. 

 

But when it comes to making changes to the store, adding new products, customer support is easy. I don't get too many requests coming in, and they're pretty quick to work with. But email marketing, Facebook ads, just posting on Facebook and Instagram. I'm really bad at it.

 

Chase Clymer  

So you're starting to see some of the limitations that other clients of yours might be running into. You're like, "You're right, there isn't enough time in the day."

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Exactly, especially when I'm trying to run 3 businesses now because I also have a podcast

 

And so we're trying to run The Taproom, record for our podcast and do the support for that --as your business-side of things-- and also run my store. It becomes something that has to take the backseat. 

 

And it's been my store for the most part. So, I can only imagine one-man shows or one-woman shows focusing solely on the store how they could possibly get everything done. That's impossible.

 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And that's, that's wild to me. You launched the store when?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

I launched it at the end of July last year, I believe.

 

Chase Clymer  

And you have just celebrated your 2000th sale. That is insane. 

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah. 

 

Chase Clymer  

So that is a considerable milestone there. I think the first couple of sales are something to applaud that. But getting into the thousands is insane. 

 

So other than your audience, what do you think were some of the reasons that your store and your brand actually got off the ground? 

 

Because I'm assuming that some of our listeners are about to launch or they have launched and they're having some struggle finding that initial traction.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah. So once you start getting... One of the first things I did, which I think was really beneficial for connecting with my customers is I have an automated email that goes out the day after somebody places an order that's just a plain text email --so no email template or anything like that-- that just says, "Hey, thanks so much for purchasing something. This is a new business for me and you're supporting me and I really appreciate it. I'd love it if you could post a picture of what you received once you receive it." 

 

And I get replies to that email saying "I really appreciate you reaching out to me." This is an automated email. 

 

And I'm not doing any heavy lifting here whatsoever. And people send me pictures and they post on social media, and I'll just retweet them and those pictures result in more sales of other people wanting to buy the same thing.

 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. User-generated content and then take it a step further. You could put it into your email blasts or you could put it into your advertising. That is an amazing little system you build out there.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah, yeah. Also I finally added reviews to the site. I was really slow to add reviews which include... I'm using Judge.me for reviews. 

 

And people are also uploading photos that way, too because it gives you the option to upload a photo and people are like, "Oh, yes, I happen to have this picture of my mug. So I'm going to include it." 

 

Chase Clymer  

You missed out... 

 

Kelly Vaughn  

And people look at them.

 

Chase Clymer  

...on 2000 reviews, you missed out on.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

I know. No, I actually didn't. Because I sent an email. I backdated all of it. 

 

So even though I installed the reviews app maybe December, --I think like early December-- I emailed everybody who had placed an order before that saying, "Hey, I really appreciate your business. I finally have reviews on my website, and I'd love for you to leave a review for the product you received."

 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, that's something that I think anyone should do if they aren't currently doing reviews and they want to do it. And they're like, "Well, what about all the old stuff?" You can do that. No one really cares.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Exactly. And you might get fewer people responding to it. It might result in some customer support requests, --which happens that's totally fine. I'm more than happy to help them-- but most people are more than happy to go ahead and leave a review. 

 

I'll definitely say maybe set an endpoint to how far back you want to go with reaching out to previous customers. 

 

If your products have a limited lifespan, like if its food or something just that is perishable, don't go, two years back when they've forgotten what it's like to have, whatever it is that they ordered from you.

 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. What are some other tips that you'd say for the small merchant that's looking to grow their brand?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Consistency more than anything. And I know we already talked about the content component, but for small brands, it's so important to be posting consistently. 

 

Updating your website consistently, posting on social media consistently across whatever social media platforms you're actually using for your business that makes the most sense. 

 

For me, twitter's the best since I already had the largest audience but I also have a Facebook page and also an Instagram account. And user-generated content gives me basically free content to post on social media too. 

 

But that consistency and getting off the ground and getting started is really important. Also, most of your friends are more than happy to like your Facebook page or follow you on Instagram to support you. 

 

It's a really easy way for people to support you without actually having to spend money. So don't hesitate to reach out to people you already know and just ask for their support that way.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. And is there anything else that you want to share with the audience before we go today that I didn't ask you?

 

Kelly Vaughn

There are some other questions that came in earlier. You want to go through some of those?

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah. So me and Kelly are in a... This is actually a good topic to talk about while I'm looking those up. So me and Kelly are in a Slack channel with a bunch of other agency owners. And me Kelly and two other people are in a small mastermind. 

 

And I think for any agency... --not agency owner-- But any business owner in general, (especially) for Ecommerce stores, get in a group of like-minded individuals and talk about your businesses on a very strict cadence. 

 

We do it bi-weekly. We all get on a call, we all talk about the ins and outs of our businesses and it has changed all of our businesses, at least for me. How about you, Kelly?

 

Kelly Vaughn

Oh, absolutely. I've learned a ton. And I've made some really great contacts like Chase, you and I became better friends. 

 

And we formed this little competition between us like within our agent or mastermind, that keeps us all motivated as well. We get to celebrate each other's wins, we get to help each other through our losses and pain points and everything. 

 

It's really, really valuable. And I think it's something that's... A building that supports the system outside of your store for other business owners, it can be really, really, really helpful.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, and the concept of a mastermind comes from --I believe-- the book is Think and Grow Rich. And I believe they also kind of talk about it again in How to Win Friends & Influence People

 

But you can jump on the Google machine and learn how to run a mastermind yourself. I believe that there are a lot of free resources out there for you to build a mastermind with like-minded individuals on your own. 

 

There are also some more paid ones. Depending on how you perceive value, go out there and get it. So I finally pulled up the questions that people commented, Kelly, and they are definitely related to Ecommerce. 

 

Oh, totally. 

 

Chase Clymer  

The first one is "What's your spaghetti recipe?"

 

Kelly Vaughn  

So there is a fun story behind the whole spaghetti thing for my podcast, which is called The Ladybug Podcast. It's 3 of us who just... 3 women in tech talking tech career and code. Somehow we've gotten onto this inside joke that I make spaghetti all the time. 

 

And it's not really an inside joke, because I do make spaghetti all the time. Um, I don't have a super-secret spaghetti recipe. I use mids spaghetti sauce and add a ground turkey in there and put a ton of spices in it. Really easy. 

 

Chase Clymer  

So if I want to go and listen to your podcast, learn more about women in tech and learn more about how you make spaghetti, where do I go?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

You can go to Ladybug.dev.

 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Then how often are you guys putting out content and what's the structure of the show?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah. We put out new episodes every Monday morning. So you can always listen to something new there. It's the three of us who host it. And then we also mix in some interviews with other people. 

 

So there are a lot of really good entrepreneurship episodes on there. There's one specifically with the CTO of Shopify that Shopify merchants might find interesting. That's from the previous season.

 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. And then I think I do have a serious question here from Nick. So Nick Disabato asks "How do you delegate work?"

 

Kelly Vaughn  

How I delegate work. So, I have been growing my team for the past two years since I started just by myself as The Taproom. 

 

Most of our focus is on development, and I find we do a lot of retainer work. So a lot of clients who keep on coming back to us on a regular basis. 

 

I find our contractor developers are best for these jobs because I can guarantee when their work schedule is going to be. 

 

For project-based work, I give those to our full-time employees because they have a little bit more wiggle room with having to switch between projects or maybe jump on to do a bug fix for another client. 

 

I try to keep the work that I do now to a minimum as far as development work goes, because it's very difficult to wear my developer brain and my business brain at the same time.

 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. I have gotten out of the action of doing but every once in a while I jump in there and I love strategizing and getting into it. 

 

Kelly Vaughn  

For sure. 

 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So if people are picking up what you're putting down and they like you and they want to learn more about you, where should they go on the interwebs?

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Yeah. So you can visit our website at thetaproom.com. You can email me at kelly@thetaproom.com. You can find me on Twitter @kvlly. Yeah. I think that's it.

 

Chase Clymer  

And if I want to pick up some awesome developer merch, where do I go? 

 

Kelly Vaughn  

You go to kvlly.com. 

 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Kelly, thank you so much for being on the show, and I'm going to win the competition this year.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

(whispers) No you're not. Thank you. 

 

Chase Clymer

(laughs) Alright. Bye.

 

Kelly Vaughn  

Bye.

 

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!