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Episode 22 - How to find good consultants for your Shopify store

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Hello Scott Austin here.  In this episode I'm going to explain to you how to find good help for your Shopify business.  Not employees, but consultants.  My reason for this topic for this episode is that my clients frequently reach out to me about an email they got from a consultant that made big bold claims.  My clients ask me if its legit.  And basically, if you have to ask if its legit, its usually not.  So before I explain how to find the good consultants out there, I'm first going to explain how the Shopify ecosystem is a bit like the lawless wild west and I'm going to arm you with some knowledge of it works.

Shopify is a vast ecosystem.  There's now over 1 million stores and billions of dollars of revenue flowing through the platform.  And with all of those stores, there's an army of consultants out there to help you build and grow your business.  And as with any ecosystem with billions of dollars, there are some bad apples out there.  Or maybe a more polite way to put it is that there are consultants out there who provide a low quality of service.

And as I think about, both of those are true.  The plain bad consultants who are just trying to get as much money out of you as possible.  And there are also poor quality consultants who don't have the skills, experience or desire that your business deserves.

The consequences of using a low-quality consultant can include:

  1. Getting bad advice.  In many situations, there are multiple ways to solve a problem.  And more than one of those ways can be fine.  But some ways are just plain bad or wrong.  So a low quality consultant is going to provide poor advice and lead you in the wrong direction.
  2. Focusing on the wrong things.  Following bad advice can have you focusing on the wrong parts of your business which can end up wasting a lot of your time.  For example, I've had clients that have spent a lot of time on influencers based on a consultants advice only to have that effort bear no results.
  3. Wasting money.  Its easy to spend a lot of money on your business that bears no business return.  I've had many clients who have told me that they had consultants waste thousands and thousands of dollars on ads with little or no sales revenue in return.  The same is true with SEO.  Its easy to go bankrupt when spending money that doesn't generate profit.

I've even see stores go out of business as a result of following bad consultants.  And here's the thing, there is no shortage of poor quality consultants out there.  And they are using aggressive marketing tactics to find you.  So let's start with how they find you.  I like to bucketize the techniques as push and pull. 

In the push bucket, they are sending you emails or trying to contact you in other ways.  And almost every Shopify store is getting these cold emails every week.  In fact, I got one while making this podcast.  Common emails include:

  1. Promises to improve your SEO to get you to the top of Google search results
  2. Promises to get you traffic from Facebook, Pinterest or other social platform
  3. Promises to boost sales with affordable ads
  4. And even more types of promises.

Now you may wonder how did they find you.  In most cases, they are finding you by buying a list or by scraping your website.  What's scrapping you ask?  Well scrapping is very common practice on the internet.  It is when automated software goes out on the internet and crawls web sites and pulls information out of the site's HTML.  It's very easy for a scrapping app to see that a store is a Shopify store and a lot of other information about the technologies that a store uses.  So a scrapper can easily put together lists of websites that meet certain criteria.  For example, it could create a list of Shopify stores in the US that do not have user reviews.  Or any other variables you can think of.  And the list can include contact information that is available on the website.

Want to see this scraping activity in your store?  Go into you Shopify analytics.  And look at the 'Sessions by location' report for the last 90 days.  You'll probably see a bunch of sessions from countries that you are not doing business in.  Not all of that traffic is web-scraping, but a bunch of it is.  I'm not saying that this is a problem.  In some cases it can be a good thing and regardless, its part of how the internet operates today.

So there's plenty of scraping going on out there and that means that anyone can buy lists for just about anything.  This scraping and lists are a big part of how these poor quality consultants find you.  Then they reach out either through email or your contact us form.  If they are using email, it probably goes to your spam folder.  Which is why many of them will use your contact us form. 

Now the other bucket that these poor quality contractors are using to get your attention is the pull method.  They are doing content marketing in order to ensure that you find them while you are researching Shopify and e-commerce on the web.  To see an example, go to YouTube and search for 'million dollar Shopify store' and you'll see a lot of the content that I'm talking about.  And this content exists on more than YouTube. 

Whether these consultants are reaching out to you or if you are coming across their content on the web, here are some signs to look out for to help you determine if they are of poor quality:

  1. For blind emails to you, be wary of generic emails that don't say anything about your business.  That's a sure sign that the same email is being sent to thousands of stores.
  2. Be wary of anyone that promises you can get rich quick.  Today, many aspects of e-commerce are much easier than they were in the past.  But building a business is still a lot of hard work.  If it was really that easy to build a million dollar store, then these consultants would be spending their time running stores instead telling you how to do it.
  3. I highly recommend that you do not let a company that provides one service, say SEO or ads or influencers or whatever.  Do not let a company that provides only one service sell you on that service.  That's not to say that you should not use a dedicated SEO firm or a dedicated ads agency.  What I am saying is that you should decide that your business needs that service independent of the consultant.  It’s the old adage of if you have a hammer then everything looks like a nail.  If you go to an SEO firm on how to build your business, you can bet that the only thing they are going to advise is that you do SEO.
  4. Be very wary of dishonesty.  Consultants who actually aren't in the location they say they are.  Or haven't worked on the sites they claim to have.  Or don't have the experience they claim they have. 
  5. Avoid consultants who are not transparent about their methods.  If they are promising traffic and sales, they should be real clear on how those goals will be measured and the steps they'll take to get there.
  6. Be careful of the consultant that espouses a best practice like it’s the gospel.  It’s a sign that don't adjust their advice to match the specific circumstances of your business.  One common example of this that I see is the consultant who's answer to improving conversion is only adding trust badges to the product page or cart.  While building trust is an important step to improving conversion, there's far more to it than just trust badges.  In fact, in my 'Establishing Trust in your Shopify Store' episode that I did in the past, I covered 20 ways to improve trust in your store.
  7. I'm very put off by what I consider cheesy antics.  Like someone leaning on a $200,000 car in their video.  Or overly excited or overly dramatic expressions.  But that could be just a generational thing. 
  8. Also, be careful of people who focus on revenue.  A better metric of success is profit.  I've had too many clients that had their Facebook ad agency do a great job at increasing revenue.  But they did it by overspending on customer acquisition and the client lost money.

So enough of the bad.  Let's talk about the good.  And the first thing is that there of tons of good Shopify consultants out there, even great Shopify consultants.  They are in just about every city and country in the world.  So you should be able to find good ones to help build your business.

So how do you find a good one?  Other than contacting me, there are several ways.  And no one way is the best.  As with anything, the path you take will be dependent on your business's situation.  But here are some ways to find good consultants:

  1. See who your friends or admired stores are using.  Getting referrals from people you trust is always a good method.
  2. See who the experts in a given topic are.  Do a web search for a specific topic and see what companies show up in the results.
  3. Of course this one is a bit self-serving, but see what companies are creating the best advice content for ecommerce.  This is one of the reasons why I do this podcast, so that you the listener can learn a bit about me and reach out to me so that we can work together if you see a potential fit.
  4. Do a web search for Shopify Expert and your location or area you are interested in.  For example, Shopify Expert San Diego or Magento to Shopify Expert.  Any good agency is going to have a website that details out the services that they provide and maybe even a detailed portfolio.  So a web search can help you find them.  Now usually with searches that have the term 'Shopify' in them, the top results will all be Shopify sites.  For these searches, you'll find the consultants on page 2 or 3.
  5. Look on the Shopify Experts website.

Now I'm going to focus on Shopify Experts and Shopify Partners for a bit, so that you understand these programs.

Shopify Partners is a great program run by Shopify that gives agencies like mine some tools to help me in supporting your stores.  Those tools include collaborator accounts which give me access to your store admin without taking one of your valuable staff accounts.  Your store can have unlimited collaborator accounts.  But your staff accounts are limited by the Shopify plan that you are on.  I can also create free developer stores which are useful in testing and prototyping before making changes to your live, revenue-generating store.  Any agency that is going to touch your website should already be a Shopify Partner because creating an account is very simple.  And if they haven't already done so, it’s a good sign that they are not that knowledgeable on Shopify. 

The other program is Shopify Experts.  Companies have to go through an approval process with Shopify to become an expert.  They have to have worked on a certain number of Shopify stores in specific areas to get into the program.  So a Shopify Expert is a step above a Shopify Partner.  And all Shopify Experts are also Shopify Partners.  Shopify experts can be listed in the Shopify Experts site that you browse through.  In 2019, the Shopify Experts site received a complete overall.  And now you can look at and engage Experts for very specific tasks.  But for the consultant, there are some downsides to jobs that come through Shopify Experts.  The quality of the leads is pretty poor.  Many of the stores are shot-gunning their needs out to as many experts as they can.  And some stores aren't very serious about the projects they list on the site.  So, many of the top agencies don't list themselves on the site or just list for the most expensive projects.  And a successful agency will deprioritize the leads coming from Experts as some of it is just noise and they are getting better quality leads from other sources.

So let's say you've identified some consultants that you are interested in working with.  Here are some best practices to follow to help pick the right one for you.

  1. Have a phone call with your prospective consultants.  A big project is going to require a lot of coordination and things always won't go smoothly.  So you are going to want a company that you are comfortable with and feel like you can collaborate with.
  2. Share your numbers.  The more a consultant knows about your business, the better they can help you.
  3. A good consultant is going to be proactive and make many recommendations on how to improve your business.  If you are screening a consultant and they don't ask questions nor do they make suggestions, find another one.
  4. Start small and build on successful initiatives.  Break things down into manageable projects and tackle the projects one at a time.  Here's an example, let's say you are interested in SEO.  The first project should be a short term one where metrics are put into place and an evaluation is done on how much SEO can move the needle.  Then the second project would build on the results of the first project.  Breaking projects up has these benefits:
    1. You get to build rapport and trust with the consultant over time.  It also allows you to easily exit the relationship if its not the right fit.
    2. Results and learnings from earlier projects will make you more informed to make better decisions on later projects.
  5. A good consultant is going to be clear on what services they provide and what services they don't provide.  For example, I do site migrations, site builds, redesigns and feature enhancements.  I don't do advertising or social.  I can help a store get smart about SEO, but I won't do the ongoing SEO work.  Ask your consultant what they do and don't do.
  6. A good consultant is going to have a website and company email addresses.  They'll have their portfolio or case studies on their website.  You should be looking at the quality of the work and seeing if they have experience in the same area that you have a need for.  In my portfolio, I try to create a walkthrough video of each project so that you can see in detail what I have done.
  7. Don't be afraid to ask for past clients that you can call for a recommendation. 
  8. Is this consultant a generalist or a specialist.  Depending on your needs, you may need one over the other.  For example, if you are looking at building a new Shopify store, you probably want an agency that only works on Shopify, and not other platforms like WooCommerce, Big Commerce or Magento.  That way, you get as much Shopify knowledge as you can working with a Shopify only consultant.
  9. Make sure that the consultant is running this a legit, full-time business.  That means they'll have contracts, 1099s, etc.  And they'll give your business the time and effort it deserves.  And they will be more likely to still be around down the road when you need them again.
  10. Good consultants are busy.  So you may have to wait a bit.  Ask them how many projects they currently have and when they will be able to start on your business. 

So in summary.  There's an entire army of consultants out there that can help you build and grow your Shopify business.  There are many good ones, but there are also ones of poor quality and even downright bad apples.  There are plenty of ways to identify the good and the bad.  In the end, you'll find the best ones by doing a little research and reaching out to them.  Evaluate them for their fit with the needs of your business and also make sure you can get along.

I hope this was helpful information.  Thanks for listening. 

JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.