How I Started A $17.5K/Month No-Code Automation Agency For E-Commerce

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m the founder of Compound. We are an ecommerce automation agency headquartered in the UK with a globally distributed team. Our clients are D2C/D2B businesses in the Shopify ecosystem.

They come to us to integrate Shopify/WooCommerce with their existing operational systems and build them bespoke internal tools on no code and low code stacks, get value from their data and keep a watchful eye on everything with 24/7 automation monitoring and support.

One of the major areas of growth for us is driven by the demand for sleek, automated D2B business processes. B2B sales are behind the times in eCommerce, and business owners are aware of the massive efficiencies possible – but until recently hadn’t had many options to improve it. Now we’re delivering systems that reduce labor costs by 90% in processing a B2B ecom order. It’s a game changer that is leading to unprecedented demand for our services.

 

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What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started with Zapier way back in 2012 when I was in business development for a challenger IT support company in Switzerland. I had one goal: Win a new B2B business for this company. I very quickly realized that inbound sales (fuelled by inbound marketing) were the scaleable way forward, but I was pretty quickly horrified at how inefficient leads were handled after they were initially generated.

This led to me stumbling upon Zapier and connecting up the various tools within the IT company. This unleashed a new era of productivity that led to that IT company growing from 2 (I was the second employee) to 10 in under 1.5 years. Businesses around me started asking me to help them handle their sales and marketing systems. This led to me moving into freelance digital marketing for B2Bs, which I had done on my own since then up until 2020.

Back in the UK and during the Coronavirus saga in 2020, there was unprecedented demand to help move traditional businesses online. Until this point, I had ticked over with a steady roster of ongoing monthly engagements providing digital services which were about 40% automated with Zapier. But then I was asked to build a system to help a leading UK medical training company a system to streamline and automate their bookings which had been done solely by manual processes until that point.

They were in a do-or-die situation. At this point, I called upon the services of my brother who had quietly been developing his coding and no-code skills on the side of his teaching job. He came onboard part-time but it became clear that his growing passion for technology development couldn’t be contained within a couple of days per week. So we plotted a course for him to come full-time if we hit our growth goals.

The wider our scope of client or project became, the weaker our message was.

From this point onwards, the projects just kept coming. A few months after this first major project, we were approached by an eCommerce company that had hit lockdown-induced hypergrowth and was struggling to keep up. As we dove into their systems and saw the writing on the wall for eCommerce as a whole – we decided that we would focus 100% on the eCommerce niche, specifically DTC where the brand is responsible for production also as they typically run many systems and have a lot more data that needed to be correctly managed.

After pivoting to a 100% focus on eCommerce and specifically the Shopify ecosystem, sales just blew up. So within a year of his joining, we also took on a project manager and grew our network of collaborators to expand capacity and capability.

By this time we were certified experts in Integromat (Make), Zapier, Pipedrive, Shopify, and a handful of other key tools in the ecom stack. The team now sits at 5 full-time with plans for continual recruitment going forward as our project pipeline has now extended at least 4 months into the future.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

In the agency space, there is a danger of commoditization. What we found is that the wider our scope of client or project became, the weaker our message was. When we landed our first major eCommerce client (we already had several by then but had not yet decided to focus solely on this segment), it came off the back of them telling us that they knew they needed to automate processes and integrate their stack but they didn’t know where to start, so they asked us to run a workshop for their management team to generate and prioritize opportunities.

I remember frantically sifting through my entire freelance career for all the ‘best-practice’ ideas and insights I could think of for each department relevant to an average eCommerce company: Product development, Production, Inventory Management, Website Development, Sales and CRM, Marketing, Finance. After a couple of days of working through this, I developed a framework that I called ‘ecommerce digital operations’.

We took that client through the workshop and ‘the rest is history’. The eCommerce digital ops framework is now the backbone of our eCommerce playbook. We can talk to any eCommerce company and spot their core pain points a mile away. This is the power of niching down – transferable knowledge beyond just knowing how to use a tool (Make.com, Airtable, or whatever) and into knowing how to solve business problems and provide genuine value.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Though I had started in digital marketing, because of the natural drift into internal systems to fix problems that business owners knew I could help with, I had found myself in the hard-to-sell position of being quite a generalist. I could do a bit of everything needed in virtually any business. On top of this pure digital marketing had become quite mundane to me.

When we focused on automation and integration for eCommerce companies, a penny dropped for me. All of a sudden I was able to collate some specific relevant and highly valuable insights from throughout my career to date and apply them all to a certain type of company with recurring problems. Now it was game on! This gave me a new frame of mind and all of a sudden I, alongside my brother, started to see that we were becoming market-leading experts in our niche.

I had been a generalist, but now we were specialists. This had the effect of shortening our sales cycle and boosting our confidence in all commercial conversations with prospective clients. I think my biggest lesson learned has been about taking the leap of faith to focus on a niche. Even now there’s probably more we could do to focus on further.

There is such a massive opportunity in up-and-down markets for no-code and low-code automation. I encourage other automators to pluck up the courage to start reaching out to businesses as it’s on virtually any business owner’s mind but they don’t necessarily know where to go looking for help.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

To win clients early into our refocus on the niche, I joined several automator communities and regularly check project listing boards. We get referrals from those groups where others don’t want to take on larger projects, which has been great.

We have a high success rate with new clients when we get to speak with them and given the size of an average project for us, we offer all clients a free discovery call. We take all of our bookings through SavvyCal and the moment a discovery call booking lands, our amazing VA Irena initiates a BuiltWith.com search so we can get a handle on any public showing aspects of the client’s tech stack; she also pulls in any social data she can. This helps us immediately break the ice with the client and show a level of prep that generally impresses them. We always make sure to introduce to the client the notion of the agile development philosophy – since normally lots of the clients know that they want to automate, but do not know exactly how to get there and we often see their processes change/emerge as we build – which can lead to scope change. So we very rarely offer fixed-scope, fixed-fee projects now. Clients like it when you tell them this enables them to retain control and flexibility.

We also spend a lot of time reflecting on our post-call process. Where a project is substantial, we work on a Miro Board schematic of the overall system. Just framing everything a client has said in a picture has an amazing effect.

To manage our engagements we took on a full-time project manager who has spent immense amounts of time developing our company infrastructure in ClickUp, Coda, and Slack. She is always on the front foot with progress reports and communications touch points. This generally makes clients feel at ease and in the loop which certainly helps maintain a good level of trust.

To enhance retention and ultimately customer lifetime value, we’re exploring offering fully outsourced automation services for a flat monthly fee. Given the ‘bespoke’ nature of some of what we do, we’re thinking this through very carefully. But one other service we are now offering is a Zapier and Make.com monitoring and reactive support service, where we watch all client workflows and dive at the moment they go offline without needing to wait for the client to ask us.

kwaku Amenorhu
Author: kwaku Amenorhu

Amenorhu kwaku is an author, internet marketer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of SuccessValley, a network community for students and aspiring entrepreneurs

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