I opened my dashboard to find that we had generated $0 sales in December. This number was disappointing given that I had committed several hours to the project and hoped I could get some side hustle returns leading into Christmas. In order to be more transparent about my failures, I wanted to share what I did, the lessons I learned, and what I’d do differently.
How it all started
Instead of parents and children waiting in long-lines, wearing masks, and staying distanced to Santa, we could instead host live video appointments with Santa. We could make the video calls more personalized than in-person meetings based on information provided by parents, too. For example, before hopping on the phone call, Santa would know the child’s name, their interests, and some of their friend’s names.
We could go from this:
After reading the tweet, I thought this could be easy to build. Here’s what I had going for me:
- My cousin had a decked-out Santa outfit which he uses every year to surprise the children in our family. He’s one of the best Santa’s I’ve seen and is incredibly funny with kids.
- I have an HD camera set up for live video recording, which would boost our production value.
- We could spin up a website using carrd.co and use stream.club to host paid Zoom events fairly easily.
I had the recipe for everything that we needed to get this side hustle idea off the ground.
Before building anything, I consulted with my cousin to get his buy-in. In my pitch, I had two assumptions about our market. My hypothesis was that 1) parents wanted their children to experience Christmas festivities in times of COVID-19 and 2) we could differentiate our offering by making it hyperlocal — e.g. exclusive to Ventura, CA (where we’re located).
He was “down.”
How I built it
With that in mind and without doing any customer research, here’s what I did:
- Researched current offerings within the tweet’s thread to see the price, time, and copy they used. Here were two of the alternatives that I used for inspiration, along with suggestions within that thread from parents:
- Created a sales page copy using inspiration from the pages that I researched.
- Purchased a domain via namecheap.com and created social media tags for FB and IG only. Opted for Santafromventura.com to keep it local focused.
- Created the page in carrd.co — it’s one of the easiest page builders that I’ve used for $19/year including hosting.
- Reformatted the layout, added copy, connected buy buttons, and revised.
We initially charged $39 for 5 minutes live with Santa. When sales weren’t closing within the week, out of desperation I changed pricing to $20 for 5 minutes with Santa — a ~50% drop in price but one that I suspected only a handful of people knew about. I also included a discount code “venturastrong” for 15% off if needed to be used later. We promoted the discount code in the last promotional week.
This process took about 4 hours. I wanted to get it done as fast as possible rather than being perfect about every nuance.
How I promoted it
I wanted to capitalize on the hyperlocal aspect of our offering. Since we branded the service as Santa from Ventura, I focused my promotions at residents of Ventura, CA and in places where they’d hang out. I only used Instagram and Facebook because I could get those targeting capabilities there and figured our target audience would hang out on those platforms.
I spent more time building out the Instagram profile. In Canva, I searched for “christmas” and “santa” templates, then created about 20 images as quickly as I could. These would be used throughout the weeks to post at least once per day to stories or to feed. To keep the stories posting consistent, I used one template to create 10 Christmas Countdown images leading up to Dec. 25th.
Instagram Stories examples
Instagram Feed examples
You can create cool videos in Canva for free, too. Check out this one I created in a few minutes:
Targeting Ventura Residents
To grow my IG account, I searched for the most popular Ventura IG accounts that residents would follow, like the Ventura County and Ventura Police IG accounts. I read that you could follow 10 accounts per day every hour to not get banned by IG in the process. So, I did that for a few days when I had spare time. It wasn’t rocket science. I just went to the Ventura IG pages, searched for their followers, then followed accounts with young children in the profile picture thinking that these would be the best accounts who’d most likely purchase our services. I did this while continuing to add images to our feed and stories. Once people clicked on our profile, there’s a clear explanation of benefits and link to our landing page.
IG bio copy:
Watch your child’s eyes light up when Santa greets them by name, talks about their interests, and more! Book times by visiting our site
After I followed these people, I DM’d them about our services and a 15% discount to sign up. I just wanted one sale! Is that too hard to ask for?
I didn’t put much effort in Facebook. Just created the page and populated the details so that customers could tag us. I reposted IG content to the Facebook page. The only thing exciting to me about Facebook was FB Groups. I joined a few Ventura local groups, like buy & sell and things to do. However, my posts in these groups fell flat! No one engaged with them. Here’s an example below. I tried to connect with a personal story in the “I grew up in Ventura California” FB Group:
In an act of desperation, I turned to Facebook Ads to see if Facebook’s targeting could help us generate sales. I targeted based on location (Ventura), gender (female), income (top 10%), and parents (with children between ages 5-12), and a few other traits. Here are two examples of ads:
Ad performance was not great. I set the daily budget to $10 per day to see if the content would convert. I didn’t have the time to test and iterate on our approach. But if I did, I’d spend more time selecting the right audience, then testing the copy.
Sales generated = 0
- $19 carrd hosting (for 1 year)
- $19 carrd landing page template
- $9 domain name registration
- $15 FB ads
- Total costs = $62
Net loss = $62
I see this as $62 dollars spent to learn. Now let’s get into what I took away from this experience.
Three Lessons from failure
- Work on Something you’re Passionate About. I don’t have to say much about this other than I wasn’t really passionate about the idea. Sure, the Santa experience was dear to my heart as I remember enjoying my late grandfather surprising us as Santa at Christmas every year. But for me right now, I could have spent my time on other things that I was more passionate about, like building my online course for folks wanting to break into marketing as a career. There’s an added benefit that comes from working on what you’re passionate. The project will be worth more to you since it’s fulfilling a personal itch. So, regardless of the outcome, you’re doing something that excited you versus doing something you don’t care about.
- Focus on Long Term Outcomes. My intention with this side hustle was to make a few bucks before Christmas by bootstrapping as fast as possible. We only had a little amount of time to get this off the ground because we started on November 30th. And the site wasn’t ready until December 10th. This meant that we didn’t have a lot of time to build an audience. For example, I sacrificed creating Christmas and joyful content for creating product-specific content. Next time I’d focus more on trying to build an audience before hand. Content types could be “Top 10 Santas in movies of all time” or “How to make Santa’s favorite cookies [Secret Recipe].” When you’re working on something you’re passionate about, you feel more dedicated for the long term, not the quick outcomes. You’ll be more motivated to create content that resonates, conduct customer research, and find opportunities to grow.
- Don’t Ever Skip Customer Research. Ever. This was a huge miss for me. I solely relied on the Twitter thread to get the idea, a few opinions, and copy suggestions. But, had I met with target customers (parents with young children in Ventura), I could have collected their honest thoughts. For example, If I had engaged in customer interviews, I might have pinpointed that religious parents would be more likely to convert. I would learn about what Christmas means to them and also how Santa expanded their enjoyment of the holiday. I’d then translate their points into copy in our content and ads that would hopefully resonate more deeply with them. I would also confirm willingness to pay to inform pricing and packaging, copy suggestions regarding use cases, and best times available to for appointments. I could have met with 3 parents quickly to get rough ideas and confirmations. This could have led me down a better path to generate sales. If you don’t experience the problem you’ve set out to solve, you’ll have a slight disconnect between what your problem actually is, who’s experiencing it, and how to reach them. Lesson learned.
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