After several years of growth, Susan Bradley’s shoe company experienced a sudden downturn in sales. It felt like things simply weren’t working like they used to. And when she learned that her 77-year-old mother now did all of her Christmas shopping online, Susan knew she needed to make a big change.
She spent the next year growing her Facebook presence and building up her email list to 18,000 subscribers. Now, at The Social Sales Girls, Susan uses what she learned growing her business to teach her fellow e-commerce store owners how to get more traffic and sell more of their beautiful products.
Today, Susan joins the podcast to share the story of how she came to share her knowledge of the art of social media with other business owners, the incredible success her students are having, and the lasting power of building a great community.
- How mastering email lists, Facebook, and Shopify helped Susan make a critical pivot and save her shoe business.
- Why Susan’s first membership felt like a hot mess – and how she jump-started her business when she relaunched six months later.
- Why Susan has experienced 96% member retention – and the incredible results her students are getting.
- Susan’s advice for anyone thinking about taking the leap into running a membership business.
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- “Your results aren’t what happened to you, your results are what you create and you are in control of your results.” – Susan Bradley
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Susan Bradley, welcome to the It’s a TRIBE Thing podcast. How are you?
Susan Bradley: I am just fine. Thank you, Shelli. Thanks for having me.
Shelli Varela: My absolute pleasure, super love your story. This is going to be helpful for all of the people listening to your journeys, super inspirational, but with that, if you wouldn’t mind starting with who you serve and what you do?
Susan Bradley: Well, I’m a little different than the norm. So, my company is called The Social Sales Girls and we teach e-commerce store owners how to get more traffic and more sales so that they can just sell more of their beautiful products.
Shelli Varela: Incredible, but it wasn’t always that way for you. Can you take us back to the beginning before you were into e-commerce and how you came to be able to learn all this incredible knowledge that you’re now sharing with these people and lighting the way for them and their possibilities?
Susan Bradley: Sure. Absolutely. So, it’s the sideways story, it’s not a straight path ever, but back in 2013, I owned a shoe company, which I actually sold the company in 2018, but in 2013, I owned a shoe company that mostly sold shoes wholesale to independent boutiques or end majors across North America. And that was the bulk of our business. And the business had really had great growth several years in a row, but in 2013, for the very first year ever, sales were down. And I’m telling you, the best way I can describe it is it felt struggly, like everything that was working before seemed to be not working as well, before later.
Shelli Varela: Okay, so your sales were down in 2013.
Susan Bradley: So, in 2013, for the very first year ever, our sales were down. And it felt really struggly, it felt like what had worked before wasn’t working so well. I was noticing that our retailers were having a little bit of trouble paying us, which affected our cash flow, but more than that, I felt that they were really having a hard time living up to their commitment. So, they had placed orders, we’d brought in the inventory, and then they weren’t able to take them in and pay for them. And it really felt tough and I was sweating.
And then, it was near the end of the year and it was all kind of coming to a head for me and then, I was at home one day and my mother came into the house. My mom, she was probably about 77 at the time and she just so proudly announced to me that she had done all of her Christmas shopping online. And I was like, Oh, well, that’s the problem right there, that if my 77-year-old mother can figure out how to do all her Christmas shopping online, I’m in big trouble over here. All my income pretty much was dependent on all these boutiques and if people like my mom aren’t shopping at them, then their business is not going to get better.
And so, that December, I made a decision that I was going to take a year, it’s going to take a year to figure out how to sell our shoes, shoes are heart, how to sell our shoes online, and that I was not going to be dependent on wholesale by the end of the year. And so, I took that whole year and we had a little Facebook page, but we built it way up. I also focused on building an email list because in my previous business, I knew that direct mail, like with the post office, that kind of mail was very effective. And so, I thought, Okay, I’m going to figure out this email thing, too.
And so, I would say to myself, wake up every morning and try and figure out how to grow this email list. And by the end of that year, by the time we hit December 2014, we had grown the list to 18,000.
Shelli Varela: That’s incredible.
Susan Bradley: Yeah, we had a nice sized Facebook page. There wasn’t even an Instagram account yet, but we had built a solid audience and we had this email list of 18,000 people. And during that time, we had also switched to Shopify. So, we didn’t need a developer, we were able to think fast, make changes on our site, it was good. And so, I had the confidence by the end of the year to cut off our wholesale sales. And it was a big deal, Shelli, because it was million dollars with the sales. And so, we cut that off and we went directly to consumer.
And when I was learning in 2014, how to sell our shoes online, I had joined some Facebook groups that were all about Shopify, just to see what I could learn. I think I bought a few courses, too, but I really started experimenting with things with our business and I was heavily focused on email and started getting some results and decided that I would open up my own Facebook group and kind of share what I was working on with other people who were trying to build a business. And I did that, gosh, I can’t remember how long I did that for, but I think it was in 2015, I thought I would create a little course.
I had a decent following in this Facebook group and I thought I would create a little course on how to build an email list. And I just want people to understand that I spent some time creating this course and I was heavily invested and it was hard. I did a webinar and the first time you ever do something like that, you’re just hot mess, but I did it and I sold one, like that’s one, one course, which kind of sent me back to, Ooh, maybe I don’t know, as much as I think I know.
So, I kind of went back to just sharing what I was doing and chalk that up to a learning experience. And it was probably about eight months later, I came up with another course. And that course actually did sell very well. And during that year, it was kind of course, where like there’s a Facebook group and every week, there were questions and answers and it was really very well supported. And so, that evolved into a membership. I didn’t know anything about TRIBE, it just evolved into a membership. It’s the classic story of, Okay, we don’t want to stop whatever this is. So, what can we do?
So, I think it was $29 a month, I think I had 60 or 70 people that wanted to be part of this membership. So, I launched it. And I would say within two months, I was just a hot mess again, because I was like, Oh, well, I always explain it this way, I felt like I was tap dancing on thin ice all the time, trying and maybe juggling a herd of cats while I was doing it because I was trying to do all the things to keep people engaged and give them, like I don’t know, because I thought they were paying me a lot of money, I don’t know, 30 bucks a month, but to keep them happy. And of course, meanwhile, I’m still running this pretty significant shoe company. And I just felt like a hot mess all the time.
And so, I think it was probably, I don’t know, six or seven months into it, one of the members, one of my members said to me, “Oh, how’s it going?” And I said, “Oh, come on, you can see how it’s going.” And she said, “Well, I just wanted to ask you if you’ve ever heard of TRIBE.” And I said, “I actually have heard of TRIBE, but I didn’t buy TRIBE because I was too busy.” Classic random, too busy failing over here. Too busy failing, meanwhile my recycle bin’s like overloaded with wine bottles. It was like, what are those things?
And so, I think, I don’t know, when Jen asked me, it was Jennifer Feldstein, but I think it was maybe February of 2017, then I was like, Oh, yeah, we’re not taking any new members. Of course, we were open all the time. I said we’re not taking any new members. We gotta figure this thing out. I bought TRIBE, pretty much sight unseen, because I was so desperate, I would do anything. And I went through the course and I went to TRIBE live. And I just learned all the things I was missing to make it not only good for me, so I didn’t lose my mind, but also to make it so much better for the people that I was serving.
And so, I think, we opened again, I think we closed it down in February, just kept the people that we had, didn’t take on any new people. And then, I think we opened, it was either late August or early September in 2017. And I had bought TRIBE and I think it launched in March that year, but anyway. And we got 184 new members when we opened up the doors. I mean, I’d be telling a big lie, if I told you it was all just easy, but it solved some key problems. There were some key problems I had, that I didn’t even realize.
And so, kind of the rest is history, I mean, it was a great jumpstart, I learned a lot. And over the last couple of years, our membership hasn’t really evolved. We have more than 900 members now.
Shelli Varela: Wow.
Susan Bradley: But better than that is the progress that they make. Our retention is crazy high, like it’s 96%. And the progress, like people who have come to us without any sales online, well, Black Friday was just last week, people who are having $50,000 months, $100,000 months, $10,000 months, or like we still have people who are just starting and are happy that they got five sales because before, they had none, and so, that has been just amazing.
Shelli Varela: That’s incredible.
Susan Bradley: Yeah.
Shelli Varela: What has been the best part for you? So, as somebody with beautiful picture of the hot mess and the wine bottle and the struggly, right?
Susan Bradley: Clink, clink, clink, clink down the driveway, yeah.
Shelli Varela: That’s terrible. But as you struggled and figured it all out and joined TRIBE and short up the soft spots, what meant to you when you look back and you have this shoe wholesale company, and then all of a sudden, here you are teaching other people, what does it mean to you to watch others succeed and to know that you were the person that created that sort of freedom in their lives?
Susan Bradley: Oh, it’s the best thing ever. It’s truly the best thing. I mean, I have a great income, no doubt about it. And we probably have more support people on our payroll than most people for business our size and membership business our size, but I do it because I really want to create an environment where people are set up to succeed. And so, to me, the best thing ever is when somebody says, I’m super clear on what I need to do next and I feel confident that I’m on the right track. In fact, I feel confident enough to mark out a plan. And next month, my plan is this and I’m going to do this amount of sales.
And so, when they realize that sales and it’s the same for anybody, whether you’re an e-commerce store owner or you’re a coach or you’re a brick-and-mortar store owner, what we tend to think is that these things happen to us. And so, when somebody really is transformed from understanding that your results aren’t what happened to you, your results are what you create and you are in control of your results, that’s the best thing ever because they feel so empowered.
And the other thing that is amazing, so we have this amazing community, our Facebook group, it’s really just such a happy, supportive, amazing place to be, but when you see somebody who came with no sales or thinking that they were going to have to close their business and they actually have evolved to the point where they’re helping other members make progress and make success because they have that confidence, that they’ve been down that path, they know how it feels like you actually want to bash your head against the wall feeling, that feeling.
Shelli Varela: Struggly.
Susan Bradley: Yeah, and they can help them manage that, bring them back to their data, remind them really where they are. When I see other members doing that, it’s just like, Oh, yey, winning. So good.
Shelli Varela: When you look back and you talked about the point when you jumped off the cliff, when you cut off your business, that I can only imagine was a huge leap of faith and felt a little bit scary. So, for those people right now who are feeling their version of that, but they’re inspired, here you are, you’ve created this incredible membership site and you’re helping other people to get sales and to have their own version of freedom. For the people right now who are experiencing their version of that, what advice would you give them?
Susan Bradley: I don’t do too much. Don’t try and do too much. I attribute my success. And when I see success and others, it’s very similar. I think that you want to first of all, be really clear on the outcome that you want. Even if it’s in short bites, like by the end of this month, this is the outcome I want. And then, you only focus on the tasks that are going to get you to that outcome. It’s a game changer. And it’s hard to explain, but it’s so true. Like, I tend to focus on outcomes and know that I’m not going to be able to do all the things, but when I think about the outcome I want, what are the things I can do right now that will have the most impact on me getting to that outcome?
So, a great example is, building my email list that I knew, I had a clue from a previous business that if you could get customers or a potential lead, somebody whose contact information, that changes everything because you have their permission to get in front of them. And so, I didn’t focus on a lot of things. I didn’t actually learn Facebook ads till like the year after. And Facebook ads are one of the things we teach in our program for e-commerce sellers.
Actually, I didn’t learn it till after because I knew that I would get the value I wanted from those emails. So, I literally did wake up every day saying, Okay, what can I pull today to get some more email addresses? Like it was kind of like this little game. So, I didn’t try and learn Google ads and Facebook ads, I just focused on one thing and did it really well.
Shelli Varela: Well, you make such a brilliant point and you articulated it so eloquently. It really is simple, Stu talks about in TRIBE, he says, the biggest reason somebody may leave your membership site is because of overwhelm, but also for the membership site owner…
Susan Bradley: Yes, he’s so right.
Shelli Varela: The best way to avoid the efforty and the hot mess and the wine bottles in your recycling is not to get overwhelmed, but you set up so simply and I just want to circle back on that, it’s like, instead of all of the things that you could do, what is the outcome you want and then just reverse engineer with that and focus on that one thing.
Susan Bradley: Yep. And it really works well, like I see it. Our membership has evolved a lot. And I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished with it. And I see it in so many ways, like, for example, at the start of 2020, before we knew about COVID, I thought, okay, so in 2020, I’m going to focus on retention, not that our retention wasn’t great before, it was in the low 90s, 90% to 93%, but it was really more interested in getting people to consume and getting them to break it down into small wins and feel like they were making progress.
And so, I really worked hard on how we can do that. And so, our membership is a little different than many and in 2020, my number one thing, it’s pretty much all we did was we got coaches. So, for each module of our program which is all based on our success path, each module, we have a coach and we make it really affordable. So, our members can book a 30-minute one-on-one session with that coach for 35 bucks, which is crazy good, right? They can solve one problem, basically.
And the reason I did that is because, a lot of reasons, but the real reason I did that is because before all of this started, before I even tried to sell a course, I had purchased a few courses, not a ton, but I was like, nobody wants to talk to you after you buy this stuff and we all face different roadblocks and we all feel like our businesses are different. Like I can literally remember buying a Facebook ad course at one point in my journey and really struggling with it because everything was made for training businesses or service businesses and not for e-commerce. And until I sold my shoe company, I kept that ad so I could remember how it felt, but I named it, Please Work.
That must have been a wine bottle day, but it was because you can buy all this training, but sometimes you just need a little bit of extra help and you need it to be not a million dollars, you need it to be something that is affordable, that gets you just pass that little barrier on to the next thing. And so, my whole focus this year is to get a coaching program going and help our members make more progress. And by doing that, I would reach my goal of having like, crazy, crazy good retention.
Shelli Varela: Incredible. John Mayer says, you can read all the books, but you can’t find the answers. And so, I just want to tip my hat to you for listening to the thing that is missing and then remembering how that feels. Even though you’re having amazing success and going, okay, we need to solve this because I remember how that felt, it doesn’t serve, and just remembering you are your own audience.
Susan Bradley: Yes. I don’t know, it really meant a lot to me that I felt like I had invested my money and I was kind of, like it’s go over there in the corner and figure it out. And I know that if I could solve that problem, that not only would I increase my retention, but of course, our members would have so much more progress. Anything that we’ve done that I think is really good is that we have really simplified and that was my problem, exactly what you talked about, overwhelm, always trying to please somebody with something and provide everything they needed. And it’s taken time, but certainly, TRIBE helped me get my house in order and helped me systemize it, but it’s morphed into even more than that.
One of the things I think is incredibly successful for us, is that every month has just one theme. So, we talked about, this is the outcome we’re looking for this month and then, we always tell people the outcome because then, they know why they should pay attention, but we also just make it super dead easy, like we give them what they need to get results before they even know what they need. And so, we give them scripts and templates.
This is the event we’re doing. We’ll call it a relationship event. And so, we don’t want you to think, we just want you to show up and do this and create a post like this on your Facebook page and create an Instagram story like this and send an email like this and you’re going to get results. And then, when you feel better, don’t feel like you might die, then you can start making it your own, but we give them one thing, like just really… I mean they have the training in the classroom, but as a group, we come together and we give them one thing a month and tell them exactly how to do it so that they can get results.
We can tell them what success looks like because there are just far too many people out there, like I do have members that have sold 50,000 in a month or 100,000 in a month for sure, but like that sets the bar too high for most people. So, we talk about at your stage of business, here is what success looks like and that’s as good a win as the person who sold 50,000 at your stage of business. And here’s how you’re going to get that and then you have the tools to take that and do more.
Shelli Varela: Brilliant.
Susan Bradley: If that makes sense.
Shelli Varela: Absolutely. This has been incredibly inspiring and enlightening. And I really, really like your teaching style, just one thing, one outcome, because here’s the thing, reverse engineering success and just going, okay, like where are we going? Let’s back up the bus from that. That’s my wheelhouse, that’s how I learned as well. So, I loved hearing how you do that and how you make that effective for your people. This has been such a great conversation. If people are looking for you online, where’s the best place they can find you?
Susan Bradley: I think they could find me on Facebook, at the socialsalesgirls.com. Our Facebook page is The Social Sales Girls and just say hi. Come on over and say hi. If I can help you, I’d be happy to.
Shelli Varela: Brilliant. Thank you so much, Susan, for your time.
Susan Bradley: Thank you for having me. I hope it helps someone.
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