I’ve always wanted to start a company and build my life around something I truly loved.  But I had no idea what that meant until a few years ago when my husband, Mike, and I got Django, our long-haired dachshund.

In 2016, we packed up Django and moved two suitcases of belongings from New York City to Portland, Oregon. Every evening after work, we’d drive 30 miles east into the Columbia River Gorge with Django to go hiking and swimming.

We quickly learned that high-quality, durable and stylish dog gear to complement our adventurous lifestyle was not easy to find. Inspired by Django’s adventurous little legs on the steepest and wettest Oregon mountain trails, I launched DJANGO—an online retailer of travel and adventure dog gear—from our Portland apartment.

Our first product was a soft and stretchy dog hoodie for cold weather months. This was my first time designing a pet product, sourcing and working with a high-quality manufacturer and importing goods, so I made sure to keep the product design simple and cost of inventory limited. When DJANGO first launched, we had 20 product SKUs. Now we have more than 50 and are planning several more product launches for this year alone.


Growing the business

We began selling DJANGO products via Shopify. This ecommerce platform is incredibly intuitive and perfect for small businesses that have never before created and customized an online store. Our first avenues of traffic flowed through Instagram and Facebook.

Before starting DJANGO, I had grown my dog’s Instagram account to a very respectable size. I loved sharing photos of Django, pouring my personality into the captions, and engaging with Django’s followers and fans—all of whom were avid dog lovers like me.

So when I launched DJANGO, it seemed natural and exciting to share the new brand with Django’s Instagram friends and audience. This was our website’s first real stream of traffic, and Instagram remains an incredibly powerful tool for building brand awareness and driving traffic. Today, we have approximately 185,000 followers across three unique Instagram accounts, and that total following keeps growing.

Even with that growth, though, I’ve learned that Instagram isn’t a particularly efficient channel for selling products. Unless you’re getting tens of thousands of new followers every month, you can’t expect to grow sales at a significant clip.

So while we continue to grow our social media presence across multiple platforms, including Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, our social media strategy today is to use those platforms to increase brand awareness and to share our unique story and products, rather than simply driving sales.


A multi-tiered strategy

We’ve built our online customer base through a lot of persistence, hard work and trial and error. Over time, we’ve become more strategic with customer acquisition, reaching new customers in myriad ways.

We work with a public relations professional to build brand awareness and share our story and products with relevant audiences. We do both PPC (pay per click) and paid social marketing campaigns to introduce DJANGO to new, targeted online audiences. And we constantly work on improving DJANGO’s organic website rankings and driving traffic organically via search engine optimization (SEO) and our popular DJANGO Dog Blog.

We focus on both onsite and offsite optimization to increase DJANGO’s overall ranking and visibility in search results. For onsite optimization, that means ensuring every page on our site is filled with relevant, keyword-rich content and internal links (when applicable).

We’ve also spent a lot of time building up DJANGO Dog Blog and have seen a lot of organic traffic through that avenue, as well. Our blog has useful and interesting content focusing on travel, adventure, dog health and high-quality product finds.

In terms of offsite optimization, we focus on getting our company featured on high-quality, high-traffic media platforms that then provide inbound links to our site.  Overall, there hasn’t been one marketing strategy that has resulted in massive long-term sales growth. Rather, our consistent efforts in PR, SEO and paid marketing all contribute to our ongoing growth as a company.


Looking ahead

Our next challenge is expanding into brick-and-mortar retailers. We have retail relationships with a few pet stores in New York City, but we tabled our original retail expansion plan last year due to limited resources. We found it more valuable to double down on growing our existing sales channels, but it has become a renewed focus in 2019.

Throughout this journey I’ve learned that anyone with motivation, focus and passion can launch and grow their own business. As simple as that sounds, this is something my 20-year-old self never realized.

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