E-Commerce Innovations & Branding Insights | Kathryn Smith
David McBee: Hello and welcome to Simpli.fi TV. I'm David McBee. Our guest today is Kathryn Smith, founder and principal consultant at Walton Birch, a web development and digital marketing consultant firm, as well as the co-founder of the Black Lady Business School, a networking and professional organization for women. She is an e-commerce expert, a Shopify super fan and partner who helps small businesses show up credibly and professionally online with expertly built websites, online stores, and marketing campaigns. Kathryn was recently named to the Georgia Tech alumni 40 Under 40 list for her work serving women and underestimated founders. Kathryn, welcome to Simpli.fi TV. Kathryn Smith: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. David McBee: I'm excited to have you. I really enjoyed our little conversation before we got started, so I know we're going to have some fun. I know that your area of expertise is e-commerce, and what are some of the advanced techniques that our listeners might be unaware of that successful e-commerce websites are using today? Kathryn Smith: That's a great question. So when people think about e-commerce, they're just thinking, "Okay, it's a website with a checkout." But I think e-commerce is a lot more than that in many aspects, and in the same way that multimedia are being added to websites to make them more engaging and exciting, they can be added to e-commerce websites as well. So I think taking advantage of some of the newer technologies, and especially things that make the internet exciting like video and interactive elements can also be applied to e-commerce stores and e-commerce websites as well to make them engaging. David McBee: Can you share an example of how new technology made an e-commerce website more interesting? Kathryn Smith: Sure. So e-commerce days of old product photos were flat. If you got product photos at all, there was maybe one image from one side, one angle, one type of lighting. But there are a lot of things that enable you to make 3D renderings or video kind of demos of products that make them much more engaging. So whereas before a customer would look and say, "I'm not really sure. Does that fit in my house? Is this the same size as my dog? What does this thing really look like?" There are so many tools that make that much easier from 3D tools to allow you to see things from all angles or the AI generators that allow you to actually see what something would look like in your house or on your dog, or allow you to see what your glasses would look like on your face. A lot of really cool tools that are interacting with the real world to show you how our product could fit into your life or fit into your lifestyle. David McBee: I'm glad you mentioned the glasses one because I've definitely used that in the past. Take a picture and try and see what... it's never quite exactly right, but it's enough to get me to buy the product or drive me to the store so I can go try them on. So that's a good example. Kathryn Smith: Exactly. Same here. David McBee: All right. I want to go back to the purchase cycle before they even get to the website and talk about paid search or media buys, even their social media. Do you feel that it is more valuable for them to promote their brand and their store or the individual products? Kathryn Smith: This is probably a controversial opinion, but I really think in this day and age, especially online, it's got to be the brand and the brand is the differentiating factor because it's so easy for a lot of products to be copied. And so when you're like it's lotion, it's the same as every other lotion. When you're differentiating that product from other products in the market, especially as people are literally copying your product, the brand is the differentiation, the experience that they have when they come to that site, when they interact with that product, that will differentiate you from other people that are these knock offs, excuse me, that are popping up every 10 seconds or so. So I am definitely team brand. I think advertising the brand and letting people know what that experience would be like, kind of speaking to their desires and speaking to who they see themselves being, I think is a lot more effective way than just advertising the product because a lot of products are very similar these days. David McBee: I don't know how controversial that is. I'm sure a company like Starbucks would agree with you 100% because coffee's coffee at the end of the day. Right? Kathryn Smith: Right. Right. David McBee: All right, so I mentioned in your introduction that you founded the Black Lady Business School. Can you briefly tell us about that and what is your best advice for women and or minority owned businesses? Kathryn Smith: Sure. So the Black Lady Business School came out of the pandemic. I was networking with my future co-founder at that point, and we both work in the marketing space with small businesses and we were realizing that they needed a lot more than marketing to help their business stay afloat to help launch and grow their businesses. And so we were asking, "What would they need to be successful?" And the answer to that was a lot of different things At the time, I had a client that could definitely use some outsource fulfillment help. She had a client that could definitely use some support in websites. She works in social media and content marketing, so the client could definitely use additional support with their website or building other implementations as part of the business. And so we thought to ourselves, "How can we make this possible? How can we create successful outcomes for women and minority owned businesses, but also create a network that will allow small businesses to leverage economies of scale?" This was during the pandemic, during a time when small businesses were having trouble getting supplies, so mailing supplies, packaging, things like that, because the larger businesses took priority from a distribution perspective. And so we thought, "How can we leverage economies of scale and also create successful outcomes for women and minorities," and the idea for Black Lady Business School was born. And so we wanted it to be the business school resources, networking, and education without the cost or the time commitment. So it is not an actual school, but it was designed to replicate that school experience, building the network of people that you could kind of tap into and start projects with, and also getting that education to help you be successful in business as well. So that was the premise, and we've been doing that for a couple of years now and it's very exciting. It started as kind of like a side job almost, not a side gig I guess, but almost a hobby. But it turned into a formal organization very quickly because people were so excited to hear about that and say, "Oh my gosh, there is help, there is support in business." And people showed up to say, "Hey, I can offer this skill. I can teach people about being a notary. I can teach people about business contracts. I can teach people about writing books," literally any topic that you can think of. And so we built the instructor community before we built the student community, but there was a lot of excitement around it as well. And it's just something I still really enjoy doing. David McBee: I love that. I love when a passion project just blows up and exceeds your expectations. Thanks for doing that. Kathryn Smith: Thank you. David McBee: All right. Do you have a favorite book or a podcast that you feel is instrumental in a person's success? Kathryn Smith: From a business perspective? That's a great question. A lot of the podcasts that I listen to are just not business related. And I guess on that note, I would say a little bit of balance between work and life is good. From a business perspective, I really like listening to podcasts that talk about kind of the personal stories behind how people built things. As a black woman entrepreneur, my path is not really conventional sometimes, and I'm acutely aware of that at times that what got other people to their first six figure, seven figure, eight figure business is probably going to be a little bit different for me. So hearing those stories about how people built unconventional businesses or how those underestimated founders and marginalized groups built their business has been tremendously impactful for me because I'm like, "Okay, there's another way to look at this." So I like those types of stories as well. I can't think of a particular podcast or episode to reference there. David McBee: I don't know. You're kind of making me think about School of Greatness. Is that one you're familiar with? Kathryn Smith: No, I needed to check that one out. David McBee: Oh yeah, that's all it is, is just stories like that. So I'll throw that one out for you. Kathryn Smith: Good to know. But yeah, I love those stories. Just as someone who's out here, I really think that the story that they told me about entrepreneurship when I started is not necessarily the reality that I've experienced in the four years I've been in business. And so hearing people talk more realistically about it has definitely been helpful. David McBee: All right, well real quick, if someone wants to get in touch with you or learn more about the Black Lady Business School, how can they do that? Kathryn Smith: Sure. So Black Lady Business School is just... the website is blacklady business.com, and then my business is Walton Birch, which is just waltonbirch.com. David McBee: Terrific. Thank you so much for being my guest today. Kathryn Smith: Yeah, thank you so much. I've enjoyed being here. David McBee: And thank you guys for watching. Simpli.fi TV is sponsored by Simpli.fi, helping you to maximize relevance and multiply results with our industry leading media buying and workflow solutions. For more information, visit simply.fi. Thanks for joining us today. I'm David McBee. Be awesome, and we'll see you next time.
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