When it comes to starting her online store, entrepreneur Courtney White admits she probably started things the wrong way round, until she learned about the importance of building a brand around your business.

As well as working a full-time job and being a parent (to both children and dogs), Courtney has always run small businesses. But while she had success with her other endeavors, they weren’t things that she could scale. So, in the end, what started as something fun, ended up consuming all her free time.

That’s when she heard about dropshipping.

After starting her baby clothing store, Finer and Dandy, on a whim in November 2018, Courtney was shocked when she received her first order, quickly realizing this was a different kind of side hustle. Not only was the store an excellent outlet for her creativity, but it was also something she could quickly grow.

But the real bonus? The unexpected personal growth she experienced at the same time.

Finding a moment between work, family, and ecommerce life, I recently chatted with Courtney, who shared how she managed to start Finer and Dandy, build a brand, and nurture a community of ambassadors – all without spending on Facebook and Instagram ads.

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Business Success – But at a Cost

Courtney White selfie Speaking to me from her home in Texas, it’s clear that Courtney White is a very creative person – and one who is especially passionate about her business.

A technical writer by day, she explains that it’s always been important that she has a way to satisfy her creative side. And over the years, she’s managed to do that with many of her small businesses.

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“I had an Etsy store for a while,” Courtney says. “I used to sell crochet patterns and sewing dolls and all kinds of stuff. I’ve tried things like cake decorating that I did out of my house.”

While these ventures were all creative and allowed Courtney to utilize her skills, once they started to be successful, they also became stressful.

“I always ended up feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m tied to this.’ My time is basically tied up in whatever these customers need. And while it starts out being fun, it didn’t stay that way.”

Inevitably, once her businesses started taking over too much of her weekends and evenings, Courtney would begin to dread having to fulfill her orders. And despite her items and services being in demand, she would give up on it.

It’s something that Courtney’s not alone in experiencing. While turning a hobby into a business might seem perfect to base a side hustle around, it can quickly become overwhelming. Not to mention that because it’s so reliant on your skill, it can be either impossible, difficult, or costly to scale up.

It was after trying these other business ideas that Courtney learned about dropshipping. With her background working in tech, she knew she could create a beautiful website, but that was sort of where her forethought stopped.

“I had no idea what I was gonna sell, didn’t really do the research that I needed to in the beginning. I knew how to build a nice looking website, and I did that, and that was fine, but I just kind of threw some stuff up there, and I didn’t really have the right mindset going into it.”

Then the unexpected happened: She made a sale.

An Eye-Opening First Sale

Finer and Dandy homepage with Black Friday sale

Despite not researching her niche or products, Courtney’s store still managed to get its first sale. It was at this point that her whole attitude towards the store started to change.

“I was shocked, but I think ultimately what happened was it opened my eyes to ‘Wow, I really could make this a legitimate business. Somebody bought something from me.’”

With that first sale under her belt, Courtney got serious about dropshipping and started researching how she could make Finer and Dandy a success. She knew it wasn’t going to be a get-rich-quick scenario, and that first sale helped push her to set goals and put in the work.

After gaining more knowledge, Courtney developed a plan for Finer and Dandy and decided the route to success was all about the customer journey and forming tight customer relationships. It was an exciting realization for someone who had never considered themselves very good with people.

“My background is in IT and technical writing, and I have always thought that I was not a people person. I’m not a salesperson. I’m behind the computer. I’ve jokingly said, ‘I don’t like people.’”

But as it turns out, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It’s crazy because my favorite part of running the business now is interacting with the customer. When you have your own business that really is yours, it’s a very different relationship, a different dynamic than where I was before, like saying, ‘Oh I don’t like people,’ because I’m like, ‘Well, I love people, I just didn’t realize it!’”

Building a Brand with Affiliates Not Ads

Courtney White selfie with coffee cup
With her plan to develop the Finer and Dandy brand, Courtney put herself in her customer’s shoes and thought about what would make her trust a store.

Courtney knew she could send emails or make paid advertisements, but she didn’t feel that would build the type of community that she wanted. Instead, she settled on a different approach: Personal outreach.

Using Instagram, Courtney began to raise awareness for her brand using an affiliate program. She didn’t bother contacting influencer moms with millions of followers. Instead, she sought out regular moms, reasoning that we’re all influencers within our social circles.

“I started reaching out and networking with just regular people and regular moms, and even if they only had 50 followers on their accounts. I think that has helped me build relationships, and really what’s helped grow the community is opening my mind to that. I don’t need someone that has thousands or millions of followers to help me get the word out.”

From there, Courtney took things even further, establishing a Facebook group to share tips and advice that would help her affiliates achieve as much success as possible – with her Finer and Dandy and beyond.

“I’ll create videos for them that will help them to be able to share things,” she says. “So it’s also teaching them not only how to share my products, but if they are influencers for other brands or they’re ambassadors for other brands, helping them in that way as well.”

Screenshot shows Finer and Dandy's affiliate program results

It was this personal approach and affiliate program that helped establish the Finer and Dandy brand. And because it was free – aside from the affiliate tracking software fee – Courtney pocketed a much larger share of the profits than she would have if she used paid ads.

It’s a tactic that she thinks more dropshippers should consider.

“When it comes to dropshipping, the biggest sort of barrier that people see is that, ‘OK, I’m gonna have to spend all this money on ads.’ And really for me, I have not. I’ve done this completely free of any ads – other than one that was for one day, and I spent $5 on it.”

And not only have Courtney’s ambassadors helped bring new customers to the store, but the affiliates themselves have become the biggest fans of Finer and Dandy. A true win-win.

These days the program continues to generate purchases, with posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest also driving traffic. And between the social posts and affiliate program, Finer and Dandy has a steady stream of traffic and sales.

Screenshots of Finer and Dandy example Pinterest posts
Reaching Personal – and Financial – Success

Thanks to her affiliate program and social media presence, Courtney’s store has generated more than $17,000 in sales since opening a year ago. And she’s even been able to take on a former customer as a part-time digital content creator. Not bad for a side hustle that doesn’t spend on ads.

A screeshot shows Finer and Dandy's sales revenue to date after building a brand

But aside from sales numbers and revenue, Courtney’s store has helped change her entire mindset.

Although she was already successful in her full-time career, running Finer and Dandy gave her a confidence boost she didn’t know she needed. Now she’s focussed on not only growing her store but helping others build their own – including her teenage son – and she’s excited about the challenges ahead.

“That’s probably been the most exciting and most rewarding thing for me, just learning these new things and being able to change my mindset and being able to help other people, too, to overcome those things.”

“What has happened over the course of the last year, it’s just really, really freed my mind like, I am capable of doing this, and I can have a business, and I’m just loving it. It’s absolutely amazing, I love every aspect of it.”

Finer and Dandy’s (Baby) Steps to Success

Courtney sits on a pink couch with big fluffy white next to her
For Courtney, Finer and Dandy is a labor of love. While she hasn’t spent money on advertisement, she has spent time reaching out to people, developing her methods, and creating a cohesive brand.

And if you’re interested in following a similar path with your store, this section is for you.

Here we’ll take a look at some of the many things that have helped Courtney build her store’s identity and nurture her community. From practical tips you can implement today to things that will keep you striving for more; they will all keep you chasing success.

Let’s dive in.

Take a Genuine Approach

Although it sounds like common sense, being genuine and treating your customers well is a sure-fire way to guarantee success.

Rather than relying on templates or pre-written messages, Courtney prides herself on reaching out to people with a message unique to them.

“My go-to methodology for contacting potential customers or affiliates is authenticity,” she says. “I like to engage in real conversations by genuinely complimenting or commenting on something I’ve seen on their page that was relatable to me.”

By being so authentic with her customers, Courtney has established Finer and Dandy as a brand that people want to be associated with, buy from, and remain loyal to as well. And recently, her returning customer rate has been spiking as a result of putting in that effort.

Two screenshots showing the increase in the returning customer rate from building a brand

While the results are impressive, the best bit is that anyone can do it – and it’s an approach that doesn’t cost anything except a little time.

“There’s no secret other than sincerity – a generic copy/paste message doesn’t really inspire most people to engage in conversation.“

15 Minutes Here and There Adds Up

Like many dropshippers and entrepreneurs, Courtney’s store is just one of the many things she does every day. So, with a full-time job, a family, and pets also needing her time and attention, she’s a big believer in finding pockets of time and using them efficiently.

“I actually will get on my phone when I have free time,” she says. “That could be a few minutes a day while I’m watching TV, in between cooking dinner, getting my kids ready for bed, just little spurts of time here and there. I mean, you can build a whole business and a whole customer base around 5-10-15 minutes in little tiny chunks.”

a hand holds a smartphone with social media apps This is a tactic particularly suited to tasks that can be done quickly – like reaching out to potential customers and affiliates. Although it might just take minutes, it all helps to build the Finer and Dandy brand.

As for maintaining the website and processing orders, Courtney had to find extra time in her day where she could focus solely on her store. So, rather than squeezing it in at the end of her day (when she’d rather be relaxing), she gets up at 4 am and works in the quiet morning hours before going to day job.

Hey, no one said being an entrepreneur would be easy, but if you want to succeed, there are always areas of your life you can optimize. Besides, people like Apple CEO Tim Cook and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi also get up that early – so you’re in good company,

Develop Your Brand and Then Expand

From the start of her store, Courtney let customer behavior inform what she kept in her catalog and what she got rid of. This approach allowed her to build a cohesive brand and made it more straightforward when it came time to expand her range.

“My journey up until this point is really looking thoughtfully at what those customers want, what are they buying and being able to let go of things. That’s what’s really honed my niche and even the look of the website. It’s really been refined and developed over time.”

Finer and Dandy products

By putting in the work to learn what customers want and developing the look and feel of the store based on that, it then makes it easier to see directions for expansion. In Courtney’s case, she was able to create complementary in-house designs, which she incorporated through print on demand products.

These days, around 50 percent of Finer and Dandy’s catalog is Courtney’s in-house designs, and she’s been able to add new products, including hospital bags, swaddles, and blankets.

Because she scrutinizes customer behavior so thoroughly, the print on demand items are incorporated based on what Courtney knows will resonate with buyers and what will complement the store.

If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

Setting up a dropshipping store may be easy to do, but that doesn’t mean it can’t achieve big things. And for Courtney, overcoming a limiting mindset has been what’s made Finer and Dandy a success. Take, for instance, her recent collaboration with a charity she supports.

After installing a Shopify app on her store, Finer and Dandy customers were able to round up their purchases and donate the difference to Courtney’s chosen charity – the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. However, after finding that every customer was giving, she wondered if she couldn’t do more than round-up change – so she sent the organization an email.

“And, surprisingly, they go, ‘You know what? We really wanna get into working with these smaller brands.’ I was shocked when they were absolutely thrilled and wanted to work with me. They’ve been building this custom plug-in for me, and I’m actually meeting with them next week to get it installed.”

The newly designed plug-in will allow not only allow Courtney’s customers to select the amount they want to give, rather than just rounding up their purchase, but also choose the specific hospital they wish to donate to.

For Courtney, it’s proof that having the confidence to ask will often result in great things.

“I think that’s one of the things, is just not being afraid to ask. If you don’t ask someone for the sale or you don’t ask them for that partnership, they’re never going to be able to say yes, right? And so that’s really just given me the confidence to not only know how to approach people but know that people do say yes more often than they say no.”

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