So since it's a new year, I'm starting a new series of blog posts. These posts will come directly from suggestions or requests from you, my readers, and I'll try to get one done a month.
The first request comes from Abigail, who wanted me to share a few suggestions for people starting little businesses like mine.
I'll be honest, I'm not exactly business savvy. I know what I do, and I make a good attempt at running my little hobby business, but I'm no expert. I'm sure you can find a thousand and one true experts who can give much better advice than I can, but I'll tell you what I've done so far.
Let's see, where to start? I guess from step one: What kind of business is it you are wanting to start? What will you be selling?
So, my first point...
1. Be sure of the legal and financial side of things.
There are all kinds of legal things that you need to consider, especially if you want to sell merchandise that is licensed (say, Disney or Batman) and you'll need to tread carefully if you're dabbling in that. Anything trademarked needs to be taken through proper channels, so don't just jump out there selling Olaf or Wonder Woman and think you can get away without a license for doing so.
Also, Make sure you save every receipt, every sales slip, everything because you'll need it for taxes. Don't think, well that won't matter. SAVE IT. Get yourself a binder or folder and put everything financial that has to do with your business in it. Save every receipt from everything you buy, and everything you sell. If you aren't using a website that lets you print receipts, get a receipt book at the store and keep copies. Better to be safe than sorry when it comes time to file taxes.
Also, make sure you set aside some of what you earn. Whether you use it for taxes, or if you use it the next year to buy better supplies, just don't spend everything you've earned. I learned that the hard way!
Don't cheat yourself on your prices. Don't underprice. You'll never get ahead and you'll never be able to afford it if you do. Basic equation for this is take your supplies, double them and make sure you add in the cost of fees, packing materials, and your time. Trust me, I struggle with this. I know how much I would want to pay and how much I see would be too much, so I have a hard time finding a fair price. Don't cheat your customers, but don't cheat yourself either.
2. Be ready for things to go v...e...r...y slowly at first
It's not going to spring up overnight. It takes time to build a business, even a home or hobby business. You're going to struggle at first to get orders and build an audience. Don't jump in thinking you'll take off right away, but don't lose hope either. Once your customers start coming in, they will gradually build.
3. Advertise. Advertise. Advertise.
Yes, this means some diligence on your part. But it's not really that hard. For my little shop, I have a Instagram account and a Facebook page. I recruit family and friends to help promote it on social media, and I've learned how to save my listings on Etsy to my Pinterest to help get my products out even farther. Make up business cards and leave them around town (where you are allowed, that is). I've found my local Joann's Fabric has a board just for business cards like mine!
Use your own social media accounts, too. I used my Facebook cover picture to show off my shop's banner. My personal Instagram account (which I don't leave public) has a link for people to follow my shop. Pretty much anywhere you look, you have opportunity to advertise. And 99% of it is free!
4. Lure customers in!
Now I know, that sounds like we're dangling a worm in front of a fish tank, but it's the same concept. Find what you're good at making, and what your customers want to buy. Don't try to push yourself on them, make them want to come to you.
Use things like good pricing, promotions, and attractive advertising to catch their eye and keep them shopping with you. Sometimes, you won't get repeat customers, depending on what they're buying (wedding garters and bouquet wraps, for instance) but they might come back for something else you offer (like baby blankets or kitchen potholders).
Something that has worked for me is offering custom orders. I know it's not practical for everyone, and not everyone can do this. But over half my business is custom orders. It's my little niche and I prefer it. It also allows me a little flexibility, as I'm not limited to a certain list of items I sell and nothing more.
Having a wide variety of items for purchase also helps. My shop is still small, since everything is handmade or homemade, but I try to keep about 20 regular listings on my shop, with a few seasonal or special listings up every now and then. They might not all sell, but they'll draw in customers better than if you list next to nothing.
As far as promotions go... there's a number of ways to do this. Giveaways work wonders when used with social media. My Instagram account saw it's followers jump within a few weeks due to a giveaway I hosted. My Facebook? Not so much. I had a goal of 100 followers to reach on both, and Instagram beat Facebook by 20 followers. But, no matter what, it got my shop out there and advertised. Types of giveaways you might consider are:
- Goal oriented: Set a number of followers you want to attain, announce it and advertise that once you reach that number, you'll give away a free gift.
- Seasonal: Pick a holiday and do a giveaway with that theme. Make good use of hashtags!
- Like and Share: While I'm not really a fan of this personally, it does work well for a lot of businesses. Have your followers/customers like and share a post on social media, and draw a winner.
- Tag a Friend: See who can tag the most friends on your shop's page or account, and pick a winner. This works great for getting your name out there, but might annoy people if they keep getting tagged too often, so don't do it more than once every few months I'd suggest.
I'd also recommend having rules with your giveaways. I don't ship out of the USA, all entries must be 18 or older, and if I'm using the tagging giveaway, I don't allow people to tag people they aren't friends with (like say someone you don't know comes along after you've tagged your friends and tags no- that's rude and I won't allow it!)
5. Know Your limits
Make sure you set limitations for where you're willing to ship to. I won't ship outside the US because I don't want the hassle of customs and paying extra shipping fees.
Set ground rules on your shop as to how you will accept payment and everything that goes along with it. I make sure I'm paid before I ship my items (as you ought to be) and if it's a custom order, I usually wait until I'm paid before starting it so I'm not stuck with something custom that no one else will want to buy.
Make sure you give yourself time to finish custom orders if you take them. Don't promise delivery in 3 days if it'll take you 10 to make it.
Use common sense. This goes for all of life, but your business as well.
If you can't afford it, admit it. There's no shame. Maybe wait a few years until you've got the money to keep up a shop and try again. I had reached this point a few times, but God always sent an order just when I thought I'd have to give up.
6. Keep your inventory stocked
This might not work with custom orders, but for things you sell that are basic inventory, you don't want to be caught by surprise with a low inventory. Make sure you spend enough time replenishing your inventory!
Also make sure you keep shipping supplies on hand. Tissue paper, boxes, envelopes, labels... you don't want to be caught without!
7. Learn what works best for you and do it!
My hobby business is crocheting and sewing. That's what I'm best at, and I make it work for me. I wouldn't jump out there with woodworking products or paintings, because I know no one would want to by a poorly carved spoon or some horrid watercolor paintings. Just stick to what you know, and if one day down the road, you can expand, do it! Just take your time and do what you know best.
Same with shipping, figure out what works best for you. I ship in my local post office because it's usually cheaper than online, and I prefer to handle this in person with someone I trust rather than a faceless computer screen. I found large manila envelopes work for 95% of my orders, which is cheaper than shipping a large box.
8. Consider Your Safety
This kind of falls under common sense. Don't give out personal information to customers. Don't meet up with customers- if you deliver in person- in unsafe places, always meet at very public spaces like fast food places or even a police station parking lot, if you can. Take someone with you if possible, it'll help you feel more comfortable, as well as possibly your customer (if they're not an evil villain!)
Make sure you never, never allow anyone to use your shop to get to you. If a customer seems to be getting out of line (let's say you're a young lady and they're a man, and they start flirting or addressing you inappropriately) FEEL FREE TO TELL THEM YOU DO NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE WORKING WITH THEM. You are under no obligation. Issue a refund if they are harassing you, cancel the order and, personally, block them from contacting you again if you can. I've had to do this a few times on my shop's social media accounts, and it's very uncomfortable. I can't stress how rude it is for customers to try using a person's business to flirt with them, and in such cases, I've let it be known I'm not interested because the interaction between the customer and I is 100% business and I don't desire it to go past that. Friend, don't let anyone make you feel uncomfortable. The money isn't worth it.
You're eventually going to get a message on your shop that makes little to no sense. Something will just seem 'off' about it. Go with your gut, and don't make any promises or orders if things seem 'iffy'. It's okay to turn down an order (if you're selling on a website, make sure with their rules first) if you think things aren't on the up and up.
9. Keep yourself professional.
Yes, this follows closely with the previous point. Be friendly but make sure when it's time to do business, you're completely in business mode. This can be hard, especially when you have friends shopping from you, but it's important. View every customer as equal with the others. Be professional but friendly, be polite but be firm.
10. Have fun.
Make what you love to make. Sell what you know people love to buy. Enjoy the process! You're going to have ups and downs, it'll be a struggle at times and a joy at others. Take your time, nothing that's worth having is built overnight!
I hope these help. I know it's probably not the best of advice, but it's what has worked for me. If you have any questions- please! ask in the comments! I'll be glad to offer whatever advice or help I can!
And, if you should so happen to think of it... go check out my shop at the link below 😉