How NOT to start an online business!

Click on image for details!
Click on image for details!

Trinity Jewelry by Design has become a labor of love for me but it was not always that way!  I started it six months after I was no longer able to work in my professional job due to illness.  While I did all the planning recommended in starting a traditional business including writing a Business Plan, there were a couple of key elements missing for my success.  I would not realize this until almost 2 years later!  My “home business” is actually a hobby that has provided “occupational therapy,” not profitable income per se.  This is still a good thing, good enough to continue for now.

Much of this blog will focus on Etsy since that is the venue with which I am most familiar.  Sellers on Etsy, the largest homemade and vintage goods website on the internet, have valuable online training available for free via newsletters, tutorials, and a deep how-to directory all in one place.  The cost is $.20 to list your first item and your sweat equity is free.  Anyone can learn how to take a product from your living room to the world even if he or she had very little computer training like I did two years ago.  Applying oneself to the process brings a better shop presentation, increased traffic, and sales.  Most small business bloggers will tell you the elements for success.  I’ll approach it a little differently here based upon my personal experience and observations:   success in an online business requires knowing what not to do as well!

Be clear what you are doing.  Is it a hobby or a business?  If it is a hobby, the details might not need to be as polished in the beginning as you learn.  If you want to pay your bills as you learn, get a professional business mindset, plan, and presentation together before you launch.  For example, in my business plan I calculated how many macramé bracelets I needed to sell per week to pay my medical bills and set this as my projected income goal.  Two problems stopped me right away:  1)  I only knew how to make the most basic jewelry from plain materials and 2) I didn’t know how to take great pictures to “sell” my jewelry in this extremely competitive market.  Sizzle and shine move the shopper to “add to (their) cart.”  Identify your purpose and plan accordingly.

Start when you are not distracted by personal and financial stress.  Rushing to get something going, skimping on materials (such as packaging to save money that really should go towards gas in your car), not taking the time to check the endless details (e.g. typos in item descriptions), and a tense mindset can kill the excitement of a new venture for you and your customers.  Also the creative process needed to make handmade items will be altered by a chaotic home office when burdened by illness of a family member or 24/7 caregiving responsibilities.  Going through a significant life change?  I offer that it might be a great time to brainstorm about the new venture but might not give you the grounding you need to present yourself to the world with confidence.

Starting when you have not done your homework will waste time and money.  Every business requires some level of market research.  This might include something as simple as systematically “Googling” your product or service on Etsy, Google and Bing, to see what else is available out there.  I was delighted to discover that the search process can lead to identifying trends in my business sector, spur new design ideas, and even help begin networking with other business owners.  I also realized that my simplistic designs in the beginning were priced way too high for the value presented.  The joy of discovery and creativity go nicely together in the beginning; they are needed periodically to keep things fresh and pertinent as the business goes forward.

Use a limit of funding as a challenge to identify new resources.  It can be fun to spend money on a new venture.  Whether we have secured a business loan, siphoned-off some income from our 9-to-5 job, or withdrawn money from our savings it just might be the limits of our funding that will help us to be the best stewards of our resources.  One area many home based business fail to budget for is marketing.  Yet with just a little reading on Etsy, LinkedIn, and various social media avenues, we can find lots of FREE advertising.  Hello Facebook and Twitter!  Search ads on Etsy are great for a launch of your business or a new product and worth a few bucks until traffic increases.  The same goes with supplies, print services, and so on.  On a smaller scale, I remember discovering lovely new color combinations when my variety of beads and income dwindled!

Dig into social media and link them together.  Those entrepreneurs who are already savvy with social media have a huge advantage over casual users.  Many of us who use social media to chat might not realize its potential to impact our businesses.  For example, I know an Etsy seller who never posts her products on Facebook despite her huge Friends List; she is content to have sporadic sales that barely cover the listing costs.  She owns a hobby business.  I know another wildly successful online fitness trainer who has paid for training to make daily, seamless pitches to her key customers at the right time with the right message.  Others simply hire a marketing company (aka SEO services).  You decide.

Forgetting your baby will make your baby go away.   Even a hobby business will eventually fade away if there are no new listings, website  updates, or other activity going on.  How fun is that?

Remember the power of the personal connection.  I’ll end with this:  when I wanted to explore an online business and couldn’t handle the hassle or expense of developing my own website, I called my Aunt Patty.  She sold patchwork purses and vintage fabrics on Etsy.  I had never heard of Etsy!  She taught me some basics and then I was off and running.  This personal connection that got me started continues with my customers, neighbors who “Like” my listings in our homeowner association Facebook page, international sellers in a jewelry forum on LinkedIn, and so on.  Networking with others who share our passions softens the 2-dimensional stiffness of the internet.   It’s good for business and good for our humanity too.

“How NOT to start an online business with Etsy” goes beyond checking your level of inspiration and available perspiration!  I offer that if you begin with where you are and what you have, clarifying where you would like to go, and developing a love for the learning process then lots of fun possibilities await including success.  I am grateful for this part of my journey while recovering from a serious illness.  The future is brighter now and I’m just getting started!  How about you?