Friday, January 22, 2010

Adventures in Starting a Small Business Pt. 2: The Website

In early December, I started researching how to start a website. At my craft fairs people would ask if I had one & I'd have to explain yes, I have an etsy store but not much is posted on there etc. I knew I needed a place for people to find me again if they liked what they bought from me so it was time for a stand-alone website.

The first thing I did was buy my domain there are TONS of places where you can buy a domain name from & then you can usually pay extra for them to host a site for you. There were lots of different packages depending on what kind of site you want. I just found the cheapest legit place & bought my domain name there without anything extra.

I was trying to figure out a way to have a free website but also be able to use my domain name plus have a shopping cart. Mal's E-commerce is a free shopping cart service so I wanted to find a way to incorporate that into a free site. I looked into (free flash websites) but I'm just not tech savvy enough to integrate the cart into a site on my own. Then, I found their interface/templates rather confusing too. I'd have to pay to use my own domain name & have an e-commerce site with them. So, I moved on to which is a marketplace kind of like etsy, but not all handmade. I learned I could "mask" my url so that people going to my domain name would be directed to my ecrater store instead. Apparently though, that can cause problems with search engines finding you? Anyway, after trying to get a store started there I quickly realized it doesn't give you much flexibility in terms of organizing your store, having descriptions as long as you want or giving discounts. Sigh. So, I realized I needed to just suck it up & actually PAY for something! lol.

I'd been ordering handmade bags from Mom of Two Boys for a few year now & since it was a "mom-epreneur" site too, I looked into her hosting site Merchant Moms. I decided to cancel my Stampin' Up! website and use the money to do my own site with Merchant Moms instead for about the same about of money. Merchant Moms allows me the flexibility to organize my store the way I want, add pages, and have discounts & online parties. They don't have tons or fancy templates but I wanted to keep it simple anyway. So, I just picked a template, uploaded my logo & after a learning curve, started filling in all the content. If you're completely new to websites or html, it can be daunting but I know enough to know I DON'T know enough, if that makes sense. So, I knew which code I shouldn't mess with & when I needed to ask for technical support. Merchant Moms templates already have the Mal's E-commerce shopping cart integrated so figuring out the cart is another learning curve. THEN, you have to integrate the cart with the methods of payment you accept--(for me: Google Checkout & Paypal). THEN, you also learn that you have to let Google know about your site & products if you want to turn up in search results. Some sites, like ecrater "submit" your info for you so you never have to worry about it (well, except to make sure the language you use is "acceptable" to Google--but there are whole Forums of people discussing that so I'll just move along) but with Merchant Moms, I have to upload/submit my products periodically to Google--I probably spend a whole day figuring that one out!

Finally, I spent maybe an hour of sheer panic ("What have I gotten myself into???) and then a good week just wrapping my head around all of it before I could start to stock the store. Now that I've been working with it for over a month, I'm pretty comfortable with it. Just to give you an idea of the process....if I want to add something new to my site, I log into Merchant Moms, then I just click on "Products" then "Add" & fill in the blanks, upload a pic, assign a category & hit Save. If someone buys something from my site, it's Google Checkout or Paypal that lets me know. This has been a very hands-on learning experience for me & I wasn't sure if I'd like it (boring data entry & all that)...but, when it's your OWN site, it's a whole different story & now I'm glad I jumped right in :-)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Adventures in Starting a Small Business Pt. 1

I thought I might start recording my journey on the road to having my own jewelry business by starting with how I came to the conclusion I should become a "legit" business with my own domain name, pay sales tax & all that good stuff. So, I've been a Stampin' Up! demonstrator for a little more than 3 years now & I've enjoyed it immensely. I started doing it to earn enough to pay for all the supplies I wanted because I was pretty much a beginner stamper & wanted the good stuff from the start. I've had a small core group of loyal customers and did the occasional class or workshop. I also started doing craft fairs almost immediately. That said, this area of Northern Virginia is pretty saturated with demonstrators so I was realistic to know I'd never be a big business demo.

About a year ago, I came across Scrabble Tile pendants on & thought to myself--"I could do that." If you look back at my postings then, I tried my own versions for the first time. It just kind of grew from there as I found more game pieces to use, then tried stamping on them, then discovered using waterproof resin instead of Diamond Glaze. I'd thought I'd make them for my Christmas fairs but then people started buying them right away! Then I just couldn't turn my mind off & I added rings, bracelets, earrings, etc. & by the fall I had a full line of jewelry. This kind of craft is a great fit for me because I get to use ALL my supplies and browse thrift stores, which I love :-)

During this past Fall/Christmas craft fair season, I made an interesting observation; all the paper items I'd made in the past didn't sell as well as in previous years while my jewelry was very popular! By the end of the season, I'd made more than twice I had the year before, so I had to ask myself--what am I doing when I was able to get these results in even this economy? I could actually make some extra money doing this (besides just paying for my supplies) & the feedback I was getting was that besides the Scrabble Tiles, people hadn't seen stuff like mine. That & seeing people wearing your creations is VERY cool. Besides, not everyone lives to stamp like me, but pretty much everyone wears or knows someone who wears jewelry!

I've never had a business class in my life (hello, English major), but I've learned the cliche where there's a will, there's a way & decided to investigate next steps. Luckily, I already had some basic items in place--like business cards, this blog, facebook group, a newsletter list, etc., so I could build on my own brand as a demonstrator (because we're "Independent" from SU!, we choose our own "business" names when we sign up). I'd tried etsy but decided I wanted my own site where people can not only find me again, but aren't easily tempted to go browsing around other stores. I also wanted a lot of flexibility to make the store my own (more on finding the right venue later).

Next, I'll go into the decisions that needed to be made (website, credit card) & the documentation hoops to jump through....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's a New Year! Big Changes Afoot!

Maybe this is a little premature, but I'm so excited, I have to announce that my new website & store, Stamp 4 Life, is on its way!! I still have a few more items to add but I'm ready for orders!

This whole experience of starting my own business (well, branching out from being a Stampin' Up! demonstrator anyway) has been very interesting & I plan to write more about it--it may interest anyone else with similar aspirations.

But first, let me get back to stocking my store, & then I shall return :-)