How to Make the Most of Your Weekends to Grow Your Side Business

Building your business on the side is not easy. You come home after a long day of work, you spend the little time you have with your family and friends, and you try to jam in a productive session, working on your side business before going to bed.

Your weekends allow you to get much more done in much larger chunks. They’re usually where you’re most capable of growing your business or having the most impact on your business when you’re working a day job.

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However, are you making the most of your weekends? How often do you find yourself distracted or making excuses when you’re not getting enough done? How should you structure your weekends? What does a weekend, optimized for productivity and growing a business, look like?

I’m going to answer these questions and share what has worked for me, and continues to work for me. Additionally, I’m going to share my action plan, exactly how I structure my weekends, and what I do every weekend that has helped me grow my side business and maintain a great work/work balance.

Switch Up Your Frame

The first thing you need to consider is how do you think of your weekends.

What you do during the week should set you up to get more done on the weekend. Don’t use your weekends to support the stuff you do during the week, instead, whenever you come home from your day job and begin working on your business, make sure it supports what you plan to do over your weekend.

For example, if you’re planning to tackle your website’s design over the weekend then choose templates, design logos, draw layout ideas  and write copy throughout the week. That way, when the weekend rolls around, you can focus on the most important task – getting the website up.

Making Your Weekdays Support Your Weekend

Whenever you think up a task or project, but can’t make time for it during the week, David Allen, author of Getting Things Done suggests you add it to a “next actions” list instead of a “to-do” list. Throwing items into a to-do list is non-actionable. If you set an ordered list, of the next things you need to do for your business, it will require and encourage you to make quick decisions.

Think up a great, actionable idea for your business?  Put it in your “next actions” list. Come up with a new marketing idea that will take several hours to implement? Put it in your “next actions list.”

 

At the end of the week, organize these ideas, tasks, and projects into timeslots throughout your weekends, then pull each task from your next actions list and move  it into your calendar for the weekend. (More on this in the next section)

Now let’s get into what a typical weekend looks like for me, and how you should consider structuring yours to get more done.

How to Structure Your Weekend

Friday

While you won’t have as much time on Fridays to get as much done as you can on Saturday or Sunday, it’s a good time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished throughout the week and what you plan to do over your weekend

Reflect

It’s good to sit down for five minutes, before planning out your weekend, to reinforce what has (or hasn’t) been working for you.

Not taking the time to see where you went right and wrong can stunt your growth as an entrepreneur. Your business only grows when you do. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What were my top wins this past week?
  • What didn’t I get done?
  • Where did I waste time this past week?
  • What was the best part of my week?

You can answer these questions out loud or write them down in a journal or private document (like Google Docs or Evernote).

Plan of Attack

Now it’s time to schedule your weekend. Set blocks of time for each task and get your priorities in check.

Your weekend should be flexible. Things happen and you can’t always stick to your schedule. However, don’t use that as an excuse to procrastinate. Stay flexible for when “life” happens, but don’t stay flexible just because Game of Thrones or your favorite TV show might be on.

Before planning out your weekend,  ask yourself a few questions to get a better perspective on what needs to get done:

  • What must I get done no matter what this weekend?
  • Are there any potential distractions or commitments this weekend that I will need to account for?

Now it’s time to plan your weekend for success.

First, if you don’t know what you should be doing, use the Pareto Principle. Look at the 20% of things you’ve been doing for your business that have yielded 80% of your results.

Next, use a tool like Trello or even Google Calendar to set your schedule for the next two days. Pull the tasks you put off from your “next actions” list and start to schedule them into your weekend. If the task can be done in five minutes or less, do it immediately (yes, while you’re still scheduling your tasks) instead of putting it off for the weekend.

In the next section, I’ll talk about what your Saturday and Sunday might look like to help you figure out how to make the most of your weekend.

Here’s an example of what my Trello board, “Weekly To-Do”, looks like:

 

Generally, you’ll want to tackle the most difficult or time-consuming tasks first. If you don’t think you’ll be able to complete all your tasks for the day, do the most important things first. The most important task is up to your discretion, but generally, if it has a looming deadline or will make the most immediate impact on your business, it’s the most important task.

Saturday

Let’s carry over that excitement and momentum from Friday’s reflection and planning, and begin to tackle the most important tasks on Saturday.

“Airplane Mode” Saturdays

So, because you hopefully have scheduled the most important or difficult task first, that’s where you’ll be spending most of your Saturday. It’s also likely to be your most time-consuming task, which is why it’s also important to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

The key to getting more done on the weekends is focus. Sounds simple, right?

On paper, sure, but in reality, there are a lot of distractions and excuses to keep you distracted.

My Saturdays are usually the most productive day of my weekends. I like to put myself into “Airplane Mode”. Much like how your phone’s Airplane Mode which disables all of your phone’s connectivity to the internet, I do the same thing by cutting myself off from distractions.

 

Though it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get much done without the internet there are tools you can use to help keep you from wandering off and browsing Facebook, while staying connected to the internet.

These are the Chrome extensions I use to put myself in “Airplane Mode” every Saturday.

  • StayFocused – Block out the sites that steal your time so that you can work on what matters.
  • RescueTime – Track all your time on the internet to later review where you waste the most time.
  • News Feed Eradicator – Sometimes, I can’t block Facebook using a tool like StayFocused because I use Facebook to manage my ads and pages. However, with News Feed Eradicator, my news feed goes from distraction filled mess to motivational or inspirational quote.
  • Momentum – This extension replaces your new tab screen with an inspirational photo and a reminder of your most important task for the day.
  • Simple Pomodoro – If you’re not familiar with The Pomodoro Technique, it helps you work in small intervals of 25 minutes of getting stuff done and a short 5 or 10 minute break. Instead of plowing through without taking a break, Simple Pomodoro is a timer that will alert you when it’s time to take a break and when it’s time to get back to work.

Sunday

I don’t like to lose the momentum I created on Friday and Saturday, however, even I understand that there are errands and things that need to be done on the weekend. That’s what Sunday’s for.

If I have time on Sunday, I will finish any other tasks, but if I can’t, I will add them back to my “next actions” list or simply schedule them for next weekend.

Schedule Content for the Week

Spend some time automating whatever you can for the following week. For example, every Sunday evening, I use Buffer to schedule all my social media posts until the following Sunday.

You can do this as well. Spend your Sunday evenings briefly scheduling out social media posts, planning out blog content, or scheduling emails to be sent to your email list.

Plan Your Week Ahead

I use Trello (you can use any scheduling tool you feel comfortable with) to plan out the week ahead. This way, I know exactly what I should (and need) to be working on when I get home from work. I’m not wasting time on deciding what to do or trying to figure out what to do next. I just come home and take action.

Set Goals

If you don’t already, I strongly suggest writing down and tracking weekly goals for yourself and your business. Some example goals you can set are:

 

  • I will easily launch my new e-commerce website by Saturday this week
  • I will easily go to the gym at least 3 times this week
  • I will easily get 10 sales to my store by Saturday this week
  • I will easily double my store’s weekly traffic, from 100 visitors to 200 visitors, by Saturday this week

 

 

Writing your goals down helps keep you accountable and brings you clarity. How do you really know what you want to accomplish in life and in your business if you’re not tracking it?

Prime Yourself for the Week Ahead

Stop dreading Mondays every Sunday night. Set the tone for an amazing week. Look forward to getting up early, tackling your morning routine and getting home after your 9-to-5 to work on your side business. Make your Sunday nights amazing!

Watch a few motivational videos on YouTube or an inspiring Ted Talk or learn something new before going to bed. You don’t have to over-stimulate yourself, just put yourself in the right mindset before going to bed.

Rinse and Repeat

Now it’s just a matter of repeating this process and becoming really good at adapting it. You won’t be perfect and won’t always have the most productive weekends – I know I don’t.

However, making an effort to work at it every weekend and putting in that work, even when it’s only for a few hours, can make all the difference. All of those efforts begin to add up over time and before you know it, you can have a full-time ecommerce empire on your hands.

What do you think? How do you, as a sidepreneur, manage to build your ecommerce empire on the side while working a 9-to-5? How will you make this upcoming weekend much more productive? Let me know in the comments below. I engage and respond with everyone.

How to Launch a Subscription Box: Lessons from a Successful Korean Beauty Business

How to Launch a Subscription Box: Lessons from a Successful Korean Beauty Business

I forgot to buy toothpaste again. While I’m using baking soda in an all-too-frequent pinch, essentials like razors and protein powder and, yes, toothpaste appear as if by magic, on other people’s doorsteps everywhere.

They’re not running out—these savvy consumers are shelling out their yearly budget in one transaction, paying for the convenience of an uninterrupted supply of commodities. Welcome to the $5 billion dollar subscription box industry.

Leading the pack of consumables delivered by mail is, unsurprisingly, beauty. I spend no less than $30 every time I so much as walk by a cosmetics counter. I bleed money in the presence of new mascaras that claim to give my straight lashes rollercoaster curves, or creams promising fountain of youth results. I know it’s all marketing, but there is joy in the discovery, in the pursuit of making my morning routine more effective. Or at least more fun.

In 2010, arguably the birth year of subscription boxes, the founders of Birchbox cashed in on this affliction (I was apparently not alone in my weakness) and hit the market with a simple idea: makeup and skincare sample boxes at $10 a pop, delivered monthly to beauty junkies across America.

In 2012, Birchbox went global, acquiring French company JolieBox and in 2014, the brand reported $125 million in annual sales.

Naturally, copycats and derivatives followed closely—the beauty industry becoming saturated—and it seemed that almost everything from socks to build-your-own electronics kits could be ordered by subscription. Subscription directory Hello Subscription currently lists over 4000 boxes, though the total number is much larger—there were an estimated 10,000 on the market as of mid-2015.

https://www.google.ca/trends/embed/explore/TIMESERIES?req=%7B%22comparisonItem%22%3A%5B%7B%22keyword%22%3A%22subscription%20boxes%22%2C%22geo%22%3A%22%22%2C%22time%22%3A%22all%22%7D%5D%2C%22category%22%3A0%2C%22property%22%3A%22%22%7D&tz=300&eq=date%3Dall%26q%3Dsubscription%2520boxesSylvia Song, co-founder of MISHIBOX, imports and curates Korean beauty favorites, delivering them globally from her home in Virginia. She didn’t set out to run a subscription business, nor to become an entrepreneur. She was a science major, an accountant, a stay at home mom. Like Birchbox’s founders, she saw a gap and she filled it.

Korean Beauty

Last year, Korea exported $2.64 billion dollars in cosmetics and beauty products. K-beauty, as it’s nicknamed, has been steadily growing in popularity in North America since BB Cream—an all in one face moisturizer and makeup—hit the market here in 2011. American brands began selling their versions of the product, popularized in Korea, inspiring a devout following of K-beauty believers.

MISHIBOX Korean Beauty Subscription Box

The appeal of Korean beauty extends beyond the unusual ingredients like snail slime and bee venom and artichoke extract, and even beyond the innovative packaging and product design. K-beauty is an experience, says Sylvia:

“With Korean beauty, they push this multi-step routine. There are so many different types of products and you start thinking ‘I need all of them’. I don’t think it’s necessary to have all the different steps all the time, but it is fun.”

Ten-step skincare regimes, hydrating animal-print masks, and peel-off lip tints are selling the ritual as much as the results. A Korean beauty box will run you about $20 USD—a fraction of the cost of a day at the spa. The lower price points are also attractive to buyers, considering the average American woman spends $15000 on cosmetics in her lifetime.

“They’re effective, but also very affordable. There are a lot of dupes out there of popular American products—really good dupes and half the price of what you’d pay at Sephora.”

Korean beauty didn’t really hit Sylvia’s radar until 2014, but serendipitously, it happened around the same time that she discovered subscription beauty boxes.

“My friend gave me a bunch of Korean beauty products for my birthday. She knew I didn’t like my skin and I always commented on how perfect hers looked. I started using them and really got into it. Then, coincidentally, my husband gave me a beauty box subscription. I started thinking ‘I don’t really want all these beauty products. I just want Korean beauty products delivered to me every month.’ I looked for one that I could buy, but at that time, in early 2015, there were none. My husband said, ‘Why don’t you just make one?’”

Meet MISHIBOX

Sylvia never imagined she’d follow in her father’s footsteps. “I didn’t really want to be an entrepreneur,” she tells me.

“My dad always told me, ‘You need to start your own business. That’s the best thing to do.’ I was always telling him, ‘No, no. That’s not for me.’ I didn’t want to prove him right so I resisted and I resisted. I talked to my sister-in-law who’s one of the co-founders now, and she was really excited about it. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll give it a try.’ Before we launched, we sold hundreds of pre-orders right from the start. At that point I realized, I really couldn’t not do this.”

Before we launched, we sold hundreds of pre-orders right from the start. At that point I realized, I really couldn’t not do this.

Sylvia started her education in biology but eventually switched to biomedical engineering—a compromise that satisfied her parents as well as her own interest in tech. After graduation, she planned to move to New York to pursue nutrition, until her husband’s change of med school plans took them to Virginia.

Once planted, she discovered that there were no jobs in her field. She returned to school to study accounting, eventually working as an auditor for a CPA firm. “I decided to just look for a career that was practical,” she said.

Still, it seemed, she hadn’t found her calling. Her new career was causing her stress, too, impacting the couple’s plans to grow their family.

“I couldn’t get pregnant while I was working and I think it’s because I traveled so much and I was always stressed out. I’m a really bad driver and as an auditor, I had to drive to different states and I basically lived in hotels and I’d only come home on the weekends. That was really stressful.”

When her husband uprooted them again for his residency, Sylvia quit her job, and finally became pregnant. The birth of her daughter in late 2013—two months early—prompted a life decision: she would leave the workforce for good and be a stay at home mom. The gig was rewarding, but something was still missing.

“Being a stay at home mom, I love it, but I get antsy—I wanted to do something. I started blogging and then, when I discovered Korean beauty products, I blogged about it and saw a huge spike in my traffic. That’s when I realized that Korean beauty was starting to become a trend. At the time you still weren’t seeing the products in Sephora. Six months later, we launched the box. We got really lucky with our timing because we launched ours when there were no others.”

When I discovered Korean beauty products, I blogged about it and saw a huge spike in my traffic.

Korean Beauty

Along with her sister-in-law Juju, her husband Kyle, and their friend Andrew, MISHIBOX (named for the company’s bunny mascot) soft launched to pre-orders in early 2015. The response was overwhelming. Sylvia’s analytic nature meant that the launch was preceded by months of research to validate her idea, but in an instant, the pre-orders negated all of the up-front planning.

The team launched MISHIBOX on CrateJoy, but eventually moved to Shopify for ease of set-up.

“CrateJoy was really difficult. I don’t know what it’s like now, but their website builder was really hard to use and we even hired developers to help us. We could just never get it exactly how we wanted. I just got fed up and decided I needed something else. We were still on CrateJoy, but I opened a Shopify account—they overlapped. When I started making the website, it took me just a few hours to set it up. It was so easy. I decided ‘I’m going to switch right now.’”

The business launched from the townhouse where Sylvia lived with her husband and daughter. As it grew, so did the need for space. Boxes and inventory overflowed from one dedicated room to the entire first floor of the house. Recently, the couple moved to a larger house, and the business has its own dedicated space in the ample basement.

Everyone involved in the business is doing it as a side-hustle, even Sylvia who still lists “Mom” as her full-time job. As MISHIBOX grows, though, she realizes that something will have to give, and one of the founders will need to take the plunge.

MISHIBOX Korean Beauty Subscription Box

Sylvia admits that the business grew despite the lack of attention to marketing. The team decided to spend their freshman year working to “get it right”. Though they have competition now, they were the first to market with the idea, and tapped into a trend that’s affording them steady organic growth.

“Marketing is probably one of our weakest areas. We didn’t really prioritize it, especially since it seemed to just be growing on its own. We’ve just been focusing on execution because when we started, none of us had any experience or connections in cosmetics or ecommerce. We wanted to figure out the important stuff before we got too big. Also, we were limited by our previous location at the townhouse. If we grew any faster, we would have had to move earlier.”

We’ve just been focusing on execution because when we started, none of us had any experience or connections in cosmetics or ecommerce.

Now, Sylvia says, they’re getting serious about growth. MISHIBOX recently expanded to one-off products, accounting for 15% of the business’ sales. It’s a win-win: customers can buy more of the products they love or try out MISHIBOX’s offerings before committing, and the business can offload leftover product (ordered as buffer for defects or lost packages).

They plan to expand into other areas of Asian beauty this year, and have sights set on graduating from the basement to a dedicated warehouse space with full-time staff. [UPDATE: MISHIBOX has just confirmed plans to move to a commercial space in NYC next Spring, with Juju taking over operations.]

Well, I’m inspired.

Let’s take a look at the ups and downs of selling subscription boxes and the mechanics of running a subscription business on Shopify.

Subscription Box Businesses: The Pros

  • Predict revenue: a contract model allows you to see the future, and therefore plan/predict other aspects of the business (hiring, shipping costs, etc.) with more confidence
  • Easy math: calculating customer lifetime value is a snap with a recurring billing model, a fixed product cost, and a defined contract length
  • Shipping is streamlined: timed monthly boxes mean that all orders ship on the same date, in the same box, keeping shipping costs and logistics simple and consistent
  • It’s great for cash flow: some subscription businesses offer customers the option to pay for the full term up front (usually with a discount)
  • Low cost to retain customers: subscription customers are inherently “retained” for a fixed period
  • Reduce waste: you’ll buy only as much product as you need to fill boxes, eliminating the need to clear out inventory at low margins. MISHIBOX even added one-off products to the site to take care of the surplus:

“We started by just offering subscriptions but, we had a lot of inventory left over. Let’s say if we have 100 subscribers, then we’ll buy quantities of 120. The extra is for defective products or lost packages. The defect rate is lower than we thought it would be, and boxes don’t really go missing that often, so we ended up having a lot of stock. We thought we should just sell it instead of just holding onto it.”

MISHIBOX Subscription Boxes

And, the Cons

Beware that subscription businesses can also have their drawbacks:

  • Factor in churn: forecasting revenue can be misleading, especially if your policies allow customers to cancel subscriptions at any time.
  • Retention: onus is on the business to continuously keep the offerings fresh and the customer interested. Ask yourself: Can you source hot/new/exciting/unique products each month? What are the limitations of the industry? Do you have exclusivity with any brands?
  • While the cost to retain customers is much lower, the cost to acquire can be higher—consumer commitment-phobia is high with new brands that have yet to establish trust or social proof.
  • Merchants selling individual products can experiment with upselling and cross-selling to increase order value. It’s more difficult to increase a customer’s value in a fixed-price subscription model. You may need to get creative, says Sylvia:

“Recently, we started a new thing called add-ons, like the Amazon add-ons where you can pick something and it ships for free with your order. We allow our subscribers to pick what they want and then, it’ll ship free with their box. That’s been taking off pretty well, especially with our international customers because they save a lot on shipping.”

What’s Inside the Box?

Due to the recurring nature of subscription boxes, the best products for this model generally fall into one of two categories: consumables or collectibles.

Consumables:

Collectibles:

Clothing, jewellery, and adult toys are other categories with significant potential for subscriptions. Remember: when choosing a product to sell in any business, subscription or otherwise, it’s important to evaluate its viability.

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Getting Started

MISHIBOX uses Recurring Billing by ReCharge, one of several Shopify compatible apps to help manage subscription box businesses. The app integrates with fulfillment apps, and others like Google Analytics and Referral Candy. The newly updated reports feature, ReCharge’s Director of Product Marketing, Chathri Ali explains, helps merchants track customer trends and revenue growth.

Founder, Mike Flynn offers some great tips for setting up a subscription on your Shopify store, including establishing shipping frequency by offering and testing multiple intervals when you first launch your business.

via: ReCharge Subscription Academy

As we’ve previously mentioned, customers can get cold feet in the face of a commitment. There is considerably more risk in signing up for a year versus buying a product once. When building your subscription business from scratch, ease customers’ decision making and grow trust for your brand:

  • Earn trust: rack up some social proof by building a community around your brand: incentivize social sharing, loyalty, and reviews by rewarding your earliest customers.
  • Work with influencers: you can’t afford Beyoncé, but new emerging YouTubers, Instagrammers, and bloggers will sometimes be willing to review your box for product alone, or a lower rate. Build relationships with influencers early on—as their audiences grow, yours could too.
  • Reduce risk: offer a substantial discount to customers who pay upfront for a subscriptions, or offer the first month free.
  • Partner with other subscription businesses: the customer who opts to have cosmetics delivered monthly may be the same profile of a potential customer for your wellness box—customers already comfortable with the subscription model are low-hanging fruit. Team up with complementary businesses by trading postcard inserts in boxes or mentions in email newsletters.
  • Provide options: like MISHIBOX, offer one-off products or single-month boxes as a preview for customers. Upsell them on the box or the subscription.
  • Offer gift subscriptions: expand your audience to the friends and family of your ideal customer. Allow customers to purchase gifts with shorter commitments and personalized messaging.

MISHIBOX Korean Beauty Subscription Box

Accidental entrepreneur Sylvia Song, finally found her calling in subscription box beauty. The business has been thriving under the direction of a team with no experience in ecommerce or beauty. The secret of their success is good timing—recognizing a trend early on—and a healthy balance of gut instinct and careful planning.

“Don’t quit your day job,” says Sylvia when I ask her advice for other budding entrepreneurs. While she’s conservative, she can see the other perspective.

“My sister-in-law’s different. Her advice would probably be not to overanalyze it. You’re never going to know if your business is going to be good or not until you actually launch it. We wasted all that time and money trying to hire developers and build that first website. I spent probably two months just analyzing whether this business would work when we could’ve just launched pre-orders. The orders would’ve flooded in that would’ve validated my idea right away.”

You’re never going to know if your business is going to be good or not until you actually launch it

.

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9 Lessons from a 6-Figure Beauty Brand That Launched in a Dorm Room

Megan Cox went to bed and woke up in the morning to find that she had made $10,000 in sales overnight. At the time, she was an MIT student with a newly launched store, Amalie Beauty—her first foray into manufacturing and ecommerce.

Amalie now has six-figure sales, a history of glowing press, and products that sell out as soon as they launch.

How did it get here? Let’s rewind three years.

Megan started her business to solve a pain point: she destroyed her natural lashes and couldn’t find a restorative product that worked. After poring through the research and matching it against the products on the market, she found a gap.

What she also found was a massive audience for her product—an army of women (and men) looking for a simple, natural solution to a common problem. Amalie launched with the brand’s flagship product,Wink—a naturally-derived oil designed to promote regrowth of lashes and brows—and has since expanded into other natural skincare products.

Amalie Wink

photo: @onabeautybender

Megan is growing her business from her family farm in Indiana, a small apartment in Shenzen, and on countless flights in between.

She’s learned a lot about business and manufacturing by trial and error—more than all of her MIT education put together. What can budding beauty entrepreneurs learn from her story?

Megan Cox, Founder, Amalie Beauty

Nine hard-learned lessons from Amalie Beauty Founder, Megan Cox:

1. Do Your Homework

Megan tapped into an industry that continues to thrive—organic personal care is expected to be a $13.2 billion industry by 2018. Once limited to small brands at health food stores, even Sephora now stocks a healthy number of large luxury brands within the natural realm. Research continues to show consumer trends towards mild, food-based, probiotic, and pollution-shielding ingredients, and a study saw organic health and beauty grow 21% in 2015 in the UK alone.

The continued upward trend is good news for new businesses in the space.

https://www.google.ca/trends/embed/explore/TIMESERIES?req=%7B%22comparisonItem%22%3A%5B%7B%22keyword%22%3A%22natural%20makeup%22%2C%22geo%22%3A%22%22%2C%22time%22%3A%22all%22%7D%5D%2C%22category%22%3A0%2C%22property%22%3A%22%22%7D&tz=300&eq=date%3Dall%26q%3Dnatural%2520makeup

It’s no longer just a mom and pop industry. Tarte, a natural beauty line started in Founder Maureen Kelly’s one bedroom apartment in 1999, joined Sephora’s lineup in 2003, grossed $12 million in 2008, and sold majority shares in 2014 to global beauty behemoth Kose. She started the business with $18,000.

Megan had a similarly lean start, launching Amalie from her MIT dorm room after discovering a formulation that worked to restore her lashes—something no other product on the market could claim.

At the office with assistant, Charlie

She had ordered every top-rated lash enhancer on Amazon, to no avail. That’s when she tapped into MIT’s research paper database. Her sleuthing found that essential fatty acids showed promise in studies but no other company was using it in lash products.

“I went to MIT for chemistry but then after a semester I was like, ‘I’m not doing this,’ because everyone I talked to said they went into food science, which means that they work for Kraft, coming up with the newest cheese crackers. So, I switched into business.”

Her short-lived chemistry education did help her with product formulation, but she found the most useful information on the internet.

“I had some chemistry background, but really, when starting the business, I just read up online about what you needed to do—how the formulations work, what kind of testing you need to do to make sure it’s stable. Thank god for the internet, because twenty years ago, I could not have started this business! All the research is out there—there are a lot of smart people on the internet sharing information for free.”

2. Just Start (No Excuses)

Megan tested her new formulation on friends, with positive results. They encouraged her to sell the product. “I didn’t have any money or experience,” she said (unless you cont her born-with-it entrepreneurial spirit).

“I started selling things at a really young age. The first time I got in trouble in the playground was for selling things. It’s my personality and was always my dream. I didn’t really realize that for a while, though.”

Her initial investment was exactly $1812 (a 10th of Tarte’s original startup costs). It was every penny she had. Not allowing her meagre investment to hold her back, she incorporated the business for $700, bought 500 bottles and a few thousand boxes, and paid for her first month on Shopify. She had $6 left to her name.

Though a business major, she soon found that the skills learned in class did not actually prepare her for launching her own business.

“When I told my parents that I had a class where we learned how to write memos and emails, they were like, ‘That’s what we’re paying for!?’ That’s literally the only practical thing I learned in school that I’ve been able to apply to my business. Although, it taught me how to push boundaries and to be humble—meeting people who were so insanely smart makes you realize that you can’t ever be completely certain of yourself. You just have to keep working hard. MIT made me hungry in a way. That’s helpful for entrepreneurship.”

MIT made me hungry in a way. That’s helpful for entrepreneurship.

Wink Eyelash Oil

photo: I Know All the Words

As a newbie, marketing her product was mainly guesswork, and with no money, she needed to get creative.

She first went to Reddit, which resulted in a few sales. It was a simple call to her hometown’s local paper that was the catalyst for her big breakout. The paper interviewed her, bringing in yet a couple more sales, but the turning point was when the story was picked up by the state paper.

“I went to visit my best friend Miguel in Texas for a week before he started school. I had sold maybe four units at that point. We went to sleep and when we woke up, we had $10,000 in sales. I had no idea what happened because I’d only done one press interview and no advertising. But it was picked up through the AP. Three days after it was in my local newspaper it was in the state newspaper, which has a one million circulation. It was nuts. When I woke up, we had sold out, but the sales were still going because I hadn’t put a cap on stock.”

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3. Roll with the Punches

When they began exceeding their on-hand supply, Megan’s inclination was to turn it off, but Miguel said, “No way!” (she credits him as an instrumental partner in getting her business off the ground).

So they let the sales pour in. Although they only had 500 units ready to ship, and it took two months to restock and fill the rest of the orders, only two people wanted a refund.

“This was major amateur hour. I barely knew how to write an email correctly at that point. After we shipped the 500, I emailed the rest and said, ‘Guys, we sold out. I’m sorry. It’s going to be a while.’ Everyone besides those two people were happy to wait. I gave everyone a coupon for their next order. That was a really cool way to start. I still have a lot of those customers, actually, from the very beginning.”

This was major amateur hour. I barely knew how to write an email correctly at that point.

The unexpected success came with one major logistics issue: Megan was a full-time student. Because her parents, who were paying for her education, weren’t thrilled with the distraction, they took overshipping and fulfillment until she finished school.

“It became my mom’s full-time job for a year. She didn’t know what she was signing up for. She shipped out all of those five hundred units and waited for the new units to come in and then shipped those too. I said, ‘Guys, this is my company. This is what I’m going to do with my life.’ They’re like, ‘No, it’s not. Just go to school, okay? Get your degree. We’re not arguing about this.’”

It became my mom’s full-time job for a year. She didn’t know what she was signing up for.

4. Show Your Face

While the actual formulation is made in America, Megan works closely with factories in China to produce her bottles and product packaging. So closely, in fact, that she now keeps an apartment there, where she spends several months of the year closely managing the process. It’s critical to see the factories and to form relationships in person, she says.

Megan has an advantage over many other Americans doing business in China—she speaks Mandarin and some Teochew.

“If you don’t speak the language, I would say you’d have to hire a translator or work with a higher tier factory that speaks English. You’re going to be paying such a premium for that. I wouldn’t necessarily trust a translator or an agency if they’re from China and not from your home country. It’s really kind of difficult to get around.”

Amalie Beauty Megan Cox

It took Amalie six months the first time to find a factory, start production, and ship. While she has made solid relationships and honed in the manufacturing, she still plans to spend half of her time in China while she’s developing new products.

“I wish I would have come to China sooner. It gives you a lot of ideas. You just realize there are a lot of ways to go about things. Like, you don’t have to just do ten thousand units. I think it’s just accepted in beauty that the minimum order is always ten thousand, ten thousand.”

Final negotiations at the bottle factory

Manufacturing in China: Additional Reading & Listening

5. Test, Test, Then Test Again

She continues to live half of the time in China because she says it’s important to conduct your own tests. It’s a lesson she learned the hard way.

“Packaging was a really big issue for me—I lost a lot of my customers because it was unreliable. The brushes were glued into place but the formulation didn’t mesh with the glue, so they were falling out. Now I come here and do the quality control myself. I make sure that I keep those relationships intact with my factories because I can’t afford for that to happen again. I think this is my sixth trip this year. Now I just have an apartment here because I’m going back and forth all the time.”

Amalie Beauty Wink

Wink Eyelash Serum

Manufacturing in North America can be more expensive, but the upside is the access to the factories, and the ability to be hands-on with the process. Megan is therefore incredulous when I ask about the internet storm over Kylie Jenner’s own packaging.

“Kylie’s factory is in California. I’m like, ‘Drive thirty minutes to your factory.’ I don’t know how that kind of stuff happens. Everything needs to be tested at every single step, and unless you’re a vet, you don’t think about it. Her factory should have caught that.”

Everything needs to be tested at every single step, and unless you’re a vet, you don’t think about it.

Amalie Testing

Always be testing!

She’s obsessed about testing everything, she says, including using the formulations on her own skin.

“I made a batch of a new formulation before I came to China. I brought some with me. I’ve been trying it out. I’ve been trying out new packaging. I’m always trying new things.”

6. Be a Control Freak, Then Let Go

Back in the States, Wink was originally being produced and filled in a third party cosmetics lab. Her time in China however has taught her to become very particular about manufacturing, and this year she plans to take over all of the production of the formulation and bottle filling.

“When someone else is making the formulation, they’re also sourcing the ingredients. I want to know where my ingredients are coming from. I want to have everything documented. I want to be there. I want to smell the formulation and know if it’s right and if it’s going to work. This is a really big step—moving to mass production. I’d rather do it myself and hire an employee oversee all of it, than trust it to someone else.”

I want to know where my ingredients are coming from. I want to have everything documented. I want to be there.

To manufacture cosmetics in America, the FDA sets guidelines for ventilation, air control, and surfaces. While your manufacturing processes should adhere to FDA standards, there is quite a bit of flexibility for businesses who manufacture in spurts. Mobile clean rooms—essentially pop-up tents—are designed for this purpose and ideal for a business like Amalie.

Megan has recently added another layer of complication. She’s producing the raw ingredients for her formulations, too. While it’s another step of the process that she can now manage herself, the results are unreliable.

“With this new batch, I’m actually growing the plants myself. That’s an issue because it’s really cool when it works out, but there’s just a really big risk because you’re depending on the weather, the soil, and your ability to take care of the plants everyday. I had two sets of seeds that died because it was too hot too early this year.”

Once she’s satisfied with the process, she’ll need to delegate while overseas. She’s currently growing the plants on her parents’ and grandparents’ properties, and was personally on hand to tend to them the first time. Moving forward, she’s exploring two solutions: hire people in her Indiana hometown to manage the crops in her absence, or work with local farmers.

Manufacturing Natural Cosmetic Products in America: Resources

7. Transparency = Trust

Natural beauty has its own set of rules and complications, including short ingredient shelf life and a discerning, skeptical consumer.

“My products have a twelve months shelf life from the moment that they’re manufactured. That creates a huge logistical problem because I can’t go too big with my distribution. I won’t allow my distributors to buy too much product if I don’t think they can push it fast enough. I have had to replace their product a few times. Someone bought two thousand units last year and they weren’t able to sell them through fast enough and I thought, ‘Those are going to expire.’ I switched them out for free. I bit a huge cost there but I’m not going to let someone have a bad product with my name on it.”

photo: FutureDerm

Often with products labeled “natural” or “organic”, come customer expectation that they will be free of chemical preservatives.

“All my products now are oils and then this next batch I’m going to move to a cream. Making emulsions is a whole new skill set in cosmetic chemistry. You have to have a preservative system with it. I just don’t love putting preservatives in products because people are scared of them —they all have scary names.”

Under the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act, the FDA enforces proper labelling of cosmetics packaging sold in the United States. Manufacturers are required to list every ingredient in the products. That’s a fact, Megan says, that her competitors and many beauty brands try to manipulate.

“Why are you putting honey and metals and all of this garbage inside your product? It doesn’t even work. They’re just trying to confuse consumers on purpose. It drives me nuts. I hate when companies just put thirty ingredients in their products just so they can say, ‘You could never make it yourself. We just want to confuse you, but half of it is just complete bullshit.’”

I hate when companies just put thirty ingredients in their products just so they can say, ‘You could never make it by yourself.’

She built trust for her brand on the transparency of the ingredients. Her About Page clearly, and in layman’s terms, explains the science behind the ingredients and how each is necessary to the formulation.

“I think a lot of brands try to hedge their bets and put peptides and essential fatty acids and copper and sulphur together in one product. I don’t know. You can’t put a pizza and a taco and a hamburger together and make it good. You just pick one. I picked one and I just stuck with it.”

In addition to honesty around her own product, she’s frank about her feelings about others on the market. When asked her opinions on a competitor lash product, she dissected the ingredient list, objectively explaining the function and risks of each.

8. Content is King

Megan’s strategic approach to content involves tapping into the popularity of beauty reviews. The overwhelming number of brands and options (do I want a mascara that’s lengthening, curling, or thickening?), unpronounceable ingredients, and smoke and mirrors marketing copy, mean that beauty consumers are turning to online reviews before buying.

Amalie Beauty Blog

She’s establishing herself as a trusted expert, dedicating much of her blog to reviewing products (other than her own) in a refreshingly researched and practical voice. She’s positioned herself as the face of the brand, connecting to customers through content that’s genuine and frank.

The result? Organic traffic and sales are up.

“I started blogging consistently in April. I can’t believe it took me three years to get there. Now I blog about four times a week and we’ve had a big spike recently in organic traffic and we’re starting to see sales from more organic customers. I really haven’t done a lot of advertising in the last three years because in beauty, and especially with eyelash enhancers, the cost per click for adwords is crazy.”

Megan is also using content as an email list generator, offering downloadable content like “The Brow Bible” and “The Lush Lash Guide“.

Brow Bible Amalie Beauty

9. Embrace the Unexpected

Since she originally developed Wink for herself, Megan assumed that her customer persona would look much like herself: younger people with natural lashes damaged through extensions or trichotillomania (a disorder characterized by pulling out one’s own hair).

“Wink really took off and we found that it really resonated with older women and people who had just gone through cancer treatment. I didn’t really expect that at all. I pull my eyelashes when I get stressed, and I think a lot of people have nervous ticks like that. I thought it was going to be a really big hit with those people. I never imagined chemotherapy.”

Wink really took off and we found that it really resonated with people who had just gone through cancer treatment.

Amalie embraced the cause and actively supports cancer survivors. Recently Megan launched#PinkWINK, a campaign that donates one bottle of Wink to a cancer warrior for every bottle sold in October.

“We’ve helped over 25,000 women—including over 3,000 cancer warriors—restore their lashes and brows to their original beauty. “

photo: Notes From my Dressing Table

Megan developed a product backed by science and built her brand on transparency while establishing herself as a trusted beauty advisor. The strategy allowed her to stand out in a crowded market, and has paid off for the business. When Amalie launched its second product this year, it was reviewed by the #1 skincare blog and sold out in the first week.

Next week, she launches her newest collection—small batch skin oils derived from her homegrown crops—and expects to sell out to her loyal customer base. She’s driving towards another launch in the spring, too, testing every step of the way.

The Art of Reinvention: One Couple’s Secret to Keeping Their Seasonal Business Thriving

The Art of Reinvention: One Couple's Secret to Keeping Their Seasonal Business Thriving

Nick Worsley stealthily hunts flies, bringing down the swatter in quick, deft strikes, punctuating the conversation I’m having with his wife and business partner, Amanda. We’re sitting behind the counter at The General – the couple’s new store in the bustling wine county of Prince Edward. The door is propped open, inviting out-of-town visitors, locals, and the unwanted buzzing guests.

It’s a Monday afternoon in the heart of the region’s high season. Only a month earlier, Nick and Amanda opened the doors on The General’s first permanent location.

The shop, as the name suggests, sells all manner of general goods – from novelty flashlights and hammocks to cigarettes and dish soap – aiming to fill the little holes in the offering of the growing community. Though the store is not the first venture for the couple, it’s their first in the area, a place they’ve called home for a little less than a year. As such, the General’s nomenclature was pure practicality – the name allows them to tweak the business while they learn the ins and outs, striving to support the community’s needs.

Photos by: Matthew Wiebe

This isn’t the first time that the couple employed resilience as a means to survive in business. Nick comes from a family of entrepreneurs, his parents running a long standing video business in Toronto’s West End. He grew up in the business, later managing it. That’s where he met Amanda. Unlike her future husband, her family tree was not replete with small business ownership.

“Both of my parents hated their jobs, and I remember being fixated on that at 11 or 12. I needed to figure out what I wanted to do and I had to love it. I had no idea what it was going to be, but I knew I definitely wasn’t going to be an entrepreneur. I thought, ‘I don’t have the guts for it, it’s too scary.’ I was raised by people who had jobs with salaries. It wasn’t until I married into a family of entrepreneurs that I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was so out of my imagination, you know? It seems like you needed millions of dollars or investors. The idea of opening a modest, small business that grows with your community is wonderful.”

It wasn’t until I married into a family of entrepreneurs that I thought, ‘Why not?’

Everywhere, video stores were shuttering their doors and after 20 years of business, Film Buff too struggled to stay alive in the changing times. “It was a little bit tough taking the reins in a dying industry,” Nick says, “I wondered, ‘Is it what I’m doing, is it my fault that the numbers are going down?’”

The family diversified, though, supplementing the dwindling sales with ice cream. Nick and Amanda eventually rebranded and expanded the food-focused part of the business, emphasizing coffee. Local Hero became its own entity within the video business’ retail space.

For Amanda, it was her first foray into entrepreneurship and she stepped away from her full time job to dive in. The couple soon discovered their personal compatibility extending to business.

“I love thinking big picture stuff – where we’re going to be, trying new things, sourcing. But Nick, he’s is as pleasant to the first person he serves as the last person he serves. By the fourth person, I’m touchy. It can be great, but it can also get to me. We have emphasis in two different areas, so that helps.”

Her words are still hanging in the humid air when Nick is suddenly in front of the counter, crouched low with a group of children, patiently explaining the mechanics of latte art. (Amanda, meanwhile, breaks from our conversation to quietly crunch numbers.)

Just a year and a half into Local Hero, the space’s lease was up and the couple faced the big question: what’s next? “We did the birth and death of a business,” she tells me, “without really getting to experience the meat-and-potatoes middle part.”

They weighed starting over in the big city, but rents were high, even in the up-and-coming neighbourhoods. To compete and be profitable, they had already been working 16 hour days, 7 days a week. And now, they have a two-year-old son.

“We started working on our first business when Buck was 10 weeks old. Small business ownership and parenthood is really just part of us – I can’t really tease them apart. They’re both all-consuming, they’re both so personal, so frustrating, so rewarding. So, it’s funny that I literally can’t have one without the other. He’s grown up in the shops. He’s here every day, grabbing things.”

Much like Nick’s own life, their son will be raised in the business, and entrepreneurship will be in his blood. But with a family came his parents’ desire for balance.

That’s when they began to consider the slow life. Amanda and Nick spent their very limited free time exploring rural communities outside of the city when they stumbled upon Prince Edward County. The area had been enjoying a burst of press attention in the past few years, recently gaining notoriety as a top wine tourism destination by Condé Nast Traveler. The Worsleys identified it as an area with plenty of growth potential, and a place to start a new life.

“I reached out to the County planning department and read their vision and strategic planning documents for the next 20 to 50 years, just to try to get a sense of where they saw this community going. They really were committed to small business. The view was amazing, the people were amazing. But it was all the small, independent businesses that attracted us the most.”

Along with Nick’s now-retired parents, the couple moved three hours outside of their comfort zone. They learned quickly that business in a rural area was very much a different beast.

“We decided last June or July that we were going to come, and then we spent the next six to eight months trying to find the space. It just didn’t happen. It turns out, what we didn’t know as city people, was that it’s just really hard to lock something down in the country because things aren’t listed online. It’s signs in windows, it’s conversations with people. Luckily someone in February connected us with Alex at The House of Falconer, who was looking for a café – that’s how we got started with the pop-up.”

Above: House of Falconer exterior, pop-up interior (photos by: Matthew Wiebe)

Though the initial intention was to start with a permanent retail space, Amanda says now that starting with a pop-up is a strategy she’d recommend to others in her place. The pop-up happened as a way to get into business quickly while they continued their search for more permanent digs.

“I encourage people, every time they ever ask: ‘Do a Pop-up, lower your overhead, lower your risk.’ But for us, it was really scary to move all the way out here with just a pop-up. It was a terrifying prospect.”

I encourage people, every time they ask: ‘Do a Pop-up, lower your overhead, lower your risk.’

Eventually, the duo secured a space on the main strip in Wellington, just around the corner from the much-revered Drake Devonshire hotel. The business strip in the town is racing to catch up for the boutique hotel’s tourist draw, a fact that benefits a business like The General – a business with chameleon abilities.

“There was an assumption that we would be a high end place because we’re from the city, and that it would be very expensive for locals. There was this kind of hesitance. But once we said, ‘we’re going to have cigarettes and candy, we’re going to have cheap beach towels.’, it instantly disarmed people and they were super excited about it. There’s no convenience store in town anymore so there was an opportunity for us to fill a gap here. We brought in organic, local produce and specialty foods, because you can’t get them anywhere. Also, the pharmacy closes at two on the weekends, so toothbrushes do really well because a lot of people forget that kind of thing. We’ve tried to compliment what was here already.”

There’s no convenience store in town anymore so there was an opportunity for us to fill a gap here.

The pop-up shop, located 20 minutes from their new permanent location, will pack up business alongside the mass exodus of suitcases at the end of the summer. As for the store, The General is ramping up to face its first winter. Business has been bumping since the location opened, but with a drop in temperature comes an inevitable drop in sales.

The problem isn’t unique to businesses in the area. Elsewhere, ice cream stands and snowboard suppliers and Christmas decor stores alike are affected by swift seasonal tides. How will The General stay afloat until spring thaw? Survival depends on stretch and careful planning.

How to combat the lulls of a seasonal business:

1. Forecast – for newbies like the Worsleys, there’s no business history to help them plan financially for the low season. But they’re leaning on fellow businesses in the area for advice. If your business has at least a year under its belt, use it as a benchmark for hiring and scheduling staff, managing cash flow and inventory, and establishing sales goals for the high season.

“I didn’t know what the volume would be like out here, because there was no business like ours, so I had to create projections with no anchor, except tourist stats for the neighbourhood. We’re shooting past our projections but with winter it’s another giant question.”

We’re shooting past our projections but again with winter it’s another giant question.

2. Pare down – Nick and Amanda have hired staff for this busy period. Their choices have helped them plan ahead: both temporary employees will return to school in the fall, just as the pop-up closes and business slows.

3. Find other revenue streams – the shop’s coffee offerings promise some viability with locals in the winter, but The General’s owners plan to find other ways to draw people into the space. With a few tables shuffled, the store is large and flexible enough to accommodate small community events and workshops.

“These activities would work with families in the neighbourhood to bring people into the store, and create stuff to do for our son, too. We’re are here anyways so why not board game nights?”

4. Expand your sales channels – while managing the new brick and mortar store is already a ton of work, the slower cold months open up time to build the shop’s online presence, using an ecommerce store to sell to customers outside of the region

5. Use downtime wisely – reduce hours and use the dip in traffic to plan ahead for next season, get caught up on administrative and financial tasks, develop a content and marketing plan. Amanda is already getting ahead on sourcing.

6. Maintain contact – summer traffic may be predominantly the fair-weather types, but a great experience means they could be repeat customers next year. Collect customer emails in store and keep them engaged until cottage season rolls around again.

For now, the Worsleys have nothing to worry about. The General starts to fill with people, even though it’s a cloudy Monday. It’s mostly locals today, it seems, as everyone here knows Nick and Amanda by name. The customers seem genuinely invested in the shop, suggesting ideas and products to sell. For the couple, the advice is welcome – support from the community is the paramount secret to survival.

“Everyone wants to tell you how to run your business. But in small towns, you listen. These are the people I serve everyday and their advice is weighted.”

The Surprising Day Jobs That Set Up These 10 Entrepreneurs for Success

It’s 4:30 PM on a Wednesday. You’re on the clock until 5, but you’ve finished the all of the sweeping or checked out your last customer or filed the day’s paperwork. It’s prime time for daydreaming: what would it be like to be your own boss? You close your eyes, and you’re running a little beachside tiki bar, or taking that leather-tooling hobby to the next level. It’s a good way to kill 30 minutes.

Ahh, the impossible dream!

But then I started thinking: is it so impossible? Most of the entrepreneurs I know didn’t go to business school, or take over a family company. They had no formal training, or mentor to help them. These small business owners come from diverse backgrounds – retail sales and law school and the TV industry. Unconventional resumes for people who now juggle marketing and customer service and design and shipping, right? Maybe not.

What is the profile of an entrepreneur? What’s the required skill set? A pinch of fearlessness, a lot of drive, the ability to self-start, a knack for business? It’s a mixed bag, partially learned and somewhat innate. And these many-hat-wearing folks, for the most part, gleaned their knowledge through an eclectic history of experiences, and things picked up from past jobs.

Can your day job help you kick start your dream job, too? Consider the following:

  • Does your company have a program to help subsidize the cost of educational workshops, courses, or conferences?
  • Can you identify anyone with mentor-potential within your organization?
  • Is it possible to take a risk-free unpaid leave or negotiate reduced hours while you work on building your business?
  • What other skills can you learn and what resources are available to you?

I spoke to ten Shopify merchants who started their careers as beekeepers and models and bankers. Their resumes, on the surface, may not seem relevant, but these entrepreneurs draw from their past work experiences every day.

Ten day jobs that have entrepreneur training baked in:

1. Former Career: Zookeeper

Entrepreneur skills acquired: Multitasking, juggling irregular hours, customer service

“I worked a lot with animals but it’s also very important to provide an education and to acknowledge the visitors – I gained a lot of my customer service skills and experience in that profession. I learned how to make customers happy with compromise (“No, you really can’t pet this bird; but I can give you a peacock feather to take home!”). I think having a unique job with weird requirements and hours helped me to prepare for the one-woman show I currently run. At the zoo, I was always on my feet, doing different tasks – no two days were the same. It’s natural for me to juggle multiple activities at once. My current lifestyle is similarly a very active job, not a typical 9-5, which is what I’m familiar and comfortable with. I don’t think I could sit at a desk or computer all day, everyday.”

– Taylor Scarboro, Owner, Sugar & Succulents

zookeeper

2. Former Career: Case Worker, Social Development

Entrepreneur skills acquired: listening, customer service/care, versatility, problem-solving

“My job was to find a solution to people’s problems and at times they were life and death situations. I had to think fast under pressure while providing the best possible customer service. My time with the Ministry was the biggest training ground for me as I never had any formal education in business. Everything I learned, I’m able to apply to my business life: Spend more time listening than talking. In business if you’re not listening to your customer, you’re leaving a lot of business on the table and there is no room for you to grow and improve. Kindness and compassion – you may think this has nothing to do with business but I strongly believe they should be must-haves in all business cultures. At the end of the day without people, business is nothing, we are nothing. You need to be able to understand your customer from their perspective, you don’t need to agree but regardless you need to be kind and show compassion towards them. And, don’t be scared to try new things – in my previous job, things were never black and white, so I was forced to think of different ways to solve problems. In business you will need to get out of your comfort zone and do things you’ve never done before. Yes it can be scary but you will never know otherwise.”

Gustavia Lui, Owner, Staavias

At the end of the day without people, business is nothing, we are nothing.

3. Former Career: Insurance Claims Adjuster

Entrepreneur skills acquired: organization, patience

“Working in insurance adjusting can be stressful in a catastrophe situation. For everyone. Most importantly, the people that’s been affected by a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster. You’re there to take care of them. Patience and organization is absolute key while you help someone get their lives back on track.”

Barcus Patty, Owner, Thrice

4. Former Career: Model

Entrepreneur skills acquired: photography, styling, marketing

“The way people should start businesses is to look at their lives and ask themselves, “What are the tools I’ve been given that no one else has been given, that add up basically to strategy where I win?” I modelled for Ford Models, and because of that, I know how to run a casting. I know how to run a photoshoot. I know what clothes look like on and off a person. And that’s the online marketing version of fashion.”

Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, Founder, President and Creative Director, Vaute

The way people should start businesses is to look at their lives and ask themselves, ‘What are the tools I’ve been given that no one else has been given?’

Vaute Couture

5. Former Career: Business Development Manager, Food Industry

Entrepreneur skills acquired: curation, UX, branding

“Working in the food tech sector, my role was to identify key partners who would build and identify a brand then on-board them to our mobile apps, ready to promote to our customers. I realised the importance of curation. The importance to present customers with only the best products in an industry and brands can affect the UX for better or for worse. With my new knowledge of curation and my previous experience of onboarding brands I got to work contacting designers I wanted on our website in December and went from 15 to 50 designers in two months. I would say I am like most early business owners where in essence, you want everything to work right now, but I have learned through working with startups that the best thing to do is start slow, fix operational issues, push it a bit, fix more techy issues then push harder. A key bit of advice I was given when I decided to leave my job was to focus on getting people to love your brand than people to like your brand which is something I stick by and I am always reaching out to strike conversation with our customers. It helps me to really understand who they are but most importantly, they get to understand us, what we do and why we do it and hopefully start loving us!”

Lewis Phillips, Owner, The Pommier

6. Former Careers: Beekeeper / Tech Startups

Entrepreneur skills acquired: patience, perseverance

“I’ve been keeping bees since 2005 as my hobby and antidote to the stress of running several high-tech start up companies. Around 2008 my wife and I started experimenting with making lip balms and hand creams in our kitchen using the honey, beeswax and propolis from our bees. The main lesson I learned from my previous commercial life (and possibly the bees) was one of patience and probably stubbornness. I just knew in my gut that there was a market for our products and great feedback from our customers kept us going even though the business was not yet profitable – I sometimes think it’s a thin line between stubbornness and stupidity, but there will always be times where you will simply want to give up and walk away. Nothing comes easily and if you stick it out long enough,and if the product is “right” you will eventually succeed.”

– Simon Cavill, Founder, Bee Good Skincare

beekeeper

7. Former Careers: Brand Manager, Healthcare / Relationship Manager, Banking

Entrepreneur skills acquired: branding, networking, negotiation, accounting, communication

“It helped to have worked in 2 very different industries (banking and healthcare) and in different roles (finance and marketing). To run a small business, you need to know a little bit about everything. You also need to understand how the different parts of the business work together. I constantly draw on experiences that I had in my prior roles. Even though the industries were totally different from pet products, the fundamentals are similar. Accounting classes and my prior career in banking have been invaluable in teaching me how to forecast, budget, determine pricing, and run scenarios. You have to know what is driving sales, costs, and margins in order to build a business strategy and optimize your business.”

Diane Danforth, Owner, Pawdentify

To run a small business, you need to know a little bit about everything. I constantly draw on experiences that I had in my prior roles.

8. Former Career: Set Decorator, Film Industry

Entrepreneur skills acquired: sourcing, curation, networking

“My job back then was to source very specific things for films. They would say ‘We need a yellow couch’. I would go everywhere to find something that would do. My whole job was to familiarize myself with the city and all the corners, all the places. I began to know what’s in all the stores. I have fairly good visual memory because of that, and it comes in handy now. As I was doing that job, I was building my resources for film but was also finding interesting things that I was using in my own life. I said, ‘I want to get out of film. I want to use the skills I’ve acquired of taking the best options and creating something cohesive and beautiful and useful.’”

– Sophia Pierro, Owner, Present Day Gifts

9. Former Career: Broadcasting

Entrepreneur skills acquired: writing, photography, strategy, goal-setting

“For 10 years, I’ve worked for a major TV broadcaster, as a news and documentary script editor, narrator and occasional news reader. My training in strategic planning helps me envision the big picture, identify goals and the steps needed to get there (and switch gears, as necessary). We actually cut the cord with regular 9-to-5 employment some time ago and have made a decent living as freelancers, so our mindset is pretty entrepreneurial. The TV writing experience has helped me learn how to write concise, compelling stories and pick the right images to illustrate them. That helps when I’m writing blog posts and catalog copy. It’s made me a better visual thinker. And taught me that I always need to view what I’m creating through the eyes of the audience.

Virginia Sorrells, Co-Owner, Ajimi Ichiba

My training in strategic planning helps me envision the big picture, identify goals and the steps needed to get there.

10. Former Career: Real Estate Broker

Entrepreneur skills acquired: negotiation, hustle

“The cutthroat Manhattan real estate business was an amazing course in negotiation, hustle, and remaining focused on the end goal of putting together and making a deal work. These skills have come in very handy with suppliers, vendors and designers, especially in a start up with very little capital. Managing all the different personalities and finessing situations to get the deal done comes into play every single day managing Hamptons Glow.”

– Rachel Thompson, Owner, Hamptons Glow

The cutthroat Manhattan real estate business was an amazing course in negotiation and hustle.

Suddenly, mid-daydream, you snap back into a reality: you don’t have any clue how to run a business, right? But maybe you do. Inadvertently, your career is giving you the skills to forge out on your own.

Don’t quit your day job just yet, though – get paid to learn while you work on your side hustle.

What did you do before you were an entrepreneur? Share your story in the comments below.

Feeling Lonely? 5 Ways to Cure the Entrepreneurship Blues

I’m prone to squirreling myself away, binging on Netflix and hunching over DIY or writing projects without coming up for air. Suddenly, I’ll catch myself in a one-sided conversation with the dog. I lean introvert on the personality spectrum, but even introverts get lonely.

There’s plenty of proof that introverts make great entrepreneurs, and it can be assumed, more equipped to thrive in the isolation that comes with the lifestyle. Alone and lonely, however, are two very different things.

Loneliness has recently been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and poor social networks can contribute to a number of other health concerns like obesity. Cabin fever, it seems, is a more worrisome diagnosis than I thought. And, it’s an epidemic: the rate of loneliness has doubled in the past 30 years, with 40% of Americans reporting feeling lonely.

Entrepreneurship’s “dark side” is the psychological toll that can put business owners at higher risk for mental health issues, and loneliness is a slippery slope.

Entrepreneurship can be Lonely

On Monday, I worked from home. I’d tell you it’s my preference – that I’m more productive, less distracted – but the truth is, after more than a day, I miss the energy of others (my dog notwithstanding). Frankly: I get lonely. At home, I don’t benefit from spontaneous group discussion, or connections made at the coffee maker.

“There is a huge difference between being a remote employee and being an entrepreneur or freelancer. Like, night and day difference,” my remote colleague tells me. He’s lived in both worlds.

It’s true – when I work from home, I still have access to Slack chatter, and can hop into regular meetings on Hangouts. There’s a desk waiting for me on the other side. For solopreneurs, the company safety net doesn’t exist and the networks don’t come standard. In both cases, combatting loneliness requires a little proactivity.

Business owners are at higher risk for mental health issues, and loneliness is a slippery slope.

Tom Hanks’ Cast Away character developed systems to connect to the outside world, and established a “social network” – a discarded volleyball with a face – to stay engaged and motivated. Luckily, the deserted Island of Entrepreneurship has more natural resources.

There’s no need to make friends with inanimate objects – beat work-from-home isolation with a few tricks from the entrepreneurs who do it every day:

1. Get Outside

Change the Scenery

For a lot of new small businesses, renting office space can be too costly. But there are happy-medium alternatives to the tiny workspace wedged into the corner of your kitchen: answer emails from a café, rent pay-as-you go hot desks at coworking spaces, or consider pooling together with other entrepreneurs to share a studio.

“I started my business in my basement. I would routinely try to do the laundry, dishes, and my bookkeeping at the same time. It saved me money, but I was wasting so much time that I’d end up working till 1-2am to catch up. Moving into a shared studio space has opened so many doors and helped me make so many new connections. When you work with other like-minded people, especially women, you help each other. You give advice and connect others with new projects, people, and opportunities, and every connection you make strengthens the support behind your own business.” – Sophia Pierro, Owner, Present Day

The new studio also helped Sophia with the lonesome blues:

“I have cats. They help with the isolation but are also super distracting. My new studio is cat-less but I now have studio-mates, which is much better.”
 

Betahouse Co-working Space Barcelona

Co-working space at Betahaus Barcelona

Breathe In

We’ve already told you that fresh air and nature are great for productivity and strategic thinking, but a good dose of green can also alleviate symptoms of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

“If there aren’t built in reasons to move during your day, find excuse to move – for example, instead of eating lunch at your desk, walk to a cafe or sandwich shop.” – Jason Fried and David Heineneier Hansson, via Remote

2. Crowdsource Your Health

Keep Fit (and Social)

Think about it this way: you have the advantage of a very short commute – a slippered shuffle from the bedroom to your home office. Good luck logging 10,000 steps.

As a busy entrepreneur, that extra hour in the day could be put to good use: fulfilling orders, working on a social strategy, answering customer service emails. But it might be an hour better used to keep fit – studies show that fitness improves concentration and enhances creativity, essential attributes of a great entrepreneur.

Studies show that fitness improves concentration and enhances creativity – essential attributes of a great entrepreneur.

Desk yoga is great in a pinch, but a regular fitness commitment can pull double duty as a way to combat isolation. Join a run club, hit the gym, or sign up for group fitness classes – anything that involves other people. The positive impact on your heart and energy is a bonus.

Eat Well, Together

When I work from home, my meals sometimes consist of a spoonful of peanut butter or a tray of oven fries. It’s an easy habit to adopt when you’re busy – putting work needs ahead of your own.

Planning healthy meals can increase productivity, but it can also be social. For accountability, I use apps that help track eating habits, but also connect me with others. MyFitnessPal has a social component, allowing you to share your health goals with a supportive community.

3. Make Time for Face Time

Technology makes it easy to run a business without ever leaving your couch and sweat pants. Kicking it old school with some real face time (nope, not the app), though, keeps your communication skills sharp, and your social health in check.

Teach and Learn

Connect with other entrepreneurs and hone your craft by enrolling in workshops and courses. For more seasoned business owners, pay the knowledge forward by applying to teach.

“Now that we’re sharing a space, we’re putting a whole new plan into action. We’re starting community workshops, classes, and programs that are connecting us even more with our community.” – Sophia Pierro, Owner, Present Day

BrainStation Classroom

A classroom at BrainStation

Move Your Meetings Offline

No need to be lonely when you can squeeze human interaction into your day-to-day business tasks: visit your suppliers in person, deliver local orders by hand, and meet your designer over coffee.

Attend Events

Whether you’re treating yourself to a trip to attend a small business conference abroad, or popping into a local meetup, events are great for not only for learning new tricks of the trade – they’re also replete with other cabin-fevered entrepreneurs looking to connect.

Shopify Retail Tour Event

Networking at Shopify Retail Tour

Grow your professional support network quickly by attending events that have networking built in.

“I take advantage of the fact that I don’t have a long commute or have to get distracted by others around me. When I want to meet people who are also into fashion or online retail, there are plenty of fashion startup round tables here in Portland, so I try to go to as many as I can.” – Sarah Donofrio, The Jet Set

Networking events also offer opportunities to practice your pitch, source investors, and bounce new ideas off seasoned entrepreneurs.

Retail Therapy

Dabble in retail by taking your online business offline: participate in a seasonal market, open a pop-up shop, or rent shelf space in another merchant’s brick and mortar shop.

The Local Branch Pop-Up

Maker Market booth by The Local Branch

4. Stay Connected

Don’t vote yourself off the island just yet. Make some alliances in your industry if you want to survive.

Reach Out Often

Out of sight, as they say. You’re likely not interacting face to face with your business’ stakeholders or customers on the regular, and maybe your assistant is virtual. Be proactive about making online contact regularly.

“Make a point of reaching out to other people. It can be hard sometimes – I’m quick to assume they’re all super busy and I don’t want to bug them with chit chat – but it’s what keeps me connected.” – Stephanie Shanks, Social Support (Remote), Shopify

A more formal approach may work for you as well: schedule time into your calendar to make contact – it’s one of those items that might otherwise be put off forever.

Meeting Friends for Drinks

“Do a weekly hangout with people in your industry.” – Tommy Walker, Editor-in-Chief, Shopify Plus Blog

Join Online Communities

Even if you’re running a business from a small rural community, there are plenty of support resources in forums and groups designed for entrepreneurs:

Can’t find a group that fits your niche or personality? Start one!

“Online small business groups are great for after-hours assistance and feedback with impartial views.” – Melanie Hercus, Founder, The Local Pantry Co.

Make (Real) Friends

“I joined a few local networking groups of people my age, which have been incredibly beneficial for my business. And now I have a whole new group of friends! It’s impossible to run a business fully on your own, so taking the time (even if you don’t have any) to meet others in your community will, without a doubt, help you in the long run.” – Sophia Pierro, Owner, Present Day

But where do you meet friends as an adult? It’s a big, lonely world out there. There are plenty of apps that follow the swipe-right dating model, but are designed for platonic or business connections.

Try these:

  • Vina or Bumble to meet girlfriends with similar interests
  • Wiith for connecting nearby or at events
  • Weave for building business contacts

4. Stay Connected

Vina: how I met Kayla (I’m not a murderer)

Feelings of loneliness can occur because of non-existent social networks. But, they can also impact people with large networks of toxic or low-quality friendships. Surround yourself with people who support your business and your lifestyle.

“I designate time every single day to take a break from it all and connect. Whether it’s with my husband, my family, close friends or fellow moms in some of the Facebook Groups. This is something I learned to do after a year of fully neglecting my relationships (during our founding year). If I don’t, I just can’t focus because I’m browsing through social media all day long, looking to fill that space.” – Josie Elfassy-Isakow, Owner, MagneTree

Surround yourself with people who support your business and your lifestyle.

Expand Your Wolfpack

Offer an internship opportunity to a student or new grad – barter business knowledge and real world experience in exchange for low-cost help and human interaction. Contact local colleges for information on work placement and internship programs in related fields of study.

5. You Do You

Draw the Line

It’s easy, from home, to blur personal time with dedicated working hours, and you may find yourself bailing on girls’ night out to pack boxes or tackle invoices. Establishing office hours, setting deadlines, or scheduling tasks in your Google calendar can help with work/life balance.

Use tools like Trello or RescueTime to keep you on track. Walking a dog or other daily establishing events can also act as work-day markers:

“Coming back from the dog run in the morning is the start of my day, and I have that clear delineation where I will take her out again at lunch and after work. If an order comes in at 10:00 at night, I’ll take care of it if I’m free. But in terms of sitting at my desk, I try to keep regular hours, like 9:00 to 6:00.” – Valentina Rice, Owner, Many Kitchens

Dog

Get a Life

Kaitlin and Ryan Lawless try to save business conversions for after their first coffee. They take respite from their work life by focusing on their relationship over the daily morning ritual.

Allow yourself to step away from the business to focus on hobbies and friends outside of your industry. The effects can actually be good for your business. Studies show that some hobbies can improve communication skills and work ethic, and help you cope with work-related stress.

“In addition to running my store, I also DJ for OPB radio, and being an indie rock radio station, there’s no shortage of characters there. I always have concerts or pub nights to attend, and am surrounded by people who want to talk about music all night.” – Sarah Donofrio, The Jet Set

Think Positive

“Change the mental story you tell yourself. Remember that there are people who care about you; they may just be busy at the moment.” – Elizabeth Bernstein on loneliness, via WSJ

When lonely feelings come knocking, remind yourself of the benefits of working solo. Without the shackles of a cubicle and punch-card, you’re free to make your own hours or work from the road. Take your business with you while you check places off of your travel bucket list.

And remember, sometimes the grass isn’t always greener:

“As an entrepreneur working in the intense pace of Hong Kong, I would revel in the chance to experience some isolation and loneliness.” – Alexis Holm, Squarestreet

Take care of yourself. Your business will thank you.


 

 

Article was originally posted on Shopify

 

Reasons You Should Be Talking About Sourcing Roadtrips for Summertime

Summertime is here, and that means great weather. Great weather here in Southeastern Wisconsin only comes for about 4 months a year, then it gets cold. Really cold. So it’s important for everyone that lives in the Midwest to enjoy every second of it. And that is exactly what I plan on doing next weekend by taking a sourcing road trip.

I just booked my hotel room up in Green Bay, Wisconsin for about $90 for next weekend (July 10th, 2015) until the 11th of July. For the whole ride up there my long life friend, Mike, will be coming with. I plan on showing him how to the whole process so I (and himself) can really make some serious cash. We will be splitting the profits 50/50 and will be doing 50/50 of the work, but I’ll be 100% in charge of the decisions on what to purchase, and what to do. And I’ll be sure to watch him like a hawk so he knows what exactly he is doing.

Sourcing

We will be stopping at about 6 Goodwills on the way up, if time and budget permits. And we’re going to be sourcing for primarily what I sell on Amazon FBA, books and we will keep an eye out for new games for Q4.

Although our main reason for this road trip isn’t sourcing, it’s really to go cliff jumping and enjoy the heck out of summer while it lasts, sourcing played a pretty big role in deciding on Sturgeon Bay as our destination for cliff jumping. I looked up some pictures on Google, and it looks stunning up there! I’ll be sure to take lots and lots of pictures to share!

Tax Deductions

If you have not known that you can deduct 57.5 cents for every mile drive for business related reasons (ex. driving 10 miles both ways to a Goodwill, you can deduct $5.75 from your taxes at the end of 2015.)

Now, you may be wondering if you need a business license to be able to do that. Please, correct me if I am wrong (I work with a student who is going to school to be an accountant and he has some experience working for a tax company,) I asked him, and he said that you do not need one. You just need to keep good records of your receipts to show that you have traveled to the store.

Update on sales, etc are doing

I’ve been doing a lot of sourcing over the past few weeks. I try and get 100 books every week, and then send them out the following Monday. And I’ve been doing pretty good on staying on top of that. One thing I’ve noticed is the more books you have in your inventory, the better your sales are. But that can be used for practically anything.

Books just take a little longer than other items, but there anywhere. So far I have about 450 books in my inventory, and I am selling about 25-35 a week. I plan on hitting over 1000 before the end of summer.

Other than that, I think this wraps up this post! I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated on how the road trip is going!

Are you planning on any road trips this summer? If so, drop a comment below, I’d love to know where you’re going! And if you’re doing any kind of sourcing!!!

How 4 Handmade Goods Store Owners Turned Their Passions Into Profit

Ecommerce has revolutionized how artisans and makers sell their handmade items. It has become increasingly easier for creative DIY entrepreneurs to build and grow a handmade goods business, from scratch, online.

Still, as creatives and makers, it’s easy to forget about the business-side of, well, your business! Merchants that create their own products by hand are much more invested in their product. They pour their heart, soul and energy into each and every item they produce.

Some artisans might not see the business opportunity or the opportunity to make a living or side-income from their passion. While others, see the opportunity to build a real brand from their creations, not just selling one-off products.

I recently had the chance to talk with four handmade goods merchants: Coralie, who sells handmade jewelry at Coralie Reiter Jewelry, Robin, who sells modern leather goods at Fitzy, Sahnda, who sells soft sole baby shoes at Sahnda Marie Kids, and Valerie, who sells leather goods with her husband Geoffrey atWalnut Studiolo. I asked them about their passion, how they turned their passion into an online store, and how they managed the marketing and business side of their company, all while creating their products by hand.

They provided tremendous insight into their businesses so I decided to highlight my favorite answers to my questions and the responses I thought you will get the most value from. You’ll learn what it takes to turn your passion and hobby into a real business, how easy it is to get setup online even if you lack technical experience, and the tools and marketing strategies that worked for these merchants.

1. Tell me about your business and product and how you came up with the idea for it.

coraliescreenshot.jpg

Coralie Reiter Jewelry: I make textile jewelry using cotton thread, cord, rhinestones, natural stones, pearls and beads. It all started when I used a bunch of different colored thread and started wrapping it by hand. From that, I started making necklaces and bracelets. The result was jewelry that’s super colorful and unique. My style is a little bit tribal, and also very modern. I make each piece meticulously by hand.

fitzyscreenshot.jpg

Fitzy: Fitzy is a line of modern handmade leather goods, with a focus on accessories. I use high quality materials and clean minimal designs so that my products stands the test of time. Some of my products include cord organizers, wallets, keychains, bow ties, and fanny packs. Fitzy is all about less but better.

sahndascreenshot.jpg

Sahnda Marie Kids: I began making vegan friendly soft sole baby shoes in late 2013 shortly after the birth of my youngest daughter. I decided to start making baby shoes after I had searched the internet, and couldn’t find anything I really liked. I couldn’t find anything that was both comfortable, and stylish. After researching the internet for different materials I found the perfect organic fabrics for lining the shoes. I loved the idea of my baby’s feet being nestled in soft organic fabrics.

walnutscreenshot.jpg

Walnut Studiolo: Walnut Studiolo is a designer and maker of unique leather goods for bicycles, beer, and more. My husband, Geoff, has always been artistic, but he learned his design skills (and value engineering skills!) at the University of Oregon Architecture School, where he went to college. Leather came naturally to him as a material for its unique combination of flexibility and strength, and from summers spent riding horses on his family’s ranch in Eastern Oregon.

2. How did you get started selling your handmade items online?

Coralie Reiter Jewelry: Years ago I worked at a fine jewelry store in my hometown of Ft. Lauderdale. I used to sell watches and engagement rings and I never enjoyed it because my dream was always to make my own jewelry one day. I finally do make my own jewelry, but for now I use much more simplified materials then gold and diamonds.

I now live in Los Angeles and I started making my handmade jewelry by chance by wrapping thread and a lot of experimenting. I wore my necklace out and women were complimenting my jewelry and asking where I got it, so I knew I had something.

I first started selling online when I opened up an Etsy shop almost three years ago and posted three different styles of necklaces. I remember it being one of the most nerve racking experiences because I had never sold anything I made online, and it felt very personal and scary. Once I started getting orders from all over the US and abroad, I started to gain confidence that I had a product that was unique and customers were responding to it.

I moved onto Shopify because I wanted a site that was both flexible and stylish. I didn’t want to have to deal with learning too much code, but I also wanted customize my site freely. I really love how Shopify has apps that you can download into your template so that you can really get what you want out of your site. It makes it so easy, which I love. With my online shop I can now capture emails (so important), find out where my customers are coming from, have a stronger SEO presence, reach customers through new channels, host contests…etc.

Pay attention to detail and be as organized as possible. If you have an idea for something but can’t afford to do it, figure out a way to do it yourself!

Fitzy: I’m a bit of an accidental business owner. Fitzy started in January 2013 as the result of a 365 project I was doing. After graduating from OCAD University in Toronto with a BFA in Sculpture/Installation, I was looking for ways to keep my practice fresh and stop myself from overthinking. So I decided to make something every single day for a year, and blog about it. After much prompting from friends and family, I decided to start selling some of the things that I was making, and Fitzy was born. You can view the archive of my 365 project at http://robinfitzsimons365.tumblr.com/

Sahnda Marie Kids: I had already been selling handmade handbags before the birth of my daughter. I was selling online, and at craft shows. I had a craft show coming up, and decided to bring my baby shoes instead of my usual handbags. The shoes were a hit so I added them to my Etsy shop after I got home. I already had an Instagram account for my personal photos with about 20 followers. After the craft show people started finding me on Instagram including bloggers. My Instagram following has grown to over 27K since then.

Sahnda shoes

I wanted a professional looking store that I could customize myself. With Shopify the options are endless with the variety of themes and apps. What has impressed me the most has been the amazing customer service. Anytime I email questions to Shopify I get prompt responses with great information.

Walnut Studiolo: It all started in 2009 when trained architect and draftsman Geoffrey Franklin was looking for a way to carry his u-lock on his bicycle. More than once, he had forgotten his lock during his morning bike commute, and grumpily had to skip lunch because he couldn’t take his bike out for lunch without a lock. Uninspired by what he saw in the market, he created a leather u­-lock holster so that his u­lock would always have a place on his bike and he wouldn’t forget it again. His wife Valerie thought the u­lock holster was a great idea and asked if she could put it up on Etsy. Inspired by the classic leather bar wraps seen in old sepia-­toned photos of historic Italian racing bikes, Geoff also designed a series of leather bar wraps, and tested them out on his daily commute. As the Etsy listing started to accumulate sales, we grew from a side gig to a full-­time family business by 2011.

In 2012, when we were both working on the business full-­time, it became clear to us that we needed to “graduate” from Etsy and create a site that allowed us to create our own content and present it the way we wanted to, create a direct connection with our customers, and further our brand. We compared Shopify with other major ecommerce platforms at the time, and Shopify presented the most compelling combination of cost, features, and benefits, with the additional assurance that it was a flexible platform that would allow us to grow with it, and add functionality easily through a large library of apps. For a small business like us, Shopify is perfect for being able to create a professional website at a low cost using commercially available solutions, and yet unlike Etsy, it allows for a wide range of flexibility in branding our site as our own webstore.

3. What do you love about running a handmade business?

Fitzy: The thing that I love the most about running my own handmade business is the amazing community of makers that I’ve met along the way. No one better understands what it’s like to run a handmade business than other people who are doing it too. They’re not only an amazing wealth of information and support, but they’re great to have a beer with too!

I started Fitzy thinking all about the product side of things, and not the business side of things, but now I know that they’re two halves of one whole.

4. How did you source the materials for your products?

Fitzy: I try to source the highest quality materials possible for my products, as locally as possible. I found my suppliers through some trial and error and a lot of Googling.

Walnut Studiolo: We are lucky to live in Portland, Oregon, a city of crafters and makers, and the site of one of a very few independent leather supply stores, Oregon Leather. Oregon Leather is one of only a handful of locations in the country that carries the particular brand of US-­raised, US-­tanned leather that we use.

Leather working

5. How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from?

Coralie Reiter Jewelry: Two months prior to launching my business on Shopify I started a newsletter page announcing my shop launch and sale. I posted about it regularly on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and on postcards to include in any orders that went out prior. Anyone that signed up would get a coupon code emailed to them on launch day. By the time the day came to launch my Shopify site, I had a decent list of emails and the sales came in rather quickly after my email went out.

My first sales on Shopify came from those emails and social media posts. I still have a newsletter signup bar on my Shopify site that links with Mailchimp so that my newsletter list can continue to grow. Periodically I send out shop announcements, sales, coupon codes and any cool event that is going on with my brand. When you have an online business, you really have to get attention from potential customers through as many avenues as possible.

Walnut Studiolo: We initially tested the market with our Etsy store and had our first sales on there. We still do have an Etsy store, but the percentage of Etsy vs Shopify has shifted every year in favor of our Shopify site as our brand gets established. After the launch on Etsy, we got our first big break when we decided to put up a card table at BikePortland.org’s BikeCraft Fair, a local bicycle-­themed craft fair that happens every Christmas season in Portland. That year, 2009, saw a couple great bicycle accessories businesses get their start at BikeCraft.

BikePortland.org, Portland’s major bicycle blog, wrote up a review of the fair and called attention to us as a new business making functional leather bicycle accessories. Because Portland is the country’s most active bicycling city, bike blogs around the world read BikePortland, and the blog posts just continued to stack up, calling attention to us in greater circles, with full credit to BikePortland.org

6. Any major media mentions or PR wins since then? What specifics steps did you take to get them?

Coralie jewelry

Coralie Reiter Jewelry: I researched PR agencies in the beginning and quickly realized how expensive it was. So, I took matters into my own hands. I opened up an Instagram account and I post my products regularly and linked it to my website, and that has been a huge boost. Not only can it generate sales but I was able to reach out to bloggers and gain attention.

I caught a break last year and got featured on a very influential blog, the Oh Joy blog. It was a high point for me because it really started to put my shop on the map. I am so grateful for that opportunity.

Fitzy: I started my business by attending craft shows all over the city, and promoting my online shop through those shows. Currently I use social media, and word of mouth as my primary means of promotion. My first online sales came from customers I met in person at craft shows.

7. How did your sales pickup?

Sahnda Marie Kids: My sales have been steadily increasing mainly by social media exposure, blog reviews, and participating in giveaways.

Walnut Studiolo: Our sales picked up thanks to all these blog posts, friend-­to-­friend referrals, social media, and media mentions. Each successive post introduced more people to us, and we pride ourselves on having great customer service, so we can keep our customers happy. Word of mouth and person-­to-­person referrals are the main reason for our success.

8. What channels are currently generating the most traffic and sales for you?

Coralie Reiter Jewelry: Social media has been a huge help for me. Instagram in particular has been wonderful. Being someone that used to really shy away from it, I now fully embrace it. I think customers like seeing my journey, glimpses of day to day life, or just pretty pictures! A lot are taken with my iPhone but I highly recommend using a DSLR camera and taking professional pictures or learn how to. You can check out my posts @coraliereiter.

Coralie Instagram

Sahnda Marie Kids: I get the most traffic to my site from Instagram, Pinterest and Google. An amazing feature with Shopify is the ability to edit your product titles and descriptions specifically for SEO. If you don’t know about SEO you should definitely research it to help get more exposure from search engines.

9. What are your top recommendations for new store owners? What would you tell other people/artisans looking to start a business selling their handmade goods?

Coralie Reiter Jewelry: As much as it helps to have funding, you can do a lot with very little. Pay attention to detail and be as organized as possible. If you have an idea for something but can’t afford to do it, figure out a way to do it yourself! It will probably take way more time, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Also it’s very important to have a carefully executed website. This is essentially your portfolio to really show off who you are as a brand and all your products in a professional way.

I highly recommend to other artisans out there to open up an Instagram account and be consistent with it. This is your chance to be seen, drive traffic to your website, and market yourself to people around the world. And sure, a lot of it might seem pointless, but its worth it if you catch the eye of potential customers or retailers. Also, a good amount of peers in your industry will be your audience and this is a great way to inspire and support each other.

Fitzy: My number one tip for all new store owners would be to build a great networks of biz buddies, like minded individuals who you can bounce ideas off of, answer questions, share resources, and vice versa.

Braided leather

Sahnda Marie Kids: As for people looking to start a handmade business I’d tell them to make sure that you really, really want this. Running a successful handmade business is not a quick easy way to make money. It’s really hard, it takes a long time, a lot of work, and it will not make you rich, but it’s also amazing. I love what I do, even when I don’t.

When starting a new business I would recommend creating a product and business model that hasn’t been done yet. Nobody is reinventing the wheel at this point, but it’s a matter of using your creativity to create something that is truly different, and unique. Basically don’t try to base your business off something that is already in existence. Next, have a professional looking website, be very active on social media, and plan ahead for the possibility of your product gaining quick popularity. If this should happen you’ll want to be able to accommodate the demand. Just because you start off small doesn’t mean you should think small. Think big, and others will think the same of your business.

Your creativity is was what drove you to sell handmade products in the first place, and when you use that creativity your audience will be excited about what you’ve created.

Walnut Studiolo: Invest in great photography. Use a talented photographer who can tell the story of a product being used, not just a documentation of it.

Leather bag

Learn as much as you can about SEO, even if it’s not interesting, because there are a lot of untrustworthy companies hawking SEO services these days. You need to know enough to be able to articulate what you need. Google is way smarter than you about this, so you will not be able to “trick” your way up the list. The best way to improve your SEO without investing in special consultants is to just keep your head to the ground and do what you do best by creating genuine and useful content. Google is always rewriting the rules to reward people making genuine content, and to weed out people making SEO fake­ content. Build it well, ­write blog posts that your customers will be interested in, create product descriptions that will sell your products well, and work with relevant blogs and media to promote your product ­and the SEO will come.

10. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Fitzy: Not learning about the business side of things right away. As a maker who never took a business class in her life, I started Fitzy thinking all about the product side of things, and not the business side of things, but now I know that they’re two halves of one whole.

Workshop

I totally underestimated just how much work the business side of things would be. I thought that if I made beautiful products they’d practically sell themselves. Boy was I wrong. I know now that it takes a lot of work to drive qualified traffic to your site, it’s not something that happens overnight.

Sahnda Marie Kids: My biggest mistake was not being prepared for the demand of my product. I looked at my business as something small, but when popularity hit I wasn’t able to keep up, and people actually got upset when they couldn’t order. Anytime you have to pause your business you lose crucial momentum. So plan ahead for this possibility.

11. What are some of the challenges of a handmade good business that you’ve had to overcome?

Coralie Reiter Jewelry: I believe I have two challenges with a handmade good business. One, is competing with bigger brands and two, is being viewed as a respected designer good and not just a crafted good. Competing with larger, mass produced brands making similar products in my category will always be a challenge to overcome. They have the ability to distribute so vastly and discount their products so much that it sets a huge amount of pressure to do the same. For now, I am a one woman operation, so I have learned to really focus on my brand and educate my demographic on the specialness of buying handmade. I hope that more consumers will choose to shop at small handmade goods businesses more often in the near future.

Walnut Studiolo: The only thing really different about a handmade business and another business is that we have a whole other universe to worry about: production. The bad thing about that is, we have so much more work to do, so many more man­-hours to put in. If we get a big order, we have some limitations to our ability to scale, and if we need to scale up, we have to hire and train somebody. The good thing about that is, we are able to keep our business simple and in­control, and keep a lean inventory. We don’t accidentally over­invest in products and then have big sales to get rid of them. We can make what’s needed, when it’s needed. And this small batch, lean system, means that we’ve been able to work out of our house for the past 5 1/2 years. We have a very small footprint, both physically and environmentally, and a short supply chain.

12. What are some tools/resources you recommend to other handmade good merchants looking to sell online?

Fitzy: My go to online business resources are blogs. My favourite handmade business blogs includeDream Job Shop, Hands and Hustle, While She Naps, and Design Sponge’s: Life and Business Series. While not about handmade business specifically, the Shopify blog is also a must read.

As a handmade business owner it’s especially important to be active on social media. It allows customers to see the maker, the story, and the process behind the product, which is a big part of what they’re paying for when they shop handmade. My social media channel of choice is Instagram, and I like to use two other apps with it, to make my life easier. The first one is Latergramme, which allows you to schedule your Instagram posts in advance from either your desktop or phone. The second is IFTTT. I use it to automatically post my Instagrams as native Twitter pictures. IFTTT runs tiny little programs on your phone, like the one I just mentioned, that help make your life more efficient.

Sahnda Marie Kids: Some of the most useful information I found when I started was through different handmade community message boards as well as researching the internet. One of the biggest hang ups I hear so much about is the fear of shipping. I would recommend getting your own scale and printing your postage from home.

Tools of the trade

I personally love Shipstation and highly recommend it. You can even print international shipping. Another possible source of useful information can sometimes come by way of simply asking another shop owner. Although some may be reluctant, others may give information freely. It’s worth asking though.

My best advice to anyone looking to create and sell handmade goods is to find your own voice. If you’re going to create a similar product to what’s already out there, make it your own. Be a first class you rather than a second class of somebody else. Your creativity is was what drove you to sell handmade products in the first place, and when you use that creativity your audience will be excited about what you’ve created.

Conclusion

Now it’s your chance to turn your passion into profit. The one thing I noticed from these handmade goods merchants is that they all encountered challenges in their businesses, and they all made mistakes. They weren’t business experts or extremely technically savvy people at the outset. Yet, they persevered and succeeded to create a business around their ability to create something amazing with their hands.

If you’re a maker that wants to start a business or you just want to start a business, let me know in the comments below. Tell me all the things, fears and barriers that are holding you back from that next step. If you know someone talented that needs to be monetizing their passion, share this blog post with them.