In these tough economic times, lots of stay-at-home wives and moms (and even some working wives and moms) out there are thinking up ways they can make a little extra income from home. Whether it’s selling handcrafted items on eBay or Etsy, opening up a home photography studio, or even jumping into web design, there are tons of seemingly easy startup options out there. But easy startup doesn’t always translate into a successful business. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned over the years about making a home startup business work.
This is where it all begins. You have this hobby that you love, and you’re really good at it. So good, in fact, that lots of your friends have told you that you really need to start selling your stuff! You could use a little extra money (who couldn’t these days!), so you think, “Why not? Let’s do it!” Now the question becomes, is it a business or a hobby? Hobbies can be done when you have the time and inclination, and put aside when you don’t. Businesses require lots of hard work, planning, and long-term consistency. If you want it to be your business and not just a hobby, then you need to start thinking business. Succeeding at starting and running your own business has a lot to do with how you think about and treat your craft and your business. Be serious about what you do, and invest time and serious consideration in the following points:
Plan Plan Plan!
Successful businesses don’t happen by accident; they are the product of careful forethought and planning. Starting up may seem obvious: create saleable item, sell item on eBay or Etsy; but what comes after the obvious? Think big: determine your long-term goals for your business. If you create handmade jewelry, maybe your long-term goal is to generate enough income from your jewelry to be able to quit your office job, or maybe the goal is to open your own bead and custom jewelry shop in town. Once you’ve determined your long-term goal, write out some short term goals that will help your business head in the general direction of your long-term goal. They could be as simple as “Sell x amount of jewelry this month.” Keep your goals realistic and attainable, but make them challenging. The idea is to get your business to stretch and grow. Once you have goals in mind, make a list of concrete actions you can take to achieve those goals. If your goal is to increase sales, a possible course of action could be to invest in advertising to get the word out about your product. Take time to regularly reexamine your goals and the actions you’re taking to achieve your goals. If you’re reaching your goals too easily, maybe it’s time to set higher goals. If you’re consistently falling short of your goals, take a look at the actions you’re taking to reach those goals–maybe there are other courses of action that would work better. Or maybe your goals are set unrealistically high, and you need to develop a set of goals that are more attainable. Setting goals and creating plans of attack will help you make sure your business is moving in the direction you want it to.
Know Your Stuff
Spend time researching the market you’re thinking of starting your business in. Find out what the going rate is for the service or product you’re planning on offering. Pay close attention to the quality of the service/product being given for that going rate, and make sure that your service/product can compete. If the business you want to get into is an established industry, like photography or graphic/web design, being educated in your field is especially important. While formal schooling in these areas can be gotten around, you need to educate yourself on not only the skills involved in your trade, but also on industry standards and practices. If you want to compete with professionals who may (or may not) have had formal schooling, you need to respect the industry as a whole in both your pricing and your practices. Underpricing may get you sales/jobs, but it also undermines the very industry you are deriving income from (and it will make you generally unpopular with others in your field). The goal is to offer prices that are a good value to your customers/clients, but that are still in keeping with your market. Make sure that the quality of your work and the practices you follow live up to existing industry standards. Jumping into business without knowing your stuff would be like Cinderella showing up for the ball in rags–not the impression you want to make!
Show Me the Money
There’s some truth to the old adage, “It takes money to make money.” Sure, you already had the yarn, knitting needles and the eBay account needed to start selling your super cool hand-made scarves, but there are other things to consider in the growth and longevity of your business, and some of those things will cost money. As you start making money, set aside a portion–even if it’s only a small amount at first–to reinvest in your business. Make a list of things you need in order to stay in business (things your business can’t exist without, like supplies, equipment, seller’s fees, etc.), and then make a separate list of things that are non-essential but will help you achieve your business goals (like advertising, classes and workshops, and branding materials). Prioritize each list, then put part of your set-aside money towards the necessities, and save the rest for your “growth fund.” So when your Etsy shop really takes off, you’ll have money to put towards opening up an online shop of your own–making you independent of Etsy, and saving you money in the long run! If you require more resources up front than your fledgling business can afford at first, talk to your bank to see if you can qualify for a small business loan (be sure to research the best rates, and if you end up getting the loan, be sure that you’re regularly setting aside some of your business’ income to pay back into the loan).
Develop Your Craft
A big key to staying on top in markets that are beginning to flood with other women who had the same thought you did when you decided to start your own business, is developing your craft. Always keep an eye on what others in your market are doing, what people are buying, the direction the trends are going, etc. While you don’t want to become too focused on your competitors (it’s your business, you need to do your own thing), you do want to make sure your products/services are moving with the times. Try to set aside time on a regular basis to brainstorm new and innovative ways to keep your products fresh and your services relevant. Your hand-knit scarves are doing great; maybe it’s time to add matching knit hats and mittens to your repertoire. If you’re a service-based business, think about adding adding additional services that compliment your existing ones; or maybe you need to discontinue one service and devote more resources to another service that is in higher demand. Basically, you want to make sure your business isn’t stagnating. Keep moving forward!
Share Your Experience
Are you a small business owner? Whether you just started your business last week, or you’ve been in business for years, I’d love to hear some of the things you’ve learned that have helped your business succeed. Leave a comment and share your experiences!