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When I started my online business I wasn't sure that I could run a business without a business degree. I laugh now at how innocent I was and I want to share my top tips and techniques to first create a business and then build it online.
I’m Christina Lowry, a jeweller and photographer. I created an online jewellery business, Christina Lowry Designs, when my first son was just a toddler and worked from home for several years. I started my online business after completing a bachelor of fine arts visual arts at Griffith University and working for ten years in the jewellery industry. I studied photography and gold and silversmithing as part of my degree and decided to pursue a jewellery apprenticeship upon completing my degree.
In my business, I handmade collections of gold and silver jewellery in my workshop, as well as taking custom orders. Recently I closed my online store for this business as it was generating more work that I could manage since I took on the opportunity of home-schooling our three children, which I love. Looking for greater flexibility, I followed my passion down a different avenue that emerged out of that business and now I run Christina Lowry Photography. I work with small businesses to create beautiful product photography for their websites, advertising and social media. This grew out of my initial business after creating several photoshoots for my jewellery collections and having other business owners contact me for the photographer’s details. I have been able to apply the knowledge gained from my retail years and online business experience into this new business
Find your ‘why’
There is a saying that not every great baker should open a bakery. Is it a hobby or a potential business? Businesses are hard work. You need passion and commitment to even start a business, let alone maintain one through the ups and downs. So before we start discussing how to start a business you need to find your why. You’ll hear this all the time. ‘Find your why’. And that why may even change over time. Why do you want to start a business? Do you want to work from home in your pjs? Do you want to take control of your career? Are you looking for a way to contribute to the finances while raising children? Are you looking for pocket money in retirement? Do you make something that you want to sell? Do you want to help people? Help the environment? Knowing your why helps answer the questions that will follow. The why is not just about money.
If your why is because you want to earn over $100,000 a year while travelling the world, your business model will look very different to that of someone whose why is to follow a passion in retirement.
My why is that I want to get paid for doing what I love. I need a creative outlet that is flexible enough to fit with my lifestyle, I want to contribute to the family finances while staying at home and homeschooling my children, I want to follow my photography passion and use my skills and knowledge to work with other small businesses to up-level their brands. I’d like you to take to write down your why. Maybe next time you are sitting with a cuppa try explaining to yourself why you want to do what you want to do.
What’s your product?
Every business sells something. Product is the starting point of business. What is your product? A product can tangible, physical, expertise, virtual. Like online bookkeeping, stylist, business coach. Can you create a viable business around it? If your why is to support your family with your business, how much money do you need to make each year? If your product is hand carved wooden spoons, can you carve enough spoons a year to reach your goal? Or can you supplement that income by selling spoon carving kits and teaching workshops? Your product needs to fill a gap in the market. It needs to be useful to the client. A bag they can carry their groceries in, a wedding ring, a light shade for their lounge room, a candle as a gift for a loved one. So once you have decided on your product, it’s time to think about the client. Some clients will buy a $2 wooden spoon, some will buy a $60 hand carved wooden spoon, you need to find the right clients.
A note on pricing…
As a rule retail price is twice your wholesale price. To be a business and not a hobby you need to make a profit. Too many businesses start by charging too low, then worry when they lose customers once they adjust their prices. Start where you need to be. Being the cheapest is not a great strategy long term. Be the best. People pay more for great products and great service. For instance, Australian handmade businesses cannot compete on price alone with products coming from countries overseas with a lower cost of living. But we can compete on quality, design, innovation and customer service.
In terms of pricing, keep in mind that jewellery has up to a 300% mark up while stationary can be a lot less. Perceived value, cost of stock, insurance, overheads; there is a lot to take into account. But this rule of thumb is a great place to start.
Materials + labour x 2 = wholesale
Wholesale x 2 = retail
Even if you aren’t yet selling wholesale, you need to price accordingly for growth. When you are approached to sell in a bricks and mortar store you can do so. (Don’t be scared to lose clients by putting your price up. Educate them on why the price is the way it is. Your tools, experience, skill, aesthetic, customer service, overheads etc.)
Find your market
Once you have a product you need to find your market. Who are you selling to? You can have a great product, but if the people who need your product can’t find it, you won’t have a business. If your product is nappies, you need pregnant women and mothers to see you. If your product is silk ties, you want businessmen and women to see you. So, a nappy advertisement in the magazine on a first class flight would miss its mark. Silk ties in a mother and baby magazine is missing its mark too. You want to define your audience and then find where they are, what they are reading, what they are looking at. Who is your audience? I can guarantee it isn’t ‘everyone’. Is it you? People like you? Male or female? Age range? Are they buying for themselves or as gifts? This is going to affect the way you write about your product. There are a lot of exercises online about finding your ‘ideal client’. It may be a customer you already have. It might be an imaginary dream client. You can look at your current followers to research further. Knowing who they are gives you the tone on how to talk to them.
Tip: Your budget is not their budget. This was a great piece of advice I got early on. I have never spent over $1000 online on a product I have never seen, but I have made $1000 plus sales in my online shop. Don’t underprice because it feels expensive to you. Something is only expensive if you can’t afford it. Other people can afford it.
My ideal customer for Christina Lowry Designs jewellery was a female, 25 and over, university educated, working in a creative field like graphic design, who doesn’t buy mass produced items, is eco-conscious and prefers shopping online with small businesses.
Next, what is a brand?
Do you need a brand? I want you to think about some big, recognisable businesses. Big businesses have spent a lot of money on marketing and research and we can learn a lot from them that we can apply to our own businesses. Think of McDonalds. The golden arches. Red and Yellow. A fast, inexpensive, family-friendly restaurant. They never go off brand. Think of Tiffany’s jewellery. That duck egg blue box. Luxury Diamond jewellery. Their brand is simple and memorable. Your brand is everything about your business – your name, your logo, the colours you use, your tone of voice. Have you seen ‘who gives a crap’ toilet paper? Their tone is humorous, from the wrapping around their toilet rolls to the toilet humour in their emails. But they are also eco-conscious and installing toilets in third world countries.
What is your name? Logo? Colours? Copy Tone?
My brand for Christina Lowry Designs was black and white, clean and minimalist, my images had a creative and slightly vintage feel. My logo was cohesive across all my packaging. My tone was personable.
On to the second part – building an online business.
Once you have your why, your product, your market and your brand you can start building your actual online website. Please, don’t even start until you have these things or it will be random rather than cohesive.
It’s not an online business without a website, and there are many platform providers out there these days. Your decision will depend upon your product, market and brand. From my experience, I love Squarespace for their websites, portfolios, blogs etc, and Shopify for an online storefront. You may want to sell on Etsy, Madeit on another online platform. This may work great for you. In my experience, even if you sell on one of these platforms you still need your own website to be sending your traffic too. Online marketplaces can close, or shut your account without warning. When people shop on Etsy you have more chance of losing a sale than if they shop directly on your website.
Even without much experience, you can create a great website using the templates Squarespace and Shopify provide. Or, support another small business and hire a graphic designer to create your logo, brand and website with you.
Once you have your name, claim your website and get an ABN. You can’t run a business if you aren’t buying your materials at wholesale. Research any other relevant legal issues pertaining to your business – eg, if you sell food or baby items. I don’t give legal advice. There are lots of government sites online that you can find out about things like registering your business, when you need to register for GST etc.
A mailing list!
It’s a must. It is easier to sell to a past client than to find a new one. Keep them up to date with what it happening behind the scenes, with promotions and product launches. Don’t be scared to email them. They love your business and they want to know about you and stay up to date. If you lose some subscribers don’t worry, they weren’t going to buy off you anyway. Most people use an opt-in to get subscribers. Be careful that your opt-in is attracting the right subscribers. If you do a giveaway of your product to drum up mailing list subscribers, you may just end up with subscribers who are after freebies and never buy.
Social Media is a must in today’s day and age, but you don’t have to do it all. By knowing your market and researching where they are spending time, you will know whether you should be targeting Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube or a blog. Pick one or two and do them well. You can’t and don’t need to do them all. You will have the most success with the one you enjoy spending time on the most.
As a visual person I love Instagram and I love curating my feed, writing captions and creating conversations in this space. I tick the box in IG that posts the same post to Facebook, which gives me a facebook feed for my business with minimal fuss. I love Instagram and I could talk all day about it. But a few tips for Instagram.
Only post your best pictures. If you only have a crappy picture don’t post it. Can you imagine Tiffany’s posting a crappy photo?
Be genuine. Leave genuine comments and always answer comments.
Use hashtags and locations
Write a list of content ideas, batch shoot and edit them and have them ready in an app like Mosaico
Don’t use bots to gain fake followers
‘Like for like’ and ‘follow for follow’ are the saddest sayings on the net - again, 100 genuine followers are better than 1,000 fake followers
Keep it maintained
So, once that is all in place you are done, right? You have created a business. You created an online storefront and you can sell to the world. Well, like a garden, it is never done. Your online store needs constant maintenance. But just chip away at it. One thing a day for your business = 365 things in a year.
Show up, set goals, embrace rejection as another step closer to a yes.