Being your own boss can be fun but it will not be successful without a lot of hard work and a few late nights thrown in! This guide is to help you get off to a flying start whether you sell at online auctions, social media, online selling channels, party plan, market stall or shop and to make your business a profitable one!
Online businesses and mail order - Presentation is key - good photographs and well written descriptions are a must as it gives the buyer more confidence that you are a professional person. Photographing on the back of a door or on the floor is not recommended. We started out using a low cost painted board and good lighting but there are low cost lighting tents and boxes you can buy easily online. Invest in a low-cost half Mannequin . This gives life to your clothes and makes them look more appealing. Invest in some photographic editing software such as Adobe or one of the free online tools. There are lots of great low cost books and free online tutorials on how to edit your images.
Items put together as an outfit or bundled together sell much better and for a higher price than single items - this is how the big catalogues do it as most people are unsure how to put things together or dress or what colours / styles go together. Display with products that compliment them either by colour, accessories, theme or season. Why not present items as a gift set in a gift box or as a hamper. Offer a choose your own gift set service. Maybe offer some form of personalisation of products. Set up a relationship with a local embroidery company and offer personalised items or you can add bespoke gift tags or labels to gift boxes.
Do your research - check out the latest trends, key words, colours and use them in your marketing. Make your next shopping trip a market research exercise. How much do items cost and what is selling well now. What do you see people wearing - research different age groups. What age range, type of customer, products are you going to sell.What is appearing in fashion & interior magazines. What new film releases are coming up that could influence customers?
Who is your competition? Try and find an edge over them - what do you or could you do differently? It could be as simple as offering gift wrapping or how you display or market your product. Don't be afraid to ask your customers opinion. It will make them feel valued and foster loyalty.
Don't panic if there are other people selling the same products as you. Look at different ways to promote, bundle or present them. Remember you are selling a service, an idea and not just a product.
Quality check all items on a regular basis especially packaging, zippers and buttons. Take time to fold clothing when packaging and if they are a more expensive item take a tip from the posh boutiques and buy some inexpensive tissue paper to wrap them in. Use good packaging - we use poly self seal bags - saves time, damage in transit and looks professional. If you have a boutique/ shop buy plain bags in white or buff paper and tie the handles with ribbon and add a few sheets of tissue paper. This is simple and low cost.
If you are selling hand crafted or bespoke items use your own images and designs - do not be tempted to copy as it is illegal and could up costing you more time and money in the long run. Always factor in an hourly rate ( at least the min wage) your petrol, expenses etc when setting a price for your products - don't undersell. If you create your own unique designs, spend time on quality photography and good marketing you will be able to make a profit. Simple clean designs often look more expensive than over embellished ones. Don't skimp on quality - its better to use fewer products but better quality ie a gift basket with 6 quality items rather than 10 poorer quality lines. Create a small range of repeatable designs and then charge a premium for bespoke/custom designs. For all custom designs you should take a non refundable deposit for the cost of the materials as a minimum. Check with Trading Standards if any of your handmade products need to have CE or other safety testing. This can be done cheaply and easily so don't be daunted by this - it will be more costly in the long run if you are prosecuted for selling unsafe products.
Remember Copy write laws when you are marketing your products - you can not use known brand names of products if it is an item you have created or bundled ie you make a nappy cake and use a famous retail brands products and then use their name in the title. You can list the items in the contents but you can not use their brand name in a way that could infer the finished product was created by them. You can not even say it has been inspired by blah blah brand name!
If you are including food products in your offering remember you may need food handling certificates if the food is taken out of its sealed packaging.All food items need to be clearly labelled for allergy advise and there should be a clear use by date.
Do special promotions in the middle of a month when sales are naturally slower and think of ways to foster customer loyalty and keep their interest.When communicating via mailing lists or social media don't always be selling products. You need to build you brand and offer your customers relevant content - how to tutorials, sharing interesting articles relevant to your target market etc
As your business grows keep records and receipts for everything!!!!! It will help with your tax returns and stock checking and save you time and be less stressful in the long run.
If you are doing Party Plan or any other mobile selling keep them small at the beginning as they can be surprisingly stressful even with friends! Put a sample of each item out on hangers and travel clothes rail and label them clearly with price, size and colour. If selling gifts ensure that the samples are out of the packaging but keep the box with the item so they can see the packaging. People don't like to ask about price especially if they are on a limited budget!
Make sure you have enough stock but don't over invest. Nearly all your profits in the early days needs to be re-invested in stock to keep the business growing. If you want to have a £1000 turnover you need at least £750 of stock (1.5 months) This way you have no low stock points and it keeps your stock looking fresh.
Try and stick to a budget and keep some cash in reserve. Don't be too tempted by 30 day accounts. If you have a slow month you will still have to pay for the stock at the end of the month. Credit cards are a much better way to purchase as you can choose how much want to pay off. If you have a great month you can pay off more and buy more stock. We have seem many small businesses fail within the first few months as they take in too much stock before they know what sells and the suppliers need paying before the stock has sold.
If a line is slow - take a step back and think about why. Is it the picture, description or the way you have displayed it or just simply the weather! If you have a shop or website keep moving the stock around and try to display it with complimentary products. If you get fed up with it mark it up at just above cost and sell it through and buy some more stock with the proceeds!
Brainstorm all the ways you can promote and sell your goods, website, online auctions, toddler groups, coffee mornings, party plan, open house days, fund raising fashion shows etc. Getting other people to do parties for you and paying them commission is another great way to sell more. There are loads of cheap and effective ways to advertise - village magazines, nursery notice boards, leaflets and don't forget word of mouth. It is very easy to drop into conversation subtly. You could try and get to know the local journalist and get some free editorials.
Keep records from the start - think big and then you will find it easier when your business grows. Buy an accounts book, use a simple excel spreadsheet or you can buy inexpensive software. Remember to account for everything - packaging, tape, petrol, phone calls to suppliers, heating and lighting used for your business, paper, printer ink, wear and tear on your car. It all helps reduce you tax liability should your business take off
Last but not least! If at first you don't succeed keep trying!!! Keep experimenting and changing the way you do things and keep your buyers interested.
Best of Luck!,