We all have dreams in life, some grander than others but nevertheless, we all have dreams. My dream, ever since I could remember has been to own my own business. This idea, excuse me, dream, has taken many shapes over the past years, from an event planning business to creating a luxury soap line. However, one thing has remained a constant, the dream of "owning MY OWN business". Crazy thing is, I NEVER dreamed it would be a bracelet business!
So you may wonder, how did this all come to fruition? Did I wake up one morning with the winning idea? Did I invest a lot of money? Did I struggle? What were my challenges? Was I afraid? Many questions come to mind when talking to an entrepreneur who has gained some measure of success. I decided to present you with a few Q&A's about my business and how it came to be. This will be a three part blog so check back soon for parts II and III. If you have more questions, PLEASE, leave them in the comment section below and I will be sure to response.
Where did this idea, "Expressions Bracelets" come from?
It started as a hobby, something that I wanted to do to create fabulous accessories for myself at a reasonable cost. A month later, I created Autism bracelets for myself and a few family members and they were a huge success at a walk we did for my niece, Autism Speaks. After that, my fiance (boyfriend at the time) asked me to create some bracelets for his team for Christmas gifts. He was my FIRST paying customer! After that, he encouraged me to start selling them. I borrowed $3K from a friend (her contribution, was my start up money and first investment in my business) and started my company, Expressions Bracelets.
What was your biggest challenge, initially?
Photographing the pieces! This was and has been a continuing issue. Getting the right lighting, editing the photos, positioning the pieces, removing the glare and the list goes on!
How did you decide where and how to sell your line?
I wish I could remember who first told me about Etsy (so I could give credit where credit is due), but I can't. But Etsy was my launch pad and only selling platform for the first year. I did my research and read the Seller Guide on Etsy and I also compared other site similar to Etsy to see which was the better starting point. After a few days I decided on Etsy and listed my first few items on Jan 28, 2012.
Did Etsy work out for you?
As the old saying goes, 'I can show you better than I can tell you', below is the actual screen shot of my first year on Etsy.
That number 'Revenue' refers to the actual amount of money deposited into your account AFTER seller fees and shipping cost.
Did you sell anything else on Etsy?
At the time, I had five online stores in the year 2012, but the above picture is ONLY for the bracelets site. On that site, I only sold bracelets. I had four other stores, Diamond Diva, Bottom Baby Cakes, Sasha Pear 929 and Designs of Expressions, collectively selling about $25K in the year 2012.
How did you market your product?
The first two years, I did not pay for any advertising, marketing or PR. I used Social Media to push my product. I created a Facebook Page and that was my sole marketing strategy for the first year. Word of Mouth was a byproduct of people wearing my items and telling their friends and family about the line which increased sells tremendously. By year two, I had an Instagram Page, Twitter Page and Pinterest Account. In the past two months I did decide to try Facebook Ads, which really work in growing your audience.
One thing I did pay attention to, which I believe helped my business grow was, presentation. With each new product listing, Etsy Banner, Facebook Cover or business card, I learned how to polish my presentation so that the look of the brand speaks for itself. Presentation is VERY important.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to start an online business?
- KNOW YOURSELF: Being an entrepreneur sounds great, but actually BEING an entrepreneur is another story entirely. It takes a lot of time, tons of unpaid hours, sleepless nights, willingness to forego fun, relaxation and down time. Initially YOU will be EVERYTHING for the business, CEO, CFO, Marketing, Customer Service, Shipping and Receiving, Web Designer, Researcher and depending on what your business is, potentially, Photographer, Model, Designer, etc. Know whether or not you are really ready to commit yourself to this type of work. Hard work pays off, but it take time before it does.
- KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY: Do your research, Do your research, Do your research! Find out who your competitors are, research the industry's history and what innovations are on the horizon that may change how this industry looks, and how much time and financial investment you will have to make in your business.
- KNOW YOUR CRAFT: Within each industry, there are a number of things you can do. For example, with jewelry design you can design bracelets, necklaces, earrings or watches. If you choose necklaces, then you have to decide which TYPE of necklaces you want to design. There are a number of steps you need to go through to decide what works best for you. Be sure to either take classes, watch instructional videos, read books, magazine and/or blogs on your craft. Don't try to do it all, FOCUS ON ONE THING FIRST, until you master it, then you can incorporate other items.
- KNOW YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION: Everyone can't quit their day job and dive head first into a business. I didn't have a choice, I was laid off. Regardless, know whether or not you have to room to take the financial hit of a start up business. Every start up story is different, but don't quit a great paying job to chase after your dreams unless you are willing to lose everything for this business. Not every business succeeds, truth is, most don't, so be ready for the possibility of failure.
- KNOW YOUR COMMUNITY: One of the most important tools you have, for any business, is NETWORKING. Know who you have in your community of friends, family members, business and personal associates. These are the people that may be able to help you in a number of ways with your business. Something as simple as sitting down with a small business owner for an informal, informational conversation, could go a long way.
There are so many things to cover with how I started my business and the advice I would offer to others. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Follow the blog to receive updates on blog posts. In the next blog in this series, I will answer questions about how to use social media to grow your business and tips on free marketing.