Every July, there is a huge gathering called The Haven Conference that I look forward to every year. It’s packed with practical courses and hands-on tutorials, as well as plenty of time to network with brands and fellow bloggers. I was a bit bummed that this year’s event was canceled due to Coronavirus, however the Haven Team did a fabulous job of pivoting the event into a virtual webinar experience.
This year, I had the opportunity to speak as a course presenter along with three of my friends about our Blogging Side Hustles, which are sources of income apart from our blogs. As many of you know, I got started as an entrepreneur by opening an online shop called Ellison Made. I not have two online e-commerce sites, one vendor booth as I also sell my handmade goods wholesale to other retailers nationwide. So today, I’m going to give a brief rundown if you’ve ever thought about opening a small shop, but you’re not sure where to start.
The chances are you have already have an idea of what you want to sell, but if you don’t, I’d recommend honing in on your passion whether it be fashion, home decor, health & wellness or something else. It’s no secret that I love all things home decor & DIY so that’s the lane I stay in. Once you know what your niche is, you have to decide if you want to make your own products or purchase products already made at a discounted rate. But first, let’s discuss a few different types of product categories:
What type of product do you want to sell?
- Handmade – The are products that are hand made by you and that you sell directly to the consumer. Some examples of handmade products include: small batch candles, chunky knit throws or screen-printed pillow covers.
- Thrifted – These are items that you found or purchased second-hand with the intention to re-sell, sometimes you sell the item as-is if it’s vintage and worth more than what you got it for and other times you refurbish and renew an outdated piece. Some examples of thrifted products include: a vintage rattan shelf, collectible baseball cards or a painted & reupholstered footstool.
- Digital – These are items that can be sold digitally via a downloadable link. Whether you paint on canvas, then scan and upload your art or you’re a calligrapher who creates designs on a tablet, this category is great because there is low overhead cost of inventory and supplies. Some examples of digital products include: printable art, stock photography and e-books.
- Wholesale – These are ready-made products that you purchase at wholesale prices to sell at retail cost. This is the basic model of most stores, even big stores like Target and TJ Maxx. Companies like these have buyers who purchase items at a discounted rate (sometimes they have their own manufacturers to cut cost) and sell to you at 2-10x the cost. In order to purchase items at wholesale, check your local state laws, usually you need a Resale Certificate and/or a Tax ID to qualify for exemption. Since you are not the end consumer, you do not have to pay taxes when purchasing wholesale because it is ultimately paid by the customer at their time of purchase. You can find almost anything at wholesale, you just need to find the right supplier which is half the battle when owning a small shop. I’ve spent years finding a few companies whose products align with my brand. Since I’m in the home decor niche, I scour the exhibitor’s list for the America’s Mart Atlanta Home & Gift Market and when I find a company whose products look like a fit, I reach out to them. Also, as a small business myself, I love to support other small businesses by purchasing wholesale from them directly via social media or you can register on sites like Faire and Tundra cater to makers and small business owners.
Selling Your Products Online
If you’re just getting started, I recommend trying an online storefront before committing to any of the in-store options in the next portion of this blog. This will give you an idea if owning a small shop is for you.
- Etsy – Etsy is the first place I sold my handmade signs and painted pillows. It’s so easy to start, but keep in mind you can only sell handmade products, vintage items (must be at least 20+ years old) or craft supplies. Etsy prides itself on offering original and artisan items. Joining is free, and if you use this link to start your own online shop, you’ll get 50 free listings. Fees = $0.20 per listing, 5% transaction fee & 3% processing fee.
- Ebay – Ebay is the world’s online marketplace; a place for buyers and sellers to come together and trade almost anything! If you want to sell on Ebay, you can choose to accept only bids on the item or to offer the Buy It Now option, which allows buyers to purchase the item right away at a fixed price. Fees = You pay an insertion fee to list an item on eBay. If the item sells, you also pay a final value fee. The cost of selling an item is the total of these two fees, which varies.
- Amazon Handmade – Amazon Handmade is another great handmade market. Joining is free, but there is a 15% referral fee for each transaction.
- Shopify – Anything that’s legal to sell online. Shopify is a complete e-commerce website so you own your own domain and web shop. Monthly packages vary from $29-$299 per month, plus additional transaction fees. The beauty of having your own website is that you can sell almost anything that legal to sell online and create your own brand aesthetic.
- WooCommerce – WooCommerce is an E-Commerce plug-in for WordPress. Since I wanted to have a high-quality blog for DIYs and blog posts like this one, I knew I had to find something other than Shopify so last year I launched my WordPress Blog and WooCommerce Shop. Similar to Shopify, I’m able to custom create my online shop however I want, but there is a learning curve for designing your own website. WooCommerce has a transaction fee of 2.9% + $0.30, but you also pay to host your domain and WordPress website.
- Facebook Marketplace – Facebook Marketplace is one of my favorite ways to make a little money on the side. While there is no online shop storefront, you’re able to list items easily and quickly. You can sell almost anything, but to get a quick sale, make sure you provide as much information as possible and take quality staged photos. That always helps!
My Top Tips For Selling Online
- Social Media Presence – Today’s word-of-mouth travels faster with social media. Before you even launch an online shop, I highly recommend also starting a business Facebook page, Instagram page and even Pinterest account. Social media is free to use and has untapped potential for marketing your online shop.
- Professional Photos & Aesthetic – Since your customers are not stepping foot into your store, you will need to make sure you take high quality photos of your products and create a beautiful brand aesthetic on whatever e-commerce platform you use. Your website should be clean, easy to navigate and you should strive for 2-4 photos of each product listing. Ideally, you’d have at least a main image (centered and focused), a staged and styled photo showing the product in use and an up-close shot showing greater detail.
- Be Descriptive – Your customer cannot pick up to feel and see the product you are selling so I highly suggest offering as much detail in your descriptions as possible. This informs the customer whether the item will be a good fit for them and it also cuts back on time you will spend answering questions that haven’t been addressed. Some important details to mention: dimensions, color or custom options, refund policy, turnaround time, etc.
- Customer Service – When you visit a customer service desk in-store, you’re usually greeted by a kind, smiling representative who does all that they can to ensure a smooth experience whether you’re making a purchase, requesting a refund, asking a question or voicing a comment. It should be the same for the online buying experience. Communication and kindness are key!
Selling Your Products In-Store
Whether your products are selling like hot-cakes online or maybe you just don’t want to deal with the fuss of packing & shipping, here are some options on where to sell if you’re thinking about dipping your feet into the world of brick & mortar shops.
- Craft Shows – Craft shows are a great opportunity to make a lot of money in a little amount of time. Typically you would pay a flat fee to reserve your booth or table and then you would set-up your space a few hours before the market begins. You really want to do your research before signing up for any fair because they are not all created equal. The event should be marketed well and have a track record of high foot traffic. The last thing you want to do is spend money on a space and not make any sales. It’s a lot of work to set up and tear down, but if you select the right show, the potential for income is huge. Craft fairs vary greatly depending on the event, some are as cheap as free and some of the larger ones are thousands of dollars, but on average, I’d say cost is between $100-$300. Bring cash for change & your digital credit card processor, I like Paypal and Square devices that plug straight into your phone for transactions.
- Booth Rental – If you found success at a craft fair and want a longer term option to call your own, consider renting space at a vendor “mall”. These are usually independently owned businesses (although I rent space inside a store called Painted Tree Marketplace which has multiple locations nationwide) made up of multiple booths. Most of the time they are antique malls, however more and more are turning into artisan booths. With a booth rental, you have the opportunity to create a true brick and mortar space that reflects your brand’s aesthetic. I recommend looking into various store displays and visual merchandising techniques to get people to step in and shop. As for cost, there’s usually a monthly fee and sometimes a small commission as well.
- Consignment Shops – Usually with consignment shops, there aren’t any monthly fees, however you only make money when a product sells and expect to only receive about 40-60% of the commission, the rest goes to the consignment shop. I’ve only done consignment a few times and it was only for larger items that I “flipped”.
- Brick & Mortar Stores – You can open your own brick & mortar store, but it requires a LOT of work, so before diving in head first, I recommend the above methods as well as selling your own handmade goods at wholesale to other small mom and pop shops. I only recommend this option if you are able to make a decent profit from selling at wholesale cost. For example, I can sell my canvas banners and pillow covers at wholesale (I require a minimum purchase of $200 to make it worth the labor), however I cannot sell my signs at retail at this point because I would not make much money to sell less than what I do at retail. The best way to find small shops is from searching on social media and visiting locally owned stores.
My Top Tips For Selling In-Store
All of my tips for selling online, apply to selling in person, too, but these are just a few more steps you can take to boost in-person sales.
- Visual Merchandising – Whether you’re doing a one-time craft show or you’re renting a booth space to sell your goods, you want your “storefront” to have a wow factor that makes people want to step inside and see what you’re offering. This is done by creating a display strategy that reflects your brand using height, color, product groupings, product signage and more. Here are some really great tips to review.
- Rotate Products – If you’re a repeat vendor at a craft fair if you have a booth year-round in a store, make sure to rotate out your merchandise for the seasons and holidays. Customers who have purchased from you in the past may just walk by you if they don’t see anything new and fresh in your space. Even if you have a lot of the same inventory, giving it a little refresh will entice shoppers.
How To Market Your Shop Successfully
- Branding – After coming up with a name for your business, you’ll want to get to work right away on a brand package. These are things like brand colors, fonts, logos, website design, etc. that are cohesive and reflective of your aesthetic. This should convey to packaging, shipping and marketing materials as well.
- Quality – Pay close attention to the quality of your products before they end up in a customer’s home. If you make your own products, you are up close and person and know if they are any flaws that need to be fixed or touched up. If you purchase your products wholesale, inspect them first to make sure they are up to your standard. I’ve received goods in the past with flaws that I’ve had to return to the supplier. And you may have noticed, I don’t do drop shipping. It’s just a personal preference.
- Customer Service – Other than a fair price point and quality product, customer service is what will keep people coming back. You can never be too kind, too understand or too quick to respond. (On the response note, once I was raising three kids from home, I had to make it clear to customers to please allow 24 hours before receiving a reply. I always want to be as upfront as possible so they know what to expect.)
- Authenticity – If you purchase products at wholesale, you usually don’t have to worry about this, but if your items are handmade, I would just encourage you to be as creative and original as possible – don’t copy others’ designs. You can be inspired without imitating another’s work.
- Promotion – Incentivize your customer’s with sales, promotional codes, affiliate programs, giveaways and more. Make sure you follow by the social media platform rules when hosting a giveaway. Utilize social media, influencer collaborations and even consider sending a “thank you” postcard in every package. I do and I include a 10% coupon code for any future purchases!
When I started Ellison Made in 2014, I was on maternity leave and due to return to my full-time healthcare career, but I so badly wanted to stay home and raise my girls so I took some money I had saved and invested it into craft supplies, secondhand tools and starting making and selling handmade signs and pillows. It has NOT been easy, but it HAS been 100% worth it. If you are looking for a way to make an income from home, there are opportunities out there for you! For me, it was opening a shop, but for my 3 friends who spoke at our Blogging Side Hustles presentation, it was e-designing for Kera, it was real estate investing for Jenn and it was home staging for Yuni. These ladies are other success stories of taking their passion and turning it into a profit and there’s something out there for you, too!