So you're thinking about starting a business and right now, the idea of selling your product online is probably equal parts scary and exciting. In case we haven't met, I'm Michelle - chief maker at The Graceful Goose.
At this point I've started 4 product-based businesses (2 of them are still active and thriving) and I'm working on launching a 5th business in early 2020.
I've had tons of practice figuring out what to do (and what not to do) to get a business off the ground that not only helps me meet my financial goals, but also works with my lifestyle.
As a mama of two, I don't have a ton of time to waste (and I'm betting you don't either), so for me, figuring out how to keep things quick and easy (while still making money) is key.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned from opening and running so many businesses is how important it is to make sure you're building something that not only fills your bank account, but also supports your lifestyle goals. Otherwise you're likely to end up with a business you hate working on (or one that's constantly in conflict with the rest of your day-to-day life.)
I've taken everything I've learned and boiled it down into 6 key questions you need to ask yourself BEFORE you start selling your product so you can make sure you're building a business you love (and recognize the warning signs if you aren't.)
Question #1: How much time do you have each week to put into your business?
Understanding how much time and energy you can realistically put into building your business is crucial and it's really, really important that you're honest with yourself. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have work 22 hours a day, 7 days a week to be successful.
You do, however, need to know upfront how much time you can put in so that you pick a product path that works with your lifestyle.
For example, I have about 2 hours a day, max, to focus on my businesses. That means I can't sell a crazy complicated, handmade product unless I only plan to sell 1 a day. And if I only sell 1 day, it's going to have to be priced at a serious premium if I'm going to make enough money doing.
That scenario isn't impossible; but imagine if I tried to sell a $30 item that takes me 4 hours to make and I can only work 2 hours a day. I could have an incredible marketing strategy, sell 100 of them (which amounts to $3,000 in revenue) and then not be able to fulfill the orders in any reasonable amount of time. Not a great customer service experience and a stressful lifestyle for me.
So for your own sanity, really think through what's possible for you BEFORE you decide what to sell or how you're going to make it. That way you can make smart decisions that set you up for a business that works for you, not against you.
Quesion #2: Are you hoping to add a new line of income (a side hustle) or do you want your product-based business to bring in a full time income?
This one goes hand-in-hand with question number 1 and there's really no wrong answer. Be honest about how much you need to make so you can work backwards to get yourself there. If you know you need a full time income of at least $60,000, then you can divide that by your product price to figure out how many products you'll need to sell a year. Divide that number by 52 to see how many you'd need to make a week. Is that realistic given the number of hours you plan to work? If not, this is the time to make adjustments to your strategy.
If all you need or want is a side hustle, then even if you have 8 hours a day available to work on your business, you'll likely want to cut that down to 3-4 actual working hours. Otherwise you could set yourself up to make a side hustle income on full time hours.
If you want to work full time but don't need a full time income, that's totally fine, but I'm guessing you'd rather bring home part-time money with part-time hours so you can spend the rest doing fun stuff or catching up on laundry, I know I would. Point being, think about your income and lifestyle needs now and avoid a lot of headaches later.
Question #3: Do you have the skills to make the product yourself or will you need to find a factory or production partner right off the bat?
No right or wrong answer here either. If you have the ability to make your product, go ahead and time yourself. Does the amount of time it takes you to make one item, work with the income and time goals you set? If not, can you invest in some training to increase your speed or would it make more sense to find a factory or professional to help you produce your product?
If you don't have the skills to make it or if it's something that can't be made by hand, does it need to be made in the USA or can you reach out to global factories? Is print on demand an option? Using a POD (print on demand) company can be especially helpful if you're tight on time. And if you aren't sure what a POD is - essentially it's a company that carries blank stock (think white blanks, pillowcases, blank t-shirts in assorted colors) and they "print" your designs onto an item of your choosing, then they pack and ship it directly to your customer.
It's a great option if you're looking to be a one person show, don't have money to invest in getting a product made in a factory or have no clue where to start. But you're limited by whatever product options the POD company carries so there's that to consider.
Question #4: How much money can you invest in getting the business off the ground?
Of the 4 businesses I've started so far, one cost about $1,000 to get off the ground, one cost me nothing maybe $50 and the rest cost around $100. You could easily spend much, much more if you want to go the factory route and have something produced to your exact specifications.
Depending on how much you can (or want to) invest, you'll have different options for how you get your business off the ground.
Personally, I prefer starting with a lean budget unless I've thoroughly validated a product idea and / or pre-sold it. A lower budget means less risk if your initial idea needs to be tweaked and it usually means you don't end up sitting on a ton of inventory, waiting for sales to flow in.
Quesion #5: Are there certain days of the week you DON'T want to be working
Are you willing to work weekends? Do you prefer weeknights to days? Keep in mind your ideal schedule when you're deciding WHERE to sell your product. Craft fairs typically take place on weekends and they sometimes require travel if you live outside a big a city. Same with opening your own physical store - someone will need to be there on the weekends when foot traffic is the highest. It could be you or it could be you'll need to hire staff to help you which is an added expense and something you need to build into your pricing structure.
If you're selling online only you have a lot more flexibility but I would still encourage you to set expectations on when you're available to answer customer questions. This is mostly for your own sanity but customers also appreciate knowing when to expect a response from you.
Question #6: Do you prefer to be around people all day or are you more of a homebody?
If you thrive on the energy of other people than working from home on a purely online business might not be a great fit unless you have other social outlets during the week. And on the opposite side, if being around people makes you anxious or exhausted, you'll likely want to build a business that allows you to be a one-person solo act and most likely, that'll mean selling online or selling wholesale to a retailer.
There are always exceptions but it's helpful to think through what you need to feel productive and happy, that way you can set your business up in a way that supports those needs instead of competing with them.
Phew, if you made it this far you are light years ahead of most business owners who dream of selling their own product.
Thinking about it is easy. Getting started is the hard part and now that you've thought through what you need and what you can realistically give, you've put yourself in a position to build a business you love. One that supports your goals and doesn't compete with them.
It's doesn't get much more exciting than that :)
I'm Michelle and I can't wait to help you build the product-based business of your dreams.