I had a dream of having a store that sold products from Samoa. Products made by Samoans and products that support Samoan causes. I didn’t have any qualifications in business. I had taken a small business management short course but other than that I was like a fish out of water in the business sphere. As a writer I had written strategic plans for associations and water utilities and had even written over 20 business plans. None of this had equipped me for what it would be like to own and run a business.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was hard work and I was ready to put in my blood, sweat and tears to see my dream become a reality. I just didn’t realise it would be a constant drain on my body, emotions and mind. I made it through and now I have an online store that continues to grow. Here are 10 things that I have learned in my first year that should help any budding entrepreneur wanting to open an online store.
Market research is your number one tool to success. How are you going to know what products will sell if you don’t know who you are selling to and what it is they want in a product. Without this market research, you won’t even know who you are competing with and if there is a market for the actual products that you are selling. Market research tells you the how, who, what, where and when of your business idea. From there you can figure out if your idea is viable or if you need to tweak it a little so that it becomes viable.
Many say that a business plan is the key to the success of your business. This is true if you use it. If you don’t, it is just another document in a pile of papers on your desk. A business plan centers on the marketing of your business. Costs are calculated on how much or how little your marketing will be for certain products. It will also determine what marketing events you will hold over a period of time. This includes social media posts, blogs, sales, markets, brochures as well as advertisements. As a writer we are told to write the marketing plan first to flesh out exactly what is needed in terms of budget and resources. So even if you don’t have a business plan, which I suggest you do get, at least as a minimum have a marketing plan in place!
3.Pay Attention to the Money
I was a bit of a fia poto (smarty pants) when I began my business and I chose clothes that I liked and thought were pretty. I didn’t pay as much attention to the price of each unit and as a result I blew my budget. Not only did I blow my budget but I had to charge a price that did not fit in with my target market. Because of the higher prices, the dresses didn’t sell easily and I had to reduce the prices so much to clear them and as a result of that, I had lost thousands of dollars. Don’t get so caught up with what you think will sell and what the latest fashion is that you lose sight of the money side of things. As a rule of thumb you should always be able to purchase a single unit and sell it at a price that will cover all your expenses. If you can’t do this then you may need a different product, supplier or change your target market altogether!
One of my biggest flaws as a writer is that I would rather stay at home and read a book than to go out and meet new people. As a business person I had to take leaps and bounds outside of my comfort zone and meet new people. I don’t mean like once a month. I mean meet new people at least once a week. I was very lucky that my local municipality had regular business workshops and networking events for me to attend. It wasn’t my favourite thing in the world, but I did it because I had to. One thing that I did find useful is to pick networking events where you know you will find people in your industry. For example if your business requires you to import goods from overseas it would be beneficial to get to know people in the import sector. If you are involved in making clothing perhaps you could volunteer your time to teach a basic sewing class or attend craft groups or similar groups. Networking is also a place where you can talk about your business with other people who are going through similar issues in their own business and who can help you find a solution or suggest a person they trust to help with your issue.
5.Don’t be Afraid to be Different
I had to start doing market stalls to get my store out into the public. It was a little disheartening at first because I saw all the same candles and soaps and make-up stalls at the markets I attended and they always seemed to have lots of customers at their booths. It felt like I should be doing what they were doing in order to be successful. That was completely wrong. I didn’t make sales at those markets because my target market was not there. Sometimes even when you do find the areas where your target market is they still won’t buy your products. My point is that you don’t always know what your customer is thinking or going through which could result in you not making a sale. That does not mean that you should feel like you are any less successful. If you have done your market research and you are marketing to the right people, they will find you at a time that suits them. So, don’t be afraid to be different!
6.Have an Elevator Pitch
You need to be able to tell someone who you are and what your business is all about in the time span it takes to ride an elevator from one floor to another. This is the elevator pitch. Write it down and practice it on your friends and your family. When you are faced with an opportunity to speak about your business, you don’t need to fumble over what you will say. It is there in your mind and will come out naturally. Take notes on what works and what doesn’t work and keep making adjustments until you find the winning pitch. You may also need to have a pitch for different people. So a supplier pitch is going to be different to a pitch made to a customer.
7.Get on Social Media
At first, I found out the hard way that websites can cost a lot to build and maintain. Not only do you need to pay for rentals, there are domain names, shopping cart fees, and even emails. But overtime, global business innovation has kicked in and now we have great platforms like WordPress and Wix which are fantastic for starting basic websites. They also have great design templates to choose from. If you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of capital, you can also start selling on social media. It is free and you are open to a world of customers. I would recommend getting something like PayPal, so you can still accept credit card purchases. I know if I could re-do my store I would start off with social media.
8.Research Your Competitors
We research our competitors to see what they are doing so that we can do it differently. We don’t want to do the same as our competitor. We want to find out where they are lacking be it in prices, product range or even customer service and then aim to do it differently but better.
9.Pay attention to trends
In my case, fashion is forever changing but the same rule applies for any business. You need to pay attention to the trends but also be true to who you are. A trend that is very important to pay attention for many products particularly in fashion is the season. In order to research this, watch when department stores begin to introduce their winter clothing and their summer clothing. This will give you an idea of when you should be ordering your various collections and when you should start having clearance sales to make room for the new. I had to be sure to include the changes in fashion trends as well as seasonal trends in my Marketing Plan. Whatever your business, know what trends you need to look out for that are of interest to your business.
10.Have Thick Skin
My store specialises in Samoan clothing and other products. One day at a market I was left on the verge of tears by a customer who was upset that the t-shirt he wanted didn’t come in his size. He then went on to make his remarks personal by stating that my store is not for Samoans but for Chinese people because I had sold out of the 3XL in the style he wanted. Here I was trying my best to help Samoan businesses and yet the same people I am trying to help were treating me as if I am nothing. This is going to happen in any business so don’t take it personally. You are not going to please everyone. If you provide quality products with excellent customer service then you have done your job. Take on the constructive criticisms that will help you to improve your products and services and leave the rest behind.
Morwenna Petaia is the owner of ‘Measina Treasures of Samoa.’ Check out her own online website measinasamoa.com.au
Story published in SUGA Magazine Print Edition 2016