How to Make Money From Home with an Online Shop
I know so many moms who want to start a business from home, but have no idea where to start. An online shop, free-lance writing, selling their homemade goods. Many of them sign up with an MLM, then find the market is already saturated with that company, and their confidence falls apart along with their budding business.
First, let me say, I am NOT knocking multi-level marketing companies (now called direct sales). My husband sells for one! Most offer quality products. Compared to starting some businesses from the ground-up, the risk is much lower with many of them, depending on the level of initial investment and amount of “stock” kept in the consultant’s possession demanded by the company. There are many advantages to selling these types of products, but there are also disadvantages. It depends on the type of business you want and kind of personality you have!
This post covers the strategies that have worked in building my own businesses. They are all my own companies, but there is no reason these strategies couldn’t work for direct sales also—you just may have to be more creative in distinguishing yourself as a seller, rather than the product alone.
Getting Started with My Online Shop
I started my first jewelry crafting business last year. I was fortunate to have worked out an on-demand product in a niche market: breastmilk jewelry. You can read more about my individual story in this guest post I wrote for Mrs. Savvy Saver.
I quickly found that, even though people were loving what I had to offer, my reach, marketing, style, and overall brand were much more important than creating new designs (the fun part for me).
Through trial and error, these were the things that improved my sales, and with a little luck, I hope very much will help yours too!
***This post contains affiliate links. Any purchases made from clicking on these links will help support this blog by providing a tiny commission for every purchase (at no extra cost to you). I always recommend products that I have personally tried or plan to try. All opinions remain my own. Thank you!
Choosing the Right Platform
Platform is very important. It is the proverbial “brick and mortar” to your online store. Choosing one that is right for your product and skill level can have a dramatic impact on success.
If your goods are handmade? Etsy is your jam. It is already coded for good Google search results and you have a better chance of being found. Yes, it is a densely flooded market, but so is the entire internet. Stand out with your designs or products, style, and other avenues. Just make sure you follow their rules, and always have at least active listings of 20-25 products. Etsy wants to see you’re serious, so the more you list, the higher you move up in their search algorithm.
EBay or Etsy is good for vintage.
Ebay is good for the same reasons as Etsy in SEO results, but it’s better for selling limited edition items, lower-price-than-retail-items, and odds and ends. Amazon is moving up in this realm too, but frankly, I haven’t sold on these platforms, so I can’t give you all that much advice on them.
If you want to start your OWN shop? I highly recommend using WIX. This platform is super user friendly, the websites load quickly, adjustments are easy to make with drag-and-drop features, and the SEO is easy to adjust for search engine listings.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization. This baby is what tells search engines your stuff is important, that it’s what people are LOOKING for. In Wix and Etsy (the two platforms with which I am most familiar) there are input areas for SEO and backlings.
Back-links are like “votes” from users. When someone stays on your page or even clicks on it, the back-links confirm to the search engine’s algorithm that your product is what the user want to see (and other users like them).
Always use every SEO word and back-link word allowed to you! It increases your chances of showing up in search results! Etsy allows 13 back-links (towards the bottom of the listing page) and WIX/Etsy title listings allow 200 characters for SEO (this is the “title” area of your Etsy listing and the “SEO” tabs for your general website’s dashboard AND your individual website pages (in the real-time editor).
Use words that both, describe WHAT your product is and WHO might like your product. This will help you get found by the right audience, not just a high number of people.
Photos Are Everything
Since your potential customers can’t feel the fabric, hold the chain, try on the ring, or taste your blended teas, your photos have to engage their senses as much as possible! Use lighting, focus, and background to make your product appealing and elegant. Think about the surrounding area, and when you are editing, try to only crop, straighten, and edit lighting. You want the product to be appealing, but not give false impressions.
Which of these look better? Which of these do you want to buy?
I use a variety of “background” pieces to achieve the texture and style meant to be conveyed in my photos. Scrapbook sheets, scarves, old books, and blooming flowers, these things represent my shop’s style. What’s your style? What kind of person are you wanting to attract to your shop?
For lighting, you could invest in a lightbox, but I’ve always hated them. They make my products look sterile and factory-made, not lovingly handmade, so a bright window with these aforementioned backgrounds are my signature. Figure out your style, and make sure all of your photos are recognizable, even without your watermark.
Also, watermark EVERY photo you take. If your product photos gets put on a different website, make sure people can find you! This also prevents other sellers from stealing your photos and claiming them as their own. I have literally found one of my photos on another artist’s listings after she cropped my brand name off the bottom of the picture. Put your brand or name in an inconvenient place, so this doesn’t happen to you.
I use PicMonkey: crazy-awesome photo editing for all of my editing and watermarking needs. They offer a free trial version, but I like all of the texts and specs in the full version 🙂
Packaging is also just as important as the product. Remember: your customers want an experience, not just the product—especially if they are buying something handmade. It doesn’t have to be crazy-expensive, just visually appealing. For example: if you are selling an herbal room spray? Stick to pretty bottles with watercolor labels or maybe a little charm and ribbon around the neck, not dark amber with no label. Make sure your products you produce are something you’d personally like to buy!
Brush Up Your Storytelling
Just like your photos, your product descriptions should be sumptuous. Channel your inner Margaret Atwood or George RR Martin and write the fire out of your descriptions! Talk in detail about the materials used. Talk about what inspired you to create your product or design. Make your potential customers go on a little journey with your product to appeal to their emotional investment—plus it’s fun!
Style Is Important
Creating a brand goes beyond just an emblem and name. Tie up your exquisite product descriptions, photos, and packaging with a nice shop banner (keep it bright), shop story, labels, and business cards.
Yes, these things take investment, but your first few (possibly many) sales should go to expansion anyway. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Otherwise, you’ll always have the “if I would have tried harder, I would have done better” voice in your head. For these things, I personally use Vistaprint. They always have coupon codes available (just use a search engine before you order, but most of the time, they offer codes right on their website).
Designing is easy, and if you make your own design, they have an easy up-loader for everything including labels and business cards.
This is an idea I got from Mary Jane Butters in her MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook: For the Farmgirl in All of Us. She discusses the virtues of selling an idea and quality product together, which is why most people will pay more for handmade and personalized items than factory items.
Fan art, keepsakes, fairy tales, books, in-season, limited edition, organic, fair-trade, free-range, home-spun: all of these words, and ideas they represent, add value to products. They’re set apart as being “better” because, in many cases, they are, but also because they offer an emotional story attached to the product (fair wages for workers, wearable keepsakes) or makes sure people know that the quality of your product is high and responsible.
How can your product or business help other people?
I started working in keepsake jewelry, because I felt a great deal of catharsis and enjoyment from being able to hold a tangible piece of memory literally close to my heart. Others saw my work and requested that I make it for them. Out of convenience for both them and myself, I started my store.
Sure, I advertised quite a bit, and worked very hard to grow my businesses (still working hard to get Enchanted Fleurs up and running being so new), but the primary focus is on the customer and delivering to them the emotions that I feel when wearing my own keepsake jewelry.
My point is “value-added” distinguishes you, makes you work smarter, and gives the customer a more enjoyable experience. Think about your product and how you could add value. Do you grow fresh, organic herbs yourself? Do you source fair-trade linen or organic cotton? Do you up-cycle things to save them from the dump? Even if you just add a photograph your workstation to your shop page, you’re showing people that: 1. you’re not a scam and 2. involving them in your beginning-to-end story of their purchase.
Even if you’re not “outdoorsy,” I highly recommend this book to any entrepreneurial woman who is looking to get started. This book tells the story of this amazing woman who went from: first female park ranger in the United States, to single mother, to organic farmer, to Bed and Breakfast owner, to owner of a million dollar farming and authorship empire. This book contains things like recipes, gardening advice, and sewing advice, but it also shows you how the idea of value-added and attention to detail can drastically change a business. One of my favorite non-fiction books!
Free advertisment is always nice. If you pin your product to Pinterest, and it goes viral, that’s awesome! Personally, I’ve had better luck with paid advertisements. They’re not terribly expensive, and if people like your product, they might share it, which creates a further “organic” reach (which is still free).
All social media makes this possible, but you know where I’ve had the most luck with paid advertisement? Facebook and Google AdWords Express.
With Facebook, when you share your product link, your business page will display your initial “organic reach.” Choose one of your highest reaching products and “boost” the post for $15. Make sure to adjust the audience to your demographic! In my case, Enchanted Fleurs Keepsake Jewelry is going to appeal the most to brides, moms, pet owners, and newlyweds, so I set them as my parameters in the audience. Then, sit back and watch how it performs!
You’ll be able to adjust the analytics and learn what your “Facebook Audience” likes. At the very least, they may follow your page!
Google AdWords Express is great if you are highly niched and are not on Etsy or Ebay shop (those are already built into the algorithm for search engines and offer “ads” of their own). If you have a WIX store (or other independent platform) this will perform wonders for your traffic and sales (at least it did for me). The user interface is fairly simple to use, just make sure to adjust your search phrases after a few weeks (the “click box” toward the bottom of your ad manager.
Obviously, you need social media accounts for any business. Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are my favorites, but use the ones with which you are most comfortable and start with any new ones, one at a time! Talk about other things besides your products (for example: I post wedding blogs and GIF threads on my EnchantedFleurs Facebook Page and post my garden flowers and behind-the-scenes photos on Instagram).
These interactions will be your most loyal fan bases. The people who will share your business with their friends, so keep them in mind. Ask them questions, talk about related topics that aren’t your products, and show them your workshop-side of things.
This is also the best place to hold giveaways.
My favorite is “answer [insert question] and invite/tag a friend you think might be interested in my page” giveaway. Those usually perform well, and it gives you a chance to talk to people about random things.
Invest to Grow
This one is difficult, but so important! When you make those first sales, you want to use that money for groceries, or that new Dooney & Bourke Beauty and the Beast Wallet you’ve been eye-balling, but resist! Keep a separate bank account for your business. This will make filing taxes easier and give you a clearer picture of your overhead and income. I like using PayPal (their 1% cash back on everything debit card is pretty sweet).
Always channel some of your income to new development or advertisement, that way you’ll keep growing!
I hope these tips get your creative juices flowing! You may find different focuses that help your own business, but I hope some of these ideas point you in the right direction. It feels strange writing about these things! I am no expert and do not have a business degree. This was all learned through trial-and-error, so don’t feel like you shouldn’t start just because it wasn’t what you “thought you’d be doing one day.” Good luck! Do you have any tips I should add to this list?