Mar 6, 2023 | Starting a Business

How can I turn my hand-made items into a real business?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
I don’t think of myself as a business owner, but I do sell some hand-made items online. I would like to explore if I can turn this into a business. I have no idea how to do that. What do you recommend?
–Kara

If you have ever sold an item to someone who wasn’t a friend or a family member, then you already are a business owner. All you really need to have in order to start a business is contact information and a way of taking payment.

Secure a Way of Collecting Payment
Collecting payment is a lot easier than it used to be. You no longer need a credit card provider – you can just use an app like PayPal, Stripe, CashApp, Zelle, or Venmo. If you haven’t already committed to one of these as a primary means of accepting payment, then take some time to verify that your most likely customers are willing to pay via such an app. As with insisting on cash, insisting on a specific app may limit the customers who will purchase your offering.

Create a Web Presence
Whatever you choose to do to promote your products, you will need a place to display them. There are a lot of ways of creating a web presence. The least expensive method is to build a free web page on your own, using a free website builder such as: Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy, or Google Sites. When you build a free site, you don’t have a lot of control over site design, selling tools, or your domain name (the URL that people type into the web browser to find your site). On the plus side, you can get your site up quickly, and you will be able to make changes yourself, which is important when you are first beginning to sell.

Consider Using a Selling Partner
If you will need to sell physical products through the website and then ship them to customers, then you need an “ecommerce website.” The website programming and logistics of ecommerce are actually fairly complicated. Fortunately, there are several companies that partner with small businesses to provide a full suite of ecommerce services. These include eBay Seller Hub, Etsy Sellers, Amazon Seller, and Squarespace ecommerce. Offerings such as these are turnkey – you can get your store up in a matter of days (or even hours) – and you don’t need to develop a lot of new technology skills.

Promote Your Product
It doesn’t matter how awesome your product is if nobody knows about it. You will need to develop a strategy for getting the word out about your offerings. This might be networking and word-of-mouth, or it might be formal advertising. Even if you go with a selling partner, you will still need to do your own promotion. There are tens of thousands of products on most partner sites, so you are unlikely to jump to the top of the list immediately. It can be a real challenge to get your marketing engine started, so expect this to be a place where you will have to invest a lot of time and energy.

Make a Financial Plan
When we work with entrepreneurs, we encourage them to build a financial forecast that looks forward three full years. Building the plan helps them to understand what they are looking for from each of their vendors and where they are taking the biggest risks. You don’t need to look that far out, but at least try to make a financial plan for the next 3-6 months. You can’t avoid every unpleasant surprise, but you can head off some challenges with planning.

If your business takes off quickly, don’t forget to save some of your income for taxes. It’s no fun to get to the end of the year and realize that you owe a big check to the IRS. Running a business is serious stuff, but don’t forget to enjoy the ride and have some fun. People who love entrepreneurship expect some bumps, but they also love solving problems and figuring things out themselves. If you have a resilient personality, you are in for a great adventure.

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