The Treasured turned one in November 2016 and right around that time I considered shutting it down completely. I knew launching an online shop wouldn't be easy but I didn't realise just quite how time consuming and costly it can be. Here are five things you should know before opening your own online shop...
1. There are so many options for how to create your shop, but none are free.
Any online shop needs a platform to sell from. Even if you use a web development company, they're likely to utilise an existing e-commerce platforms because it just wouldn't be cost effective for them to develop one from scratch. From Shopify to Squarespace, Wix to Big Cartel, there are so many options.
Many of these come with free trials or free basic options, but when it comes down to it in order to run a good online shop you're going to have to pay for the features you need. You'll need a platform that allows for enough products, allows for shipping options based on weight or cost, discount codes and allows you to build an email marketing database. Aside from making things easier for you, these are the kind of features than will make shopping easier and more enjoyable for your customers and that's the most important thing. Whilst it doesn't cover all of them, this comparison guide is a handy starting place to see which might suit you best.
2. Filling your shop with beautiful things takes time and money.
If you've got to the point where you're thinking of opening an online shop, you probably already have an idea of what you want to sell. Whether it's something you've made yourself or something you're purchasing from another company, it will take time to develop your collections and money to either purchase them wholesale or create them yourself.
If you're purchasing wholesale, take into consideration VAT (where relevant), shipping costs and other expenses vs the recommended retail price (RRP). If you're creating them yourself all of these things still apply, it's just a case of replacing the wholesale cost with the cost of supplies and the cost of time for producing the products. Don't undersell yourself. The Design Trust has a brilliant guide on cost price, trade price and wholesale price. This is particularly useful if you want to sell your things wholesale to other shops at some point, which I would recommend.
Once you've got your products sorted, it's time to photograph them and upload them to your online shop, bearing in mind SEO at every step. Do not underestimate how long this will take...
3. Just because your shop is open doesn't mean people will find it.
The world wide web is pretty huge. Who knew?! Unless you're a genius that has come up with a super duper new product that doesn't exist elsewhere it's going to take a lot of effort to stand out.
What makes The Treasured unique is that everything is designed or made in the UK in small batches. You aren't going to find hundreds of other people with the same thing and you aren't going to have to search though millions of Etsy listings to find it. However, I'm one girl living in Yorkshire trying to create a brand using the savings I can keep from ploughing into my house. (Yep, I'm the girl that thought launching a business and renovating a house at the same time was a good idea...) Getting the word out about my brand is hard. I work in digital marketing during the day, so SEO and social media advertising aren't new to me, but that knowledge and experience is not always enough. Be prepared to put in the hours and the money to invest in paid for digital advertising.
When I first started a lot of people to said, "well you'll work with bloggers won't you," like this was a quick, easy and free solution. I love working with bloggers but sadly I don't get to do it anywhere near as often as I'd like to. I don't have an endless budget for samples and sponsored posts. Bloggers aren't always the answer either. Whilst working with bloggers has raised awareness of my brand, to date it's only led to three sales and two of those were from the bloggers themselves who were wonderful enough to treat themselves after receiving samples. (Ladies, I love you for this.)
4. Even if they do, they might not buy anything.
Just because someone discovers your online shop doesn't mean they're your target customer. It might not be their style or the price might not be right, either because they can't afford it or because they don't see the value in your products. This is hard to come to terms with at first and is something that hit me hard at local craft markets.
At the last one I did just before Christmas one of the other stall holders looked at the price tag on a cushion and turned up her nose. "£30?! Well that's expensive isn't it." Not only was it beautiful, it was handmade using a fabric designed by the creator and represented hours of work and British craftsmanship. I took it to heart at first, worrying that I'd chosen the wrong things. Then I reminded myself that it was just that she wasn't my customer and that craft market, whilst busy with people, wasn't busy with my customers.
Get to know who your customer is early on. What do they look like? Where do they hang out? Do they have a family? What do they wear? What does their house look like? What other brands do they like? Think about this whenever you make a decision, including focusing your advertising efforts on finding them...
6. If they're kind enough to part with their hard earned cash, it's pretty amazing.
Christmas saved The Treasured in 2016. When I was dithering about calling it a day, all of these wonderful customers came out of the woodwork. Rather than just complimenting my products, they were purchasing them. It meant the world to me and made me decide to give it another year.
Things have slowed down since and this shop is not going to make me my fortune as it stands but I love it. Every time someone buys something I do a happy dance. I've written before about the Just A Card campaign and it's still just as important. One small purchase - a card, a little print, a pocket mirror, whatever it is - really does keep businesses like mine afloat. The next time you need a gift, a card, a new notebook or a little treat to cheer yourself up, remember that small businesses are for life, not just for Christmas.