So you want to start a business: COVID-19 edition

Photo of a computer with Etsy + Facebook Marketplace open
Maddie Fruman/Staff

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Our world has drastically changed in the past year. During this newfound reality, many people have taken advantage of the ease and safety of online consumerism and have discovered its potential to generate income. Starting an online business involves risk and innovation, but also allows you to be passionate and hone your skills. Don’t immediately dive into launching your business though! Consider these tips coming from my experience in the online business for more than eight years before you start selling. 

Make sure you have financial backup before investing in a business

Allocate a portion of your savings toward necessities (rent, bills, food, etc.) and emergency needs. In the age of online shopping, large corporate businesses have the advantage, and establishing a small business to stand out from sellers who have a larger presence with greater variations of items at a lower price point is difficult. Assess the risk of incurring an overall loss and decide how much funding you want to allocate to starting up your business. This way, even in the worst-case scenario, your savings are still available for you to create a new business or follow other aspirations. 

Research your product and audience

Consider the feasibility of creating and distributing your product. This includes understanding your product’s sourcing and ecological footprint. In addition, if you are making homemade goods, how long does it take for you to create one item? If you are sourcing your product from a manufacturer, do you know the complete process and turn-around time from product design to distribution? You might notice these two questions deal with production time because that’s another valuable investment for business owners. Leave enough time so that you can fulfill an adequate amount of customer orders while also making sure you don’t work yourself thin.

Decide your marketing strategy

Utilize social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, and free online selling platforms such as eBay, Etsy or Mercari to promote your product. Apart from utilizing advertisements on these websites, the best way to create buzz about your business online is through connecting with people on these platforms. Create an account and post photos and videos advertising your product. Don’t be afraid to use media trends within the context of your product. Just remember to stay connected with your audience and be genuine in the message you want to give to consumers through your products. 

Remember to profit

Running a business is definitely not only about sales and revenue. The experience, networks, and newfound passions are just as important. However, your time and effort deserve to be paid. When pricing an item, think about your target consumers. You should typically price your items so that you will profit double or higher than investment costs. Adjust for fees such as selling platforms, supplies, materials and shipping. Utilize commercial shipping rates (typically 20-50% less than retail postage rates) through platforms such as PayPal or eBay.  Make sure your item can both satisfy a profit for yourself and be within the price range your target consumers can afford.

Sell what you are passionate about

Consider this as an opportunity to find a new passion. You are your own manager and employee! Don’t be afraid to move on to another product or business if your current one does not fulfill you. Picture yourself having to spend 10 hours a week creating your product, working and packaging orders, listing up products on your site and accounting. You will need to be excited for and invested in the product you are selling.

Patience is key

Don’t give up when you don’t turn an immediate profit. That is normal. Your product hasn’t been vouched for by real customers nor have you established an online presence with returning customers. Some days, you will not have any sales while other days, you will get a sudden influx. Experience will become your greatest asset. As you continue to learn the best way for yourself to navigate through online selling, you’ll find what tools to use to decrease costs, increase efficiency and boost sales and customers.

A business needs to have enthusiastic and organized management to thrive. Having a good grasp on executing your plan will be very helpful and will keep you grounded toward the future of your business and products. Best of luck! 

Contact Emily Lui at [email protected].