I’ve been there. Starting an online business from scratch.
I decided to pursue my first online business venture right after my first little was born. I created a handmade stationery business called Katarina’s Paperie. And if that wasn’t crazy enough, I built the business into a profitable online shop all before she reached kindergarten with a second little running around. Chaotic has been the name of the game these last few years.
But, let’s go back to my first weeks of starting my online business. Instead of focusing on the necessities of running an online start-up, I had my eye on a new pink stapler and unicorn tape dispenser. (Oh, come on, I know you want that unicorn tape dispenser too!)
I was also guilty of spending way too many hours perfecting the product just to throw away the design and start again.
Or, my favorite, stressing over and over again that my home office wasn’t big enough. (Forgetting that Steve Jobs got started in a garage – along with these other business tycoons.)
As I always say, “Who doesn’t want all of the bells and whistles when starting a business?”
When getting ready to launch an online business, you usually focus on all of the things that you need. Today, let’s focus on the things that you don’t need.
The things that aren’t necessary to get started.
Because the truth is money is tight when you start any kind of business. Profits take time to flow in and the amount of time it takes varies.
Once the money starts flooding in (which it will because you are truly awesome), you will find keeping business expenses low as your top priority for awhile. And even when profits are healthy, you’ll still probably not be able to justify the unicorn tape dispenser. Just saying.
Thinking about this reminds me of my very first job at a start-up consulting firm (and no, I wasn’t able to get the unicorn tape dispenser then either). I was in charge of ordering office supplies. It was so much fun. I picked out colorful pens, striped paper clips and highlighters of every shape and size.
All was well until the bill came. My boss wanted an exact explanation as to why his office supply bill doubled since I’d been hired. I thought to myself because the last person didn’t have any taste in office supplies.
It’s a shame that my twenty something year old self didn’t really understand the economics of start-ups. Spend little and save everything else.
Fast forward a decade to starting my own online business. I can’t imagine wasting money ordering all of that stuff. I learned pretty quickly that finances were better invested on advertising and marketing, then pretty office supplies and extra help.
So after long reflection of my small business’ early years, here is my brilliant list of 5 things that you do not need when starting a business. Don’t worry, you’ll thank me later.
Pretty Office Supplies
Actually, any office supplies. My suggestion about office supplies is to go borrow from a neighbor, co-worker or spouse’s inventory when you do need something. Which you won’t. At least not during the first week.
Depending on what type of online business you are starting, office supplies are actually not that useable. Hence, why so many office supply stores are closing. I think people are catching on.
Do you need the pretty paper clips, funky patterned tape and a stapler that binds in multiple directions? Probably not at first – although they sure are pretty and fun. When starting out, stick with a notebook and pen. And even then, a computer should suffice. That should be it for awhile.
A funny story from #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso that I recently read involved office chairs. Sophia proudly ran a frugal office at Nasty Gal. While on her first vacation, Sophia discovered that her office manager purchased glamorous (and expensive) office chairs for the ENTIRE office – including the interns. She was quite frustrated.
The chairs were not returnable, so her office manager had to sell them on Craigslist. Sophia understood early on the importance of frugality in her business. By cutting out unnecessary expenses – such as frivolous office equipment – provided more money to invest in your business and help it grow.
Now I am not saying that you will never purchase office supplies. Once your business has survived a few months and you understand your office supply needs, then you can think about going to the office store. You’d hate to buy all of those pretty things and end up not using them.
The tasks when starting an online business are going to seem overwhelming. They always do. There will be too many items on your to do list.
More than likely, you will also have children to watch and no money coming in yet. Your first thought might be to hire an assistant to complete these tasks for you.
In a larger, more established business, this might be the best idea for greater productivity. But in a small business that you are starting at home, the fewer expenses in the beginning the better.
Instead of relying on hiring an assistant to help, focus on increased productivity and time management. Rearrange your daily routine to fit time in for your business. Create structured to do lists that help you stay on track. And learn to use a calendar to meet goals.
You might even find that in the beginning you have to get up early or stay up late to get everything set up. If this works for you – do it. It will be temporary.
When I started Katarina’s Paperie, my first little was a baby. She would wake up between 11 and midnight to feed. So I structured my work hours around her schedule, working from when she went to bed to her first feeding around midnight. That gave me 4 WHOLE peaceful hours to get work done. It was my most productive time of day and I loved it!
If you are going to hire anyone in the beginning, hire a babysitter. A babysitter is worth the investment early on. Choose the number of hours you think you’ll need and pre-plan the tasks you want to get done. This will help you hit the ground running every time she or he comes.
Your Own Office Space
I remember talking to my boss at the start-up consulting firm I worked for. He told me how he spent his first two years in business working at a table in the back of a cafeteria. That was his office. A cafeteria table.
By the time I worked for him, he had graduated to two sprawling offices where everyone (including low ranking over office supply ordering me) had offices with doors. My husband was extremely jealous.
When starting your own online business, you’ll probably believe that you need your own office space. I know I did. I even moved us clear across town to get it.
But the problem with a bigger space is that it comes with a cost. Believe it or not, but office space is a luxury just like everything else. One that established business owners enjoy many years later.
Don’t believe me? Check out these business owners (all famous with HUGE companies today) that got started in garages…
The beauty of starting a business in the 21st century is technology allows us NOT to need an office. Although a traditional boss might require you to show up to a cubicle every day, even start-up companies such as Buffer are experimenting with a complete remote work force. How fun!
The benefit of starting an online business without an official office keeps you more flexible. If you have digitally focused work (freelancing, graphics, communications), you can truly work from any where.
For a business idea that requires more established space for creating (like Katarina’s Paperie did), I recommend finding a small area in your home. Cordon off a space in a guest room, basement, hallway or even your garage. Hey, who knows, maybe garages have good luck.
The cutting area for my stationery shop was set up in our hallway for the first six months until business picked up. Then we rearranged the living room where it’s remained every since (except during that cross town move…).
Do I dream of bigger space? Of course. But, I also believe that office space will come with time.
Being Active with Every Social Media Account
Social media. It is a huge time snatcher. And when you are just starting out and have little time as it is, social media will just take longer.
Some will argue that building a social media audience is important for business growth (although, I have never made sales off of social media, I have communicated with customers), but it is not that important when starting out.
Instead, create an amazing product and get it to market as soon as possible. This will generate sales faster. Not posting random quotes and photos on social media.
With this said, you should at least establish some social media accounts for your new online business. Choose one or two platforms and ignore the rest.
And don’t spend a ton of time creating the perfect post – you can do that once you are more established and hire a VA.
Instead, focus on sharing things about you (the business owner), your start-up progress and products that you will be introducing to your shop. If you work on talking about these things, your following is sure to grow naturally without a huge time commitment.
All your Products must be Perfect
One piece of business advice I received from a mentor when I started my stationery shop was that all of my designs needed to be completed before I launched.
Worst. Advice. Ever.
Instead of starting with the few design collections that I had, I spent another six months (everything takes three times as long with a baby at home) creating designs. And I still didn’t think I was quite ready.
The goal of your business is to make money. Period.
You can make money with 10 products or 1,000 products. It’s all about how you market them – not the number of products.
Looking back on it, I wish that I had opened the shop when I just had the first few collections. Then, I could have just gotten started.
It’s better to add products once you know your audience any way. Blindly creating products for an audience that doesn’t exist yet can lead to a lot of wasted time.
One question that I receive a lot is about how many products you need before you open.
The truth is that there is no set number of products that you need. Create a few sets of products (or even just one amazing service option) and open your doors.
Once you start making money, you can learn more about what your customers are looking for. Then, you can create more product offerings. We can spend so much time creating products only to discover that we didn’t make anything that someone wanted to buy.
Keep in mind that every day that passes without sales means that you are losing money. The faster you create something to sell, the better chance you have for your business to become profitable sooner.
And, who knows? Between kids, summer vacations, sickness and other things, you never know how long it will take to make that next set of products. Don’t risk your dream of running a creative business on the chaos of life.
Now that I have focused on all of the things that you don’t need when starting an online business, let’s look for a second on what you do need.
And I’m not thinking about a computer. That’s assumed these days.
To start a successful online business, you’ll need confidence, grit and determination. You’ll need to believe in yourself when no one else does. Most importantly, you’ll need to keep believing in yourself when there’s no one to remind you on a daily basis.
Remember, the best day to start your business is today. Nothing will ever be perfect. Just start. Now begin.