As we are approaching my three year anniversary, I want to go back and explain some of the things that have helped me start my business. Today specifically I want to talk about where is the best place to start or host an online business.
There are several different platforms out there to help you host an online business. But it’s really important to find the right one for your business model and what you’re trying to accomplish. Etsy, Facebook marketplace and websites are the most common.
There are pros and cons to all these options and we’ll go over that here in a little bit but the first thing that you should do before you even decide which platform to use is to figure out how you want to sell your goods. Now this goes for anything whether it’s baking, crafts, whatever it is that you do.
What I mean is are you going to sell custom items, are you going to pre-sell already created items, or are you going to do a mix of both?
Selling Custom Items
I sell mostly custom items. That’s because I get more enjoyment out of the different themes and concepts that come to me from my customers. It allows me to be creative within certain boundaries and that’s the model that works for me.
The difficulty with custom orders is that you need to have a platform for your customers that’s able to track customer requests. These are thinks like how many cookies they need, what themes they want, when they need them by, and so on. The unfortunate thing is that business providers don’t offer such customizable listings without pre-paying for them.
Selling Pre-Made or Pre-Sale Items
Pre-made items are products that you've already made that you are listing for sale. This differs slightly from Pre-sale items that are being sold but that are not yet made.
Selling Pre-made items is an easy way to create whatever you want and people buy what’s there. If you’re selling goods and are just starting out, it may be challenging with this model because you have to keep inventory of items which takes of space.
Pre-sale is nice and is what many people including myself do for big events such as the holidays. I pre-make one set of cookies, photograph it and list it for pre-sale and people can purchase the listing. This lets me control the quantity and the items I’m making. You will still have to build a customer base to get your items seen which can mean paying advertising costs. A great example of a Baker with pre-sale or premade goods is my good friend, Charlee at Confections by Charlee (ig: @confectionsbycharlee).
Regardless if you go pre-made or pre-sale. there are a lot of options when it comes to business platforms just because they’re easy to list and sell.
I strongly caution against doing both custom and pre-made orders. Especially if you’re in your first year or two of business. The reason being is that it can get very overwhelming as you are trying to deal with custom orders for people as well as trying to for fill the orders that are either supposed be pre-made. I struggle with this for the holidays every single year and now block out the entire month of December from any custom orders in order to be able to have enough time to fulfill everything.
So let’s get into the actual platform discussion. Each platform has its own pros and cons and I’ll talk about the main ones that I know of or that I have used as both a customer and a business owner.
Email is a very powerful way of interacting with your customers that people don’t always realize. You should always have a business email set up regardless of the way that you take orders because it looks professional and it’s a easy way for people to call you that separated from your personal email. I recommend using Google because Google comes with a lot of helpful apps to help you interact with your customers.
If you do use Google, it comes with Google forms. This a form maker that is free that you can use for customers to put in quote requests. How it works is they would email you for a quote, you’d send them the quote form link, and go from there. You may also be able to have customers make purchases but I'm not sure
Gmail also comes with Google drive to help you keep your business files up to date across mobile devices. This means I can put photos from my phone and files from my computer in one location
The bad part of using email for all of your orders is the fact that customers don’t have a landing page to view your work or other information about you or see pictures of previous work that you’ve done.
It can be also be difficult to build up a client base with somebody that you’re just emailing. It’s kind of like online dating. You’re not really sure what you’re going to get. If you do end up going to email route, I do recommend setting up an Instagram page or a Facebook so that people can view other photos of your work. Just remember that not everybody has Facebook or Instagram. You can see as I’m discussing it that the problems emails get longer and longer and longer.
Websites are my personal favorite and that’s only because I have a degree in graphic and website design. There are several website hosting sites such as WIX (what's used for this site). Squarespace, Wordpress, and Shopify to name a few. Below is a list of pros and cons for websites as a platform. Just know they are usually best suited for custom orders or once you have an established customer base though I started my website before I had a customer base which took a lot of work but worked out for me.
Websites are extremely powerful in the fact that you have your own branding and your own products and no one else is on your site.
You can format it the way that you want to and you can sync it to your Square or other payment methods.
You can also set up a quote page like the one I have on my site so that you can direct all customers whether they’re contacting you via social media on the phone or via email go to your website and fill out one quote form so that you have them all organized. My “forms all come back to my email so I got an email notification every time somebody fills out a new quote form.
You also have the power to stop excepting quotes which is very important. I have learned especially in my second and third years of business that I have to only take orders in three month increments otherwise people will try to book out for the entire year and it throws off how my revenue comes in and customers tend to get a little angry with the fact that I’m already booked up for the rest of the year.
Websites are the most difficult out of all platforms. This is because they require you to create and customize everything on your site as well as keep it up to date. You can pay somebody to do this for you and to maintain the site however that can get expensive. There are several website providers that will help you set up your website and it’s very easy to do so however you can always pay someone to initially set it up then maintain it yourself.
There are fees associated with hosting your own website. You’ll have to pay an annual domain fee that’s for your actual web address (www.yourewebsite.com) you might also have to pay a site fee to the provider that you’re creating the site on. Depending on which features that you use you may have to pay for premium features.
Etsy can be a great starting place for owning a business. It works especially well if you already have a premade product or pre-orders. Just know as you grow if you want your own website, you'll have to steer your customers that direction otherwise Etsy gets grouchy if you start putting URLs to other websites in your store.
Etsy is widely known and excepted by makers and customers everywhere. Therefore you can usually start selling right away without much effort
Etsy offers deeply discounted shipping rates and they create all of the labels for you. This means all you have to do is print it out the order form and label with your printer at home and stick it to the box and you’re good to go.
You can set your store on Vacation mode when you're unavailable
Since there are so many people using Etsy, your listings can get a little bit lost if they’re not tagged right or set up correctly.
Many sellers on Etsy tend to undercharge for some of their goods while others charge accurately. Unfortunately, many people are often looking for the better deal and since there are so many people on Etsy selling the same thing, you're either forced to bring down your prices or risk lower orders because other people are less expensive. I highly recommend against lowering your prices if possible and instead you can update your store page to explain that you offer quality goods with premium ingredients.
Etsy is NOT great for custom orders. it was not made for this purpose so if you have a listing out there then it must have a dollar amount attached to it. This means unless someone messages you directly to ask, there’s not a easy way for you to do a quote. Some people offer "generic" custom order listings at a set price but depending on what the customer wants, the order may actually cost more than the original price on the listing.
Facebook and Social Media Marketplaces
Lastly, let’s talk about Facebook marketplace and other social media market places. I know that Facebook as well as Instagram both have their own market places I’m not sure if any other social media does. These spaces have come a long way since they were first created.
You can set up a listing and it runs very similarly to Etsy.
Not everybody has Facebook, and not everybody wants to pay for things on a social media platform. I for one don’t mind buying household goods such as a new printer or something like that from Facebook marketplace but as a consumer I would not want to buy some thing that was baked on Facebook because I have no clue who that person is and it doesn’t seem as professional. But I do know a lot of people who have gone that route and if that’s what works for them, that’s great. It’s just not my provider of choice
In the end we’ve talked about a lot of different options. We talked about how you’re going to take orders in terms of custom or pre-made/presale. We talked about several different providers and pros and cons of each of them. I’m not going to say that you should do one or the other because each provider works best for different people for different reasons but I hope this at least give you a foundational understanding of what providers are out there and if you need help with Etsy or website design please let me know.
I hope you all have a wonderful rest your day!