Listen! This past year has been the ultimate learning experience as I opened my first online boutique. From drop shipping to controlling inventory, I was challenged to make several decisions that were "hopefully" best for my business. Let's be very clear, I AM STILL LEARNING! For now, here are 5 tips I've gathered that will help the next person looking to start their own online boutique:
Do your research: Before diving into the online boutique business, take time to see what selling platform is best for you. Two main platforms are drop shipping and e-commerce. Essentially with drop shipping you are able to sell product with ease without the risk of managing inventory. Orders from your online site go directly to the supplier, and that supplier processes the order and ships it directly to the customer. Sounds amazing, right? While drop shipping for the first 7 months of my business, a lot was learned:
- although you don't control inventory (whew), you also do not control when the product is shipped to the customer: Since all of my suppliers were outside of the U.S., many customers waited 12-28 days to receive their order...bad reflection on my business and brand.
- you never see the product: Many suppliers will have product reviews with photos included but that only tells half of the story. So without you fully assessing an item, are you really confident in selling it? NO!
- It's affordable and convenient: the best thing about drop shipping is that the wholesale prices were extremely low, so you were able to make a margin on each sale. Also, if you had no orders coming in, no worries because you weren't sitting on any inventory.
E-commerce, on the flip side, is simply having inventory on-hand to sell to customers. This requires you to invest in inventory whether you're purchasing the material to make the item or buying from wholesalers to then sell at retail. The biggest risk with this selling platform is that your supply needs to meet your demand enough to break even, or you've lost some money, honey!
- Be professional: Okay, so you've done your research and decided what selling platform to use (sorry, I had so many cons regarding drop shipping...TOUGH TIMES), invest in an e-commerce platform such as Shopify and Squarespace. My boutique is ran by Shopify, so I'll talk a lot more about their features and why I appreciate this website so much. Shopify understands the needs of a start-up and how economically conscious you have to be. With this platform, I've been able to purchase my own domain, select my own web design layout, sell product online, market my business, alert subscribers of anything new, track my sales and set goals, and GET A FREE CARD READER! The list truly goes on as I crack open all these beautiful features that Shopify has to offer.
Create a budget: Expenses truly pile up, so you want to be conservative when it comes to running your business. Here are a few upfront expenses that you want to take care of before you get to the fun stuff, like making/purchasing your first batch of product:
- Domain: It’s what comes after “www.” Just buy it!
- Resale license: If purchasing wholesale, you’ll need this as EVERY wholesaler needs you to prove that you can legally resale items.
- Tax ID: you know Uncle Sam wanted to be a part of your lucrative business. Give the man his cut (rolls eyes).
- Small business account: If you’re getting serious and need funding without tapping into your own finances, an account is great to have. It’s like separating your business from your personal.
- Have a niche and target market: as we all know, there are probably millions of online boutiques. In a highly saturated market, it is extremely important that your shop is different and has a niche, especially with women’s apparel. What separates your business from the next and can you describe your ideal consumer? What’s their lifestyle, income level, educational background, common problems when shopping retail, etc? Once you’ve identified your niche and targeted customer, you’ve made it easier for yourself to make decisions regarding product selection, marketing platforms, etc.
Have fun: whether this is your full time gig, or side hustle, have a blast and do not worry if you do not see the fruits of your labor right away. If you’re worrying and sucking the everlasting fun out of running your own boutique, then this is not for you. The best way to do this is by
- Staying connected with follow boutique owner: trust, they’re going through the same things you’re going through. Learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.
- Take calculated risk: it’s okay to be daring, but do you have the means to? Don’t go broke because you didn’t have a plan or map out your idea!
- Interact with customers: whether it’s booking vendor events and having face time with customer or interacting through email and social media outlets, show your customers that you are in fact HUMAN and that you care!
That is all for now, guys. Still learning and growing, so stay tuned for my next blog, so I can drop this knowledge. Thanks for letting me share!