Last week someone asked me about how I had turned a hobby into a business and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since, mainly because I was slightly depressed to realise I didn’t have anything sensible and inspiring to offer! I certainly didn’t get into business in any planned and intelligent way; I got lucky with a niche product at a moment in time and I had very supportive friends who helped spread the word and bought from me. Although it is true that the key to success is a good idea at the right time, I’m not at all sure it would work now; certainly there are hundreds of people doing what we do and every high street retailer has a web presence. When I opened BeadMerrily, using a asp order form online with no photos and no guarantee I was real, I had plenty of orders, certainly enough to get me on my feet. We didn’t even have shop software to start with, till the lovely Jax, who had designed the order form, realised that open source software was beginning to appear. The new shop was born and things exploded.
These days, neither that order form nor the original shop would get us far and two of the sites have been through huge changes to bring them up to date. But in the olden days, when people said the internet would never take off for shopping because no one would trust it, they did just fine. Back then, what counted was being online, having the range, having a GOOD range and having decent content on your site. If it looked nice and worked well, that was little more than an added bonus. I had to do almost nothing to get myself up to the top of the searches I needed and SEO and promotion was hardly required.
My cheerful, be online, have good customer service, offer something free and be nice was enough to get us this far.
We moved into a shared unit in Peterborough and have continued to grow steadily, not changing much from those core values I mentioned above. I guess we probably have 100 of those shelf units now, stretched across 3000 square foot of unit in 6 rooms. It’s great. Two years ago now, Max left work and took over running it and I stopped having to do the daily grind of it all and turned more to the computer based, website content, element of the business. Those are my strengths, along with selling and spotting how to put things together in a way that appeals.
Times have changed though and I’m having to learn to change with it. Having been quick on the uptake at launching an online business, I’ve been slow to learn about the new side to it, partly because I resent it in some way. I don’t actually like being bombarded by a business, though I don’t mind a well placed newsletter, tweet or Facebook update. But I find it hard to believe that people really like a relentless battering of social network promotion and indeed I removed one person from my Twitter account today for doing just that thing. Too much of a good thing entirely.
Along with Social Networking and Promotion (and I confess I’m using PoP partly as a way of learning these skills to take on to the business – sorry! but I hope it isn’t too obvious…), it is no longer true that content is king over all. It ought to be true, people might say it is true, but it isn’t. It is well worth, essential even, to have yourself listed in any new business directory that is built up and a local one, one relevant to Peterborough shops and craft shops in our case, is even better. A shop with higher prices will get more sales if it ranks first than one that slashes prices. You’ll rank first if you have hundreds of links in to your site and lots of followers to retweet you or like your Facebook page. We build as much content as we can in the confines of time but we have to learn all these other things too – I don’t want to pay other people to do this for me and really that is no guarantee of success, I want to do it myself and I’ve had to take courses in SEO and make myself practise. it is really hard, hard because I have a million other draws on my time, hard because there is so much to learn and even harder because I want to go back to the ‘olden days’ of the internet and not have toÂ worry about all this confounded ‘chirping’ and ‘facepaging’! I’m in complete danger of sounding like a mad old Luddite!
I’m really genuinely interested in the experiences of other people who operate online either promoting blogs or businesses. You may or may not be happy to give me tips and ideas, but your journey, your experiences and your thoughts on the changes and growth would be fascinating to me