Concerned about potentially dangerous chemicals in the bath and body products she used, Marnie Gaertner thought about creating and selling her own line of natural products. Recently, she made her dream a reality with her line, Playa Blu, which she sells on Storenvy, an online marketplace for independent sellers that Gaertner used to create a website and open an online shop in a few hours and at a minimal cost. “I just had my first sale and it’s been envied [Storenvy lingo for “liked”] like crazy,” she says.
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Whatever your passion—whether it’s bath products, handmade furniture or motorcycle repair—you may finally be at a point in life where you have the time to pursue it as more than a hobby. Getting a business launched online is made simpler today by the variety of technology and tools available to entrepreneurs. Yet the process can still be overwhelming. “Ease of use is crucial,” says technology consultant Deb Lee, founder of Soho Tech Training in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. “If something has too many bells and whistles you won’t use it. Start by creating a simple business plan and figure out where you’ll need to insert technology.”
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Here are three essentials for getting started:
An online presence: If you’re selling a product, you’ll need an ecommerce enabled site. That could be a regular old website, which can be created fairly quickly using a platform likeGoDaddy, Squarespace, Weebly, Web.com, or Wix, or a storefront on a marketplace for small sellers, such as Storenvy, Etsy or OpenSky. Pam Gille set up a storefront for her business, YasuJutaro Artison Jewelry, on OpenSky in April, and says it was “one of the easiest platforms I’ve ever used.” The marketplace model Gille and Gaertner use works best when business owners invite Facebook fans and other contacts to follow them on the platform and shop there.
Another platform, PlanetSoho, offers services beyond ecommerce. It’s an entire business management platform—invoicing, email marketing, accounting and other services–geared towards solopreneurs and very small businesses (the company’s research shows that more than 40 percent of its users have another job).
Mark Gilmore, president of the strategic technology consulting firm Wired Integrations in San Francisco, says depending on the industry, all a micro business may need is a Facebook page (businesses, organizations and brands don’t use a personal Facebook page but create a page using Facebook Pages.) “You’ll probably make more contacts there, engage more and get referrals,” he says. If you’re selling expertise of some kind (say, you’re a writing coach or a guitar teacher), or you need to visually display your work, a website is the way to go, says Gilmore.
An accounting system: A variety of cloud-based accounting services–like Kashoo, Freshbooks and Outright—can give a small business basic bookkeeping capabilities. Equally important, your accountant can use the reports generated by the program, says Gilmore, who likes QuickBooks, which has an application geared for very small businesses. “I don’t know a single CPA that doesn’t know QuickBooks,” he says.
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Marketing on the cheap: The least expensive way to market your product or service is through social media. “Go down the obvious routes first, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest,” says Gilmore. For email marketing—newsletters or sale alerts—there are a variety of platforms including Constant Contact, MailChimp or Mad Mimi. Tech consultant Deb Lee suggests embedding a video on the business’ website or Facebook page. “Video lets people see who you are, the person behind the business,” she says. You can use the video camera on your phone to shoot it, then upload it to YouTube and post it on your website or Facebook page. “It could be sharing a tip, showing what happens behind the scenes or demonstrating a product,” says Lee. “It’s all about connecting.”