Run This - Question #1
We're back to bring you our first question in this series. You can read our intro blog post here to find out a little more about what this series is and what to expect from it. The goal is to bring you real life questions that will be informative for anyone thinking about creating their own business, running themed or not, a go to guide for you hustlers out there.
Our first questions for our entrepreneurs:
So you have your business idea, now what? What were your first steps to launching your business? What platform do you use to sell? How did you get to that decision (likes & dislikes of platforms). How did you create your first product? The nuts and bolts of your launching needs and how you began.
I launched SMDS on Etsy to begin. It wasn't strictly running designs at the time, and I was feeling out what I wanted to do. It was a low commitment platform to start with. I had some downloadable items (hand drawn vector files, printable downloads, etc), wedding invitations and a variety of mishmosh. Once I had a feel for what was selling, I felt confident to switch to another platform where I could build my own website and sell outside of Etsy. I chose WIX to start... which I immediately switched off of after a few months (it's super easy to use and they have pretty sites, but I found it wasn't great for ecommerce). I also closed my Etsy shop (I had people copying my designs, received a bogus intellectual property infringement claim that was a hassle and annoying, I didn't like how Etsy handled it. In the end, it was more hassle than anything else).
I currently am using Shopify and recommend it to literally everyone I talk to. A couple things that I really love about the platform:
- Their website designs are pretty... and let's be honest, if an ecommerce store doesn't look nice when you first hit the page, you probably won't stick around long.
- Their customer support is amazing. Call, chat, email. They are easy to contact and always super nice and helpful
- They have everything built into their site. Coupon codes, blog, analytics, inventory, etc.
- If it's not built in, there's an app for everything. It can add up and get pricey, so I pick and choose carefully what I want to install, but there is an option for everything.
The list goes on, but these are some of the main reasons I recommend if you're just starting out.
My first products were printed on demand (someone buys a shirt and then I print it vs. buying and stocking inventory). This allowed me to learn what would sell, get an idea of quantities and what sizes people would buy, what styles people like and I didn't have to invest a lot of money in inventory. It was a great way to get my feet wet. Now my house is overrun with inventory... I carry most items in stock now, and am slowly bringing the last few items I don't, in. I found the on demand printing less reliable and I didn't like not having hands on quality control.
Lauren Fleshman and I wanted to share the lessons we has learned as professional athletes about the mind's role in performance. We came up with designs of flowers with hidden mantras/ power-words. After creating a small collection that we were going to put on shirts and different things, we decided to self-publish a training journal using our mantras, goal setting pages and other sport psychology exercises that were effective.
That was all such fun- finding the eco-friendly usa made printers and figuring out how to produce our vision. I was expecting my first child at the time and the journals arrived just before I popped. I felt like lauching a business and expecting a baby were similar to preparing for a major championship event. lol. I know it sounds like a stretch, but it was my frame reference after competing for so many years, and it really helped me during and post pregnancy.
I can't remember what website we used to launch the business all those moons ago (2011), but nowadays I use Shopify to sell the journals we published with Velopress and the sport psychology coaching services I provide. My husband helps me with the website end of things and he is well impressed by the design and functionality of the websites these days. It's just so easy to use and they get smarter every year.
Before we get started, we just wanted to thank Sarah for inviting us to be a part of this. We feel truly honored to be included in this awesome and powerful gang and we love being able to share our story and help any inspiring entrepreneurs out there.
Now, the business… Oh man, we had no idea what we were doing when we started!! It’s pretty amazing to think how far we’ve come over the last few years. But, to get into the specifics, after we came up with the idea, we wanted to see what our runner friends and community thought of it. So, we held several focus groups to pick the brains of as many runners as we could talk to. We wanted to know whether our ideas were valid and what the consumer actually wanted. That process was a lot of fun and very eye-opening for us. We also talked to as many people in the running industry that we could, from freelance designers, to marketing gurus, to other business owners, to help us understand the industry as best we could. Monica’s extensive experience in the industry was also a huge benefit to us. Through these contacts and conversations, we were able to identify the best textile company and manufacturer to work with, each of which are located in Los Angeles, and who uphold the highest standards of ethical and socially responsible manufacturing.
From idea to product is a long and complicated (and expensive) process. With the assistance of freelance designers, we were able to take our vision and create detailed sketches which then became design specs, with measurement charts. We had to create our own color pallet of fabrics by choosing colors, lab dipping them to test our vision, and testing as many fabric choices as we could. Then the sampling – oh the sampling. Each product idea must be sampled, and while some ideas you nail at first pass, others take round after round of sampling to get the fit, design, and measurements correct. Each round of samples take time and… yes, you got it, money! But, the final product, something that we are incredibly proud of, is, without any doubt, worth all the time and expense.
We initially launched using a Kickstarter campaign, which was a good way for us to get feedback and take pre-orders. Our campaign went very well and we were fully funded (and so grateful!). After the Kickstarter ended, we launched to consumers through our own website, www.runinrabbit.com. We ultimately decided to launch the website using Shopify, which was simple enough for us to understand and design ourselves, while also capable of handling all the needs of a real small business. It’s a great platform, especially for a business just getting started.
As we are constantly in the process of designing future lines, new products, and new ideas, this process is really quite cyclical and the nuts and bolts of the process are always being tweaked, tightened and realigned.
When I started Run Intended, I did so as a platform to build my client list for personal training/run coaching. I was definitely still deciding what exactly I wanted Run Intended to look like. I set up a site with a local web designer and used Go Daddy for hosting. That was a good spot for people to go to to find out more about me/what I do and to check out some of my coaching options. In spring of this year, I felt like it wasn't me anymore. I wasn't really utilizing the blogging feature (and other features) of the site and I wanted a cleaner, simpler look. So, I decided to shut that site down and started everything back up on Shopify. By that point I really felt like I knew (at least for the foreseeable future) where I wanted to take Run Intended. I launched the new site and the Run Like You shirt in the same day. That was a fun/espresso filled weekend and the response to the new shirt was pretty incredible.
So, back to Shopify. It's the best! They have really beautiful layouts and I easily found that simple, clean look I was aiming for. I feel like people decide right away when they land on your site if they want to stay and browse or not. It's gotta be simple and to the point - the world is fast paced and people like to see the information, the product, all the details, right away! It is also so EASY to use. Seriously. Even though each layout has a standard design, you can customize colors, photos, coupons, alerts, sections, etc. in a few short steps.
Shopify also lets you keep track of inventory, which is a great feature. When you get shipments of your product in, you can log the quantities into the products information section on Shopify and when a size or the product itself is sold out, Shopify will take it down/customers won't be able to buy it. That's important! You don't want orders being placed on product you don't have. In the past, I had to cancel a couple of orders because of that! If you don't have a size someone ordered, new shipments can take two weeks and the customer may not want to wait that long.
Which is actually the perfect lead in to my last point - inventory. I print shirts with a local printer and we print in quantities of 12. So, you can order any amount of shirts as long as it's 12, 24, 36 - you get it. It's tough deciding what sizing, etc. to buy and wondering how well the shirt will sell/how many to order. I'm still working on this. But, if you're just starting out, order a few and get it up on your site. Take orders up until a certain date (maybe for a week) and set the ship date to when you'll have the new order from your printer. Then place another order (based on the orders you actually received) with your printer and get em' out! Inventory decisions can be tough and you don't want to overload yourself with products to start, but you also have to trust your product enough to take a leap.
I didn't start ESD in the most organized fashion so I really didn't have a list of steps I followed. My first jewelry designs were born out of more of an emotional space than a business space. I was going through a really hard time in my life and making jewelry, along with running, was my therapy. I combined the two passions, creating engraved running pieces to celebrate my accomplishments and suddenly friends were asking to buy them or to host trunk shows. I realized I had something there and just decided to go for it. Since I was coming from a corporate fashion world, I understand how to put a line together so I started there. I put what is called a Line Sheet together, which I continue to use to develop collections, and then worked my way from there. I knew I needed good pictures so I went out and bought the best camera I could afford, and taught myself product photography. I didn't really know much about all the ecommerce website platforms available so, if I remember correctly, I picked the first one I found and then taught myself css to style it. I realized I needed a credit card processor so I used which ever one my original ecommerce platform suggested and signed up right away. Somewhere along the way, luckily very early on, I realized I also needed to register my company with the state of NY so that I could collect and report sales tax. Basically, I followed the "how not to start your own business" plan, I winged it. It all worked out in the end and since then, I've relaunched my website on a better ecommerce platform, installed applications to help me with packing and shipping, I have systems in place for accounting, inventory, etc.. (thank you to my husband for building those for me!), I've hired a payroll company, and I have incorporated. So for anyone starting out, I wouldn't necessarily suggest using my path as a good example. Start with a business plan. Design your brand, work out your concept, determine how you'll put it out there and what your growth goals are. These are all things that will help you determine what the best platform would be for your site. Also, research federal and state business requirements and get started on those right away. Getting the proper business IDs and such takes time!
Hope you enjoyed and found some useful information reading round one of questions. Stay tuned for question two:
I've found the hardest part of starting a business is learning the legal side of things. What have you learned that you can share? How do you find a lawyer, do you even need a lawyer? Do you have any specific examples of what to look out for, how to protect yourself, what to do if someone tries to steal your work, etc.?