About four months ago I started drafting this post, I was unsure if I would share it as essentially I am giving away trade secrets, well not secrets as such but more tips, tricks and advice (from my perspective) on how to run a successful online store. A while ago my friend Nikki (owner of Little Co) tagged in me in an instagram post which in short discussed the importance of women supporting women. This notion totally resonates with me, because we have nothing to lose by supporting, encouraging and inspiring others. I truly want other women to succeed so I have decided to share this post in the hope it helps others in someway.

I wanted to discuss a few points when it comes to opening an online store (and running a business from home) in the hopes to inform people about this crazy, challenging, rewarding and frustrating world that has become such a big part of my life. I just want to point out this post is completely from my perspective and experience, hopefully it will resonate with other stay at home Mums who may already, or be thinking of opening an online store or maybe you don’t have kids and might also be thinking of taking a leap in this direction. I have run an online store before having my daughter Thea, during pregnancy, with a newborn and now a toddler so I will try and talk about my journey during all of these stages.

Retail has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was eighteen I started my first retail job at Hannahs before moving on to work my way up into a management position at Mooks Clothing (an iconic street wear store that was located on Broadway in Newmarket for many years). After leaving Mooks I decided to launch my own brand Emma Highfield Lingerie, creating ready to wear collections and bespoke pieces that I sold (online) for four years before changing direction and diving into the unknown world of boutique baby fashion and opening Beau Monde Babe!
Firstly I am going to discuss my experience of running an online store with my own brand, designing and creating a product to sell, and secondly touch on a few points when it comes to running an online store consisting of curated brands. There are many similarities but also some big differences. I often hear people say ‘I am doing this for fun’ which I think is admirable but today I will be discussing my ideas from a business point of view, with the idea of making profit and growing your brand.

Starting your own brand and selling it online

I have an amazing product can I sell this??

The first thing you need to ask yourself is my product unique? I can’t stress how important this is! When I started my lingerie business it was pretty much impossible to find anyone else in New Zealand that made bespoke lingerie. I found a niche and ran with it, I had no prior knowledge of lingerie construction but was so determined to succeed. I taught myself how to sew lingerie through trial and error, drafting and tweaking my own patterns and thousands of samples later I had a product I was happy with and felt filled a void in the market. My advice is to spend time planning, researching and developing your product. Even if you have a product that is readily available think about what feature/s make your design stand out, is it in the detail? What makes your brand special? If you are struggling to find something unique about your product, so will your potential customers.

Making the product yourself vs. outsourcing production.

This is such a tough one because so many people start a brand from a hobby developed into something more. I spent four years handcrafting everything myself and while it was enjoyable it essentially lead to the closure of my brand. The biggest part of what I was doing was bespoke creations, so outsourcing production was out of the question. I had to sit down and ask myself can I honestly continue to sew 12-14 hr days with a child? The answer was obviously no. Could I outsource production of my ready to wear line? yes, but was I prepared to hand over that responsibility after spending four years perfecting a beautifully hand-finished product, no. My brand was established before I had my daughter so I had all the time in the world to dedicate as many hours as I wanted to my work, but transitioning my brand with motherhood didn’t align. 

If you are making a product yourself ask these questions: How many hours are you putting in? Don’t bite off more than you can chew – getting sales is exciting, but long wait times (although they might make your product desirable at first) will eventually lead to frustrated customers if you don’t stick to lead times. Could production be outsourced? Will I be able to continue if I have a change in circumstance i.e.: have kids, move house? What are my other responsibilities? You also have to decide if you are happy to outsource production down the line if need be, I know how tough it can be making the decision to hand over something that you have literally spent hours slaving over but this foresight can save you valuable time and energy. 
Which brings me to ‘time’, oh to have more hours in the day! Something which is so important to consider, not only the time involved with creating a product but all the admin that goes along with it and working this in and around your daily life.
If you can outsource production from the get go I would highly recommend it as it takes a little pressure off and allows for you to focus on the direction of the brand.

How do I put a price on my product? What is it worth?

This is a very important thing to consider, please learn from my mistake and do not sell yourself short! When I first launched my lingerie line I was so anxious about pricing my product, I knew exactly what it was worth but was worried I was asking too much. Essentially I underpriced, barely covered costs and basically didn’t pay myself a wage for four years. Let me stress - this is not good business! It’s a never-ending cycle with so much work for very little reward, leaving you disheartened and wondering ‘is it really worth it?’
Regardless if you are making a product yourself or having production outsourced ask yourself, do I want to expand my brand and potentially sell my product wholesale? Will I ever have a sale or sell at a discounted rate? If the answer is yes, it is so important to get your pricing right from the get go.

Here are some important things to consider when pricing your product:
Material costs, overheads i.e.: packaging, GST, PayPal fees, bank charges, shipping, stationary, set up fees, website fees, marketing, advertising, actually paying yourself! All of these costs need to be broken down to calculate what an item actually costs you to put it into production from start to finish. Once you have done this you need to add in a margin so if you were to wholesale your product you will still be making a profit. From here basically add 40% - 50% and you have your retail price. You might be shocked at the final figure but you need to be realistic if you want your business to grow and expand. Do not be afraid of this price, it is what your product is worth! You have put in long hours, sleepless nights and so much energy so please don’t sell yourself short. People will always complain something is ‘too expensive’, that’s ok; just remember they are not your customers.

Are you in it for the long haul?

Be prepared to put in the work, it might take months or maybe years to feel like you are getting somewhere, it certainly wont happen overnight. Ask yourself – Am I driven? Do I really want this? You have to be passionate about what you are doing but also realistic about the amount of work that goes into creating a brand and running an online store.

Setting up your online store and selling your product.

So you have an amazing product, have worked out your pricing, packaging and branding and now need a platform to sell your product! As mentioned above I will be speaking from an online perspective as I have no experience when it comes to setting up a bricks and mortar store. When I started my lingerie business I was using Big Cartel as my e-commerce platform, I found this great at first but quickly moved to Shopify for a variety of reasons and additional features. If you are just starting out Facebook and other social media platforms are fine to promote your product but I would highly recommend setting up a website and domain name as soon as possible, it is not only more professional but helps keeping track of orders.

Some important key things to consider when setting up your store:

  • Does your website work from an iPad and mobile devices?
  • Do you have a strong landing page? Is your website easy to navigate?
  • Do you have clear/quality images of your product? Remember being online customers cant physically see and touch your product, so ensure you show as much detail as possible in the images and description, I would suggest using a professional to photograph your product, it is worth the investment. 
  • Also make sure you include terms, clear shipping rates, refund policies and contact details.

Once you have your store set up and ready to go it all comes down to marketing your product, for me the most effective avenues are social media and the use of brand reps. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a sale on the first day, this is all new! However I would suggest building excitement in the lead up to your opening and look at running an opening special or giveaway to generate brand exposure.

Starting Emma Highfield Lingeire taught me so much when it came to running a business, I spent years learning from my mistakes which is hindsight was extremely valuable when it came to launching Beau Monde Babe. I took what I learnt in terms of running an online store and applied it to my new business venture, which I will discuss below.

Opening an online boutique and running it from home, a learning curve:

When I found out I was pregnant with Thea I had to make a decision very early on about the foreseeable future of my lingerie business. I decided to venture into a new chapter that was inline with the changes happening in my life and starting thinking about opening an online baby store. I knew I had to be doing something that allowed me the freedom to set my own hours, work from home (for myself), plus I needed something; something for me, that would fit in with my life but still be manageable with a child. I decided to open Beau Monde Babe and will shed some light on a few important things to consider when opening an online store, what it’s really like owing and operating an online boutique from home and how I (try to) balance work, being a mum and everyday life! Beau Monde Babe has only been live for a just over a year, I am still learning everyday but here are some key points to consider if you are thinking of launching an online boutique.

  • Research research research. I can’t stress this enough! Find a niche, decide on an aesthetic and search for brands that fit into the type of store you envision. NZ is such a small market so if you don’t have a point of difference you will get lost. Look for brands that are not readily available in your country and try to secure exclusives. I spent close to 6 months researching brands before I launched my store.
  • Establish who your customer is. Are you a high end or lower price point store? The ethos of the brands you stock should reflect this.
  • Factor in set up costs – logo design, branding, website design, overheads, stationary, packaging…. and be realistic about hidden costs.
  • Register your business, secure a domain name and social media profiles.
  • Have a budget and stick to it. When ordering from suppliers remember to factor shipping costs and import/customs charges into your budget.
  • Presentation is important – right from the layout of your website to how the product is packaged, focus on details.
  • Understand the importance of social media and how it can work effectively for your business. Have good social media etiquette – don’t use other stores photos without permission and don’t customer poach.
  • Get to know your customers, they’re amazing!
  • Set the correct retail price to ensure the right margins. Consider tax, GST/import costs, freight, fees and overheads; everything must be factored into retail price. This is where people often go wrong and price according to straight conversion rates.
  • Ensure you are not charged VAT or GST from international suppliers, you will be charged this on importation by NZ customs. If you are charged this by international suppliers you will essentially be paying GST twice, which leaves no profit margin.
  • If you are importing goods for your business you are classed as a commercial importer and will need to set up a client import code, it pays to do this before stock arrives to avoid delays. Unfortunately this was something I learnt the hard way, which delayed the opening of my store. Also note as a commercial importer you will need a broker to arrange customs clearance of your goods, depending on the freight company used they often do this ‘in-house’ but regardless there is always a substantial fee per consignment.
  • Be realistic about the amount of time you will spend in front of a computer and packing orders.
  • Make sure you have a great accountant and keep good records.
  • And lastly support the ‘makers’ not the ‘fakers’ – buying and selling counterfeit product is not a good business model.

Running a business from home and the balancing act of doing it with kids:

For me working from home is an ideal situation but it does have its up and downs. It is exceptionally hard to ‘clock off’ as your workspace is also your home. Depending on the size of the product and the volume you are stocking you ideally want to create your own workspace to keep everything organized and together. I work from our spare room that I have transformed into an office/storeroom with an additional packing table; it is also nice to be able to shut the door.

Time management is the biggest issue I face but being organized is the key to making the best use of your time. I find having lists, making specific folders on my email and categorizing orders (paid, pre-order, layby) really helps me to keep on track of everything. You have to be flexible; working from home with a toddler is demanding and putting her needs before anything else takes priority. Some days don’t go to plan and I get nothing done but other days she surprises me with an extra long nap which equals maximum productivity, I just wish those rare long naps coincided with the days I have so much to do!
Being realistic is so important, you have to be aware of your capabilities and how much you can physically and mentally take on. Having worked for myself for so long I knew the workload involved so there were no surprises but if you are just starting out consider how you will juggle everything with your day-to-day life. For me ‘work’ usually starts at 7pm where I have 4hours of uninterrupted time. I also get as much done as I can when Thea has her day sleep and I send emails and update social media when she is eating her lunch. It’s about fitting it all in around you life and making it work, I know this might not seem ideal for everyone but it’s how I make it work for us. Thea is home with me full time so as my business expands I am looking at part-time daycare options to allow me the freedom to continue to grow my business. 

There are also so many perks to running an online store from home, obviously the overheads are minimal compared to a bricks and mortar store, you have the freedom of selecting your own hours and its nice to work in the comfort of your own home…. But you do have to adapt and learn when to switch off. People said I was absolutely mad for launching Beau Monde Babe when Thea was a few months old but in hindsight it was absolutely perfect timing for me.

The biggest challenge will always be trying to find the right balance between running a business, being a mum and having my own time but if you can get it right there are so many rewards. Stay focused and positive.

Do what you love and love what you do


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