Tips and tricks to start your online yarn store

I was recently asked if I could offer some tips on starting an online yarn store. I really wanted to help as I recently made the leap into my own online business. So here are some of the tips and tricks this not-so-young player experienced on the wonderful journey that became my very own yarn shop!

These tips apply to all types of online businesses and are not meant to be a complete guide. I encourage all potential business owners to use the many resources available both online and in the community at large. It’s a hugely challenging and exciting step, but being a one person business doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. So these are my top tips for anyone thinking of starting their own online business and living their dream.

1 – Learn about business. It’s not just about buying and selling. While you may have strengths in some areas, there are specific things you need to learn. No one can be an expert in all aspects of running a business. Get training (local college courses, government-funded programs, etc.) and make sure you have at least a basic understanding of all areas of business. I started my business with the help of a program funded by the Australian government called NEIS (New Business Incentive Scheme). It is a program for people who are registered as unemployed and who want to start their own business. The program offers training (Cert 4 in Small Business Administration, which is a nationally accredited course), a bi-weekly fee that is paid for 12 months, and regular mentoring sessions. I found the learning process extremely valuable and insightful as I was introduced to many business concepts that I was unaware of. Without this training, my business dream would have remained in that.

2- Know what it is about. There are many facets to running a business and if you get into this blind spot, you will almost certainly fail. Become close friends with your local Small Business organization. It’s one of the smartest things you’ll ever do.

  • Start-up financing. Do you have savings that you can use to create a new business? Or will you have to apply for financing, in the form of loans or grants?
  • Regulations – Does your local government have rules about running your type of business, eg home business regulations, insurance?

  • Taxes – This is probably the most challenging of all. Get some basic advice from your tax regulator. Their websites are often packed with good information on starting and building a business and complying with tax laws. If this is not one of your strengths, budget for an accountant to help you with this. Even if it is, you must have an accountant available for annual returns.

3 – Website and support systems – Be prepared to spend time and money on the design and implementation of your website. Online businesses are booming, but that doesn’t mean they’re any easier to set up than brick-and-mortar stores. You can’t just create a website and expect visitors and sales from day one. You need to optimize your site so that all major search engines can find it and customers can reach your site based on their chosen search terms. If you use a website designer, ask them about SEO (search engine optimization). It can add significant cost to the build, so learn as much as you can and do as much as you can yourself if you can.

Know what you need from your business systems. Do you have experience in web design (which is quite different from knowledge, as I found out!). Do you know what you need in a website/shopping cart? Again, talk to people, check out web design companies, and reach out to their clients for feedback. Don’t assume that a website/shopping cart will have the features you assume are standard, eg, stock control, email, and newsletter features.

The same goes for accounting and office software. If you have an accounting background, you are ahead of many. If not, consider taking a short course or hiring a bookkeeper. Yes, this will increase your operating costs, but so will having a huge tax bill!

Make sure your computer skills are up to date, as you’ll be doing a lot of word processing, budgeting, and emailing. You can also invest in a writing course, as you will be amazed at the amount of time you will spend pounding the keyboard, responding to emails, posting on social media, preparing newsletters and blogs.

4 – Do your market research. If you don’t do this, you won’t have a market to sell to. Obviously you’re going into business because you’re passionate about something, whether it’s knitting, gardening, or any other reason. You can excel in one or more areas, but don’t assume you know what customers want based on their beliefs.

I spent weeks researching thread websites, checking out what they were selling, and seeing what other services they offered (blogs, giveaways, tutorials, etc.). I looked at its design and overall feel. I also visited local yarn stores to see how I could translate the physical storefront into a virtual one. The main message I got from this was that I had to provide a friendly, easy to use and informative website with lots of variety and ways for the customer to interact with the store.

You need to know who your competitors are. Direct competitors are those that sell the same type of product that you want to sell. Indirect competitors may be retailers selling mass-produced knitwear or cheap, unbranded yarns. Your business plan should include an overview of your competition and describe how you will fit into today’s industry and stand out from the crowd.

You are looking to offer a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). This may be selling a product that no one else offers and that is in demand, or providing a service that is not available, eg cafeteria, delivery service, classes, etc. It’s about developing your business as a brand. Think of some big companies and write down what comes to mind when you hear their name. It’s as much about how they do business as it is about the products they sell.

5 – Develop a business plan. This can be done on your own or with the help of the Business Support Centers. A business plan is essential to obtaining funding, as well as being your frequently referred to “bible” both to see if your business is running according to plan, and to remind you why you did this crazy thing in the first place. square!

A well-prepared business plan gives you an edge when you are negotiating finances and starting out, as it shows that you are serious and professional in your approach. It should include the results of market research, your biography in relation to your intended business, and a set of projected and start-up financials.

6 – Develop an effective marketing strategy for your business. Mailboxes may not be the most effective way to promote a business online, but well-placed posters and flyers in shopping malls, libraries, community centers, nursing homes, and hospitals can work well. Print advertising doesn’t have to be limited to just thread magazines. Also consider parenting, craft, and lifestyle magazines.

Use social networking sites. I have a Twitter account and a Facebook page. Of the 2, Facebook has been the most valuable as it gives the viewer a look inside my business and its core values. This relates to building your brand. I didn’t realize the relevance of this at first, but after attending a couple of business seminars and doing my market research, I realized that my “brand” is at the core of what I do. My goal is to help knitters of all levels, but especially new and inexperienced knitters, who may be afraid to approach a high-end store for advice. This is becoming my “trademark”.

Identifying your brand is a key feature of your business plan, so try to establish this as early as possible. And remember, your original business idea may well evolve and change as you respond to customer demands.

7 – Be prepared to not generate income for at least a year. Although I receive an allowance for the first 12 months, I still have to rely on my savings to survive. You may need to consider running your business alongside a “real” job for a while. I haven’t resorted to this yet, but I feel like the time may come quite soon. In the meantime, I’m doing everything I can to avoid this, but I have to be realistic.

8 – Network. Talk to people! If you want an insider’s view on the type of business you want to run, talk to someone who runs a similar one. You could obviously scare off some operators who perceive you as a potential threat. Why not talk to someone who runs a business that isn’t your competitor? For example, if your business involves knitting yarn, talk to the owner of a yard store or other craft store. They are usually happy to answer questions and show interest. You can also contact the same type of business in a completely different location, as they are unlikely to be a direct competitor.

Participate in forums and subscribe to newsletters and magazines to keep up with trends and gather feedback from people using the products you want to sell. When I was first thinking about starting a yarn business, I wanted it to be a brick-and-mortar store, with a cafeteria and play area, as well as a wide selection of yarns. I asked the question “What would your dream yarn shop look like/have?” to a local forum group and they came up with exactly what I had envisioned. This was very encouraging, but after much thought and reflection, I realized that I was not up to the challenge of such an ambitious operation. Starting online is by no means a commitment, or a practice, but it may well lead me to open a retail store in the future.

9 – Last but not least, stay positive and passionate about what you are doing! Most people who have dreamed of opening their own yarn shop (or any business) focus on one aspect of that business. For us yarnies it is the dream of being surrounded by beautiful fibers every day! While this will always be the case, there are many other facets of owning a business that can exceed your dreams.

The day-to-day pressures of small business are always going to be there, so keep reminding yourself why this was so important to you. And if you sometimes forget what it was that made you want to do this, remind yourself of it by picking up your needles and thread and escaping to the world of your dreams, even if it’s just for an hour; you will soon remember what madness led you to open your own. yarn shop!

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