Dipping my toes into the online world- the journey of my first online business.
One of the things I love to see when ready other people’s success stories, is some of their earliest milestones.
Michelle from MakingSenseofCents started blogging in 2011 to share her journey to financial freedom. And she is now making ridiculous amounts blogging. But what I love is going back to her earliest monthly financial statements where she began making $100, $200 a month. And was loving it! It’s so inspiring when you are starting out. So I really wanted to take a moment to pause and document where I’m at. A week before I launch my very first online business and over a year since I started working on it. A year! Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to take you this long, I’m just a slow burner.
Creating Manifest Your Vibes.
In Jan 2018, I first had the idea of VIBES. VIBES is a model to help keep you focused on the steps to achieving your goals.
I wanted to wrap up the two main principles of the Law of Attraction into an easy-to-remember bundle to help people stay focused on their goals.
Firstly by aligning your mind (visualise), heart (inspire) and soul (believe), you will facing the right direction.
And secondly, by putting your thoughts into action (experience), you will be moving toward your goals, and ultimately, success. It is as simple as that, I promise you! You can read more about the VIBES method here.
So I had my concept and I needed to get it out there. I chose an online t-shirt shop and decided to create designs that would inspire people, like you, to stay focused on their goals throughout the day. Every day. Rather than writing them in a journal on the 1st of January and forgetting they were even there.
Finding my niche.
I guess I can take it back even further. Having spent a few years in my “day job” focused on project work, learning iterative improvement techniques and using a process development framework, I became curious about the tools we use in our working environment to achieve a task. And why we don’t ever translate into our personal lives.
For years I had been setting New Year’s resolutions and maybe, just maybe, including a measurable outcome (like lose ten kgs – you now, that old chestnut!). But I never worked them through in the same way I did at work.
I knew I’d found my niche.
I wanted to pursue something that would align with achieving personal goals, both for myself and to help others. I came up with an idea that I would want, that would help me stay more focused. And I hope it will help you too.
Start small to avoid being overwhelmed.
One of the reasons I chose a print-on-demand t-shirt business is that the orders and payments go straight to the printing company and they handle the shipping process. I felt like I only had to learn the front end of the business to start with. This was just a little less overwhelming.
Over the first few months, I looked into website names, drafted design ideas with pen and paper (I had zero digital design experience), and researched t-shirt printing options. I’m not really suggesting these are the best places to start. It was a bit haphazard for sure, but I had made a start.
And I made a commitment to myself to do a little more each day.
With an outcome each month that I could actually check off. If I decided one month to choose an online platform, I gave myself the month to do it and then move on to the next task. I compared printing options. Being in New Zealand, my preference was a local printing business but I couldn’t find any local companies with the range of products I wanted. I had no intention of producing a black image on a white tee.
My products needed colour and style, variety and sustainability. I settled on PrintAura. And I love them! They are a small company based in New York, with big dreams and I loved their range of organic cottons, bamboo and RPET (recycled plastic bottles) fabrics.
Don’t be afraid of hurdles, they are an opportunity to re-focus on your goals.
My intention at the beginning was to use Fivver to get my designs turned into usable digital images, but I quickly found that I wasn’t much good at communicating the images in my head to the graphic designer via email.
The images came easily to my imagination, but it was tough to describe them in words or even through basic pencil drawings. I wasn’t happy with the images that came back – not at all because of the graphic designer, but only because they were not matching the exact image I had in my head. And frankly, I wanted the exact image, nothing less would do.
So my first big hurdle was that I was going to need to learn to use graphic design software. More research, more decisions to be made. I settled on Adobe Illustrator, despite a number of reviews saying that it wasn’t very beginner friendly. To be honest, after a number of free trials on different software, I didn’t find any particularly user-friendly for beginners. Little by little, I taught myself to use Illustrator and became more confident in the images I could produce.
Choosing a platform for my online shop.
By now, I was about six months in and I began looking at online platforms.
Although I was trying to do this all on a minimal budget, I really did love the free themes and support that Shopify offered. It meant that I didn’t have to learn too much around website-building. I knew I had to manage how many new things I had to learn or I’d never make any progress. And Shopify was so quick and easy to set up a website. I can’t recommend them enough! I had an online shop set up in no time, and I added my first trial product to see how it would look.
And getting sidetracked…
Around about here, I enrolled in an online Master’s programme that consumed the next 17 weeks of my spare time. (That was just for the first paper). Looking back it seems like this wasn’t great timing and could have sabotaged my efforts at setting up an online business. But the truth is that since I hadn’t actually run a business before, or done anything of an entrepreneurial nature for that matter, I didn’t know whether I was really going to see this through.
The magic of consistent action.
In the end, it almost felt like the business had built momentum on it’s own. But I had consistently pushed ahead. After committing to deciding on and completing a task every month, I found myself a lot further on then previous non-starter business ideas. And suddenly it became a little do-able. Suddenly, the idea of not seeing it through became the impossible.
Ten months in, I ordered my first t-shirt through PrintAura. I had to order it direct, since my website had stalled a bit and wasn’t finished yet. But I wanted something tangible and to assure myself that the printing was going to be good quality. I wasn’t disappointed.
I was starting to feel pressure to get this thing done, and I set Christmas day as my launch date. Note to self – the lead up to Christmas is pretty busy, not a good time for launching a business. Christmas came and went. My website was no further along. But somewhere over the Christmas break and into the New Year, I found myself finalising my designs and one by one uploading new products to my website.
The last month has been a long list of last minute things to check off:
Fix the zoom on the photos, find one last image for the homepage, check the currency is showing, finalise shipping costs… And get my family to check over the website for any major issues that I’ve overlooked.
And finally the website is ready!
The website is ready, the products are loaded. I’m ready to remove the password and open shop. I’m excited. I’m super curious. And I’m not really expecting anything to happen in the first few weeks. I have a great product that I truly believe in and now it’s time to turn my mind to marketing.
Expenses so far…
Despite the fact that I’d rather not know what I’ve spent so far… here is a breakdown of the costs to date:
Expenses prior to launch:
Fivver – designs that I never actually ended up using – $20
Domain name – x2 because I initially brought vibes.co.nz, before settling on manifestyourvibes.com
Shopify monthly plan – 6 months at $US29 a month.
Adobe Illustrator – I didn’t personally pay for this. I used the free trial and my Mum’s license when I was at her house, but this would have been an expense.
Lastly (although this is mainly for own benefit) I want to reflect on the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
I’ve most definitely learned that the old adage that success is achieved through persistent and consistent efforts is true. Moving forward, at whatever pace, is quite honestly one of the key components to getting your side hustle up and running. Not your ability and not your experience. ANYONE can do this. There is help along the way, forums, support, and of course ‘what-would-we-do-without-you google’.
The second thing I’ve learnt is that consistently aligning your decisions to your values will keep you on track to producing a product that reflects you.
Why is this important? Because if you don’t have a little bit of you in it, then you won’t get the same enjoyment out of it. You know how there can seem a bit of a (great big gaping) gap between having more money to improve your lifestyle and finding a job that you enjoy doing? Well, there is a sweet spot in the middle. Running an online t-shirt shop is not my ideal job. But creating designs that encourage people to focus on their dreams and engage them in actively manifesting their dreams into reality? Now that is definitely my thing!
This week I will disable the password to my Manifest Your Vibes website – feel free to check it out 😉
For the month ahead I need to figure out a basic marketing plan and set it in motion. Wish me luck!