Are you a Mum or Dad dreaming of setting up a web business from home? Here are three important tips from a Mum with 3,000 customers.
It was Jayne Day’s desire to spend more time with her young family that first led her to set up a home-based online business back in 2004.
Before starting a family Day had worked in the property management side of the real estate industry. The need for a steady income saw her return to work just three months after the birth of her first child - but that didn’t suit the lifestyle she was looking to create for herself and her new family.
“I didn’t like feeling pressured to have to do that, and getting calls at weekends, which comes with the real estate industry,” Day says. “So I started to look around for something else that I could do.”
She started by taking items that she had bought for her children but no longer needed and selling these on eBay. Early success led to think about what else she could sell, and by 2007 was planning her own website. Hence Swish Lily was born.
Back then the many so-called "mumpreneur" networks that exist today did not yet exist, so Day was left to figure out many of the intricacies of online retailing herself.
“I’d never been in retail prior to this so it was a whole new learning curve for me,” Day says. “I had to learn everything from scratch. And I didn’t have much money so I was basically trying to learn a lot of it myself, and that took a bit of time.”
1 Will your web site let customers know if you're out of stock?
That inevitably led to stumbles within the business, the biggest of which was her first website.
“At that stage I knew nothing about website design and how to get it up and running,” Day says. “With the first website, which was referred to me, just didn’t work. It wasn’t functional and wasn’t what I wanted. But because I was at the beginning stages I didn’t really know what to ask for. "
Day says the site had been developed by someone who was recommended to her, and cost around $400. But she soon found that it had numerous limitations.
For starters, there was limited opportunity to customise it and change features. But the biggest challenges were in the back-end processes relating to actually running her business, such as stock control and reporting on sales.
“I basically had to run this part of the business manually and separately to the website which made it difficult especially when it came to an item that had been sold out but this wasn't reflected in what was available on the website,” Day says. “So customers were purchasing items that were no longer available."
"The person that designed the website told me that this would be available but in the end it wasn't.”
Within 12 months she had made the decision to abandon her investment and start again with a new website.
"I went somewhere else and had a second website built, and that is the one I still have today,” she says.
Today Swish Lily is a profitable business with 3,000 customers, selling everything from babies and kids clothing to nursery furniture and maternity wear.
She has made a number of adjustments to the business. As her garage began filling with stock she sought suppliers who would drop-ship. She also had to overcome her initial fears around social media and now embraces it as a means of connecting with customers and sourcing suppliers.
2 Be prepared for a lot of late nights
Her decision to work from home has also seen her configure the business around her children, and for a while she was happy for business to come second to their needs.
“That was fine, because that was the way I wanted it to be,” Day says. “It was a lot of late nights, and it still is now, working between when they were sleeping or at day care. This sort of business does work for people who want to be at home with their families, because I can be sending emails to people late at night. It is completely flexible.”
Can she give us a ballpark idea of how much time is involved?
Day says that as with any business, the time she invested was reflected in the results that she achieved. Looking after her young children in the early days of the business meant she had limited time to devote to it, and hence it got off to a slow start.
“As I started to invest more time I saw more results,” Day says. “To make it successful, I would say you need to devote a minimum of 30 hours per week to the business. A lot of time is spent marketing and sourcing new stock.”
A typical day starts with her answering emails and checking orders, which are packed and prepared for collection by couriers. She then moves on to marketing, including updating the website, before checking orders again in the afternoon and answering the latest batch of email.
Day says that marketing is the most important and most time-consuming of the tasks she performs. This might see her:
- creating customer email newsletters
- managing search campaigns
- managing social media channels
- updating the website
Because Day started out with no real budget she took on almost all aspects of the business herself, including marketing, where she focused on search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing through Google.
“I’ve taken a couple of online courses and done a couple of different things but it’s been a lot of trial and error too,” Day says. “I’ve enjoyed learning about it myself because it has meant I have been able to control that side of the business, rather than relying on someone else to do it for me.”
Much of her learning came through simply reading about the experiences of other web business operators, and finding tutorial videos on YouTube.
"I researched a lot before implementing anything to ensure I was listening to the right advice, and I then monitored results to determine what was working and what wasn't,” Day says. “There is a lot of information available, but you need to take the time to ensure you are listening to those that have proven results. I followed the leaders in the industries that I needed to learn about and networked with other small business owners to get their recommendations."
Her experiences with Swish Lily led her to create a second business last year, called Webonize, which helps other would-be home-based start-ups. Webonize has been running for 12 months, and has provided assistance to about 70 clients in everything from creating websites and online marketing to social media and SEO.
“I found there was a huge demand, particularly from ladies like me - mums who have started a business from home and don’t know anything and just want someone they relate to who can help them."
In what ways does she think mums starting a web business need help? Jayne says she sees many struggling with the same issues she struggled with, particularly SEO and marketing, while many simply don’t understand the importance of online marketing.
“You need to be able to be found online by prospective customers or clients because this is now where they are searching for the information,” Day says. “Many business owners have a website designed and think that is enough but there is no point in having a fabulous website if no-one can find it.”
She says that websites are often not well organised to be crawled by search engines, and owners fail to implement the correct keywords that will actually bring in business.
3 At some point, stop learning and start doing
But the most common trap that she sees is one that she was able to avoid, which is spending too much time learning and not enough time doing.
“They are always learning, always reading, and always finding out about new things, and thinking about what to do next, but not putting into action,” Day says. “And therefore nothing is benefitting their business.”
Her other advice to would be home-based entrepreneurs is to get out from their four walls and start networking with other business people.
“Even if you can’t get to local events in your area you can always join forums and do it online, and find a huge amount of support that way,” Day says. “For anyone in business, just go to where your people are hanging out online and get support from that avenue as well.”
Does Day have any theories on what's helped her business, Swish Lily, to become profitable?
Because Swish Lily operates in a highly competitive market, she says the number one requirement is to deliver great customer service, as this leads to word of mouth referrals. Then by keeping the site well optimised she is able to draw large volumes of traffic in from Google, which convert to a large portions of sales.
Because of this, she says the business remains both profitable and growing, which means Day can maintain her dream of not having to return to a job - not bad for a business that she has built with little investment other than her own time.
“I’m not a big risk taker,” Day says. “I’ve invested a lot of time, but not a lot of money, so if it did all go south it wouldn’t concern me too much. But what keeps me going is my family, and the alternative of going back to work and working for a boss. And that is something that I dread.”
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[All images stock, unless otherwise noted]