I’ve been around entrepreneurs my whole life. My dad did freelance computer repair after his 9-5 when I was a kid, and by the time I was a teenager, my parents took the plunge and started their own business. There’s no doubt that growing up around small business owners has inspired me to start my own business. Over the years, my passion for design led me down a career path that has landed me at Volusion as the Senior Web Designer on the Services team. After years of back and forth and talking myself in and out of starting my own business, I decided to combine my entrepreneurial spirit with my creativity and dive right in.
In this blog post I will walk you through the steps I took leading up to the day I launched my online store, which resulted in getting my first sale that very same day! Expect some tips from a professional designer (hint: me!) along the way.
First Things First
After fully committing myself to the idea of being a small business owner, the next step was to decide on a business name. I’ll admit—this took me a little while. I wanted the name to feel absolutely perfect. After lots of brainstorming, I finally landed on a name that felt just right. Thankfully, the domain was available, as well as all of the social media handles. I quickly purchased the domain, claimed my social media accounts, and voila! A Love Letter Co. was born!
Now that I landed on a name, it was time to design the logo. Although I’m a full-time designer, I’ve never been my own client, so I knew this could get interesting. A logo is incredibly important because not only is it the face of your brand, but it’s the first impression people have of your business. After a few rounds of logo explorations, I finally landed on a logo I was happy with. Now I could move forward with designing my products because I had a tangible logo that represented an end goal for me.
The Fun Begins
I knew that I wanted to have four products in my store at launch. I’m selling T-shirts, enamel pins, and stickers, and after some preliminary research, I knew the enamel pins would take the longest amount of time to produce. I already had an idea for an enamel pin, so I went straight to work and sent them into production.
Quick Tip: If you’re outsourcing for production, do your research! Compare manufacturers, suppliers, etc. and gather quotes. Take timelines into account as well as how you’ll price your product for the best profit.
As my products were beginning to take shape, I felt it was the right time to start promoting my brand on social media. I wanted buzz around my brand and products well before my store went live. I put all my focus on Instagram because I felt it would be the best and easiest platform for me to tackle first. After my enamel pins finally arrived, I took some lifestyle photos to use for my first post. I was a little nervous about it because this was my very first “hello!” to the world, and that meant no turning back. My first post was a pretty general introductory graphic with my logo and a list of the products I would be selling. At this point I wasn’t completely sure when I’d be ready to launch my store, so I didn’t want to commit to a specific date just yet. I wanted to give myself some time to build an Instagram following and finalize my other products before commiting to a launch date. I kept the caption short and concise letting people know I’d be launching in Summer 2018.
First post—check. Now comes the responsibility of curating and maintaining my Instagram feed with fresh, engaging content. This felt (and honestly still feels) like a daunting task. Since my products revolve around movies, TV, and pop culture, I sourced images that align with the message and mood I want my brand to evoke. For extra branding, I created a style to apply to images I did not take myself so that they feel cohesive on my feed. Since the color pink is my main brand color, I applied a pink filter over images so that there is a consistent feel throughout all of my posts.
Quick Tip: Identifying a style to keep your posts consistent will strengthen your branding and give off an overall polished feel.
To start attracting the right type of person (in my case, fans of specific TV shows and movies), I posted pictures that would appeal to those fans—especially before I had my products in-hand—to start garnering their attention. My captions would tease a product drop in the hopes that people would give me a follow and stick around. I took advantage of all the hashtags Instagram allows and began interacting with accounts that I felt would like my brand. Not only was I interacting with potential customers, but I was engaging with other small businesses similar to mine to start building relationships. Slowly but surely, my audience was growing.
Full Speed Ahead
Once I had two products in hand, I coordinated with my sister who happens to dabble in photography and set up a photo shoot at my house. I purchased a giant roll of bubblegum pink paper to use as the backdrop and talked my other sister into modeling for me. I wanted a pink backdrop to tie back into my branding and the overall aesthetic I had been curating on Instagram. When the photos from my first shoot hit Instagram, they were immediately my highest performing posts. This was a major confidence booster as I felt I was getting a pretty positive reaction, and it made me that much more excited to launch my store.
After a couple more weeks of prep work—including taking all of the product photos for my site, setting up my Volusion store, and gathering my packing and shipping materials—I identified a realistic launch date. A week from that day, I posted a graphic on Instagram telling people that we were only a week from going live. To generate some extra excitement, I announced that the first 40 orders would get a free sticker with their purchase. I happened to stumble upon a great deal on a set of custom stickers, so I created a design to promote my business. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and besides, who doesn’t like free stuff?
The week flew by, and admittedly I was nervous the night before my launch date. Every evening leading up to this moment was completely dedicated to my online store, and the time had finally come for my labor of love to come to fruition. I stayed up late that night and ended up taking aloveletter.co live at around 2 am and was going to formally announce it in the morning when I woke up.
I downloaded the Volusion app to my phone so that I could receive notifications and make changes to my store on the fly. Just as I was about to finally go to bed, I heard my phone go off. Much to my surprise, I received a notification from Volusion alerting me that I had a new order. I made my first sale! WHAT?! I hadn’t even announced my store was officially live yet—not to mention it was the middle of the night! I logged into my store thinking that surely this was some sort of mistake, but nope! Apparently there was a night owl out there lurking around waiting for my store to go live. I could hardly sleep, I was so excited!
After I woke up the next morning, I was thrilled to formally announce that A Love Letter Co. was live. I was still buzzing from my first sale that came in early that morning and was hopeful that I’d receive more orders as the day went on. You can imagine my excitement when eight more orders came in on the very day that I launched! I was stoked! I had my packing materials all ready to go for weeks and was so excited to finally put them to use and get my orders together. I set up an assembly line and went to work. By the end of the day, I had a stack of orders ready to ship. I was so joyful and optimistic for the future of my store.
Quick Tip: Make your packaging special! Customers are excited to receive their package in the mail and are more likely to post about it online if there is some unique packaging involved. For example, purchase colorful mailers or include a handwritten thank you note with each package. Having customers post about your store to their friends is a great way to attract new customers.
Looking back on my journey to my first sale, I don’t think I would change much. For a first timer, I feel like I did pretty good just going with the flow and following my gut. Although I’m a perfectionist, I allowed myself the time and flexibility to make sure I was feeling confident about going live and not rushing it just for the sake of having my store up. With that being said, I did begin to feel a little restless a couple weeks out from my launch date.
If I could go back and give myself some advice, I’d tell myself not to make an Instagram until I had the majority of my products in hand. I created my Instagram, the only platform I was marketing myself on, a whole month before I ended up launching my store. At that time, I only had my enamel pin in hand—nothing else. I teased product drops for a couple weeks and shared the final products as soon as I could, but I felt that potential customers were growing tired of seeing a product they weren’t able to buy yet. People were clearly expressing interest in my products, which was amazing! But there was no call to action nor was there a concrete launch date (up until a week out) so I felt a little helpless and worried I was losing potential sales.
By no means do I consider myself a social media guru, nor have I mastered the art of Instagram, but I am proud of the work I put in to market myself and make my first sale the day I launched my store. I definitely don’t think I could’ve made my first sale the day I went live if I hadn’t begun promoting my products ahead of time. Finding unique ways to promote a small product offering was a challenge, but it ended up working okay in the end. I’m still figuring out the whole Instagram thing, like which type of posts perform the best, the best time of day to post, how often to post, etc., but I’m having a great time learning as I go along. Once I settle into my groove, I’ll begin to tackle other social media platforms to expand my online presence.
It has been so rewarding to express myself through my online store and create things I am passionate about. Setting up my online store was the easiest part of my journey. Volusion made it incredibly easy for me to create and maintain my shop. The prep work behind the scenes like taking nice product photos, preparing my packaging (I needed hot pink mailers for T-shirts, you know?), and marketing myself on Instagram were the most time-consuming, but the end result was so rewarding for this small business owner.