I've been in business for about 4 years now, and it's been a challenge and a lot of hard work. I don't have a background in retail or business at all, so it's been a very steep learning curve for me. I've made a few choices which weren't great for my business, so I'm sharing my experiences here, maybe it will help others avoid these pitfalls.
The card machine
These days people (rightly) expect to be able to pay by card. This is fine when selling online, as all the sales platforms handle payments for you, or customers can pay by paypal or BACS, but it's when you go out to events that you need an option to take card payments. I found I was losing sales by not having a card machine.
I asked my bank for help, and they provided me with a card machine like this
There was a monthly rental fee and a minimum transaction fee (to pay if you don't make enough sales). I didn't want this, as some months I wouldn't use the machine at all. I negotiated a yearly fee of £300, plus about 1.75% of each transaction. I also had to register with Security Metrics to ensure I kept customer's data safe. This was another £25 per annum, and my monthly fees from card sales were on average £10 per month, so I paid about £445 a year for this card machine.
*Beware - when I cancelled this with my bank they made it very difficult, and I had to pay £30 to get the card reader couriered*
That's a big hit for a sole trader like me, so I started looking around for a different method. I asked around traders at events and in online groups and I found out that Square was really popular It works from my mobile (either android or apple), and the device cost me about £20. I pay 1.75% per transaction and there are no other fees - brilliant for a sole trader like me! I'm hoping to save about £400 a year.
If you sign up via another seller's link as I did, you get the first £1000 of transactions free
Here's my link in case you're interested
Letting my ebay seller status get Below Standard
As well as selling on my website, I sell on ebay. It's a good way to introduce customers to my website as I include business cards with each purchase from ebay.
It's very difficult to keep up to date across 2 websites, especially when I have events on as well. Occasionally, an item would be out of stock, so I'd offer customers an alternative or a refund. If they took a refund, I would mark the transaction cancelled as out of stock. I never had any complaints from customers or any negative feedback BUT I did not realise that ebay counts these as 'transaction defects' and you only need a score or less than 2% to drop to below standard.
Not a big problem you'd think - WRONG! Each defect stays on your account for a year. Once you become below standard you drop way down the rankings in ebay's listings. My sales dropped overnight. I went from taking £600 - £800 per 30 days to taking less than £100.
The only way back is to increase your sales massively so that the percentage of your defects lessens.
I did a bit of research and I found this article the most helpful
I followed the advice, but it has taken 5 months for me to get back to above standard. I sold loads of fabric at 99p start auctions, and this helped me boost my sales, but unfortunately I attracted a lot of customers who wanted a bargain and some of them complained about all sorts of issues, like the colour of the fabric even when I'd used stock photos. I found it a bit disheartening, but luckily for me it was nearing Christmas and so I managed to sell a fair bit of my Christmas stock. I gave up on the 99p auctions - too much of a lost leader for me!
Moral of this story - keep an eye on your ebay dashboard and take action if you see your seller level slipping.
When my business started getting seen online more, I began to get calls from magazines offering advertising. I have to admit, I was very taken in with the flattery they give you and I took out adverts in different sewing magazines.
The costs of this varied from £24 to £150 per month plus VAT. I only ever took out 2 of the £150 ones. I put a discount code in each advert so that I could track the sales. The £150 were from a magazine for the Millitary wives and girlfriends and it was called Just For Her. I did not receive one single sale from this magazine, and had only minimal success with the others. I gave it a year before I knocked that one on the head!
I have since found that online advertising works better for me, and as well as social media I use paid and targeted facebook advertising and an online directory www.thesewingdirectory.co.uk
What have I learnt?
Dont rush into things!
Don't go big to quickly
Do take time to ask others online and in person what are the best options or ideas
Take a look at how much things cost and don't be afraid to cancel or change things
Don't lose touch with your sales and stock
Do reflect regularly on what you've learnt and put changes into practice
Don't mistake hard sell for flattery