The Entrepreneur Highway Year-End Review

Welcome to the closing days of 2010.

Reflection has a wonderful way of softening the highs and lows of a busy year. The Entrepreneur Highway series was created as a sort of ongoing journal regarding the experiences of taking the idea of starting a business through inception and into its first year of growth.

As most of us know there is always more than one way to complete a task or fulfill a dream. But I’ve always found it comforting and enlightening to read someone else’s ups and downs, the dodged pitfalls, mistakes turned into wins, or simple cost effective ways to make an impression.

As always, these contributions either confirm our own choices or make us search harder for a better way to succeed.

Was all the effort, hard work, and long hours of starting and running an online business worth it?

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The work is what keeps me pumped, giving my creative psyche full rein while constantly testing my organizational and troubleshooting abilities. I never knew I could wear so many different hats and still feel in control. And I definitely like that, having control.

What area of the business do I consider a weakness?

My business has expanded quite a bit since starting out. With being a one-person show I’m on the point of reaching my limitations as far as doing everything myself. The challenge on many occasions has been to find faster ways of creating listings, doing photographs, of turnaround times when item A is sold and item A1 is posted to take its place. And all this must be done without compromising quality of the listings or service to buyers.

This next year will bring new challenges where inventory is concerned. A wide selection of multiples is needed to attract a continuous flow of online buyers. But if I try to offer too much inventory, costs go up and needed time to handle everything bottoms out. It’s going to be a fine line and I’ll continue to push that line until either my selling format changes or I bring an employee on board.

Have I had to adjust my selling strategies since starting the business?

When I started out my selling strategies consisted of a website to showcase my inventory, a selling platform that provided guaranteed buyer traffic, and listings that offered more than just some text on a white page and a couple of photographs. As time has gone by I may have improved my presentation and marketing materials, but those three strategies are still the foundation of my business.

Through my website and listings, my goal is to provide buyers with all the information they need to make an informed buying decision. That means blending color, photographs, and information to make a visual impression that hopefully tells buyers: every aspect of my business is worth my time and effort which includes providing great service and never leaving a question or problem unanswered.

What tools do I find indispensable for running my business?

Of course I couldn’t get by without the usual equipment like printers (laser/color inkjet), computer, scanner, digital camera, lighting, weigh scales, a photo hosting site, and so on. But at this point I only require some basic programs to keep everything running smoothly.

My Word program creates everything from listing text and email responses to compiling research and marketing materials. Excel makes the reports I use to keep track of sales and inventory, costs and fees, and the titles and colors used in listings. A good email manager like Outlook is a must and used to control the constant flow of emails from sales, payments, buyers, and so on. I also use OneNote as a database for information collected from the internet and emails.

Two specialized programs I use are an HTML Editor by CoffeeCup for more control over creating listings and web pages and QuickBooks Pro Accounting program to track the financial growth of my business and provide the necessary reports.

As owner and employee, what do I find the hardest about my business?

Knowing when to call it a day. I never knew I was a workaholic until I started my own business. There’s always something that needs doing. I like to think I’ve gotten better since I started, but I have a tendency to keep at a task until it’s completed or until exhaustion sets in.

Fortunately, after almost a year, the prep work has been reduced to its simplest form making the routine easy to follow through. My work day usually begins about 5 a.m. during the week and, if I’m not involved in something, stops about 4 p.m. Then the work hat comes off and the family hat goes on. On weekends I’m more relaxed, although I still usually work in the mornings before taking the rest of the day off. The only time that changes is when a new order of merchandise arrives. Then it’s full work days until all the stock is processed.

Do I have any advice for someone thinking about starting up a business?

Beyond the necessity of doing your homework when starting up any business, my advice is to pick something you really love doing or working with. Simply liking something may not be enough when deadlines must be met or preparing merchandise over and over.

Running a business becomes a way of life that takes some work to blend successfully with family life. Loving your work is a big plus when tasks overwhelm but need to be finished, when dealing with unhappy customers or lost parcels in the mail.

Hands-on experience has allowed me the opportunity to express opinions regarding my little niche in the small business world. I certainly welcome the opinions of other entrepreneurs willing to share and even those just thinking about stepping outside their comfort zone.

In the meantime, this is my last blog for 2010. Between selling, family, and the upcoming holidays there just isn’t time for anything more.

Until the start of 2011, I wish all of you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year.

Colette – TopCat2x2

I’m an online entrepreneur. How about you?


The Entrepreneur Highway Part 1

I’m not a salesperson and never had any desire to be one.

I can’t recall any of my ancestors ever owning a mom & pop store or even selling cleaning products from the trunk of their car. So when an off chance suggestion to become an online seller started bouncing around inside my head, I had to wonder why the possibility of selling used items online had me so distracted for days.

To appease that nagging suggestion, I spent several weeks buried in research, getting to know the basic ins and outs of the selling platform I wanted to use. I figured I might as well go with the big guy, the one that’s become a household word and been immortalized in movies and bestsellers. During those first hesitant steps I never imagined how important that choice of venue was eventually to become.

Born with the attitude of all or nothing, I didn’t just test the waters with my toe but jumped right into the deep end of the online selling pond to find myself immersed in evaluating and preparing collectibles, creating listings, establishing terms and administrative protocols. Never once did I think of my online selling as just a hobby. I had no idea where it would lead. Only knew I didn’t want to stop.

And then my first sale happened. Suddenly it wasn’t the money made or all the hard work that led up to that sale, it was the happy email from the buyer saying thanks, just as described, a good transaction. My chest swelled with pride and I did a little victory dance around my office chair. I was happy because the buyer was happy.

There’s been a lot more sales since that first one. And each one has made me feel the same way. Fulfillment with the work and a satisfied smile when I know the buyer is happy too. Selling had become a primary part of my life bringing interesting friends, a chance to clean house and let someone else enjoy all my unused treasures, and often so much work there usually wasn’t enough hours in the day. And I had absolutely no clue that in just over a year, my online selling would take on a whole new meaning.

Nope, I’m definitely not a salesperson. I’m a photographer, writer, graphic designer, HTML programmer, wholesale buyer, researcher, bookkeeper, website maker, promoter, keyword fanatic, shipping supervisor, statistics analyzer, creative financial genius, and now a blogger.

In other words, I’m an online entrepreneur.                


Doing the Wild Thing

Have you ever tried something that was totally outside your comfort zone and didn’t know why you were doing it, but couldn’t seem to stop?

For some, this type of situation might be an everyday occurrence. If that person is you, then I tip my hat to your lusty stamina for those massive highs and lows in that wild unknown.

For the rest of us, jumping aboard that runaway prospect into the undefined can sometimes come with the same pounding thrills as having a shot at a death defying leap in the Big Top . . . without a net!

Of course the choice to try or let a possible opportunity slip away is always mine. So why has this experience captured my interest, turned me into a workaholic, satisfied a deep need inside me, and left me hanging in mid air at times, grasping for that illusive bar of security?

I can’t answer that, yet. But whether it’s fated to be or turns out in the long run to be just an academic exercise, I can honestly say I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to become an entrepreneur.