TENSE Women’s Round Inlaid Wood & Leather Wristwatch

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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?

www.TimelessTemptationsbyTopCat.com

Your First Tense Wooden Watch

You’ve finally bought yourself a great looking Tense Wooden Watch.

The wood color is vibrant. The grain pattern makes a stunning contrast. Wrapped around your wrist that watch says elegance and old money.

Moisture and oils from your skin help keep your wooden watch looking healthy. Some simple steps to care for your watch will maintain that functional beauty for years to come.

Tense Wooden Watches are adjustable to give you the best possible fit. Reducing or adding links can give you that perfect comfortable fit.

There are several types of wood used in Tense Wooden Watches. Some of the most popular are Sandalwood in different shades of rose brown or deep brown black, Inlaidwood which naturally blends light and dark coloring, and honey gold Maplewood.

Enjoy your new Tense Wooden Watch . . . and re-experience time.

TimelessTemptationsbyTopCat.com

The Entrepreneur Highway Part 8

When two hands suddenly aren’t enough!

Your online business has been a one person office since its inception and you’ve kept the wheels of progress moving smoothly forward while you gained hands-on experience, learned from a few mistakes, and worked hard to achieve a reputation for quality products and good service.

To date your stock reorders have been of modest size and easily managed while you tested items for selling potential and achieved a better understanding for the types of products buyers are looking for.

Because you’re methodical and realize a calendar year is made up of only twelve short months, you’ve carefully planned and prepared your big holiday order well in advance and passed it on to the manufacturer, giving plenty of lead time for all involved.

Needed supplies are purchased in bulk so your packaging work area is fully replenished. The printer and cutting board have been kept busy making plenty of crisp new info inserts to include with each shipped purchase. And blogs, web pages, and social networking sites now banner the news that you have what buyers need to fill their early holiday wish lists.

Everything has proceeded smoothly until that large holiday order arrives, leaving you buried in merchandise that needs to be processed before anything can be listed for sale.

Suddenly your two capable hands can’t seem to manage all the tasks that need taking care of to keep your small business functioning efficiently.

The key to surviving that mountain of work is forgetting about the big picture—all one thousand and one jobs that need to be dealt with—and focusing completely on just one task.

Like a doctor in triage you need to prioritize what tasks can’t wait and what jobs can be set aside until crunch time is over.

Since selling online is your business the priority becomes photographing and preparing listings to post online for buyers. But even these tasks have several steps that can be overwhelming with a large quantity of new inventory.

Photographing stock is time consuming so organizing that large holiday order into smaller groups of 6 to 12 items can chop that task down to size and allow for better quality control and easy retakes if a shot is not to your liking after it’s been cropped.

Give yourself a full day of photographing and cropping to get a good selection of items to list. Once all those photos are ready, part of a day can be spent renaming the photos in their folders and then uploading to a hosting service like Photobucket. Or photos can be uploaded directly to your website or an e-market platform like eBay when posting your listings.

For those who prepare HTML listings, simply drop in the image code for your new photos and update any relevant descriptive information and then proof, proof, proof to make sure photos and text pertain to each other and the listing is free of spelling and formatting mistakes.

If you offer calculated shipping—buyer enters their postal/zip code to get the shipping rate of an item—the next step is to package the products ready for listing. When posting listings with calculated shipping you’ll need to enter package dimensions, weight, and a designated carrier like UPS or regular postal services.

Now you’re ready to post this first batch of completed listings. You can spend several hours posting all the listings at once or list only three or four per day as you continue to work on new listings until all of the holiday stock is either posted in a multi-quantity format or photo ready to insert in existing listings once a similarly unique model has sold.

BACK UP YOUR WORK DAILY when working with large volumes of photos and listings in case disaster strikes. A crashed hard drive and corrupted files are definitely easier to deal with if all your work is safely stored elsewhere and easily accessible.

Working alone is not for everyone. And setting a steady daily pace until the work is done can frazzle even the stout of heart. Just remember to prioritize, organize, and then follow through. Know your physical limits and set realistic goals for each day’s workload and just do it.

A focused mind can keep two hands working productively until that mountain of inventory becomes just another task well done.

I’m an online entrepreneur. How about you?

www.TimelessTemptationsbyTopCat.com

Wooden Watches: Men’s Round Green with Brown Accent Date Sport Wooden Wristwatch

 


Designed and manufactured in Canada, the TENSE Wooden Timepiece Collection offers unique one-of-a-kind watches that are individually handcrafted from sustainable, natural wood components. In terms of color, tone, or pattern, no two watches are exactly alike.

  
Featured is the Men’s Round Green Brown Date Sport Wooden Wristwatch
 
Satin smooth Sandalwood in dark green brown and rose brown accent.
 
Round case with minute indications on bezel; dark grain dial face with silver tone numeric numerals, white luminescent hour and minute hands, and silver tone secondhand.
 
President style wooden links that can be easily removed or added for size adjustment. Extra links are available from the manufacturer.
 
Calendar date in the 3 o’clock position.
 
Water resistant for everyday casual wearing, the movement is made of high quality stainless steel and produced by Miyota (Citizen) of Japan.
 
All TENSE watches come with a two year limited warranty, operations manual, a mercury free battery that lasts up to four years, and elegant original packaging.

 

  
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

The Entrepreneur Highway Part 7

Small Budget Business: Can you really have too much of a good thing?

You’re an honest to goodness online business now and you’ve got the license hanging on your wall to prove it. Wholesalers have been winnowed down to just the right merchandise you want to showcase in your brand new e-store.

Long hours have been invested in creating a selling identity, procedures, terms, and web pages that let potential buyers know who you are, what you’re offering, and how you plan to make their shopping experience as pleasant as possible.

Whether you sell directly through your own website or on one of the large e-market sites like eBay or Amazon, having a small inventory budget means making the most of the products you do decide to sell. The more polished your listings, terms, and service, the bigger and more professional your business often appears. And unlike a brick and mortar business there’s no need to invest thousands to fill up your online store to begin with.

When you’ve finally decided on a specific product or line of merchandise, proceed slowly with samples, less expensive styles, a small selection of colors or sizes. Starting with minimum wholesale orders lets you see how buyers will respond to the merchandise and your style of listing. Smaller quantities also gives you easier control for testing and tracking which items sell quickly, how long listings remain active before making a sale, if at all, or which items become popular and have buyers asking for more.

But remember, it’s not just the products you have to work into your inventory budget. It’s also the shipping materials like boxes, bubble mailers, protective wrap, and packing tape. Most local office supply businesses will have what you need to begin. However, when the time comes to increase your stock you’ll need to find a reliable supply company that offers a lower cost per unit on larger orders. If you can’t pick up your supplies nearby when you need them, don’t forget to consider shipping costs and delivery time when selecting an out of town supplier.

Now that you’re ready to start showcasing all those great products, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when listing your merchandise.

Flooding your web pages or listings with every size, color, and style of each model you have available is a waste of time and money. If you have identical items, provide photos of one, along with a clear description, the number of multiples available, and the price per unit. If you have matching items but in different colors, simply list one of each color as a visual, along with the multiples available and the price per unit.

Another simplified point to think about is pricing. Consider all the online sellers with the same or similar stock as your own. If each seller dropped their price lower than everybody else to attract more buyers, soon you would have rock bottom prices with buyers grabbing up bargains and sellers not making any money for new stock and the whole market dries up and nobody wins.

Be competitive with your pricing. You can only price so low before you stop making money and selling is no longer worth your time and effort. Not to mention quickly sending you into bankruptcy. By virtue of having a non brick and mortar store you basically need to cover the cost of goods, shipping materials, your time or employee’s time, plus a margin of profit.

There are other ways to attract buyers to your store that doesn’t cost a penny or mean a compromise on prices. Trust is earned slowly by proving with each sale that you are a professional with quality web pages or listings that buyers can turned to for all the information they need or get answers to questions in a timely manner; you have quality merchandise that you stand behind with either warranties or buyer recourse should something go wrong; and you offer quality service that lets the buyer know exactly what’s happening with their purchase and that it arrives in pristine condition.

So what do you do when the time comes to reorder stock? You might be thinking how hard can it be? Whatever sold will be reordered. The answer is yes and no. The strategy changes when analyzing numbers for different holidays or summer vacation time or those barren early few months of any new year. Do you stay with the tried and true? Or will you carefully follow all the trends and fads and spend a substantial amount of time checking into blogs and social media sites to pick up insight to all the latest and greatest?

To make the most of your budget dollars you need to study the facts of your inventory and listen to your instincts. Experimentation is always needed to expand and help keep buyers anticipating and coming back. Just go slowly with small quantities until the product either proves itself a seller or a dismal disappointment.

The way to get those facts about your business is by analyzing sales numbers, cost breakdown, site visits, titles and keyword usage, to name just a few. You need up-to-date facts and figures available to accurately put together a merchandise reorder.

The best way to record all this information is by using a spreadsheet. Yes, it’s time consuming at first, some would even say boring. But creating some simple spreadsheets for an Inventory Wish List, Stock Pricing, Cost Breakdown, even a Stock Reorder Sheet will save you hours of poring over months of sales receipts and scraps of paper to figure out what’s been selling, if there’s a bit of profit to try something new, or not worth re-investing in. Wouldn’t you like to know how individual items sold per month? What product sold the most, what day of the week your site gets the most visits, or the optimum time for offering sales or introducing new products?

As you streamline your merchandise or expand to carry more variety, you’ll discover what information is important to you and your inventory budget. Print out what you need so you don’t always have to be at the computer to find the answer. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll be referring to these simple, easy to read reports, or adjusting the data and columns to show exactly what’s necessary to at least make an informed decision. Because now again it will happen and the stock you select will be the wrong choice. But the loss should be minimal and considered more of a learning experience than a failure. Sometimes there’s just no accounting for what becomes a top seller or a basement dud.

Get in the habit of using the spreadsheet filters to manipulate the data to see how your business is doing by product, by sales, by high or low volume. A few minutes gathering and inputting data every week into your spreadsheets will give you the heart of your business in the palm of your hand. Now that much profitable information will never be too much of a good thing.

I’m an online entrepreneur. How about you?

 

www.TimelessTemptationsbyTopCat.com

The Entrepreneur Highway Part 6

Working with product sourcing companies can be easier than you think.

When planning your online business, or any business for that matter, a lot of research can be involved in locating wholesale or dropship companies that can reliably provide the products you want to sell at prices your budget can handle.

Wholesale companies buy vast amounts of products directly from manufacturers at extremely low cost per unit prices. When you purchase wholesale, you are buying for the purpose of reselling. You get a better price than purchasing retail but to do so you also have to buy a larger quantity of products. Basically, the more you buy the lower your cost per item.

The two most notable disadvantages to using wholesale companies are the need to pay for the total cost up front before the merchandise is shipped and then requiring storage and insurance for your purchased products.

Dropship means a company has purchased huge quantities of wholesale goods or provided their own manufactured products and makes this merchandise available to you for resale. Usually you pay only for the products you sell. This service also includes shipping the order directly to your customer, often without the customer knowing that it came from the dropshipper. But for this convenience you pay more than if you owned the merchandise and offered your own shipping.

Some of the disadvantages with using a dropshipper include never actually seeing the products you’re selling, or having to deal with a third party on their time schedule if the shipped item is lost or damaged. And unfortunately, there is also the eventual possibility of having to notify a customer that the item they just purchased has suddenly sold out, been discontinued, and is no longer available for shipping . . . ever!

Type into any search engine the words wholesale directory or dropshipper directory and you’ll find plenty of offers to sift through. The directory home page usually provides information about the number of product companies you will have access to, a sampling of product categories, how often new suppliers are added to their growing database, how long they’ve been in business, FAQs, contact us info, advertisers, affiliates, and so on.

Wholesale and dropship companies signup with one of more of these directory outlets so that sellers looking for products can find information and links to hundreds of businesses all centrally located on one website.

Most of these directory sites require a yearly membership fee that varies in cost. If you’re on a budget a yearly fee of $20 can be well worth having access to hundreds of companies around the world and in your own backyard.

While the internet can provide plenty of links to product sourcing companies, don’t forget about checking your local phonebook yellow pages. You’ll be surprised at how many wholesale and dropship companies are in your city or close by. Think of the savings in shipping and delivery time if you could pick up the order yourself.

When you’ve found a supplier you like, do your own prequalifying by:

  • Checking out their website for professional characteristics.
  • Confirming the listed business name, address and telephone number.
  • Making a phone call and speaking with an employee to confirm terms, products, and shipping information.
  • And placing a minimum first order to see how smoothly the transaction goes and what condition the products arrive in.

Before contacting a wholesaler, make sure you have enough space to store bulk orders. Decide what quantities you will need to buy to guarantee plenty of stock to sell for a month or so that will also meet the supplier’s minimum order demand.

Once you’ve selected the type of products you want to sell, if possible buy only one or two of the items first to judge their quality and to also see how well they sell from your website or auction/selling platform.

Buying from smaller wholesalers can be an easier route at first as such companies often need your business as well and are more inclined to have smaller/no minimum orders or free shipping incentives. However, as your business grows, many of these smaller wholesalers can have trouble keeping up with demand in the fast-paced sales seasons like Christmas and other holidays.

New sellers may find it difficult getting wholesalers to open an account for them. There are a lot of wholesale companies out there. If one says no then try another. Once your business has been established for some time definitely revisit any suppliers of interest again. This time when they ask about you and your business, you can confidently answer:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What other products do you carry?
  • What type of customers do you cater to?
  • How much stock do you expect to sell in a month?

You should also be asking each supplier such basic questions as:

  • Do they charge a fee to setup a wholesale (dropship) account?
  • What are their return policies for damaged or unwanted stock?
  • How long will it take to process your product re-order?
  • Do they accept PayPal or credit cards?
  • Are they able to provide true wholesale pricing?
  • Are the products stored in their own warehouse at the address listed?
  • Do you need to provide the supplier with a Tax ID/Resale Number?

 Like anything else, you’re going to come across good and bad wholesale and dropship companies. Fortunately, you’ll find most are the real deal and are only too happy to help you succeed.

I’m an online entrepreneur. How about you?

www.TimelessTemptationsbyTopCat.com

The Entrepreneur Highway Part 5

Give your small online business a large corporate image.

In an age of instant visual indulgence and almost unlimited choices for online buyers, standing out from the crowd often implies doing it bigger and better than the other guys.

Yet being a small business with a small budget doesn’t necessarily mean you’re already out of the game before you’ve even started.

New businesses looking to establish themselves need to create a memorable image that transfers well whether to printed materials or uploaded to internet web pages. Logo, letterhead, business card, fax form, invoice, statement, promotional stuffers, flyers, thank you card, website. The list goes on and on.

Sub-contracting these jobs out to other companies could quickly have you running through this year’s budget and possibly next year’s too.

Entrepreneurs with limited resources quickly learn that spending adeptly and doing many of the jobs themselves will stretch funds to allow for purchases in other areas such as extra merchandise or better quality stock.

Presenting your business as though you were a million dollar company will make online buyers feel confident about purchasing your products. You could have the greatest little widgets in the world, but if all buyers’ see is spelling mistakes, poor quality photos, or slow shipping and shoddy packaging, those potential buyers and customers won’t be coming back.

Invest a little time and effort in creating an overall image that you can take pride in. Researching your favorite office supply stores will help you find just the right hardware and software products needed to get the jobs done, and at the right price. The following office basics can make your printed jobs and online web pages look professional and impressive.

The price of good quality printers has come down drastically over the years. Your office should have at least one laser printer and, if possible, a color inkjet printer. And with prices so low for most brands, focus on cost of replacement toner and color ink cartridges as a deciding factor for purchase.

A laser printer is more economical for printing black and white documents, labels, drafts, or printing off the internet. An inexpensive color inkjet is great for printing photos, color letterhead, or creating special labels such as ‘fragile’ and ‘this side up’ for shipping boxes. Simply waterproof with a strip of clear packing tape over the label and you’ve got a cheap unlimited supply of customized color labels.

Another office staple is the scanner. Great for taking hardcopy documents or computer files and transforming them into a PDF file for emailing or saving to a promotional CD. Just remember, the more bells and whistles the higher the cost.

Acquiring a decent digital camera is a must for online sellers. Unlike brick and mortar stores, online buyers are unable to handle items or try on merchandise. The photos and descriptions you provide are all a buyer has to decide whether to purchase or not. So make your beautiful widgets stand out with plenty of great photos.

If you’re in the selling business you’re also in the shipping business. Save time and money by creating online postage labels through the post office or other courier. Investing in a letter/small package scale and, for larger parcels, a portable heavy-duty shipping scale provides instant accurate weights. Most office supply stores carry several quality models at reasonable prices.

Create sharp looking documents, stunning web pages, and oversee emails using a suite of software programs that include word processing, spreadsheet application, and an email/information manager. Also, a user-friendly HTML editor program with WYSIWYG is easy to learn and can take documents created in a word program and convert them into HTML code that’s ready for uploading to your website or page.

And finally, to keep track of all your business finances you’ll need a good bookkeeping/accounting program. One that will allow you to customize invoices and statements, send invoices by email, accept account downloads from your banking institutions or other merchant support companies such as PayPal.

To be in business means spending money on necessary tools that will give you excellent results and save you money down the road. With so much diversity at affordable prices, now is the time to make your business image shine like a Fortune 500 company.

I’m an online entrepreneur. How about you?

www.TimelessTemptationsbyTopCat.com

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.