When life gives you lemons, make lemonade — that’s what at least one furloughed “non-essential” government contractor did during the two weeks the government was shut down.
Daniel Hayes is the proud owner of Gardener of Urban, a new online store catering to hip, urban gardeners who live in small spaces. As a contractor whose civil engineering job was deemed non-essential, he not only suffered from the recent furlough, but also had some forced, unpaid time off in August due to contract gaps. This month’s pay short was the last straw.
Given his background and passion for agriculture, Daniel dreamed of running a gardening business. He’s put in some thought and taken some marketing courses on his own time, but pushing through to really build out the store is something that became urgent this month. His store, now in soft launch, will officially launch in January empowering him to use his passion to create a second income. That may mean that instead of moonlighting, one day, he can pursue his dream full-time, as many other Bigcommerce clients have done.
Moonlighters in Action
Scores of Bigcommerce clients are moonlighters: they’ve got day jobs and are pursuing an online business in their spare time. Many of them eventually make that sideline their main gig. Whether it’s a couple making t-shirts based out of their home or a cold-brew coffee habit turning into a business delivering cold caffeine via post, there are myriad stories of regular people turning their hobbies and dreams into meaningful businesses.
You don’t need formal marketing training or a big budget to make dreams of selling online a reality — in fact, if you’ve got a passion for a niche market and are willing to put in some elbow grease, you can create a small but growing business in a relatively short time. How, you might ask? Let’s give you the abbreviated plan.
Starting an Online Business
- Evaluate Your Passions & Time: What do you love to do, eat, play, etc., and are you willing to spend 1-2 hours a day plus some weekend time pursuing a business related to that thing?
- Pick Your Niche & Product Line: Figure out what it is that will keep you engaged and evaluate the other options in the marketplace. Do you have a unique angle on that item? Daniel is selling products that could be found at a regular retailer, but his unique niche of modern, small spaces means he can really target his marketing to develop a loyal following who really need his curated products.
- Find a Supplier that Dropships to Save on Inventory Costs: Holding inventory can be very costly — fortunately, today it’s not necessary to have a big investment. There are several suppliers like Tradekey & Salehoo that can help you get set up.
- Pick an E-Commerce Platform, Get Trained & Build Your Site: There are a spate of online commerce platforms out there (we’d like it if you chose ours), so you should check them out, see what training they offer and ensure that you have the right support to build out a store that you can run yourself and grow over time. Use the time in your free trial to get a sense of how hard or easy it is to list and promote your products — the first step to online sales.
- Start Marketing via Low Cost/Free Channels: Eventually, you might add paid marketing, but you’ll want to start with blogging, social media and word of mouth to create some buzz around you products and business. If, like Daniel, you’ve got a specific niche, you can also engage in low-touch co-marketing campaigns with other local businesses that have complementary products.
- Iterate, Iterate, Iterate: There is no such thing as an overnight sure thing. You’ll learn along the way, and if you take calculated risks, invest more time than money initially and keep at it, you’ve got a shot at creating a serious second income that could one day put your 9-to-5 job out of business.
It’s Not Hard, But It’s Hard Work
Don’t get me wrong, when I say that starting an online business is something nearly anyone can do, I don’t mean to imply that it’s a breeze. But it really isn’t rocket science. Like anything in life that’s worth doing — spend the effort to do it right and you have a chance to succeed. If you start a store thinking you’ll make a full income with just a few hours a week, you’ll probably be disappointed. Start with a plan and consistent moonlight work and you can build a second income stream.
You might just find your niche is big enough to allow you to go full-time like the folks at Grady’s Cold Brew and CastCoverz did with their online businesses. We’ll be excited to check in with Daniel next year when his business is thriving, regardless of what the government decides to do next!