The idea for sarah + abraham came about in July 2007. I was a stay-at-home mom looking for a creative outlet a few hours a week. Today running sarah + abraham is a full-time job for me, I have a part-time employee, and I outsource production of several of my products. Every day I feel so incredibly blessed to have a job that I love and that helps to provide for my family.
For this month’s post I spent some time thinking about how my business has grown over the past four years and the best decisions I’ve made so far that have had the biggest impact on where my business is today.
- INCORPORATING. Not knowing what sarah + abraham would become I was reluctant to spend money on incorporating, purchasing business insurance, purchasing Quickbooks, and working with an accountant. But my husband insisted that I get these things in place from the very beginning, and once my business started to take off I was so glad that I had.
- OPENING AN ETSY SHOP. One of the first things I did once I had an idea for a business was spend a lot of time surfing the web to see what the competition was up to. I came across several websites I loved that were designed by Arianne at Aeolidia. I contacted her to ask her about building a website for me, and she suggested that I start with an Etsy shop. Etsy was really great for testing new products, and I got so much valuable feedback from customers sending me convos – something that shoppers seem much more likely to do on Etsy than traditional ecommerce websites.
- STARTING A BLOG. I started a blog in the hopes of getting more feedback on my new product ideas and to let my customers know a little more about me, but the best (and completely unexpected) result of having a blog has been the local friends I’ve made who came across my blog and contacted me to suggest getting together in person. These friendships have been such an amazing gift.
- HIRING AEOLIDIA. Arianne was right – starting out with an Esty shop was absolutely the way to go. But after a year, I was ready for my own website, and I’m so glad I hired Aeolidia to build it for me. They were really great to work with, and they’ve continued to help me out with website enhancements from time to time since then.
- HIRING A PART-TIME EMPLOYEE. For the longest time I felt like I was working too much but couldn’t possibly delegate anything. In 2009 my husband convinced me to advertise on Monster.com to see if I could find someone to help me out. I had no idea I’d be contacted by so many amazing women. I interviewed several of them, and wanted to hire them all. I hired a woman named Jen, and delegating to her ended up being way easier than I ever could have imagined. Today I don’t know what I’d do without her.
- CULTIVATING A VALUABLE MAILING LIST. One of Jen’s first suggestions when she started was that I take a serious look at my mailing list. Up until then I only had a few hundred people who had signed up for my mailing list, and I had never looked at who they were. A quick comparison of my mailing list to my customer database revealed that hardly any of my subscribers were actually customers. So I added a form on the checkout page of my website asking if customers would like to be added to my mailing list, and most of them opt in. Since then my mailing list has become an extremely valuable marketing tool.
- USING LICENSED ARTWORK. Also in 2009 I came across Meg’s etsy shop and fell in love with her illustrations. I noticed that she was only offering printables, so I contacted her to see if she’d consider licensing her illustrations to me so I could offer them to my customers in a printed format. Neither of us had any idea how well the collection would be received. Today olliegraphic items account for about half of all of my sales!
- EQUIPPING JEN TO WORK FROM A HOME OFFICE. Jen started out coming to my house three days a week with a half-hour commute each way. Once we were both comfortable working together, we decided that it would be better for her to work from a home office. On days when she’s working we communicate mostly using instant messenger, and it has really worked out beautifully.
- BEFRIENDING COMPETITORS. In addition to the local entrepreneurs who I mentioned above, I’ve also been really fortunate to develop online friendships with several women who run websites that are similar to mine. It’s been amazing to me how much information they’re willing to share, and it has truly made a huge difference in the growth of my business. Dacia at Lima Bean Kids shared her water bottle vendor with me; Kelli at The Hootie Coo Card Company taught me how to make notepads; Caroline at Little Cupcakes Co. encouraged me to begin offering plates and bowls, which have become a top-selling product; and Laurie at Laurie’s Lagniappe encouraged me to sell placemats, which have also become a top selling item for me.
- OUTSOURCING PRODUCTION. When I started out I wanted to keep all of my production in-house. I wanted to have complete control over quality and turnaround time. But over time I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with outsourcing production of non-paper products, and I’m so glad I have! In the past year, outsourced products (ex. pillows, banners, plates/bowls) have accounted for more than a third of my sales, and those items get way more publicity than paper goods. Plus they’re really fun products to offer, and a great fit with my paper goods.
I hope these insights will be helpful for those of you who are thinking of starting a business or just starting out. If you have any questions for me, please leave a comment!