Starting a new business can be a truly daunting experience. But it can also be incredibly rewarding, especially when those first orders finally roll in.
If you are reading this, we are assuming you already know you’re way around a leather shop. That being said, we won’t cover anything in regards to leatherworking itself here.
So let’s dive into what it will take to get your new business off the ground!
Brand Your Business
First things first; you need to name your business. Come up with a name that is unique and gives your customers an idea of who you are and what you sell!
Use your name, your location, a family member, or a motto for inspiration. Try and keep it short and memorable. Unless an incredibly long, or funny name is on brand for you.
Narrow your company name list down to your absolute favorites. Start searching the internet for other businesses that may be using the same name or even similar names.
You want to ensure that your company name is unique so that your business stands out. But more importantly, that it doesn’t get confused with another business. There’s nothing worse than someone leaving you a bad review meant for a different business with the same or similar name!
Sure, you can always change your name later, but you risk confusing or losing customers with that kind of change. Finding a unique company name early on ensures you won’t have to go through the headache of rebuilding your company around a new name later on.
Double check that the names you settle on are not trademarked. You can search the federal trademark database to see if your name or something similar has already been registered. If that’s the case, do not go forward with that name as you could open yourself up to lawsuits.
Once you’re happy with your business name, decide whether you want a logo. You don’t need anything fancy right away, and you can develop a logo as you develop your company. However, logos are great to have because you can easily brand your products, social media, letterhead, and more.
You could use a free service like Canva to design something using their clipart catalog and all of the free images they have available. Use your company motto or values as inspiration.
If designing a logo isn’t in your wheelhouse, set aside some cash to pay a designer to create one for you. You’ll want to get it in multiple sizes and file types. You can find some great graphic designers for small fees on sites like Fiverr. Again, be sure to check that the images you use are not trademarked.
Your new logo can be added to promotional items like stickers, hats, and shirts. And unlike company names, logos are easier to update when you don’t feel yours reflects your business anymore. Look at ours, for example! It’s changed twice since we started off. A little rebranding never hurts.
Budget For Your Business
Every business needs start-up money. From stocking up your workshop to creating a website, almost everything you are going to do when launching a business will require some financial investment.
It’s likely you are going to be starting this business while working a regular full time job. This helps because it means that you will have money coming in to keep you afloat while you navigate these new waters. Even if you have the funds available, you will want to keep your budget small until you begin bringing in some revenue from your leather goods.
You don’t need to splurge right away on a camera or new computer. Use what’s already at your disposal. Cell phones have amazing cameras on them and your laptop you use every day should be perfectly fine to start with.
Don’t blow your budget on things that won’t help your business grow right away. Instead, focus on key items you’ll need to build your brand with.
Book Your Booth At Upcoming Fairs and Events. There are usually vendor fees when you become a seller at a street fair or farmer’s market. Put aside enough money to cover your tables or booths through the year.
And don’t forget the gas and travel expenses that add up when attending these events! Be sure to keep all the receipts for filing your taxes. Every business expense counts!
Website and Sales Platform Fees. If you’re planning on selling online right away, you’ll want to consider several options and their cost.
You could sell somewhere like Etsy or eBay, which are inexpensive to launch on. But they do charge fees for listing products, processing payments, and your sales. These fees can be between 12-16% of your sales.
There are many e-commerce platforms out there that can help you build your own simple and highly professional looking website. A website will take much more maintenance and care than a listing on Etsy, but you get to decide the look and cost of absolutely everything.
Or you could do both! Etsy has a huge customer base that will undeniably help people find your shop. Starting your own website can take a lot of time and work to get it in front of just a handful of people. Etsy could get you in front of a larger audience fairly quickly which you could then start shifting to your website.
Just remember that doing both will double up the cost of fees as well as double your time spent on shop maintenance. So decide what fits your budget, time, and your skillset best.
Marketing Materials. You’ll want to design and order some business cards and booth signage to promote your business. Order some swag items, like stickers, to hand out when you’re meeting your new customers or to include in orders. We’d recommend checking out a company like 4imprint for your swag and marketing needs.
Business Operation Costs. You’ll need to evaluate the size and needs of your business to figure out what your operational costs may be.
You may need to invest in some accounting software (like Quickbooks) to keep your incoming and outgoing money straight and track your shop inventory.
You will need to check with your state to find out what fees or paperwork are required to get your business license and Tax ID. If you are going to have an employee or two, you’ll also need to apply for an EIN number. If it’s just you, you don’t need to get the EIN number.
If accounting isn’t a strength of yours, budget for an accountant to help you submit any monthly, quarterly, or yearly reports your state may require. Professional services are worth the cost if you just can’t do them.
Finally, you want to decide what your business structure will be. You don’t have to jump right out and become an LLC, but there are some benefits over being a sole proprietorship. You should plan to sit down with a lawyer or tax accountant to make sure you’ve covered all your bases in regards to licenses and taxes.
Keep in mind, the structure of your business can change as you grow as well. You can certainly start as a sole proprietor and change to an LLC as the business expands.
Mailing Supplies and Postage. You’ll need to stock up on a variety of boxes and envelopes that will fit the items you’ll be shipping. If you ship with USPS to start with, you can always pick up priority boxes for free to keep the cost down.
If you want to have your packaging fit with the branding and look of your business, you can order custom printed boxes or tape. Budget for inserts or freebies to tuck into your order to finish the look. Check out Uline or Sticker Giant for great customizable shipping supplies.
Signing up with a shipping service (like Shippo, Shipstation, or Stamps.com) can save you some money when it comes to shipping costs. Though it may not be necessary early on in your business if you’re only sending a few packages a week.
Keep in mind that shipping is expensive. It’s not just the cost of the stamps themselves. It’s also all the materials you use to package your orders, from the tape, to the address labels, to the tissue paper.
Shipping is one of the number one causes of budget busting for new businesses starting out. Offering cheap or free shipping may look competitive, but it eats away at your profits faster than you know. Be sure to factor all those additional costs in when setting your shipping prices.
Credit Card Processing Service. When selling online or in person, you need a quick and secure way to take credit and debit payments. Using companies like Clover or Square will provide that security and ensure quick pay outs for your business.
Don’t forget, there are fees that come along with every payment processed (usually around 3%), so factor those in too.
Build your customer base and your business.
Your business won’t go anywhere without customers! You may already have a few die hard customers since you are thinking of building a business. If you do, great! Those customers are going to be very helpful when it comes to some of the tasks we are going to go through.
Determine who your customer is. Look at your previous customers. Do they have anything in common? Did they want similar items or spend similar amounts?
Knowing what your customers are looking for and what they are likely to spend, will help you figure out what products to sell and how to market them.
Find your customers. Now that you know, roughly, who your customers are you can start seeking them out!
Create a social media account (or two or three) exclusively for your business. If you aren’t launching your own website immediately, this is crucial in getting your name out there.
You want your business to have it’s own standalone account. Business accounts on social media have a number of features that standard accounts don’t have. You can run ads, connect your phone number or email to posts, schedule your future posts, share job listings, or create unique offers for your followers.
Plug your new business page on your personal account. Get your friends and family to follow it AND share it. Ask previous customers to leave reviews.
The more traffic, shares, and reviews you get will give your social media accounts credibility. It also makes it more likely that your business name turns up in web searches. Plus potential customers know you’re legit when they see a bunch of good reviews!
Does your customer shop at a small local boutique or maker space? Reach out to that shop and see if they would be interested in carrying your goods. You’ll pay a small commission, but then you have your items in a physical shop where people can pick them and appreciate them. Plus, you can hold off on having your own physical shop (and the expenses that come with it) for a while longer!
Grow trust and provide value to your customers. Share information about yourself and your product. Customers feel more comfortable shopping with someone they feel like they know.
Develop your core values; what you believe in as a company. Work in ways that adhere to and promote these values.
Show your process, so customers understand the time and value of your work. It’s fun to see how something is made, so show off your skills.
Show your personality through fun posts or live videos. Not everything has to be about the business.
Share a joke, show off your shop pets, share the work of others that you really appreciate or love. Teach people how to master basic skills. Share your love of the craft!
Things to remember when the going gets tough.
Mistakes will happen. You’ll ship the wrong item, or ship the right item to the wrong address. You’ll undervalue your time and you’ll be short with someone (or multiple someones). There will be things you do early on that you will look back on and shake your head.
Don’t linger on the mistakes, learn from them. We’re all human. Mistakes and failures are the surest way to learn a lesson. Treat them as such!
You’re going to get bored with things. Maybe not with the leather working, but with all the other tasks and chores that come with being a small business.
Bookkeeping isn’t most folks’ idea of a good time. Keeping track of your receipts so you can file your taxes isn’t incredibly exciting. Deep cleaning your shop and your shipping areas, restocking boxes and tissue paper? Yawn.
But it’s all the tedious things that make your business run like a well oiled machine. Slack on those tasks, and you’re going to have a bad day when everything you put off comes to a head at the same time. Set aside the time you need, throw on some music, and finish the boring stuff as soon as you can so you don’t have time to dread it.
Change is ok. Just because you’ve always done things one way, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing them that way forever. You must adapt your ways to suit the needs of your business and customers. It doesn’t mean you were doing it wrong, it just might not be right anymore.
Not everyone is going to be happy at the end of the day. Customers will complain, sometimes about things you can change, sometimes about things you cannot. There will be disputes over charges and products received.
Focus on giving everyone the absolute best customer service you can. Just know that your best may not soothe everyone, and that’s ok. Never take it personally. Just like mistakes, hard to handle customers are a learning experience.
You won’t be making bank right out of the gate. Turning a profit can and will take time. Breaking even each month is an achievement in and of itself.
You will have plenty of days where you have less money in your accounts than you did when you woke up in the morning. Don’t let it beat you down. Stick to your budgets and keep working hard on your products and your marketing. You’ll get there!
As we said at the beginning, starting a small business is quite the task. Even going the simplest route possible still requires budgets and planning.
You’ve got a product you are proud of and a skill that you want to share with the world. That’s all the motivation you need! As long as you are prepared to put in the time and effort, you can do this. Get ready to be welcomed to the Small Business community!