How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business – Jeremy Shepherd

How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business
Jeremy Shepherd

You would think that it would be difficult to find up-to-date information about online businesses at a public library, but I struck gold with this one…or maybe it was pearls. Once again proving that if you use your resources such as the public library, you can continue to better yourself and use your knowledge to your advantage.

How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business is the perfect book to help you do just that. The book is well-written, easy to read, and provides you with the essential information to begin to do business online.

Jeremy Shepherd got started early in the online world. In 1996 he opened PearlParadise.com, and has become the leading online pearl wholesaler and retailer. His business, which started with the purchase of one pearl necklace during a trip to Beijing, has grown to be a multi-million dollar enterprise.

Shepherd’s book details how to save money while starting your online business, how to design and create your website, how to market your business, and how to use a merchant account to allow customers to pay you by credit card. He doesn’t even forget to give tips on shipping, which is oh so important to an online purchase, or to tips on avoiding fraud, which is oh so important to you and your business.

How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business gets right to the point, doesn’t talk down to you, doesn’t require a degree in Computer Science to understand, and covers all the necessary details of becoming an online entrepreneur. I love this book. Once I get an online business going, I think the library will have to ban me from checking out this book. I’ll either have to memorize it or splurge and buy myself a copy. (Amazon’s got it for just over $10 at the moment, so I imagine it would be worth the investment.)

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Guerrilla PR Wired – Michael Levine

Guerrilla PR Wired
Michael Levine

I think this is the first book about business and finance that I actually thought was not really worth my time in reading it. Maybe I normally just make good choices about which books look interesting and educational. This book was certainly not either of those.

Guerrilla PR Wired tries to capitalize on the Guerrilla name (as in Guerrilla Marketing and Guerilla Marketing for the Home-Based Business by Jay Conrad Levinson), but it is completely unrelated. The only thing “guerrilla” about it is Levine calling people with small businesses “guerrillas”, just as Levinson does. When I read “guerrilla”, I assumed it was part of THE guerrilla franchise and was fooled into reading it.

This book is very outdated and too simple to really be much use in public relations or online marketing. It’s expected that a book on online marketing will go out of date within a few years after its printing, but I learned things about the ancient version of the internet that I had no idea existed. Additionally, its simplified view of public relations doesn’t give the reader with much information to actually put together a PR campaign and execute one.

Although, as a person who had no idea what public relations were and what they intended to accomplish, I figure this book at least gave me the jist of the idea. One of the most useful things I learned was to pitch your news releases to local weekly publications. Then, larger publications can become interested in the story and then they might publish it….hence, big follows small.

So overall, there are probably better books to get you started in PR online and offline. Let me know if you have any suggested ones for me to read!

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Getting Business to Come to You – Paul and Sarah Edwards & Laura Clampitt Douglas

Getting Business to Come to You
Paul and Sarah Edwards & Laura Clampitt Douglas

Another great book for a small business looking to establish themselves and learn the essentials of marketing. Getting Business to Come to You focuses your attention on the most effective, low-cost methods of marketing and also gives very useful technical details on the process of creating your own marketing materials.

The four most effective, low-cost marketing methods are

1. Word of mouth. To have a business thrive and grow with only word of mouth marketing should be the goal of every entrepreneur. Not that you can’t give it a kick with some other methods when you want, but what sweet bliss it is to have your customers and new ones beating a path to your door with no effort on your part except your great reputation and service. The key is to get yourself into the mind of the people that matter…your customers. Focus your efforts on those people that will buy from you and get them to give you referrals. Everything else you do is in order to reach this goal.

2. Public relations. PR is your ticket to being established as a leader in your industry. Create a publicity kit and get the media’s attention. Use your publicity to get others to recognize your name and know that you are the expert in your field.

3. Direct marketing. Use it to control how often your business enters into the mind of your customer. A monthly newsletter or a quarterly sale or discount, that they are alerted to via direct mail or email, will keep you in their minds and keep them telling their friends about you.

4. Inventive advertising. New customers will be attracted to your business if you are effective at advertising. Being inventive is the key. Your copy has to stand out from the rest and you have to be creative. Experiment with different media such as bulletin boards, radio and TV shows, yellow pages, trade directories, etc.

This book has helpful lists of when a particular marketing technique is right for your business and when you’re just wasting money. It helps you tailor your marketing campaign to your needs. I especially enjoyed the technical details on such topics as building a publicity kit and writing and designing advertising copy that sells. Other topics were detailed as well, but these stood out as the most important for my business at this time. Read the book and see which ones stand out for you!

While reading Getting Business to Come to You I often found myself putting the book down to implement some of the things I had learned before moving on. For example, when it talked about focusing in on getting your name into the minds of your potential customers, I had to stop and write emails to all the teachers I know to find out how best to let math and science teachers in the Urbana/Champaign, Illinois area know that Quantum Tutoring is THE tutoring company that they should refer their students to. After reading the chapters on advertising I came up with a strategy to post flyers at football games and other local school events; after reading about public relations, I planned to get involved in the local parent teacher associations and set up a booth at the local schools’ career fairs. I also used the tips in this book to create my business cards and letterhead.

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Create Your Own Employment: Part 3

Click here to read part 1 of this post.
Click here to read part 2 of this post.

Of course, setting up your company to serve as your employment only can limit your potential. After interviewing Jim Wilkie about his company At The Docks Marine Electrical, I was convinced that he could expand either the number and types of services he offers to his boat-loving customers or expand to regions outside his local area. His service of repairing electrical problems on boats while they remain stationed at the marina is phenomenal and very marketable. However, he is currently content to remain his sole employee, do what he enjoys, and as I’ve said, make a nice salary off it. In addition to limited growth potential, other disadvantages of remaining small are that you do everything (bookkeeping, marketing, budgeting, the actual labor, etc.) and that when you stop working for your business, your business stops working for you and your income from it dries up.

In the end, it depends on what you want to get out of your business. Will you be more happy just doing what you love or would you rather put in the effort required to create a larger and (potentially) more profitable business?

Both Quantum Tutoring and Quincy Massachusetts Voice Lessons were created to give Sara and me something to do and earn a little money in the mean time. Additionally, they are giving us a platform to learn the basics of business, marketing, finances, etc. Both of us could expand, and may do so in the future. However, for now the benefits of owning our own businesses are great and we’ve enjoyed creating our own employment opportunities.

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Create Your Own Employment: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post.

Creating your own business allows you better hours, greater earning potential and control over job security. Entrepreneurs often work much more than 40 hours a week at their businesses, because they have a passion to see it succeed, but this is not a necessity. Your own business allows you to use your time as efficiently as possible, set your own work hours and work as many or as few as you want. On the other hand, if you were to work for an employer, there are not very many job options in which you can work as little as 10 or even 5 hours per week and make more than minimum wage. Nor can you often work more than 40 hours, because employers would rather not pay you overtime. Additionally, because your job security depends entirely on the success of your business, it is completely under your control. You control your time, you (and the market) control your earning and you control your job security.

Keeping your business small allows you to avoid the difficulties of a complicated business structure and the hassles involved with employing others. My husband’s family owns and runs Cromar Painting, a contracting company. They have tried expanding in the past, but have found it more profitable to employ very few contractors and keep their operation simple. You can remain a sole proprietorship, never dealing with partners, incorporation and the taxes, finances, insurance, lawyers, and headache that go with all that. Less time spent on such things, means more time spent doing what you enjoy and getting paid to do so.

Click here to read Part 3 of this post.

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Create Your Own Employment: Part 1

I have recently begun to think of running a business in a new way. There are many benefits to creating a business for the sole purpose of creating employment for yourself. You create the job you want to be doing, and your business doesn’t have to be large and complicated. You may be limited in the growth that your business can achieve, even if your idea is the world’s greatest. However, many people simply create a business, so they can work for themselves and not for other people.

After reading and reviewing The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work & What to Do About It, I was convinced that the only smart thing to do in running a business is set it up so that it can run without you. This means systematizing everything in your business, so others can be trained to take your place in every position you occupy in the company. This way, you can expand, allow your business to grow, open more locations, sell a higher volume of merchandise, etc. But, what if you just want a job, that you enjoy, that pays well, in which you don’t have to answer to others? What if you don’t want to be able to run your business on a national or international scale? What if you just want to earn a few more dollars a month? At least for now.

Click here to read Part 2 of this post.

Click here to read Part 3 of this post.

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Back in Business

Enough about dentists already, right? I agree. Just for closure on the subject…I got one of the teeth looked at, and it turned out to only need a crown. Then I was referred to another (read “competent”) dentist who looked at the other two and determined that only one of those needed a root canal and there was nothing wrong with the other. Now I wonder if I ever really needed the crown I had done either. So that’s that. I will never go back to Western Dental.

As predicted my life has been crazy this past year. I had to put business and this blog on hold for a while, but we’re up and running again.

Sara has been able to do more on the business front this year than I have. She now has her own voice lessons and singing performances business. She currently works part time and studies full time at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. However, she has managed to create her business and teach lessons in her “free” time. She inspired me to write an article on creating a business for the sole purpose of creating employment for yourself, which I will do in the near future. She charges $30 an hour, so that beats earning minimum wage any day.

If you want a great looking website without all the hassle of learning to code in html and css, you can follow Sara’s example. She used a standard template for her website and customized it to fit her business.

If you want to create you own website from scratch, as I did for my new business, Quantum Tutoring, it can be a great learning experience. I recommend looking the this website for html and css code and this one for some useful style sheet examples. I knew nothing about creating, hosting or uploading a website two months ago. However, with a little help, I have been able to do just that. Just find a friend who knows about web hosting, and a bit about design, and then you’ll be able to do the fun, creative part.

In addition, I thought I’d try an experiment and create my own wikipedia page to see if it draws attention to me. I’m very new at this SEO (search engine optimization) stuff, so I’ll keep you posted on what happens. You can create your own wikipedia page here. Well, that experiment failed rapidly. Apparently Wikipedia has guys checking all the articles and they determined that I was not important enough for my own page. If you think you’re more important though, go ahead and give it a try.

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Summer 2007

Here’s an update on life and the prospects for the coming year:

Last year I became the stunningly beautiful, pregnant woman poring over materials engineering textbooks that I set out to become. I made it to the end of school just in time before our son was born. The next phase is to start our businesses and begin to raise the little guy.

Sara, my sister now pregnant with twins, has started a Professional Voice Lessons & Singing Performances business in Quincy, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, I am about to launch Quantum Tutoring, a tutoring business specializing in teaching science and math to high school and college students in Champaign and Urbana, Illinois. We also intend to start a business together with the help of our husbands, but we still can’t let you in on the secret of that one just yet.

I am the only one out of school. Sara and her husband are finishing up their undergraduate degrees in Vocal Performance/Education and Literature, respectively, and my husband, Scott will start his masters in Electrical Engineering. So while those guys are finishing their education, I get to do most of the business-related work.

So what do two engineers, a literature guy and a singer know about business? Well, we know more than when we started last year. This blog will continue to document the discoveries we have made and the sources that have helped us to get this far.

See how far we’ve come:
About Us Summer 2006

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Dentist – Week 3

My day had not been going that great anyway, and I wasn’t really looking forward to going to the dentist for the third week in a row. Things started out looking brighter though. We only waited a few minutes until Scott was called in for x-rays. Shortly after, they called me in to start my cleaning. The dental hygienist looked at the chart, noticed I was pregnant, and I informed her of the letter. She read it, checked with her supervisor, and came back. She said they’d do a cleaning, but no x-rays unless I actually had a toothache. It had been too long since I had full x-rays done, so I asked why. “It’s not good for the baby,” she says. “Are you crazy! It’s not even a miniscule amount of tiny light particles hitting me in the head, you’re going to put two shields on me, so that’s a bunch of lead protecting a baby that could easily withstand a full dose of x-rays coming right towards it!” Okay, I didn’t say that, I just gritted my teeth and let her do a cleaning. She was also worried about bacteria getting in through my gums to hurt the baby, which frustrated me more.

So I really wanted some x-rays done, so I told her about a small spot that had been hurting. Really it only hurt once every couple of months, but it was an excuse. This time a different technician who was the most pleasant person there puts not two, but three shields on me. One shield was actually two in one, and he had the first on already, so he just went with it. Okay lovely 0.9 mm of lead protection. He takes the two x-rays and the doctor checks them out. Turned out that the small spot was really a giant cavity forming under an existing filling, which meant I needed a root canal done by a specialist. “Oh great a root canal. I’m glad they found that, seeing as how they were so willing to ensure that I get proper dental care. Stupid legal system making people afraid to get sued, so they won’t take an x-ray of a pregnant woman.”

I had relaxed somewhat, but told the dentist that it had been a while since my last x-rays, and if I have something as bad as a root canal that isn’t causing me pain at all, maybe I should have the other teeth checked. After some prodding, he sends me back to the technician, only not the nice one this time, and she puts two shields on me. Then nice techinician walks by and doesn’t notice that I have two shields on, thinks I have just one and grabs the two-in-one shield from before…so now I’ve got four shields. He jokes about it though and realizes it was a mistake, so it was just funny. So the lady takes a few more x-rays, trying to get more teeth in each one, so as to take fewer. I wait another 10 minutes so they can develop, and the dentist notices something that worries him. He sends me back for two more x-rays! Nice x-ray guy says they should have just taken the full set in the first place…seriously. Ten minutes for developing and the dentist decides that I have another root canal and a deep cavity that will probably end up being a root canal too! Man! I have to have three root canals, and they never would have known, because my teeth don’t hurt at all and they didn’t want to x-ray me!

I’m not sure if you can actually do root canals while pregnant. That’s starting to get a little serious, so now I do feel like I should talk to my doctor and find out if I should wait.

Lesson:

Get x-rays done as often as possible to be sure nothing is wrong. I brush and floss everyday like recommended, but have always had bad luck with my teeth. I guess it’s genetic or something.

When pregnant, talk to your doctor to make sure there is no problem with you having dental x-rays, cleaning and minor work like fillings. Then go to the dentist before you’re starting to show that you’re pregnant and never mention pregnant, baby, expecting or anything to anyone! Get the work done that your doctor approved for you, then ask him about more. I guess it would be a good idea to have a husband or friend present during your dental treatment. Then if there was an emergency he or she could tell the dentist that you are in fact pregnant.

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Dentist – Week 2

I called the 800 number to make an appointment, the receptionist made an appointment and she said she’d call back when she’d confirmed it with the local office. Two hours later I hadn’t received her call, so I called the 800 number receptionist again, and she said the local office never called her back. While I was on the line, she called the local office, said they had already confirmed me, but no one called her back. Now, how is the customer supposed to know that the appointment was confirmed if the local office calls neither the customer directly nor the 800 number lady so she can call the customer?

I show up again, this time with my husband, sign their sign-in sheet, and begin waiting. This is not a busy place mind you. There’s really no activity going on at all, no one else waiting there, no one in talking to the dentist, nothing. An hour later, after I’ve had my IQ lowered 50 points by daytime television, they call me in to start x-rays. Now there’s a reason I filled out the questionnaire the previous week. It was so someone could look at my medical history, ensure that everything was in order and know how to treat me. The receptionist wasn’t doing anything at the time, she could have glanced at it, seen that it says I’m pregnant, and check for the fax or ask me about it. Or the x-ray technician should look at it to see if there was some reason she shouldn’t x-ray me…like maybe because I was pregnant.

Anyway, they had mentioned something stupid about using two shields for x-raying pregnant women, so I ask the technician about this. She says, “Oh you’re pregnant, we can’t x-ray you!” “I know, that’s why my doctor faxed you a letter saying you could.” “It’s not here. We can’t do anything without that letter.” “What?! Fine.” Then my husband and I stand there while they look through their old faxes looking for the letter. Scott needed x-rays too, so since the technician was just sitting there watching the receptionist look at faxes, I suggested that he get his x-rays done in the mean time.

By this time it’s been nearly 2 hours, and Scott needed to get back to school, so we said forget it, and scheduled new appointments. I drove to the doctor and had them send the fax again and give me a copy to hand carry in. Then I called the local dentist office and confirmed that they received the fax.

Lesson:

I tend to assume people will do their job for the sake of keeping it. Scott says you generally have to push people along and tell them what to do every step of the way. I guess right when we got there I should have said, “Call me to let me know I have an appointment confirmed. Now look at my chart. Is there any issue there that must be resolved? Now, allow my husband to see an x-ray technician, because one is not busy currently. Thank you.”

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