Ever wondered how to start a tiny creative business from scratch? I know from experience that everything might seem daunting, so I have decided to share some of what I have learned the past almost three years with my passion project – The Tiny Dollhouse South Africa. I am by no means an expert in the retail field, I am just sharing my thoughts and own experiences.
I have an idea, but how do I know that it would end up being a profitable business?
The answer is… You won’t know until you try. If you are the sole provider of an item(s) in a specific area relating to a specific need then it is much easier to know whether you would start making money from the get-go. E.g. If I am the ONLY person that sells clothing in a remote location, then the likelihood of people buying clothing from me is very good. For most creative small businesses, however, we don’t necessarily provide essentials, but more ‘wants’ as I call it. It is not essential for someone to have a dollhouse, but it is definitely a product that sparks joy when you do have one – so how do I compete and stand out from competitors or other products in the market and where do I even start earning something?
Where do I start?
Decide on what product(s) you would like to sell – in this case, I think that the less items you have to start off is better (definitely initially). If I started off stocking everything I wanted I would have had to delay the launch by some months. Try to keep the range diverse, but smaller rather than bigger, so that you can see which item(s) sells better than others and start expanding your range from there onwards. Quality over quantity is a great motto to keep in mind.
Branding and Brand Identity
For me, Branding and Beautiful images were really, really important. I started off by having a professional logo designed by Simply Design. I had a good idea of what I wanted but Chrisinda made the idea a reality and just brought my brand together perfectly. I had some stickers printed to use on my packaging and tried to keep everything paired back and minimalistic.
There is nothing more exciting for me to order something online and receive a beautifully packaged item. I do however tend to go overboard and spend sooo much on packaging that I need to pull in the reins sometimes, but trust me, it is sooo worth putting some effort and thought into your packaging and I have received many positive comments on this. I also have a Cricut Maker that really helps me when it comes to my business and branding.
I do not just want to sell a product but a dream, because that is what I want people to experience when they visit my store. I make use of mostly inspirational images on my Instagram timeline and newsletters and a combination of product and inspirational images on my online store. I find that product ones work well on the website alone for the listings. This might be different for your business – If you sell sweets for instance you might not require as many lifestyle images as people know how to consume them, but for luxury items or ‘want’ items people want to see how it would fit into their own lifestyle.
In most cases my images are professionally (taken by Hello Love Photography or Melanie Wessels Photography) taken as my tiny items are just too detailed for me to get right. The key is consistency, you need to have images with a similar mood or color that compliments your brand and makes people recognise your product. The light has to be good and the focus on the actual product or mood that you want to portray.
Service and Distribution
Providing, not a good, but EXCELLENT service and user experience is key. This is what your customer will remember you by. A seamless order process, adding a personal touch or something special to each parcel and having a short order to delivery time I have found have been the biggest success for my tiny business. People can order and pay in one go. If this process is too difficult people will lose interest and will not complete their purchases or order from you again.
Should I have a website?
In my opinion, this all depends on where you are planning to sell your products and which customers you would like to reach. Do you plan to do markets, wholesale, retail or do you want to service people in your area, country or worldwide perhaps? For many people the world of online shopping or more specifically creating an online store can feel overwhelming at first, but it is a lot easier than you think. (See my article on how to create your own website)
If you decide on selling at markets only then a website is probably not needed, but you might lose customers that saw your products and want to purchase between markets. If you decide not to have a website I would try to team up with a local retailer that customers can go to to find your products there. Food and fresh items if off-course not included in this suggestion necessarily as it might be difficult to sell online, but a local retailer could work for this as well.
Whatsapp stores could work well for localised, area specific stores e.g. if you make fresh salads in Johannesburg it will be difficult to ship them to Cape Town, so having people contact you in a close network might be easier.
I found an online store (I make use of Woo commerce which is a free store add on to WordPress) that is the easiest for my products as I can have various color iterations listed online and people can take their time to select and decorate their dollhouses at their leisure.
I make use of courier services to collect the parcels from my house and to do door-to-door delivery to my customers. There is also a local collection option for my products at a store around the corner from where I stay called – gonk to make collections easy. Even though I get loads of requests to sell to countries outside of South Africa I have not found a viable solution to do so as yet. Some countries have specific regulations when it comes to wooden products so I thought it easiest for now to only sell within South Africa.
Because The Tiny Dollhouse SA is a side hustle and passion project for me it does not make sense for me to have a dedicated physical shop front. I basically have all my stock in a cupboard in my office – beautifully organised, but not practical to have people come to shop directly from it. About 6 months ago I started selling a limited range of my items at gonk, in Linden. It has been such a blessing to my tiny business as it has helped me grow, but is also easy for me and close enough to where I stay to take new stock to.
This allows customers to browse, new customers to discover my products and the flexibility I enjoy with my little business.
I hope that this tiny article has some value for you if you are considering starting your own business. Leave me with questions below and I can try to answer them as best possible below.
The best way to start… is just just start…
PS: You might also want to read ‘How to protect and register your small business name in South Africa‘.
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