How Sewing for my Kids Became My Small Business

by Michelle
(Tolleson, AZ, USA)

A large custom order for a client.

A large custom order for a client.

A large custom order for a client.
My name is Michelle and I am a work at home mom to 8 children who I homeschool. I live in the Phoenix area in Arizona and I make and sell cloth household items like napkins, diapers, bibs and plastic bag holders.

I started making my own cloth diapers in 2000. It wasn't long before people were commenting on how great they were. Several people suggested that I should start selling them, but I had my reservations on how I could manage both working and homeschooling.

After perfecting my patterns and planning how I could do both manage a store and homeschool I released them to the public in the summer of 2007. I had 2 goals for my store: make money and spread the word on how easy it could be to live green.

Setting up my store wasn't terribly expensive. I already had the sewing equipment I needed and my own fabric that I had been buying for years. I needed a website, pictures of my products and I needed to advertise my store. The website was easy to come by as there are literally hundreds of places to buy a domain and host it from.

Product pictures were free as I already owned a digital camera. Advertising took some time to figure out, there are secrets about how to get clients that people do not want to share. But in the end I did not spend any money on advertising. Start up cost for an online store was minimal since I already had most of what I needed. Probably less than $99 dollars.

There are things you need to consider before starting an online business like selling cloth diapers. It’s very easy to have a lose money if you are not charging enough for your product. You must consider the time you are spending making your product, taking pictures, uploading them, writing descriptions, advertising, packaging and shipping, sewing, and communicating with buyers.

Some things I would have done differently would be to take more time setting up my store and taking pictures before my website went live. It took some time to learn how to be professional with my pictures and in retrospect, that was not something I should have been experimenting with once my website was live.

Once a store is live it is not the time to start experimenting with pictures or banners, have all your ducks in a row before you go live. You want to project a professional appearance. People need to have confidence in you if they are giving you their money.

To run a store online selling handmade items you need the skills to make the items first and foremost. Don't sell things that you make that you yourself wouldn't spend money on. Knowledge of computers and internet is needed at least a very basic amount.

You need to be able to quickly email, print labels, exchange money and communicate with other business owners. If you have never used a computer before this is not the business venture for you.

The hardest part of having a business is not failure, but success. You can quickly become too overwhelmed. You could go from a nice side job to 60 hours a week and needing to hire someone to help you. Most people quit their online store not because of failure but because of overwhelming success.

If you take too much on, you will lose clients. Response time goes down, quality goes down, and bad reviews could shut you down. Learn how and when to say no. Make wise decisions not decision based on greed and emotion. Don't take a custom order if you know you can't get it done on time just because it has a huge payout. There will be consequences.

I have had a great experience having my own store. I know what I can and cannot do now. I know I can juggle kids and work and I can do it well. I learned how to be professional but still be warm and caring. I feel I am a more rounded individual now.

If I were to give advice to someone who wants to start their own store it would be: get the bugs worked out before you start. Have a business plan with goals. Make a budget and try to come in under it.

Consider what your hourly pay is before you start, you might find its not worth it. Shop the competitors and see what they are offering. Connect with other small business owners and find out what struggles they have and how they managed to find success. Then when you are ready offer the best products in the most professional manner you can. You and your clients will be better off for it

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