My name is Rebecca and I’m trying to become a successful home business owner. So far it’s been a lot more difficult than I imagined. I thought coming up with the idea and a range of adorable products would be the hardest part, but then I had to deal with the whole issue of website design, domain names, web-hosting, search engines, delivery systems, marketing and the list just goes on and on.

As I continue my struggles, I’ll post some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way here, so hopefully you’ll find it easier to do than I have.

If you’d like to check out my website (so far) you can find it at http://www.sweetexpressions.com.au.

Even though Paypal™ has a fantastic system for calculating postage charges to customers, based on their location, post-code, weight of items, etc, they haven’t implemented it outside of the U.S. (as far as I know anyway, it’s definitely not available here in Australia yet). We are stuck with either a percentage of the total sale, or a flat rate by amount spent, or a totally flat rate.

With the massively differing delivery costs on our products, depending on their size and weight, and the distance they were travelling, the Paypal™ system is unusable for us.

We have a lead on a piece of software that may solve our issue, but it’s over 6 months late for release so nobody’s sure if it’s even going to come out at all.

At the moment we are stuck with a flat delivery rate for the whole of mainland Australia, and we lose yet more money on every single delivery, but we reason that getting the turnover at least, and the word-of-mouth advertising that comes with making sales, is worth the loss in the short-term. This is something we’re definitely going to have to sort out in the near future. but for now we’re focussing on other things. Why or why does everything have to be so hard?

With the delivery sorted for now, we had to solve the issue of getting paid. There are literally hundreds of shopping cart programs available on the net, ranging from free open source programs, to monthly packages costing $60 or more, to one-off purchase packages in the many hundreds of dollars.

The varying prices actually helped us narrow our search, because we just couldn’t afford much at all. Hubby investigated a few of the cheaper and free options and discovered that they can be extremely difficult to implement. This narrowed our search again – we now needed cheap and easy. Good would be nice too.

To further muddy the waters, we found that we’d need a merchant account and a payment gateway to process the payments, as well as substantial encryption and security on our site, all of which could cost thousands of dollars to set up. It was looking like we’d have to abandon our website and just set up a stall at the local markets.

Fortunately, we discovered that Paypal™ could offer us a solution. Using their system for payments meant that we didn’t have to set up a merchant account or payment gateway and as we didn’t have to worry about handling our customers credit card or personal information at all. Their transaction prices aren’t too bad, although for a larger website with thousands of transactions they would get expensive. For us though, it seemed almost perfect, until we tried to work out delivery charges…

So I was under the impression that hubby had the whole website thing under control, and the time he was spending in front of the pc led me to think that it must be close to being finished. Wrong on both counts.

He informed me that he’d designed most of the pages and processed my pictures into usable images, but there was a few things we still had to work on. We hadn’t considered how we were going to get the nappy cakes delivered and although we had prices worked out, we had no idea how people were going to pay us! So to sum it up, we had products we couldn’t sell or deliver, great.

Again, being a small business is a huge hurdle for getting a reasonably priced delivery service. Most of the larger companies require that you have a minimum number of deliveries per day before they will provide their service. Hopefully one day we’ll meet their minimum quotas, but as a brand new business there is no way we could commit to anything like that. We knew it was possible that we wouldn’t sell a single thing in the first few weeks.

We eventually found a courier company that would do the types of deliveries we needed (hospitals, private residences, etc) and although they did have a minimum purchase amount (20 prepaid delivery labels) there was no minimum number of deliveries to meet. It’s great to at least be able to offer delivery now, but the low volume rate is substantially higher than normal rates and we are taking a loss on delivery at the moment. The plan is to increase sales until we can take advantage of the higher volume rates,

It seems in almost every aspect of starting a small business that the costs are enormous compared to larger businesses, who can afford to run lower profit margins, so to compete with them we have to virtually give our stuff away. We’re still looking at the big picture though – profits are surely in our future, at some point, maybe…

The basic ingredients of a nappy cake are relatively easy to buy in bulk at reasonable prices, but the items that really make a nappy cake special can be very difficult to find at realistic prices.

If we had to pay retail prices for everything in the cakes, we’d have to sell them for 50% more than we do now, just to make any sort of profit at all. I don’t imagine many people would be interested in my products if they could make them themselves for a substantial saving. Obviously, I had to find my products cheaper.

I turned to the internet, and as long as you know specifically what you want, it generally isn’t all that hard to find what you are looking for. Getting it, on the other hand, is another matter altogether.

If you’re like me, when you’re starting a business, you don’t have a whole load of spare cash laying around. I knew I’d need some stock, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to buy months worth at once. Unfortunately, most suppliers seem to think small orders are not worth the effort to bother with, and they often have high minimum order values, anywhere from $200-$2000!

If everything you need is coming from one supplier, a $500 minimum order might be perfectly fine, but we need items from many differing suppliers and it becomes unrealistic very quickly. I personally don’t understand why these companies need us to place such big orders – I’m grateful for every order I get, big or small.

The only real solution I could come up with was to seek out the smaller distributors who will accept smaller orders. Although their prices aren’t as good as the big companies, at least I could make some profit and still sell my products at reasonable prices. I hope as I get more turnover, I’ll be able to place bigger orders and get better pricing, so I’ll make more profit, but time will tell I guess.

So hubby and I began contemplating the website building process, and of course we had to start with a name. A few hours of to-ing and fro-ing and we had a small list of suitable names. A quick online check showed that every name on our list was already taken, so we had to start again.

This time, however, we ran through the whole process while sitting in front of the PC, so we could quickly check our options. Once we’d selected our name we had to register it as a business name and also register a domain name.

When you register a domain name, it really pays to shop around. Prices vary wildly and there’s also the matter of the extension to consider. We went for a .com.au extension rather than a .com, so our potential visitors would know we were located in Australia. If you’re looking for more of an international feel, a .com would be better. The .com’s are usually cheaper as well.

With those details sorted out, we began looking for some software to actually build the site with. As neither of us had a lot of experience in website building, we ended up buying a cheap visual site builder, to save us having to learn how to code in HTML. Although not perfect, a visual interface turned out to be much easier to work with.

So we downloaded and installed the software and had a bit of a play with it, then got down to the business of actually building a site. However, it became obvious fairly quickly that we couldn’t just build a useable site off the cuff, we had to plan it out in detail, then code it.

Hubby being the more technical and web savvie of the two of us, I left him working on the nuts and bolts of the website, and I turned my attention to sourcing our supplies at reasonable prices. I could write a whole post, at least, on that, and in fact, next time I will. Stay tuned for the next installment – meanie suppliers and their outrageous terms.

So after having my last child and seeing the amount of money people spent on gifts for her, I had the great idea to make and sell baby gifts (primarily Nappy Cakes) online. “Fantastic!” I thought, “How hard can it be – build some nappy cakes, take some photos and bang ‘em on a website. I’ll be rolling in it within weeks, right?”. Wrong.

The first step was to actually design and make some nappy cakes, so I went shopping. I bought some nappies (obviously) and some face washers, bibs, rattles, dummies, towels, toys, soaps, wipes, and various other small items to fill the cake with. The prices were a little high as I just went to normal shops, but no problems, I’d source some cheaper wholesalers later on, or so I thought.

Back at home with my goodies, I attempted to build a nappy cake, but wait, the nappies have to be individually rolled as the first step – back to the shops for elastic bands.

Back at home with everything I needed, the design process began. One tier, two tier and three tier cakes were built and then I just needed to decorate them. Once I’d decided what items would be included with each size cake, I tried to arrange them to be as pretty as possible. Then I tried again, and again, and again. Then I tried just throwing everything at them from 6 feet away, but I still felt it lacked a little something, so I re-did them, again.

Several frustrating hours later, while out the back getting a nicotine fix (I’m quitting soon, I promise), my seven-year-old daughter arranged my pile of random items into a beautiful three tiered nappy cake, and the design is almost exactly the one I still use for this size.

Large Girl Cake

Three tiered cake

Once we’d made a few more trips to the shops (I’m sure it was less than 12, don’t listen to my husband) for ribbon, tule, curling ribbon, cellophane, cake boards, decorations and various other bits-and-pieces, we had a range of adorable cakes ready for the eager public to rush out and purchase. Perfect, I thought, I’ll just whip up a website and sell them online – much easier and cheaper than renting a shop somewhere, and I’ll still have the time to look after the kids as well.

Simple? I don’t think so. You’ll find out more next time – The Website Begins

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