5 Things I wish I knew when I started my business
Seems like everyone these days has some sort of side hustle...I remember always having some sort of money making venture as a kid - from making friendship bracelets or flower bead rings & bracelets, to selling things from magazines to my family, to selling my science notes in college and starting my first screen printing hustle at UNLV (HI-drophilic!)
I'm not the kind of person that looks for things to sell now. The Keiki Dept pretty much just happened organically. After Kalei was born, I realized the importance of supporting local - not just buying cheap (but cute) baby clothes from the big box retailers. I wanted to support other local moms making cute boy clothes - but at the end of 2014 (when I was pregnant), there wasn't a lot out there that I could easily find at the Baby Expos or local craft fairs.
I often get asked out of the blue by aspiring business owners for how I do things or who my suppliers are - these might be people that message me occasionally or these might be people I have never heard from before. I can tell you most business owners will just give you that information. You have to be willing to do the work, to put the time and energy into researching, spend the money on samples, and network with other business owners.
Ok...networking is really not my jam but in my own way I was able to do it. I started off just making some bibdanas and burp cloths for Kalei, then as I found more things I wanted that were not being made by other local makers, I realized I found a need in the local baby clothing area. Most of the shop owners made these cute outfits and accessories for baby girls but it was very limited in the boy space. I did my due diligence and googled and searched for other companies to make sure I wasn't copying (there is a difference between being inspired by the same things and straight up copying products) and that I was creating something unique that wasn't being offered (whether it was the prints or style of clothing or accessories). I was lucky enough that when I decided to tackle my first in-person event, Giselle from HNL Baby Co. (back then she was Naturally Young at Heart) helped me out - I remember specifically asking her how much change should I bring!
At events I made an effort to stop by and say hi to other shops and introduce myself (totally out of my comfort zone by the way). These mama's offered products I didn't make and I was able to support them too! I learned quickly that I had underpriced some of my products (Nobody teaches you how to price your handmade goods! Aside from the cost of materials, how do you put a price on your time and experience?). Pricing was hard for me - I didn't want to charge too much (I mean I was a new business trying to establish my credibility as a maker) but I also didn't want to charge too little where I wouldn't make a profit. In hindsight, I totally undercharged but didn't know better back then.
The first couple years were just learning years. I was a full-time teacher so I devoted some time at home to doing this. By making friends with some other shop mamas who had been in the business longer than me I was able to network and create valuable friendships.
Information doesn't come free but I will tell you these things I wish I did when I first started.
1. If you plan on making any sort of money, be sure to set-up your business. Search for the name you want (website, social media sites, email, etc.). Register with Hawaii's BREG (https://portal.ehawaii.gov/business/starting-a-business/) as a Sole-Prop or LLC. I started out as a sole-prop and later changed to an LLC.
2. Get your Federal EIN from the IRS website & Get your Hawaii Tax ID number (GET) through the Hawaii Business Express website.
3. Once you are registered open a separate bank account for your business. Something I wish I did right away...don't put this off!
4. Reserve your website domain name, emails and social media handles!
5. Set up your accounting system. I started off using a free accounting software system (Wave Apps) and have since moved to Quickbooks Online (paid).
One last piece of advice:
As you take your journey into entrepreneurship, I urge you to make yourself standout! Over the last year I've seen a bunch of shops pop up on Instagram or Facebook and you want your items to stand out against the rest. If everyone is using one print of fabric, go find something else. Yes it might be popular but do you really want your products to look exactly like someone else that makes the same thing?
Stay tuned for the next part of this series of Shop Talk.