Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
We started out making hand-stamped swing tags for our failed clothing brand. It was only when people started asking us where they could get the stamps that we decided to pivot and start selling custom made stamps. At first we outsourced pretty much everything but now nearly 75% of our products are produced in-house.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
We gained our first potential customers from Instagram, however it wasn't until we launched our own website that we began taking real orders. At first sales were very slow and we were both juggling freelance & full-time jobs at the time to help pay for our new life in Hong Kong having just moved from the UK. As sales began to pick up through word of mouth our apartment looked more and more like a warehouse. With the arrival of our first child in December 2015 we were fortunate enough to be taking in enough orders to finally afford to rent our own office space. Stamptitude, Inc. was born. The biggest boost that we had in the beginning was getting our products featured on a prominent design blog. That accounted for about 80% of our initial sales. But after about a month or two the referral traffic died down and the majority of our sales are now through direct traffic (word of mouth) & also Google search.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
As a husband & wife team we manage every aspect of the business ourselves, but we are always on the lookout for useful apps to help us keep on top of things like order fulfilment and shipping. Wunderlist is our most-used app second only to Shopify. Due to the custom-made nature of our products it's crucial for us to be able to keep track of the fulfilment process whilst having the customer's uploaded design file to hand. With Wunderlist we know exactly which items belong to which order and at what stage they are in the fulfilment process. For shipping we use locally-developed aftership.com which automatically pulls up the tracking info for any given shipping handler. Another useful tool is Zopim, which we use to offer live support. This is important because with the difference in time zones it is very difficult for us to take phone calls from our customers so instead we utilize the power of online chat. All shipping and fulfilment us done by us (yes, just the two of us). We make regular trips to the local post office, which often involves pushing a trolly full of IKEA bags through the town's shopping mall... This is perhaps an area in which we could make some improvements as the business continues to grow.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Some friendly but stern advice: Do not start an online business in the hope that "if you build it they will come." This may be somewhat true for brick & mortar stores, but the fact is that in the virtual world it doesn't matter how great your website may look or how much thought and preparation has gone into it, all effort is wasted if there's nobody there to appreciate it! Lay the basic foundations first and then work your way from the bottom. The most crucial step in starting any business which is almost always overlooked is validation. Focus on offering something of value to someone and then worry about how much you're going to charge for it afterwards. One happy customer becomes two and from that two another ten :)