I am becoming a mad and happy milliner.
A milliner is a hat maker. I love hats and hats are a passion of mine, as I both wear and collect them. Hats solve the problem of keeping the sun out of my eyes and off fair skin in the summer. They keep me warm in the winter. Looking good in a great hat is a bonus!
This is my story of how I started my own hatmaking business and how you can launch a business idea you have too.
My personal route to being an entrepreneur
I’m a very creative person and had an idea for a business that I wanted to test on a miniature scale. I love sewing and created a few hats that are my own original designs, mainly 1920s styles that are very popular because of the PBS Downton Abbey program. My original idea started about a year ago, but now I’m taking action.
I created a page on my website for my media work that will be used to link to an online shop, most likely at Etsy.com. Etsy is a great site if you are creative and have items you want to sell that are original. (I’m still in pre-launch, but it’s still good to let people know what you are up to, creating a buzz before you launch.)
My startup costs are small as I already had a great sewing machine I purchased used from a local sewing center in St. Cloud, Minn. Buying a used sewing machine saved a lot of money, and that allowed me to get a few other items I needed, like a wooden head block for making hats and other supplies. All in all, my startup costs were around $3,000.
I actually have items that my grandmother, a trained seamstress, used for her sewing I learned how to sew from my late mother Margaret Walsh. In fact, I have the original used sewing machine from when I was 13 years old, and hauled it with me when I lived in Europe.
My idea is to keep my risks low, having a studio or place to work at home, and buy used items to launch my business.
Just by wearing my hats I created, I attracted the attention of several ladies at the bank, church, while out shopping and more. My first sales came a few days after completing my five hat samples. Now my hats are for sale in a local high-end shop called Bugs & Flowers in Benson, Minn.
CONTEST: Enter to win one of Jannet’s hats. No purchase necessary. Contest ends 3 pm CT on Dec. 2, 2014.
I researched a price to start my hats out at so I can recover my costs and also make a profit, so I’m not giving my hats away. I plan to have speciality hats, depending on the materials and time needed to create them.
The idea of buying local is important, but selling globally is the key to business. This idea becomes even easier as the marketplace is located online, at your laptop. If you are passionate about starting a business, I highly recommend you explore your possibilities before you get started.
Here are 5 ways to help focus your ideas if you are thinking of creating your own business
1. The big idea – Combining your passion and ideas to solve a problem
First, if you already have an idea for starting a business, that’s great. If not, you can start creating a list topics you are passionate about or could be considered an expert in. My list includes photography, teaching, technology, sewing, dog grooming, baking, and more.
Ask your friends, family, and professional contacts what they think you are really good at doing. Just ask them in an email, or in person. You might be amazed with the answers you receive back that will give you even more ideas for starting a business.
Now think about what problem you can solve that will combine your passions and talents in a product or service that offers a solution.
2. Get Help – Make a plan
The U.S. Small Business Administration is a great place to get help with starting a business, with several online resources, plus local assistance if you want to meet with an expert that can counsel, mentor and train small business startups. You can search for local help on their website and find great resources for creating a plan.
(Editor’s note: For free startup help, Clark also recommends the private industry solution known as SCORE.org. The Service Corps of Retired Executives has historically offered free advice to entrepreneurs thanks to the volunteer efforts of corporate America retirees.)
Learn – If you are lacking education in your area of interest, consider taking a crash course online at your local community college, university or online learning platform like https://www.udemy.com.
Teach Online – If you are an expert in on a topic, you might even consider teaching your own course. I have a course called “Video Promo Essentials – Shoot, edit and share video online”
3. Do the Side Hustle
If you have an idea for starting a business, but you are already working part-time, full-time, or maybe you’re a student, stay at home mother or father, or trying to transition into a new career……stop worrying now!
The side hustle is very common. It’s a trendy term currently being used for a business that you do on the side of your regular work. I like the term freelancer or contractor instead, but it’s a phrase you will hear and should know.
Doing a side hustle is a great way to see if your business idea is working without doing it full time and making a big investment of your time and money. You can perfect your product or service by starting small and seeing if you should continue or just put the business to sleep.
It’s fine to move slow while trying to find your way in a new venture. Listen to feedback from customers and ask for advice to make improvements and adjustments.
4. Create on online presence – You’ll need a website, social media, and an online shop
Social Media – Create your Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or other social media sites that might benefit your business. You may consider creating an account at about.me (my link: http://about.me/jannet_walsh) that allows you to create a biography with all your social media links and website. You can use your about me address in the signature of your email or use it on your business card.
Facebook page – Create a Facebook page for your business, even if you have not launched your business. Make sure it’s different than your personal Facebook page. I have a page for my media and design business I created, still with only a few likes, but the idea is to let people know you are real and out there to work.
It’s my plan to connect my latest venture of hats and other wearables to a shop at Etsy. My goal is to launch in time for the Christmas holiday shopping starts. This is all new to me, so it will be a learning experience. If I miss my self-imposed deadline, that’s fine also.
WordPress website – Create a website that you can manage and build today. I recommend WordPress as you can create a website for free, and can also personalize it with your own domain name for a cost, like your name or business. Having a presence online, only if it is to tell the basics, is vital. Make sure you have a contact page, about page, and link to your product or services, or portfolio of your work and online store.
If you want to have a hosted website, you might want to consider https://wordpress.org. You pay to have your WordPress website hosted at a server, like Bluehost, which is the one I’ve used for several years. The upside of a wordpress.org site is that you can expand, change your theme, and more from the start, but each will have costs involved.
If this helps, I started originally with a wordpress.com site, then upgraded to a wordpress.org site hosted at Bluehost. Do your research before you get started on any website.
Already have a website? If you already have a website devoted to another topic or business, consider just creating a page for your new venture that will link to your online store and other links. My website is devoted to my media work, but I created a page for my designs. If my hats and wearables take off, I’ll rearrange the website to focus on my clothing before creating another website, which would be too much to manage.
5. Network and research – Surround yourself with people to give you a good perspective
Talk with people that have been successful in business, even if it’s not your area of expertise. Find out what works and doesn’t. Many successful people will take time to mentor or meet with you. If you strike out with one person, there will be another person that will be open to help you. Consider joining the local chamber of commerce to connect with other businesses.
If you are already an established business, but want to expand, look at your strengths that you can take advantage of quickly. If you are in need of rescuing your business, get help now, such as the SBA.gov or SCORE.org. Sometimes it’s not about saving a business, but managing your way out of a business before you drown, in so many ways.
Get a business card! – Don’t even think of launching a business without a business card. Create your own business card with the Pages app for Apple or other programs to save on the design costs before having your cards printed. Check what software you already have on your desktop or search for alternatives.
Today might be the day of social media, but having a business card means you are serious about your business and know the value of networking.
I recently attended a social media workshop and was surprised by how many people I met who did not have a business card to share. I was even more shocked when a business publicly launched at the same event. The promoter did have a business card, but lacked a real person to contact. You want to appear credible, and have your name on your business cards.
If you have a business card, have the vital information of your name, business, a real mailing address or Post Office Box, phone, email and website. Use the backside of your business card to share a a short biography of yourself or what your business is about. I have my short biography on the backside of my business card I designed on the Pages app and had them printed at a local printer.
Learn how to shake hands – Again, at the same social media workshop I mentioned above, I noticed many people that just don’t know how to shake hands or don’t know what to say in a business situation when they are meeting someone.
It’s simple – Put out your right hand and say, “I’m Jannet Walsh (insert your first and last name). It’s a pleasure to meet you.” If you are recipient of the hand shake, do the same and introduce yourself. Don’t make the person that introduced themselves have to ask your name. It’s really simple things that make a difference. These are skills I learned at home as a child, but they might be getting lost with social media. It’s important to know how to act when you are networking in the real world face to face, not just on Facebook.
– Circle your wagons for help and support from mentors and other professionals.
– Reduce your business startup risk by researching and exploring all you can learn before you launch. It’s OK to go slow.
About the author: Jannet Walsh loves cutting-edge innovation and using new technology to engage people’s attention in today’s social media world. Her videos have aired on CNN, CNN iReport, HLN, and elsewhere. With a background as a New York Times Company staff photographer, you can find her latest multimedia work at http://jannetwalsh.com. She’s also a Certified Life and Career Coach with training by Jay Block.