Building A Small Business Online

Building a small business online. Picture of a glue pot and brush on a board covered in scraps of fabric - the work place for a lampshade business

My partner Mo has been building a small business online since just before lockdown began. She is a driving instructor but has only been able to return to that recently since lockdown on March. What started as a hobby – recycling old lamps and making funky shades for them – has blossomed. Hardly a day now goes by without a sale or two. She has a number of repeat customers and has started to get commission work too. She works in a spare bedroom in our house and all the sales are generated online. 

We live in a very rural part of north west Scotland. I’ve been doing internet marketing for some years and have some great tools available via an organisation I’m part of. It was obvious to me that building a small business online was a far better plan than renting a shop. Here’s how we’ve done it so far.

What No Website?

We quickly found after moving here from the big City (Glasgow) 5 years ago that local Facebook groups are very popular. Flyers and business cards yielded zero results for the driving instruction business but a local Facebook buy/sell group did. I still remember her filling her diary one Saturday morning after placing a ad on it the day before. That then was the obvious place to start with the lamps. 

As with the driving instruction biz, I created a Facebook page for the lamps. We decided on The One Off Store. That leaves things open to diversification – she also upcycles furnitire and has made cushions and curtains. I sell my photographs online too and wall art is a good fit in this niche.

building a small business online - image of a custom lamp and shade - one of the products in our online small business.

I used Canva to create the artwork – its a free resource well worth checking out if you have any graphic design needs. A page makes it possible to run boosted posts and highly targeted ads later on. 

Meantime Facebook marketplace – a network of local buy and sell groups – was the ideal place to start. The other obvious place is Ebay. 

Starting With Marketplace And Ebay

The process we now have in place is working well. Mo sources lamps and shades from Charity shops, ebay and various bargain shops. She buys fabric and accessories she likes or that have proven to be good sellers online and recovers the shades. The glue and other bits and bobs she uses come from a local cut price shop. Sometimes lamps are made from bottles, vases – even a novelty telephone once – and sometimes have to be drilled, recabled and painted. 

Once they are finished they are photographed lit and unlit. The images are then sent to the Facebbok Marketplace sites and both of our Ebay accounts with brief descriptions. When a lamp sells locally it can be delivered or collected but more often they are posted. All though these methods are free aside from Ebay and Paypal fees, they are limited in how they can be scaled. 

So the next part of building a small business online not surprisingly is a website. You may think a website would be step one in building a small business online but not necessarily. As I’ve described social networks can be a great place to get started before you start spending money on websites, hosting and other tools. The time to do that is when you have profits to re-invest. 

Many of the local businesses in our part of the world don’t have websites as such. They all have Facebook pages and of course word of mouth is very powerful in small communities. Often too they are one man bands and are limited on how much they can produce. A website would potentially generate more work that they could cope with. 

Practical Resources For Building A small Business Online

Selling products online relies on people finding your stuff. The methods we’ve touched on so far – Market place and Ebay are fairly basic search engines. A website however means you can do a lot more in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO) to spread your net further.

You can for example write blog posts about your work and focus on keywords – the things people type into Google. Later you can create a newsletter and build a subscriber list of interested people who you can keep in touch with. You can invite them to your socail media sites, show them your latest products, create coupons, special events and FAQs to help build your online reputation. 

As I mentioned earleir I have access to some great internet marketing tools. One of those is a fabulous website builder. I can host multiple websites on the same platform and easily add security certificates, cookie pop ups and development plugins. I’ve used that to very quickly create and host a One off Store website. 

So far I’ve populated it with Home, about, contact and blog pages as well as a gallery featuring her current range. This can be easily updated as products sell and new ones are added. Whatwe will do next is to creat sub categories for the lamps. We have found that some themes are vmorepopular than others. By creating themed pages we can add more specific keywords to them. We can also wirite blog posts about those themes which again adds more keywords and related search terms to the site. 

A Reassuring Skillset To Have

Custom covered lampshades is a pretty small niche – skull themed custom lampshades (surprisingly popular) even smaller. It’s therefore easier to rank online for those sorts of terms. Fewer people are looking for them but that means less competition. When we get to stage of placing paid ads they’ll also be cheaper. 

In these troubled times its very reassuring to know that you can leverage the internet to build a business around pretty much anything. Re-skilling for internet marketing after I was laid off in 2010 was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It is what gave us the confidence to sell up in the city and move to the sticks. I was already selling high commission affiliate products online and had created a couple of niche websites. So I knew what was possible. 

If you are thinking of building a small business online – or even a big one – I can thoroughly recommend checking out the platform I’ve mentioned in this post. They provide training, mentorship a host of invaluable tools and even a high profit business if you dont yet have one. 

Do what I did and sign up for their completely free video workshop series to learn more. Just click on the banner below.