13 April 2010

answers: opening an online shop

whenever i receive a general question in my inbox, i like to post it here just in case others may have the same query. two birds, one stone. even though i don't believe in harming any birds with any stones altogether. even still, this question came from a darling blog friend who is hoping to open an etsy shop soon. i tend to collect etsy shop questions and i'm happy to answer them. but i must say, i'm not technically an etsy shopkeeper; my mini mart shop is hosted by big cartel, a small online entity. but in general, i hope i can help with your businessey questions. these sorts of technicalities remind me of when a relative asks dan a lawyer-type question and he gives his best answer but then goes onto say that he is however not licensed in any other state than idaho... it's cute. i love that my lawyer husband loves playing by the rules.

here we go.

Q. How do you calculate shipping charges?

A. this will take a bit of trial and error. there are plenty of places to ship goods (UPS, Fed Ex, USPS). you have to figure out which will work best for your goodies. i'm all about supporting the US Postal Service. so here's my advice. take your goods to the post office and actually mail them off. to your mom or your best friend; it's a trial run. package them up in quality packaging; figure out what type of box or envelope or mailer will fit your items best. calculate the cost of the outer packaging, any bubble wrap or filler you may need, labels, and postage. if you wrap your item in a special glassine bag or cellophane wrap, add those costs in too. the usps priority mail system is awesome; they have a few sizes of boxes. (which are free by the way, i always load up while i'm there. the small box fits my 5 pack of diaries perfectly.) they go anywhere (with any weight) for a flat fee.

for your first few orders, i'd recommend standing in line and talking to a postal worker. (strap your toddler in a stroller and be prepared with fruit snacks.) ask a lot of questions, become best friends with the postal workers. they don't seem so grumpy once you ask for their expertise! ask how long it might take to get to certain places with first class mail, any various shipping methods, cool stamps (my new favorites), shipping boxes and so on. once you get the hang of it, you will know exactly what packaging to use, prep your orders and take them to the automated postal center available 24/7 in many usps locations. so swift, so awesome.

another tip i've recently come to love is paypal shipping options. calculate shipping and simply print the labels on your own printer. a little less personal than handwriting each mailing label, but it saves a lot of time and effort with a whole batch. depending on how large your packages are, it can be a quick drive-by drop for all your shipping needs. if you have lots of orders to fill, congrats, use the "multi-orders label" option in paypal. it's a genius method in dealing with a dozen orders. you'll never look back.

one more thing, be sure you calculate your extra costs and handling services within the fee. international packages are always more work for me. therefore i charge a bit more for the special attention they require. most of my international orders happen to come from australia and i've had return customers, so they seem to be pleased!

Q. Do I need a scale to weigh items for mailing?

A. yes! i highly recommend one, especially if you're using the paypal shipping options. i purchased mine last year and wondered what took me so long. they are around $20 and available at any office supply store. weigh your packaged item and enter the weight into paypal and print out an appropriate label. soon you'll have most of the weights memorized and won't have to weigh each one. for example, i now know that two mini diaries weigh about 6 oz.

Q. Do you have a separate credit card for business type purchases?

A. in fact, i do! i like to keep all my receipts separate, in my business folder. i can look back, see what i've ordered and track what i've spent. keeping all my business purchases separate makes figuring out taxes so much easier. plus, it's so easy peasy to get a paypal debit card and then there is no need to set up another business bank account. for me, it works perfectly. depending on the size of your business, you may want to set up a new checking account for all that dough you're about to reel in!

Q. I am thinking of switching my email, but that prospect makes me nervous, any thoughts on this?

A. i think it's a good idea, especially if you want your email to match your business name. choose an excellent and trustworthy option like gmail. i can't say enough good things about gmail services. like i've said before, it really is the train station to all your comings and goings of your online business. i love that i can archive emails and search for emails with a keyword. i can make a file for my mini diary orders and also search a familiar name and see how many times they've ordered and maybe throw in an extra goodie for being a return customer. while you're setting up shop, you might as well launch a new email as well. be sure to include your signature (blog or shop url address) at the bottom of your email too. it will double as an instant shop advertisement when you email everyone to let them know your email has been switched! good luck opening shop.

send your questions to marta{at}martawrites{dot}com.
psst.. more expert advice found in my blogging & business workbook.


{natalie} said...

you are generous to share all your knowledge. i think it's very cool of you. some people like to keep things to themselves (for their benefit) and i like that you just encourage everyone. you are the best

Four Flights said...

Hi Marta, I had sent you an email about buying some of your mini journals and using it as a giveaway (I hope you didn't think I was expecting you to give them to me?). Anyhow, just think they're super cute and would love to give one away to one of my readers. Can you let me know if you're okay with that?

marta said...

hello.. yes, i am always intrigued about hosting a mini diary giveaway. am just catching up on emails, i'll be getting back to you soon!

jeanette from everton terrace said...

Thank you for all the info. I just opened my shop two months ago and was wondering about the PayPal mail thing. My padded envelopes are quite small (I sell jewelry), will the PayPal labels you print out yourself, fit on smaller items? Thanks again for being so generous with your knowledge!

leni said...

you're always full of great advice. thanks for sharing!

melissa deakin said...

brilliant answers my friend.
just wonderful.
thank you so very much for taking the time to answer them.
i really appreciate it.
any advice for how to keep the kids at bay for 10 hours while i get all my work done! LOL!
just kidding!

[eeny] said...

Thanks Marta for all your fabulous advice on blogging and business. You are amazing.

Tiffany said...

Such great advice, almost makes me want to go into business!

Anonymous said...

hi marta, thanks as always for these helpful tips. i'm still not at the point of opening up shop, but it is becoming more of a realistic goal within the next year. will keep this post bookmarked for future reference!

Rambles with Reese said...

Hi Marta,

I don't have a shop on etsy nor do I sell anything, but this post was really interesting and full of wonderful advice for people who are thinking of selling independently. I just had to say how lovely and generous you are to share all of your knowledge and experience.

Love your blog!

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