Have you considered setting up your own business selling stuff, but been put off because it all seems too complicated? Well, Lesley Harvey says that's not true. She's done it herself and has now written a guide to help others.
Lesley, from Oundle, had no previous knowledge of retail, but now runs two online businesses – one selling golf equipment and the other selling outdoor clothing. In fact, she used to work in social services in a day nursery before she had children and then retrained to work teaching adults basic literacy skills.
Lesley was expecting to go back to work after her first son was born since there was a creche where she worked. However, her son was born with Down's syndrome and needed an operation after he was born. She subsequently had two more children, but when the youngest was 16 months old she felt the need to go back to work.
“I was struggling to find something that would fit around the children. I didn't want to pay someone else when I enjoy having them,” she says. Someone she knew was thinking of starting an online business selling golf equipment and clothes and was looking for someone to work with him. The two started small, buying a clearance package of trousers which were suitable for golf. They tested the market to find out what sold. They didn't spend a lot of money, but the money they earned was used to buy more stock.
To work out a pricing plan they researched competitors who were targeting a similar type of customer.
“I worked when my youngest Leo was asleep and in the evenings," says Lesley. "We built it up gradually. It was so easy to do, but we did take our time. Instead of running at times it felt we were walking through treacle. We could have made money quicker if we were more confident, less isolated and knew what was a logical progression. I thought why make mistakes or take things slowly when someone else has already done it? I decided to write a guide for people which was jargon free and only recommended resources we had used. Many think online selling is daunting, but when it is written down it is very logical and you don't have to be Alan Sugar or some big entrepreneur. You can do it to your own scale."
She thinks people are put off by things like how to source stock and all the legalities. “People just assume it's too tricky, but there is a process to follow,” she says.
The online guide, 31 Days 2, suggests starting by setting up a business within a market site like eBay or etsy. “They take care of a lot of the legalities and offer a support structure,” she says. “They also help with traffic to your items, although there are also things you can do to improve your SEO. But starting this way builds your experience and confidence.”
Selling while you sleep
Lesley's children are now six, 10 and 15. Since Leo has started school she has been freed up to do more work so in September she launched another online business selling outdoor clothing and plans to extend both businesses by developing her use of social media.
She works while the children are at school and in the evening. She scales back the business in the holidays by not doing development or listing work then. The children sometimes help with packing. “It feels like the business is part of the family,” she says.
The stock is kept in her garage and she packages it on the kitchen table. “I feel I want to shout from the rooftops how easy this is. You can sell while you are asleep. If you have a shop you have fixed overheads. Online you have a small listing fee and you only pay a proportion of what you do sell. The risk is minimal and you can start with just fifty pounds. If you don't have that you can sell some of your stuff to raise the fifty pounds,” she states.
“As a mum it works perfectly as it gives me the flexibility I need. I didn't want to make a million. I just wanted enough money and something that fit around my family. I can pick how much time and money I want to put in. In a short time I was making more than a classroom assistant and this has gradually increased, but my main concern was to find work that fit with the rest of my life.”
*31 Days 2 is launched on 31st May, but can be pre-ordered now.