What many people don't realize about entrepreneurs is that many go into business for themselves because they have to. Maybe jobs aren't readily available in their area. Maybe their outstanding debt is so overwhelming that a minimum wage job isn't going to cut it. Maybe they are single parents that have to find a way to make money from home because they can't afford daycare and don't have a support system near by to care for their children.
In the upcoming weeks we are going to be talking to several women who took their financial futures into their own hands. Rather than giving up, they created the jobs that would get them out of debt. They started the businesses they would one day support their families.
First up is Jennifer who is on her way to eliminating $40,000 in student loan debt with the help of her unique home business.
I was one of those classic cases of a new high school graduate. I had every intention of going to college, but lacking the money to pay for it, I decided to wait one year and attend the following autumn. Life grabbed ahold of me, and as I worked day to day to make my way in the world, that didn't happen as planned. Fast forward 15 years, through jobs such as a gas station attendant, mill worker, and bookkeeper, I found myself laid off from my job at Countrywide home loans when the housing market crashed in 2007. Struggling to make ends meet, I decided to go to college as I had always wanted and 4 years later I held my degree in Computer Science in my exhausted hands…along with nearly $40,000 of student loan debt.
Living in a remote area, I was blessed to find a job that allowed me to work from home (as a Software Engineer), and for a couple of years that was my focus. The income wasn't what I thought it would be however, and I was dissatisfied with the progress I was making on our debt. I was also concerned that I wouldn't be able to start saving money for the children's upcoming college expenses in time. When my employer cut back my hours, I decided I needed to generate more income and started my business, which offers digital goods and services. It was a difficult choice. I wasn't sure that I should be putting focus on a new area of business considering I had just earned my degree in something entirely different. I had always been artistic and felt I had the skills needed, but my dad was Mr. Unsuccessful Entrepreneur growing up, and I worried I would be unsuccessful – especially since I was going to do it without borrowing any start up funds.
I began designing Photoshop templates for photographers, bloggers, and the do it yourself crafty types that like artistic and unique paper products. At the encouragement of my friend, I opened an Etsy shop in addition to the website I was working on promoting. I started with a bang, November and December being very busy times for Christmas cards, I was excited to see the money start rolling in. I offered customization services to my customers, something that many other designers on Etsy don't do, and have gained loyal and reoccurring business as a result. Nearly one year later, I am just a few thousand dollars away from being free from my student loan debt. It's an amazing feeling and everyday I wake up excited to pursue my business and make my dreams a reality.
How much did it cost to start your business?
Surprisingly, not that much! I purchased my domain name for less than $20 and signed up with Shopify to host my website for $29 per month. I already had Adobe Photoshop installed on my computer (the software I use to create my product) because I had fallen in love with digital scrapbooking years before. I also used free resources whenever possible for marketing and signed up for free trials on services that interested me until money started coming in. All in all, I was up and going for less than $50!
Where did you find your first sales?
Etsy. Beautiful, wonderful Etsy. In the Photoshop templates niche, Etsy is the go-to resource for photographers, scrapbookers, and people desiring something crafty, handmade, and unique. Those are exactly the people I want to market myself to, so Etsy was (and still is) the prefect fit. They also started offering digital downloads as of 2013, which is great for those of us selling products in that category. Not only does it appeal to the instant gratification mentality, but it means less work for the business owner, because we don't need to physically email the file to the purchaser, it is done automatically. Score!
What advice would you give to someone in your previous situation, looking for a way out of debt, and considering a home business idea?
Research, research, research. Having a game plan before you go live can save you a lot of time and energy. Use your google-foo and find out: Who is your competition? What is SEO and how can you implement it? Who is your target audience? Additionally, you should be able to answer questions about yourself: How will you stand out from your competitors? What makes your product unique? How would you define your brand? Most importantly though, is having faith and determination in yourself. Sales may be slow and you may feel disheartened. Don't! You can do this. Take advantage of slow times to build (or expand) your inventory, work on social media interaction, and work on your website or SEO. There are times when I felt frustrated and disappointed in my business's performance. During these moments, I like to vent to my husband. Sometimes it helps me to vocalize what I'm thinking and feeling. So I tell him my concerns and usually end the conversation with: “I WILL be a successful woman entrepreneur. Nothing less is acceptable.” And you know what? He believes me. And I believe in myself. Now, we are nearly free of my student loan debt. Be positive. Be tenacious!
What are some favorite resources or tools that you can share with your fellow budding entrepreneur?
I love www.workyourart.com. She has both free and paid resources available, and offers a lot of great insights. I'm also a huge fan of IFTTT.com which helps me automate a lot of interactions on Pinterest, Twitter, and WordPress. Shopify has been a great website platform for me. They offer digital download services for my products as well as the traditional physical product website store, and there are a lot of awesome apps that integrate right into their services!