Lessons Learned from Owning an Online Boutique

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It blows my mind that I started Sugar & Spice Apparel two years ago… and how much has changed since the day I started. On February 6, 2018, I was incredibly nervous to announce my new venture to the world. My family and close friends already knew what I had been working on for the past several months, but it didn’t feel ‘real’ until I officially launched my store and made it public.

Now that I’ve been running this business for two years, there’s so much I wish I could’ve told myself prior to starting. But the best next thing is sharing the knowledge I’ve gained with others who are thinking of starting their own boutique or business! So here are the major lessons learned since starting my online boutique:

  1. You are capable of much more than you realize. When I began the process of starting my online boutique, I literally knew nothing. I didn’t know how much money I would need, I didn’t know where to purchase clothes for my store, I didn’t know what hosting site to use for my website, I didn’t know how to inform the federal (or state) government that I was starting a business. But I realized that just because I didn’t already know these things, didn’t mean I couldn’t learn. I taught myself everything there was to know about ecommerce, the different types of business models (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.), accounting, social media for business, and more. Two years later I am so much more confident because of it. I’ve learned how to pay quarterly and annual taxes for my business, how to hire an employee and file taxes on their behalf, and the ins and outs of running an online business. You may feel clueless when you start your own business (or anytime you start something new), but remember that there is so much room to learn.
  2. Forget about what other people think. One of my biggest worries when starting my business was what other people would think. Luckily my husband was quick to remind me, who cares?  Because, really, why should I care what other people think? My friends and family were all super supportive from the beginning so the only people that could be judgmental about it are people that aren’t part of my life anyway. Forget about what other people might think and just go for it!
  3. Trust your instincts. Here’s a shocker – I love fashion. Believe it or not, that was one of the driving forces behind me starting my own boutique. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Not only do I love wearing different clothes than the average joe, but other girls often ask where I get my outfits, which I definitely take as a compliment! So when I started my boutique, I wanted to provide my personal style to other girls that had the same sense of fashion as me and needed a go-to place to shop. While I originally bought many pieces for my boutique that I would personally wear, I also gave into society’s ‘trends’ and what other stores were selling. I did this because I was worried that people wouldn’t like the clothes I picked, and they might want to buy what was trending or selling well elsewhere. Well what do you know, the items that I picked sold best and the items I bought because I felt pressure to do so didn’t sell so well. This was a great lesson because it taught me to trust my gut.
  4. Be unique. It’s inevitable that you will have the same clothes as other boutiques and there will be other stores that are similar to yours. But figure out how to stand out – whether that be with specific clothing items, unique decor, captivating photos, or a distinct color palette. Since launching my boutique, I’ve honed in on certain items that I always carry and am starting to become ‘known for,’ and have created eye-catching displays for my pop-up shops that draw customers in.
  5. Step out of your comfort zone. Starting anything new might qualify as out of your ‘comfort zone,’ however with this lesson, push yourself even further. When I first started my online boutique, that’s exactly what I thought about its future – online only. But six months after I launched my online store, I got an itch to do more. I discovered that I could have pop-up shops without getting an additional business license and determined that it would be a great business move. Not only would it capture customers that might not find us online, but it would help my store grow and raise brand awareness. I was incredibly nervous to do my first pop-up because, once again, I was clueless. I was still learning how to run an online boutique, and now I was going to attempt an in-person retail store? Nevertheless, my first pop-up was wildly successful, even when we only had two days to get everything together (I didn’t even have clothing racks!). Since then I have pushed myself to do pop-up shops frequently, which have proven to be great for both sales and marketing. I still get anxious before every single one because I worry about if it will be successful, how much I will sell, how much money I’ll make, and if people will like the clothes. But they have become the most successful part of my business thus far – which I never would have known if I didn’t take the leap.
  6. Learn how to be flexible. Like it or not, life is full of surprises. No matter how much you prepare, it’s likely that things will not always go according to plan. It probably won’t come as a surprise that I did not plan to start my own business and get pregnant 8 months later. While this is a much greater change than most people running a business might face, you never know what life will throw your way. While I had many moments of weakness and contemplated throwing in the towel, I realized that I just had to change my mindset. Sure, I was not able to give 110% to my business for the first two years as I thought I would. But, I could get as much accomplished as possible before I had our baby and I could plan ahead for when I would become both a mom and business owner. This is the most extreme case that challenged my flexibility, but there are many little things that will test you, too. Just a few examples: clothes not arriving on time, misprinted marketing materials, wi-fi failing during a huge website update, packages getting lost in the mail. So many things can occur that go against your perfect plan, and the key is to stay cool and not lose your mind. It’ll save you stress and prepare you so much better for the future.
  7. Expectations will change – and that’s okay. Adding to the previous point on flexibility, it is likely that your expectations for your business will change with time. Life happens, and often you must shift your expectations. I had great plans of having a big online presence and was hoping to have a large social media following by my two year mark. While I was right on track at the one year mark, I had to adjust my priorities during the second year of running my business because I knew that my time would be much more limited (#babyontheway). So I had to choose where to invest my time, and unfortunately social media got put on the chopping block. While I know social media is a must for an online business, I just didn’t have the time in addition to everything else I had to do to keep my store running. I had to keep my website up to date, order inventory, plan for future pop-ups, work on marketing materials, and look into hiring an intern to help with the months leading up to Leo’s birth as well as the weeks following. I decided that the momentum I would inevitably lose online could be gained through pop-ups if I added more to my calendar. So I adjusted my mindset and created a new vision for the immediate future of Sugar & Spice Apparel. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have grand plans for our online presence in the years to come!
  8. Set goals, even if you won’t meet them. To be honest, I hate setting goals. I hate it because I obviously want to set high goals, but then am disappointed if I don’t meet them. I don’t want to set ‘realistic’ goals, because of course I should meet those, so what’s the point of even writing those down? However my husband is a big proponent of setting goals, so I have started to give in and set goals for myself, even if I do so begrudgingly. I still tend to set high goals, but I’ve learned that it gives me something to work towards. It also forces me to figure out my priorities – I discover what matters the most to me in this business and what I want to achieve. Additionally, it provides a sense of direction for the year ahead, which creates a clearer vision of where I want my business to be a year from now. While I still have a love-hate relationship with goal-setting, I think I’m starting to appreciate the process and the benefits that come with writing down my hopes for the future.

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