How to Turn Your Hobby Into An Ecommerce Business

  •    Celeste Altus is a business and technology writer and editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has lead San Francisco bureaus of Adweek and PRWeek magazines.

Anyone can tell from the craftsmanship on each piece of her embossed bangle bracelets that Whistle + Bango founder Rosie Parkes has an eye for detail.

The glamorous, made-to-order bracelets were created featuring London postcodes, and the design took off. At the time, her embossed jewelry making was a side project she did during evenings and weekends, in addition to her regular day job.

Soon London postcodes weren't the only numbers on the custom bracelets packages. Customers from around the world wanted zip codes, initials and dates.

Order by order, she was soon running a global jewelry business.

Parkes used Weebly to launch her website, and it helped her get started easily without bogging her down in technical issues, she said.

“You don't need to be able to code or read any IT-led gobbledy gook." Parkes said after a day of playing around with the platform, she felt confident to build pages, add images, edit copy and link.

She said she took some basic steps to make her business happen:

  • Research the idea in the market. “Who are your competition, what are they doing, is there space for you in this market and how will you compete?" Start by conducting a Google search on keywords related to your product. What types of businesses are returned in the search results? Don't be discouraged if similar online stores exits, asses how your product can be differentiated than the competition.

  • Research your customers. Find out if your target audience wants what you are trying to sell - and why. In the early stages, use your friends and family as early adopters to test and give feedback on early product concepts and prototypes. Beyond your immediate network you can interview potential customers using tools like PinPoll, Google Forms and SurveyMonkey to generate feedback.

  • Build your platform. If you are making a physical product, find a manufacturer. Parkes said she bought very small volumes initially to keep initial costs down. Get started using services like Makers Row or ThomasNet.com which allow you to search thousands of manufactures and suppliers.

  • Network and create support. “Talk, ask favors, talk talk talk some more – it is the only way forward," she said. It's important to speak with confidence and truly believe your product or service is the best out there. Remember, you aren't alone. Get support with groups like Meetup.com, where you can go online to find nearby events for people in your industry, which will build your network. Try the Weebly Community for advice and suggestions.

Parkes said if you are thinking of launching a business out of your side project, get as much feedback as possible from people around you and don't be afraid to take a risk.

“You are never too young or too old to start a business. As long as you are not getting in to irrevocable debt, then I say go for it!"