This is a follow up story for Little Shop of Miniatures. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Amanda Austin and I run Little Shop of Miniatures. My store specializes in dollhouse miniatures and dollhouse kits. My customers are mostly hobbyists, though they have also included kids doing school projects, companies designing small-scale scenes for trade shows, and more. (A few celebrities have also ordered, though I won’t say which ones!)
I launched my store in November 2017. It has doubled and tripled in revenue and profit every year. This year, it will be well into the six figures for revenue.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
My store has experienced tremendous growth since we last checked in. December 2019 was the first month it achieved five-figure revenue and it’s stayed that way ever since. The pandemic benefitted my store since so many people were looking for a way to pass the time and they could only shop online. I have gained many new customers since March.
If you end up starting a business that nets you a grand a month and it lets you drop down to part-time or take a less lucrative but more enjoyable job, that is a success!
I’ve also tried some new ways to increase my customer base and sell more to the ones I have. I continue to add new products all the time and to create new keyword-rich content for the blog. Perhaps the best thing I’ve done is to email customers every week. I only do a few sales a year, so typical emails will highlight new products, a new blog post or photos customers emailed me of their projects. You don’t have to constantly discount to keep customers coming back and ordering.
I am not particularly active on social media and the only advertising I do is through Klickly. This is a Shopify app that advertises your products on various websites. I like it because you only pay if someone buys it!
I also made some key investments in my site this year. I paid for a redesign that I am very happy with. I designed the first iteration of my site, but you need to hire a pro if you want something next level. The guys I used charged about $750, which was a good deal. They used a paid Shopify theme and customized it to my specifications. I’m very happy with the improved look of my site.
The other investment I made was in a custom app to sync my inventory to my drop shipper's inventory. Before doing this, I had to do manual updates every day. Now, my store is automatically updated three times a day. I hired developers out of Pakistan on Fiverr to do it. It was money well, well spent.
Finally, I took advantage of Shopify’s offer to let every store add gift cards to their website. This has been a great thing for my store! A lot of people bought them for Mother’s Day...I cannot wait for the holiday season gift card sales! I should have added gift cards a long time ago.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I wish I would have invested in more time-saving measures like my custom inventory tracking app earlier. I tried to do too much myself but failed to consider the cost of my time. If technology can save you time and aggravation, invest in it without hesitation!
Another thing I learned is to assume nothing. As the pandemic started to unfold, I was convinced my store was doomed. Instead, sales boomed because people wanted a fun hobby, where shopping online a ton, and ended up receiving stimulus funds.
Finally, I have learned the value of taking the long view. I spent almost a year planning and setting up my store. The first year’s profit was laughable and I believed I made a mistake. I ended up going back to a “real job”...it was actually at a successful online store, so I learned a lot. Sales started to pick up after year two, which I hear is pretty common. Today, I derive a middle-class salary from a business I work at five hours a week max on average. If my store continues to grow as it has, I will have a six-figure salary from it before I turn 40. I also have a successful freelance writing business since this store does not require much time investment. I run both businesses while my one-year-old daughter rests or naps during the day...about 15-20 hours a week. I make the same salary I did working at a Fortune 500 company and get to be a stay-at-home mom. I love being with my daughter during the day and I don’t miss spending $10,000+ on daycare. I may not make a massive salary or have a job with clout, but that is not my priority right now. I enjoy running a lifestyle business that lets me prioritize my family at this stage of my life. I believe there are many opportunities to start your store like this. I wish more women who want to be home with their kids would consider it. I see too many get sucked into unprofitable pyramid schemes that promise an instant ROI. I don’t think anything worth doing has an instant ROI.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I am due to give birth to my second daughter in September 2020, so things are at a bit of a standstill right now. My main goal is to keep adding more products and content to the site and to keep emailing customers once a week.
When it comes to long-term plans, I often think about starting another dropshipping store in a few years....probably one with just a few niche products. I learned a ton starting this one from the ground up and believe I could do it much better and faster while avoiding many mistakes the second time around.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds by Raegan Moya-Jones. She founded the Aiden + Anais baby blanket empire and is a total bad a__. She honestly details all her struggles in this business memoir, including the regret she feels about taking private equity and essentially being let go from her own company. She was greatly underestimated by many people and unable to get ahead in the corporate world on account of being a results-oriented, tell-it-like-it-is woman with no patience for schmoozing. I can relate to that!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
- Create your measure of success. Our culture likes to hold up people who make a ton of money and/or who achieve success quickly. But maybe they work all the time and are constantly stressed, so is that true success? If you end up starting a business that nets you a grand a month and it lets you drop down to part-time or take a less lucrative but more enjoyable job, that is a success! Be clear about why you are starting your business. For me, it wasn’t to become wildly rich or to impress people. I simply wanted to be a hands-on mom with her income. This store has given me the freedom to quit working for someone else and to enjoy time with my family and have some level of sanity in my life now that I’m not rushing all over town trying to balance a traditional job with daycare drop-offs and running our house.
- Be patient. It took over two years to see a real payoff from my store...and more like three years when you consider all the legwork I did to get things off the ground. But now I have a (mostly) passive income stream with super low overhead and no employees to manage. I’ve had major setbacks and frustrations....and lots of people probably thought I was nuts or trying to avoid “real work.” But the numbers don’t lie. This business is profitable and growing at least 2x every year. I used to want a title, corner office, expense account, etc. Now I cannot imagine working for someone else. I used to think I’d be stuck in a cubicle playing office politics for the rest of my life. This store has given me so much freedom and peace of mind. I have confidence that I can create my income in life and am almost certain I will create another passive income stream once my girls are in school.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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