When I decided back in January to set up my own website using open-source cart software, I had every intention of blogging about the process along the way in hopes of inspiring or helping others in the handmade community who were thinking of doing the same. I have always felt rather suffocated & limited by third-party sites. I tend to like to do things my own way and not have to play by the rules -or agendas- of others…it’s the artist and the entrepreneur in me, I guess… 😉
What I wasn’t prepared for, was how time-consuming it was going to be. Oh, open source, la la la…once I learn how it works, how hard can it be? I have enough geek knowledge under my belt – this will be fine. Truthfully, it was a HUGE learning curve…one that has left me feeling totally accomplished – but still, jewelry making (development & skills) has been put on the back burner while I take on this very big endeavor (all the while, I still am taking custom requests. Eeek!).
So here is what I came to realize:
1. You can’t go it alone – unless you are a programmer in your “day” job.
Whether you use ZenCart, Magento, PrestaShop or OSCommerce…whatever the software you find, it will never be perfect, and will need tweaking. Unpacking the software and uploading it to the web space in the first place was a head scratcher. And then, I cannot express my frustration loud enough of loading in a section or a product and having it not display properly. Luckily for me – I happen to live with a developer. My husband got me set up with the site, and tweaked the style sheet when items would not display properly. I am geeky but I do not code – unless you count simple html and that ain’t gonna cut it. 🙂 So, no matter how many hours of sweat equity you want to put in, you will still need to have help from someone with technical know-how. That may mean paying someone – or maybe setting up a bartering system for goods in trade for programming. In my case all I have to do is turn really red and mash the keyboard really hard and my hubby comes to my rescue. I know everyone cannot be so lucky. 😉
2. Be willing to make compromises.
One of the reasons why it has taken me so long to even develop my own site is because I had visions of grandeur…all the things I wanted it to be able to do, to represent – AND do it all the while with an edgy, artsy look. Over the past 7+ years I have sketched out the website of my dreams on paper over and over again…tweaked and re-tweaked. The truth is, to have the kind of website I envisioned it wouldn’t have taken several hundred dollars in development time, it would have taken a few THOUSAND dollars in development time. Although I am married to a developer – time taken to put together that kind of site is food out of my children’s mouths. Literally! If he is working for free for me he is not doing work for his clients…
So I realized that I had to settle for heavenly flower, version 1. You have to start somewhere. So when demo-ing different cart software I looked for one that was closest to what I wanted. The one I chose has a fairly easy to understand back-end, it also had modules I could add for features I wanted. Besides being able to sell a product to customers, this one allowed browsing with different currencies, had a customer wishlist and also a rewards program. Also, I was able to find a theme I liked that was inexpensive, that was fairly easy to implement and fairly easy to tweak (again – hubby took the lead here…it would have been a disaster if I gave it a go solo!!). It’s not perfect. There are things I would like to change – and being open source we will probably change. But for now, version 1 is usable and presentable so onward & upward as they say. 🙂
3. Be realistic with your goals
In January when I finally decided to go ahead with this project, I thought end of May would be ample time for implementing and launching the whole site. We are talking 4 months. Then, life happens. I am a mom to 2 little ones – and at the time I decided this timeline, I didn’t realize I was a *pregnant* mom. Yet, I like to give myself tight deadlines as I tend to procrastinate. It turned out the fact that there is a new family member on its way really kicked my butt in gear. I spend my days with my kiddos, and added an hour or two extra at night to get my crap together. It did mean compromises – like going with older photos I had taken with the old camera. But this is heavenly flower, 1.1. I had to tell the perfectionist in me to politely eff off. I can always go back & retake photos later, once the site is finally live.
4. educate yourself as much as possible about the software you choose
I read many tutorials & posts on message boards to understand how the software worked, what I could expect, and any issues people had encountered with it. Hard on the head, yes – but if I hadn’t of done this, there would have been useful features that I would have totally missed. Not to mention when something wasn’t working it was such a time saver to pin point the exact problem.
5. weigh out the pros and cons of having your own site, and think long term
Are the sales rolling in since launching the site a little over a week ago? Oh hell no, of course not! I still have SEO (search engine optimizing) to do, not to mention all my own promotion and advertising I did when I sold on the third party sites. It ain’t that easy folks. For me, it is a long term plan. First, set up shop on a site like Etsy and try out this online thing for a couple of years. It had been over a decade since I first sold online – a lot of things have changed about online shopping since then. As a busy mom I love to shop online so I soon learned what I like and dislike about the experience. I plan to spend the next year building up my brand…which is a never ending process whether you have your own website or not. The point is, I have not made and am not making sales my goal for this year. If I get requests, great, but again I am thinking long term. I’ve never really been comfortable with my name attached with such-and-such selling community. So it is worth it to me to take the time -finally- to build something for myself. For others that may not be such an issue. Nor is everyone ready to invest that kind of time (and possibly money) on something that is not necessarily a sure shot. Remember that your own site means not only paying to set up the site, but for hosting. In my case, once I stopped paying Etsy listing/renewing fees and downgraded my Artfire to basic I have ample money to pay for the monthly hosting cost. The goal is to eventually offer my own credit card processing as well. What you want to offer, who to and when are all questions to ask yourself.
So it’s the end of May – did I reach my goal? Yes in the sense that the site is live. No, because I am not done – yet. Still more products to load. And we need to move over to the faster more reliable hosting. Am I happy with the direction things are heading? Absolutely! Having my own site in many ways is like birthing a baby. It’s a huge responsibility and can be scary/intimidating at times. But I have never felt so free and excited about the future of my handmade business! 🙂