You may think building a side hustle or a startup business is all about creating an audience for your product. Obviously that’s a major piece. But that is far from the only piece. Especially is you have a physical product you are selling, there is so much more than creating a brand or creating buzz. Let’s dive into it.
First things first. If you have a physical product then you need a manufacturer or supplier. That is of course if you are choosing to outsource production. Unless you yourself are making something truly unique like wood work, then I highly recommend outsourcing. In the beginning you can choose to make on your own, but eventually you’ll need to scale the business and outsource production. Finding a supplier is difficult. There are a million and one places that will make your product for you and want your business. The best strategy in finding the right supplier to you is by process of elimination. Start by defining your needs. What do you look for in a supplier? US based or overseas? Cost range? Payment terms? Lead times? Can they customize? How good at communicating are they? What is their minimum order quantity? Can they provide samples? You may not need to have an exact answer for each of these questions, but you should have an idea of what you are expecting. Then you start your search.
Google “your product” then ‘supplier’ or ‘manufacturer’ or ‘wholesaler’. You can also use websites like Alibaba and Thomasnet to guide you in the right direction. These sites are basically online supplier databases. Consider yourself warned. Finding the right supplier is tough. There are going to a lot of bad suppliers. Some that may not speak English. Some that don’t respond. Some that won’t leave you alone. Some that are perfect but are too expensive. And so on. At this point your job is to make a list of as many suppliers you possible can. Then once you’ve exhausted your efforts by making contact. Then you need to get as much information as possible from them. I recommend having an Excel spreadsheet with all your necessary supplier criteria to keep track of all of your potential suppliers. Then as you hear back from your suppliers, fill out that spreadsheet and all of the criteria you are looking for. Over this entire process, you will be weeding out bad suppliers. There will be obvious ones you can cross off your list. Then down the line, you will hopefully have a small list to choose from that you can decide which is best for you and your business.
Along with the information you are looking for from the supplier, it’s also important to send them the specs and look of your product you want made. This is so they will have a better idea of how to price your product if let’s say it needs any customization like adding your logo to it. Over time, you will narrow down your list enough where you can decide on supplier. Once you do, get samples of your product and make sure it’s to your liking. This step may require a couple tries from the supplier to get it just right. You may assess the sample and send them back notes for adjustments. Then they’ll send you an updated sample and you reassess. This goes on until you are satisfied with what they send you. Once that’s complete, you officially have a supplier.
What does every product come in? Packaging. Believe it or not, you are in charge of that too. You can choose the generic packaging the supplier provides. Or you can do the smart thing and create your own packaging. This is when it helps to have an artistic friend or family member to help create the packaging. Some suppliers won’t do packaging, so you may have to use an outside packaging company which is fine. They typically will be better since that it is their core competency. And you will go through the same process for finding the right packaging as you did finding the right product supplier. Create a list with your needs. Weed out the bad ones. And get samples until you’re satisfied.
After you get your product and packaging just right, you have two options. You can have both sent to you and you can pack out yourself, or you can send the packaging to the supplier and they can pack out. Bigger items that require bigger boxes might be best having the supplier pack out in the right box. But with smaller items, you can get away with shipping both product and packaging to you and you can pack out. This is important in the beginning to have your hands on your final product to see and feel what it’s like. This is what the customer will be getting, so do not disappoint. Make sure everything is perfect for them.
The last part I’ll touch on is creating a website. I’m no tech genius. I know my strengths and weaknesses. And creating a website is not one of my strengths. So, if you’re anything like me you are going to want to outsource this skill. Fortunately websites like Shopify make it easy to get help creating the website you want. Make sure you know exactly what you want before you reach out to them, because you won’t want to waste their time or your time. They are there to create your website, not brainstorm with you. Plus, this can be costly depending on the type of website you want. I recommend providing them an already existing website that they can use a template and essentially copy. Make sure the website is a successful business. Ideally they will create your website to look like the one you provided them, just with your colors and logos on it. You’re going to need to know basic information like how to upload products or product pictures. You’ll need to know how to set up a payment system. You’ll need to know how the payment system works. And most of all, you’ll need original content for your website. Pictures, videos, testimonies, descriptions, your story, accounting data, sales data, and so on is all crucial to your business website.
There are a lot are parts of entrepreneurship that are flashy and sexy. But the bulk of it is really not sexy. It’s talking with suppliers. It’s working with website creators. It’s stuff you don’t necessarily want to do but have to do it. It’s the backbone of your new business which needs to be there for it to stand up right. Then you can worry about the flash with content and social media later on. But only when you have a backbone, will you really be a business. Keep in mind these parts of entrepreneurship when starting out. It will only help you in the future.