Right off the bat I’m going outside of the stated topics for this blog. Oh well, I’m not good at sticking to a script. I’m also not very good at grammar or sentence structure and tend to jump around depending on what pops into my head. I’m ok with that though.
As you’ve probably figured out, I recently started a candle company called Knox’s Favorite Candle Company. If you haven’t stumbled upon it yet, here’s the link www.knoxsfavorite.com. Anyways, a lot of work goes into creating a business! Which I knew. To some extent anyways. The following post will outline some of the struggles and revelations I went through creating the company.
My bachelors degree is in business administration, so I was off to a good start. A good business acumen and a small amount of creative ability. Then came the question: Where do I begin? I already knew I was going to make candles. I have been making candles as a hobby for a while now, but I had never really thought of the branding aspect. I jumped onto Etsy and did a quick search for candles. There were a lot of people selling candles and I was able to quickly spot some trends.
First, I noticed that I was drawn to the pictures, especially the really well done pictures. I quickly realized that sales were much higher for the shops that had better pictures than the ones that did not. While this isn’t a revelation to anyone who uses Etsy regularly, it was new to me. Mental note number one, make sure to take good pictures of your products.
Second, I started to analyze the different candles that people were selling, specifically the scented candles. I noticed that the majority of the candles had some amount of branding, but that they just listed the scents of the candles with their company name on a label. Most of these looked great, but then I started to notice their sales weren’t as high as some of the niche candle companies. The niche candle companies sold to specific audiences be it gamers, book lovers, tv lovers, etc.
I started to think, “Now here we go! I need to come up with my niche.” Anyone who knows me knows I love dogs. I spend many weekends at the dog park, and while Knox loves it there, I think I enjoy seeing all of the other dogs more than he does. I realized, this is my niche. I’ll sell candles geared towards dog lovers. Now that I had an idea, I needed to figure out what exactly made that idea come to life.
My first thought was, “How do I create a label?”. I did some research and came across the Avery.com label software. This turned out to be relatively easy to learn how to use, and I began designing a label. I quickly realized that designing a product label is a skill that I didn’t have. I labored over that design suite for days and days and days until I finally came up with something that I liked, all the while researching design theories along the way. Many times I thought I was going to have to outsource the work. I still might eventually enlist the help of a professional designer at some point because now that I’ve dipped my fingers into the field, I greatly respect their ability.
Next, I tested a couple of candle scents on friends and family. It quickly became apparent that I would need to dig in and do some research in this aspect as everyone seemingly has their own favorite scents. Luckily I was able to find a list of the top 10 scents purchased monthly for the last ten years from one of the candle supply wholesalers. This was exactly the data I needed to come up with the initial scents for my candle company. This part of the process was more in my wheelhouse. I love data and everything you can learn from it. The fact that information is so easily shared nowadays is amazing.
At this point, I feel good. I have my labels, my scents, essentially I have finished products to sell. Because I work full time, I knew I was going to sell primarily on Etsy. I’m very risk averse, so there was no way that I was going to be leaving my job. Plus I like my day job. So I had to learn to take pictures. This came a little easier because I lived with two photography majors in college. I was the subject of many photo shoots and helped stage many more. The principals of lighting and subject to background ratios were a part of normal conversation in our house at that time. I thought about asking one of them to take the pictures for me, but I decided to do it on my own. I again resorted to google to make sure that I had the proper equipment. If you’re in the same boat, here is an excellent article to help you out:
Now I’m ready to start selling right? Wrong. There is paperwork involved in starting a business, even one where you primarily sell online.* I knew about this, but I want to caution the more creative, less business savvy people reading this. You can get into big trouble for tax evasion! So I started researching what I needed to file. It turned out that I needed a Fictitious Name Form, also known as a Doing Business As form, a Sales and Use tax certificate, and a local business tax receipt. The Fictitious Name Form is necessary because I named my company something other than my own name. Since I started this company as a sole proprietorship, I could have skipped this step had I only advertised under my legal name, but what’s the fun in that? The Sales and Use tax certificate is necessary to establish a relationship with the state. This is how you will remit sales tax to them. Yes, online businesses need to collect sales tax, and the laws vary in every state. Your state department of revenue website is where you should begin your search. You’re most likely going to need google to help you interpret some of the language however! Finally, the local business tax receipt. This is called a Business License in some places, but it is the final step in setting up your business. In my situation, I had to apply for this in person. In order to do so I had to present my driver’s license, fictitious name filing, and Social Security Number. It was a pretty painless event, as far as trips to the tax collector go, and once I was done, I was finally ready to open for business!
This experience, even aside from making any money and sharing the products that I love to make, has really helped me understand and appreciate some of the creative fields more than I had before. Very few people will confuse me with someone overly creative or whimsical, and in the past I’ve taken that to be a good thing. I subscribed to the idea that if you show up, work hard, and put in a good 40 years in an office, you’ll be just fine in life. I’ve begun to really see that there are other paths that are worth exploring and are just as valuable and in many ways more valuable than the traditional 9-5 job.
*Note, I am simply sharing my story, as it happens to have been something I felt like sharing. For more information on any of these topics, feel free to send me a message and I’ll try to answer anything I can or point you in a different direction. I am not a legal expert however and cannot give legal or financial advice.