From Hobby to Business: How I Built A Thriving Online Store In 6 Months

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There are four things that have allowed me to build a side-hustle that has gone from zero to one hundred (okay, maybe only fifty) real quick. In 7 months, my company Halifax Paper Hearts has sold over 6,000 heart-made, hand-packaged note cards (made with love, care & salty air on the East Coast of Canada). We have been featured on Forbes.com, The Advocate, and the Huffington Post. We’re currently carried in over 40 retail locations across Canada with big dreams to expand into the U.S. market this year.

People ask me all the time… How did you do it?

My answer?

It’s simple… It’s not easy… but it’s simple.

Keep it Simple

I am perpetually guilty of over-complicating and over-thinking almost every experience I’ve ever had … I can’t help it – I was born this way. So rather than change it, I embrace it. If you’re like me, when you start exploring a new business concept, you are going to want to throw every single idea, thought, feeling and emotion that you’ve ever had into it. Go ahead and do that – but then you MUST get crystal clear, and cull the majority of it out. Your success depends on it. Just as editing can be much harder than the writing process, it’s the same with brainstorming, so you must get good at saying no to ideas.

When I started Paper Hearts, I had so many different ideas for design concepts and collections (seriously, it ranged from cheeky-girl-boss to straight up east coast charm). I put everything I had created into a private Facebook group and invited my closest friends (who happen to be the same demographic as my target market) to tell me what they thought. The designs that got the most likes (and I-want-to-squish-it-in-my-face-its-so-cute reactions) were the designs I kept. The ones that they wanted to change, I dropped immediately. This process allowed me the ability to focus on 4 simple collections with designs that resonated with the community I wanted to build. I would much rather do a few things really well, than spread myself too thin, confuse people, and lose them in the process.

Keeping it simple also applies to pricing and branding strategies. You should be able to say what it is that you have to offer in one sentence. Get clear, keep it simple, and say what it is that you have to say as concisely as possible.

Ask

It can be really easy to see stories on Huddle, Entrepreneur, Inc., or Forbes and think “Wow, they are so lucky – success is just coming to them”. Guess what? They have invested in themselves by hiring a PR firm (like Onboardly) or have read articles that are similar to the stories they want to tell and took the time to connect with those writers to pitch their story idea. Over the past 7 months, it would probably surprise you to count the number of emails I have sent. I have asked for legal, accounting, branding & communications advice, for retail opportunities, and to collaborate with influencers and makers. Stop with the endless jibber-jabber-over-analytical crazy-talk and just ask someone for an opportunity or advice. Seriously. Stop it. People aren’t going to just reach out and give you advice for any scenario, and the ones that do probably aren’t worth listening to anyway.

The more people you ask – the closer-to-connected you’ll get.

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Stop telling yourself lies

Fear is a liar… Plain and simple. Just to prove it, I have compiled just a few (of the countless) stories/lies that I have told myself over the past 7 months of my start-up journey:

  • “No one would ever buy my arts & crafts on the internet”
  • “That mega-mogul-entrepreneur will never write me back”
  • “They’ll never write a story about us”
  • “Ain’t nobody got time for that – I have a full-time job”
  • “I can’t write a blog post – what do I know?”
  • No matter where you are in your business (or your life for that matter), thoughts like these will constantly come up. Acknowledge that your fears are there, and then do it anyway. Don’t let fear stop you, and let your doubts push you further. We’re aiming for progress here, not perfection.Stop it.

Be Authentic

I recently met with the leading creative branding expert in Atlantic Canada for a 30-minute tell-me-everything-you-know coffee. How? Read above, all I did was ask. During our chat, I asked the Brand Guy, “How do you develop a communications plan? How much is too much? How do you know what types of messages to share?”

Do you know what he said?

“Be authentic.”

That’ was it. I couldn’t believe it.

Building a business is not about you nor is it about pushing your products on people. People make over 10,000 purchasing decisions every day, and over 90% of all purchasing decisions are not made consciously. People don’t care about your product – they care about how you make them feel. Build a community of followers online. Share your authenticity, your journey, experience, insights and challenges – and yes, share your products too. In today’s market, people have to fall in love with your brand before they’ll trust you enough to pick up (and pay for) what you’re laying down.

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Be Gentle

I have two modes… over-drive, and off. I did not come with cruise control. I am highly excitable, and can run with big ideas for days on end. I don’t stop, don’t sleep well and pour everything I have into an idea. Then… I crash.

I flop around on the couch eating as much sugar and fat as possible, napping in between meals and wearing top knots for days. The key to thriving in the cycle of creativity or productivity (whatever that means for you) is gentleness. It is okay, and sometimes more productive, to just do nothing sometimes, don’t beat yourself up about it – “busyness” is not a badge of honour. It’s a quick route to burnout. Allow yourself space to be curious, to regenerate, to rest – and keep the faith that you’ll ride the creative wave when it comes again (and it will… trust me).

Get back to basics – eat more of the good stuff, take more naps, do yoga, take a bath, get a pedicure, drive to the ocean and call your mom. If you show yourself compassion by treating yourself like your bestie (“You deserve a break, you work so hard”) your own love and compassion will bring you right back to your sweet spot again. Creativity, productivity, humanity – it’s a cycle… roll with it.

Staying true to who you are, asking for what you want, and focusing on progress rather than perfection are a sure-fire way to bring you success in whatever it is that you decide to do in life. Building a business (side-hustle or not) is no different. It’s not an easy journey, but it is a simple one.

Until we connect again – hustle on.

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3 Comments

Henry

Stephanie,

Inspirational and unique entrepreneurial journey.
You have found a way to successfully tame your fears and remain authentic.
Thanks for sharing.

Reply

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