I'm planning to start an online greeting card / stationary store with my wife. My wife (and possibly my sister and other friends) will create designs for the cards, while I'll run the website and manage the business. I'll admit, I don't know the first thing about running a business, but, for a number of reasons, I still want to try. If you have any advice on running an online business, I'd appreciate any feedback. Here are some of my plans for the store. I've already started on some of them and will write more details as I complete them.
My general plan is to have my wife, and possibly other artists, draw card designs using colored pencils, ink, and other media. I'll scan the designs, lay out the cards, and print them. We had thought about doing custom, hand-made cards for each order, but my wife doesn't have a lot of time, and I didn't want to burden her with making tens of millions of cards when our store hits the big time tomorrow. I plan to make the cards on-demand, with quick turn around times by automating as much of the process as possible. In the beginning we'll do things manually, because I don't expect many orders. Then later, I'll add Python scripts, Twisted Perspective Broker communication, and custom robotic cutting, folding, and mail delivery. Finally, I plan to take over the world.
Desktop publishing plans
A degree in Art, or Graphic Design would probably be a whole lot more useful than my degree in Engineering. If I did have one of those degrees, I would probably be doing most of my work on a Mac with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. But, since I'm a geeky engineer and programmer, I'm going to use Linux, the Gimp, and deal with all the hardware/software incompatibilities that come with it. Besides Gimp, I plan to use Scribus, a pretty cool open-source desktop publishing program. For printing, I've already purchased a Xerox Phaser 8560DN solid-ink printer. I've done some preliminary printing, and there has been some pain, as my wife can attest, but overall it is a pretty cool printer that works well with Linux. The biggest hurdle, I think, will be figuring out the ICC profiles / color management stuff. I'll post my Linux Phaser 8560 setup notes when I have everything in order.
I plan to run the business as a sole proprietorship since it is the simplest of the business structure options. As far as I can tell from preliminary reading, I will need to get a city business license, a sales tax license, a state employer identification number, and probably a ficticious business name. For more information, see the U.S. Small Business Administration guide.
- Satchmo: Satchmo is an open source e-commerce framework built on Python and Django. It is actively developed, has a number of features, and, since it is written in Python/Django, is easily hackable should I have custom needs.
- Slicehost hosting: I originally thought I could use Webfaction shared hosting since it has served me well for this blog. However, after reading this discussion on Satchmo hosting, I realized I needed more RAM and decided to go with VPS hosting at Slicehost.
- I plan to use Amazon S3 for media storage. I gained experience with this service at work. Also, after reading Adrian Holovaty's (somewhat dated) post on using Django and S3 for media files, I implemented S3 storage for this blog. With the beta release of Amazon CloudFront, performance should be even better.
- Other technologies: I'll stick with Ubuntu for the server OS. I'll start with Apache for the web server, since it recommended by Django. I may explore other options if memory becomes a problem. Though I have slightly more experience with MySQL from work, I plan to use PostgreSQL for the database, again, since it is recommended by Django and seems to be a better designed database. I don't know very much about caching, but I plan to look into memcached, nginx, and squid-cache.
Well, those are my plans. I am starting off bright-eyed. Hopefully, the trials of the road ahead will not wreck my spirit. Again, feedback is appreciated! Thanks.
Good luck with your project. Given your python background/interests, I think Satchmo will be a good fit. Your VPS and OS choices also sound like a good platform for launching a satchmo based store.
Good luck with your efforts and let us know on the Satchmo list if we can help out. -Chris
Sounds like you've been very busy setting up the business & that you've been researching the licenses, etc needed. I don't understand all the technical stuff, but it sounds as though you're learning much as you tackle this new venture. It's too bad that you're too busy to contribute some art designs of your own. There is much lurking in your creative mind.
Chris, thanks for your support. Satchmo looks like a great project. I will ask on the mailing list if I need any help.
Mom, thanks also for your support. I will try drawing some designs later also, when I have time.
Good stuff... Let me know how the Satchmo works for you.
Joe, thanks, I'll definitely let you know about Satchmo.
Satchmo on PostreSQL sounds like a killer choice and I'm sure you'll launch the site in no time.
I think the only real problem starting a new e-commerce is the sales & marketing, so, you'll have to find a creative way to promote your store.
Good luck with your new venture!
Hey Nikolay, thanks for the comment! I have been thinking about marketing recently, though I didn't write anything about it. I would like to have a blog for the store and some initial free promotions. Maybe I need to make some videos and get some media coverage as well, huh? Let me know if you have any ideas.
It's not unrealistic to hope that you can get media coverage starting a small business as all the media needs is a good story. In financially troubled times like these, with millions being laid off, it would be a good story that a young couple decides to do something and start a small business that can grow big eventually. I think those kinds of headlines will start coming back in the media similarly to the eBay ones in the past.
Also, as you're already building a site and customizing Satchmo to work well for your market, why no make it that people can set up their own stores (using their own domains or subdomains) and you can collect some small transaction fee for providing the platform?
You should also implement some of the traditional ways to expand a business - coupons, volume/package discounts, reward points, referral/affiliate programs, etc.
Nikolay, Thanks for the ideas! I think providing a framework for others is a good idea... I may explore this further later on. And I will try to implement some of these traditional techniques you suggested. Luckily, Satchmo supports a number of these.