No matter how great your idea for a business in retirement, finding customers is key, says Louise Farrand
The lightning bolt has struck. You’ve got that great idea for a business. But how do you spread the word and start attracting customers?
The answer will be different for every business. Some become successful by word of mouth. Others advertise. Increasingly though, new businesses are growing through the most democratic medium of all: the internet.
Variety is the spice of life
Sanjay Aggarwal and his mum Shashi (pictured above) conceived their idea for a boutique spice business around the Christmas table in 2012, and in the years since Spice Kitchen has grown from a spontaneous idea to a thriving business via the internet.
Shashi took some convincing that people would want to buy her spices. “She was like – no! Nobody’s going to buy them,” recalls Sanjay. “So I took a picture of one of her spice mixes and put it on eBay. We made our first sale on Boxing Day, within 24 hours.”
Sanjay’s technical know-how coupled with his mum’s genius with spices has helped them to grow fast. He is a big fan of eBay, where the company started. “eBay has a certain reputation as a second hand market place. We don’t do any auctions there – it’s [new items for sale] basically like you would sell on Amazon,” he explains.
“We have a very good relationship with eBay,” says Sanjay. “We’ve been part of eBay films, they took us to Brussels to be part of a small business forum and went to the European Parliament. Off the back of that we ended up cooking for the CEO of eBay and 35 of his management team in London. They hired a cookery school in Islington and my mum did a 17 dish meal for them. She’d never done anything like that before!”
As well as eBay, Spice Kitchen has expanded its online presence and now sells via its own website, Not On the High Street, Amazon and Yumbles, a website which sells food and drink made by small, independent producers.
These days, the business has brought Sanjay’s parents out of retirement completely. “We struggled to cope with demand last Christmas. We literally couldn’t pack our orders fast enough – we had 50-100 orders a day. It’s just wild,” says Sanjay.
Spice Kitchen is truly a family business, with tech-savvy Sanjay looking after the company’s online presence and marketing, his mum creating the product and the packaging, and his dad managing distribution.
What would Sanjay’s advice be to those venturing into e-commerce for the first time? “It doesn’t matter what age you are – e-commerce can be daunting,” he says. “My advice is to take advantage of all the advice there is online. If you’ve got a good idea and think it might sell, go for it. Our business was literally started with zero pence,” he recalls.
When Sanjay started, he knew how to create a basic eBay listing but not much more than that. “Most people know how to do a basic listing or know someone who can. So just give it a go and see what happens,” he says. When setting up Spice Kitchen’s online shop and website, he got tips from experts rather than paying someone to do it for him. “We wanted to keep our costs down,” he explains.
There are clearly lessons to be learned from Spice Kitchen’s multi-generational team. If you have a talent plus a tech-savvy relative, why not partner with them and learn from each other?
Consider taking expert advice
If technology is your nemesis and you have no willing partner, career coach Denise Taylor, founder of Amazing People, suggests logging onto a website called Upwork, a portal which links freelance professionals with people who need a job done across the globe. There, you can find thousands of freelancers who would design your website in a matter of hours for competitive rates.
“Otherwise you could spend hours doing it yourself and it’s probably not worth it,” she says.
Jackie Pearce, who runs several small businesses, waxes lyrical about the website Meetup. Through it, she has networked with experts in how to sell on Amazon Marketplace and got some great training. Over 100 people attend a training group, based in central London. Best of all? “It doesn’t cost a penny!” she says.
There’s even a Meetup group called Intelligent Ageing, which offers ‘information and support to anyone over 50 who wishes to take responsibility for their emotional, physical and spiritual health’.
“There is so much out there, and Meetup really opened my eyes,” says Jackie.
Know your customers and keep in touch
One of Denise’s tips is to start a mailing list early on in your business. It’s an easy way to keep in touch with people as your business grows, she explains. You may want to consider using a specialist email service provider (ESP), as these will help you keep on top of legal requirements for data security, spam, marketing permissions and unsubscribe requests.
Another way to chat to potential and prospective customers is via social media – typically Facebook and Twitter. Having your own Facebook page or Twitter profile can be a time investment, and for people who haven’t used either before for commercial purposes, it can be a challenge to know what to say.
If you’re growing a business, you could post some pictures, such as products in a shop, a delicious-looking meal in your restaurant, or behind the scenes sneak peeks. If you’re a consultant, Twitter is a great way to express interesting views, share content, stay in touch with your contacts and remind them of your presence without seeing each other in person.
You may feel shy about self-promotion in order to grow your business – but rest assured, there’s more than one way to help a business to thrive.
For former auto-industry executive Stuart Kerr, networking was always his least favourite aspect of business. He finds that good work speaks for itself, and that word of mouth referral is a very effective way to grow his business. “It’s nice when people want to refer you to other people,” he says.
Five websites to help you grow your business
Not On the High Street
Are you an aspiring jeweller, creative stationer or furniture-maker? You could sell your products through NotOntheHighStreet.com. The site curates a selection of gifts, homeware, food and drink items, and much more.
It receives over 39 million unique views annually. If you’re interested, you can apply to be a seller and if accepted, pay a one-off joining fee and a commission on each item you sell.
Another option is Etsy. Listing costs 16p per item, and when your item sells, you are charged a transaction fee and a payment processing fee. Listings expire after a few months and a fee must be paid to re-list them.
The mother of all auction websites, eBay is a great place to start selling products. It’s very simple to get selling: ebay’s own beginner’s guide contains invaluable information to help you get going.
With Ebay, the first 20 listings are free, after that, they're 35p each. The site takes fees of 10% of your total transaction cost (including postage), and additional fees are payable if you take payment through PayPal.
Make sure you include all postage and packaging cost in the listing – buyers want to know exactly what they will be paying for your item. It is worth buying a set of scales, so you can price packaging costs accurately.
Looking to network among fellow entrepreneurs, meet potential collaborators or learn a new skill? Meetup, with its diverse range of specialist interest groups across the UK and beyond, can be a great place to start.
If you want to outsource a job, from finding a virtual assistant to getting some copy written for your website, Upwork connects you to a global network of freelancers.
Foodie web portal Yumbles bills itself as taking care of the e-commerce – leaving you to make show-stopping food. You need to apply to become a seller.
For each sale you make, the site charges a flat 18%+30p service fee from the total order value (products and shipping) per order. There are no monthly membership charges, listing fees or payment charges.
THIS ARTICLE IS FOR GENERAL GUIDANCE AND INFORMATION ONLY AND IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING SETTING UP A BUSINESS AND NEED LEGAL ADVICE, PLEASE CONTACT A SOLICITOR.
Retiresavvy is brought to you by Skipton Building Society. This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.