[Please welcome my new friend, and hustler, Steve Chou to the show today! We've bumped into each other many times over the years at our financial blogger conference, but this last one we made it a point to actually get to know each other a little bit. And I'm glad we did - he's a pretty smart guy! And hopefully you enjoy his story and side hustle below :) Take it away, Steve!]
Out of all of the possible things that could be sold online, I have to be honest here. Selling handkerchiefs was not my first choice.
But the numbers don’t lie. When it comes to finding the right niche to going into, it almost always boils down to the numbers, your circumstances and a little bit of luck.
Here’s my story about how an average dude got into the hankie business.
How I Got Started
Back when my wife and I first got engaged to be married, we spent a lot of time and energy planning our wedding. Actually, “we” was a strong term for the actual planning process. In reality, my wife called all the shots and I was the “yes man”.
“Yes dear, those wedding favors are great. The guests will love them”
“Yes dear, that corsage will go perfect with the bridesmaid dresses”
“Yes dear, a purple tie would go great with the wedding decor”
“Wait, how much are those flowers going to cost? Son of a motherless B#$%^! ***Bites tongue*** That’s great dear. Love ‘em :)”
Looking back, I’m happy that she gave me a say with all of the decision making even though my opinion pretty much meant nothing. Overall, the wedding planning went quite smoothly until we hit a sudden snag.
You see my wife can get pretty emotional at special events like weddings, and she knew that she was going to cry during our vows. She also knew that she didn’t want to be seen holding a ratty tissue to dry her tears especially since we were spending so much money on photography and makeup. (Don’t even get me started about how much we spent on photography and makeup)
Long story short, she wanted a handkerchief. The problem though was that we couldn’t find them anywhere, even online. After browsing the web and going to countless department stores, we finally found a place in China that was willing to sell us womens handkerchiefs. But the problem was that the minimum order was 20 dozen.
Yes, you heard that correctly. We needed only 1 handkerchief but we had to buy 20 dozen and pay for the ridiculously high cost of air shipping from China. Anyways, we used 3 of these hankies for our wedding and put the rest on EBay.
And they sold like hot cakes!!!
We knew we were onto something here but didn’t really do anything about it until my wife became pregnant. As soon as we found out we were going to have a child, my wife decided that she was going to quit her job to stay at home with the kids. And since she made over 100K in salary at the time, we really needed a way to replace her lost income.
This was when the “A-HA” moment happened. After running the profitability numbers, gauging search demand, and reestablishing contact with our initial vendor in China, we decided to launch BumblebeeLinens.com, an online store selling handkerchiefs to would-be brides.
How Much We Make
As with any online business, the potential upside is limitless but you have to put in the work. As soon as my wife and I committed to the idea, we spent all of our free time working on our little business venture.
She was in charge of product and logistics, and I was in charge of all of the technical aspects of the business. We also did our fair share of cold calling wedding and event planners, participating on the wedding forums and using PPC advertising.
To this day, my wife still makes fun of me about my wedding forum persona. Let’s just say that I play an awesome overly excited and gushing bride to be:)
Anyways long story short, we managed to make over 100K in our first year of business. Once we delivered our baby daughter, my wife basically went through her maternity leave and then promptly quit her job.
We launched our store in 2007 and it has since been growing in the double and triple digits to the point where it now makes many times my salary as well. Who would have thought that a $630 initial investment would have led to this?
Benefits and Drawbacks
The main benefit of starting an online store is that you don’t need to be physically present to make sales. You basically set up your website and let the server take all of the orders.
Then at some point later, you ship the products to the end customer. At a high level this sounds straightforward, but it requires a tremendous amount of upfront work to set up all of the processes involved with running a smooth operation.
When we first started out, we sacrificed all of our nights and weekends while our friends were out having fun. The other drawback is that you can never be 100% sure that you will succeed. You kind of have to take that leap of faith that all of your blood, sweat and tears will lead to something meaningful.
The benefits of course are obvious. If you can find good vendors and establish a consistent business, you can be your own boss and spend time on activities that you are passionate about, like spending time with family.
Today, our little hankie business has office space and 2 full time employees who handle most of the heavy lifting. My wife supervises the day to day and shuttles our kids to all of their various activities.
How To Get Started
What’s funny about starting my hankie business is that it has spawned 2 other businesses for me as well. If you are interested in learning how to get started with selling online, I have written over 300 posts on my blog about the subject that you can check out in your free time.
Bottom line, you shouldn’t be discouraged by the technical aspects of launching an online store. These days, all of the shopping cart software is already written for you and it’s free and open source.
Also, there are many services out there that will not only host your shop but also take care of all of the technical aspects for a small monthly fee. Heck, there are even places like Amazon who will take care of the shipping, fulfillment and logistics for you as well.
Don’t get me wrong. Selling online is not an easy path to take, but it’s a great way take control of your financial future and there’s very little upfront investment involved.
My wife and I started for around $630. Do you have $630 to spare?
Steve runs the popular blog MyWifeQuitHerJob.com where he talks about his experiences running his various online businesses. In addition, he runs a course on how to create a profitable online store.
EDITOR’ NOTE: Here’s a Side Hustle we ran almost two years ago that gets more in depth with the items/costs behind online stores – specifically with women’s luxury clothing: I run an e-Commerce store. The site has since been shut down it looks like, but hopefully you can still get something out of it. And just goes to reiterate how hard it can be! You hear a lot of the success stories out there, but there are 10x as many failures. Not to discourage anyone, of course, but just know it definitely takes some hustle and a little luck as Steve pointed out earlier. It’s all possible, though!
If you have a side hustle yourself you’d like to share with us, please do :)