If you’ve been following me at all, you won’t be unfamiliar with my teeny-tiny online business: The Littlest Online Bookshop.
In case you don’t know, TLOB is a very small independent used bookstore completely online. I ship internationally and am working to connect people everywhere with books. It’s my passion project and something that has basically taken over my life… besides my actual job, that is.
Over the last two months, since the store opened, I’ve learned a lot. Not just about what it’s like running a business, but about me as a person and what I’d like to do with my life.
But also I learned a lot about e-commerce.
I knew going into this that it wasn’t going to be simple or easy. In fact, I’m widely surprised it’s done as well as it has since opening. To be honest, I completely expected to have no business. I didn’t think anyone would be able to find the store, or that anyone would be interested in some random assortment of used books I have in stock. But, somehow, my flailing attempts at marketing have drummed up some business. Weird.
So here a few things I’ve learned in the last two months of relatively successful business ownership…
It might take over your life just a little
I’m sure any small business owner will agree with me. When I’m not actively doing inventory/adding stock to the store, I’m marketing or managing social media or researching more efficient shipping or packing shipments or organizing books or answering customer questions or updating financial spreadsheets or or or…
There are a million and one things for me to be doing at any given moment. Most of them not fatally important but essential for the business to keep running smoothly.
One thing I’m trying to do, especially now when things have gotten eerily quiet in the store, is keeping a balance between when I’m working on bookstore things and when I’m working on other stuff… any other stuff. The bookstore was meant to be a way to make a little more money while I continue to write and work my day job, but so far the bookstore has edged its way into my writing time. Proper time management is key, but that’s easier said than done in my case.
But, as I said, this is something to continue working on. And as I get more comfortable with my business, I’m sure learning what needs to be done right now and what can wait a little will become more obvious.
Shipping in Canada is expensive
Being a completely online business, the only way I can get my books to customers is via shipping (or local delivery). And having never mailed anything more than a postcard or a letter in my life, I was taken aback by how costly it is to ship just about anything.
I have yet to ferret out the reason why considering I’ve researched shipping costs in the U.S.A. and it’s miraculously less down there. The only thing I can think of is that they charge that much because they can.
But, whatever the reason, it makes it so difficult for tiny businesses just starting out to get a leg up. With all the cost of opening the business itself and how much I end up paying for shipping, it’s going to take me years to make any sort of profit. I’ve even lost money on certain orders because the shipping cost ended up being more than the actual order. But, there’s not much I can do because I’ve yet to find a more affordable option.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my customers. It’s been such a pleasure connecting them with books and seeing their delight when they receive their orders (if they send an email or post on Instagram). But, it’s hard to convince people to pay for shipping, especially at the prices Canada Post asks. And I don’t expect them to.
So, I have to basically absorb the difference. It’s easy enough for big companies (*cough cough* Amazon *cough cough*), but for a teeny-tiny business, it’s unaffordable.
Budgeting is complicated
Notice how I didn’t say “hard”? It hasn’t been difficult, per se, especially since the business is moving slow enough for me to keep up with. But, it isn’t simple. Maybe because I’m doing it myself, maybe because it’s spread over multiple spreadsheets.
It is very necessary, though. Keep. Track. Of. Your. Money.
What comes in and what comes out needs to be properly documented. Everything needs to be documented. Every bill or expense or payment.
It’s not difficult, but it’s a lot. Especially as someone who’s expertise lies with words and books and art, not with numbers and money and spreadsheets. I like organizing, but I always live in fear that I’ve forgotten something.
Amazing customers make it all worth it
Amongst all the craziness and the stress and the worry, the customers are the best part of this journey. Obviously, they are what make the shop possible in the most basic way, but the community is just as important. Any time someone lets me know they got their order, or posts a picture on Instagram, or shows any enthusiasm towards my store, it makes it all worth it.
Like there’s nothing more joyful than knowing I connected someone with a new book.
And they’re the reason I opened the store in the first place. I didn’t start an online business to make money, I started it to share my passion for books and create a book-loving community.
The support I’ve received since the store opened has blown me away. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect all the support and enthusiasm. They keep me coming back even when I feel overwhelmed.
So, if you’ve supported my store in anyway–even if that’s just checking it out and telling someone–thank you.
THANK YOU THANK YOU!
There are so many other things I’ve learned that I can’t really put into words. I’m constantly learning something new every day. Whether it’s the inner workings of e-commerce, running a website itself, marketing, shipping, and everything in between.
But this has given me such a new drive and I’m determined to work my ass off to make sure this business thrives and to cultivate a creative and loving book community.