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Starting a Small E-Commerce Business from Home

This isn't something that just happens overnight. Starting a business turns out to be a lot of work. Who would've thought right? The good news... When it's a labor of love it doesn't always feel like work. My wife Amy and I both work full time professional 9 to 5 jobs. Our employment is pretty secure and so is our financial future (we think). Starting this business was about something else (aside from a tad bit of a mid-life entrepreneurial itch.) It was the love of great smelling, hand crafted natural products. We didn't just pick this industry by chance. This is an area we think we know a little something about. We've been connoisseurs of aromatherapy products (especially candles) for years. Now we've just turned it into a business. Our thought was, hey, worst case, we sell nothing and just have a closet full of candles to burn.


This has been something we've been talking about doing for years. I always thought making candles was a good, safe way to start. I'm pretty risk-averse by nature. I wanted a product/industry that we could get into with a fairly small capital investment. Amy wanted to channel her creativity. That coupled with us both bringing in steady paychecks presented a very low risk small business venture. For example, we're essentially limited to working nights and weekends to run the business so we're taking it slow. We felt okay making this leap because after the initial investment (supplies, branding, legal stuff, etc.) our regular monthly expenses are very low. We really just have our website, accounting software, and insurance at this point. So even if we make very few sales, we're not really losing money. The supplies/inventory are an investment as we figure it. So one day a few months ago after crunching all the numbers and analyzing the risks we both agreed to take the leap and start a business. It was really that simple, the leaping part at least.


We leaped. Then what??? We started by doing research.....lots of it (legal requirements, supply

costs, retail costs, production techniques, equipment needed and branding, just to name

I actually enjoy the financial stuff!

a few). It was a lot. However, potentially the most important part of any new business the name. For us, I think we got really lucky. The name "tobacco road" just sort of popped into my head one day while discussing the potential business and Amy loved it. The term is a reference to our region's (North Carolina) history of being a large tobacco producer. At first we thought about calling it Tobacco Road Candle Company but we wanted to hand craft more than just candles so we decided Supply Company was a better fit. In that instant Tobacco Road Supply Co. was born. The next step was becoming legal. I filed for an assumed business name from the Wake County Register of Deeds. That was easy and cheap, but it made us official in that no one else can

use that name in our industry. In addition, we decided to file for an LLC (limited liability company) to protect our personal assets. We could have started off as a sole proprietorship, but if you ever get sued they can come after your personal assets! There were other legal filings too such as getting a federal tax ID (EIN) and registering with the NC Department of Revenue for the payment of Sales and Use Tax. Tip: all this stuff can be done pretty simply by yourself via the web. No need to pay any legal fees to online companies promoting this. This stuff is all very boring and I haven't even started talking about insurance yet (which is recommended by the way.) On to the more interesting stuff....


Once all the legal stuff was done, the fun stuff began (at least for us anyway!). We started shopping for our ecommerce vendor, thinking of products we wanted to make and sell, thinking about branding, designing label layouts and all that cool stuff. The website vendor we decided on was Wix and we've been absolutely thrilled thus far. It was a few bucks per month cheaper than the competitors and it has tons of awesome apps and features. It really designs itself. We ultimately decided to start with candles (of course), room sprays, sea salt body scrubs, and lip balms. We have since added an all natural bug spray, but we wanted to start with a decent selection of products that people love and most importantly, are easy to make. The important lesson we learned along the way is to not only choose products that will sell, but to make them at a very high quality. Don't spare expenses on supplies or the customers won't come back!


There are TONS of other aspects of starting our business that I didn't discuss like choosing shipping packaging, getting promotional materials, business cards, gift tags, testing recipes, choosing wrapping, labels....the list goes on and on. In fact, I could never do it justice in writing. The important thing is we're officially business owners. Now comes the fun part of actually running and growing the business and trying to make some sales!




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