This post was written by Tracey, one of the students in my . Tracey is my only student in Ecuador and she’s done a fantastic job of selling products that are indigenous to her country.
Because what she sells can only be found in Ecuador, this means that it’s extremely hard to copy her idea and she sells unique products that can not be found anywhere else on the Internet. What I also admire about Tracey is that she came into the class with very little technical knowledge.
But with a little hard work and perseverance, she managed to put together a pretty darn good looking online store selling handmade beaded jewelry. Here’s her story and her shop at !
I have always dreamed of having my own business. Last year when I made a move from Canada to Ecuador, I found the ideal time to get started. I had left my job as an accountant and wanted to do something that aligned with my differing passions: the environment, handmade crafts and alleviating poverty.
At first I couldn’t see how my interests could be combined into any one business. I started researching a wide variety of things that I could do, looking for a perfect fit. I was willing to learn and to try anything. I started following several blogs about starting a business – I found lots of inspiration, but nothing like a blue print.
Somewhere along this path, I came across My Wife Quit Her Job and signed up for a series of free emails. Honestly, I was getting so many emails at this point about implementing various ideas that I couldn’t even read them all. Yet the emails from My Wife Quit Her Job stood out for me with their detail and clarity. I wanted more information and signed up for the whole course, finally committing myself to a course of action.
Within the course I found specific steps on how to get started and moved forward with niche research. Initially I focused on products that were good for the environment like solar panels, bamboo flooring and cloth diapers.
I also started looking into items that were made in Ecuador. I knew something about the handmade jewelry market as I have made jewelry myself and used to sell it on Etsy.
Through my research, I found out about tagua beads, a sustainable resource from the Amazon and primary input into Ecuadorian jewelry. I had a light bulb moment as my interests in handmade crafts and helping the environment came together.
At this point my niche research stalled out as I couldn’t find good keywords around tagua. Steve used his extensive experience to provide me with very valuable help. He pointed out keywords that encompassed tagua jewelry but were broader in scope with more searches. With my niche in place, I was ready to move on.
Setting up Shop
I started setting up my shop simultaneously with researching a product supplier. I selected Opencart for my shopping cart after carefully reviewing all of the videos on an open source shopping cart over a hosted cart.
Opencart is an open source cart. I selected it because I wanted to learn more about programming and to be able to understand the nuts and bolts of what made my store run.
This made sense to me from a business stand point. Undoubtedly, some things have taken me a while to figure out and I have been frustrated from time to time. On the other hand I enjoy being self-sufficient and finding answers on my own. Overall it’s been a good choice and I have found the support I needed through the course, through the Opencart community and through my theme developer.
For $270, I got a basic setup including my domain, 2 years of hosting, a theme, an SSL certificate and a Skype telephone number. Now it was time to spend some money on inventory.
Finding The Right Vendor
I had another light bulb moment as I was searching for products. I started to see a way I could combine another of my passions, alleviating poverty, with my business. I was determined to find creative artisans who made the tagua jewelry themselves.
These artisans don’t have websites or stores or email and I had to do a lot of legwork to find my initial artisans. I found that most of the artisans were indigenous people from tiny mountain villages.
Many of them are exploited by middlemen who keep the lion’s share of the profit for themselves while the artisans live in grinding poverty. From here my idea of a fair trade shop was born. I could offer these artisans fair prices and access to the international market.
I found a special artisan with a true flair for fashion, design and color. Her name is Olga and she makes most of my tagua offerings. I work with Olga to ensure that she makes a fair hourly wage and that her cost of materials are covered. I pay her in advance for her work, so she is not out of pocket.
With a set up in place, I turned to design. I put some of my product photos into color palate generators and came up with colors that were complimentary to my products. I bought a theme and used the colors I had selected to make the theme my own.
My husband is a photographer, and we enjoyed working together on the background, style and composition for the photos. The photos ended up being the best part of the shop and I think they really help to sell the jewelry.
My first order with Olga was $150 for my initial batch of inventory. Counting the set up cost, I opened my shop for $420. I got my first sale for $93 shortly after I opened, recouping 22% of my investment immediately.
A Lifestyle Business
Between my new business and moving to Ecuador, my life has changed a great deal over the last year. Part of the reason I moved to Ecuador was to create space in my life to follow my dreams and have adventures. I did not realize that starting a business would be an adventure, but it has been.
As I am bouncing along a tiny mountain road seeking out a new artisan, I can’t help but reflect on the journey and feel a huge sense of satisfaction. I am amazed at how my goals, passion and hopes have come together.
My new business is a true lifestyle business because it’s reflecting my personal values and goals; all the things that I hold to be most important. I have time for family and travel, time to learn and grow and bring new people into my business. The whole experience has pushed me to be more, appreciate more and take ownership of all aspects of my my life and business.