I love businesses that start from personal problems. There’s something extra rewarding about solving a problem that you have and then finding a way to turn it into a business.
That’s what Steve Chou and his wife did. They took a simple problem that came about when they were planning their wedding and couldn’t find the exact solution that they needed, and they created the solution themselves.
Their business was so successful that it generated $100,000 of profit in the first year alone.
Steve, I find you and your wife’s story fascinating. It’s amazing how far you guys have come. Tell us more about your journey.
Our primary business is Bumblebee Linens, an online store that sells handkerchiefs and linens for special occasions.
My wife and I didn’t consider ourselves entrepreneurs when we first started. We had no experience running a business, and we knew nothing about the web. But my wife desperately wanted to quit her job, stay at home, and start a family.
So when she became pregnant with our first child, we came up with a plan to replace her lost income, which was a little over $100,000 at the time. Ultimately, we decided to open an online store because we could rely on a computer to take orders 24/7, and all we had to do was ship products out from our home.
Now, most people think that selling handkerchiefs is kind of random. But a long time ago when we got engaged, my wife knew she was going to cry and she wanted to carry something to the altar to dry her tears.
We looked in stores all over the place but could not find handkerchiefs anywhere. Finally we found this place in Asia, but the minimum order was in the hundreds. Hundreds! But my wife really wanted a hankie, so we put down a bulk order from China for over 200 hankies, used about six of them and sold the rest on eBay. And guess what? They sold like hotcakes!
So when it came time to start our online store, we reconnected with our vendor, ran the numbers and set off to create an online business selling hankies. It ended up being a huge success.
Soon after our little shop started making some serious coin, I decided to document our experiences at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com. All of my friends were asking me questions about how they could open their own stores, so it made sense to write everything down.
What has been your greatest success so far with your online business?
Our online store ended up making over $100,000 in profit in our first year of business. And ever since 2007, the store has been growing in the double and triple digits every year. I’m proud to say that we are the leading purveyor of ladies handkerchiefs on the internet.
In addition to our online store, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com has really taken off as well. In 2011, I took everything that I learned from running our online shop and created an online course called Create a Profitable Online Store, where I teach others how to create their own profitable e-commerce store. Today, my blog and my online store course generate over six figures per year in income.
In terms of milestones, my blog has earned more money than my day job salary as well, so I’m happy to say that I work at my job because I want to be there and not necessarily for the money.
I’m sure starting and running a business online wasn’t always a smooth and easy process. What do you consider to be your biggest failure along the way, and what did you learn from it?
Once we started making money selling handkerchiefs, we started trying to sell all sorts of random products in our store without running the numbers first. As a result, we ended up wasting a lot of money on products that simply did not sell well. Even today, we still have some products in our warehouse that haven’t sold because we didn’t do our research.
The key to success for any online business is to run the numbers first and make sure there’s demand for your product before you launch. In addition, you have to make sure that the competition is reasonable. If you follow these two basic rules of thumb, then your business has a good chance of being successful.
The other big mistake we made early was bidding on too many broad keywords with our AdWords PPC campaigns. AdWords can be a major money pit if you don’t know how to use it correctly. If you are just starting out, you should initially bid on very narrow keyword phrases and monitor your campaigns carefully and consistently.
One big mistake I see newbies make is that they forget to add negative keywords to their campaigns. AdWords is a great way to attract targeted traffic to your site, but you have to proceed with caution and refine your ads gradually.
Your wife’s business is a great success story, but tell us about how the blog has been working for you. What type of monetization has been working best? Is there a way you tried to monetize the site that seemed to fall flat?
The biggest money maker for my blog is my online store course, followed by affiliate marketing.
I’ve found that if you can establish yourself as an authority in your niche, then people will listen to your recommendations. I never recommend anything that I’ve never used before. I simply mention the services I use for my shop, and the sales happen naturally.
The worst money maker for my blog is my banner ads, but they still generate four figures a month. I’m thinking about removing most banner ads from my blog. Why? Because I believe I can generate more revenue with ads that point to my own products.
Let’s take a step back and look more generally at e-commerce. If you had to take your best advice and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
You can get started with an online store for as little as $5 a month. So why not give it a try? You really have nothing to lose and so much potential for gain.
What are your favorite online resources?
My favorite online resource is all of the free open-source software out there. These days, you can throw up a fully functional shopping cart with open-source software like OpenCart or PrestaShop for just the cost of shared hosting.
As a result, it’s super cheap and easy to start an online store.
For someone who is just starting out creating a blog, or even trying to sell products online, what advice would you offer?
The most important advice I have to give about starting an online business is to make sure there’s something unique or valuable about what you are trying to create before you launch. Most people who fail with their businesses simply throw something up that blends in with every other website out there.
If you want to succeed, you have to provide a unique value proposition. Spend some time thinking about what that is before you invest any money into implementation.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?
Most people who want to start an online business are afraid to begin. But let me tell you this:
- I didn’t have any experience with running a business of any kind when I started.
- I didn’t know anything about websites.
- I didn’t know how to program in PHP.
- I didn’t know any HTML or CSS.
- I wasn’t willing to invest much money.
- I didn’t have any confidence that customers could find me online.
But you know what? I started a business anyway, because I wanted my wife to stay at home with our child. Some things are worth taking a chance on.
And looking back, I see it wasn’t a big risk at all. Ultimately, I invested about $630 into my online store, which turned into $100,000 just a year later. And today, we’ve made well over seven figures since we launched.
It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t take an MBA. It just takes a little courage and a lot of perseverance.