“You have to have money to make money” is probably one of the most frustrating things a budding entrepreneur can hear. Pay-to-play is a huge obstacle in the way of many people and, without capital, they find themselves never having a starting point which they can build from. I have made money before, most notably selling vintage jewelry, selling my book, and marketing/sales consulting. The first two required capital and the third I had to build up a reputation that allowed companies I worked with to trust me. My most recent venture is a company called Bocandy. Bocandy is a subscription service, much like Birchbox or Love with Food, that specializes in sending out candy from around the world to subscribers every month. My goal, when starting this, was to create something that was immediately profitable with zero investment of my own.
If we’re being honest, I did use my own computer and internet connection, but this model is replicable in a setting without either of those, having my own computer and internet only made it more convenient. Library’s have computer labs that are free for people to use, having a personal computer and internet makes things easier, but is not a necessary key.
The first thing I did was look around me and figure out what would be an easy sell. With no capital, I needed to piggyback off an existing market. I walked down to the gas station near where I live in Detroit and saw that there were two things at the front counter: cigarettes and candy. Because I didn’t want to wade through the legal or ethical implications of selling tobacco, I chose to pursue candy. In large, candy is 95% the same, it is just sugar packaged in different ways– so what makes it different? The flavors, yes, but beyond that it is the image associated with it. I decided to sell candy that, as a concept, could not be easily procured in the United States, buying in bulk and saving customers on shipping. It is a typical wholesale mail-order model with a twist. It would be a monthly subscription company so I could lower the margins while still being able to rely on recurring revenue. I chose the name Bocandy as a short way to say “bag of candy”.
I went home, slapped up a website on felixexi.com, a content blog I run, and started telling people about my idea. The original website was terrible. I mean absolute shit. But that didn’t matter because, at first, I was just seeing if Bocandy was something people would be interested if I explained it to them and gave them a paypal checkout link. They did. After I got 10 people to sign up through my Twitter, I decided to take sometime and make a basic html/css page. I had no idea how this stuff worked, but the internet is an amazing resource and, after about 5 hours of scrolling through stackoverflow and youtube videos, I bought bocandy.com, threw together a quick logo, and began to build the most remedial version a website that was still able to turn sales. It wasn’t good, but it was better. What is important is the hustle behind the business, especially when you are just starting off. What scares a lot of people out of starting their own business is the uncertainty and there’s reason behind that– if you’re an entrepreneur, nobody signs your paycheck. But what you need to do is replace that uncertainty or where your money will come from or how you will validate your worth with the certainty that you will work hard and that your idea will succeed. If you can genuinely buy into your own work ethic instead of using your energy to create negative stress, you’ll be able to channel it into production and progress.
Initially, I was only going to charge $8.37 for a shipment of candy. A huge oversight I made was that I didn’t see how much the candy I wanted to ship was actually going to cost. I had to up the price to $9 plus $3 shipping to cover my costs, but, as a reward for those first 10 or so who signed up, I decided that taking a hit wasn’t worth creating a bad name for myself and kept them at that price. Plus, after 10 days, I had enough people sign up where I wouldn’t be losing money so it was more or less moot. That’s something I drew away from this though, always figure out how much a product costs before you start selling it. It sounds simple and and probably stupid, but stuff like that can be an easy oversight. Before creating any product, you’re going to want to define these basic attributes
How much will the product cost me (cost):
How much will packaging+shipping cost me (cost):
How much can I sell it for (profit):
Because I knew I had a good product and because I knew that my price was extremely competitive, I had good faith that my customers would have a long life with the company and since they paid upfront, buying the candy that I would ship out at the end of the month happened at no personal expense to me. The hardest part was getting those first generation of customers but, once they told their friends that they had invested their hard-earned money into receiving a shipment of Bocandy, growth was easy. It took time and there were plenty of people who were upset that I was trying to sell them something, but that’s what sales is
I wasn’t interested in people who got upset when I offered them a cool opportunity, I was (and still am) interested in people who know that their life will be better with a special treat every from Bocandy every month.
If you’re trying to make sales, having that attitude is imperative. If you can’t think like that, you’re wasting your time. People will only believe in a product if you do.
I used the following template when approaching potential customers. Via tweet, I would say
@UserName Hello! I started bocandy.com- it’s like Birchbox for candy from around the world! Are you interested?
A pretty simple pitch, but it gets the idea across in as few words as possible. It uses a high-concept example (Birchbox) and immediately explains how what I do is different. In addition to that, the call to action is interest, not a sale. Of course people are interested, candy from around the world is exciting! Once someone responded, we would begin the conversation. I never tried to sell hard– in my opinion, that does more harm than good– instead I focused on introducing them to the candy and letting them ask any questions they had. I knew my product was good, I just had to convince the customer that I wasn’t some online scammer desperate to get their paypal info. Again, this is where referrals came in handy. If someone tweeted about Bocandy, I would approach their followers. If people followed me, I would welcome them with a Bocandy related tweet.
That’s what it comes down to. There are no tricks to sales other than expressing your value and talking to people who care about it. Within 40 days of doing exactly what I just told you, I had brought in 90 customers, creating over $1000 in monthly revenue. If you’re strapped for cash but driven, making your first thousand dollars should be easy. The internet is a worldwide marketplace where you can contact billions of people online and, as I’ve shown you, with the correct business model, you can use your initial customers to pay for inventory that you will later sell to create an even larger profit. If you want me contact me about your business idea, email me here. I love talking to entrepreneurs and will give you advice on what I’ve seen work.