Entrepreneurs use e-commerce to optimize their talents

Crafts made from decorative felt balls kickstarted entrepreneur Aubrey Bennion's own company, which sells unique hand-crafted items on e-commerce websites. (Photo courtesy of Hello Maypole.)
Crafts made from decorative felt balls kickstarted entrepreneur Aubrey Bennion’s own company, which sells unique hand-crafted items on e-commerce websites. (Photo courtesy of Hello Maypole.)

Entrepreneurs Aubry Bennion packages her brightly colored felt balls after meticulously choosing well-curated and seasonal color combinations; then she ships them off to awaiting customers.

Describing herself as corporate by day and a crafter by night, Bennion has been able to start a successful business doing something she truly enjoys – creating decorations and handwritten art.

“It’s easy to perceive that every woman in Utah is either making something or blogging about what women are making,” Bennion said. “I’ve always known I was crafty enough to ‘make’ with the best of them, but I waited until the right thing struck and eventually threw a post up on Instagram in hopes that a few friends would want to go in on a wholesale order. I was amazed by the response.”

After selling out of her felt balls by the end of the first day, Bennion realized that was her “lucky strike” and figured that if so many of her friends wanted these felt balls, others might too. She decided to launch her own company, called Hello Maypole.

Now more than ever, people like Bennion are finding it possible to make a living doing something that could be considered only a talent or hobby. This trend is hugely due to the newfound ease of e-commerce and the ever growing presence of social media as a form of free advertising.

The numbers

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year, 73 percent of American Internet users over age 18 use at least one social network, with roughly half of those using two or more.

That figure continues to increase over time, and more people are starting to rely on the suggestions and testimonials of their social network friends rather than on paid advertisements or legitimate reviews.

Entrepreneurs promote their own startups and products through online outlets. Through “shares,” “likes” or “comments,” potential customers can become aware of a service they otherwise would not have known existed.

Once their brand recognition is established and interest grows, entrepreneurs make use of e-commerce websites to sell their goods. Sites like Etsy, Shopify and Yovigo, which make it easier for new sellers to do business, have started gaining serious traction.

Etsy, a leading e-commerce site in the U.S., has seen major growth over the past year. According to the company, the site trafficked more than 30 million registered users, one million sellers and roughly $1 billion in total transactions at the end of 2013.

German Chocolate Cookies is one of the many cake-mix-based recipes found in BYU graduate Lizzy Early's new cookbook titled "Make it with a Cake Mix." (Photo courtesy of Lizzy Early.)
German Chocolate Cookies is one of the many cake-mix-based recipes found in BYU graduate Lizzy Early’s new cookbook titled “Make it with a Cake Mix.” (Photo courtesy of Lizzy Early.)

Why it matters

Cameron Gibbs, who previously worked as an online marketer for multiple businesses, knew the ins and outs of search engine optimization, online video marketing and social media before co-founding a new company last year.

He said understanding the effectiveness of this type of marketing made launching his first online company, Fuz Designs, more successful. Gibbs’ company sells charging docks for iPhones, iPads and other electronic products.

“You can target based on demographics, which is great because targeted ads are the best,” Gibbs said. “They also have great reach because everyone is on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and it’s easy to get your ad on those sites, and it’s another way to interact with customers.”

Starting a company has been “liberating and satisfying,” Gibbs said. He is passionate about this company and is able to make a profit doing it — something many people only dream of.

“Everyone wants to make a mark in some way or another,” Gibbs said, “and this was my small way of doing so.”

What it means

As new online sales platforms emerge and social media continues to grow locally and internationally, being an e-commerce entrepreneur is becoming an attainable dream for more aspiring business owners.

The key is to find an interest or area of specialty that can be sold as a product or service desirable to others.

BYU graduate Lizzy Early realized she had a talent for baking and began posting her original recipes to a blog, where people soon came to comment, pin and share the recipes with others. Early soon received attention from Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, which wanted to feature her recipes.

Taking advantage of the opportunity at hand, Early created a cookbook with recipes and published it while her blog viewership increased. Soon after her cookbook hit shelves, she struck deals with major brands like Pillsbury, KitchenAid and General Mills and was able to make her love of baking a full-time job.

“I didn’t mean to start a business or anything, really,” Early said. “But it took off, and now I’ve come out with my second cookbook.”

Where it’s going

The connection provided by social media means entrepreneurs may have a better chance of making it on their own rather than depending on traditional venues for e-commerce.

On top of the accessible big-brand avenues for selling goods online, buyers are more willing to purchase from smaller online companies than ever before. People are responding better to establishments that provide personal interaction.

“You know that when you buy that piece of art or handmade blanket or whatever it is, that your money is going to someone like you because the person selling it is a mutual friend with someone you know on Facebook,” said BYU student Andi Bailey.

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