Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Stoic Store UK began with my own desire for a product that was too expensive. I had been reading about the philosophy of Stoicism for a while and it had been nothing short of life-changing. In this philosophy, there are key messages such as ‘Amor Fati’ which translated from Latin is ‘Love Your Fate’. It is easy to be thankful for the good times in our life, but Stoicism challenges us to also love the tough times in which we have the opportunity to grow and become better people. I loved this concept and many of the other concepts in Stoicism but it was very easy to forget the hassle and challenges of day-to-day life. There was a big US company that sold these small medallions with key Stoic messages on as well as pendants with the important messages of the philosophy. They were designed to be physical reminders of the Stoic philosophy which dates back over 2000 years. I really wanted one for myself, but I found the prices to be really high and on top of that, shipping to anywhere outside of the US was really expensive too. That is when I decided to not buy from them, and see if it was cheaper to make my own Stoic medallion somehow. After much research and searching for suppliers, I managed to create my own for cheaper and I was extremely pleased with it. That was when the penny dropped that I probably wasn’t the only person who had seen these medallions and pendants in the UK and Europe and thought of them as too expensive to get from this company in America. I thought that there might be a gap in the UK/Europe market for these sorts of medallions and I decided to try selling some more of the medallions that I made to test the waters. It went quite well and I decided that I wanted to be the Stoic ‘hub’ for the UK and that would be my niche – cheaper alternatives with free shipping for UK Stoics like myself. Since then my business has expanded to selling Stoicism items worldwide from Canada to South Africa to Australia and it continues to grow month on month. It has only been around 6 months since I created a Stoic medallion for my own wants and personal use to taking the idea further and creating this business which sells Stoic pendants, necklaces, rings, t-shirts, and much more. It has been a really fun ride so far.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
As the sole owner/daily runner of this business, there is quite a bit of responsibility that comes with it. In the beginning, there was the immense task of setting up and designing my own website, getting friends and family to buy and leave some initial reviews, learning how to find suppliers, dealing with technical issues, product issues, and everything else that can go wrong and right. This business is now almost a full-time job. I run the Stoic Store UK Instagram account for marketing and education (@stoicstoreuk), I design all of the items, supply the items, pack the items, make daily trips to the Post Office to ship the items. I am also responsible for customer service including exchanges, refunds, complaints as well as creating discounts for events like new product launches or Black Friday sales. I have certainly learned a lot from creating the store which lives on both Etsy and its own site.
What are your best selling products, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
Currently, the best selling products in my store are the Stoic rings and the Stoic medallions. I can only hypothesize why, but I think the medallions sell well for the same reason that I created a medallion for myself in the first place: as a cheaper alternative to what is already out there that does exactly the same job. I think the rings sell well because there is nothing like the design/color combo out there right now. Plus carrying a philosophy on your ring is a pretty cool and powerful idea.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
It has certainly been challenging but I just see the whole experience as a learning experience that keeps me both motivated and happy. When things go right it is great. When things go wrong it’s a great opportunity to learn why and realize it is just part of the experience. What keeps me grounded is not taking the whole thing too seriously. If my sales figures are amazing one week I won’t look too much into it. If they are terrible the following week, likewise it doesn’t affect me much. I know that the whole quitting your job and throwing all of your eggs into your entrepreneurial dream is fantasized a lot, but having another source of income while you start out being an entrepreneur is much more realistic and much more practical. Not having your whole life depend on your sales figures week to week is a stress that you don’t want and breeds fear, not creativity.
Who do you sell to (and how do you get customers)? What marketing tools or strategies you use to boost your sales? Are you satisfied with the results?
Fans and followers of Stoicism come from all ages, backgrounds, demographics, and genders. Etsy does a lot of my advertising for people that type in keywords or concepts related to Stoicism which is very helpful. My targeted Stoic Instagram account for my store is also very useful for finding customers.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
I wouldn’t say that there is a winning formula because a ‘successful entrepreneur’ can look very different to different people. My version of success has come from finding a problem from my own life and being fortunate enough to see an opportunity to fix it for myself and for other people. From there, consistency, patience and the willingness to learn and make mistakes have been key.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
The most recent Christmas period has been the most challenging. I have received a tonne of orders for my products which has been great, but it means my workload has also been raised significantly. On top of this, many people have been relying on me to deliver gifts for Christmas for their loved ones. There has been a lot of significant delays with the postal services due to Christmas demand and Covid-19 closures which have meant many of the products that I have sent have been delayed substantially or gotten completely lost. Explaining this to customers has been challenging, but it has provided an opportunity to learn how to provide solutions and even better customer service. Treating people as people rather than customers is something that most people value over any product.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
I spend some time on Pinterest or Google Images looking for design inspiration with regards to creating new products and designs. I am not the most creative person so I tend to keep my designs fairly simple, and much of the Stoic philosophy uses symbolism and metaphors so I try and incorporate those too.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
Yes, I use Free Shipping for UK customers which has been my USP from the start. Initially, I only set out to serve the UK customer base and provide them with free shipping rather than the expensive shipping from the US. Since then though, I have started shipping to everywhere in the world. I use the Royal Mail service in the UK to post all of my packages and for international orders, charge customers what the Royal Mail charges me so there is no profit/loss there. My products are packaged fairly simply to keep costs down but I do also post personalized Thank You notes and information about the products to give a more personal touch with the items. I think customers value that a lot.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
I think that there are a few key elements to look out for. Firstly there has to be a gap in the market. It has to be something that no-one else is doing or an aspect that only you do (e.g. free shipping to the UK on a product that no-one else does). Secondly, there needs to be demand. I had an inclination that there might be demand because it was a genuine product that I wanted but I had a problem – the alternatives were too expensive. Once I solved the problem, I tested the demand to see if there were other people who also had the same problem. From there it was confirmed and I decided to keep creating and testing new products.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
My key piece of advice would be to test and to test unemotionally. It can be an unconscious habit to want a certain product to sell because we think it should or to ignore something that we don’t like but what other people seem to want. Put your own ideas aside and listen to what other people/the market is saying and then do that. If something doesn’t work, that’s fine. Either tweak it or move on. I spent too much time doing research in forums to see if there was demand rather than creating something and actually testing it out in the world.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
For me, business success is about solving a problem and having fun doing it. Being in business just for the money will often lead to you making selfish decisions, always wanting more and scared of having less. Of course, money is a key part of business and I get a large part of my living from this, but I would never have kept going if I didn’t love the Stoic philosophy and love helping people live better lives through these products. No amount of money can mean.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
I do all of the tasks that I mentioned in the responsibility question such as packing products, going to the Post Office, creating Instagram posts, thinking up new designs. I always turn my Woocommerce and Etsy notifications off at 6 pm and don’t look at them until the next day. It can be easy to check stats, reply to customers, etc from the convenience of your phone at any time of day, but this business isn’t my life and I am a strong believer that work should never spill over into family time, friends time, or leisure time. This way, ideas are fresh and I stay enthusiastic about work when I am doing it.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
Currently, my plans for growing my business involve bringing out new Stoic products that aren’t out there that people will love, increasing my marketing reach through places like Instagram and Etsy, and educating more people on the philosophy of Stoicism. Because of its value, Stoicism has been dubbed the philosophy of the 21st Century so a lot of people are naturally being drawn to it as well.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
There hasn’t been one particular lesson I have learned the hard way, but there have been lots of little things that have stung but have been necessary along the way. For example, recently a customer orders one of my Stoic Medallion Sets as a Christmas gift. They selected Standard Shipping and I know for a fact with the current delays that it wouldn’t reach them in time. So I was about to message them to highly recommend that they select the Express Shipping method instead if they want their gifts guaranteed for the big day. I then realized that for the Medallion Sets, I had forgotten to even include Express Shipping as an option for that specific product. As a result, I posted the Medallion Set via Express out of my own pocket (it is quite a bit more expensive than Standard) and then added the Express option to that listing afterward. There have been lots of little things like that where I have had to correct my own human mistakes whilst putting the customer first that have been a bit annoying at the time and sometimes costly financially, but certainly worth it in the long run.