The Struggling Student Rants—Setting Up Shop

Nearly two years of this pandemic have come and gone and, despite what anyone says (expert or not), no one knows with certainty when this will eventually end.

What we do know is that everyone’s finances have been affected—whether due to last year’s mass layoffs, supply chain disruptions, or rising inflation rates—no one has been left out of this party!  It would seem natural, then, that many people across the planet are now setting up their own side gigs or quitting their jobs to be their own boss.  Sorry boss, it’s not me, it’s you.

While we can all acknowledge the fact that starting a new venture can be exciting, there are also multiple risks to keep in mind, so you don’t end up groveling back to your manager.  For all you list-lovers out there, here are some things to keep in mind:

(1) E-Commerce and Social Media:     We all know that social media has exploded during the past decade.  People that once refused to touch a computer are now glued to their phones—my mother included.  The impact this has had on commerce can’t be described within a few sentences, but if you’re up to it, it would make a great thesis topic (you’re welcome).  One thing I will focus on is reputation risk.  Social media is famous for its ability to make anyone famous overnight by going viral.  This is great because it gives everyone hope that they, too, can one day become a rockstar, even if they are still living in their grandma’s basement.  On the flipside, anything and everything you do is being watched.  Organizational reputations have been ruined within hours, sometimes with no return.  But all this wouldn’t affect your small, local side gig, would it?  You bet your bottom it would!  Before you start setting up shop and posting your wares you need to do a full, clean sweep.  Everything must go!  Those posts you posted on your personal social media pages 20 years ago may not be so appropriate now.  They can, and will, affect your bottom line, so go in there and delete anything related to:

  • Political rants.
  • Opinion pieces, especially ones relating to diversity, equity, equality, humanitarian beliefs, and (as of late) the ongoing debate on vaccination mandates.
  • Current event opinions and rants.
  • Negative reviews and, in particular, those related to other local businesses.
  • Inappropriate jokes. If it’s a joke you wouldn’t tell your grandmother, or your boss, delete it.

(2) Regulations and Laws:           Regulations and laws help standardize commerce, both on the national and provincial level; they are there for a reason, even if we don’t necessarily like them.  Things to keep in mind include:

  • Sole proprietorship versus incorporation
  • Permits and licenses
  • Industry-related requirements
  • Federal and provincial tax requirements
  • Target market(s).
    • Will you cater directly to the final consumer, or go after businesses?
    • Will you go after the entire market (mass marketing), or a select few (niche marketing)?
    • At the end of the day, who will want to buy your product or service and why?
  • Competitors—what will the neighbours think? E-commerce has increased rivalry because firms and individuals now have access to markets they never even dreamt of.  Buyers are now able to buy the same exact product or service you are selling from anyone around the world.  Hooray for shopping choices, but it goes without saying that the next guy will try to undercut you or, perhaps even sabotage you with things like rating bombs.  The moral of the story: watch your back and play nice.

(3) Supply Chain:   If your business has anything to do with goods, or services which require parts or materials, you have to keep in mind not only the recent supply chain disruptions but also the fact that the Internet has distorted delivery expectations and patience for everyone.  Instant gratification is now the norm; gone are the days when we would order something from the Sears catalogue and wait weeks for the mail carrier to arrive.  Thank you Amazon Prime—you’ve ruined it for businesses across the globe!  The moral of the story, give your customers realistic expectations on delivery times and be prepared to calm down any angry ones who think that you control Canada Post.

(4) Going online:    Finally, long gone are the days where you could open a lemonade stand at the end of your driveway and wait for the dough to start rolling in.  If you’re not online, are you anywhere at all?  Not only do you need to be actively present on multiple social media channels, but you should also, at the very least, have an online website.  Thankfully, with businesses like Shopify and Wix, setting up a website is not as difficult as it used to be.  There are still, however, some things you need to make decisions on:

  • Cataloguing system. The complexity of your catalogue will depend on your product line (i.e., what you’re selling).  By product, I am referring to both goods and services.
    • How will you set your catalogue up?
    • Will you have photos?
    • Will you have detailed descriptions?
    • Will you list prices or ask potential consumers to contact you?
    • Some online shops even go so far as to place each of their products or services on separate webpages.
  • Payment processing. What types of payment will you accept?
    • Typical payment methods include debit card and credit card. More and more businesses, however, are now accepting PayPal and bitcoin.
    • If you have a physical location, consider payment options like Apple Pay and e-transfers, as well.
    • If you plan to go international, keep in mind that many non-developed countries typically pay through COD (cash-on-delivery). If you decide to forgo this method, you may be missing out on a very large market willing to hand over their cash.

While all this may seem overwhelming, fear not—there is so much more to stress out about!  This is not an attempt, by any means, to scare you from realizing your dreams.  It is, however, an attempt to help you get started on the right foot.

A couple of the Struggling Student Rants were noted by Voice readers, this one, from our October 15 edition, struck me as part of the Best of because of the no-nonsense advice it provides in a good readable manner.  It seems simple, but so many text-books show that it isn’t.