Since the pandemic, online shopping has been gradually rising as people shift towards online platforms. Many young people aspire to start their own online business, but the process of doing so can be easier said than done. This article gives insight for young people on how to start a small online business by talking to experienced people who have gone through the process.
I had the opportunity to interview a few young people who stepped into the world of small business and have learnt a great deal about their business process and mindset.
Photo by Kravings Kombucha
Kravings Kombucha, a small family business, started off by making kombucha, a healthy alternative beverage for themselves. Their love for kombucha quickly grew and so did their passion to make kombucha widely known to all Malaysians. The business currently has five fizzy and delicious flavours of fermented tea that contain beneficial bacteria and yeast. From their experience, we can learn a few things about starting a beverage business.
Photo by KECH
Next, KECH is a local clothing brand that focuses on producing quality goods at a reasonable price. The concept of KECH is a clothing label that is minimalistic but festive at the same time. “With our festive collections such as Christmas and Chinese New Year, we want our brand to be on theme and wearable year-round to connect with the public,” said KECH.
Starting a business involves planning, making financial decisions and doing market research. Meticulous planning helps to realise the purpose and value of your business. KECH created a plan with an effective and steady strategy for the brand’s growth and also to ensure that its budget and finances are always in check.
“Yes, we have an extensive business plan where we map out all the designs that we want to schedule to launch, as well as marketing plans, budget, and other factors according to a timeline,” said KECH.
This is the same for Kravings Kombucha. They have detailed plans which entail allocating resources, finding suppliers, new beverage flavours, and the whole marketing process. Planning ahead is of utmost importance when it comes to determining your financial needs and business growth for the future.
How do you know when is the right time to start your own business?
Well, it is more about the mindset of what you are passionate about rather than timing.
Kravings Kombucha started out because kombucha was one of the go-to drinks in the owners’ lives. They are passionate about the idea which is the reason why their business is still ever-growing. “Always build your grit and work hard. Be mindful of the people who are close to you because those around you can affect your mindset and thought process,” said Kravings Kombucha.
KECH was launched five years ago when patched tees were not as common as they are now. They wanted to create clothing with minimal branding and focused more on the design. “The idea for KECH started from our love for clothing, especially tees,” said KECH.
Realistically, you need money to get started and maintain enough to keep the business going. Keep in mind that money will be tight in the beginning, and do not expect immediate profits.
KECH always makes sure that they have a good rapport with the suppliers and ensure that the payments are made on time. They also have an accountant who handles their payments and sorts their taxes. “It is important to know how to manage your finances before you make a business decision, “ said KECH.
How about the legality of starting a business?
Many people have an interest in starting an online business, but they are not familiar with the legal requirements. Small businesses, like KECH and Kravings Kombucha, shared some advice regarding the legal bases.
Before embarking on a new business, every person should know that business licenses are a requirement, or else your business will be considered illegal in Malaysia. As long as you make money with your business in Malaysia, you will need to register a legal license with Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia (SSM).
In the case of Kravings Kombucha, which operates as a beverage business, they made sure to comply with all the relevant licensing before they legally commenced their business. They also went through a food preparation course and the necessary health requirements to begin their journey.
A great piece of advice from Kravings Kombucha: “For students out there, you can start your company for free. SSM gives every student a one-year free registration, after that it is just RM60 per year.”
KECH also shares that the process of getting a business license is not as complicated as it sounds. The whole process is quick and simple. You just have to visit a government office, fill out the relevant forms, and then you are done.
Here is some useful information from KECH: “The validity of the business expires depending on the duration you filled up in the form and the amount you paid. Different fees apply for different numbers of years. When it expires, you will have to go back to the office to have it renewed.”
A business license helps to build credibility for your business. Apart from legal registration, you can secure your brand name so that no one can use or copy it without your permission.
How to make your business grow?
If you want your online business to thrive, you need to have a realistic perspective. You must understand the advantages of running a business, as well as the risks that could hold you back.
Failure to do thorough research on both target market and competition might lessen the business’s chances of survival. Before launching your business, identify your target audience to understand how you are going to appeal to them using certain messages and prices.
KECH did extensive research on the materials for the shirts, patches, and other local brands. In doing so, KECH decided to launch the clothing brand with appropriate price points for their quality products that cater to anyone and everyone.
As an online business, it is virtually impossible to escape the competition against other online vendors. One of the most important steps is to analyse your competitors. By doing this, you can identify how you can stand out from other similar businesses in the same market.
Photo by KECH
KECH stood out by toning down the over-the-top designs, unlike most of the tees sold in the market, which had loud designs and branding all over. “Yes, we are aware that there are many close competitors that sell the same product as us, which is why we strive to do better and different from the rest,” said KECH.
Photo by Kravings Kombucha
One of the biggest issues that Kravings Kombucha struggles with is marketing ideas. With hundreds of similar businesses competing against each other, you have to be creative with your ideas to keep your target audience interested. This can be a difficult task at the beginning when your brand is small in the market, but if you know your audience well enough, you can conceptualise a marketing strategy based on your brand or niche.
Many small businesses have taken to online platforms such as Instagram to maintain an active online presence. Now that Instagram has upgraded a few marketing features, it caters more to the needs of business owners.
KECH (@kech.my) grew its social media presence to overcome the struggles it encountered during the pandemic. Struggling with the SOPs, lack of crowds and economic struggles, KECH came across an issue of reaching out to customers and stockists. “We figured out quickly that to overcome this problem, we had to focus more on our online store,” said KECH.
Also, creating a website and updating it regularly with fresh new content helps to build trust and credibility. An outdated and hard-to-navigate website can discourage potential customers from continuing to browse through it. Kravings Kombucha has a website for customers to make a quick and easy online purchase. Without an online presence, people may not be aware of your business or trust your brand.
If you have decided to start your own online business, it is best to stay passionate about your work and be persistent in your efforts. There are no guarantees of success, but if you are prepared to work hard, go ahead. If everything falls in your favour, you get to reap the rewards of your struggles.
By Tee Xin Jie Jaye