At the beginning of this year, I was looking for a way to supplement our income. I do seasonal data processing and the spring season had not yet begun. I had prior experience with selling handmade jewelry on the internet and had all ready decided that I wanted to use the internet for my venue. I knew I didn’t want to sell jewelry or any other type of women’s accessory or craft. I needed something that would sell reasonably quickly and that wasn’t being done to death by everyone else.
I made a list of what I can do well, sort of a resume. I listed my past experiences and abilities. Then I started researching online. After looking at literally hundreds of websites, I came up with two possibilities. One was typing and secretarial work, the other was baking. I have a long history of doing both. I all ready had a typing sort of job and wanted something different, after discussing it with my husband; I chose to open an online bakery.
My first step was to draw up a short term business plan. Initially, I wanted to sell online as well as deliver to businesses in my small town. Once I factored in the cost and the fact that this would be a one woman show, the business plan helped me to realize that deliveries might not be such a great idea starting out. I would begin by concentrating on online sales.
I had to decide if I wanted to run the bakery out of my home or rent a kitchen. To keep the initial costs as low as possible, I knew I wanted to run the bakery from my home. So I checked the laws in my state and found that this was doable. I just had to dedicate a space for the bakery supplies and have a separate refrigerator.
The next step was to check the zoning codes for my rental home. I knew I was in a residential neighborhood and would probably need to be rezoned. I went to city hall and talked to the county clerk. She set me up with a meeting of the zoning board. I met with the members of the zoning board and told them what I wanted to do. I think it helped that I baked them some of my super delicious cookies because they approved my request. I had to pay a $50 rezoning fee and everything was good to go.
Next, I got my city and county licenses. That was the easy part. The cost was $45 for both of them.
Since I have previously owned a deli, I knew that the Health Department would want to inspect my kitchen. I called the county health inspector and found out some interesting information. I would not be under the Health Department, but instead would be considered a domestic kitchen, which is under the Department of Agriculture. So I called them. They said I had to attend a food safety class and pass a test to become a certified domestic kitchen. They scheduled me for the next class. The test would cost $100. They also sent me a large packet of paperwork to read. It was quite educational. I learned that I could only prepare and sell non-hazardous food products and that most of my bakery items would fall under that category. I also learned how to correctly weigh and label my products to conform to the state laws.
While I was waiting for the class and certification, I worked on my website and my menu. For the menu I had to adhere to the strict regulations for non-hazardous food products. That meant that I couldn’t sell anything like cheesecakes or anything with partially cooked eggs and dairy. That wasn’t a problem as I was planning on selling mostly hand-kneaded specialty breads and gourmet cookies. I took my time deciding exactly where I wanted to sell my products. I thought about opening my own website, but while I can do basic HTML, I’m not up to par on building a shopping cart and maintaining a complicated site. Also, it takes time for traffic to flow into a new website and I wanted to be up and running as soon as possible. I decided to use a sort of internet mall. I looked at probably fifty or more sites before deciding to use ETSY. They had the look and feel that I was looking for and I could build an almost immediate website. They had payment options and also used PayPal for their shopping cart. I could write my own detailed descriptions, use my own photos, (up to 5 per item) and their fees were very reasonable.
One of the last things I did before my opening day was to have a talk with the folks at the local post office. I had never dealt with shipping perishable items before. They were very helpful and guided me to their online website. I found out I could get free priority mail shipping boxes from them and print my shipping labels online. That worked out well and kept my shipping costs in line.
On the weekend before my opening day, I bought all my baking supplies and tried out a few new recipes. I practiced taking pictures of my products and wrote product descriptions. Then before I knew it, I was open for business.
Within a week, I had my first few sales. In less than a month, I had over 100 sales. Keep in mind that a sale might consist of several items, such as 2 loaves of bread, a batch of brownies and a dozen cookies. Orders were coming in from all over the United States. I even sold one order to England, but the shipping price was very high on it. My little kitchen had become a very busy place!