Despite rumours that start-up businesses are struggling to raise enough capital to fund their venture, there is hope for British would-be-entrepreneurs. Nowadays there’s no need to invest in office space, branded carrier bags or snappy suits; plenty of businesses are thriving with little more than an Internet connection and an idea. 

As High Street stores realise they need to revamp their appearance and embrace omnichannel retailing, internet-savvy entrepreneurs are one step ahead.

Small online companies are cropping up across the country, turning hobbies and interests into successful businesses by focusing their attention solely on the online side of their business.

Although not everyone operating from home will become an overnight sensation, the potential is there and the internet should not be underestimated.

Bags of talent

Perhaps the most famous example of this is The Cambridge Satchel Company which began in a kitchen. In 2008, Julie Deane’s daughter was being bullied and she wanted to send her children to private school. Inspired by the Harry Potter books, she decided to make and sell traditional leather satchels for school children. 

Once fashion bloggers discovered the satchels her popularity soared and soon celebrities were carrying them, Harvey Nichols was stocking them and output increased so much that she acquired her own factory.

The company now has a monthly sales turnover of £1 million a month and features in Google Chrome’s new advert ‘The web is what you make of it’ which is a fantastic advert and really shows the power of the internet. 

Peddling stock

Similarly, Boxa Cycles started in a shed where Tony Connor spent his free time renovating classic bicycles. After seeing his collection, fellow bike enthusiast Steve Hayes suggested they design their own retro bikes to sell.

Operating as a partnership, they now sell tailor-made retro bicycles via the internet and have generated interest as far afield as Japan and America. 

We went to Goodwood to gauge public opinion and it turned out to be a very successful event with a large number of comments along the lines of ‘that’s a work of art’. In fact, the first few bikes that we sold are now hanging on walls! Each bike is custom-made, taking several weeks and we recently had to turn down a wholesale order for 500 retro cycles because we’re just two chaps with a spanner. 

Bright as a button

Primary school teacher Gemma Dilley gave up her job to be a stay-at-home mum, but once her two children started nursery school, she found herself with some extra free time. Rather than go back to teaching, she decided to try and earn money from her hobby.

I have always made jewellery for friends and family but when I had my second child I decided to turn my hobby into a small business.  I started by setting a Facebook page and invited my friends, who told their friends and suddenly Red Button Jewellery had quite a few followers. Selling online is ideal for me because I can still be at home for the children but don’t have to work to a timetable and I can turn down orders if I need to. I’ve recently been asked to make the accessories for a wedding which is a great opportunity. 

Share, and share a ‘Like’

Businesses aren’t only selling online directly through a website or marketplace. They are utilising ‘indirect commerce’ and targeting the customer wherever they are, on the move using their tablets and Smartphones.

The difficulty for retailers operating solely online is that potential customers cannot examine items as they can in-store. To compensate for this, their online presence must offer a close customer experience, with comprehensive information and high-quality images. 

Both Boxa Cycles and Red Button Jewellery use Pinterest to showcase their products, collect ideas and interact with fans. The power of social media enables small companies to attract customers without necessarily having their own website. 

Although Boxa Cycles do have a WordPress site, we utilise Pinterest because we can directly interact with followers and it’s easier to update. Every time our fans share photos or content on social media, our retro cycles are seen by hundreds of potential customers.

Visible feedback such as testimonials and reviews can also be valuable, especially if these can be shared via Facebook, Twitter etc. According to Social Media Today, almost two-thirds of customers are more likely to purchase products that have been independently reviewed.  This is a clear advantage of online selling, as very few High Street stores include in-store product reviews.

The only way is effort

Although many retailers are struggling to compete with online prices, others are embracing the concept of omnichannel retailing in order to keep their stores open.

However, with consumers constantly looking for the best deals, those who are saving money by operating from home may have a slight advantage, especially if their overall aim is not to turn over a multi-million pound profit, but simply to make a bit of money out of something they enjoy. 

Of course, because these retailers have no store, they can sell high-quality goods at lower prices, enticing customers who are looking for the convenience of online shopping.

Smaller retailers can also provide a more personal service, as they tend to have genuine expertise in the few products that they offer, rather than a vague knowledge of thousands. 

High stakes

As the trend moves towards more direct commerce between distributors and small sellers, there will need to be some sort of technology to support it, especially as e-shoppers expect a good overall shopping experience.

To ensure their survival, these small online retailers should embrace multichannel retailing as much as possible, whether through the use of an e-commerce platform or online channel integration.

As e-commerce becomes easier to do, no doubt we will see more brands emerging. With more brands available, all competing on price and quality, perhaps we will see a shift towards the smaller ones that have built up a presence on social media and become popular that way.

With HMV the latest casualty on the High Street, larger brands need to rethink their marketing strategy if they are to survive across the channels, particularly if they are only now realising the full potential of the internet.