In spring of 2018, I was ready to leave a job I’d been in for a long time. I was good at my work and enjoyed it, but it was time for a change. After looking for a new job for a while but not finding anything that was just right, I began to think about starting my own business.…
This was something I’d never even considered before and I really had no idea how to make it happen, but as soon as the thought popped into my head, I just felt like it was meant to happen. So, I let this new shocking idea roll around in the background for a bit to see where my intuition would lead me.
It didn’t take long.
The business I should start came to me and I could instantly see it so vividly in my mind: a handmade cat toy business. I knew right away the 3 main goals for my business would be:
- To provide a safe, high-quality alternative to mass-produced cat toys
- To honour the memory of my 20-year companion cat who had passed away in 2017,
- To help raise money and awareness for TNR (compassionate feral cat care) and cat rescue.
This moment was the birth of Boo Boy Cat Toys.
There I was with my business existing in my mind but no idea how to get started, so I researched online while beginning to design my first few toys.
All of our toys are created from patterns I draw by hand, followed by a prototype that is tested by my cats, former feral kitten rescues, Alex and Linus. Based on the testing results, the toy design is improved as needed for safety and cat-likeability before being produced for sale.
Designing and sewing cat toys was the fun and easy part to start while learning how to get a business going and how to market and sell was harder. I did a lot of things ‘wrong’.
The Learning Curve
I spent several months in a vacuum creating toys and setting up an Etsy shop without doing any market research. Fortunately for me, because I am part of my own target market and had picky but enthusiastic product testers living in my house, this part worked out ok for me in the end.
I had to ignore a lot of naysayers and people who questioned why I would start a business or whether I could succeed.
I wasted time and money on failed ideas, struggled to source some of the raw materials I needed, and was held back because I didn’t know people to ask for advice about setting up a business. But I kept taking action while doing research online.
Whether a step failed or went well, I knew, either way, it was a learning experience and a step on my journey to overall success, so I kept plugging away and I kept believing I would make it work.
By late October 2018, my Etsy shop went live, and I started posting on social media to begin advertising my business. I was excited and nervous to see how people would respond and how long it would take to begin to get sales.
I knew in my heart I would succeed but I also knew it could take a long time to get there.
Experience & Business Growth
In November, I signed up for a small weekend craft fair. The first day of the fair I made no sales. On the second day I made my first sale! And proceeded to sell enough to cover the entry cost.
From that experience, I learned that half of the value of selling in person is the sales you make, and half is what you learn from other vendors and from customer feedback including (and often especially) from people who look but choose to not buy.
In early January of 2019, I made my first sale on Etsy. It was a big order and was from someone who was an Instagram follower, so I knew my time spent posting and interacting on social media was starting to pay off.
From there, online sales began to trickle in.
I celebrated every time I got a notification!
In April of the same year, I joined a large Saturday artisans’ market and started selling at least 2 weekends per month throughout the rest of 2019.
Though my goal from the start was to sell strictly online, I knew I needed more exposure and more customer feedback, so doing in-person markets for a year was a great way to make this happen while also making sales at the same time.
Once again, I was told and overheard what people want in cat toys and what they can’t find to meet their needs. I got so many great new toy design ideas from customer feedback, some of which have become my best sellers.
By the end of 2019, I was able to record a very small profit for the year for my business. In 2020, I pivoted back to selling only online as was my original goal, but the experience and growth I had as a result of doing in-person markets for a year were so much more than I could have imagined.
Now that the business is 4 years old, I’ve niched down into 3 main cat toy categories (refillable catnip toys, play mats, and small, unique catnip toys) instead of trying to make every possible kind of toy.
I continue to focus on growing organically through social media and word-of-mouth
My Keys to Success
Looking back at my business journey, one of my keys to success was viewing and speaking about my business as a successful business even before it was.
From day 1, I referred to everything as “our toys” and “we offer”, etc, rather than focusing on the fact it was just me in my spare room trying to make something from nothing.
Another key to success was consciously having a growth mindset. When things were challenging or stressful or when I made mistakes, I reminded myself the pain I was feeling was the feeling of growth and it meant I was going somewhere. There were many days I said to myself, “I’m growing, I’m growing, feel all that growth” as I kept myself from giving up or took a minute to cry before picking myself back up.
And last but not least, a key to my success was having a goal that was bigger than making money or experiencing personal success. When I started the business, I made a pledge that I would donate $1 in honour of every toy sold to a cat rescue organization and that I would build this business to success to continue to spread the love and joy my cat Boo had brought into this world.
These goals guide every customer interaction I have and motivate the quality I ensure in every toy we sell, as well as remind me that there are multiple measures of success in business and in our lives.
Since starting Boo Boy Cat Toys in 2018, I have also gone on to start a second service-based business.
I have left my old job and am fully self-employed.
The lessons I learned from my first business made the second one so much easier and less stressful to start, even though it is an entirely different type of business.
I love running my own businesses and I am so grateful for all I’ve learned and all of the ways I have grown as a person as a result of being an entrepreneur.
Written by Charisse Hake, Boo Boy Cat Toys
Charisse Hake is a feral cat rescuer, cat toy designer, and freelance instructional designer who believes in following your intuition and sharing your unique gifts to help make the world a better place.
You can visit her Etsy shop here.
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