Subscription Box Basics

Back to the Basics (1/6): Julie's Launch Story

July 24, 2023 Episode 172
Subscription Box Basics
Back to the Basics (1/6): Julie's Launch Story
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the Back to the Basics series! (1 of 6)

The subscription box business that Julie Ball launched from home as a side hustle turned into a full-time income within nine months and it's totally possible for you to do the same. In this episode, Julie shares the Sparkle Hustle Grow subscription box launch story and how this is totally doable for you as well.

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Hey everybody. And welcome back to subscription box basics. Julie here, your head coach, and I'm actually ruling solo for the next six weeks because I'm doing a special series called back to the basics. Now we've been hosting this podcast for almost four years now. We've had some amazing guests on here. We've talked about a lot of. Different topics along the way. But we thought it was time that we go back to the basics. There's so many new listeners and we want to make sure that you don't miss out on some of the most important episodes to help you in those early stages. So, as I mentioned, we're doing a six week series. We're going to start with today's episode where I tell the story. Of my own launch. When I started sparkle hustle grow back in 2016, then we're going to cover other topics like how to make money with a subscription box business specific terminology that you need to know as you come into this industry and things like product sourcing and carving out your concept. So. Buckle up. It's going to be great. It's going to be so much fun. But listen, if you are already running a subscription box, you've already launched. I encourage you to stick around because this is going to be a great refresher for you. Sometimes we get in the weeds of our business and we forget about the basics. So without further ado, let's get this series started. My goal here. It's to provide some clarity for those of you who have this amazing subscription box business idea, but you just don't know where to start. Girl, I got you. I've been there and I'll be an open book each episode as we dive into the topics that you've been wondering about, that you've been googling and trying to piece together. Because I know the information is Scattered all across the internet and pulling it together is so overwhelming. I'm here to help you bring your idea to life to stop sitting on that moneymaker idea before someone else launches it first, that would be the worst. So I want to show you the side hustlers, the mompreneurs, how you can build a subscription box that works for you and your family. On your terms. That doesn't mean you have to be the next FabFitFun. I certainly don't want to be that. In fact, we capped the number of subscribers at Sparkle Hustle Grow, the number that we allow on a monthly basis. So it fits a model that works for us, a model that supports our family and our team well, but without taking over and making us lose our minds because it's just. Too much. Now don't mistake that for lack of ambition. Understand that it's intentional and it means just that we have clarity. So what I launched as a side hustle turned into a full time income within nine months and it's totally possible for you to do the same. I thought it would be helpful to share the Sparkle Hustle Grow launch story . So you can kind of see that progression and how this is totally doable for you as well. But before I do that, a few things about me so you can get to know me. This year, my husband and I celebrated our 14 year anniversary. Fun fact, we met on Match. com. Our daughter McKenna is twelve and we live together in a small town near Asheville, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's just so beautiful here and I'm so grateful every day to get to live here. Other things about me is I love to travel. I love sports like Penn State football, my alma mater. I like to do outdoor sports like stand up paddle boarding and hiking. And I love Music, all kinds. And prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I actually got to work in the music industry. I'm sure I'll get to share some of those stories later, but I especially love Stevie Nicks, 1990s gangster rap, and. Boy bands. Yep. New Kids on the Block came out when I was a preteen and I was there for it. Side note that I got to see New Kids on the Block in concert for the first time a few years back. it was like 30 years in the making and let me tell you it was life changing, but that's another story for another episode. Okay, so now for the launch story. Let's take it back to 2011 when I started my first business. I had been working in corporate America for 10 plus years and mostly in some sort of marketing or sales role. So when I got pregnant with our daughter McKenna in 2011, she was born in August. I started side hustling at that time. I was in a leadership role in a very male dominated industry, which was radio. It was high stress. I'd get anxiety on Sunday nights before starting the new week. And one day, um, when I got in trouble for wearing chucks to work, I knew I wasn't meant to be there. It wasn't for me anymore. I mean, it was a radio station, even though I had on black slacks and a button down blouse to be considered business attire. I just tried to bring a little personality to the outfit with my chucks and apparently that didn't fly. So corporate America, I digress. So anyhow, in my second trimester, I started freelancing on the side. Doing website design, SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, social media, things like that for small businesses because my background is in internet marketing. But I had this mindset shift when preparing for McKenna's arrival that I didn't want to commute to the city anymore. I didn't want to work for somebody else anymore and I was planning my exit strategy. I kind of saw the birth of McKenna as kind of my out. So I started this side hustle business and all I needed really was an internet connection and a little bit of time to do the work that I needed to do. And eventually, that side hustle grew. I hired some women contract workers to do the design, the photography, and the copywriting. And when I think back and reflect on that time, it really laid the foundation for Sparkle Hustle Grow. I still work with and hire most of those women that were part of that agency we called Grow Web Marketing. In fact, they're my business besties and my ride or dies to this day. It's, it's super fun. So fast forward five years to the summer of 2016. My web design firm was humming along and since the work was location independent, we decided to make a big change and move. The mountains were calling. I'm sure you've heard that before, but it was so true. So we moved to the Asheville, North Carolina area the summer before McKenna started kindergarten. And Asheville's in the mountains of western North Carolina. It's. It's absolutely gorgeous and we love it here. But as we were getting settled in our new home, I was kind of just getting a bit unsettled in my work. I was in a new area, a new home, um, I was always behind the screen with the digital work that I did. I wasn't getting that personal interaction that I really craved and I really thrive in community. So I was missing that personal interaction. I was looking for my tribe and was looking for people in person, but also online. Trying to find people that I could connect with. While we moved into this new place, I started dabbling in the product based business world. I needed something to kind of fill that emptiness I had inside and this new idea that I had really kept me busy. So I started doing research and thought, this might be something that I want to get into. This is all before I launched. These were just kind of where you might be right now with the thoughts, the ideas of something big in your head. So I thought about What type of product would I want? And I knew I still wanted to serve female entrepreneurs, which is the audience that I had been serving with my web agency. Wanted to serve that same audience. But what could I sell them? What pain points could I solve? How could I be of value? And I, it just dawned on me that I love getting subscription boxes. I love getting happy mail. And that's really where it started. When one showed up one day, I started putting some of my own items in it. And it kind of thought, okay, this might work. So that's kind of where my next train of thought was. Like, I really love getting subscription boxes. So maybe if I created a subscription box that had business tools in it, And trainings that, that would help the female entrepreneur thrive, that it might be a good business. It might have legs. Of course, I wasn't sure, so in looking at what I wanted to put in the box, I literally looked back at my own expenses, at my receipts. Because I'm a female entrepreneur, and I thought, well, if I figure out what I'm spending most of my money on, that's what I can put in the box. So I looked back at my receipts and I saw tons and tons of books. I read a lot of books. I read the physical copies. I listen on Audible and I get them on Kindle. Whether it was self help, personal development, or just fun reading. I read a lot of books. Then I noticed I bought a lot of online courses. As a fairly newer entrepreneur. I needed to ramp up my skills in so many different places because as an entrepreneur, specifically when you work mostly solo, you have to wear a lot of hats. So I did a lot of online trainings, and then of course I buy lots of office supplies. I'm kind of an office supply junkie. I don't like just a basic black pen or blue pen. I really want something that's going to inspire me, and it's going to bring joy to me when I'm using it. So I thought, well, let's put office supplies in there. And that's how I figured out what I was going to put in the box. And of course that changed throughout the years as I got feedback from my subscribers, but that's where it started. And so now we're looking at September 2016. This is when I started my pre launch. I did about a six week pre launch at that time. You know, back in 2016 subscriptions boxes, yeah, they were popular, but the training, the business training to learn to launch one, it was just scattered. I mean, it was everywhere. And so I didn't have a background in product based businesses. I didn't know what I was doing. So it was kind of piecing all these parts together as I went and I figured it out on the fly. So here we are in September 2016, and I launched my landing page. And a landing page, if you don't know, is just a one page website that has a goal. And the goal of that website was to gather email addresses. Those email addresses were what I called my VIP list. Those were the people that I was going to launch to first. They showed that they were interested already in the box and I wanted to give them information, nurture them, get them excited, and primed to buy. So I asked them questions. They helped me make decisions about this new business. And on the landing page, in exchange for their email address, they got entered to win an annual subscription to Sparkle Hustle Grow, which was super exciting. That's really what got everyone motivated. Now, in hindsight, I probably could have done a shorter length subscription as my prize, as the prize giveaway, but it worked, and I didn't know what I didn't know, so I went with it. So I'm gathering the email addresses and sending them regular emails to nurture them, to make them excited. And then I launched a one week pre sale. This pre sale was just to my VIP list. I launched it only to them, not to the public. And why I did this is one, they were primed and ready and excited to buy. Two, I wanted to give them first access because they were showing interest early on and they were the early supporters. And three, I wanted to give them something special. I wanted to make sure that they either had a extra product in their box or they're going to get an extra discount. And they were really excited when I emailed them and gave them first dibs because I only allotted for a hundred founding members. So that sense of urgency, like I want to be a part of those 100 founding members gave them the motivation to subscribe early. So in that pre sale, I got 42 sales. Yes! 42 sales! 42 people wanted the box that I was curating. Now, keep in mind that my goal was 100 boxes for that first month. So 42 is way under 100, but... I didn't care. I was just so excited because I got sales, 42 people really liked my concept and they were willing to put money down for it. And they were willing to wait six weeks because those people that signed up in the first week of presale, it was literally going to be about six weeks. So those 42 sales equated to right around 1, 500 in what I call my startup money because I didn't have a budget. This was a side hustle. When I launched it, I didn't know if it was going to work and so I really didn't have any sort of budget to put towards it. I used my credit card to register the business and buy my domain name, and I figured I'd make my money back if I went for it. So, that 1, 500 that I earned in my pre sale was so important for me. Because not only was it validation and it gave me that confidence to move forward, but it also gave me the funds to buy custom boxes and to buy that first month's products. And so that was super, important. So if you're thinking that you don't have a budget or you don't have the funding to start, don't let that stop you because you can have that presale and you can earn that money to get you started. So in the end, well, not in the end, but after that presale, I launched to the public and I ended up sending right around, what was I think around 55 or 60 boxes in that first month, which I was super happy with. I didn't quite hit my a hundred box goal, but that's okay. I was really happy with it and I was moving forward. And it took me three months to hit that 100 box mark. And to me, that 100 subscribers was kind of this milestone of if you get 100 subscribers, you gotta keep going. And if you're struggling to get that 100 subscribers, pivot. As Ross and friends would say, pivot! What do you need to change? Ask your subscribers, what would they rather have? What would make them come back for more? And at the very end of the year, I hit that 100 subscriber mark. So now I want to talk about those first six months for a minute because I made a lot of mistakes in those first six months and I think, too, with everything so scattered, all the resources scattered, trying to determine my vendors and trying to determine which software platforms I was going to use. I had a little bit of analysis paralysis, decision fatigue. Have you heard of it before where it's hard to move forward not knowing what you're going to use? So throughout those first six months, I did a lot of pivots. I changed the pricing within the first six months. I changed my referral software in the first six months and I changed my mindset and so much else, just know that it's okay to make mistakes because I sure did, and it's okay to change things along the way. This is your business. So you get to call the shots. So there's a couple of milestones that were really instrumental in taking it to that full time income. As I mentioned, I was able to grow my box into a full time income in under 9 months. And so let's talk about some of those milestones for a hot second here. So looking back at those first 6 months, that 100 subscriber mark, that was key for me as I mentioned. That was clutch. It was validation, which coincidentally is one of my top love languages. In month two, I went to an incredible event. I went to Christie Wright's Business Boutique. It was an event in Nashville, several days long, and I went as a marketplace vendor. Let me paint the picture. This event year after year attracts thousands of women business owners, 3, 000 female entrepreneurs. So the reason I'm telling you this is because in month two of my business, I was able to physically get in front of 3, 000 of my ideal target audience to show them my product, to speak to them in person, have them interact with me, and to this day I still have people tell me, Oh, I saw you at Christy Wright's Business Boutique. That was the first time I saw your business. We would go there year after year because it is such a hit for us. So I'd like to encourage you if you're thinking about starting a subscription box business, Look at events, whether those are local events, or whether they're regional, or you have to fly somewhere, get in front of your target audience. Not only online, but in person. So that leads me to another event that I went to in my first six months. The next milestone for me was month four of my shipping, and I was right around the, somewhere around 115 to maybe 150, somewhere around there. And I was finally in the green, all my books and making a little bit of money. Can I get an amen? And I went to an event in San Diego. It was Dana Mollstaff's Boss Mom Retreat, and it was more intimate retreat. It was about a hundred women there who were mom entrepreneurs, and they were all there to learn, to grow their business, to network with like minded mamas. Going to an event like this was so important for me. This was definitely one of those moments where I had aha moments and made some changes in my business based off of feedback and I got validation and I got support. The women were buying my box after they met me and they learned about the concept. So based off of that event, I learned so much about my target audience. And I learned so much about business in general. I changed my box price. I got a better game plan for how to market to my audience and it was just so important. Such a pivotal moment for me. And so the point of me telling that story is I really want to encourage you to get in front of not only your target audience, but also colleagues, people that can help you in your business and support you along the way in a safe space. And to find a business coach that is going to help you make those big decisions that are scary. You know? So then through this combination of these two events that I went to So I'm doing some online marketing, being genuinely active in Facebook groups, not being spammy, but genuinely building relationships in Facebook groups. That's what led me to my next milestone. It was when I launched a referral program. With this combined with those tactics that I just mentioned, I was able to hit the 350 subscriber mark by month six. I think that was another milestone for me because that's when I started. Um, researching, outsourcing my fulfillment, using a warehouse and a fulfillment center. At the time, I felt like I had grown as much as I could in the physical space that I was fulfilling in. So we were basically packing all the boxes in our house. At the time, we were renting a studio. small home. It was probably about 1200 square feet and there were boxes and products everywhere. There was crinkle cut that would end up in the washing machine. I mean, it was everywhere. And so I felt like I was in my own way and what I needed to do once I hit kind of that 350 subscriber mark, I really needed to get the systems and support in place. It allowed me to scale to get out of my own way. And to grow that full time income that I was telling you about. And so fast forward to now we've sent over 65,000 boxes equating to about two and a half million dollars in revenue. I sold the box business last summer for multiple six figures. And I get to inspire and lead women every day in their own entrepreneurial journeys. I get to call that my work. I am so, so grateful for that. And to wrap it up, I wanted to share a little bit of inspiration. Remember that I was just like you. I had an idea that I was excited about, but unsure about. I didn't have startup cash. I was overwhelmed trying to put the pieces together and I had a lot of fears. But girlfriend. I got you. That's why I started this podcast. I want to help. If you want clarity on the subscription box business model, if you want to hear my war stories of starting a box business, so you can learn from them. And if you want to answer that question, you keep asking yourself. Now what then make sure you subscribe to this podcast this one right here subscription box basics So I can continue to show up for you and coach you through it I cannot wait to see your amazing subscription box hit the market. Thank you so much for spending this time with me and be sure to join me for the next episode. Part two of the back to the basic series, where I'm going to talk about the subscription box business model, as it's very different than other business models, even different than the basic e-commerce model. And until then I invite you to check out our free on demand, video training, you can slash launch. You can also find it in the show notes. This is the perfect training to get you started. If you are at the stage where you have a subscription box idea and you just don't know where to start. Go check it out and we'll see you in the next episode.