Who am I, and what qualifies me to talk to you about this topic?
I’m an entrepreneur, consultant and communicator.
A large part of what I do involves the promotion and marketing of entrepreneurs and SMMEs, specifically those that offer unique services and products for sale at markets and in ‘informal’ (read for that: non-bricks-and-mortar) settings.
I’ve loved visiting and worked in markets since I was a teenager (I’m 44 now), and although I’ve got a university degree and have worked in the corporate world as well, markets have become a big part of my work and personal life.
As a teenager living in a single-parent home I used to sell things that I’d crafted myself at markets on weekends to make pocket money. I have worked in corporate environments, and on the ground as a market stallholder, as well as having started and run my own very successful market events. Many of my friends and people whom I highly respect and admire I have met through my work in markets and with informal traders.
Now my aim is to help other people to create and build their own opportunities and businesses through trading at markets and in other informal settings.
Markets are as ancient as human culture – wherever humans are, markets will spring up because people will always trade and barter with each other in these most energetic, coulourful, sociable and enduring places.
Whether you plan to run a market stall as your primary income source or to supplement your existing income, you don’t need a lot of money and resources to start a business trading at markets, in fact it is one of the easiest, most affordable – and most empowering – ways to get your foot in the door of the business world.
Also, now that technology is advancing so fast and becoming available to so many people regardless of age or income, there are many exciting opportunities all around. All you have to do is open your eyes to them and have the energy and motivation to put them in to action.
I hope that what I tell you here will inspire you to start your own market business, and that one day when you have built an empire you will look back and remember these humble beginnings with pride and fondness!
Getting started – where do I begin?
First question to ask: What can I do?
Can you bake, sew, paint, busk, do magic tricks, grow plants, buy and resell sweets/chips etc, face-paint…
Not sure? HINT: did you learn something from your mom, grandfather, teacher, watching TV? Do you have a hobby or unique skill?
Next question: Do I ENJOY doing this thing?
As with any work, if you’re going to spend a lot of time doing something, try and make sure you enjoy it. If you don’t you’ll have a hard time dealing with bad weather, early mornings, long days, slow trade… plus, people can sense when you are passionate about something, and will be more likely to buy from you if you radiate enthusiasm for what you do.
Some other questions to consider:
- Do I like dealing with people?
- Am I willing to learn how to handle money, deal with criticism and disappointment and be constantly innovative and creative?
- Are you able to persevere even when things seem tough?
Do I need money to start a market stall?
Yes and no. Market stalls are one of the most affordable ways of operating a small business, but you will still need some funds to launch your venture. There are various ways you could get some seed funding, but you would need to be sure you’re doing things the right way from the beginning so you don’t waste your investment.
To be successful in business there is a lot to learn. Here are a few useful resources you can use to master these important skills and also find ways to access seed funding:
Try these entrepreneurial resource centres:
The basics: Business 101
Once you’ve decided what you would like to do or sell at markets, and once you’ve figured out where to get some business skills and funding, just as with any business, you have to do some basic business stuff, like:
- figure out where to get the raw materials you need to put together to produce your products/services
- work out your costs and how much of a mark-up you can put on them to make a profit
- do some basic market research – do people want and need what I’m thinking of selling?
- Consider how you will market your goods/services (this includes packaging, advertising, business cards and more)
I would even say that if you are earning an income in a job but wish to start your own venture that you should try and keep your main income and do research and preparation in your spare time rather than launching into something with no income at all. Only when it looks like your venture will be viable should you consider giving up your day job!
TIP: Visit lots of different markets to see where your offering fits in: flea-markets, craft markets, food markets… the list is long, and it’s important to match what you are selling to the right marketplace (otherwise you could be wasting your time, energy and money!)
HINT: if you’re not sure what to do, call a few market owners and asking if they have any gaps that need to be filled – there’s a chance that you can offer a unique product that the market currently doesn’t sell
How do I get a stall at a market?
Market owners take a lot into consideration when choosing stall vendors, making sure they don’t have too many of the same thing on offer.
Apply for a market stall in the same way you would when applying for a job: make it as easy and quick as possible for the market organiser to deal with you and assess your products/services. Also, as with any application/interview process – or indeed sales and branding situation – you should strive to stand out from all the other applicants in some way, have a unique selling point (USP) that will get you noticed.
TIP: prepare a marketing kit to send to the market organizer and catch their attention. This kit should include your product photos and a short bio about yourself and what you’re offering.
Attract attention: Marketing
Every bit of branding/marketing material helps (labels/packaging, business cards, flyers, websites etc). Even if a visitor does not buy from you at the market, they may come back another time or contact you to order/buy separate from the market setting. Some markets are well-organised and help promote their vendors through their websites by giving them a mention or posting them in a blog etc, especially if you have a USP or have won an award etc.
TIP: Ensure that your stall stands out from the crowd – create visual appeal from afar and engage the visitors in a passionate, helpful and knowledgeable – but not pushy! – manner.
How to use technology to promote your business
Technology is making it possible for everyone to participate in the global economy, no matter how big or small their business is, nor how many or few their resources are. Your mobile/smart phone will become your best friend in growing your business, so make sure you make an investment in that as a start.
It also helps a lot for you to have a website for your product/service, even if it’s pretty basic.
Then of course there’s the social media aspect. You really need to have a few basic social networking tools as well, at least a Facebook page. Twitter is useful too, and can be connected to your Facebook page’s updates. Also a very important new tool – especially for vendors with visually appealing products – is Pinterest.
TIP: All of these tools will help the organiser decide whether to take you on as a vendor on or not.
Have a Unique Selling Point (USP)
Another major consideration for a market organiser (and for customers) is whether you are offering something different than all the other stalls currently trading at the market of your choice (and other) markets. You should really try to offer a product/service different from what everyone else is offering, since organisers may be willing to fit you into a market sooner if you offer the market’s visitors something fresh and new. This adds to the market’s appeal, and that should always be a concern to the market organiser.
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