A Teenage Bookseller's Insight on Starting a Business

Op-ed

What does it mean for a business to be successful? How can one measure success? What are ways to establish a business presence? In owning my own antiquarian bookstore and Etsy shop, I've had the opportunity to gain an understanding of the answers to these questions and an insight into the process of starting a business. Naturally, I hope to unveil some tips that I wish I had known when first starting my business, as well as discuss what it means to create a distinct image, choose a niche, establish a social media presence, SEO analytics, and acquire inventory.

The Admont Library

Inspired by the largest monastic library in the world, The Admont Library (est. 2021) aims to capture the unparalleled beauty and baroque aesthetic of Austria's Admont Abbey. While specializing in classics, we sell antiquarian books of all genres and aim to provide the gift of knowledge with both style and care. A French and English antiquarian bookstore, we continually aspire to fill our inventory with rare books that each hold their own story, our French Literature collection even originating from the Valentine Museum of Richmond, Virginia. Each order is hand-wrapped, tied with string, and packed with care. We also use recycled, shredded paper to deliver our products safely and reduce our carbon footprint.

An idea first and a bookstore second, The Admont Library consistently strives to provide customers with the ultimate reading experience. As such, our goal is to ensure free shipping, a complimentary brew + bookmark, and compassionate 24/7 customer service for all customers. In addition to being a bookstore, The Admont Library aspires to serve as an online archive, where beloved classics and integrated audiobooks can be accessed with the click of a button. With The Admont Library's emergence as a bookstore comes the publication of The Admont Abbey Magazine, the only magazine dedicated to booksellers and admirers of classic literature alike.

Starting A Successful Business

Before starting your business, it's important to consider how to do so successfully. Well, first you have to define "success." While many are quick to measure it numerically, based on revenue and number of sales, it is equally measured according to whether a business delivers on its promise with every order and rates of customer satisfaction. In my case, I offer free shipping, handwritten letters, and a complimentary brew + bookmark with every order. Not receiving enough orders is a problem I can solve easily through ads, social media, and so forth, but defining a unique value proposition such as a business promise, guaranteed with every order, is more difficult yet fulfilling if sustained.

Keeping in mind what defines a successful business, the first thing to do is determine your niche, or the market for your particular product or service. What are you selling? And more importantly, what makes your product different from the rest of the playing field? You want a product that is looking to solve an existing problem with an effective solution— one others will want and are willing to pay for, even at a premium.

Next, you want to determine a price for your product. Research your market. What are customers willing to pay for products within your niche? What are ways to offer affordable and attractive prices while still making a profit? When it comes to my bookstore, I offer free shipping on all orders and include the cost of preparing and wrapping the package in the total cost of each book. Free shipping is appealing in that customers aren't surprised by additional fees at checkout. This allows for transparency, which customers appreciate.

Other things you want to consider when planning your business are what kind of customers you are targeting, what is needed to get the business up and running, your competition, and means of advertising. Of course, starting an official business— at least in the United States— involves registering it as an LLC with your state, but I've decided to focus on the more foundational means of starting a business.

Establishing a Storefront

Since the summer of 2021, The Admont Library has made its presence known through Etsy, a global online marketplace for handmade and vintage items. In my experience, I have made more sales on Etsy than Wix, likely a result of Etsy's advanced SEO and search, meaning that customers are more likely to come across my Etsy listings than those on my website.

Over the past year, I have developed my own website for my online antiquarian bookstore and aspiring archive. Upon transitioning from Etsy to my own site, I have been able expand my store's capabilities to include an archive where one's favorite classics can be accessed at the click of a button. Transitioning to one's own site is a big step and isn't cheap either: it costs a couple hundred dollars per year to maintain a domain. Nevertheless, having your own website also means entering a new phase for your business— one that allows you to truly capture your business' image through the design of your site. Owning your own domain also provides you with absolute freedom when it comes to your customizing your storefront to your liking. In my case, I've used my website to post listings of products, host an archive of free eBooks, and share a magazine. Starting your own website provides a professional touch to your business and lets customers know that you're committed to future growth.

An Online Presence

A strong social media presence is key to a successful business in today's modern world. By starting an Instagram account for my bookstore, I've been able to direct traffic to my website and set up an Instagram shop to expand my business' reach. Apps like Instagram help you target a specific follower base and establish connections with customers.

Starting an Instagram business account and Facebook page enables you to set up shop in the Instagram and Facebook marketplaces. You can then run ads to target particular audiences and a guaranteed number of people. Though running ads has a cost, they can prove beneficial in spreading the word about your business.

A means of indirectly promoting your business is through TikTok and YouTube. From ASMR videos of you wrapping your products to answering a Q&A about yourself, such multimedia enables customers to get a behind-the-scenes look at your business. Spreading your business' wings across platforms allows you to expand the potential of your business. There is more to a business than merely buying and selling, as there are connections to foster and perspectives to be shared.

SEO

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, refers to the process of using keywords, tags, and the like to improve the quality and quantity of web traffic to a given website from search engines. For instance, by starting a blog (on all things ancient and literary) on my website, I have been able to attract customers by increasing my website's visibility when said potential customers scan through search engines.

An additional means of improving SEO has been starting a magazine. Founding a magazine has been a wonderful experience, for both my writing journey and business. I have received so much support from family and friends, as well as those on Bookstagram. Originally a means of finding my voice, The Admont Abbey Magazine has allowed me to improve my site's SEO and forge connections with fellow booksellers and Bookstagrammers through Q&A articles.

Making Your Business Known

Means of advertising vary from printing flyers and business cards to running Google and Instagram Ads. While I don't quite have experience with paid advertisements, I've read up on the topic and have also gone through the process of creating an ad, just for the sake of understanding.

Running paid ads through Google and Instagram is a definite way to reach a particular number of people and acquire a certain number of leads to your site. Spreading flyers, however, can help you establish a local customer base; the only qualm that I find is that, with everything being online these days, one must find a way of bringing print and technology together. In my case, I have featured QR codes on my flyers, leading to my Instagram account and website. Whatever means you use to attract visitors to your storefront, know that sometimes such a problem can only be solved through trial and error and experience.

In Conclusion, It's a Process

Regardless of where you are on your journey, if you so happen to be starting a business, know that such an endeavor takes time, yet proves to be a rewarding process. It's a lovely experience to see something you've created from the ground up come to life. Being able to provide people with the joy of reading is something that I take pride in and desire to continue doing for the rest of my life, so I hope that you too can find an endeavor you take as much pleasure in.

Kimberley Dunn
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Kimberley Yasmine Dunn is the owner of The Admont Library (https://www.theadmontlibrary.com), an antiquarian bookstore, online archive, and home to The Admont Abbey, the only magazine dedicated to admirers of literature and booksellers alike. Born in Paris, France, she has spent the past seventeen years living in London, Dallas, Miami, and Alpharetta. Kimberley has had extensive experience in writing for magazines and newspapers and has won various state-level awards for her poetry. Now living in Georiga, she spends her free time collecting rare books, reading classics, bookbinding, and creating illuminated manuscripts.