On any given day, after sending her daughter off to school, Nesconset resident Donna Bliss can be found hard at work in the basement of her home, now converted into a warehouse full of racks and shelves containing 2,300 baby clothing products ready to be packaged and shipped to customers who order online at MyMiracleBaby.com.
The business was inspired by Bliss' own personal miracle baby - her daughter, Jillian. After six pregnancy attempts, Bliss was finally able to get pregnant, but then was laid off from her corporate marketing job at Computer Associates right before September 11, 2001. Out of desperation, she tried to sell Jillian's old baby clothes and toys on eBay. Soon, she realized she could sell more by starting her own Web site. With her experience writing Web content, the help of a Web designer, and wholesalers to sell her baby products that she could then resell, MyMiracleBaby.com was born. The first day Bliss started with 50 products and sold just $7 worth. But, eight years later, sales have reached almost $300,000.
Quick stats: Donna Bliss, owner of MyMiracleBaby.com resides in Nesconset with her husband Gary and daughter Jillian, 9.
How did you get MyMiracleBaby.com off the ground?
I learned about Pay Per Click online and that you could literally buy your customers - people would click over to the site. I marketed to those customers and grew the business. I was relentless. I sent out post cards, business cards, and coupons to Visa and MasterCard. Every time I went to a restaurant, I left a coupon with the waitress. I sent mailers to friends, did some local advertising, got listed on directories, and got involved with mom groups. Once I had a few orders coming in, I gave free items and coupons so that those customers would come back. I just did it customer by customer. Last year my customer base was 30,000 people.
What makes MyMiracleBaby.com different from other online baby clothing stores?
The only way to succeed is to figure out how to differentiate yourself, because otherwise, why wouldn't customers go to Walmart.com? For the first five years, we were a discount store. Other retailers mark things up 50 percent - we marked things up 25 percent. At first, we were simply more affordable. Then as things developed, we realized that personalization was really hot. So we took these reasonably priced items and started getting them embroidered with kids' names on them. It became a customized item. From discount clothing, we moved towards the higher-end stuff. Right now we sell 2,300 items, from newborn to size 6. We don't sell the hard goods (high chairs, changing tables) - we only target baby clothing.
What has been the most challenging aspect of owning your own business?
Two things: 1. Cash flow - there aren't a lot of financial backers. As money comes in, it's used to buy new products. We have slow days, slow weeks, and slow months. 2. As far as a home-based business goes, the challenge is separating your business from life. I still have not figured out how to do that successfully.
At what point did you realize you needed to hire help?
It is really important for other self-employed moms to know when to cross that line. When I started figuring out how to do the books, I realized I wasn't doing what my business was designed to do. I had to hire someone when the calls started being too much for me to handle and customers required too much personal attention. Then I needed someone to process orders.
What's your best advice for other mom entrepreneurs?
One is to be realistic. You have to be professional so that every piece of marketing material or communication that comes out of your business looks like it's coming from a company. Business-to-business seems to be a little bit easier for self-employed moms. Selling to the public is very demanding. In the beginning, it's really important for people to work on their search engine optimization (SEO) so that people can find them. For the first six years or so, I hired someone to help me with that. That is key because 60 percent of your business comes from Google searches. The remainder, for me, comes from current customers. I have a mailing list of 30,000 people that I can send direct mail pieces to and an e-mail list of 10,000 people who have signed up. It couldn't be any more valuable.