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How Designer Lauren Barless Started an Online Business in Her Spare Time

Lauren Barless started her webcam cover brand Covver as a quick side project. Here’s what it’s like to set up an online store in your down time.

Lauren Barless created her online business, Covver, because she saw a need for a new product and decided to fill it. She was on the hunt for a webcam cover, but all the options she found were bulky and awkward-looking. “I had a friend who apparently had her webcam hacked, and someone was recording videos of her,” says Barless. “It was the first time I had heard about this happening to anyone. I got a little paranoid about my webcam, knowing that was possible.”

Unable to find a webcam cover she liked, Barless decided to try creating her own. She figured she probably wasn’t the only person out there who was put off by the existing options. Barless set out to find a manufacturer that offered covers in the sleeker style she was looking for. “From there, it was sort of a fun branding side project,” she says. “I have lots of freelance design clients in addition to my day job, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to brand a business for myself. So that was a really cool experience; figuring out the business name, the logo, the packaging, and then getting the packaging made, ordering the supplies that I needed, and putting together the sale. ”

Barless, who works as a product designer here at Format, found that it was surprisingly easy to maintain an online business in her free time. Once she got her product made, packaging designed, and online store set up, managing orders turned out to be simpler than she’d expected. We sat down with her to find out what she’s learned from building Covver as a side project. These are her tips for how to create your own online brand, no matter what kind of product you’re selling.

Choose a memorable name for your online business

The first place where I started, because I knew I wanted to sell these online, was to try and figure out a URL. My first idea was to spell it “Coverr”, but there were no URLs available. Then I tried spelling it differently, like “Covver”, and I saw that the .ca was available. I thought, “That’s great. That’s memorable, easy to spell, and a short URL.”

So that’s where I started. Once I had that name, I wanted to set up an Instagram handle. But when I looked on Instagram @covver was taken. Then I put the underscore in between the two “v"s, and I realized, “Oh, it also makes it a little emoji in the middle of the word, and the emoji kind of works thematically because it’s like a little guy with his eyes closed. It’s a perfect analogy.”

That that little typographic detail of the underscore informed the logo design, where I basically drew a circle around the "v"s and the underscore to make the face more prominent, and that became my icon.

With a client I might have gone back and forth and done 25 different concepts for something like this. But because I was just doing it for myself, I wanted to make a point to not spend too much time on it. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t too obsessive about getting every little thing right.

Consider why people need or want what you’re selling

When I was thinking about what I wanted this to be, I was thinking that it would be really easy to tap into a fearful paranoid tone. Some other people who make these webcam covers, that’s kind of how they position it. Like, “You should be scared of hackers and the government.” I really didn’t want that to use that tone.

I wanted Covver to just be an accessory, in the same way that you have a cellphone case—just something that you add to your device that has a function. I figured I’ve seen enough people with a Post-It over the webcam that the understanding of why you should have one is already there. I don’t need to dwell on people’s fears; people are already covering their webcams.

In my time as a product designer at Format, something that I’ve noticed is that when people are coming up with their own workarounds or hacks, it usually means that there’s a design job. For example, if people using Format to build websites are coming up with a way to hack the way that we have things planned out, or the way that we have a theme designed. Like Format’s store feature, for example. People had done all these clever things where they would add a PayPal link under an image in a gallery to say, "Do you want to buy a print to this image? Click here.” So clearly there was an opportunity to have some kind of built-in store on people’s sites, because they were coming up with their own workaround solution. Applying that same idea to the real world, seeing so many people I know with either a Post-It or a little sticker or a piece of tape on their webcam indicated to me there was obviously a need for a product like this.

For that reason, I made a conscious decision to not focus on the creepy aspect of why you should have a webcam cover, and focus more on, “It’s just smart.” On my FAQ page, I have an allusion to the fact that, yes, your webcam is vulnerable to being hacked, so you should cover it up, and I have a couple of examples. Like the fact that Mark Zuckerberg has a piece of tape on his webcam, and I’ve also included a quote from FBI director James Comey, who says that covering your webcam similar to locking your door at night.

Create a professional website for your online store

Making the site was super easy because I used Format, and I had a vision for the styling that I wanted to do: kind of lighthearted and fun and trendy and something that I would find appealing myself. When it came to the website, it was pretty easy to just keep it nice and clean. On my first try at building it, what I found out was that I really needed better photos of the product itself.

I discovered that it’s really, really hard to take good photos of something that’s tiny and black on a black surface. It was tricky. I had to use a little Photoshop wizardry to make sure you could actually see the product. I ended up putting a Covver on my white iPhone, just so that there was enough focus that you could actually see it. In a lot of the photos, I’ll have it on the laptop, where you can barely see it. And then you have an image of it on the phone in the foreground so that you can see, “Oh, okay, this is what this for.”

The trickiest part was actually the product photography. I did it all myself in my kitchen one Saturday morning. It was important to me to just get it out the door and see how it goes and then come back to it and tweak things later if I want to. That’s the nice thing about a website platform that’s as easy to update as Format. It’s easy to just put your project up and get it out there, and then go back and continue to tweak it. I still make tweaks every now and again.

Share your side project

I was a little nervous. I hadn’t sold to anyone yet, and I thought I would just share Covver with a few friends first. I got orders from a couple of people at work and then I felt confident. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to put this on my Facebook.” A friend of mine happens to have a ton of Instagram followers, and he saw the post on my Facebook and shared Covver on his Instagram story. So for 24 hours I just had this flood of orders from all over the world, just for the 24 hours that he had the story online.

I was totally overwhelmed. It actually happened the day before my birthday, so I ended up spending my entire birthday filling orders, frantically trying to track everything because I had 70 orders in one day. I was just blown away. I had to figure out really quickly the most efficient way to get things packed, because before that the orders were coming in really slowly. Before, I would take out the packaging, take out the envelopes, write it out by hand, put the Covvers in the package, seal it all up, package it in the envelope, and then walk over to the mailbox. So when I had all of these orders, I was like, “Oh my god, this is taking forever,” and I had to make a big assembly line on my kitchen table.

Make planning spreadsheets your new hobby

I definitely recommend if you have a cool idea and you can figure it out and the math makes sense, then it’s worth trying on the side. This little side business of mine has been surprisingly low impact in my life. Literally all of the supplies and everything fit inside a shoebox in my bedroom.

I’ve gotten very into Excel as a result of this project, because I’m making a point to keep track of everything very closely—and obviously you have to do that if you’re going to report income for tax purposes. You need to make sure you’re keeping good records of all your expenses.

The Orders tab on my Format store makes that very easy, because you can export a CSV file, and so I just have that CSV as one tab in my document. I update it whenever I get any sales, and I have my total sales all totalled up, and then I have my expenses sheet and I total that all up. I’m always keeping track to make sure I’m making money and not spending more than I’m making.

Learn more about Covver at www.covver.ca, built using Format.

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