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How to Start Your SPORTS CARD or Autograph ONLINE BUSINESS

May 04, 2021 21 min read

How to Start Your SPORTS CARD or Autograph ONLINE BUSINESS

Every week it seems like I get a message from someone who is looking to start a sports card or an autograph business, and they're just unsure of how to get started. This is their dream, they want to own their own memorabilia business and it can seem really confusing, and people just don't really know how to get started. How do you do it the right way? Today I thought I would do a step-by-step process on how to get your business set up the right way.

Today we are going to be talking about the following.

  1. Picking a proper business name
  2. Getting all your government paperwork together
  3. Setting up your website and your social channels
  4. Buying inventory
  5. How to find customers
  6. Learning how to operate your business
  7. I will also be touching on accounting and also taxes

It is expensive to run a small business. I've had my business since 2008 and I've done a lot of good things but I've made a lot of mistakes. I used to work for a sports memorabilia company before I opened my own, and I learned a lot from them. I had a big advantage learning from them and kind of learning the ropes so I thought I would share with you guys what I've learned, not only from them, but also what I've learned in my 13 years of running an online business. This video is going to be a rather in-depth one and I apologize about this but I want to get you guys as much information as possible. So feel free to take some notes, pause it, come back to it when you can, there's going to be a timeline down here so if you want to scroll through to certain sections feel free to. Just keep in mind my business is set up in the state of Missouri. Most states have very similar paperwork and rules and all that kind of stuff, but it's important to follow the rules of the state in which you will be opening up your business. I'm not a lawyer or an accountant nor did I stay at a holiday inn express last night so make sure that you check with people in your state on what is the proper way for you to get your business set up. Again, if you want to open up a physical store I'm not going to be covering that in this video, this is just setting up your business online. Now, granted if you're going to be opening a business you're probably going to be doing it online also so a lot of this stuff will apply to you, but I won't be covering opening up a physical business.


So let's start off with what will your business be doing. This is the first step of opening up a business is deciding what are we going to be doing, what are we going to be selling. We're going to be doing autographs, we're doing cards, we're going to be doing both, and we're doing some sort of framing services. How will we get our customers? What will we charge? Who's going to be running the business? Most likely it's going to be you, but that's a question you need to ask yourself and this is all going to change as the business grows. It's important to have some sort of game plan going into it and again you can always adjust these things, but having a clear understanding of what these are going to be is a big help when you're first starting off.


#1: Picking a business name

Next up you want to name your business. This is a very overlooked part of running a small business. You want to make sure that the name that you pick describes what you are doing. I know that sounds real simple, but Powers Sports Memorabilia. It's very clear, it tells exactly what I'm selling. Like Joe's Sports Cards or Kansas City Sports cards. Stuff like that. We aren't Nike yet, we can't just do some random name. So it's got to be something that describes our business. Also I would put in maybe a search engine optimization (SEO) keyword into your name so if you sell sports cards maybe having sports cards in there. If you sell autographs maybe having autographs in your name. So Matt’s Autographs. Stuff like that are things that you want to be thinking of.

#2: Getting all your government paperwork together

Next up is the fun part. Setting up your business with all the people in the state. This is one of the highlights of owning a small business is dealing with the government. It is such a pain, but it's what you got to do. It's the rules if you want to play the game. First off, now that you've got a name for your business you got to get all the proper paperwork set up. Now again, keep in mind this is going to vary from state to state okay, but most states are kind of similar in this one. This is kind of how we do it here in Missouri. You're going to want to get a DBA. If you don't know what a DBA is that's called a Doing Business As, all right. This is how Missouri does it. It's a fictitious name that you're going to need basically when you sell products or services that are not under your own name, like Power Sports Memorabilia. You're gonna need a DBA and you're gonna need to register that with the state. Very simple to do and it costs like $7 and it lasts for five years. So you register that with the Secretary of State in your state and it's very easy to do, but definitely something that you're going to want to have so if you're doing business as someone else other than your own name.

Next thing you're going to want to set up is an EIN number, also known as an employee identification number. It's basically a nine digit number that's very similar to your social security number. This EIN is for opening up business bank accounts and filing your taxes. It's free to get from the feds, you definitely want to get one of these.

Next one is your retail sales license. If you're selling any tangible goods or services, that can be taxed, you're going to want to get a retail sales license. Essentially you're going to need this too for buying inventory so you don't get charged sales tax. So when you present that to the person that you're buying from they know not to charge you sales tax because you're going to be using it for inventory and for resale purposes. It's free to do and you can get in about five to eight business days, at least in the state of Missouri.

Next up is getting an LLC. Now this is something that you probably don't need to do right away, but it's something that you're definitely going to want to consider. An LLC, limited liability company, purpose of an LLC is basically to protect the business owner, me, from issues with the business. So if the business has debt for example it basically protects your personal assets. This is where it gets kind of complicated. They've got all these things the state makes you do. You have to write up all these articles of organization, operating agreement, when you set up your LLC. It's totally stupid, I have no idea what's in it, but you have to write these things up. I would have a lawyer do it. You only do it once, don't try to get some sort of template off a website, it makes zero sense. You won't understand it. Pay a lawyer $500 have them do it. Again, you only do it once but you're definitely going to want to have an LLC at some point.

Insurance is another cost here for a small businesses. So you've got to have some sort of business insurance. This is a must-have. Insurance is all about transfer of risk okay. If somebody's got, let's say a framed item of yours, that they bought from you and they drop it on their foot and they break their foot and they want to blame you, you let your insurance company deal with that. I've never had to deal with an insurance claim but trust me it'll make you sleep better at night. It'll protect your inventory should you have a fire or flood and it just protects you personally as well, but you definitely want to have insurance. It depends on how in-depth you want to get, but it can be anywhere from $50 to $150 a month. So it's not super expensive, but you definitely want to protect yourself and transfer that risk over to someone else. So now that we got all the legal mumbled jargon out of the way, my gosh what a waste of time, you'd be amazed at how much time I spend on all that stuff every year, it's just incredible.

#3: Setting up your website and social channels

Anyways we want to set up our presence online because we're obviously doing an online business. So first thing I would do, very simple, I would definitely get an eBay account set up. You're going to want to sell there, it’s free to do. You're going to reach the most amount of buyers, that's a no-brainer.

Right after you do that you want to get your website all set up. Now I would try to pick a domain name that matches your website or your business name exactly, so powersportsmemorbilia.com all right. You definitely want to get something like that, you want to make sure that everything is consistent across all sales channels. Side note, now this is a little bit of a conspiracy theory here, so I don't have any proof on this one but it's just something I've heard from a couple people that I trust. If you go to Godaddy or these domain websites, don't search for your URL right away. If you search for it and then come back to try to buy it later sometimes they jack the price up on it. This is just what I've heard. So just assume your URL is ready and just go buy it. Don't search for it, come back later for it, just go buy it. Save you a couple bucks that way. Again, not 100% proven, just a straight conspiracy theory.

Next you're going to want to buy that domain name. You can buy it through Godaddy or through any other domain selling website and just keep in mind when we're setting up your website, you are not going to make any money for a few years off your website. Just understand that websites, when you first start off with, are money pits. But you need one, you absolutely need to have some sort of online presence. Just know that they will not make you money right away. It takes a long time to get ranked on google. It's a big time commitment to do that and it takes a lot of money. Personally one of the big mistakes I made was spending a lot of money on SEO (search engine optimization). It's necessary but only when you have the funds to do it. Like I said, it's just a big money pit. It can be very expensive and it's on a month-to-month basis, so definitely something you want to save up for and you'll know when the time is right. You're getting a decent amount of sales coming in, you're like okay now is the time I want to expand on the website. That would be the time to do that. I would have someone make sure that your website is properly set up as far as with your meta tags, titles, descriptions, all that stuff, your keywords, so that way google can actually read your website properly. If you don't have any information, Google can't read your website. So you want to make sure that you have all that set up. Pay some $100 or $200 to do a website audit. They’ll set it all up for you, super easy, and very simple to do.

So now that you've got your domain name you want to find someone to host your website. I would suggest definitely using Shopify or something similar to that. Why use Shopify? Well it's a drag and drop platform. So you basically get a template on there and you drag on there. Say I want to put a picture here, I want to put a text here, or I want to change this. Very easy to do. You can do it yourself because it's just a little drag and drop thing. You don't have to go pay a coder or anybody to do it for you, that gets very, very, expensive when you do custom websites like that. I definitely would not do any of that. I've wasted thousands of dollars doing custom websites. They're never done on time, they're always over budget, and anytime you got to make changes you got to go back to those guys and make changes. Shopify you can do it yourself. Look at Shopify as your iPhone for your website. You have apps on your iPhone that can make your phone better. You've got Shazam and all these other apps that you can download. Shopify is the same thing. You have other apps you can add on to your website to make your website better. Costs like $29 a month to get started. They have free design templates so you can always upgrade and pay for a better template and Shopify handles all your credit card processing fees. You don't have to mess with that, you can just add PayPal all that kind of stuff it's very simple to use. For me, with all the apps, it cost me about $200 a month or so to run the website. So very affordable. Again, trust me, don't do a custom website. Use Shopify or one of these other platforms that have a drag and drop website.

Logo design. You can design one yourself or just find someone on freelance websites like Upwork or whatnot to have someone design it for you. Probably cost you $25-$50 just get a basic design. It doesn't need to be anything extravagant, just have your name in there or maybe some pictures of what you actually do, but it's very cheap to do and make sure that you have someone do it. I personally wouldn't do it. You want to make sure you pick someone that has an artistic background. I don't so I had somebody else do that. Eventually you can get your name trademarked if you want to, but that is a very expensive and a long process. You're looking at a $1,000+ and typically takes about a year so. That is something way down the road, but eventually you can do that if you choose to.

Your social platforms. This is a no-brainer. You want to get these set up with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok. If you're into that sort of thing. I still haven't figured out TikTok, I don't really know what it is, but apparently people really like that. I would again make them all your same business name. So your website is Powers Sports Memorabilia, and then your platform should be the same thing. That's one of the mistakes that I made is I had different names on there. I was just all over the place. I was just I was trying to do keywords and this and that, blah, blah, blah, and it got really confusing. So that's one thing I definitely screwed up on, but make sure you put them all the same name as your business. Consistency is the key and just keep in mind it can take a long time to get traction on your social platforms. You want to do it organically okay?

What I mean by that is make it as real as possible. It's going to be nice and slow but you're going to make it legitimate and it's going to be you. So be as authentic as you possibly can on all your social platforms. The key is posting consistently.

Also, helping your customers solve a problem is important. Customers don't really care about your products. I know that breaks your heart, but they don't care about your products. All they care about is can this person help me. That's it. So put yourself in the shoes of the customer. What sort of problems do your customers have, and then talk about those problems. Very simple to do, but very hard to execute sometimes. Again, if you don't want to use all those platforms then don't use all the platforms. Just pick one or two or three that you will actually use and then do those consistently to the best of your ability.

#4: Buying inventory

Okay you need products to sell. Where do we get it? How much to buy? It just depends on what budget you're starting off with. With my business, I started off with $300 which I promptly wasted on a custom website and I didn't have any money for inventory after that. So that's why I hate those custom websites. I would not go overboard buying inventory. I would buy a couple things to start off with, prove that you can actually sell something first. Sell those and then use the profits of that to of course rebuy those items and then also try a couple different items. I would start off on the cheap end so you can get more products. If you can buy something for $50 and sell it for $100, hey that's great man. You're doing great, you're doubling your money, and you’re doing a nice job there.

Also, you know, buy stuff that is small like baseballs, mini helmets, cards, when you're starting off. Yes it's going to cost you less on there but also people like buying those small items. Those are the ones that sell. They don't cost more and they're easy to store, and again, I repeat, don't go overboard buying inventory. The last thing you want is all your money sitting in inventory and you don't have any money to upgrade your website, do video editing, advertising, all that kind of stuff.

So where to buy inventory? Well if you're just starting off with you're probably looking for the probably cheapest options. To buy inventory, Facebook groups are going to be a great way for you to do that. People don't have to pay eBay and all these other selling fees. You're going to probably find the best deals on there. You can buy deals on eBay, of course people do that all the time, but at this point cheaper is better. Again, I assume most of us are probably starting off with $300 to $500 kind of like what I did. So you want to be starting off with the cheap stuff, buying small stuff, and find some winners. Once you find some winners and start buying those again, and then branch out of there and try new stuff, but you got to find some winners first off. Eventually you can get a wholesale account with some of these other big name companies out there and start buying from them, but again that's probably going to be more of an expensive option. If you're just starting off you're probably just going to be storing inventory out of your house or your apartment, and that's perfectly fine, that's probably where most people start off. It's going to save you money on rent which of course when you're getting started off we want to keep our expenses really low so we can grow that business a lot quicker, and if you're going to be doing that you'll get a P.O. Box or UPS Box so you've got an actual business address. If that's what you're choosing to do.

#5: Finding customers

I remember when I was first starting off, I want to say I had like three or four customers that I had personally known from the previous business I was working at, and so of course they weren't buying from me every month, and they weren't buying from me every year. So it only took me so far. So you've got to find customers. Where do you find customers? Well customers are everywhere. I mean when you're just starting off with, you got to get customers wherever you can. You're standing in line at the grocery store, at your gym, your friends. You got to find customers where you don't have to spend money on advertising. Your kids’ school. You just never know where you're going to find them. Again, find if they have a problem and offer the solution to them.

When you're starting off with you probably don't have a ton of money to spend on advertising, but if you do venture down that road just know that google ads is a complete waste of money. You gotta really have high profit margins. I'm talking 500% to a 1,000% because your ad spending is going to be so high that it’ll be hard just to kind of break even. It's very difficult online to find a specific person to buy a specific product advertising to them. It's very difficult, it's kind of like finally finding a needle in a haystack. So it's just a money pit in my opinion.

Again, I would focus on really just building up those social channels. That's going to be your best advertising. The best way for you to find customers is organically, it's going to be slower, but it's going to be more authentic and it's going to be more consistent for you. Again, very slow process, but hey slow is fine okay. We don't have to be speeding out there. We don't have a ton of money to start off with most of us here, so nice and slow all right.

#6: Operating your business

Now the fun stuff. The operations of running your business. This is where most people fail. They don't know how to operate a business. So we got our social channels all set up, we're selling some products, what does our daily operations look like? Well, it depends if this is your full time or your side gig. I would definitely start off with making this your side gig so you've got your nine to five that pays all of your bills. This is exactly what I did, and this was my side gig for a long time. I didn't pay myself for probably the first three or four years. So I personally was not making any money at all. All I did was just stack up cash in one account so I had enough of a reserve in there when I was ready to make the switch over to doing it full time. I wanted to have enough of a balancing act in there so I could not have the pressures of having to support myself right off.

You will be spending all of your waking hours working on your business. You've got your nine-to-five. When you get off of there, go to the gym, go eat, whatever it is you gotta do, and then start working on your business. You gotta make sure you get all your shipments out that night. You gotta answer all your emails. Get caught up on everything that you do, and you need to constantly feed your business. You need to nurture your business. It only grows when you work on it. Just because you put a couple products up online doesn't mean that your business is gonna keep growing. You gotta constantly keep feeding that business. I've been doing this on my own now for 13 years. Been in the business almost 20 years. I work every single day, every single night, and that's just not me just saying that okay, that's what we do. You have to work at your business. There are no days off, so if you think you're going to quit your nine to five and then all of a sudden you're going to have weekends off and all this kind of stuff because you're making all this money throughout the week that's simply not true. You're going to be working constantly on your business.

Yes, now I've got a ton of flexibility if I want to go work out at noon, I can. If I want to go coach my girls’ soccer team I can I have that flexibility, but it's going to take many years, lots of work, to go do that all right. Again, your business only goes forward when you put more effort into it.

At some point you're going to probably have to hire somebody to help you with your business. Eventually you're going to want to put all the stuff off that you no longer want to do like shipping products, packing up products, all that kind of stuff that really anybody could probably do. The quicker you can have somebody else do that, the more you can focus on growing your business. So working on your business, not in your business. Working in your business is doing all the shipping and all that kind of stuff. The least amount of time that we can do that, the more we can focus on actually growing our business. That's what we want to get to as quick as possible.

Paying yourself. This is a popular question I get. Like I said, I didn't pay myself for the first couple years and you're probably not going to be able to pay yourself for quite some time. I'm very sorry to tell you that. You're not going to be getting rich right now. When you do pay yourself though, and you're in a sole proprietorship which is what you will have assuming you're the only one that owns the business, it's called an owner's draw. This will be your compensation, or basically your salary. I would highly suggest that you keep that to a bare minimum. When you do have the opportunity to pay yourself, pay yourself whatever your bills are. When you make that switch over to full time, whatever your bills are in your household, pay yourself just that. The reason being is your goal is to try to grow your business to a behemoth. You want to grow it as big as possible. In order to do that, a business needs cash. Look at cash as basically the food for your business. It helps it grow, it helps keep it healthy. Without cash a business dies. So paying yourself too much, or taking too much out of the business, you won't be able to grow the business as much and your business will be dying. That's a death sentence taking too much money out. Don't do that.

#7: Accounting and taxes

Boy this is a kind of a boring topic for most people, but hey listen this is what a small business is all about. It's accounting stuff. It just seems like every day is non-stop accounting. So you're gonna need to track your sales and your expenses so you know how much in taxes that you need to pay. I mean give Uncle Sam at the end of the year. You'll need this in order to read your P/L statement. That's your profit and loss statement. You want to look at that daily. That tells you how much money you're making for this month, for this particular day, this particular week, this year, etc. You definitely want to have some sort of software for that. I would suggest using Quickbooks. It's an accounting software program that I use. Quickbooks will cost you about $200 a month. Very easy to use. I knew nothing about accounting when I started this business and I started using Quickbooks and I figured it out for myself very easily. You can watch a couple YouTube videos on it. It is a simple platform to use. You definitely want to have something like that.

When you start getting a bunch of sales in can enter those in manually, but there's also another program out there called Webgility which will enter all your sales into Quickbooks for you. When you start getting enough sales you definitely want to have that. It is kind of expensive though, it's about $300 a month depending on how many sales channels you have, but it does save you a ton of time. Oh my gosh I don't know where I'd be without that right now, and then at the end of the year you just take that Quickbooks file, you just send it over to your accountant, and they file your taxes for you. Very simple, very hands-off, you don't have to do it. Make sure that you have a good CPA though, so someone that you can meet in person with that understands your business, understands your goals, knows what they are doing, and can help you not only save money, but also invest your money and all that kind of stuff too.

Now the fun part, talking about taxes. Uncle Sam will want their money. Sorry to say that. There's no way around it they're gonna get their money from you. Plan on at least 20% to 25% going to them. Unless you start making over $400,000 or so and then plan on about 50% okay, sorry to tell you that. This includes your state and your federal taxes. You will pay your state income tax, if your state has it, some states don't. On top of that, if you have sales tax in your state, you will also be paying that, and so you'll need to collect sales tax for any sales that you make within the state that your business resides in. You will pay that either monthly, quarterly, or yearly. It just depends on the state that you are in. In 2019 they had a bunch of new sales tax laws that passed, where you are actually required to collect sales tax in other states if you meet their threshold. They have a threshold for a certain amount of sales that you do in their state, so something to keep in mind as your business grows. You may need to start collecting sales tax in other states.

So it's important that you do this the right way with taxes. You don't want to get in trouble with this stuff. Do it the right way, and what I mean by that is do not file your taxes yourself. Don't ever do that. Pay someone to do it. You don't want to jack with it. It could cost you about $500 to a $1,000 depending on how complex your tax return is. I repeat, do not do it yourself. You won't want to and you won't know how to. So save yourself the aggravation. Definitely don't do that. My mom's a CPA, she doesn't like doing her taxes either okay. Also you're gonna have to pay estimated taxes quarterly. So how that works is let's say for example last year you paid $4,000 in taxes. The following year each quarter, so every three months, you're gonna have to pay a $1,000 in taxes. That's how it works. You pay this estimated quarterly tax because you are self-employed. Your accountant can get all that set up for you there, but it's just something to keep in mind.

Last thing here is investing. If you're at a nine-to-five job you're probably familiar that they have a 401k. Well it's a little bit different when you own your own business. For me personally, I've set up a SEP IRA. SEP is a simplified employee pension plan. A SEP IRA is a great way to do things. It's just what I have, there's other ways to do, but basically you can contribute about 20 of your net profit to it. It's tax deductible as well, but definitely get with an investment professional and your CPA about that and pick an investment plan that works best for you and your business. Always double check with them, all right.

Last, last, thing. Execution. This pretty much covers all the basics of opening and kind of running your online business, but again knowledge without execution is completely useless. Time for you to go execute on your game plan and build your business. It's gonna take a ton of work and it will not be easy. There will be some days where you're just like man is it gonna get any better, and then you're gonna have days like, wow can it get any better than this. You're gonna have those ebbs and flows, it's a very emotional rollercoaster, but it is extremely rewarding and it's an adventure that you don't want to miss.

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