A Technology Makeover

Black Enterprise asked business owners how they’ve used technology to make over their business? Yesterday, we introduced you to Nancy Alert of Nancy Alert & Associates L.L.C., and today meet Selena D. Cozart, who shares how a small investment in technology can make a huge difference in revenues, outlook, and mindset.

Company: Salome’s Simply Delightful Creations
Principal: Selena D. Cozart, Ph.D.
Location: Charlottesville, VA
Type of Business: Soap and body care products
2009 Revenues: $5,000
After running my business for a year, I finally gave myself permission to consider myself an entrepreneur and business owner. Until that one-year mark, I thought of myself as a hobbyist who was trying to earn enough to pay for materials.

I have a Ph.D. in educational evaluation and, in addition to the side business, I work full time as a diversity consultant, specializing in education, mentoring, and community development. I also have a background as an English teacher, college professor, academic adviser, and K-12 diversity coordinator.

My interest in handcrafted soap began as an outgrowth from my desire to make my own shampoo and conditioner for my locks. I was interested in hair and body care products that are natural and that eliminated the harsh chemicals often found in commercially made products. As I continued my research for the best places to order supplies for hair products, I found myself ordering from Websites that catered to soap makers and chandlers (sellers of candles and soaps). The information on soap and candle making intrigued me and led me to another branch of online research–how to make body products. I started out by researching the market, looking at products, recipes, and procedures on various blogs, and on YouTube, as well as at sites such as Squidoo, ehow, and Expertvillage (which has since moved to eHow).

I began making handcrafted soap and personal care products using vegetable oils. My products contain no animal fats or petroleum derivatives.

So far, for Simply Delightful Creations, I have invested about $12,000. I typically spend 15 to 20 hours per week making products, and another 10 to 15 hours weekly on marketing, advertising, and networking to build the business.

I use an iPhone ($299, plus $120/month; AppleCare, $69; and MobileMe, $99/year) as my main point of contact and to help run the business. I also use the following apps: Vision Board, 99 cents; Twitterrific, $4.99; Soap, $4.99; The Best Camera, $2.99; Perfect Photo, $2.99; Camera Flash Deluxe, 99 cents; Red Laser, $1.99; and BlogPress, $2.99.

I am also in the process of adding Merchant Warehouse ($7.95/month, plus 2.1% per transaction), a credit card processing service that will streamline payment. The company also offers MerchantWARE Mobile, which means that I can do business from my iPhone while I’m on the go.

I use Facebook, Twitter, and Ning to create buzz about my handcrafted products. I usually post updates on production, pictures of products, specials that I am running, links, and updates to the Website. For example, in December, I ran a Cyber Monday special on my Ning site, which accounted for about 10% of my holiday sales. I was also a guest on the BlogTalkRadio show Lose Weight with Laura, where I made a special offer to listeners that translated into additional sales.

I have participated in Webinars with the Business Center for Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise for coaching on how to start a small business online and with Handmadeology for advice on how to organize and manage an online presence. I expect revenues of $15,000 for 2010.

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.