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Touched by an Angel

Touched by an AngelBarbara Harwood is the founder of Heart to Heart Sympathy Gifts (http://www.hearttoheartsympathygifts.com), an online sympathy and memorial gift store designed to offer unique sympathy gifts of comfort and remembrance. As an alternative to flowers, sympathy gifts are intended as a long lasting remembrance and a way to honor the memory of the deceased.

What was the inspiration for your company?

Touched by an AngelAfter dealing with the empty-nest syndrome for several years, I decided that I needed to move forward with my life. The inspiration for my business occurred gradually. After the death of my sister, a dear friend sent me an angel figurine, instead of the customary flowers. The angel is inscribed with words of love and comfort. I didn’t realize at the time what an impact this gift would make on my life. Although you will never forget a loved one, each time I rearranged or dusted around the bereavement angel it became a tangible reminder of both my sister and my friend. After weeks and months of doing this, I was determined to touch the lives of others and attempt to bring the same remembrance to those that had suffered a loss. I used the sympathy and memorial gift niche idea as a starting point, thus I can truly say that an angel was the inspiration for my business. Heart to Heart Sympathy Gifts was born and the site was launched in 2010.

What were the initial investments in your company?

Touched by an AngelI funded the company on a shoestring budget and although I wanted to keep costs as low as possible, I knew a web design was an essential element to the business. I required a design that would be compatible with the products offered, easy to navigate, and invoke trust with our customers. I began by researching web designers and found a company that not only would design and program the website, but also offered free information on ecommerce topics. The company offered webinars and online information, which was a bonus for me.

What has been your biggest challenge?

With the assistance of books, mentors, and online support, I devoured basic ecommerce information and discovered that although I was learning something new every day, there was still so much that I didn’t know. I kept reading about SEO, on-page optimization, analytics, and keywords. The challenge became sifting through the mountain of what was trustworthy information and what was considered out of date and unreliable.

How did you prepare for the opening of the business?

While the design and programming was ongoing, I took the time to read whatever I could get my hands on. Since my store is on the Yahoo platform, I read Rob Snell’s “Starting a Yahoo! Business” from cover to cover and continually go back and re-read it. He offers a wealth of detailed information. In addition to reading, I began to learn some basic HTML computer language so I would be able to modify the website without using an outside source.

What do you do to keep expenses low?

After the initial cost of the web design, I decided to tackle whatever tasks I could manage myself so I could minimize expenses.

  • I take advantage of any free information available to aid with SEO and backlinks.
  • I use free online keyword tools
  • I outsource special projects to Elance, a network comprised of talented freelancers.

How have others assisted you in the business?

I participate in several ecommerce and SEO forums where I’m able to pick the brains of seasoned business owners that are willing to share their expertise and advice with others. In addition to forums, I continually attend webinars hosted by companies involved in SEO, PPC, Social Media, and Marketing.

What unexpected obstacles have you run into?

Touched by an AngelWhile not really an obstacle, what I didn’t expect was the amount of time required to establish and maintain a startup business. I don’t believe I had unrealistic expectations to begin with but after opening the store I realized it was definitely not a 9-5 job. I jokingly tell me husband that I’m probably earning 60 cents/hour with all the time I spend working!

Are you a family operated business?

I’m happy to say that we are. My son, Michael, is one of the writers in the family. He was responsible for Web Content and Development, while my husband, Paul, assists with Marketing and Advertising. I happily manage the daily operations of the business and leave most of the creative elements to those more gifted.

Are you involved in social media?

We have recently created a Facebook page. You can follow us at https://www.facebook.com/hearttoheartsympathygifts. At this time, I do not have a blog but it is on my “to do” list.

Are there any rewards to owning your own business?

I’m sure most business owners would say the reward is to “be your own boss” and “have more freedom”. While that may be true for many, I would have to say my greatest reward is the testimonials I receive from my customers. Selling sympathy and memorial products can be so emotional. There are days I cry right along with my customers and my heart aches for them. Ultimately, when I hear from my customers about how pleased they were with the gift and what it meant to them, then I know I’m following the right path.

What are your expectations or goals for the business?

While continued growth in sales is the expectation, my goal is to ultimately offer the best products that will comfort others during the most trying time in their life. Our current gift selection ranges from memorial garden stones, bereavement angels with inspirational verses, keepsake boxes, memorial photo frames, to Christian sympathy gifts, sympathy wind chimes, and memorial candles. I continue to add to our product line daily so that Heart to Heart Sympathy Gifts can offer a wide variety of products to accommodate various personalities and preferences.

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