First written on June 3rd, 2021 (Updated: June 6th.)
Growing your own Mushroom Business
Running or wanting to run a business like ours?
This post isn’t about growing mushrooms, it’s about the technical side of starting and running a business like ours.
Below we’ve given a few pieces of advice for starting your own business, like ours. It’s certainly not comprehensive, but it’s a start for you guys and will have you on the right track at the get go.
Make sure to seperate your domain name purchase away from the company you are using to host your site. If you fail to follow this advice, you’re asking for trouble.
Companies who offer these services like Shopify (there’s loads of them…) will leave you totally vulnerable to both your website name and your actual server being banned and taken away from you in one fell swoop.
Trust no-one. Don’t be naive when it comes to your business. Any thoughts you once had about this scene being full of good guys is just pure fantasy. What we learned over this past 4 years is that when there’s money involved, there’s conniving folk looking to take you down so they can gain in some way. Protect your business by protecting your domain name.
Gandi is an excellent registrar where you can buy your domain name. They have a “No Bullshit” policy which they believe in and we believe in them, they are the only ones we trust to buy a domain name from.
If you are looking to open your own webshop, be very careful in choosing which hosting platform you use. Shopify is a big no-no, take it from us – your webshop can get banned with nothing more than an irrate customer sending an email claiming your selling drugs.
We know this because it happened to us. Three days after a customer said he would destroy us (he tried to extort us for free products and we told him to f*** off)… Next thing we know, Shopify are accusing us of selling syringes which you inject into your arm to get high and we had no right to appeal the nonsense.
Forget Shopify, Go-Daddy or the rest… self-host your own website.
Find a hosting provider which specialises in VPS systems (Virtual Private Server) and set up a distro such as Ubuntu or Debian.
There may be ‘One Click Install’ servers so you can spin up a WordPress webserver in minutes without having to manually log in to the server to install and configure everything.
If you want complete control, learn how to install and set up PHP, Nginx, Mariadb and WordPress / Woocommerce. That’s all you need for a webshop.
Use the free ‘LetsEncrypt’ service to get your domain a HTTPS certificate. Don’t ever buy one, why waste your money when it’s free.
Never connect to your website using FTP, it’s an ancient protocol which wasn’t designed with security in mind. The only folks that use it across the internet are amateur web admins who have zero knowledge about web security. Protecting your customer data is a paramount, if your dataset gets exposed online because you were careless with security then you could end up being fined by the Data Commissioner and lose all of your customers through lack of trust.
If you want to transfer files to and from your server, use SFTP instead – it’s encrypted. FileZilla is a great program to use and it works perfectly on all popular OS’s like Windows and MacOS.
Make sure to lock down and harden your webserver against attack; set up unattended upgrades and a script which automatically backs up your database and wordpress directory and sends daily backups to a 2nd VPS server you rent from another company. Regularly log into your servers and download these backups on to your local machine. Protect your data from loss so if disaster happens, you can be up and running within hours.
You can hide your servers real IP address by using a service like Cloudflare. This helps secure the server from DDOS attacks by competitor businesses and makes it extremely difficult for anyone to locate which company you rent the VPS which your website is running from – there are thousands of providers out there to choose from.
In-depth technical help can be directed our way. Other than being mushroom geeks, we are proper computer geeks who are experienced in not just web coding but operating systems, infosec, scripting languages like sh/bash and networking.
Stripe, PayPal (the worst), Square, Cashplus, WeTransfer and all the rest of them – avoid!
If you want to sell microscopy spores, the only payment systems which have a solid foundation to run your business on are bank, crypto and cash.
PayPal like to freeze entire balances of money for very long periods of time. They’ve still got thousands of pounds of our money they took two years ago. PayPal are sneaky devils. We have seen new spore business get a foot in the door in this industry by using PayPal on their shops temporarily until they get banned (customers love PayPal and card payments). So if you are using this high risk practise, be sure to withdraw the balance to a bank account a couple of times a day. And do expect a ban at some point, but hopefully after you’ve managed to build up a large customer base who know they can trust you.
If you’re using bank, use a proper business bank account – all it takes is a conniving customer or competitor with an agenda who knows about business banking to report you and have your account closed down. This happened to us a few weeks after a customer said he was doing just that, all because we were delayed in getting an order out and didn’t read their 10 psychotic emails sent throughout the middle of the night on a weekend – that’s all it takes to make some people go full cookie monster.
We use a proper business bank account now.
When searching for the right courier to use, make sure you haggle the rates down. And then some.
The better rates you get, the better service rates you can pass on to your customers. As an example, we haggled DPD down to £5 + VAT for consignments up to 10KG. Make sure you ask for a consignment rate, it allows you to send multiple parcels to the same address which comes in handy when sending fragile breakables in one box and heavy bulky items in another.
Do your research on courier satisfaction rates and try to choose a courier which won’t damage your business. Go for Yodel and you’ll probably find yourself with no customers second time around – sorry, Yodel.
Royal Mail are fantastic, but anything over 2KG and the price sky rockets to insanity. DPD are probably the best courier in the UK for anything heavy.
If you make a customer happy, they will tell their friends. That’s what worked for us.
We first started on eBay and wowed everyone to the point we got them coming to our website for a bigger choice of products. eBay was used as a marketing tool which we abandoned as soon as our website took off. eBay and PayPal fees are extortionate.
Since lockdown, we’ve seen new UK vendors popping up and getting their way to the top insanely quickly.
Want to know how?
A brand new webshop, coupled with well timed Google and Facebook ads and fresh Paypal with credit/debit card at checkout are the main componants newcommers in this industry use to get a successful head start. At least until they are banned from Paypal, but that is all it takes to get a foot in the door and a brand known.
Many customers would rather choose a 1 day old site with Paypal than a 4 year old site with bank transer. It’s depressing for us, but it trully gives anyone an opportunity at getting involved in this industry without folks like us essentially monopolising it. If you think you can bring this industry something new to the table, then just do it 🙂
Planning to use a review site?
If you’re planning on selling products like microscopy spore syringes which may have an association with ‘drug use’, be careful of which review sites you use.
Trustpilot may be the biggest, but they aren’t a wise choice. Learn from us.
Trustpilot are not impartial and will ban a website from their platform if they don’t like the products they sell. Ask all the spore sites across Europe who got banned this year! Denmark (where Trustpilot is based), is going through an ever increasing move to ultra conservative values right now. That’s probably the reason, who knows.
If you get banned from a review site because of the products you sell, it doesn’t matter if the review site shows the real reason – expect your enemies (you will have them) to use this as an easy way to try to undermine your credibility and trust by spreading misinformation (such as being banned for ‘fake reviews’). How do we know this? Check our previous blog post. 4 years in this scene – it’s not all roses. A nice email from a customer can suddenly remind you again of the good in humanity.
Never try to fake success with false reviews. If you go in with that mentality, you’ll go nowhere. Success comes with hard graft, I refuse to believe that it can be shortcutted.
If you’re going to use another review system, make sure it’s set up properly on your shop so that email invites are sent automatically after the order completes. External review systems will run script on WordPress based webshops which checks the order details and uses algorithms to know if it’s a genuine order – meaning when a customer responds to a review invite that it gets labelled as ‘Verified’ rather than ‘Organic / Unverified’.
Why is this important?
Verified reviews are the only ones you really want because you’ll spend enough time fighting off accusations of ‘Fake Reviews’ from bitter customers and jealous competitors on your business’ journey that it will help back you up.
Every few months, for a week or so we get bombarded with the same tell-tale emails – it’s clockwork and due in a few weeks time! Who knows who they are but they’re barking up the wrong tree, trying to corner us into incriminating ourselves when we are running a legal business.
These emails really try to pull at your heart strings when all the other strategies don’t work. We won’t give away how exactly we know these folk are more suspicious than others, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognise patterns in speech matching other suspicious emails we’ve had that week.
The only thing these folks are told is the same everytime – our products are for legal use! Not for cultivating drugs for goodness sakes.
If you’re not on the ball and fail to spot a single word in an email you are replying to, you could end up unknowingly giving advice which is illegal. Then that person can send it to the police and have your business shut down… all because of a word you failed to see! Eggshells which can land you in a heap of bother if you aren’t careful.
This business is stressful, so be prepared to have a bit of weight on your shoulders 24/7. Though it makes up for it when you remember how much of a positive impact your business is making in helping people get into fungi and microscopy. We envision a future where gourmet mushroom growing in homes is as common as house plants are. One day we’ll be right, you’ll see.
Over the past four years, we’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge and a tonne of ideas which have massively reduced our workload whilst being more productive.
Many of you may want to go it alone and that’s fine. We went it alone, but wasn’t for the lack of wanting help – we just couldn’t find a business like ours in 2017.
Up until 2 years ago, we were working 7 days a week to keep on top of orders. We nearly lost our minds and shut the whole site down just to keep our sanity.
Burnout will eventually catch up with you.
During the first lockdown of 2020 was when we really felt the stress, we were busy beyond anyone’s wildest imagination… In one day we were bombarded with £10,000 worth of orders – an entire week in a single day!
…It took an entire day just to process the payments, nevermind getting the orders out.
Many customers went absolutely bananas, it was a strange time.
Since then we’ve learned a few new tricks and we now each work a 4 day week and our lives are substantially better as a result, with more time to actually live and do things and still keep up with double the orders.
If you are thinking that those figures mentioned above are obscene, you have to remember that our outgoings are also obscene – it costs a lot to run this business; staff costs, new equipment, replacing broken equipment (things break all the damn time!), rent, stock etc… We pay £10-15K every couple of months on prints alone because we go through them like hot cakes!
It costs a lot to keep your business growing.
If you’re running or wanting to run a business like ours and need a bit of help with something, get in touch and we’ll discuss our fees based on what help you need.
If you need to ask questions such as
- How to quickly produce bulk amounts of perfectly cooked grain spawn
- How to sterilise certain products; times and temps
- How to make bulk amounts of agar, easily
- How to host and run your own webshop efficiently
- Where to get supplies and equipment
- How to deal with custom payments systems efficiently
- How to improve your SEO so your website has a real chance of getting to No.1 on Google*
*We were at No.1 spot on Google in the UK continuously from 2018 to 2021 without spending a single penny on advertising, so we must have been doing something right. We can share with you what we learned.
This month we’re hovering at No. 4 – taking your website offline for development work is risky, especially when it’s as long as a month. That tip is free!