Ok, Abby, so how does one get started?
I can’t tell you the right way. I can only tell you my way. Below is a list of what I did (or wish I did!) when first starting out. Some of these suggestions align with conventional ways of launching a business; other suggestions go against the grain.
Whatever path you choose, this is your journey. Do what feels right to you.
Start a business around something you like and/or know.
While some say you should find a profitable niche, I say find something you love and make it profitable. I think this is critically important. You will be living and breathing this business – so make sure it’s something that excites you. Plus, since it’s something you already know or like, you will know how to market it, talk about it, sell it - because you are the target market.
I am extremely fortunate in that I do not have to source my insoles. I am a distributor of an existing product. I place purchase orders with Insolia, and they coordinate the manufacturing. In essence, I private label their product under my brand Vivian Lou. I ‘simply’ package, market, sell and fulfill orders. I personally love this approach. Find a product you like – ideally, one that is unknown to a lot of people and could have a profound impact on the lives’ of others – and approach the manufacturer about helping them market their product under your store or brand name. Just be sure this product has at least one unique selling point that sets it apart from anything else on the market.
A similar approach is to launch an existing product with a new angle. I’ll give you an example. I stumbled across a powerful odor-reducing, bacteria-eating formula that is currently marketed to athletes – hockey players, in particular. It’s used to remove the odor from hockey equipment. I thought why couldn’t I launch that same product under a different brand to those who suffer from stinky feet? Or another brand to parents whose children wet the bed? I called up the manufacturer, and he LOVED these ideas. Now I have two new potential businesses…that I’ll launch one rainy day!
If you’re interested in drop-shipping or sourcing products directly from China, check out Steve Chou. He’s a great resource!
Start with one product.
You don’t need to have a multi-product store to make multi-million dollars in sales. I much prefer to build a brand with one strong, smart and powerful product. Start small and scale – if and and ONLY IF - YOU want to. Don’t let others tell you otherwise. Sure, it’s great to up-sell and cross-sell, but it’s better to have one stellar product than a suite of mediocre products.
Starting, growing and managing a business is work, but it’s not all hard. It just takes time…and Google. I’ve spent a lot of time on Google. And still do. If we can Google dinner recipes and driving directions, why not Google how to run a business? Just be sure to take everything you learn with a grain of salt. If it feels right, follow it. If it doesn’t feel right, keep searching and reading.
Never underestimate your product’s value – or price.
When you’re first starting out, you may think your product is not worth very much. Decide on a price…and then double it. That’s what you should charge. It’s easier to reduce a price than to raise it. Also take into account any costs you will have to absorb for returns, lost packages, free shipping promotions, credit card processing fees, etc.
Spend your valuable and limited time marketing and selling, not fulfilling orders. I knew from the start that Vivian Lou was doomed if I was the one responsible for packaging and shipping every order. It’s a big expense when you’re first starting out, but it’s one that I suggest you outsource before you launch.
Take action every day.
How quickly you grow depends on how quickly you take action. I happen to move quickly. That’s just the way I operate. That said, it’s perfectly fine to move at an intensity and speed that feels right to you. But the most important thing is to take action every single day. Every. Single. Day. While some entrepreneurs will make 30 decisions in a day, others will only make 1 or 2. That’s ok. Just take consistent action.
Trust your gut.
Intuition has played a huge role in my Vivian Lou journey. You will know when an opportunity feels right or good vs. when an opportunity feels rushed or questionable. Listen to your intuition. It’s like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
Don’t quit your day job…yet.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, making a steady income outside of your art (or startup) is necessary and takes the burden off your creative outlet (or young business). She calls this the “shit sandwich.” I quit the best job I ever had – working from home as the Chief Marketing Officer for a natural supplements company that operated three online stores – to pursue Vivian Lou. But when Vivian Lou didn’t take off, I had to go back to the one thing I wanted least – a job in Corporate America. But it took the pressure off Vivian Lou – and me! Going into the office everyday was my “shit sandwich,” but it opened up space and opportunities for Vivian Lou…and eight months later, I quit for good.
Once you decide to launch a business or start a new venture, you will need to choose that path again and again. You will be knocked down. You will question why you’re doing it. You will want to throw in the towel. Heck, you may have to go back to Corporate. This is when you need to get hungry. Hungry for success (whatever that looks like for you). Hungry to bring your product or brand to market. Hungry for your ‘something more.’
I admit it’s difficult to find the time to work on a side business – especially if you have kiddos, work full time, make dinner, workout, the list goes on and on. This is where hunger comes in. If you want it bad enough, you will find time. Period.
If you are scared to sell (like I was), remember this message from Marie Forleo. “If you have a product or service you believe in—one that truly helps others—it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to market and sell in the most effective way possible. Because if you don’t, you’re stealing from those who need you most.”
Email your customers.
I was terrified to email my customers, but a customer's email address is as good as gold. It's how you can contact them directly. It's the easiest way to reach them. It's how - if done right - you can get alot of sales. You will capture customers' email addresses when they checkout on your store. The key is to find a way to get interested buyers' email addresses. I offer a 15% discount coupon as soon as people arrive on my site. Many say I shouldn't do this and only offer a coupon when they are going to leave the site. I disagree. If they are interested in clicking to your site, capture their information as soon as possible. You can do a coupon, a raffle, a giveaway. Do whatever feels right to you.
Know your numbers.
Spreadsheets and financial statements can be scary – especially when there are more negative numbers than positive numbers. Believe me, I know! I resisted looking at my financials for SO LONG. But knowing your numbers is critically important and ironically, incredibly liberating (even with the bad numbers).
Get comfortable with failure.
You will fail. Let me say that again. You will fail. Your ad doesn’t perform. There are errors in your book (oops!). A partnership falls through. You made a bad decision. And it’s ok. In one way or another, every good entrepreneur fails. Some fail big. Other fail small. You need to get used to it. Just promise me one thing, fail on activities and decisions all day long, but don’t ever fail on your big idea, your one great goal or your desire for ‘something more.’
Stay inspired; not intimidated.
Look at others, and learn from them. Don’t compare yourself to them. And be sure you’re looking at others in your space or market. I fell victim to comparing myself to life coaches and lifestyle bloggers – not people in the physical product or e-commerce space. Why? Great question! I honestly have no idea. Ha ha ha!
Make customer service a priority.
Customer service is perhaps the most critical customer touchpoint – I would argue even more so than good packaging! Reply in a timely manner. Offer a generous return policy. Accommodate odd requests for people’s special occasions (like overnight for their wedding day!).
Ask for help.
There is no shame in asking for help – either on the tactical side of starting a business; the financial side of running a business; or the emotional side of maintaining a business. Click here for a list of people who have helped me beyond measure in my Vivian Lou journey.
Pursuing your ‘something more’ will be the biggest crash course in all things business and all things YOU! And it’s TOTALLY worth it.
I wish you nothing but the best and boatloads of success!
To courage, curiosity and finding your Red Shoes!