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Lessons from the first six months

I had started to think about Lilee long before I decided upon a name or thought about what I was going to sell. Just an idea in my head that I wanted to start my own business. I thought, with my experience in marketing, that it would be something that would challenge me. So I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned in these first six months of business (well a little longer than 6 months, but those months before launch don’t count right?!!).

You should have a plan

It could be a few bullet points or a full business plan, but make sure you’ve thought through what you’re going to sell, where and how you are going to sell it (physical product or service). Is there a need for your product? I see sooooo many people wanting to sell baby products without realising that the baby market is very saturated and difficult to crack without a decent marketing budget (I have learned this lesson myself, more on that later). Do you need a website? What marketing channels are you going to use? How are you going to package and send your products? And the list goes on…

Don’t procrastinate

…there came a point when I just had to get stuck in and start doing something and stop thinking so much.

As important as it is to have a plan, it’s also important not to get stuck in the planning phase for too long without any movement forward. I have always been a procrastinator, and I was no different with this, but there came a point when I just had to get stuck in and start doing something and stop thinking so much. There’s always time in those few months before launch to change your mind (and of course any time after, as it’s YOUR business).

Don’t underestimate how much work there is to do in the launch phase

If you’re selling a number of products there is a tonne of prep work to be done. Figuring out what you are going to sell, where to get it from, ordering it, how much you’re going to sell it for, taking photos, fiddling about with photos, writing product listings, not to mention setting up social accounts and your website.

Choose the right selling platform within your budget

This is an area I would change if I had my time again. I chose to sell through the eBay platform at the beginning because:

  1. The cost was lower than building my own site (or so I thought).
  2. There was already people on there in buying mode.
  3. I could leverage off of their SEO.

Truth is, it probably wasn’t the right platform for my target market. I got sales, but not as many as when I decided to create my own website. I hadn’t done enough research to find an affordable platform for my needs. I already had a blog on WordPress, so the obvious choice was a plugin for WordPress. I had seen a recommendation for Ecwid, their basic package was affordable and it was pretty simple to set up. I have to admit though that if you have a family member or friend that is technical it makes the world of difference. It would cost me a lot more to have my own site if Mr Lilee didn’t do all the technical maintenance for me!

Seek out a support crew

Family and friends are great and most can be really supportive, but there’s nothing like the support that you will get from those living and breathing the same experience as you. There are some great groups on Facebook that are very supportive for small businesses. Whether you’re just starting up or just have a random question, people are so generous with their advice, and there are lots of opportunities to promote your business too. My favourite group is Mums Starting Small Businesses – Support Group (Australia) which is run and moderated by some really lovely and helpful people.

Don’t get caught up with the fun stuff and neglect everything else

In a small business you need to try as hard as you can to give everything equal importance.

For me, marketing was the fun stuff so I spent a lot of time in that area. I’m not saying it didn’t pay off, but it meant that some of the more practical stuff like the finances got pushed to the bottom of the pile! In a small business you need to try as hard as you can to give everything equal importance. Luckily I hadn’t neglected it for too long, so it only took me a good two hour session to get up to date. Not only are the finances important for tax time, but it also gives you a gauge as to where you are with the business. Currently I’m trying to focus on getting my copy SEO friendly so we rank well on Google, it’s not my most favourite task (I like my writing to be free and not restricted by rules) but it has to be done.

Consider postage as your largest outlay

My biggest financial mistakes have been with postage. When I’ve had to re-send something, or during the Christmas period when I offered free express post, I really ate into my margins. Australia Post is pretty expensive so this year I will be looking at a more cost effective postage situation. It’s a tough call for small businesses whether to offer free postage or not, I really would love to but it would mean hiking my product prices quite dramatically across the board. It’s better for me to charge postage on smaller orders than to be expensive compared to my competitors on individual products. There is a lot of advice out there saying that people buy more readily with free postage and I get that, but it’s just too expensive right now and that’s a good financial decision for my business.

Be careful who you trust

This is THE biggest lesson I have learned as it’s the one that’s given me the most anxiety. So here’s where I went wrong… I put something up for sale as a pre-order, relying on the producer to get the product to me by the date that they had promised. Agghhhhh! Never again! The product not only didn’t arrive by the agreed date, but it was two weeks late, at my most busiest period. Luckily most of my lovely customers were very patient and kind about the delay. No more pre-orders for me unless it’s a producer that I trust 100%.

Communication is key

As with the above situation, the thing that infuriated me most was that the producer stopped communicating with me when they knew they had screwed up. Don’t ever do that, even if you are scared of telling the truth you have to muster up the courage to be honest. I was upfront with my customers about the delay and kept them in the loop and they were incredibly appreciative of the updates. People won’t be annoyed with you if you’re honest. Another producer had delays also, but kept everyone up to date and still managed to deliver within a reasonable timeframe, because they care about their customers whether they are retail or wholesale.

Be flexible

Don’t feel stuck with an idea that you can’t change.

I have seen many small businesses re-brand and even change names very effectively when they realise something isn’t working for them or doesn’t fit any more. Don’t feel stuck with an idea that you can’t change. Personally I have been through this process in the last few weeks and will be making some changes this year too, I’ll do a separate post on that.

Don’t forget to enjoy it

There are times when owning your small business can be really hard work and you wonder what you’re doing it for. Find something within the business that gives you joy otherwise it really isn’t worth the hard times.

Post image courtesy of veronicadearly.com

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