Once you have started and run a couple of successful businesses, the subsequent ones become relatively easier to set up. The first one, however, is probably the hardest. But be it your first or the fourth, you can be sure of making some mistakes along the way. Some that will be more costly than others. I’ve made many since starting my online retail company last year. And I still do, almost on a daily basis.
Here are a few things that would have drastically changed the course of my business, had I known better.
It’s OK if it’s not perfect. Just keep it simple.
You will have a vision of what you want the end product to look like. And your launch product may not come very close to that vision. This is absolutely fine. Because the most important thing when you start a new business is to understand which of your products/services brings you the maximum ROI. You keep those and eliminate the rest. This should be the main focus.
For an e-commerce business specifically, it is critical that the storefront, UI, UX, product range and the story, all fit together beautifully. But these are also the elements you can never be fully satisfied with. These are always going to be work in progress. So if you start looking for perfection in them, you will soon find yourself overshooting your budget. And before you know it, a good chunk of your initial investment would have been spent on the frills without fully understanding the core; i.e. how to make the cash register ring. Then, you find yourself on shaky ground.
Ive learnt this the hard way; when you launch, its best to keep things simple.
It’s all about the money
A lot of people underestimate just how much it will take to launch and run a business before it starts generating profit. I was naive to think that even if things don’t go exactly as per plan, it would still be OK. This is a big mistake most businesses stop trading in the first few years because of cash flow problems.
The best part about being small however, is that you can adapt and learn quickly. Wrong product, wrong pricing, poor branding, ineffective story all these can be rectified swiftly. Nonetheless, you still need the cash to make these changes. So you have to be very careful of not running out of cash, before you have even had an honest shot at showing the world that your product is the best thing since sliced bread.
Word of mouth will not be enough
If you have a bootstrapped company, you will have very little to nil marketing budget. Being able to hire the services of a marketing agency will be a distant dream at best. And you might find yourself relying on word of mouth publicity to get your business on the map. But word of mouth can only take you so far. Unless of course it is Kim Kardashian tweeting about your store, which then results in 1M of her followers to immediately click-through to your site. This may also not necessarily be a good thing though, as you will need the capacity to meet the sudden surge in demand.
But, assuming that Kim K is not your 4am friend, it is safe to say that if you want to create a successful business, you will have to learn how to get more eyeballs to your site. Reading a blog post here or an article there wont do it. You’ll need to read books on the subject, print em, bind em, highlight em and learn to market your brand till you are in a position to outsource this function.
Miracles won’t happen overnight
We hear about businesses doing phenomenally well in a very short time. But what gets left out in the story and is not told nearly as often enough, are the chapters on the years of struggle, setbacks & failures prior to the big success. Almost all big achievers in history have this chapter in their story too. But it is contradictory to how we think today. Technology has distorted our perception of time. The world moves so fast and so do our expectations. We want success in 10 seconds. That’s just not how it happens though. Because it takes time to learn the game and get good at it. And the only thing you need to find out about yourself is, whether you have the patience to play the long game.
All advice is not good advice
No amount of books or courses can teach what it really takes to start and run a successful business. That comes only from experience. Experience of making bad decisions and learning from mistakes. Therefore it is best to have 2-3 mentors, who have been through this experience one way or another, to lean on for advice. If you ask those who have never played the game, there is little chance they will be of any help. It will most probably leave you confused and possibly a bit frustrated. Why is that so bad? Because you might end up spending a lot of time questioning your better judgement. And time is money!
If you havent asked and are the recipient of unsolicited advice, just condition yourself to not let it affect you. Tune yourself out! This is easier said than done, but its achievable and is a skill worth acquiring. You’ll be surprised how applicable it becomes in other areas of life too.
It’s a mindset game
If there is only one thing you could take away from this post, let this be it.
Most successful business owners who have started from scratch will tell you this. It’s not those who have more funding, more contacts or better business ideas that will eventually succeed. It is those who can control their mind and overcome the mental challenges like fear & self-doubt that will survive it all. The gremlins in your mind should not be allowed to get the better of you when things start getting tough.
Your developer has left the project incomplete because you had a fallout with him. The one client who promised to give you your first order has backed out because he had to cut down on his spending. Your stock from overseas is stuck at customs and the photo shoot you had booked months in advance, has to now be cancelled.
Things will not go as planned. No matter how much you have researched and strategized. That’s just the way it is. The sooner you accept it, the easier it becomes to deal with.
Very few are able to handle the setbacks with grace. Maybe this is why Guy Kawasaki says ‘entrepreneurship is not for everyone’.
As for me, I’ve learnt from my mistakes and I am much wiser now, if not richer. Its been an incredible learning experience so far, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world.