Oh, the life of an entrepreneur! It means you are the marketing manager, sales consultant, executive assistant and CEO all at the same time. Starting your own business can be a daunting and rewarding task. But for many, it may also be a dream come true. It may be tempting to just jump into entrepreneurship with both feet. But, before you leap, read this!
I recently caught up with my high school classmate, Missy McCall, who is not only an entrepreneur, mother and master networker, but she’s the founder of Boxed GR. Her company, ode to our hometown Grand Rapids, MI, creates and sells amazing gift boxes filled with cool, local products. Since she launched her business two years ago, her business has taken off! Boxed GR is on track for a 300-percent profit increase for 2015. She shared some pointers that have helped her and may guide other entrepreneurs to get off to a successful start, too.
Be Passionate About Your Business
“I’m super passionate about supporting locally owned businesses, helping businesses impress their clients and putting together really great gifts,” said Missy, which lead to the birth of Boxed GR.
She felt that it was important to get more people out of their homes to discover new businesses in the area. Like her, it’s important to have a vision and enough passion to stay committed to your business plan.
According to SmallBusinessPlanned.com, 50 percent of small businesses fail within four years. With this type of failure statistic, it’s critical that you’re vested come rain, sleet or snow! There’s no question that you’ll face a fair share of doubters and unique challenges specific to your industry. And it takes a certain amount of fortitude, resilience and strength to get through the more challenging days.
Don’t Borrow Too Much Too Soon
Missy started her business with a $500 investment of her own capital. She suggests that new entrepreneurs avoid taking on too much debt too fast since oftentimes businesses start with meager profits. Truth is, many entrepreneurs have to prove a need for their business so you have to know how much funding you need and why. Too much financing on the front end can result in a vision too grandiose or it may be costly if you have to give away too much equity in your company in exchange for financial backing.
Set realistic goals and attainable timelines. Be prepared to sacrifice in the beginning to adequately fund your business. Perhaps you should forgo a salary for several months to pour money back into your business. It may be helpful to track your financials quarterly in detail, if not more frequently.
Image is Everything
Missy suggests putting ample money into your professional presentation with a strong marketing strategy, professional photos and even video.
“If you have $1,000 to start your business, even spending half on establishing a professional brand is money well spent,” she explained. “Marketing is image-driven, so it’s important to look your best.”
Avoid stock or low-quality photos that cheapen your website and business. Whatever product or service you sell come down to the quality your business projects. If your brand communicates quality, you’ll attract customers who value quality and are willing to pay for it.
Do you need to pay thousands of dollars to build your brand? Maybe not. But be willing to invest what it takes to make a good first impression and intrigue potential customers with your story and products. You’ve likely invested your blood, sweat and time, now why not use your money to make your business shine!
Show Your Creative Side
Don’t be afraid to use a little creativity to help build your business. For example, Missy has used bartering goods or services with other business owners as a way to conserve money and build connections within the community.
“Bartering has been an extremely useful tool for me,” she began, “I often use bartering for goods and services because it creates a win-win for everyone involved.”
Being an entrepreneur is all about solving problems and learning on the go. Be innovative when figuring out how to handle your challenges. Think out of the box when enlisting help and finding resources. Regularly schedule time to have brainstorming sessions and consider pulling in a team of progressive thinkers to help come up with and implement the best ideas.
Remember that creative solutions can come from anywhere: surveys, customer comments, employee feedback and industry research. Leave no stone unturned!
These days, it’s a must to engage your customers via social media. Missy says she found ways to grow Boxed GR through FREE marketing. Beyond Facebook and her company blog, she has successfully used word of mouth, referral programs and networking to promote her brand.
Instead of spreading yourself thin and trying to keep up with every social platform you can think of, pick one or two on which to focus your time and money. Once you’ve identified your media channels, start promoting your best content with paid ads. Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn may be a great place to start. These platforms offer boost posts with analytics to help you assess effectiveness.
Varied social and marketing strategies are a good thing because every target audience is different. Don’t forget about email marketing, video and more traditional outlets like entrepreneur fairs. Above all, track your success! Effective social media and marketing begins with tracking your company’s interaction and success.
Go the Extra Mile
Doing little extras is a surefire way to build a loyal customer base. Missy says that she sends a “special box” of goodies to each of her new customers as a thank-you for doing business with her.
“For a small investment, I am able to send customers an unexpected surprise,” Missy said. “They are always so appreciative!”
It’s like putting icing on a cake. It’s a smart finishing touch after delivering an excellent product or service.
According to RightNow, a customer relationship management company, 86 percent of customers polled in a survey were willing to pay more to a company for better customer service to feel like a valued client. If good customer service is your company’s focus, you’ll quickly generate fans by listening to their needs and paying attention to the details!
Get Connected with Entrepreneurs
Remember to break out of your comfort zone by networking up and horizontally. Networking up allows you to find mentors to learn from and strengthens your business connections. Networking horizontally allows you to tap into the shared knowledge and resources of your peers.
“It’s been extremely helpful in my entrepreneurial journey to have a group of other business owners to talk to,” said Missy. “I am a part of Local First, which meets twice a month and we are completely honest about our businesses, our financials and lessons learned.”
She stressed that it has been invaluable using this network of entrepreneurs as a sounding board for new ideas.
“Having people [around] who are not family members, and are not emotionally or financially invested in my business has truly been worth their weight in gold!”
Read and Write
I know that reading and writing seem super elementary, but both will enrich your business in a major way. Read as much as possible about your industry, trends, competitors and related businesses. Regularly dedicate time to read blogs, newspapers, magazines and books when possible. Even reading unrelated articles can prove to be beneficial or spark ideas that may be fruitful. Diving deep helps you become more intelligent, cultured and attentive as a business owner.
It’s crucial to write down things you’ve learned from your day-to-day adventures. Some days will certainly be harder than others, but journal everything you’ve learned. Learning is an asset that likely will pay down the road because it could save you costly or repeat mistakes.
Everyone knows an entrepreneur whom eats, breathes and sleeps their business. Learning to disconnect from your business is just as important as working hard. Give your brain a rest from time to time and step away from your business. Sometimes disconnecting allows you to reset your energy and ideas for another day.
Above all, don’t forget to have fun! It’s an amazing experience to create an idea, be your own boss and run a successful business! If you’re enjoying what you do, then your customers and employees will know it, too. A stress-free and fun atmosphere will help create a positive culture around your business.
Don’t give up on your dreams and remember not to listen to ALL of the advice you get. Naysayers and failed ideas are natural aspects of entrepreneurship. Ask for help if and when you need to but remember to persevere!
If you have other valuable tips you’d like to share, leave them below. If you want to learn more about Boxed GR, click here.
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