Happy New Year everybody! I hope that 2023 is a special year for everyone. I wanted to kick off my first post of the New Year to reflect on the success (and lessons learned) of my business in 2022. As many of you know, my family and I run a small business and we have done so for the past five years. It truly does not feel as though it’s been five years. We are still working our full-time jobs and we love them; and yes, working full-time while growing a business is difficult, but we’ve met so many others who are doing the same. Over the past few years, we’ve tried many marketing and selling tactics. We’ve learned a lot about what works and a lot of what does not work, at least for us. I want to take this post to highlight lessons that we’ve learned and hopefully, it will help others as they grow their businesses or venture into entrepreneurship.
The Value of the Internet
The great thing about the internet is that it is easy to find ways to start and grow businesses. There is a wealth of advice everywhere about steps to take, bestselling products, marketing approaches, customer engagement and more. What is bad about it is: 1) having to comb through credible and non-credible advice and 2) taking or leaving one size fits all approaches. In our business, we implemented a few things that we realized did not work for us. Sometimes, the advice we took did not work because it was made for larger businesses grossing $200K or more (we did not know this at the time). Other times, the advice that we took really did not work for our products (ex. selling candles at a summer craft fair in 98-degree heat). Much advice on the internet takes a one size fits all approach, which just is not reliable for a small business just starting out. Other strategies do work, so take your time to figure out what it is.
Trust Your Gut
It also took us a while to learn to trust our instincts. We had to take some losses in order to realize that our initial thoughts were the best ones. Every business makes similar mistakes, but they are lessons to be learned. In this post, I’m going to share seven tips to growing a small business based on lessons we have learned so far. Some tips will mirror what you may have read from others and some will not. If something sounds good to you, try it out. If not, leave it here and don’t be afraid to try something else. Most of these tips are based on trusting our guts and having it work.
- Take notes on your buyers: After five years, we now know who our customers are and we understand how to market to them. Since day one, we’ve taken notes on our buyers. When they send us reviews or tell us what they are using our products for, we quickly jot it down. We realized that who we thought our customer base would be is not at all who it is, which has been so interesting and enlightening to us. For example, we were confident that our body butters would work perfectly for customers with eczema (that’s why we created them). Do you know the number 1 buyer of our body butter? Pregnant women. Who knew? We love hearing their stories about using our butters and we love congratulating them on their family additions. Even if it is early in your business, take note of your repeat customers. Then you can easily find ways to market to them because you now know what they want.
- Try “old-fashioned” marketing: We’ve done social media marketing and we still like it; but last year, we wanted to try something else. I read many stories of successful businesses who did not have social media or a website, and I had to find out how in the world these business owners were successful. It was good old-fashioned relationship building. They marketed in newspapers. They promoted via word of mouth. They focused on repeat customers and not so much on gaining new ones. Pretty soon, the owners were so busy that they simply did not focus on digital marketing. For us, we chose to send out cards and brochures to our customers ( in hand addressed envelopes too). I cannot tell you how many pleasant replies we received from doing this. In a digital world, it is easy to forget that other types of connections matter; therefore, we’ll be doing more of this in 2023.
- Saying no to some things: Now I love a good craft fair, but this year, we won’t be participating in them. Craft fairs take a lot of work and while we’ve done well, we’ve done better in other avenues. This is not to say that we won’t do craft fairs in 2024, but we are focusing on other ways to engage our customers and reach new ones. Guess what? Craft fairs don’t work for everyone, so it’s important to decide what selling avenue works for you. I have small business friends who only participate in Farmer’s Markets. Other businesses participate in Flea Markets and others focus on Pop-up Shops. Think about what might work best for your product and service and go that route. It is different for everyone.
- Focus on repeat customers: I read this two years ago and it really stuck with me. Sometimes, business owners are told about the best ways to attract the next 1,000 customers, but rarely are we told to focus on the ones that we already have. Do you want 5,000 customers that purchase one time or 1,000 repeat customers that are loyal to your quality product or service? We want to repeaters. Sure, we will always work to gain more customers, but we don’t want to forget the ones who have been with us for these years. We know them. We understand their needs better. They are always willing to try out our new products and they are the ones who bring us new customers. We’re focusing on them a lot more in 2023. Who are your repeaters? What can you do for them and how can you engage them more?
- Maintain and perfect: While we are offering a few new products this year, this is another piece of advice that we learned: take time to maintain, stabilize, and perfect. In other words, we aren’t using this year to produce 50 newer and better products. We are taking this year to consistently improve what we have and promote those. There’s a time to expand and there’s a time maintain. This is the time for maintaining. After five years, I can confidently talk about our products and what they do for people. We’ve perfected our formulas and we’re producing them in small batches. We know when we are ridiculously busy and when we have some down time. So, we are taking this year to enjoy that and run our business based on those facts. Make sure that you take time to maintain and perfect.
- Take off: Okay, if you told me to take time off of my business in our first or second year, I would have looked at you sideways. Now, it is a must! Thanks to studying other small businesses, I have learned that with advanced communication, closing a shop for some time won’t really hurt the business. I know of one company that takes January off. Now, everyone expects to not buy anything in January and guess what? We just come to them in February. Part of being a business owner is being the best that you can be physically, mentally, and emotionally. You need rest and relaxation. This past December, we closed our shop for three weeks and it was beautiful. We still allowed customers to make orders, but we lengthened our shipping times and we did not restock until the New Year. As a result, we really got a chance to enjoy the holidays with our family. We plan to do the same again sometime this summer so that we can enjoy a vacation. Again, with advanced communication and notification, business owners and customers can plan accordingly and owners can get the rejuvenation that is needed to run a successful business.
- Do not compare your business to others: I know that this is a hard one. We compare ourselves daily, so comparing the success of your business to others is natural. However, try to stay away from it. Just like everything else, what is meant for your business is solely meant for your business. You will soon find that what makes one business successful will not make yours successful. Let me give you an example. There are tons of candle businesses in the world and my family spent the first two years doing what we saw others do. Nothing that we mimicked worked. We finally focused on our strengths (my husband and I are educators) and we started offering craft making classes as part of our business. Do you know that most of our sales come through those classes? Those groups of people come back to us and buy our products, aside from our regular customers. Also, we just knew that the ones purchasing those classes would be groups of friends who wanted something fun to do. Nope! Our largest buyers of those classes are corporations who want team building activities. Again, who knew? What are your strengths and how can you use them to grow your company? Forget what others are doing if those methods don’t align with who you are.
This year, focus on being a better business owner and better company. Do what works best for you, even if you haven’t found case studies saying that a strategy works. You may serve as the blueprint.
What have you learned so far in your business that has helped you?