One year ago, I finally said "go for it" and clicked the "open your shop" on my Etsy page. Spending a few months preparing products, altering logo designs, and setting up my shop...it was time to actually just make it live and stop saying "one day". My only regret? Not doing it sooner. I've learned a lot things in this adventure over the last 12 months. Here are my 10 biggest takeaways from my first year running my own small business.
1. Just do it. Of course you need to do a little planning and preparing, but there will never be the right time and things will never be perfect. Just start and you'll end up working things out and learning along the way. Stop waiting, go do!
2. Always get samples. I learned this the hard way a few times but luckily was able to just laugh it off. One of my suppliers was sold out of my white ceramic mugs, so I ordered from another company and it was a different mug (similar, just not the same as I normally carried). I ended up being able to sell them (so not a loss!) but taught me to not just trust what you see online, take the extra week to get a sample. It'll save you in the long run!
3. Find a mentor/motivator. This is HUGE. Being a small business owner is like an emotional roller coaster. You feel on top of the world one day, then completely down and questioning yourself the next. Finding a mentor or someone to help motivate you is crucial. I am a huge Gary Vaynerchuk fan (google him if you don't know him, you'll thank me later!) and the Rising Tide Society has also been a huge influence along the way. Following people who have similar experiences as you can help put things in perspective and motivate you to keep going.
4. Track finances. This is boring, but obvious. I didn't do as great of job my first 6 months in business tracking, but my goal for 2017 was to get that all in line. Having everything coming in and out of one account (and tracking finances!) makes it so much easier to see how the business is doing. It will also make things 10x easier on my poor tax guy next year.
5. Give back. Even in the beginning, making little money, I'd make it a point to give what I could (like a small basket for a charity giveaway/auction). I'm a huge believer of giving what you can and you'll get more in return. Now that I'm growing a little bit more, I've been able to donate 10% of my original Detroit heart tee sales to a local non-profit in Detroit. I hope to be able to give back even more in the future.
6. Invest in your brand. I am a huge believer in branding. Your packaging, your images on social media, your business cards, etc....they are all a representation of your brand, your company. I get poly-mailers with my logo and a cute saying on them, and yes, they are more expensive and will be thrown out, but when someone gets their order, I want them to feel like they are getting something special. I want to elevate that customer experience. My packaging is probably more than what it needs to be as well, but when someone opens their mug they purchased, I want them to feel like it was wrapped up and packaged just for them.
7. Try new things. I've tried many products in the last year. Some were a flop and I just took them off the site, and others are super successful that I thought would never sell. You have to just try new things and put it into the marketplace. Your customers will help you figure out what works and what doesn't.
8. Don't worry about other people. Being on social media all the time, a lot of people can fall into the comparison game. "They have prettier pictures"..."They have 10k followers"..."They are more successful". As hard as it is, don't compare yourself to anyone but yourself. I've come a long way since day 1 and that's what matters.
9. Be patient. This comes a little bit from my Gary Vee following but you have got to be patient! Things may start slow and you will want to give up, but you've got to be patient. Things will fall into place and grow, you've just got to keep working hard. I never thought I'd be where I'm at a year later. But if you asked me last summer, I'd probably tell you I want to give up. Let's just say I'm glad I was patient.
10. Believe in yourself. And lastly, believe in YOU. Likely (and hopefully) you have a support network telling you how great you're doing and to believe in your brand, your business, yourself. But YOU need to believe in yourself. It make take a lot more work than you ever imagined, and you may have to be patient, but you can do anything you put your mind to. Don't give up. I couldn't have gotten through this year without my supportive husband, friends, and family. It took me a bit to believe in myself that I could do it, but my husband helped me make that a reality.
Hopefully these help anyone who is in the beginning of their entrepreneurship journey. And if you're a seasoned business owner, what have you learned in your first few years you'd add to this list?
Cheers to one year (and many more!),