I did the calculations the other day and realized I have been working with startups for 20 years! Wow, how did that happen? I see it as almost an addiction. I am addicted to the passion, to the possibility, to the fast paced environment and to the ability to make a significant impact.
I have been with companies that sold for millions, merged, died, flourished or still hanging on waiting to be discovered. Here are some of my best tips based on my experience with startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses.
If You Build It, They Won’t Come
There was a time that if you built a website, had a great product and went live, people found you. I am so sorry to report, this is no longer the case. You need to market the heck out of it and then they might come. So please do not spend thousands of hard earned budgets on building the store when there are amazing SAAS (software as a service) companies out there. You can build a great site with minimal to no technical expertise. Test your product first, and then build the infrastructure to support it.
If retailers are banging down your door for you to have EDI, it’s a good problem. You can probably even find an investor to help get the project funded. EDI is great but the chances of you needing it in the first year would be rare. However, if you run out of budget to get your brand out that would be a business breaking problem.
It is no secret that my favorite eCommerce SAAS is Volusion . Volusion has everything you need to launch a professional and successful eCommerce store. Did you know the average Volusion merchant processes approximately $77K in business each year, which is three times more in sales over merchants using other ecommerce solutions in its space?* There is plenty of room for growth. With recent updates to manage your store on Amazon and Federal Express discounts, this is a great small business solution.
Check out the Cleatskins.com store. It is a Volusion store that meets all the needs of this international small business.
I tell my clients I am scrappy. I am proud to be scrappy. Why? Because in a startup/small business environment, ‘scrappiness’ gets it done. Scrappy doesn’t mean sloppy. It does mean getting it done without excuses.
Scrappy examples I recommend:
Start off being your own customer service. No one knows your products better than you. You need to be the one who knows your customers the best. Getting your customers passionate about your product is your best marketing technique. Get a toll free number and forward it. My favorite is VioPO (link to http://www.voipo.com). A whopping $4.95/month includes your toll free number, voice mail and emailed messages.
The post office will come to you. Yes, I know this isn’t glamorous but shipping products is part of the job. I have decorated boxes for Christmas (refer to scrappy again). Do what needs to be done until you can’t keep up with the demand. Wait for the numbers to work before you bring in a fulfillment house.
Let your passion reign, not logistics. You are smart. You can figure out how to get it done within your budget. Sometimes it means some elbow grease but this is your future. Your future is worth it. I have seen more startups/ small businesses fail because owners didn’t want to get their hands dirty. Get dirty. In fact get downright messy.
This one is HUGE. Be careful who you hire, whether it is a vendor or an employee. Most of us know how to interview an employee but this seems to go to the wayside when selecting a vendor. Don’t let it! The reality is a start-up needs to be an expert at outsourcing. You need to trust anyone you work with implicitly. Everyone you work with should be a partner. No matter how big your budget is, ask if they have worked with start-ups/small businesses before? If they have not, walk away. Your needs are different than an established brand.
I can’t tell you how many companies have blown huge budgets with the wrong agency. It breaks my heart. Get references. Interview who your day to day contact /account rep, not just the new biz dev person. Take your time. You are interviewing for a partner whether it be for a social media person, fulfillment house, printing, etc…
Ok so maybe this doesn’t encapsulate all I learned in the last 20 years but it is a good start. I will be writing more about tools that I recommend to small business.
Do you have anything to share from your experience with starts up and small business? I would love to hear them in the comments below.
*source for quote is from the Volusion Press Release 9/4/13