It’s no secret that starting a business is hard work. As a business owner, you will likely take on many roles, work long hours and face near daily ups and downs. Arguably, it’s impossible to be completely prepared for starting and growing a business, no matter how much wisdom and advice you seek from those who have come before you. That said, there are a few things I wish I knew BEFORE I started my business. I’m passing these along to you in case they help you be more prepared for the adventure that is entrepreneurship.
Hindsight #1: Your marketing plan isn’t good enough.
It’s not that I thought I would just build the website, stock it with cool products and the people would come. But OK, I guess I sort of did think that. Or at least something along those lines. I believed that if we had an awesome social media account, created a cool product, and built a brand that attracted loyal followers, it would all work out. And while all three of those things are instrumental in building a successful product-based business, there are a few others I left out.
I had no clue that Pinterest would be the biggest driver of my website traffic prior to starting my business. In fact, I thought Pinterest was just another way for my mom to bug me with cute cat photos and baby Halloween costumes. Boy was I wrong. For many small businesses (mine included), Pinterest is the #1 SOURCE FOR WEBSITE TRAFFIC. What the what?? Yup, you heard me. In fact, if you’re still thinking that Pinterest is just another social media platform, listen up. The first mistake I made when I started my business was not realizing that Pinterest is a powerful search engine and failing to use it in that way. We’re finally up and running on the platform, even though I must admit that we’re a bit behind now. We’re using it as it was intended – to attract potential customers and drive traffic to our shop.
Let’s also talk about Facebook ads. When I started One For Women, I shied away from any form of paid advertising. I wanted to see how much traffic we could drive without it. That way, we would have a baseline to compare to when we introduced paid advertising later. What I didn’t realize is that even if I wasn’t ready to do paid ads yet, I should be starting to build up that audience now.
For example, we have been running ads for the last 2 months on Facebook SOLELY TO BUILD AN AUDIENCE. Meaning, while we’d love for people to buy something on our website or join our mailing list, the sole purpose of those ads from our side of it is to see who will click on them. Why? Because the assumption is that if they click on the ad, they have some level of interest in what we are offering. And once we know who has some interest, we can then retarget ads to those people to encourage them to buy. Retargeting in this way is less expensive because you are reaching people who are arguably more interested from the start. Who knew.
Bottom line – you don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to marketing. In starting your own business, you need to develop a solid plan and then figure out what’s missing from it. Do your research and talk to people. Listen to podcasts and learn as much as you can about how people are marketing out there. Even if you think you’re fairly familiar in the digital marketing space, be open to the idea that you aren’t as familiar as you think you are. Ask around as much as possible. There is so much you won’t realize until you’re knee-deep in it. Do your best to familiarize yourself with your marketing options. Outline a clear strategy as early as possible (even if you end up pivoting from that strategy later).
Hindsight #2: You can’t actually do everything yourself.
When I started my business, we were on a limited budget (heck, we still are!). I knew hiring wasn’t an option at the beginning. The bulk of the work was going to fall to my co-founder (and mom!) and I, and I was OK with that. The way I saw it, I was going to have all of this free time now that I quit my job, so I could devote myself 100% to my business.
Here’s the thing. Even if you do have the time to do everything (which you won’t, trust me), you may not necessarily be the best person to do EVERY THING. Before we launched One For Women, I was running our social media, and had a very generous friend help me. I figured that would get us through. Then, one week before we launched, I panicked (well, as much as I can panic – I tend to be a pretty calm person!). I realized that our social media strategy sucked. We had no idea how to grow followers or engagement. My entire marketing plan (read above – it was basically solely reliant on Instagram) was a flop.
So, I did what any cool and collected girl boss would do. I went out and hired myself a social media manager. Forget that we didn’t have the revenue to support that expense. I knew that outsourcing this incredibly important component of my business was crucial to our success. Especially, given that so much of our marketing relied on building our brand and spreading the word through social media. Was it tough to spend that money that I didn’t really have? Absolutely. Was it a difficult decision? Not in the least. If you want to grow your business, you need to recognize your limitations (both in terms of time and skills) and look to the bigger vision when making strategic decisions.
Whether or not you’re ready to outsource, I recommend creating an outline of every task in your business, whether or not you NEED to do it yourself, and any skillsets/tools/etc. required to complete that task; I do this regularly using my business task planner template – see below. This will give you a big-picture overview of the work that needs to be done in starting your own business and help you see areas where you could possibly outsource or even automate.
Want my business task planner template? Download it here.
Hindsight #3: It will cost more and take twice as long as you think it will.
As a finance person, I’m actually pretty conservative when it comes to financial projections. So I wasn’t so far off when I planned out what my first few years in business would look like. And when you’re new to your business, it can be very challenging to estimate when you will start seeing revenue and how much, and what your expenses will look like as you grow.
For example, only about 20% of our current expenses are ones I anticipated when I started my business. This isn’t because I am poor at planning, but because as we have built our company and learned about what our customers want, our offerings have shifted, our technology has adapted and our processes have been upgraded.
From a time perspective, I wish I had told myself to plan ahead more. As a product-based business, there is a lot that goes in to one customer sale – choosing and ordering the products, photographing the gift sets, marketing to customers and processing and shipping the sale. That entire cycle can take a long time – much longer than I thought. And even your non-sale projects will take awhile – website builds or updates, logo creation, photography, etc. And remember, you’re doing this all yourself (What!? Didn’t you read #2 above? Go back!), so it’s going to take even longer.
So how can you combat the difficulty of predicting? How can you prepare yourself so you’re not surprised by the time and money overruns? Here are a few tips I live by:
- Add a buffer. Whether it’s time or money, assume it will take at least 20% more than you expect
- Run multiple models. Map out what it looks like in your ideal scenario, your most likely scenario, and your worst case scenario. Do this for both time and money estimates.
- Lie to yourself. If you need something done by the end of the month, tell yourself that you actually need it by the 15th of the month. This builds in a buffer in case you run behind. Same thing with money – if you have budgeted $250 for an expense, tell yourself you can only spend $150. Yes, you will know what the “real” amount is, but you’d be surprised. When you start telling yourself certain things, your mind has a funny way of letting it be tricked.
There’s another thing I wish I knew before I started my business – that leaving your job, taking a leap of faith, starting a company and building a business you love is one of the most exhilarating, empowering and rewarding experiences and I won’t regret one day of it. I wake up every morning excited by the fact that I am fully in charge of my life and what I put out in the world, that each and every day I determine the impact I get to have. That is an experience unique to entrepreneurs and every day I am thankful that it is mine.