3 Lessons from a Startup that Moved on

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to open my own online retail shop. With my sister-in-law as my partner in crime, we put in three years of hard work trying to grow the business- a home decor & gift shop. We recently passed it on to someone else to run. It's changed so much, it's really now a different company than the one we set out to create.

We made a lot of mistakes but we did some things right too. I call it my business school 101. Here are the top three lessons I took away from that experience:

1. Start Small: I didn't realize it at the time, but we started out way too big. We bought inventory we didn't have room to store, bought services we didn't need, and tried to be all things to all people. We tried to make our company sound and look bigger than it was with only the two of us running it. It was too much. My advice to anyone is start as small as you can. Look for the smallest level of online service you need such as Etsy, Ecrater, Artfire, Big Cartel, or other selling hosts. Paypal even has a feature to put a Buy Now button on your blog. Let your customers know who you are- don't try to be a big corporation when it's just you. Keep your operations simple.

2. Start Smart: Take the time to do the background work. Research your business model, write a plan, read books, do market research. Take the time to get your legal stuff squared away before you start. As my dad always says, "split the watermelon patch before you plant the seeds." In other words, be really clear and open with all parties involved. Make sure everyone is in agreement and on the same page with everything before the first sale is ever made. Make sure all the agreements and documents have been signed & filed. Get involved with the business community and find out if there are resources that you could access. Check out Startup Princess for some great information (and fun events).

3. Start Right: Don't just start a business, create a brand. If that sounds like it contradicts number one, it doesn't. I think you can start small but still have a killer image. Make sure you've got a great name, effective & memorable logo, and that you extend your brand message into all areas that will effect your customers. I recently ordered a sketch book from another designer Cathe Holden. The way the order came was consistant with her brand and made a great impression. She could have just put the book in a mailer, sent it off, and called it a day. But she took the extra effort to make sure that her custom stamp was on the package, her business card attached, and a hand written note inside. It's the extras that really stand out and make a difference.

I'd recommend starting a company to anyone, just for the education involved if nothing else. It opened my eyes to possiblities I hadn't even considered. I am a different person because of this experience. Even though the store wasn't a grand success, it wasn't a horrible failure either. I am not afraid to try things in business or get involved where I wouldn't have before. Good luck to anyone thinking of starting something on your own. I'll be cheering for you! As for me, I'm taking my own advice and continuing on this entrepreneurial journey.

3 comments:

  1. thx for the link, i had no idea you ran a retail store, wow! i'd love to have you talk about this sometime...what you learned, etc.

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  2. that was exactly what i needed to hear today- THANK YOU! :)

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