When you first start a business there’s so many things to remember. It seems impossible to do and remember everything. Well, it was for us anyways. Between jobs, children, husbands and the usual daily grind stuff; there just weren’t enough hours in the day. In the early days, we were so excited to get customers, that we often said yes to orders that ended up costing us far more than what we were charging. We always rationalized it with needing to get our company name ‘out there’. We were in a hurry to get somewhere and it seemed that people-pleasing was at the very top of our priority list. But luckily for us, we realized quickly that is was truly impossible to please everyone all the time. I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E!
As soon as we had figured that out, (it was like a light bulb went off) we could accept that this was a business and as such, we needed to treat it that way. But for every Business 101 tip we figured out, there were many more we didn’t quite grasp right away. Here are 5 mistakes we have made along the way:
In our first year we were invited to attend a big press event in New York City. Super exciting! When getting all the details for this we were told that we needed to bring a media kit to hand out to the press. As we both didn’t know what this was, after googling it, we frantically booked an appointment with a local communications firm eager to get the process started. We quickly found out that creativity costs a lot! Especially for a company with an almost non-existent budget. After agreeing on an idea, price, and design we were all set. When they finally sent us home with a proof to look over and edit, we thought we were home free. This is the moment when it falls on you, the consumer. As soon as you send your stamp of approval, it gets printed. As is! So if you were proofreading it at 1:03 a.m. and missed that it said ‘stain trim’ instead of ‘satin trim,’ c’est la vie.
Mistake #1: Unless it’s written in a contract that you have signed and read, never assume that anybody else will be proofreading/editing your work. What we have found, especially in those bigger companies, is that everyone has a job. By the time it gets to the printing department, it’s likely that’s all they will do. Print it. After our initial irritation at our own stupidity, I tried talking to them about it, hoping that they would cut us a little slack. No such luck. They charged us for the printing costs again, taxes and everything. Needless to say, it was a costly mistake that we won’t make again. Always read it, read it again and then read it AGAIN! You can never be too careful.
Spending too much money early on can be a problem too. You’re always excited in the beginning. New ideas and possibilities make getting out of bed thrilling. However, when we were just starting, we always got a little ahead of ourselves. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although when a big portion of your finances is tied up in products not yet created or events that are new and unproven, it can become problematic. In our case it always seemed that the minute we invested in one thing, something better popped up. It could have been a cheaper place to get packaging, a nicer logo design, or a more popular event to participate in. For us, the urgency was all in our head. We were eating, sleeping, and breathing our company and sometimes was difficult to maintain a clear perspective.
Mistake #2: Not being patient enough. Remember that you don’t need to buy every piece of personalized business stationery. You don’t have to attend every craft market in the area. There will always be more opportunities. There’s a good chance they might even be better opportunities. There’s a reason the old adage, “Good things come to those who wait,” is still around. It’s true.
Don’t allow the copycats, naysayers, and general ‘haters’ to get under your skin. For some, this one can be very difficult (for me it is still hard, my partner not so much) to let go of. We noticed that as quickly as we got media attention and notoriety, we also got just as many people that seemed eager to tear us down. And if you can believe, some even included people in our lives. It really bothered me and still does some days. Don’t forget that once you develop a great idea and generate a little success, others will often try to capitalize on it. If you’re able to copywrite/trademark/patent your product, I would suggest that. But it can be very expensive and most small businesses aren’t able to do that without remortgaging their homes. For our baby blankets and bibs, as Kevin O’Leary likes to repeat, “There’s nothing proprietary about that —-.” So trademarking our products was never an option. That was especially painful when we saw the gamut of people starting out with very similar products. Without a legal leg to stand on and not wanting a battle every day, we let it go. Imitation is supposed to be flattering right?
Mistake #3: Don’t buy into the negative things that people are saying about you; it gives them too much power over you. The only person I want in charge of my happiness is me.
Always trust your gut instincts. We forget about this simple, yet very effective tool for evaluating an idea, a situation, or even a person. It’s often overlooked, especially early on, because you’re experiencing this wild and crazy ride. Being eager and ‘hungry’ for success is a good thing, however, being confident enough in yourself and the path you are taking will alert you to something that doesn’t seem quite right. We were always confident about our product. We knew that someone besides us would like it and happily purchase it. But where our instincts wavered a bit was with a couple people we met along the way. To put it simply, they weren’t nice people.
Mistake #4: Not listening to what your intuition is telling you. Remember that not everyone has the same dream for you that you do. So trust your gut and listen to what it’s saying; it’s never usually wrong. It may not change your mind about something, but at least your eyes will be wide open.
Allow people to help if they ask. This is often really hard to do because you want to protect your idea. If it’s something proprietary, instantly it’s more complicated and more expensive to protect. Like us, I think most people can relate to this in their business or personal lives. Whether you have a Type A personality and need things done your way, or maybe you’re just fiercely protective because you’ve been burned before. At some point you just can’t do it all by yourself no matter how hard you try. So if you’re lucky enough to have friends/family that offer to help you, graciously accept. Reliable and trustworthy people wanting to work for you for next to nothing sounds like a win-win! Pretty soon those kinds of employees will cost you an hourly wage and health benefits.
Mistake #5: Trying to do everything ourselves without accepting help. The sooner you realize that you can’t control everything and everyone, the happier you’ll be (business and personal). It’ll also be easier to delegate responsibilities to others, such as an employee or partner, both of which are prevalent in a rapidly growing company/partnership or even a new start-up.
Looking back on these mistakes – I mean errors – I have realized that I don’t really consider them mistakes anymore. They were opportunities to learn. After all, without them we wouldn’t have had a chance to try again. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know that I live for second chances. They have brought us the most happiness. What about you?