What no one ever tells you, that you normally have to figure out for yourself.
So you finally took the plunge and are now chasing your entrepreneurial dream as a Small Business Owner (or SBO for short), however that may be defined. Go you!
But wait, theres more — much more.
Like for example all of these looming anxieties, the bitter learning experiences and other unexpected realities that no one warned you about? I wish someone had of told me about these, you ignorantly think yourself.
You’re a medium reader, and like me you’re probably well accustomed to theoretical articles on start-ups, entrepreneurship and struggles of small business. Instead of theoretical, take this article as practical. I am simply downloading my experiences of the last 18 months, directly to you.
I started a small vehicle storage business in 2018, and now some distance down the road and largely through the ‘infancy phase’, I can now share the things that I wish I’d been sat down and vigorously explained, but unfortunately was not. Some are predictable, possibly even generic, but some may surprise you.
1. In the beginning, there was patience
Here you are — you’ve officially launched all your sexy shiny marketing to get your small business dream off the ground, and are awaiting the inbox to start flooding with orders and quote requests.
But then it doesn’t. And for good reason.
You can’t honestly expect a brand new product/brand/service to suddenly be positively received in the marketplace and yield sales from day one.
It just doesn’t work like that.
How often will you see a newly launched brand of product you regularly buy in the marketplace, and not purchased it simply because you don’t know how good or bad it really is? Yep, you would rather remain comfortable with your normal choice wouldn’t you? So don’t expect your new product/service to be any different.
Three words: It. Takes. Time. It takes a certain period of time for your brand to establish itself in the marketplace, a time frame sometimes not even all the hard work and late nights in the world can expedite. So source the patience to match, and don’t panic when the flood gates don’t open during your first week of trading. Just keep learning, refining and persevering.
2. Its Ok to Let Go — To Outsourcing & Automation
You’re not a robot. So don’t try to be one.
Outsourcing and automation are undeniably critical components of any modern business. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to let go knowing that ‘only I know how to do it properly’, but you can mitigate this fear with clinically detailed briefs and instructions to your Outsource Contractors of choice.
If you’ve ever read Tim Ferris’ ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ (which is a great book for any SBO by the way), you’ll know he promotes the concept of outsourcing heavily (maybe even too heavily).
But the point remains — there’s only so many effective hours in the day for you as a Business Owner, so why labour precious hours over trying to learn a particular skill that someone else has already dedicated their lives too?
Further, have a good hard think as to what can be automated in your day to day business runnings. Quote requests, bookings and customer payments are three common examples of employing automation in your business.
Even something as simple as having a very comprehensive FAQ page on your website can help filter unnecessary emails and phone calls from customers.
Example: My main source of inquiry for new customers is via Google, both through a Google Ad Campaign and Organic rankings. Initially, I tried to manage my own ad account, and do my own search engine optimisation (SEO).
This was ultimately a waste of time and money, as I had no absolutely no idea what I was doing.
I was getting no where with the SEO (aside from writing barely passable blog articles) and I was pouring money down the drain flying blind through my self-managed Google Ad Campaign. So I outsourced them both to people who had the expertise, and the results came almost instantly. My only regret of outsourcing is that I didn’t do it sooner.
3. No (Knee) Jerks Allowed
Sales conversions not coming in as forecasted? Go a week without a sale or quote request? Don’t panic! There’s no need to freak out if you go through a quiet period, they can just happen from time to time without any real scientific explanation.
Don’t let these situations lead to rash decisions such as discounting pricing or increasing marketing spend.
And be sure to remind yourself about the weeks where you are unexpectedly inundated with sales & inquiries.
4. Complacency is the Enemy
It was April 2019. I had just hit the 6 month mark, and customers started rolling in at unprecedented levels.
‘This is it’ I thought to myself.
All my branding and marketing strategies had worked, and now I just had to ‘set and forget’ and watch the business grow. Right? Wrong, oh so wrong.
May came around, and suddenly the phone stopped ringing, quote requests stopped coming in, and it ended up being my quietest month of trading ever (it still is to this day, although COVID-19 might help break that record).
After the success in April, I had taken my foot off the pedal, and had scaled back on my marketing spend and promotional efforts. It was possibly the biggest error I have made to date, and led me to violate point 3 (re knee jerking) above and in which I hastily reduced my prices in a state of panic.
Moral of the story is never ever get comfortable, especially when things are going well. Try and understand why exactly they are going well, and always work as hard as you did when business was dead quiet.
5. Don’t Be Your Own Prisoner
We’ve all heard the stories of SBO’s complaining about the 25 hour days they work, 8 days a week. Sure, some big hours are needed in the initial phase, particularly if you are doing it all on your own, but don’t feel like it’s going to be a slave grind for the whole journey.
Besides, didn’t you get into this whole thing partly to achieve your desired work/life balance?
I never had the need or desire to regularly burn the midnight oil like a Post-Grad working for a Big Hedge Fund, when I can work fairly productively from 7am to 6pm most days.
This point can easily stray into the heavily laboured topic of productivity, but let’s avoid that for now.
Ask yourself, is working the 15 hour day actually effective? Could you compress a 15 hour day into a 12 hour day? Could you compress a 12 hour day into an 8 hour day?
The answer is probably yes, there is always room for improvement. We’re not perfect, and the only people who claim their days are 100% productive are the liars.
6. Believe in Your Pricing
Do your homework to the nth degree on where your pricing should sit in regards to both your competition and quality of product. Once you finalise where you sit on the pricing chart, commit to it, and be able to justify it if ever questioned as to why you are cheaper or more expensive than your competition.
*Disclaimer: Review your prices on regular intervals, and make sure you are always adapting to both macro and micro economic factors when required. If quotes are turning into sales 0% of the time, you might need to swallow your pride and go back to the drawing board.
7. Reviews Are Golden
Reviews, customer testimonials, referrals — they are all an absolutely invaluable to any budding business that has not yet developed a market reputation. Its said 40% of consumers will form an opinion on a business just from reading 1–3 reviews, and that 80% of consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. (For more hard-hitting stats on the power of reviews like these be sure to check out this fact sheet from Vendasta).
Mainstream reviews are harder to to come by if you are in the B2B world, particularly with a low customer turnover, so you may be more inclined towards testimonials, endorsements and (especially) referrals from other clients.
My business is B2C, with a medium-level customer turnover, and I place a huge emphasis on doing my best to obtain a Google review with every departed customer.
I personally email every customer within a week of them departing our storage facility, with personally drafted email that refers to a unique component of their vehicle in storage with us, or them specifically as a customer. The email contains a link to our Google Reviews page which means they can simply click and get it done in under 60 seconds. Make it as simple as possible for them.
I emphasise that you need to make it personal — a generic ‘Dear Customer’ automated request just won’t cut it.
Don’t be lazy with this. Even my somewhat exhaustive effort only converts to an actual review about 20% of the time.
If you want to increase your chances, offer something to the customer in return for their efforts. This could be a discount on a future purchase, some free merchandise or maybe going into a draw to win a prize.
In the early days if I had a customer who was removing their vehicle from storage and had a few extra days of unpaid storage beyond their agreed term, I’d offer to waive those fee’s in return of a Google review within a specified time period (usually 48 hours). The value of the review to me was worth far more than the discount of $20–30 I was giving up.
Thanks for making it this far — I hope something above resonated with you and your wonderful business project.
Keep that head down!