Entrepreneurship experience works similarly as treading the ‘uncharted waters’. You can never avoid making mistakes no matter how well-prepared you are.
Making mistakes are a natural process of every startup. What’s important here is to learn from it ensuring a successful business. So here’s my take at what I’ve learned from my e-commerce business Mirsky Mode startup:
- Solve People’s Problem
- Use your Strengths and Weaknesses
- Overnight Success Does Not Exists
- Surround Yourself with the Right Team
- Be Clear On Your Value Proposition
- Define Your Customers Clearly
- Not All Your Customers Are Always Right
- Learn From Mistakes
- No Money, No Business
- My Final Two Cent
Solve People’s Problem
- Will your product solve people’s problems?
- Would consumers buy your products?
Each time you are excited that you have invented or discovered something ‘cool’ that can be sold to people, ask yourself “Will it solve people’s problems?”
Calm yourself and take a step back from your Eureka moment. Put yourself in one shoe. For example, let’s say you’ve found a supplier which offers cheap bulk sale of branded sneakers. Ask yourself whether there’s a strong market for that particular brand. Continue by questioning whether the design is still trending. Or ask would consumers buy from a new business selling cheaper sneakers than an already established retail store selling same product? If you can answer truthfully and confident it will work, then go ahead.
Use Your Strengths, Outsource Weaknesses
- Work on your company’s core work.
- Outsource non-core work by hiring part-time employees
Your strengths are what’s going to help you strive. Use it to your advantage and continue to focus on building your strengths. Leave your weaknesses by outsourcing it or assign them to part-time employee(s) if you are on tight budget.
When I started out Mirsky Mode, I knew back then my main weakness was sales. I was never really good at sweet-talking for sales. Not that I’m not good in conversations, I’m just poor at selling. So I knew this should be the focus point of outsourcing. I started offering good commissions to willing seller/salespeople as soon as I had the product. I even approached retail & wedding stores and offered them my product. There were even online sellers helped selling the bags. These allowed more time for me to work on other business aspects.
Whilst it may not sound like I’ve made a mistake, I wished I had spent more time on outsourcing to private sellers and spend little time on optimizing e-commerce website – which could’ve been done later on.
Overnight Success Does Not Exists
- Balance out your goals by setting both long and short term goals.
- Focus on long term goals e.g. improving brand awareness, customer loyalty and product differentiation.
Many people always like the idea of instant success. Years of observing and running my family company AP, I have learned that it takes years of hard work to be running a successful business.
Even Amazon, which was considered as an instant success took about 3 years to get where they are today – and this does not happen often. What I’ve learned from MBA, it takes 3, 5 to 10 years to succeed depending on how well you manage your product and business.
That being said, try to be balance on what you want to achieve within the next 1, 2, 3 and 5 years. Set where you want to be of your brand awareness, customer loyalty and product differentiation apart from focusing on sales growth alone. Be in it for the long haul.
Surround Yourself with the Right Team
- Successful business is a reflection of great people working together as a unit.
- Get people who understands your organizational culture on your team.
Let’s face it, no matter how brilliant you are, you simply can’t do everything by yourself. Look at great leaders today, whilst they are considered among smartest people in the business, they have argued the accomplishment was thanks to great teamwork.
Successful businesses are a reflection of great people working together cohesively. A great team does not only consist the brightest people but also those fit in well with existing members so they can immediately work as a unit.
Employees who understand your organizational culture is also important so they will work and believe in the things your company does.
Be Clear On Your Value Proposition
- Clearly explain and describe what exactly your product does. How does it benefit the consumers?
Even with the right product and marketing strategies, if you don’t understand your business values, how do you expect the message to be sent through to your consumers?
You must never expect consumers know your product simply from reading your brochures and flyers distributed.
Always be ready to clearly explain your business and tell them how exactly your product solves their problems. Don’t be afraid to reveal its weaknesses, as revealing it could help in building trust with the consumers. In fact, add further that your company continues to build on these weaknesses to build better product in the future – a quality that shows your business is in it for long term, not for quick sales.
Define Your Customers Clearly
- Try to be specific as possible to identify your target audience. The more focused your market, the better. It’s not about mass marketing. It’s about getting the right information to the right group of people.
You’ll be surprised by the number of business owners I talk to who can’t clearly define who their customers are.
This makes it difficult for their business to succeed. To whom are they going to sell to if they have no idea who and where their market is? Be clear and try to be as accurate as you can defining your customers. The more details you add, you will end up more likely to reach to the right customers.
Don’t worry if you feel your market is too small or niche. It’s not about the volume. It’s about getting the right amount of information to the right group of people. You can’t simply sell elevated shoes to a group who are majority tall people and expect them to buy. You have to sell to the right group of people to start getting results.
Take into consideration of the demographic, environment and interests of consumers to clearly define your market. Don’t be afraid to go into details, I assure you, it is worth the time.
Not All Customers Are Always Right
- Learn to say ‘No’ to customers who have crossed the line. Give them other benefits instead.
I had to learn this the hard way. When I entered the entrepreneurship world, I gladly accepted the idea that customers are always right. I was dead wrong.
We faced several customers who were quite difficult to deal with. They are not terrible folks, they were just being too demanding for the price they paid for. We had a promotion of Buy 1 Free 1 bag for limited bag designs, and they went for it not realizing that the options of Free 1 were limited. They demanded for a bag which was not in the options, we obliged after several attempts explaining to them. Then, they returned several days later to return the free bag selecting another one – we obliged after several arguments considering they are our favorite customers.
You might feel there was nothing wrong. What I’ve learned few days later was that, few customers were very interested to purchase the bag that was not offered in Free 1 offer. I have lost a sale of about RM1600 on that day by giving it away freely under the Buy 1 Free 1 promotion. It was a big deal for us considering we’ve just been in business for several weeks.
The point of this long story is, don’t simply oblige to your customers even favorite ones. You need to stick with your marketing and sales plans and learn to say no to customers before it starts costing your business.
Learn From Mistakes
- Talk to business owners and learn from their experience. You won’t prevent a mistake but you will certainly reduce the amount.
Making mistakes is a normal thing in every startup. You can’t avoid entirely. But it always help to learn mistakes made by others so that you can limit your own mistakes in your own startup.
Before I started Mirsky Mode, I started talking to some business owners who have been successful in running their companies. I didn’t know anyone who runs ecommerce business at the time so I talked to everyone I knew who run businesses.
Despite of different sector, I managed to learn from their mistakes and adapted into the industry I was entering.
Make a list of two columns. Write the mistakes by them in first column and describe your plans to avoid it in relation to your business in the second column.
For example, let’s say you listed down the problem of a property developer who outsourced much of its work outside leading to poor management of project. In the second column, simply describe your plan to avoid this problem. You might write ‘outsource only non-core work/weak department’ as a solution to the problem. Add as much weaknesses you can discover as it can be very helpful in the future.
No Money, No Business
- Start selling once you are ready to sell. Don’t wait till you feel you have everything prepared.
Money is what drives every business. Without it, you are ought to fail. Common sense.
When I first started out, I was focused on every aspect of business (e.g. purchasing, strategies, logistics, marketing etc) but forget that sales should be top on the list. I was so busy trying to get every department in par with plans till I kept slowing down sales activities trying to making sure everything is in order. Whilst it is important to pay to attention to details, in this case, you have to learn make do with what you have.
Once you have the product and strongly feels you are ready to sell, you have to sell! Don’t wait for other details.
As long as you have the basic needs to support your sales activities (e.g. flyers, online ad images etc), you can go ahead and proceed selling. Don’t wait till you have everything prepared.
My Final Two Cents
Running startups can be very challenging at times. You will make mistakes, no matter how well planned your business plan becomes. It will become a headache and you might find yourself in difficult situations at times. These are normal. The trick here is to constantly remind yourselves it is a part of the entrepreneurial process. Never stop learning from mistakes and make the journey as enjoyable possible. Trust your business plan as this is where it becomes very useful. Don’t lose sight of what your business sets out to achieve in the first place.