Dear Megan - If I were to start a business, I'd ensure that I offered a well-rounded inventory of products or services, to the extent possible. For example, if I sold dresses, I'd also have brooches, pins of all kinds, belts, buckles, hooks, buttons ... the lot - for my customers to pick up when they come in for a dress they saw in the window or online. So not only do they not have to visit different vendors for different products, they can also ensure they have absolutely everything they'll need when they are actually ready to don that dress in the morning.
Also, you don't go into a store and then think exclusively about the products available there. You also think about your immediate and not-so-immediate needs. If you have enough products around that will help you use that big purchase, it can be quite a relief. So while offering the odds and ends I mentioned earlier may not make a significant difference to your bottom line (or maybe they might), they will certainly be welcome to your customers and help you build a brand, an identity.
God knows, business can be difficult, so putting on a brave smile when things aren't going your way is very important. I hope you will be able to also provide that sweet smile to your customers!
Bless you and all the very best!
This article is the first of a mini-series by Megan Broussard, a career-lifestyle blogger at ProfessionGal.com. Megan is participating in the IBM My Smarter Commerce campaign in pursuit of starting her own business, and she’ll be sharing what she’s learning with us along the way.
Buckle up. It’s probably going to get bumpy.
Like many Gen Yers, I want to start my own business. Call me the classic want-it-all millennial. Heck, call me crazy for chasing the start-up dream that makes most of our parents worry how we’ll ever pay for health insurance. But I’ve got a small-biz bug bite the size of Silicon Valley that I can’t seem to scratch—so, here I go, trying to launch my dream online boutique in NYC.
Here’s the gist: I’ve been blogging about the career-girl lifestyle for two years now and I want to start selling the products that make your work life easier and more enjoyable. Instead of going to a department store, then an office supply shop, then a home goods store, you’ll be able to make one convenient stop at my site for everything from the perfect interview outfit to pretty cases for your technology to an exercise-ball office chair.
But, before I can open the doors to this one-stop-virtual-shop filled with fabulous work fashion and office merchandise, I’ve got to actually figure out how to get started. Here are the first three steps that have gotten me to stop thinking and start doing when it comes to my business idea.
Get Off Facebook and Get to Work
One of the first steps in starting your business is admitting that you are, in fact, starting a business. While letting all of your Facebook friends and family know that you’ve got something in the works is good, especially since it will hold you accountable, this kind of talk is cheap.
I should know, because I talked about my idea for about a month—but didn’t make any money or advance my business in any way. I had the idea, drive, and courage to get started, but I couldn’t seem to find the time. Strangely, I found time to karaoke with friends, share Taylor Swift’s goat video on Facebook, and spend an entire day watching Season 1 of Girls while gorging on Reese’s Pieces. But, yeah, the business thing was still on the back burner.
Why? Because researching the landscape, getting to know the competition, and gathering ideas and action points to put my business plan in motion (or even find out how to properly draft one in the first place) was daunting. I kept telling myself that I’d sit down and do it all on Saturday. No wait, Sunday. Or, next Sunday—yeah, that was the day.
Don’t pick a day. Start today. Start in pieces and work on it naturally every single day. If you’re passionate about your business idea, you’ll find yourself wanting to do more of it every day. Don’t stifle your creativity by convincing yourself that you need a full day of devotion—just get started now.
Get Feedback Now
Going into it, I thought that my business idea should be kept top secret so that nobody would be tempted to copy such an awesome and obviously insanely profitable concept. Throw that huge misconception out of the door. In fact—as a wise female entrepreneur I profiled on my site once told me—you should scream your business idea from the rooftops.
Why? Frankly, just because you think your idea is perfect, doesn’t mean the rest of the world does. You need to share your idea with a variety of people to learn more about who your demographic is, to see if your price points match up to what people would actually pay, to know if your products are things that people actually want, and so on. So reach out to your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter networks, shoot an email to established entrepreneurs or successful business contacts you know, or try to get some feedback (and potentially funding) using sites like Kickstarter and Quirky. One thing that I learned by asking as many people as possible for their opinions was that women really are looking for stylish ways to organize the gadgets in their lives, from the e-reader and headphones they use on their commutes to the tools use to work remotely. This is helpful.
And, even if someone does try to steal your idea, use it to your advantage. Remember, entrepreneurship is less about the idea than it is the execution, so use competition to light a fire under your you-know-what and get started. Make your business happen first—and make it happen better.
Find a Mentor
While working on the top two items on my to-do list, I connected with a woman who owns an e-commerce site selling golf merchandise for female athletes—another niche market. I initially approached her so she could see whether my idea was viable, but while I was at it, I asked if I could pick her brain on other items I wasn’t sure about, too: Do I need a formal business plan? Do I need investors? How much start-up cash do I need to open the doors?
Finding someone with a similar business model and focus has been the most helpful thing I’ve done so far. For example, I learned that with an e-commerce site in particular, you should avoid initial investors if possible so that you can maintain control over the brand. I learned that a business plan is great for personal tracking, but only really necessary when formally pitching to investors.
Getting tips on short-cuts, pitfalls, and good people to work with is invaluable for getting your business off the ground, and hearing from someone who has gone through it before will make the first stage of the process go much faster.
So, what’s next? Well, I’m working on drafting a mockup of my site based on the compilation of successful site designs and processes so that I can have a visual to refer to when pitching potential brands. And, I’m actively looking for recommendations on an SEO consultant to help me drive traffic to the site upon launch.
And I’m using this series as a way to keep myself accountable. I’m counting on your support, so don’t hesitate to be that nagging friend I need. Leave comments, questions, or suggestions for me and my business idea below. And tell me what you’re working on! I’m looking at this series as a conversation—a joint learning experience for all of us.