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Ten things I learned from starting a business


Starting a businessAs some of you know, I am in the process of starting a business – a handmade organic soap line called Soaps to Live By. I love starting new businesses and seeing my ideas come to life (in a future post I'll share with you why and how I got the idea for Soaps to Live By).

As some of you may also know, I've launched, grown and sold a few other companies – three to be exact. You can say that I'm a “serial entrepreneur” and I love it! But during this most recent launch, I learned a few things that I'd love to share with you. So if you are starting a business or looking for inspiration for your current one, here are the ten things I learned over the last few months.

Starting a business – ten things I learned

  1. You're never fully ready to start
    I got the idea for Soaps to Live By almost a year ago – and I sat with it, ran it by a few friends and family members and really thought about whether it makes sense for me to start another business considering that I already have a very successful business. I even registered the domain name so it would be there when I was ready to create my website. Well, interestingly enough, I never really felt fully ready to launch this new business. I kept thinking that next month would be better than this month and the month after that would be even better. So I waited and waited for months… and then one day I decided TODAY IS THE DAY and I got the ball rolling. Did I feel fully ready? Absolutely not? Did I start anyway? Yes… and looking back I realized that there will always be a reason WHY or a reason WHY NOT – so you just have to go out there and start doing it whether or not you feel fully ready. My website is still not 100% ready – the optin form needs to be changed, the footer needs more content, my blog is not up yet – but I'm moving forward with what is ready instead of waiting for it all to fall into place before I take action.
  2. Don't try to do it all yourself
    In the past, I have been guilty of the “do it all yourself” syndrome. You know, the one where you do EVERYTHING – the manufacturing, the shipping, the marketing, the social media interaction, the press release writing, the website design, the packaging, and so on? I've been there and done it all and it resulted in FAST BURNOUT. This time around I decided to do what I enjoy most and what I do best – publicity and wholesale – and hire other people to help me do the rest. To make my vision come alive, I hired some really talented people to make the soaps, design the packaging, take and edit photos, do research on stores and wholesale, design the website and create all the graphics. I am still doing some things myself, but it's the things that I am best at and that I love to do! And yes, it did require me to invest money in starting my business – something that is a risk, but I believe in my vision and I know I can make this company succeed and I will be paid back many times over (if you're starting a business and don't believe in yourself, it's time to shift your thinking – because if YOU don't believe it, no one else will, either).
  3. It sometimes takes more money than you think to launch your brand
    In the past, I've prided myself on starting businesses on almost non-existent budgets. I started my t-shirt company with under $1,000 and I did everything myself – photos, website, hangtags, product catalogs, and more to save money. That worked for a while, but when I needed to step it up and “go pro” my designs weren't cutting it. So I invested in a photographer & designer to help me. With Soaps to Live By, I decided to “go pro” right from the beginning and set up things the way I really want them and it cost a lot! But what I didn't budget for were things like a new printer, printed catalogs, trademark fee, shipping fees and sample fees for the press, shopping cart hosting fees and more. My original budget included manufacturing and design, but not the “marketing.” And when my original designer wasn't producing the packaging that I wanted, I decided to cut my losses and start over with a new designer – which wasn't in my original budget.
  4. Packaging matters
    soapstolivebyYou can't deny that people buy products because the packaging speaks to them. Sometimes it's not even about the product – it's about the packaging. Since I launched I have received SO MANY comments about the soap packaging – everyone from editors to customers to buyers at Whole Foods – the first thing that they always say is “I love your packaging.” If you haven't paid much attention to your packaging yet, maybe it's time to revisit it. As a matter of fact, I just got off a phone with a sales rep who is interested in my products and she said “All of this stuff about organic ingredients is great, but that's not the first thing that people care about. I really love your product because your packaging is cute.”
  5. Finding your niche is more important now than ever
    There are A TON of other organic handcrafted soap companies out there. Some of you reading this might be making and selling soaps as well! How do you ensure that your brand will be successful? You have to be really specific about who your target market is and it can't be broad – women 20-40 or college students. You have to get a lot more specific than that – what do they like to do, where do they live, what do they read, and so on. The more specific you can get in WHO you want your ideal customer to be, the more likely you are to attract him/her.
  6. There will be setbacks
    You'll find that with almost anything you do, including launching a new product or company, there will be setbacks. Those are a natural part of the process and if you have embraced them instead of letting them defeat you. Yes, I was stressed out when the files that my designer sent to the label printer needed an extra 1/16 of an inch of bleed and my designer had just left on vacation for two weeks and I had a show coming up for which I needed the soaps (with labels). I was about to give up and thoughts like “why is this happening to me?” and “if I was doing this all myself this never would have happened” crossed my mind… but I let them go over and over again. Or when the one blogger who I thought my soaps would be a PERFECT fit for wrote back to me saying “Thanks, but I don't think this is a good fit for our site…” WHAT? What does she mean it's not a good fit? But it's important to brush those aside and move on. There are a hundred other sites who would find my products to be a good fit and I will find them – even if it takes me another year.
  7. “If you build it, they will come” is a myth
    Can you relate to this – your website is now live and all your hard work has finally paid off. You are expecting tons of orders to come in. After all, all your friends and family know that your site just launched – but the orders are not coming through. You wait and wait – still no orders. This happened to me when I pressed the LIVE button on www.SoapsToLiveBy.com website – not one order for the first few days. “Maybe this isn't going to work…” was constantly going through my head. Until I decided to change my attitude and shift from “If you build it, they will come” to “If you market it, they will come.” Or, better yet, “If you build relationships, they will come.” So I started reaching out to stores, to bloggers, to editors, to places on Facebook where I knew my ideal customers were and I began to build relationships and communicate. And an amazing thing happened – orders started to come in, editors began requesting samples and sales reps started to call. But I had to reach out instead of waiting for them to find me. That's something I'll continue to do for as long as I have this business because IT WORKS!
  8. smellgoodPricing right is tricky but critical
    OK, I am going to be brutally honest here – $8 for a bar of soap is A LOT! I don't know if I've ever bought an $8 bar of soap (other than when I bought it from a friend to support her business and because I love her soaps). As a matter of fact, I usually only buy soap when it's on sale at Whole Foods or my local health food store. Organic soap is something that I LOVE and I have been using exclusively for at least the last 15 years. So I expect to pay $4-5 for a bar. But $8? When I was trying to figure out what I should be pricing my soaps at, it came out to a range of $8 to $10.ย  And when you consider all of the materials that go into making soap, plus all of the markups you have to include if you want to sell to stores, through sales reps and if you want to offer discounts and specials, it turns out that I would have to price my soaps at $8 or more to make a profit, pay myself and invest back in the company to help it grow. So I had to get over the “REALLY, WHO WOULD PAY $8 FOR A BAR OF SOAP” thoughts running through my head and realize that there are a ton of people out there who would pay that much for a bar of soap (including me if I felt like I HAD to have that soap). There are people who pay $1,000 for a car and those who pay $250,000 for it – and everything in between. There are a lot of people out there who will pay what you are asking if you position yourself correctly and if you believe that your products are worth that much. It took me a while to get to this point, but I feel great at $8 now.
  9. It's OK to have doubts – but don't let them hold you back
    I've had some pretty successful businesses, but I have to be honest – there were times when I wasn't sure if it was going to work. When orders aren't coming in for weeks or when no one is signing up for your newsletter it's easy to think that things might not work out. But the secret to success is to do something about it instead of letting it defeat you. Orders are not coming in? What can you be doing to get more people to your site? Are they coming to your site but not buying? Could it be your actual product or your site that's making them turn away? Keep asking questions and searching for answers. Then turn those doubts into opportunities to try new things and improve on already existing ones.
  10. Focus on the things that are going well and don't take things personallyย When starting a business you'll encounter lots of setbacks (see #6). But if you keep on focusing what's not working instead of what is working, you'll get more of the things that are not working. Like the time when a magazine editor wanted samples for a photoshoot NOW and my printer was acting up and the quality of the printout was embarrassing, to say the least (and there were no stores open where I could go to buy a new printer cartridge). My options? Feel sorry for myself that I ruined this opportunity to get featured in a magazine or send it anyway – bad print quality and all… I decided to send it anyway and guess what? The editor emailed me a few days later to let me know that she received my package and loves the soaps – and no mention of the bad print quality! There have been so many instances like these since I launched Soaps to Live By. And that's ok… I continue to focus on what's going well and address the things that aren't going well without taking it all personally.

I continue to learn new things every day as I am launching this business and I feel so alive and ready to step it up!

Can you relate to any of the ten things about when you are launching a business? If so, leave a comment below and let me know. I'd love to know about your experience!

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  1. Yes and thanks, Andreaa, I can relate to many points. At times it seems my ideal client isn’t online. I’m working on creating items to reach her now with a few jewelry distractions that I just gotta try. Doubts, you bet, but I’m plugging along.

    Reworking the PMB course a little at a time.

    And, I just redid my home page – asking for help from a friend.

  2. Congrats Andreea! You’re right the first thing that caught my eye was the packaging – LOVE LOVE LOVE!! I’ve been wanting to create something eye catching for my line, this gives me motivation to find the perfect packaging designer!!

  3. Thanks for this article – it’s very inspiring! Points 7 & 8 in particular spoke to me. I have started to figure out my niche and target market, but now I need to go out and FIND them! Also, the pricing is always on my mind. I go back and forth on that. Right now I’m mainly selling on Etsy and I seem to be in the same range as my competitors – but I’m not selling much, so I need to decide if price is the issue.
    Thanks again and best wishes with your new endeavor!

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience , I been experiencing the same things, I finally decided to go ahead and start doing things, I am working on my new product packaging right now, you are right, packaging is very important. I love yours, very creative. Have a wonderful birthday.

  5. Thanks for so perfectly expressing what so many of us have been through or are in the midst of! I was reading and nodding my head from one point to the next.

    A business mentor once told me that you may not be your own customer! There are plenty of people willing to pay $8, $10, $20 for a bar of soap!

    Thank you for being so open and sharing of your journey – you are an inspiration!

    Kathy

  6. Very exciting news and happy birthday to you on my birthday!
    Wishing everything positive and good on your newest venture.
    Here’s to success!
    Lauri

  7. This was a perfect reminder to never give up and believe in ourselves.
    I whole-heartily believe in my product and what I do, but so many times when sales arenโ€™t rolling in or something goes wrong, feelings of doubt and frustration over power me. Every once in a while I need to step back and ask, โ€˜What do I love about what I do?โ€ To keep my attitude in check and as a reminder to why I began this journey, I now keep pictures of the smiling kids wearing our donated t-shirts next to my computer.

    I wish you the best with your new venture. Thanks for the great content you publish โ€“ you are an inspiration!

  8. I love this post. It hit home at so many points with me. I was just talking to a friend on facebook about all my issues when your email for the post came in. I am so glad I opened it and read that I am not the only one dealing with this. I am so happy that you did this post I can’t say it enough.

  9. Item #1 is especially poignant for me. I am in the middle of launching my t-shirt line and I have my moments where I feel that everything must be perfect before I launch. Now I realize that it is OK to not be 100% ready, and that waiting for perfection is just another form of procrastination.

    Thank you so much for writing these tips, and I cannot wait to try your soaps!

  10. Great post…and so true. I am really wondering how to get my Alchemical oils out to more people. Also need to communicate more effectively the benefits and why they are not just straight essential oils… I also believe that the packaging is so important but it’s also so tricky if you don’t have thousands of dollars to pour into this aspect…

  11. Thank you Andreea for all the useful tips! Currently I am working on my jewelry website and hopefully it will be launched soon. Your post is fantastic and gives the exact guidelines for me. In fact I don’t know what to expect after the site is launched. Getting people to come visit my site will be a big challenge. I am looking forward to more great posts from your blog. Last but not least, wish you a happy birthday month!

  12. Excellent article (and a happy birthday to all of us August babies)! Being an entrepreneur has its rewards, but one of the big challenges is feeling like we have to do everything. Thanks for the tips!

  13. Love these things that you learned Andrea! Could relate to all of these since I started my bus recently ๐Ÿ™‚ All the best with your soaps!

  14. THANK YOU Andreea! I have been standing under a cloud of self doubt and lets face it…..a pitty party. Reading your article has blown my cloud away and I am ready to change my mind set and make this dream I have come true. I know our products are great I just need to shine a spot light on them so people know we here.

  15. Andreea, thank you for this post!!! I so needed it and especially point number 8. It is so nice to know I’m not alone. I love your soaps by the way!

  16. Many helpful points and a good refreshing reminder – in particular I find it such a challenge for point #5 in my business. How do you be specific about who your target market is? I thought I’ve been working on a focus range of women 20 – 40.

  17. As always, Andreea, a great read. After a particularly difficult week, this was sorely needed to help me refocus. It’s reassuring to know that you, with all your experience, sometimes run into the same kinds of things I do with my business. All the best for “Soaps To Live By”.

  18. Wow! Thank you for sharing your experience. It seems to mirror mine. Especially with the last minute printing chaos. Kristen above also made a great point. I am the perfectionist and that can be a form of procrastination. This is something I will be working hard on. I did not realize that it did not have to be 100% perfect before I put out a new product. That takes a lot of pressure off and maybe now I can enjoy my business.

  19. I am glad to read this article. I am re doing my Etsy shop and have been struggling with pricing a lot. I can also relate to #7. I realized with my last shop, I didn’t think about marketing soon enough.

  20. Thanks Andreea! I love how you are so open and candid about your success and failures with your business. We are all human and often deal with the same issues in our life. I appreciate that you are willing to share that with all of us!
    Thanks again,
    Andreea

  21. Hi Andreea,
    Thanks for this article and all your other gems ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m not in the business of making my own things for sale, but I am in business for myself in that I am an Independent PartyLite consultant in Australia and what you have said up here is most encouraging for me in so many ways as I strive to be better in my business
    thanks and I wish you abundant success in all of your ventures.
    I’ve passed the link to this blog on to team members in a couple of groups I am with ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Happy birthday, congrats on your new business. I can relate to the majority of the items on your list. Seeing it re-energized me and confirmed my commitment to growing my company.

  23. How were you able to find someone to help you research wholesale accounts? I’d love to expand the wholesale side of my business, but am completely lost as to what all I need or where I should start. It would be nice to have someone to help me!

  24. I just convinced myself to be true to my ideal aesthetic and am revamping my line and look. As an out of work mom of two, its hard to stay focused on the big picture when there are so many of life’s little details to take care of. I just passed up a free photosphere with my professional photographer brother because I felt so unmotivated, self-conscience and doubtful. This post was exactly what I needed to put wind back in my Sails!
    Thank you sooooo much!

  25. I can relate to each point. Your article is inspiring. I love your candor and advice in #6 and #10 and not letting the setback hold you back. Thank you.

  26. I just stumbled my way here through a Pinterest search for starting a business, and I’m so glad I found your tips! I have been throwing around an idea since the end of winter, and I am still excited about and and have gathered my thoughts and prepared enough to start seeking out some help. Did you find a mentor or someone to share your ideas with in the beginning? I know I need guidance, but I’m not sure where to find it.

    Thanks!
    Kristin

  27. Hi Andrea,
    Thank you for doing what you do:) I could relate to so many things you said, and I learned so much from the rest! I have recently developed a product and e-commerce store and as a graphic designer with little funds, I feel like I need to EVERYTHING. It’s exhausting and I don’t have time to do what I am good at and love…Thank you for letting me know, I don’t have to and probably shouldn’t. Looking forward to reading and learning more from you!
    Can’t wait to try your soaps too! Oh, and BTW, LOVE LOVE LOVE the packaging/design. Perfect.
    Best Wishes,
    Jill

  28. thanks you so much for sharing . I felt you are talking me when you shared about the setbacks. Since long I was looking for a link where I can get proper guidance to start my business with a good start.. and there i go ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll follow you regularly ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. Happy Birthday Andeea, and a BIg Congratulations on the launch of your new company.
    Looking forward to reading more of your very sound and insightful advice.

  30. Hello Andrea:

    Congratulations on your new business. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful advice on starting a new business venture. I know so many of us can relate to similar experiences. I have recently started my online gift store using dropshippers. Can you share ideas for an e-commerce site for showcasing the products right and bringing in more traffic/sales? Thanks again for sharing your experience!

  31. Thank you SO much for posting this!! I can totally relate to your story! I have encountered many of the same situations and it so easy to feel hopeless at times and wonder if its all worth it. At the end of the day, I know that what I’m doing is amazing, I’ve put so much thought, energy and passion in to my product line that it would be silly to just quit. I need to constantly keep up with the marketing, especially since we are new. I was naive and thought people would just find us and buy lol. Not the case at all, I’ve really had to prove what makes us unique and our products so special. Thank you again, this has been such a refreshing and much needed read!

  32. Such a great post, Andreea!

    Having recently launched a line of baby & kids tees, I can relate to every single point–especially #1. I spent so much time preparing for my launch, wanting the brand, website and products to be perfect. My husband finally said: Just do it, already! And he was right, I was totally procrastinating (out of fear, perfectionism, etc). Once I launched, I definitely had to make tweaks and deal with issues, but I was moving forward.

    Being a graphic designer, I also appreciate your point that your branding and packaging must be well-designed. Great product photography, branding, packaging/hangtags makes a product look upscale and professional–which also makes it appealing to retail stores. Because of my experience with branding, I’ve put a major focus on it with my new product line and I think it makes a difference.

    I’m learning as I go along, and I still have a tendency to wait on launching new products or promos, wanting every detail to be perfect. But I have my husband’s voice in my head, telling me to “go for it!”

  33. do you do classes or seminars to share all the steps— contacts, marketing strategies etc? That would be extremely beneficial to someone just starting thanks

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