Lessons Learned: A New Business Owner’s Dirty Laundry

It’s okay to be the tortoise, the hare is done with the race entirely too fast. – RP

It all started with one question. “If I were to sell scarves, would you buy them?” Enough people said yes that I went ham with my crochet needles and my incessant trips to the yarn aisle at Michael’s. I was in a crafting woman’s heaven. So many colors and textures. And so many people in love with my designs, I’d felt like I made it.

I researched Etsy, found out what was popular, decided pricing. I even opened a store.

And today, several sales later, I have a thriving design and stationery business.

Wait, but I thought you sold scarves. I did. I do. Well, kinda. I guess.

That’s where the lessons begins.

Lesson 1: Just start.

I believe the biggest hurdle for entrepreneurs is getting started. So many people say it, but so many of us don’t do it…and I’ll go on a limb and say that we who have an advertising or business background may be the biggest offenders. Our day jobs are to keep the organizations we work for — those with multimillion (or billion) dollar budgets — not only from failing, but thriving.

We have all the right recipes. Understand the psychology of people, the science of marketing and ind and outs of communications, accounting and HR, so much so that we can’t help but to approach our itty bitty startups the way we approach the companies that have been around for over 100 years.

We don’t give credit where credit is due, noticing that these businesses also started somewhere. They didn’t become the conglomerate that they are today overnight.

And neither will your or my business…and it definitely won’t become anything if we don’t just start.

Lesson 2: Your beginning is not your ending.

Back the beginning of this story. When I started this new business, it was not supposed to be a design business. I was going to sell scarves. And I was going to design and sell a planner. The Work/Life Balance planner. That was it.

I had no idea that I was going to fall in love with photoshop and design and want to spend my spare time thinking up and forming designs almost daily. That just happened. And I happened to be okay at it. Maybe, I should say I happened to BECOME okay at it.

And people eventually liked my designs..and they bought my stuff. And they liked it when they got it. And that made me happy.

That was enough to keep me moving.

Lesson 3: Keep moving.

When I started Affirmed Designs, I had no clue what I was doing. Pricing items and marketing were the pieces that I was the best at…and that’s because I have a background in marketing and strategic business. (Did you hear me…I wasn’t even great at design!)

I had no clue how to put a planner together. I had no clue how to add plugins to photoshop. I had no clue how to ship items. I had no clue what to charge for shipping. I didn’t know the best supplies to buy. Heck. I didn’t even know the final name of my business.

The only thing I knew — and was committed to — was to keep moving. Regardless of how hard, tough, or confusing it was I kept moving. I lost so much money trying to figure things out. There were bad print jobs Bad cut jobs. And so on. But I just kept moving.

Lesson 4: Things will fall into place.

After all the trial and error, things eventually began to fall into place. After tons of research and playing around, I realized what I wanted my business to stand for. It wasn’t just pretty designs and stickers for planners. It was more than that. It was about speaking affirmation and positivity into the lives of women. It was about creating something that they could look at and feel like they belonged in the world. Like they could reach their goals. Like they had a purpose, even if they’ve never felt that before. Affirmed Designs was birthed to create a place a of strength, to act as a piece of my overall personal mission.

But I didn’t know that until I’d bumped my head, cried tears, and made so many mistakes. The grunt work had to be done before the beauty was revealed. But once the beauty was revealed it was smooth sailing…kinda.

Lesson 5: Set real, but kinda stupid goals.

Number one. I’m a procrastinator. Number two. I like the creative process more than I like the fulfillment process. So it was all fine and dandy when I was on the computer creating items, but I kinda dreaded having an order come through. I tried many things to make that better. I tried writing thank you notes in advance. I set up my “production studio” to create a better flow for fulfillment. I even ordered return address stickers. All of those things made it better, but it was not right…mainly because I HATED CUTTING ITEMS BY HAND. The problem with this is that I had the electric die cutting tool by hand. So to overcome this horrible problem, I took down my Etsy shop and set a personal goal; I’d turn my Etsy shop back on once I’d learned to use the die cutting machine. This meant that I couldn’t take orders for the majority of my products (i.e. make money) until I’d learned to use the machine.

Needless to say, I learned to use the machine. This quickly spurred into creating inventory…and for some reason sales picked up tremendously.

Lesson 6: Learn from your mistakes…QUICKLY.

Two things about mistakes. Mistakes cost money. And mistakes cost customers…which essentially is money. And I don’t like losing money.

Being horrible at (and hating) fulfillment, I would miss shipping dates. This resulted in less than optimal situations. 1) I refunded a customer money because I’d miss the date so drastically. 2) I had a customer report me to Etsy.

In a nutshell, I was bad a customer service. It was essential that I learned from that quickly. To overcome it, I went back to lesson 5 and made it a goal to ship on time. And this wasn’t a mental goal. It was a goal that I’d written out on my monthly goals spreadsheet.

Learning to use my die cutter helped tremendously. I’d also made it a point to create inventory. Those things together have helped me reduce my shipping time from 1-2 weeks to 3-5 days. (I also think this is a factor in sales picking up.)

Lesson 7: Be okay with being the tortoise.

I looked at the number of sales I’d achieved on Etsy over the course of the year and was a little discouraged. But then I thought about it. I accomplished so much over the course of the year. I created and defined a brand…one that I feel can stand up over the course of time. I became pretty solid in my digital marketing approach.I streamlined my fulfillment and shipping processes.  I progressed SO MUCH in m photoshop skills. I still found a balance in my life and work. (I’m very involved in church, have a full-time job, and I’m inn a long-distance relationship…where we travel to see each other 1-2 times a week.) I expanded my product offering. And I did almost all of it by myself. In essence, I set what I feel to be a firm foundation for a solid business model.

Bonus Lesson 1: Pat yourself on the back.

There will be many days where no one will pat you on your back. That’s okay. You’re gonna feel like you’re doing it alone and when you’ll feel like you’re not as good as the one next to you…or measuring up to the invisible stick only you’ve created. And that’s okay too. Those are the days you’ll have to reach your hand  behind your neck and pat yourself on the back. Only you know the time, energy and money you’ve put into your business. And for that, you deserve a pat on the back…and likely a glass of wine.

Bonus Lesson 2: DO NOT COMPARE.

If there is anything I can’t stress more, it’s this one. I once read that comparison (or competition) is the thief of joy. *rolls eyes* THIS IS SO TRUE. More than that, it’s the one thing that can get you off your rocker quicker than anything else. It’s one thing to research and to know the market, it’s another to use someone else as your measuring stick. When you compare, you have the potential to lose sight of what you really stand for and, worse, become depressed and/or become a really nasty person. It is true that there’s enough room for all of us, and like stated in Girl Code, no one can do it like you. Stand on that. Keep your eye focused on your goal, and try to leave this world better than when you came into it. There’s enough cattiness and nastiness in this world. Let’s be better and do better. I believe in you.

1 comment

  1. Great post Regina, I’m very much the procrastinating tortoises!

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