Sunday, March 19, 2017

10 Lessons I've Learned in My First Year in Business

THIS MONTH MARKS MY FIRST YEAR IN BUSINESS. I remember the desire to venture into entrepreneurship came last 2014 while working as a marketer in Sydney. Since I was working for a small company, I needed to take multiple roles, not just marketing and advertising but also business development, while managing a small offshore call center for the company. After a tiring day, I realized then that it would be more rewarding if I could channel all my efforts at work into something that's my own.

Fast forward to two years later, I was a ball of nerves as I registered my business name and designed my very own logo! I didn't have a background in business or finance; my skills and competency lie in the liberal arts. Taking the plunge to being an entrepreneur without much guidance seemed like I was feeling my way in the dark. But they say that experience is the best teacher. That one year of groping and playing by ear taught me a few things about business, the market, and how to make my ideas work. I'm just a home business or a micro-enterprise, as what they call it, but I'm learning, growing, and enjoying this opportunity to create. 

Photo by Lyubomir Kubadinov

Lesson 1 - Start small.
When I started, I wanted to do a lot of things all at once but learned that I needed to filter my ideas and work only with the best top three. Starting small enables us to focus and execute with precision. Sure, we need to dream big but when you're a small business, starting with a few available resources and with what you can manage allows you to be more efficient and to respond on time when a problem occurs.

Lesson 2 - Networking and partnerships may not bring direct sales but they can lead you to one.
I didn't receive instant sales upon joining bridal fairs and partnering with other vendors, but networking has boosted my confidence as a novice entrepreneur and has given me the avenue to practice my sales pitch and receive valuable feedback.

Lesson 3 - Get inspiration but develop your own identity.
When I conceived the idea behind Jules and Joy Gifts, I checked if other people were doing the same. Sure enough, a few had the same concept (but not locally, though)! I initially felt disappointed but then realized that I can learn and receive a lot of inspiration from those existing similar businesses. The first few products I launched were inspired by some of theirs. I added my personal style and focused on providing a more intimate and needs-based customer service. As a result, I was able to develop my signature products out of those initial ones which were inspired by the businesses that started before me.

Photo by Summer Rayne

Lesson 4 - Mistakes are part of the game.
I began operation with countless mistakes. I mentally scolded and kicked myself every time supplies got wasted because of my errors and lapses. My husband encouraged me to reboot and move forward. Looking back, I know some of those mistakes were necessary so I could be aware of my limitations and build foresight. 

Lesson 5- Invest in yourself.
You are your business' greatest asset. Take time not just to study but also to play and rest. In my case, the times when I'm well rested are the times I'm inspired to create. Yes, I did go to finance workshops, attended small business seminars, and watched tutorials, but I also went to painting classes just for fun.

Lesson 6 - Seek new or alternative channels.
Don't be afraid to collaborate even with your presumed competitors. The more avenues in which your products are made available, the more you profit.

Lesson 7 - Many choices confuse customers.
Analyzing the history of my sales, I found one conspicuous trend - customers often choose the simple and the basic. When you offer too many options, like designs, add-ons, and instructions, many of them get confused and lose interest. It's always better to show them the basics and provide options only when they ask.

Lesson 8 - Never fail to communicate.
I've proven that customers don't want to be left in the dark. They want information in every stage of the selling process. There was a time I messed up and I pondered overnight on whether I should inform the customer what happened or just be silent until I fixed the problem. I decided to be honest and update the customer. She appreciated the effort and gave me a good review!

Lesson 9 - Be patient.
I received my very first sale two months after I launched; the second one a month after. It started slow at the beginning but picked up after six months. I broke even in less than a year. Not all businesses are the same though. Some take off instantly, while others take time to grow. Allow some time to get noticed and don't lose hope right away.
Lesson 10 - Celebrate small victories.
One of my guiding principles in life came from 1 Thessalonians, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Every sale made and every target hit are opportunities for me to be grateful. More than the numbers, knowing that I made a bride happy or helped someone with a gifting need assures me I'm on the right track. And that calls for a celebration. =)

I didn't include other lessons in this list, like calculating profit margin, developing a website, or advertising on social media. These things can be learned through text books and the internet. Some valuable lessons we'll learn in business can only be obtained through first-hand experience.


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