I Need Some Advice…And A Line Of Credit

Let’s face it. New business owners have a heck of a lot to learn when they’re first starting out and they often learn very costly lessons. Wouldn’t it be great to have a trusted funding resource with expertise in your industry, which could guide decision-making with sound advice and help you better manage your financial resources?

Back in my handbag design days, I spent a lot of time and money trying to boil the ocean. That’s a big-time business cliché, I know, but it really was applicable. I didn’t know what handbag styles would be a hit so I created a lot of different prototypes just in case, in an attempt to please as many potential customers as possible. Damn, that was a pricey error in judgement. I cast too wide a net and didn’t narrow in on my target demographic. Then, I spent an insane amount of money on PR to reach all those potential customers. Another waste. Bad mistakes turned into colossally huge ones because I became desperate….to make money, to get press, to find customers.

Presenting a new idea - crowdfunding or community funding concept

Presenting a new idea – crowdfunding or community funding concept

It would have been great NOT to max out a bunch of credit cards and work with a funding source that could have provided advice along with a line of credit. I could have owed much less and worked with financial experts in the fashion industry who could have provided valuable insight around the right areas of focus for my fledgling business.

A roadmap for expansion is critical but it’s hard to know, early on, what components should be included. Once you decide your focus, it’s much easier to correctly allocate funds. I think starting out, small business owners need that guidance from people who’ve made mistakes in expanding their own businesses or have seen mistakes others have made and can provide valuable insight about common pitfalls to avoid.

Figure out your target audience, determine where they “play”, then figure out how to reach them where they are most affected by your message. Learn from people who’ve been successful in the past and take advantage of their failures. There are always pearls of wisdom to be gained. Establish relationships and nurture them, as they are absolutely critical in growing a business. Determine the “what” and “why”, then ask questions and do research to establish the “how.”

Once your roadmap is set, find a lending partner who you can vet your plans with and who can guide your financial decisions. Leverage every source of knowledge available to you and choose the trusted lender that can provide advisement in addition to cash.

How Do You Keep The Music Playing? How Do You Make It Last??

So you’re sitting in front of your laptop a couple of months post-launch scratching your head, thinking “What the heck should I do NOW?”

Courtesy of www.alwaysinfo.us

Courtesy of www.alwaysinfo.us

Very good question. It’s one that I’m pretty sure most small business owners have.

Launch week ROCKED!!! We sold a TON!!! But now? Two months later? CRICKETS.

You’re still a ways off from releasing 2.0 so what are you supposed to do in the interim? Twiddle your thumbs while you obsessively refresh your sales numbers? How long can you publicize your initial offering while you prep for the new one?

It’s not easy, especially if you don’t have a ton of discretionary capital to toss at promotional services. When our Krina handbags debuted in InStyle magazine and OK! Weekly, sales skyrocketed. But the problem was maintaining that momentum when those issues were off the newsstands. Sure, we tried to capitalize on the wins but it only got us so far. Everyone wanted to see what was coming next…and we were still trying to figure out how to find the funds to produce what would come next.


Building momentum takes time. So instead of panicking that sales are dropping off, consider different ways of reaching customers. Your primary goal is to keep your brand name top of mind. So get it out there to the masses and establish yourself as a source of knowledge in your industry. All of your efforts will indirectly help raise awareness of your brand. It may take time for your sales numbers to rebound but if you reach people on another level, they just may be interested enough to find out about your offerings. Don’t shove the buy links down their throats…try some new ways to build your customer base.

Consider these ideas:

  • Create a website and BLOG – Figure out what your audience wants to read and create a content niche for yourself.
  • Submit guest posts on websites where your target market congregates – This will help associate your name to a particular type of content. Say you run a handbag design company and you love fashion. Find blogs that cater to fellow fashionistas and inquire about submitting articles about topics in fashion and style. When you include your social media contact information in the post, readers will be able to see that you are also a designer/entrepreneur and maybe they’ll be interested enough to buy one of your handbags!
  • Post in forums that focus on your product and market – This is a networking opportunity, a chance for you to find fellow fashionistas who love handbags! Tell them about your faves and begin nurturing relationships (and hopefully, future fans)
  • Identify channels for cross promotion – Research owners of complimentary businesses and ask about cross-promotional opportunities. Offer to promote their brands if they do the same for you. Share the love and see how it positively impacts your business.

In the early stages of a business, the most important thing is to raise awareness of your brand. The more people that know about your products/services, the more of a chance you have to convert them to customers.

Celebrate The Lifestyle, Not The Product

As a small business owner I was always challenged with finding new ways of reaching fellow handbag junkies who would buy my designs. In retrospect, I tried to boil the ocean and I didn’t reach my target at the right level. The primary goal was always to move units and recoup costs so I’d have funds to pump back into the business. At the end of the day, a lot of one-and-done customers didn’t do much to sustain my rapidly shrinking market share.

After some research, I determined my target audience consisted of fashion-forward females, aged 25 – 50 with discretionary income to spend. That is a pretty wide net to cast. As it happened, I was targeting a lot of different customer groups in that audience and there wasn’t much tying them together – moms, students, professionals, and even grandmothers. I didn’t connect with them on a deep enough level.

I sold a good number of units but I didn’t make the experience personal enough where the purchaser was really invested in the brand. Without that hook, it’s hard to get repeat sales. And let’s face it, that’s how you really sustain a business.

Getting a bunch of people to buy a handbag isn’t going to butter your bread forever. You need to build a customer fan base, a loyal following of people who will want to buy your latest and greatest and will tout your brand to anyone who’ll listen.

Here is where lifestyle marketing comes into play. Make it less about the product and more about the lifestyle qualities, shared activities and behaviors. Focus on the EXPERIENCE.

Courtesy of www.targetmarketsegmentation.com

Courtesy of www.targetmarketsegmentation.com

Maybe I could have reached my audience on a completely new level if I’d appealed to their OTHER interests – what kind of music they like, whether they love heels or flats, the type of cocktail they crave on a Friday night after a long week, their dream car, favorite book, hobby or actor, what color nail polish they prefer, if they like to wear false eyelashes. In creating a buyer “persona,” potential customers have more to relate to than just a pretty handbag. A focus on content that builds upon an experience will always carry more weight because the customer can see how the product will fit into their lives.

Courtesy of www.macalawright.com

Courtesy of www.macalawright.com

These are ways to connect, to really get to know your consumers on a more personal level. Because if you know your customer, you can create products more specific to their tastes and that’s how you convert a one-time buyer into a lifetime fan.

See A Need, Fill A Need

Yes, I stole the title from the movie “Robots.”  But I just credited them, so we’re good.  It’s a powerful statement, one that begs a question…

Are people going to pay for your idea or service?

This is the very first question you need to ask yourself as an entrepreneur.  And answer it honestly because if you don’t, you’re going to spend a lot of money chasing down market share that you will never be able to capture.

Something needs to set your offering apart from the rest, otherwise it will become noise.  And people tune out noise.

When my best friend and I created our first handbag collection, we foolishly thought high quality leathers and hardware in vibrant colors would set us apart.  And if that didn’t do it, we always had our little “story” to fall back on.  Krina handbags were designed for the “thinking” woman.  So we included a penny hidden in the lining of each bag.  It was our cute little thing.  Guess what?  Nobody cared.  We loved that design element but it didn’t sell the bags.  It was different, but alas, not different enough.

Ever hear of the Butler bag?  I wasn’t a fan, because the styles didn’t do much for me. Plus, I’m too much of a handbag snob to carry a non-designer bag.  But the utility is what captured the hearts of women everywhere, proof positive that a large chunk of my target market was more concerned with function than fashion. My pennies couldn’t hold up to Jen Groover’s clever way of compartmentalizing life into a structurally-sound handbag.


Courtesy of www.butlerbag.com





Courtesy of www.butlerbag.com

Courtesy of www.butlerbag.com

She identified a need and created the solution.  It’s made her a raging success.  Her prices were competitive early on and she was able to claim her market share.  As time has gone on, the pricing increased but her fan base hasn’t wavered.  Kudos, Jen!

Jen Groover addressed a major pain point for women struggling for some degree of organization in their busy lives.  And that’s the name of the game.

Nice To Have Or Need To Have? Don’t Count On Mom To Make The Final Call

I came across a great article on Silicon Moon about how to most effectively gauge market interest in your product or service.  The original article was posted to Venture Beat.

Key question – Does it disrupt the numbing normalcy that we’ve grown used to in our daily lives?  Because if it doesn’t, there’s no market for it.  Period.  So, pick a new hobby.  Seriously.

Courtesy of www.venturebeat.com

Courtesy of www.venturebeat.com

Have you ever heard of the Mom test? A great article on The Startup Toolkit says that you should never run an idea past your mother because in her eyes, everything her child does is fabulous, therefore she’s not in a place to poke holes in it.  And if the idea stinks, she won’t be honest with you for fear of crippling your creativity and drive.

Not the case with my mom.  She’s probably the ugliest friend I have.  She shoots holes in EVERYTHING.  It doesn’t matter that I’m her daughter.  That never stops her from voicing her opinions.  That’s pretty much the opposite of the typical motherly response.

Jeez, it would be nice if she threw me a bone now and then.  She could preserve the remaining few shreds of my self-confidence.

Here’s another interesting point…even if you have the OMG idea, if you’re not passionate about it, it’ll still be a hard sell.  Because really, if you can’t believe in your product, no matter how good it is, how can you create a need for it?

It’s difficult.  Think about it, people who are super-dedicated to their efforts have a kind of contagious enthusiasm about them.  It can make the idea seem better than it may actually be, just because they are so driven.  Don’t get me wrong…it’s not going to apply to EVERY idea out there just because someone’s excited about it.  A person can be passionate about an organic edible handbag but that doesn’t mean people are going to actually buy it (or eat it, for that matter).

Am I right?


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