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.

There’s Nothing Taboo About Failure

Hi, my name is Kristen and I am a handbag junkie.

In fact, I love them SO much that I spent a very large sum of money to design and sell my own. Unfortunately, though I cherished those handbags and saw them having a unique value proposition, my business never did become profitable. I really thought it was on the brink a couple of times but we all know close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades.

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I lamented my losses for a long while (and continue to do so when I send my monthly loan payments to the bank). Was I really a failure? I mean, from a financial perspective, it definitely was an epic fail. But if I came away armed with useful knowledge and constructive feedback to apply to my next endeavor, maybe it could be chalked up to a lesson learned, albeit a very expensive one.

I have a close friend who is a co-owner of a man’s skincare line, a very difficult niche market to penetrate. But she believed in her product and drove hard to achieve success with her target. We spoke yesterday and she was completely deflated that her last-ditch efforts to generate revenue yielded no benefit at all. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole and she’s come to the realization that it’s time to say goodbye.

Let me just stop here and tell you, it is HEART WRENCHING to slam the door on your hopes and dreams and downright depressing to see all of your hard work and effort crumble around you. It’s like a bad breakup story. Making the decision to pull the plug is a very humbling experience. Realizing that you couldn’t make it happen? Man, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

failure

Courtesy of www.venturebeat.com

I know this all sounds a little dramatic, but if you’ve ever been in the situation, you know all too well how devastating a loss it is. And for a while, you question and second-guess and lament some more, but it won’t change the overall experience. Sometimes, it’s cathartic to just get it all out there, to share your story with anyone who’ll listen. If you have truly lived and learned, you know where you made mistakes. When they are brought to light, maybe next time around you’ll know which pitfalls to avoid. It’s no longer taboo to hold it all in.  More and more entrepreneurs are coming forward with their own stories.  We’re in good company.

Here’s what I can tell you…don’t be too dejected. You can’t crush true entrepreneurial spirit. Don’t give up on it. If it truly resides within you, you’ll achieve your goals. And all the postmortems and lessons learned you’ve collected over time will make you that much more successful in your future endeavors.  I really believe that…

Embrace and nurture that spirit because once you channel it, you can’t turn it off. It’s what makes you a driver. I LOVE the feeling of coming up with new ideas and strategizing about how to make them come to fruition. The creativity charges me.

So even though things may look dismal now, tomorrow, they’ll look a bit better. And the following day, even better than that, until you finally come away with a lot of clarity and direction about how you can launch the next big thing.

I Built The Perfect Product, Now What?

I was overly anxious to get my beloved Krina handbags out to market…and social media was only a glimmer on the horizon…we’re going back about ten years.   So my partner and I had to rely on human contact to make any inroads in the fashion industry – a super-important but near-impossible task.  After all, the first step in building a network is to establish contact…but how were we supposed to find these people…the ones who would determine the fate of our bags?

Courtesy of www.popsugar.com

Courtesy of www.popsugar.com

Finding the Influencers…

Today, startup business owners can easily locate and connect with influencers in their target industries, although now we have a different issue…way too much noise.  How do you navigate around it?  In some instances, the scale definitely tips in the direction of the startup CEOs in that we have a plethora of information available with the stroke of a few keys.  Conversely, it becomes that much harder to stand out from the crowd.

Now, I’m an author so I think in terms of books…

Ten years ago, I could write a book, get it published by a traditional publishing house and it would land on the shelf at a Barnes & Noble where customers may pick it up, peruse the first couple of chapters and if they like it enough, buy it.  Pretty simple.  Finite number of choices, not an overwhelming amount of competition.

Today, if you’re perusing the web for a book, good luck. The choices seem endless and the market is saturated.  And this doesn’t just apply to the publishing industry…it’s much more far-reaching.

Cutting Through the Noise

With tons of information comes a larger mass of information-CREATORS.  Even if you have a great product, how do you get the attention you need without spending a fortune to get recognition for said product?  At the end of the day, what makes someone click to buy?

Heed my words…be careful…do plenty of research…perform your due diligence…spend CAUTIOUSLY.

Trying to launch anything is a daunting task. I’d have paid a small fortune for a plan that laid everything out for me…a checklist of items I could tick off that would catapult me to the land of success and celebrity.  How nice would THAT be?

A Bit of Free Advice

Learn from my mistakes and haphazard spending.  Connect with people who have been successful, study their patterns, follow industry influencers to see how they accomplish their goals, try to get them to notice you, be persistent but don’t stalk.  That will just annoy them.

Make a list of free promotional options and try those routes first.  Then, sprinkle in some lower dollar cost alternatives.  There is no guarantee any of these will yield sales but test them out and study the results to create and refine a publicity campaign that works for you.  For example, lots of entrepreneurs swear by video to make human connection with a target audience.  I’m personally not an advocate. I don’t really watch videos and I definitely don’t like to appear in them. Yeek…nope, definitely not a fan.  I’m no Gary Vaynerchuk. But if it works for you, go for it.

The key is to assemble a plan and work through it.  When I was running promotions for Krina, I was all over the place…trying to boil the ocean.  There was an utter lack of targeted focus.  I’ve since smartened up and while I still don’t know the magic formula for “what works,” I definitely know what doesn’t.

How Can I Find Key Influencers In My Niche?

Start-ups are typically cash-poor, at least in their very early days. So how the heck are CEOs supposed to get the word out about their fabulous offerings? Marketing firms, publicists, advertisers…everything costs MONEY! CEOs need boku bucks in order to develop their ideas into something saleable but then they need even MORE money to reach customers.

But not if they can appeal to key influencers in their market segments.

Influencers are people who have a respected voice in a specific niche area. They have an avid group of followers that holds their opinions in high regard. They are a trusted source of information and opinions about a given area.

They trick is to figure out WHO the influencers are in your niche.  There are tools you can use to find them.  I’ve used Klout and Kred but i found another one I like better called Followerwonk. You look up keywords and search results are presented with a ranking.  Pick out 10-20 influencers and then the fun really begins because you’ll need to incent them to endorse your product or service. They may accept payment, although this is not as effective as getting editorial review for your company. Positive affirmation from an unpaid source is always preferable, just not always possible.

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Sometimes incentives come in the form of some type of gift, like product, tickets to an exclusive company-hosted event, or swag of some sort.  But what happens if what you have to offer isn’t really enticing enough?  This is the issue for most of us, if you were wondering.  =)

That’s when you have to get creative.  And believe me, it isn’t easy.  I’ve tried a few different things as an indie author to raise interest in my books.  Most times, it doesn’t work.  On rare occasions, my efforts pay off.  It’s those few and far between wins that I choose to focus on, because maybe it’ll be one of those influencers that will ultimately help me spread the word.  Too bad I don’t have any more Krina handbags to send out.  What romance aficionado wouldn’t love to tote around a luxurious leather handbag for an e-reader and some assorted favorite novels?  And maybe a bag of Starburst jelly beans.

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