Passion Alone Can’t Pay The Bills

You can’t crush true entrepreneurial spirit. If you have it, it’s only a matter of time before you find your niche. Each “failed” attempt has to be viewed as a lesson learned. The real failure comes about when you don’t take anything away from the experience, when you don’t apply any of your newfound knowledge to your next endeavor. I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur. It just took me some time to figure out where my roadmap was headed.

My first attempt as an entrepreneur was in the field of technology consulting. I had the skill set, I had the clients. The one thing I lacked was the passion. Couldn’t even fake it. Money was there but it just wasn’t fulfilling. So I decided to go with a new business, one that I loved.

Handbags. High fashion. It was my obsession. I thought because I had such an intense love of high-fashion handbags that I’d naturally be able to design, market and sell my own collections. However, there were significant barriers to entry I wasn’t aware of because I didn’t take the time to properly research the market and the accessory industry. As a result, quite a bit of debt accumulated over the very short life of my beloved business. Passion, though important, just doesn’t pay the bills.

Promotion concept. Painted staircase with draw in the wall. Business draw.

Promotion concept. Painted staircase with draw in the wall. Business draw.

After that “failed” attempt, I really thought long and hard about my future direction. I let my imagination run wild and decided to write a novel. Being an independently published author is a business just like any other. You develop and perfect a product, market and distribute it to the masses. Again, I was wearing many hats. The difference this time was that I’d done research on the industry and I maintained that critical element of passion.

Along the way (because the entrepreneurial spirit cannot be quelled) I partnered with one of my author friends to build and launch an online directory for authors called Author Navigation – a one-stop shop for all services needed to help polish and perfect a manuscript for the masses. It’s still early days and we’re still trying to gain momentum but we’re slowly making a name for ourselves.

Always strategizing, always planning, always envisioning…ALWAYS.

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.

instyle

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.

This Love Affair Will Cost You

There is a really good reason why feedback is so critical in the product development process.

MONEY.

Hmm, interesting.  Tell me more.

If you go down a path without prospective customer feedback, you run the risk that you will never be able to gain traction in the marketplace. You WILL feel strongly about your product. This is pretty much a guarantee. It’s hard not to take criticism personally when you’ve poured your heart and soul into your idea but develop a thick skin because not everyone will love it like you do.

Before you spend tons of cash to develop something you love, something you HOPE others will love, test it out. See how you can make it even better, more marketable. Gathering feedback from your target audience is the best way to find out if you have something people will want to fall in love with. After all, they are the ones who need to pony up the money to buy it.

Courtesy of www.opendemocracy.net

Courtesy of www.opendemocracy.net

Always aim to enhance your product but don’t go to market with too many variations. When we launched Krina, we went out with seven handbag styles, each available in about eight different colors. We didn’t get feedback until AFTER our prototypes were designed. And we’d already paid handsomely for the samples. The thing is, we just didn’t know which styles would take off so we diversified…a little too much.  Bringing many variations to market means you have enough products to appeal to a lot of tastes but then you get stuck making one-offs. Extremely costly, folks.

Be aware that there is risk in trying to satisfy too many masters.  Gather insights from a prospective audience, identify synergies among the sound bytes and prioritize the recommendations. You can’t boil the ocean and some recommendations may cost much more than others. Keep things simple to start. If you have a solid first iteration, you can always improve upon it as time goes on. Just make sure you start out with the right product offering to begin with and everything else will fall into place.

 

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.

C

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.

Scoring The Holy Grail…Must Channel Your Inner Indiana Jones!!

I read a lot of interviews in Entrepreneur magazine.  A LOT.  If you haven’t already picked up on this, I am obsessed with all things start-up, Silicon Valley and innovative.  Unfortunately, my own endeavors led to one pile of handbags and a second, larger pile of debt.  But I’m still an entrepreneur…and as such, I need to keep learning.

Successful start-up CEOs all share unique war stories about the roads they traveled to attain their good fortune, ways to thwart the most ominous pitfalls, and creative ways of bringing an idea to market and creating perceived value and demand for a product or service.

But there are certain sound bytes that stay consistent across the board.

1.  You’ve gotta be willing to take the risk.  It’s going to cost a boatload of money and time, and knock downs are going to HURT but the only way for you to be really hungry is to put yourself in a place where you HAVE to succeed.  Desperation makes us do crazy things, things we’re advised NOT to do in business school.   Be like Indiana Jones.  Keep your eye on the prize and go after it, no matter what.  Go rogue.  You may crash and burn, but if you take the beatings it could turn out to be very lucrative for you in the end.

Courtesy of www.empireonline.com

Courtesy of www.empireonline.com

Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso: ‘Wisdom is Earned Through Experience, Particularly Mistakes.’

2.  Keep moving, thinking, creating.  Don’t stick to one idea…as you learn, you have to evolve.  You may end up with a better result than you initially anticipated.  Keep thinking out of the box.  Continue to learn and absorb.  Always strive to become BETTER.

3.  Be smart with your funds!  Make a financial plan and stick to it!  Ohhh, this one is sure to aggravate my Hubby and I’m going to hear an earful later since he still hasn’t forgiven me for my reckless spending on Krina, but hey, we live and we learn.

I keep telling him not to worry about the debt.  One day, I’ll be on a bestseller list and then I’ll be able to pay it all back and take a nice long vacay to celebrate!

Are You Creating Something Disruptive? If Not, Get Back To The Drawing Board!

I’m a lot of things.  Patient is not one of them.  And it cost a boatload of cash for me to realize that rushing toward the finish line without a solid pair of running shoes is the surest way NOT to win the race.

You see, back when I decided that I was going to design the next “IT” handbag, I needed to jump in with both feet, break both ankles and crash down on my knees before realizing that a bit of education and feedback might get me a hell of a lot farther than throwing an awful lot of borrowed money toward my dream.

Why was I in such a rush?

Nobody had a bullet to my head.  I never stopped to research, didn’t bother to have any informational interviews with success stories.  I NEVER considered getting feedback about the designs.  Why WOULDN’T someone want to buy a Krina handbag?  Best Italian leathers, trendy looks, fabulous colors, celebrity endorsements?????

But while that should have made me stop and think about a longer-term strategy, it only made me want to drive harder.  Get more bags to market, edgier designs, better colors.  Capitalize on the momentum!

After all, InStyle and Katherine Heigl loved their Krina bags, why not the rest of the world?

InStyle

And don’t let Katherine’s super sexy outfit detract from your opinion of the bestselling Calista handbag perched on her luggage cart!

 

KatieHeigl

Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of the resources available to me.  I wasted a lot of money, learned a very harsh lesson and realized where I went so utterly WRONG.

Richard Branson recently uttered some great pearls of wisdom for a newbie fashion designer.  Unfortunately, it came a bit too late for Krina but here’s the gist of what I took away from the article in Entrepreneur magazine:

Figure out your passion.  Instead of rushing to make it a reality, take a step back to see if it’s disruptive in any way, shape for form.  Disruption is key to innovation!  A leather handbag is NOT disruptive to the fashion industry.  This is why so many other indie designers crashed and burned alongside Krina.

Testing is also key.  You know what you know but it is limited to YOU.  Getting feedback is essential, as you are building something for a wider audience than just yourself.  If someone gets excited, it may be a winner.

It doesn’t count if it is only you and your partner (my bestie, who is thankfully STILL my bestie after what I put her through!!) who are jumping up and down and popping corks on champagne bottles to celebrate the birth of your creations.

 

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