10 ways to ensure your business is on track for the long haul.

My wife and I started Northwest Beard Supply LLC almost 2 years ago. While it’s not always been easy, I’m proud to say that things are bumping along nicely, customers seem to love our products, and we’ve had mostly all 5/5 star reviews. But as we all know…there is always room to get better.

I’d like to spend some time recapping what we’ve learned over the last 2 years, how we’ve grown, what we’ve seen work / fail, and give some practical tips for you and your business ventures. At the end of a few of these sections I’ve posted a few relevant articles I’ve written pertaining to each topic. Enjoy, and please leave me any questions in the comments!

 

 

01 — Research your target market & customer goals

When first starting a business, many aspiring entrepreneurs make the grave mistake of jumping into the solution space before truly understanding the problem they’re addressing.

Have a great idea? Don’t completely keep it to yourself! Sure, be careful about who you talk with, but look for random people, close friends, or family members to research. Test your ideas to death, brush up, and become an expert in your potential idea’s reality. With Northwest Beard Supply, we found that a lot of guys had a disposition about wearing beard oil, as if it were too feminine. Once they tried our product however, most were hooked. It changed how they thought about taking care of their beard.

Talk to potential customers about what kind of goals they might hold on this subject matter. It’s easy to get focused on our grand ideas, but most companies die because they don’t spend enough time learning what people actually want/will pay for.

Taking action…

  • Study your competitors. Even befriend them.
  • Chunk out your work by setting goals, focusing on one at a time
  • Don’t hoard an idea, but don’t blab about it
  • Understand the field, and how you can deliver differentiation
  • For more on this topic, read my article “Research Will Cover A Multitude of Startup Sins” http://gregbecker.co/research

 

02 — Prototype and test it on friends & family

While in the early stages of bringing your vision to life, you don’t want to spend a ton of money on making your idea happen just yet. You want to make sure you have something worth investing in.

To do this, craft a prototype(s) of your product/service and test it on those who know you. Ask them to think about the product, analyzing whether or not they’d use it, or find it interesting.

If not framed correctly, you’ll simply have everyone telling you how great it is, so for the sake of your success, ask them to rip it apart; critique it. You’re only as good as your most educated guess when building for others, so talk to a lot of people, and make sure you understand exactly what they want.

Taking action…

  • Get the point across as quick as possible
  • Forget about being perfect
  • It’s all about testing an idea before you become too involved; some degree of course-correction is inevitable

 

03 — You don’t have to reinvent the wheel

There are a few things that really speak to people. There are multiple ways to get them to pay you for addressing those core issues.

You can solve a problem, taking away a pain-point that people have.

You can give people the sense of pleasure.

You can teach people a new skill.

All of these bank on bringing value to someone’s life. Too many new entrepreneurs feel they don’t have something viable if they’re not innovating within one of these mental models, but this is not true.

While innovation grabs people’s attention, focusing on solving a real-world problem and innovating against that criteria is almost always more successful. People buy what they find useful.

To do that however, you have to make the best version of something. Take Tesla. It’s an innovative design within the automobile sector, but it’s not completely starting from scratch…it’s just one of the best iterations of a car thus far. You can do the same in your respective space.

Taking action…

  • Don’t pick something seasonal; too little interest.
  • Understand that making money in your sleep (selling products) is different than making money from the hours you spend doing something (delivering a service).
  • You need to figure out how to help your customers feel what you’re offering is worth a lot more than the money you’re asking them for
  • For more on this topic, read my article “Attacking Opportunity; It’s a Mindset” http://gregbecker.co/attacking-opportunity

 

04 — Brand strategy & positioning

This is where the rubber meets the road. You can have the best product in the world, but unless you or someone you’re working with knows how to implement a solid brand around your product, you won’t be able to communicate your work effectively.

A brand is not your logo. A brand is not your website. A brand is, simply put, your reputation. You can claim anything you want in business, but your audience will either agree with you or throw tomatoes.

Go in with a strong holistic strategy for communicating your vision, and position yourself as an expert in your field.

Prove to your audience why you matter, and why they should listen to you.

I’ve found that by having amazing customer service, and always doing the right thing for the customer is always a winner. Position yourself as someone in service to customers, and they’ll most likely want to support you.

Taking action…

  • Your brand is the lifeblood to your offering
  • If you skimp on design quality at any stage in business, please just give up now. 99% of the time, you won’t get past the first 5 seconds a potential customer gives to you. Design calibre is expected these days.
  • How can you enrich someone’s life? Deliver that.
  • How can you tie storytelling into everything you do? Do that.
  • Customers buy both what you make and why you make it
  • Start an email list of customers / marketing sign-ups (helps customers remember who you are/get excited about new products)
  • For more on this topic, read my article “10 Branding Basics for Aspiring Entrepreneurs” http://gregbecker.co/brandingbasics

05 — Build, launch, and adapt

When NWBS was first starting out, my wife and I had spent around 2 months building our business. We set semi-hard deadlines for ourselves, and did our best to stick to our guns. I’m proud to say we got things up and running, launched, and starting selling beard oil.

We did our best to express ourselves as someone local, USA-made, and of premium quality. We wanted to focus on the hand-crafted spirit of our products, and customers loved us for it.

As you get your name out there, people may start to ask for free samples, pitch advertising opportunities, and give you feedback on how you should do everything. Sighh..

Listen to these people, but decipher when someone is just trying to take advantage of you, or giving you bad advice. You own a business now, and everyone has an opinion on how you should do things…probably because they’re too afraid to try something like this themselves. Take it with a grain of salt, and carefully adapt.

Taking action…

  • Focus on one goal at a time, and march towards it with everything you’ve got (yes, I’m repeating this)
  • Understand that various people offer various things you can pull to your advantage in business (be genuine).
  • Don’t move slow, yet don’t move too quickly to address someone’s feedback. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Make sure it’s a common theme you’re hearing.
  • For more on this topic, read my article “Design Is Not About a Ship Date Dammit” http://gregbecker.co/3-bad-mentalities

 

06 — All about advertising

One of the biggest and hardest parts of owning a business is trying to gauge how to market your company and it’s offerings. It’s NOT easy to do. Advertising can play a pivotal role, or make you go broke.

Here are a few actionable tips I’ve learned in this department…

  • Facebook ads can be great, but do your research and set them up right
  • Google advertising can be great, but don’t let it drain you every month. Make sure the ROI is actually there
  • Don’t be pushy with customers, potential vendors, or salesy. People hate that crap, and they’ll let you know about it.
  • Don’t discount and go on sale all the time. It’s a race to the bottom with competitors and customers who will start to bank on getting stuff on the cheap.
  • Pricing psychology is real. Don’t undervalue what you’re offering. If you’re the expert, charge like it. People will pay for that peace of mind, but make sure you can own it!
  • I spent $400 to advertise in British GQ magazine, and it rendered exactly $0 in sales. Be careful with analog advertising in this digital age.
  • Network with people like hell. It really is all about who you know.

 

07— Provide 10x more value than everyone else

If you want to stay in business, and even better, in people’s minds, you have to create value worthy of attention. I’ve heard it said (I believe Gary Vee said this) “deliver more value than you expect to receive back”.

How true this is!

I don’t agree with everything Gary Vee says or does, but the man understands how to deliver value to people through teaching / inspiring. Focus on holistic value, ramp it up 10x more than the next best competitor, and never get comfortable.

I’ve pain-stakingly placed 450+ labels on 1 ounce bottles, taking a needly and popping every air bubble in each label until it looks damn perfect! I might be a little OCD (which doesn’t always scale very well), but I know my customers are going to get a product that looks better than any other beard oil bottle or balm out there!

This is how customer loyalty is born…people notice.

Taking action…

  • Focus on user goals, not seemingly cool “features” of something
  • Understand the pain-points that someone goes through within a set scenario and work backwards towards solving those issues for them
  • Don’t chase fads, create them.
  • Don’t pour your soul into a 1x version; something slightly better. Knock the socks off potential customers and go big!
  • Write short, personalized notes to your customers by name. I do this on the back of each package before it gets sent out.
  • For more on this topic, read my article “Value-Based Design” http://gregbecker.co/value-based-design

08 — Give it away for free

Northwest Beard Supply is a premium men’s grooming product company. When we first were getting our name out there, I figured out that giving our products away for free to various people (definitely not everyone) was a sure way to grab someone’s attention.

This doesn’t work for everyone’s company, but when small, and trying to grab the ear of people who will tell their friends about you, this can be a very effective strategy. I still do this at times. It’s been a great networking gift and barber shop / store acquisition tool as well!

Taking action…

  • Don’t give stuff away to just anyone
  • Do give your stuff away to people who are eager to spread the word; cheap advertising.
  • Do give your stuff away to potential vendors who want to try something out before they buy.
  • Charge what it’s worth, or give it away. There is no room for cheap sales and other desperation tactics (yes I’ve tried this too).

 

09 — You’re only as good as your fulfillment process

One of the hardest things to get right in any shipping based business is to craft a well-oiled machine known as the process. If you don’t have a good fulfillment process, you might as well give up before you start. It’s the worst thing to mess up!

Think about it.

You’ve done all the work to get a customer to actually give you their hard earned money, put it together, and then you can’t fulfill it quickly, efficiently, or effectively? This has to be on point to compete.

Taking action…

  • Use Shopify
  • Use Shippo (I highly recommend these guys)
  • Use USPS
  • Look for opportunities to place your products on global platforms like eBay, Amazon, etc.

10 — Customer retention strategy

When you’re first starting out, you’re going to be “customer acquisition”mode. It’s the reality of trying to bring in new customers to do business with you. However, there comes a point where you have to weigh the benefits of focusing on acquisition vs retention.

Retention is the act of keeping the customers you have gained, focusing on delivering continued value to those customers over and over. If you can do this right a few times, you’ll have a strong basis of customer who will be with you for a long time. With NWBS, I’d say we’re focusing on acquisition and retention at about the same level right now. This comes naturally, but only through strategic intention.

Taking action…

  • Go the distance and put in the extra effort for customers who have come back a few times
  • Tout good reviews from acquired customers to new, potential customers
  • Track who your top 5–10 best customers are (the ones that keep coming back) and reach out to them informing them of their VIP status with your company. Ask them how you’re doing, what they’d like to see more of, and give them a discount for their time. This works well, and shows you care beyond an initial sale. They now feel like they’re getting to know you.

 

Closing thoughts

Starting a business is hard to make successful. We’re still in the growth phase ourselves, and will be for a while longer. However, if you put in the blood, sweat, and tears it could happen. Few things are found by luck when hard work has paved the way.

Work smart. Have fun. Do right by others, and lead by example. Go get ‘em!

 


Want my latest articles in your email?

Signup to get my most recent posts sent to your email every (most of the time) Monday. I enjoy talking about small business, design, people, and quick tips for those who find themselves fascinated with the world of entrepreneurship.

Connect with me on my WebsiteTwitterInstagram, LinkedIn, or by emailing me at hello@gregbecker.co —