5 Things I wish I knew when I started my business.

5 Things I wish I knew when I started my business.

Picture this: It’s 2011. I have a box full of jewellery I’ve just ordered from a supplier I found online with my last R5000, and no clue how to get any of it sold. When that box landed on my doorstep was the precise moment I realised I knew nothing about business. Absolutely zero.

I mean I had managed parts of other people’s businesses and even managed an entire business previously – but none of them were mine and that made all the difference. The gravity of my situation dawned on me.  I was out of cash, with a box of jewellery and no idea how to sell any of it. Even more daunting was knowing my decisions for my business going forward would define my personal success or failure, and that scared me.

Fast forward 7 years and all is well. I have a successful national jewellery brand, a physical jewellery store, a consulting business and I present keynotes on the side for fun – all from a tiny box of jewellery 7 years prior, some decent decisions, and a lot of hard work. So what would I have wanted to know when I first started my little venture years ago? Well here are my 5 things:

You define how you do business.

When I first started my business, I thought there was a norm, a template, a process all businesses followed to ‘do business’. I was worried that the way I chose to do business wouldn’t be accepted and my business would fail as a result. I asked questions about wholesale, retail, distribution, branding etc and got more and more frantic with every answer. I felt I needed to fit into the industry mould in order to get new, bigger clients or else they wouldn’t look at me. This frustrated me. As an entrepreneur you need control – it’s not negotiable – and constantly feeling like someone is going to chuck you out because you don’t fit in with how they do business always irked me, because it meant I actually had no control.

As time has gone on, I’ve realised there is no template for how you run your business. There’s no specific way you have to sell to your customers and there is nothing you can do if a customer doesn’t want what you’re selling. You are, actually, in control and you can run your business the way you want to. Develop new ways to sell wholesale, or deal with employees, or market your products. It’s all up to you.

Long game matters.

When I started my first business, I wanted to make some quick money ‘working smart’. For your business to be respected and to reach its full potential, you need to be dedicated, and you need to be in it for the long haul. My oldest business is only 7 years old, and I have seen that more people, banks, friends, family and other businesses take me more seriously as a result of the number of years it’s been going. Research shows that the older a business gets, the more successful it eventually becomes. So longevity and success are directly proportional. Keep at it, even when you lose enthusiasm.

We still work smart, but we also work hard. Dedication means that you will have long nights, early mornings and fewer weekends than you would like to have, but it will all be worth it in the end.

Your customer really is king.

I had heard it a thousand times before starting my own business: ‘Your customer is king’. I thought I understood what that meant until I started actually serving customers. I pissed off a lot of customers when I first started, and that hurt my business. It wasn’t until I actually started treating my customers like kings that my business took a turn for the better. In fact, after implementing customer service processes like follow up emails, a help desk, and getting feedback from customers we saw an increase in sales of 143% from one month to the next. That was an ‘a-ha’ moment for me – treat your customers well and they will get more sales for you and love you forever.

We continue to focus on customer experience, and still get daily emails, comments, and calls from our customers praising our service.

Walk. Jog. Run.

After I had my first sale, I was completely hooked on selling. I wanted to sell everything to everyone and grow the business as quickly as I could, ignoring all the dangers that came with growth. While growth is great, growing too fast can be dangerous. The bigger the business got, the bigger my ego got, and the more invincible I thought the business was – until we lost our biggest client, who made up 50% of our annual turnover. We lost that client because we got too big and stopped paying attention to our systems and what made us so successful to begin with. Basically we scaled too quickly for ourselves and our clients to handle and that meant that we were nailed to the ground when we weren’t paying attention.

Grow slowly and organically. Make sure that the foundations of your growth can handle the weight of a bigger organisation and stay as lean as possible. Understand the risks with every big decision you make and implement your decision with caution. Disaster tends to strike hardest when you are the least aware of it, and sometimes those disasters can be fatal. Walk, then jog, then run.

Trust your gut.

A gut is the most intuitive thing you have as an entrepreneur, and it’s almost always right. You will instinctively know what the best course of action is at any given moment. Follow that. Don’t let other people’s opinions, thoughts, or money sway you. If it feels right, you should probably do it. Sometimes, you won’t even know why you make the decisions you make, but you will work that out later on.

Owning a business has been life changing. It has literally made me bleed, it has brought me to tears and it has made me feel like the king of the world at times. In all it has been incredibly rewarding and that, is worth all the blood sweat and tears.

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