5 Lessons We've Learnt About Building a Business
It's the week of PUPSTYLE's 4th Birthday which brings with it a time to reflect on all the amazing (and not so amazing) things we've done and achieved in our short time building this business from the ground up. It goes without saying that we've learnt a LOT more than just 5 things, but as we've surpassed the dreaded 1-year in business hurdle, and then the common 3-year slump where businesses tend to get themselves a little lost, not to mention navigating our way through a year-long pandemic and its aftermath, we've noticed some of the biggest lessons that keep popping up time and time again to narrow it down to our 5 biggest.
1. It takes a lot of HARD WORK
A lot of people are drawn to the idea of starting their own business as a way to 'be their own boss' or 'have the life they want for themselves' but this is all a myth. Well, not exactly a myth, but it hasn't happened yet for us, and a lot of big businesses don't start to report actual profit for at least 7 years into their business. After this time, you may have grown enough to give yourself a day off here or there and watch your business tick over on its own, but you need to be willing to write off a good few years of your life first.
In our first couple of years in business, we were still working elsewhere and coming home every night to pack orders, often awake and sewing bandanas or bows at 3am every morning. We would continue packing orders on weekends, missing several of our friends' events or birthdays because one of us had to stay home and finish working so that we weren't behind for the next week. Our families got used to the fact that we'd never reply to their texts, let alone even see that they'd tried to contact us because we were just SO busy. But if you want it bad enough, you have to be willing to work for it and that's a big reason why we're still standing today, 4 years later.
2. Everything you do needs to be DIFFERENT
When we started our business, we launched a website with just one product - a harness - and we sold only this one product for the next 12 months. That harness is the same one we sell today, famous for our unique step-in, supportive design that we created ourselves and nobody else had ever thought of. Because of this, we were able to meet the needs of dog parents that hadn't been met with other harnesses - we gave them something that didn't have to squish over their doggo's head, but still kept them snug and safe, unlike other step-in vests that were loose and easily escapable by cheeky puppies. Without this idea, we wouldn't be here today. There is no way that we would have stayed afloat for a full 12 months selling a harness that was the same as all the other ones that people could just go and get quickly and easily at their local pet store. We made sure we offered a product that customers could only get from us.
This lesson has driven every product decision ever since that harness first launched. No matter what product we make next, we always design it from scratch, making sure that ours is always different than anything else you can find. Over time, we've seen many brands copy us and our unique ideas, but whilst they're secretly purchasing our products and trying to replicate them with their own manufacturer, we're already head down in our design books onto the next fancy product with it's unique design features, leaving them trailing far behind us.
We see a lot of new home businesses launch in the pet accessories space and every one of them launches with something we've all seen before. Homemade bandanas and bows? Done a thousand times before. Instead, come up with one creative idea that doesn't exist yet and your customers will become brand loyal to you because they know that's the only place they can get this fancy feature from. Our creative idea? Buttons on our bandanas so you can easily snap on and off - something everyone else had never thought of!
3. Outsource ASAP
The hardest lesson we've learnt! At around the 2.5 year mark, we were too busy to manage our business on our own, but not yet making enough of a profit to be able to pay someone to do our work for us. It was a Catch-22 and a bitter pill to swallow, but we took the plunge and begun outsourcing aspects of our business that we weren't very good at, despite putting ourselves into a small financial slump initially. After 2.5 years, it had been long enough in business that we knew we had customers that loved our products and would continue to love our products into the future, but if we continued to spend 15 hours a week attempting to do our bookkeeping or responding to customer service enquiries, that was 15 hours a week less that we had to design new products and build up our customer-base. Essentially, if we didn't outsource when we did, we would have gone nowhere. It was a small price to pay in the short-term to reap the rewards in the longer term and now, it is one of the first decisions we make as soon as something is taking up too much of our time that could be better done by a professional in half the time.
4. Spend time nailing your LOOK
We've been doing this from the start, but the major lesson here came from us doing consistent market research on other brands and where we felt like they were falling behind. Your look is something that needs to match across every aspect of your business - your social media needs to look amazing, your website needs to have a similar vibe, your packaging, emails, marketing material - everything needs to be seamless. If a customer finds you through your Instagram and likes your look there, but then lands on your website and it looks totally different, they're going to second guess themselves about whether you're the brand they actually want to buy from because maybe you're not what they thought you were. Similarly, if a customer finds you through Google and lands on your website but then signs up to your email list and your emails are boring and don't match the vibe they got from your website, they'll also hesitate before purchasing from you. Spend time creating your 'look' which includes your colours, your fonts, your image style, the language you use and even your layouts and then make sure these are at the top of your mind before you create any content for your business. If it doesn't match the look you're going for, start again, and don't stop until you've nailed it. It could be the difference between one person ordering from you straight away and 5 people second guessing themselves. You'd rather have that one person.
5. Think like a customer
Or better yet... talk to your customers! It's very hard to know what your customers want from you as a brand once you're really inside your business. It's very common to have these big walls come up around your head, narrowing your creative ideas to what you personally want, rather than what all of your customers would pay for. Often, we take half a day to just play around on our website, scroll through our social pages and read our own emails to try and get an understanding of what our customers are thinking as they shop with us. On top of that, we make ourselves accessible - always asking for and taking feedback from the people who purchase our products. Do they love it? Is there something they wish we had in our collection? Does our website play up on their mobile phone? All of these things help to make us better as a business. If we can listen to feedback and suggestions, then we can make the entire PUPSTYLE shopping experience a great one for everyone, which in turn leads to good reviews, your customers telling their friends about you and more new customers. You help them out, they'll help you out. It's a lovely cycle!