Creating, running, and growing The Shine Project the last 3.5 years has been one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever had. It has also been a top source of stress, individual growth, sleepless nights and long days. Sometimes people will have a business idea, create a business plan and seek investors… but that is not how it worked for me. The Shine Project has organically grown and morphed into what it is today, and it will continue to do so in the years to come.
I started the Threads jewelry line, and began employing inner city youth with $300. My husband and I were fresh out of college, newly wed, and at that time that money was extremely valuable to us because we didn’t have much of it. I had a car that had broken windows so I’d drive from each of the student employees houses dropping off supplies, with my windows down and barely any air conditioning in the middle of 115 degree Phoenix summers. I was entering into a world that I knew nothing about, didn’t go to school for, but because I have always been very entrepreneurial minded, I knew that I could figure it out. And so I have.
To those of you who are just getting started, wanting to begin, or find yourself in a slump with your business (I think most of us can fit into one of these categories), I want to share with you 6 things that I wish I knew before starting my company. These are things I’ve learned the hard way, but are vital to success and sanity.
1- You need very little money, and a lot of intelligent passion:
It is very common to see start up companies who are seeking investments far beyond what they need or are proven to be worth. If they obtain the money, usually a couple of things will follow: They will become frivolous with it, hire people that aren’t actually needed, and have such a high debt ceiling that it will be very difficult for them to ever escape out of it because they’re new, are developing their brand still, and don’t have much of a clue as to what they are doing.
I started with $300. THREE. HUNDRED. DOLLARS. That money has rolled over throughout the years into what we are now. Sometimes in our heads we start telling ourselves we need this, or that, or have to come out with a new product, or put on this big event, and meanwhile the money signs are racking up and our pockets aren’t deep enough. You do not need everything that you think you do.
What you need is intelligent passion. There’s a difference between passion, and intelligent passion. Have you met people who are just so passionate about something, that they ooze and bleed that thing? Sometimes people will get so passionate about their business or a cause that they make dumb decisions to accomplish something that could have been accomplished in a lot smarter of a way. Passion is emotional, its reactive to a feeling that comes at a certain time, and it often leads to making decisions based on your heart, and not your head.
You need intelligent passion. This is where your heart AND your head work together to ignite your business, make smart financial decisions, and also use your love for what you’re doing to get other people excited about it.
2. How to effectively ship packages:
I don’t know why this was so hard for me to figure out, but it was! It is such a simple concept that makes a huge difference in your business. When you start selling and shipping in bulk, going to the post office every day to have them weigh and ship your packages isn’t time or cost effective. We needed a third party site that could get all of our orders ready for shipping, and where we could pay for discounted bulk postage. There are a lot of options out there, so do your research, but what has saved us is our Brother Label Printer machine. It will wirelessly connect to whatever shipping service that you use, and then you can print all of the labels and postage you need right from it. Don’t waste time and money using a bad shipping system… figure it out in the beginning. Provide tracking numbers for your customers and allow them to have a good shipping experience from you.
3. Going to wholesale trade shows will propel your brand forward if you do it right:
We waited until our third year to enter into the world of wholesale. We sold wholesale before that, but it was from boutiques and stores who found us online and approached us. There are wholesale markets across the country where you can set up a booth, and store owners come to find new product to stock their shelves with. On a low end, after all expenses are paid you’re looking to spend at least $8,000 a show. If you are a new company, this is very daunting, especially if you do not do well at it. We currently attend 3 different markets, twice a year that we’ve found to be the most beneficial for us to attend. It’s important that you stay consistent because sometimes it will take a while for buyers to start recognizing your brand. They want to see that you are coming back each season, because that means your product is selling well and will do well with their customers. I will dedicate an entire post in the future about trade shows, but if you are a product based business, I recommend that you try one. In the beginning I went to every one of them because I wanted to tell our story, learn as much as I could about the wholesale market (which is completely different than selling online) and make sure that our products were represented the best way possible. Now I either only go for the first day or two if it’s our busiest show, or don’t attend at all and let my team handle it. If you are wanting to take your product to wholesale, you really need to be prepared to do so.
4. You must connect with your customer offline:
Online is a great and easy way to reach a large amount of people. You can make a moving experience online, but there is still something so special about meeting and talking with people face to face. I learned early on that I always wanted to stay personally connected with our fans and customers. We do this a couple of ways. Twice a year we will have events where people can come for a night of inspiration, and see what we do in person. During the holidays, we also do holiday shopping events where we’ll travel around the country to different holiday markets where people shop in person for gifts. We’ve learned the best places for us to go based on a lot of trial and error. Your business is different than ours, so I would not be able to tell you where to go set up a booth. If you’re small, research holiday festivals around your area where you could purchase a booth to go sell. I would recommend you doing this before entering the wholesale world. You can see how people react to your product, get important feedback and build relationships with the people who keep your business running. This is an aspect of your business that you absolutely must invest your money and time into. From October-December this year we will be traveling around the country to set up at 12 different large shopping events. We plan all year for it, and is a crucial part of our business.
5. Word of mouth beats anything else.
If you love something, you’re going to tell your closest friend about it. If your product rocks, your customers will each tell at least one other person about how great it is. Your question every week that you need to answer is how you can create a company that people naturally share. If you can do that, you will succeed.
6. Don’t listen to too much advice.
Funny, as I’m sitting here typing advice to you, that I’m thinking about all the bad ideas and “guidance” I’ve been given. Always remember that if someone can’t do something, they will tell you that you can’t either. You don’t need a lot of advice, you just need to run with what you already know and then learn from experience. Learning from experience and testing things out is how you will become the business owner and leader that you need to be. It’s scary sometimes, but it’s what you have signed yourself up to do when you made the leap to run your own company. I have a small hand full of people that I trust and go to for guidance. I do not know everything, and neither do you. It is very important to have someone who is smarter than you because of experience that they’ve had be able to help you make important decisions. Just be careful about who you let in to that circle. Soak in knowledge, learn about your market, but don’t get too caught up in listening to other people’s advice. Listen to the feedback your customers give, have intelligent passion, and go light up the world with what you have to offer.