Monday, November 27, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Don't Fall For These Falsehoods About EntrepreneurshipWant to start a new business? Start by questioning everything you know about launching a business. There are a lot of entrepreneurship myths that trip up new business owners, so before you invest time and money in an idea based on what you think you know, it's wise to get a clear idea of what to expect in terms of time commitment, expenses, planning, and personnel. Here's a reality-check list of common myths about entrepreneurship to arm you with realistic expectations and a better chance of success.
Myth #1: When you start your own business, you have more freedom in your scheduleIf by freedom you mean “the freedom to work a heck of a lot more hours than a salaried employee,” then yes, you'll have that. After your business is well established and profitable, you might reach a point where you can work a “normal” schedule. When you're just launching, though, plan on at least a year of spending most of your waking hours (and some of your sleeping ones) working. This is as true for self-made millionaires as it is for more modestly successful independent writers, photographers, shop owners, and other new business owners.
Myth #2: You need a brand-new product or service idea to succeedThink about how long humans have been making, selling, and buying things. For thousands of years, people have worn clothes, eaten food, used some type of transportation to get around, and so on. Those items have evolved over time, but there's never been a blockbuster new item that's completely replaced, say, the wheel. Refining existing ideas to serve customers better is how you're most likely to find a successful niche or opportunity. Develop a clear and concise business plan based on your “better mouse trap” and go from there instead of trying to summon something unheard of out of your imagination.
Myth #3: As a business owner, it's cost-effective to do everything yourselfMaybe at the very beginning you can take care of the books, the products, the marketing, and office cleanup, but at some point, your time is going to be more valuable spent working on the business than doing tasks within the business. Once you reach that point, any time you spend on tasks that could be delegated instead of developing new products, booking new clients, or expanding your market is a lost opportunity cost. That point can arrive sooner than you expect, especially once your sales are growing.
Myth #4: You can outsource virtually every aspect of your businessAs mentioned above, at some point it may make sense to outsource some of your business tasks. But the fantasy of starting out by farming out all your processes and then sitting back and collecting revenue is not realistic. That's because high quality outsourcing costs money that you may not have available to spend when you're just starting out. And using cheap, low-quality outsourcing is a good way to fail quickly. Your business processes, product quality, and customer service can all suffer, and you may end up putting out fires instead of growing your business.
Myth #5: These days, you can start a business with no moneyYou might be able to start a business with minimal upfront costs, and you might be able to use someone else's money to get started, but either way you're going to need some funds. Starting with nothing may seem scrappy and admirable, but it's not realistic and can undermine your chances of success before you begin. I sometimes talk to people who want to start selling their professional services like writing or photography without investing in a proper website, a professional headshot, the right kind of insurance to protect their new business, and other must-haves. Without these things, your business may look unprofessional to prospects and—if you go uninsured—it can expose you to liability.
Myth #6: You need venture capital to start your businessCompetition for private investment is fierce and serious. Unless you have some successes under your belt and an idea that captures the attention of investors, you're probably not going to get venture capital—and you probably don't need it. Most people who want to start a new business and need capital should consider a loan from the Small Business Administration, a local bank, or a credit union.
Myth #7: Your family and friends can help you launch your businessEvery budding entrepreneur considers hiring friends and family at some point--or even asking them to work for free. The temptation is understandable. You already know and trust these folks, and they may have skills you need. However, most experts discourage new business owners from relying on friends and family for two big reasons (although there are certainly more). First, working with relatives and friends is an expert-level skill that even experienced business owners struggle to master. Work dynamics affect personal relationships outside the office even if you never have to correct, retrain, or fire someone you care about. Second, asking anyone to work on your business for free devalues their work—and people working for free may not give your projects the time and attention they require.
Myth #8: Successful business owners go it aloneBusiness is competitive, but it's also collaborative. Owners—especially inexperienced new ones—who keep to themselves miss out on opportunities for learning, networking, and growth. You need other people's input and ideas to make your business work. Mentors who've been through the startup process are a valuable source of information, encouragement, and inspiration. Conferences in your field and in-person or online peer discussions can help you identify common pitfalls, answer questions, and provide advice. Every smart business owner focuses on hearing customer feedback, and supporting community activities or causes that matter to you can raise your business profile and build goodwill among your customers. By getting clear on what's actually involved in starting a business, you may find you have to change your approach before you get started. But by going in knowing what you can expect, you're more likely to get your new business off to a strong start.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Hot Brands That Started as Small E-CommerceEvery brand you've ever heard of had to start somewhere, and most of them started out small. For previous generations, that meant starting up in a garage or a tiny storefront. Today it's more likely to mean starting out with a small online store on a website or an e-commerce marketplace. How can you grow your little shop into a recognized brand? Here are a few examples of companies that have done just that, and what we can learn from them.
ModCloth: From dorm-room operation to mega-retailer subsidiaryModCloth is one of the highest profile new fashion brands of the digital age, thanks to its vintage-inspired styles and inclusive sizing. The vintage motif is no accident; ModCloth started in 2002 as a way for co-founder Susan Gregg Koger to sell her surplus thrift store finds online from the comfort of her dorm room. As the company's reputation grew among shoppers, sales grew—slowly at first, and then by 40% annually as of 2013. Earlier this year, Walmart subsidiary Jet.com bought ModCloth for an estimated $50-$75 million.
Lessons from ModCloth:1. Do what you love and use what you know. Susan's thrifting habit formed the basis of her business, and she knew how to find styles that would appeal to her customers. 2. Listen to your customers. In 2015, after ModCloth surveyed its customers and found that more than half were embarrassed to have to shop in “plus sized” sections, the brand dropped the plus-size designation from its store. Now, sizes XS through 4X are simply presented as sizes—a decision that supported customer preferences and generated a fresh round of positive publicity for the company. 3. Turn your customers into a community. For several years, ModCloth's site featured a Be The Buyer tool that let customers vote on samples to gauge demand for new items. Customers can share their product photos in ModCloth's Style Gallery. ModCloth is also active on social media platforms like Pinterest, where the brand has 2.2 million followers, and Instagram. ModCloth also runs Make The Cut themed design contests for its customers that generate lots of buzz.
French Girl Organics: From sideline to boutique natural beauty brandFrench Girl Organics has been lauded by Vogue as a “brilliant beauty brand” and cited by actress Emma Watson as part of her regular beauty routine. The line's projected sales are $1.5 million for this year. That's not on par with ModCloth, but it's impressive for a brand that started as a knitting author's sideline, made with plants from her garden and sold on Etsy. Now French Girl is sold through its own website as well as through Neiman Marcus, Anthropologie, Goop, Amazon, and by the end of October, Madewell.
Lessons from French Girl Organics:1. Do what you love and use what you know. Author Kristeen Griffin-Grimes combined her appreciation for French culture and her gardening habit to give herself a break after leading tours of France based on her French Girl Knits books. 2. Leverage high-profile media and celebrity mentions. French Girl's website proudly proclaims the brand as French-born Watson's “top shelf pick” and links to Watson's interview with Into the Gloss. French Girl has done a good job of collecting mentions by other major beauty and lifestyle outlets, too, including InStyle, Allure, W, StyleCaster, and the Huffington Post. 3. Own your own digital real estate. French Girl Organics still has an Etsy presence, although as of this writing, the shop has been in vacation mode since July and invites visitors to shop the company's own website. Having an independent shop that you control is important for several reasons—not the least of which is that you can collect email addresses from customers on your own site to build and leverage your list. Of course, virtually everyone wears clothes and has some personal grooming ritual, a fact that gave ModCloth and French Girl Organics a broad potential market from the start. What if your business serves a tiny niche instead? Can it still become a “big” brand? To answer these questions, let's look at one of the most narrowly defined niches around: professional mermaids.
Finfolk Productions: From garage business to “splashy” Instagram iconHow much of a brand can you build selling $1,000 to $3,900 silicone mermaid tails to performers, resorts, and theatrical costumers? Ask artists (and twin sisters) Abby and Bryn Roberts. Their business, Finfolk Productions, has been cited by Hubspot and Inc. Magazine for its outstanding Instagram marketing, alongside better-known, deeper-pocketed brands such as Staples, Lululemon, National Geographic, and Starbucks. Finfolk's social media savvy has paid off. The five-year old company has announced its plans to move production this year from a residential garage to a 14,000-square foot space to accommodate “exponential growth.” Finfolk's Instagram photos are gorgeous, and the idea of being able to swim as a mermaid definitely has its appeal. But Finfolk Productions also checks all the boxes when it comes to brand-building.
Lessons from Finfolk Productions:1. Do what you love and use what you know. The Roberts sisters have a background in performance and fashion design that they put to work answering a casting director's call for mermaid tails. 2. Listen to your customers and act on what you hear. The sisters told their local newspaper that after they made their prototype tails they found a group of people in the “underground mermaid community” talking online about their work. Once they tapped into that market, their company took off. 3. Turn your customer base into a community via social media. Finfolk has 181,000 Instagram followers, several other social media accounts, and the respect of social media marketers and industry watchers. Finfolk also has customers around the world who make unboxing videos for YouTube to show off their new mermaid tails. One of those videos, made by a professional entertainer based in landlocked Oklahoma, has earned more than 2.7 million views. 4. Leverage high-profile media and celebrity mentions. Finfolk has been mentioned in media outlets from BabyCenter to Glamour UK and the South China Morning Post, and gets a boost from “FINfluencer” Lauren Elizabeth, a self-described stay-at-home mermaid with nearly 5,000 Instagram followers.
5. Own your own digital real estate. Finfolk Productions sells its mermaid tails, tops, scales, leggings, and accessories through its website. Having a freestanding site rather than selling through a marketplace allows the company to capture email addresses for future promotions and to study customer buying habits over time.
ConclusionThe moral of the story here is that certain brand-building steps can apply to virtually any type of retail business serving just about any group of consumers. If you love making good products, listen to your customers, leverage social and traditional media, and control your own customer data by having your own online store, you've got the tools you need to grow your brand.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
How to Create a Marketing Plan for Your New WebsiteYou finished creating your website and have launched! That’s a big deal. But if you thought the hard part was over, think again. Creating your website is a huge step, but if you actually want people to see it, then you need to get to work marketing it. There are nearly 2 billion websites out there. You may not be in competition with every single one of them, but if you want anyone interested in what your website has to offer to find you, you can’t expect them to just happen upon your URL in a sea of 2 billion options. To get noticed, you have to perform online marketing. And to do it well, you need a plan.
Step 1: Define your goals.Before you start making decisions about how to approach online marketing, it’s important to think about what you want to get out of it. Do you want to drive more traffic to your website? Do you want to drive a specific type of traffic to your website? Are you selling something and need to prioritize profit? Are you hoping to build an email list? You may have more than one main goal for your online marketing, but use this step to figure out both what your specific goals are, and the priority level for each. Different types of online marketing will work best for different goals, so this step will play an important role in leading you toward the best choices in the next few steps.
Step 2: Clarify your target audience.Most websites aren’t for everybody. Your online marketing efforts will work better if they’re focused on the people most likely to be interested in your website. Think carefully about who is most likely to want what your website offers. Is it more likely to appeal to people within a certain age demographic, geographic area, or gender? What about parental status, household income, and general interests? If you already have customers or followers, then what you know about them should help shape your idea of your target audience. Sit down and create a profile of the kind of person that’s most likely to buy your products or follow your content. Be thorough. Include things like:
- Income level
- Education level
- Marital status
- Parental status
- General interests
- Politics and values
- Personality traits
- Buying behavior
Step 3: Determine which marketing tactics to use.Once you know what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach, it’s time to figure out which online marketing tactics to use. If you’re not already familiar with online marketing (and maybe even if you are), this step will require diving into some research. There are a lot of tactics and channels to be aware of and each of them have their own set of best practices. If you’re hoping to do this all yourself rather than hire help, then expect to devote a significant amount of time to learning the ropes. If you have a budget and intend to hire help, then you still want to make sure you have enough understanding of the different online marketing areas to know which ones you want to pursue and be able to hire someone that knows what they’re doing. You’ll probably want to do some combination of:
- Search engine optimization
- Paid search marketing
- Content marketing
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
- Affiliate marketing
- Conversion optimization
Step 4: Figure out your budget.Online marketing has two big costs: time and money. You can get away with spending less in money if you’re able to spend more in time, but either way it’s going to cost you. So before you start to delve into the specifics of your plan, consider carefully how much you have to spend. Some types of online marketing don’t cost anything in money unless you hire someone to do them, while others, like paid search and social advertising, will cost you something no matter what. If you need to get by with little to no monetary budget, then try to find the overlap between your own strengths and what your audience will respond to. If you want to try content marketing but you’re a terrible writer, consider if your audience might respond to a podcast, for instance. In general though, you’ll get further with your online marketing if you have some money to spend on hiring skilled professionals to help and investing in paid advertising to help give you that first boost of awareness. Online marketing isn’t entirely dependent on being able to spend a lot of money, but it does help.
Step 5: Create your plan.The four previous steps should bring you to the point where you have a pretty good idea of what types of online marketing you’ll be doing and how much you can handle. Now it’s time to put it all together into a clear plan, with specific steps and timelines. If you want to keep up with your online marketing, you’ll need to be organized and give yourself a schedule with deadlines to stick with. If you’re pursuing social media marketing, commit to updating your profiles a set number of times each week and schedule time to spend interacting with others on the platform. If you’re starting a blog, work up a list of topics to write about and give yourself a specific deadline for getting each post written and published. The only way you’ll get it done is if you stay organized and commit to keeping up with the schedule you create. And if you want people to find your site, you have to get it done. If it all sounds like a lot and you’re overwhelmed, don’t feel bad. It is a lot . But the only way to move forward is to get started and learn as you go. And if you can find the money to do so, it’s worth hiring someone to help. Look into online marketing agencies and consultants, or freelance specialists to help with things like SEO and blogging. Your life will be a lot easier if you outsource some of your online marketing to people skilled in doing it. Then you can focus on creating the products or content you built the site to promote to begin with.
Monday, October 16, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
From Blogs to Riches: 3 Famous Entrepreneurs Who Started Out As BloggersBlog-to-riches is the digital-age version of the traditional success story: A scrappy and determined person starts a small blog and then writes, podcasts, or shoots their way to fame and fortune. The reality check is that in 2016 there were more than six million active “traditional” blogs and twice that number of people blogging via social media channels like Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. How can you make your blog stand out from the crowd, build a loyal following, and maybe grow into a profitable business? Here are three very different blogs-to-riches success stories to teach us by example.
Blogger-Turned-Entrepreneur #1: Ree Drummond of The Pioneer WomanRee Drummond has been on the cover of People magazine, her fifth cookbook comes out in October, and her Food Network show, Pioneer Woman, is in its seventh season. Drummond also has a housewares brand, a magazine, a restaurant, and a hotel under construction. She's built this lifestyle enterprise in just eleven years. Her success grew out of her personal blog—also called The Pioneer Woman—about her raising and homeschooling four kids with her rancher husband in rural Oklahoma. Today, the blog is still the cornerstone of Drummond's business, where she regularly shares recipes, project updates, pictures of her town, and stories about her family and friends. Somehow, in the middle of all of this work and raising teenagers, she also blogs for Land O'Lakes, too.
What new bloggers can learn from Ree Drummond:Find your voice and use it to describe things you love. Perhaps more than any other star “mom blogger,” Drummond writes in a clear voice and uses it to help her readers fall in love with her way of life. Her blog today feels just as folksy and friendly (and funny) as it did a decade ago, and readers feel they have a window into her world: one that's focused on family, food, farm life, and getting to know and care about the neighbors. While she's a skilled writer, Drummond didn't create a persona to serve a target market – she just started writing about her rural way of life and nurturing a community of readers who wanted to know more. Her authenticity shines through. Yours can, too.
Vlogger-Turned-Entrepreneur #2: Casey Neistat of Beme/CNNIf you're under 35 and own a smartphone, you probably already know who Casey Neistat is. For the rest of us, Casey Neistat is a vlogger-entrepreneur who—among other things—is building digital video tools for CNN to help them reach Millennials. It's a role he took on after selling his social-media video app, Beme, to the news network for $25 million. Neistat also invests in startups, represents Samsung, and speaks at conferences to encourage other creatives to do the work they want to do. He still makes time to shoot, produce, and share videos about his global travels, product reviews, and his wife Candice Pool Neistat's fashion company, Billy. Neistat has accomplished a lot for a self-described “old man” of 36, and his career arc is even more impressive considering where he started. The Denver Post's recent profile of Neistat sums up his backstory this way: “By age 17... the high-school dropout found himself living in a trailer park, washing dishes for a living and raising his infant son.” With no film-making education, not much free time, and a long history of hearing people tell him he couldn't succeed, Neistat went to work. He moved to New York, worked on his craft of telling stories through video, and had a viral hit about NYC bike-lane safety that drew the attention of city officials and YouTube viewers alike.
What new vloggers can learn from Casey Neistat:Do what you want, and use the gear you have to get started. Neistat says all you need to begin is a phone, an internet connection, and a good idea. Do What You Can't, Neistat's 4-minute video autobiography, lists things authority figures told Neistat he couldn't do – alongside video of Neistat accomplishing all of those goals and more.
So if you want to create a vlog about something you love, do it—even if, and maybe especially if, people have told you that you can't.
Influencer-Turned-Entrepreneur #3: Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde SaladFashion watchers know Chiara Ferragni means business. The Italian designer and blogger, who now lives in Beverly Hills, brings in at least $9 million a year from her shoe and clothing lines, modeling, endorsements, and partnerships with major fashion houses. Forbes recognized Ferragni as the Top Fashion Influencer of 2017 for leading the way in the emerging fashion/social media influencer industry. Ferragni's was the first fashion influencer business to be featured in a Harvard Business Review case study—and that was before she began opening retail stores in Italy and China. While doing all of that, she's also graced the covers of dozens of international fashion magazines and earned a special edition Barbie made in her likeness. Before she was a fashion icon and tycoon, Ferragni was a law student in Italy with a personal blog called The Blonde Salad. She told Forbes that her diary-style posts and photos drew lots of questions about her wardrobe, so she took the blog in that direction. She also used Instagram to expand her sphere of influence. Today, Ferragni has more than 10 million Instagram followers, and The Blonde Salad is a digital fashion magazine and online store with a team of twenty staffers.
What new bloggers can learn from Chiara Ferragni:Share the love. Like Drummond, Ferragni blogs about what she loves—fashion, friends, and travel. Ferragni is also, like Neistat, a natural collaborator, as her work with Gucci, Chanel, and other fashion houses shows. Ferragni's enthusiasm for fashion is contagious. Her work with others in the industry has raised her brand's visibility to the point where she's the acknowledged “It Girl” and has earned her fans—and customers—from Los Angeles to Shanghai. The takeaway for new bloggers is to use social media to amplify your blog's reach and to reach out to others in your niche for new projects, cross-promotion, and creative cross-pollination. Ready to start your journey from blogger to entrepreneur? HostGator has WordPress plans that make it easy to design your site, manage your content, and start posting.