Moving on: lessons learnt

April 11, 2011

Before they fade with the passage of time (and boy how quickly that flies), I decided to take some time to work out the most important lessons I learnt from my past successes and failures in running an online business, so that I could apply these lessons at whatever venture I plan next (and no… nothing is imminent, I’m talking years away, which is exactly why I want to write these down!).

What have I learnt?

* ACTION not ANALYSIS. This is quite a personal one; of course generally analysis is a very good thing!! However for me I tend to take it that step too far and end up paralysed into inaction, overanalysing and documenting all possibilities instead of taking action. I learnt this a very hard way with my sewing shop; I’d originally planned to launch months before my daughter was born. But I spent weeks upon weeks agonising over the business plan. When I didn’t even need the document – I wasn’t applying for a loan or anything! Of course, an outline business plan is always essential. But I ended up with a 100 page document before giving up because I’d gotten so bogged down in ridiculous detail that doesn’t need to be in there. Such as listing every supplier along with justifications; listing every publication I’d approach for PR; etc. I spent so much time planning, and left absolutely none for implementation and ACTION.

Suddenly one day I realised that, the way I was going, the business wasn’t going to be live before my daughter was born, which meant it would never see light of day (I wasn’t exactly going to have time to build the site after she was born). So I had to drop a huge proportion of my plans and just get something out there, rushed, so I could launch and try and establish it before my daughter came along. I ended up launching a month before her due date!

* Build the bare bones to start with, not the kitchen sink. Be realistic and not over-ambitious; I don’t need to build ALL of it before launching ANY of it. Despite all my planning I ended up having to launch very quickly and so I only built the bare bones of the site, and used a template design rather than starting from scratch as I’d planned. It didn’t matter! The site still looked great and I got amazing feedback on how user-friendly the shop was and what a breath of fresh air it was. I don’t know why I felt I had to build all the functionality of it, before launching; at the end of the day…

* …the most important thing is your product, not the website. Having a pretty site really does help, but a slick website is no use without quality products or content to back it up. I wish I’d realised this earlier, as I wasted so much of my time on irrelevant site design details. Enhancements to the website and making it really beautiful can come later; the most important thing is to get the basic functions / products out there and start selling and driving traffic to your site. This way you can also benefit from customer feedback and implement changes actual existing customers want, rather than second-guessing them with an expensive site design that doesn’t work well in practice.

* Focus focus focus (see Finding your Niche) . At the beginning I went off in a million different directions, chasing different product ideas and basically trying to do too much at once. I spread myself far too thinly and ended up not being able to devote enough time to any specific product area, so my early offering was a mix of a bit of this and a bit of that. It’s best to decide on a specific set of customers whose requirements you can meet, rather than trying to be all things to all people, and then satisfying no-one. After I decided to focus on just my core customer and the core product offering they’d be looking for, there was a smaller but deeper range and it had a great impact on my sales as I could concentrate more on getting those areas right and promoting them. All my other ideas were been written down for the future!

* Advertising versus effort trade-off. I didn’t spend any money on advertising. I learnt that with a website geared towards good SEO (which you can learn with a book like SEO For Dummies) and social networking (Twitter / Facebook etc), if you have a good product and a unique selling point, word will spread and people will find you. HOWEVER, this kind of promotion is very time consuming, and now I think maybe some paid advertising might be worthwhile in that it costs money, but saves time. Which is better: 100 extra customers after spending 5 hours social networking, or spending £100 on an ad? There’s no answer there, it’s different depending on the time and circumstance, but I have learnt that there is a trade-off between paying for advertising and promoting yourself for free (which does have a cost, in terms of your time).

* Slow down to speed up. I get bored easily and am constantly going from one project to the next. I’m learning that taking things more slowly and with a more measured approach means I achieve more than when I rush from one thing to the next.

* It’s important to spend some time breathing out and enjoying life. Life is for living. I am slowly learning the art and pleasure of just taking the time regularly to sit down, relax, breathe out, and slow down, in order to enjoy and appreciate my surroundings, circumstances, loved ones, and life in general. Everyone’s spirit needs nurturing.

* I am not very patient. Enough said really!!

* I love generating new ideas and dreaming up schemes; I am less strong at putting them in to action and can get a bit carried away.

And some lessons learnt from the wonderful Marla Cilley over at Flylady:

* It doesn’t have to be perfect. As she says, “Housework done incorrectly still blesses my family!” and the same principle can be applied to other areas of my life.
* Take Baby Steps!
* My life is simpler with all the clutter removed.
* Working in chunks of 15 minutes gives me a sense of achievement and makes me more productive.

It feels really good to have written these things down, and in the future if (when?) I want to dip my toes back in to running my own business I’ll be sure to come back and re-read this before I do anything else.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sarah Norris May 12, 2011 at 11:15 am

I love this article! I to spent ages on preparing a business plan (I didn’t need to use it for anything like applying for loans either) when a rough plan would have done just fine. I’ve also changed my website design about 25 times before settling on the one I like and is hopefully user friendly, I was often working into the early hours as I couldn’t get much done in the day with a baby around.
I still need to take some time out to ‘breathe’ occasionally, so I shall take your words of wisdom and hopefully apply them soon
p.s. Am hoping to dust off my sewing machine soon, so shall take a look at your online shop :-)

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