In March, on a Friday evening, I came up with an idea for a business. More specifically, a studio fitness accessories online store. By Sunday night, I had decided on the business name, registered the domain name, finalized my idea for the initial MVP (minimum viable product) to launch my store, and started researching suppliers. Within a week I also had designed the (now revised) logo and made contact with a couple of suppliers. It’s now nearly September, and while I have a store blog that is gaining traffic, my initial product has not arrived and my store has not launched.
And in hindsight, I’m so glad, that I did not stick to my initial, crazy idealistic, three month timeline.
When you first get started with an idea, you are likely drunk on excitement. You can already see the potential, the purpose, and, let’s face it, the profit. You’ve got your product or service spec’d out, a high level marketing plan, thoughts on pricing, etc. And even though you feel prepared (and probably a little nervous), you may not be as ready as you think you are.
While you have all of these ideas, what you likely don’t have is a functional strategy, legal understanding of starting a business and a realistic timeline. Or maybe you have that covered, but the marketing, product or pricing strategy is missing. My point is, wherever your strength, experience and passion lies, your strategy could still be only half-baked. You may still need to focus and refine your idea, and learn to acknowledge your weaknesses, and the weaknesses of your product.
Those are just my general thoughts, but here’s my real-life situation. First, as much as I’d love to turn my side hustle into my main-drive, I currently have a full-time job. I don’t have unlimited time to devote to the set up of my business, let alone time to improve all my areas of weakness. My expertise and passion lies in digital marketing, community management and the studio fitness client, which translates to a passion for product design, website design and marketing strategy. This is where I naturally focused my spare time, especially early on. However, I know little about supplier relations, international trade law and business registrations, which are all serious gaps in my knowledge, and ones that could get me into trouble down the road. And that’s what really slowed down my process.
For starters, I had to educate myself on what to even ask suppliers for when asking for quotes. What was the minimum order quantity? Could that be negotiated? What was the price per piece? Who covers shipping? What is F.O.B. (Freight on Board)? What is their turnaround time? What is the sample policy?
I knew none of this. If I were a fully-fledged company with a staff, I’d probably have a product and import expert, who would know what to ask and streamline this process, but I’m a sole proprietor. It’s just me, myself and my dog. And we knew nothing about prospecting a supplier to build a product idea from design. So I had to learn from scratch. I googled. I found some good e-commerce blogs (Shopify’s blogs, for example) and I also found a patient supplier who was willing to educate me on the process.
I asked my questions. Got quotes. Ordered stock samples. Ordered custom samples. Asked more questions. Clarified quotes. I learned A LOT. But it took a lot more time than I had planned. This additional time turned out to be the best thing for my blossoming business. That time cushion allowed me to keep researching, so I could understand things like what type of legal business structure I was going to select. And to understand the customs process, hire a customs broker, and even to select the web host that made the most sense for my startup.
Had I rushed forward with the product design and ordering, without fully vetting the vendors, I could have potentially ordered from a low-quality or not-on-spec product, or from a fraudulent vendor. I also wouldn’t have had the time to do the research on the aspects of my business that I didn’t initially prioritize because it was not my specialty. Prevention is the best remedy and those additional few months of research guaranteed that I was protecting myself and my business. I could have not given myself enough time to register my business certificate and set up my business bank account. So much can go wrong if you aren’t properly prepared, leaving your invested time and funding at risk. There are so many “what ifs” and I’m glad I took the extra time to avoid those concerns becoming realities.
Whether you want it or not, you need that extra time. So instead of being impatient, take advantage of that time to learn everything you can. Push back your deadline. Improve your knowledge gaps, work on the areas that are less interesting. Build a beautifully thought-out strategy and take comfort in the fact that you are now better prepared to launch your business, than you would have been had you rushed it.
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