I’ve been starting little businesses ever since I was seven years old, when I set up shop in my parents’ front yard to sell my Easter candy to the neighbor kids. But a little over 10 years ago I finally started my first “real” business—the kind that turned a profit, grew and lasted.
As a new entrepreneur, I knew nothing about business. Absolutely nothing. And I truly feel that it has taken me most of 10 years of experience to get to a point where I am at all confident in my knowledge.
Business is such a complex subject! There are so many moving parts to balance: everything from marketing and relationships to taxes, systems and so much more. With so many things to keep up with, it can be difficult to really get a grasp on the big picture ideas that can make or break your company.
Obviously, every business is different, but there are still many universal truths that apply to running any business. With that in mind, here are 10 important things that it took me nearly 10 years to figure out.
1. Selling is easy when you truly believe in your product.
For a long time, I thought selling was hard. I didn’t know how to “convince” people to buy my product. I got tongue tied at even the thought of pitching anything to anyone. I heard so many people say “selling is easy if you believe in what you’re selling,” so I tried to make myself “believe” harder.
I would tell myself “my product is the best,” “my company offers the highest quality” and “customers need our product.” It didn’t seem to help at all!
What I finally realized was: my product wasn’t the best, and I wasn’t going to be able to convince myself to believe a lie that it was. Sure, it was pretty good. It was fine. But when it came down to it, and I was trying to sell, I was having a really tough time because deep down I knew that the customer could probably spend their money better elsewhere.
Obviously, there was only one thing to do: improve our product. Make it truly the best—or at least so darn close that it was a hot debate. It wasn’t until then that the words started to roll off my tongue, “Our product is amazing! It will change your life! You’ll be SO happy with your purchase.”
What can I say? I’m a terrrrrible liar.
2. Fixed costs can make or break you.
Every business has two kinds of expenses: fixed and variable. Fixed costs are those things that are constant whether you sell 1 widget or 1,000 widgets, such as your office rent, subscriptions and utilities.
Variable costs increase with each product you produce. These might be raw materials, supplies or transaction fees.
It’s easy to run a few numbers and determine if your variable costs are feasible. You just need to make sure that you’re charging enough to exceed your production costs. (And if that price is too high, then you have to figure out how to lower your costs.)
But fixed costs are a little more tricky. When you start your business, you might think you’ll sell 100 – 1,000 widgets per month, and you know that if you sell 100 widgets you’ll cover all your fixed expenses, and if you sell 1,000 then you’ll be swimming in profits.
But what happens if you don’t even sell 100 widgets? Your variable costs go down, but you still have to pay those fixed costs. At that point, you’re either closing your business or sinking into debt. And unfortunately, the less profit you have, the less you can afford for advertising—which makes climbing out of debt increasingly difficult.
Bottom line—keep your fixed expenses as lean as possible.
3. Consistency—both in frequency and in message—really pay off in the long run.
People will only buy from you if they trust you because otherwise, they’ll be afraid of wasting their money. The absolute easiest way to garner trust? Consistency.
Show up as the same person every time, and show up on a regular basis. You wouldn’t trust someone if you saw them at a party dressed in goth style, and then three weeks later you saw them walking down the street in their pajamas! Similarly, if today you say, “I’m the cheapest photographer in town,” you shouldn’t then say, “I provide the most luxurious experience in town.”
Your branding affects who you attract, and if you’re attracting one type of customer today, then you’ll only be able to build momentum if you talk the same talk tomorrow.
4. Just start.
Opportunities don’t last forever, and the longer you wait to start on anything, the less likely you are to ever start.
Now, don’t get me wrong—planning is important. If you don’t know where you’re trying to get, then you’ll never get there. But you can still start without knowing how everything is going to work out.
Take advantage of the energy you have for your idea when it comes to you, and just start. Start slowly, so that you don’t get yourself into trouble, but start now.
5. Quality over quantity, always.
Whatever you start, do it well. There are SO many reasons why quality matters!
When your product is high quality, selling can be effortless. You’ll have no qualms about singing the praises of your product.
If your quality is better than everyone else’s, then people will talk. Your marketing may even take care of itself.
When you focus on quality, even if other aspects of your business don’t pan out as well as you had hoped, you’ll still have the pleasure of a job well done. You’ll still be proud of your effort.
6. Packaging matters way more than we’d like to admit.
Quality matters because of how it makes YOU feel and because of how it affects your business long-term.
However, to anyone who doesn’t have first-hand experience with your product, packaging is what will be the deciding factor of their potential purchase.
Packaging isn’t just the plastic a widget is wrapped in: it’s the words you use to describe your product, the testimonials on your website and the graphics on the sales page. It’s anything and everything that potential customers see, hear or feel before they buy.
The prettier the packaging, the more they want to open the present and discover what’s inside.
Like it or not, packaging matters.
7. Relationships allow you to reach more people than you ever could alone.
Regardless of how great your business plan is, you’ll only find success if you make sales—and people will only buy if they know you exist!
In order to sell your product, you need visibility, and there are three primary ways to get it: buy it, work it or organize it.
Buy it with paid advertising campaigns.
Work it, by personally showing your product to as many people as you possibly can.
Or organize it, by creating a network of people to promote your product for you.
For years, I heard people proclaim the importance of relationships. “Relationships are so important!” I thought, Oh, yeah, I’m sure they’re important. It’s nice to have people like you. It’s nice to occasionally get a referral. I’m an introvert. I think I’ll skip that step.
It took a long time, but I finally realized that the REASON that relationships are nonnegotiable is because as an individual person, I can only show my product to so many people myself. I can only sell to so many people. I can only be an ambassador to so many people.
And yes, I could always pay for advertising, or hire salespeople. But really, why? Why spend money I don’t need to for relatively ineffective ads when instead I could invest in people?
Deep relationships, built on a foundation of trust, give you access to huge audiences that you’d otherwise never be able to reach. The people you meet know other people—probably way more people than you know. Ten quality relationships could easily give you access to thousands of potential buyers.
So quit selling and start sharing.
8. The greatest enemy of any entrepreneur (or author, or artist) is anonymity.
So, I think that I read this quote in Steven Pressfield’s “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.” (An amazing book, by the way!) However, for the life of me, I can’t find it in there anywhere, so I really don’t know for sure.
Regardless, the point is paramount: people will only buy your stuff if they know that you exist. You could have the greatest product in the world, but if nobody knows about it then you won’t make a single sale.
- Do impressive things that will get you noticed. Be unusually generous with your knowledge and time. Produce the highest-quality work. Stand out.
- For every hour you spend creating (content, product, etc.), spend at least two hours promoting. Make visibility your focus. Help people discover you.
9. Price (almost) doesn’t matter.
Price does matter…a little bit. If your price is WAY too high then your target customers won’t be able to afford you. And, if your price is too low (far more common an issue), then you’ll cheapen your brand.
However, that being said, price doesn’t matter. What decides whether or not you sell is how you sell. Packaging matters. Positioning matters. Product matters. Price is a non-issue.
What I mean is this: If you can convince your potential buyers that they want what you offer, then they will buy. Even if it’s a bit expensive. (Maybe even especially if it’s a bit expensive.) And if you can’t convince them, then lowering the price won’t help, because it will just make your product seem even less valuable.
(Of course, extremely high prices do exclude some people who would otherwise buy, and extremely low prices might make some people buy “just because it’s cheap.” But, for the most part, price doesn’t matter.)
10. You can never be too generous.
You can never be too generous because the more you give, the happier you are. The more you give, the more people want to help you. The more you give, the more people like you and want to support you.
As a content marketer, a constant fear is “what if I give too much away for free?” “What if I don’t have anything left to sell?”
You can’t give too much away. If what you have is truly worth people’s time, then the more you give, the more people will talk and share your work. The bigger your audience will grow, and the more influential power you’ll have.
As Seth Godin said, “I don’t know anyone who can’t make a sale because too many people know they exist.”
Share liberally. It’s good for others, good for your business and good for you.
Want to read more like this? Every week, I write articles about my experience as an entrepreneur, with a primary focus on marketing strategy. If you’re interested in learning about how to effectively grow your business and profits, head on over to my website and subscribe to my newsletter. I look forward to connecting with you in the near future!
Gillian Perkins is an entrepreneur, business strategist, and the #1 internationally bestselling author of Sorted: Freedom Through Structure. She owns and operates several businesses, including Aptus Creative Marketing and Northwest School of Music. Gillian lives in beautiful, green Oregon with her husband and little boys.