Running an online business, particularly in a fiercely competitive industry, presents its own blend of challenges and rewards. On one hand, you are tirelessly working to steer clear of the perilous path of competing solely on price, while ensuring your suppliers are well-informed and your customers content. Initially, it seems straightforward: focus on quality, and sales will naturally follow.
However, reality is rarely as simple.
As time progresses, you will undoubtedly encounter situations where errors are made, suppliers falter, and customers become disgruntled. Your responses to these predicaments will speak volumes about your dedication to quality and the growth of your business, surpassing any advertising campaign’s impact.
If you’re considering venturing into this journey, your first year will undoubtedly test your mettle, molding your character in unforeseen ways. Despite having successfully run my business for over 12 years and nurtured a team of nearly 100 dedicated, contented employees, I often wish someone had shared these five life lessons with me when I was starting out:
Lesson #1: Don’t Be Afraid
The notion sounds simple, doesn’t it? “I’m not afraid!” you may proclaim, “This is exciting! I can handle it!” I commend your enthusiasm. However, there will be moments when you feel uneasy, anxious, and even frightened. Yet remember, fear is merely your body’s way of preparing for the unknown. Unless you’re in a life-threatening situation, fear is an inadequate readiness mechanism. Recognize this emotion and take action despite it. Looking back, after your first year, the things that once caused you trepidation will appear insignificant in the grand scheme of things. You’re stronger than fear. Acknowledge it, then take that courageous step.
Lesson #2: Don’t Get Overwhelmed
Before dismissing this lesson as easier said than done, hear me out. It’s deceptively tempting to want to handle everything yourself, from marketing and website management to accounting. During the initial phase, being a one-person operation is inevitable. However, as orders begin pouring in, you may find yourself working 16-hour days to avoid working eight for someone else. Don’t hesitate to delegate. Consider hiring part-time help or even a virtual assistant to handle the day-to-day tasks that consume your time. Your time is far more valuable than any sum of money.
Lesson #3: Go Above and Beyond
You can apply this lesson by following lesson #2. Once you clear out the “nibbler” tasks, you can focus on delivering the absolute best results possible – and then taking one step further. For instance, I operate in the promotional items industry, where competition is fierce, and choices are abundant. We set ourselves apart from the typical promotional company by resisting outsourcing, ensuring efficient order management and shipment, and even performing in-house screen-printing to save our customers money. We’ve also developed a product suggestion tool to assist other business owners, schools, and organizations in selecting the most suitable products for their promotions. The key is to continuously seek ways to enhance the customer’s shopping experience, making it easy, hassle-free, and enjoyable.
Lesson #4: Don’t Worry About Making a Profit (At First!)
I understand your desire to turn a profit since you’re in business to make money. However, that should not be your sole or ultimate objective. Concentrating solely on financial gains might lead to profitability but at the cost of everything else. Initially, it may seem that most, if not all, the money you earn goes toward sustaining your business. Eventually, profits will naturally outweigh expenses, and you won’t have lost sight of your initial goal – prioritizing customer satisfaction over monetary gain.
Lesson #5: Keep Growing
Complacency can be detrimental to your business. The moment you’re content with your position, competitors will seize the opportunity to outdo you. Growth doesn’t mean chasing every trend but finding smart ways to invest your time, money, and effort in ways that strengthen your business and enrich your personal life.
In conclusion, operating an online business isn’t much different from running a physical store. It requires preparation, commitment, an understanding of your strengths, and how others’ talents can align with your vision and plan. You have the potential to make it happen. Believe in yourself and take the leap!