I am not a risk-taker by nature. True story. And trust me when I say that the irony isn't lost on me that my day job is being an entrepreneur-- a full-time risk taker, if you will. Everyday I am putting out content and product and promotions with NO guarantee on success. It's just the nature of the business.
And trust me when I say that failures will come :) While I'd like to say in all honesty that every single business decision I've made has been a wild success, I think we both know I'd be lying through my teeth :) The truth is that I've made more mistakes than successes, and while that can be discouraging to hear (and type, ha ha!), I have a way of approaching each new venture that helps me bounce back from the mistakes and overcome my fear of "putting myself out there."
So what do I do?
I try to look at new ventures and launches in the following light:
a) Is it relevant for my target market (meaning, is there a good chance this product/promotion/content going to resonate with my audience?)
b) Even if it is a flop, will I still learn something valuable from it? (Hint: the answer is always yes)
I was lucky because when I first launched my own line of baby headbands, I had a sale 2 days later and things escalated quickly from there. I started in November 1, 2013 and by November 30, I had earned $1,400.00. December brought in around $2,500.00. Things exponentially increased from there, and by the end of 2014, I had brought in over $100,000.00 in revenue for the year. It was seriously unreal.
Adding baby hats to the line was the next logical step for me, and one that went smoothly as well. Etsy has about a 2 week window for new items to appear in search (something I’ve learned based on tracking launches), so I waited patiently, started getting our inventory in check, and was selling hats + headbands 2 weeks from then.
I felt invincible.
(Please know that I absolutely do NOT say this to sing my own praises— I am hoping that by being transparent about my income, I can genuinely help you grow your business and give you a behind-the-scenes look at my business and the steps I have taken to get it here. My overall hope is for you to look at these numbers and be inspired to create and grown your own online business.)
I was growing overwhelmed by headbands by this point (to date, my team and I have calculated I have made over 45,000 headbands. 45,000 HEADBANDS!!!! If that doesn’t tell you that you can sell anything, I don’t know what will!), so we decided to hire a seamstress to start out with us on our line of crib sheets. This was a bit riskier than headbands and hats— crib sheets required A LOT more time and had a much, much higher product cost. But I had loved designing my baby girl’s nursery, so it seemed like the perfect step forward for our company.
I decided to launch with 8 designs. Because we had had so much success with hats, I had had to rush order fabric in order to fulfill all of the orders. I *really* didn’t want that to happen again, so I was extremely careful about limiting the amount of designs we launched with and then ordering bulk quantities of each of those fabrics to prevent overselling/running out of product.
I was also terrified of the launch. I was so afraid that no one would buy the crib sheets. I went for as neutral a color scheme as possible and tried to use our most generic patterns, thinking that everyone could find some appeal in a neutral design and pattern.
We launched in Spring of 2015. I posted on Instagram a couple of weeks previously, had held a contest that garnered 600 entries (hey, baby steps!) and had taken all the photos and written the copy. It looked awesome and felt great.
We launched on a Wednesday morning. The day shall be forever burned into my mind. I was too terrified to check the sales for a few hours, so the crib sheets had been live for about 6 hours before I popped onto our sales page to see the orders. I wasn’t expecting to sell hundreds, but I had expected to sell at least a couple dozen.
I hadn’t sold one. Not one.
Not a single crib sheet had sold. They didn’t sell later that day, or even the day after that or the day after that.
I was crushed.
I can honestly say this was one of the lowest experiences I’ve had with my business. I was embarrassed that I had failed, worried about the inventory start-up costs for the sheets, and genuinely mortified that no one thought my designs were good enough to grace the crib of their little one (#dramaqueen). I felt like a complete fraud.
It was a hard road block to overcome, I’ll be the first to admit that. I was crushed for days. We ended up selling a crib sheet on the following Saturday morning, but it was only after I had lowered my prices (yes, my pride was that wounded; no, it's not something I recommend doing).
To this date (seriously— about a year later), we’ve only sold maybe 25 crib sheets. And that might be generous, to tell you the truth. Just typing that sentence makes me want to laugh out loud and then burst into tears and then laugh out loud again. And then cry. It’s definitely not as painful a memory as it was directly following the event, but it is still a blush-worthy anecdote that I’ve kept under wraps for the most part.
But! The pain of that blush-worthy event taught me an important lesson that has truly shaped the way I do product launches/drops today:
Don’t design/create product/offer services to EVERYONE.
Oh my heavens, just don't do it. If you learn nothing else today, learn this:
By trying to appeal to EVERYONE, you will most definitely appeal to NO ONE.
It makes sense that you’d want your product to appeal to the widest audience possible, but in execution? Rarely successful. Niche, niche, niche. My designs were so generic and neutral (grays, mints, and gold. bleh. Even looking at the photos of our products next to each other is blah.) that I didn’t appeal to ANYONE. If they wanted generic crib sheets, they could just go to Target and get them! And for 100x cheaper than handmade ones at that. I had tried to please everyone and instead I pleased no one.
While I don’t consider my crib sheets as products themselves to be a success, I do consider the fact that I tried something new, learned a few lessons from it, and moved onward and upward to be well-worth the experience. Experience is seriously priceless. I can talk and talk and talk until I am blue in the face with business tips and advice, but until you put those practices into action, they aren’t worth a whole lot. Fail or not, the experience and lessons you’ll learn from them are worth their weight in gold.
Why do I tell you this story? I’m hoping it will help you realize that there is NO reason to be scared as a solopreneur. Even if you fail (ESPECIALLY if you fail), you will have gained more in return. Maybe not in dollars, but you definitely will know what NOT to do next time— and that’s one of the most important steps to take in figuring out your company groove.
Have any of you had any shockingly uncomfortable fails (or I am the only one?!)? What’s your story? Leave me a comment below! xoxo