In 2016 we started Saint Wools because of our love for quality hand-made products, our fascination with unspun merino wool, a strong desire to make customers happy with our woolly creations and perhaps most importantly, and the realisation that now is the best time to start.
Today we want to share our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned about starting a new business with you. So if you are thinking of starting your own enterprise or already sell a product or service, we hope you find these useful.
1. It isn’t easy (and you only get what you put in)
If you think about it, why would starting a business be easy? You are creating a new product or service and must answer a myriad of strategic and operational questions. Who is your target market? Who are your competitors? Where do you fit into the market, what are your substitute and complimentary products or services? What is your sales strategy? How will customers find you? Do you make your own website or hire someone? How much inventory do you need? Is the product good enough? There are so many things to figure out that and it is so daunting that most people never end up taking the leap into entrepreneurship.
And then after you’ve answered these questions (or think you have), you need to manage the company. Order and control inventory effectively, make the product, handle customer queries, update social media, develop new products, and list goes on. And at the end of the day you need to be profitable and understand how every decision is impacting your bottom line.
Our advice, is plan upfront but don’t be too rigid. You need to be flexible enough to adjust to customer demand and new trends. Keep your inventory lean as this improves working capital, reduces risk and lets you change your offering if you need to. At first it is better to pay a little more for smaller quantities of raw materials than to buy too much and find out that your product is not going to sell. Always keep an eye on a couple of key metrics (what gets measured gets managed) and set targets for your business to achieve.
Top tip: don’t let your to-do list overwhelm you, be patient and realistic, but make sure there is some progress every day (however modest it may be). There are no 9-5s as an entrepreneur so be prepared to make sacrifices.
2. Customer service is crucial
Seek contact with your customers. Be courteous and professional and be willing to go the extra mile, at least when you’re just starting out. The benefits of this approach are quickly apparent. Firstly, you will receive positive reviews which can attract more customers, and avoid bad reviews which can harm sales significantly. Secondly, happy customers are much more likely to refer you to their friends and family, and much more likely to come back for repeat purchases.
Sometimes you will have a nightmare customer. Perhaps they demand a refund and do not want to ship the product back to you. Maybe they’ve claimed a defect with the product but share a picture that doesn’t show anything wrong with it. Whatever it is, stand firm by your terms and conditions but do accept returns and do be reasonable, even if it costs you a little bit.
Top tip: never lose your temper and act unprofessionally with anyone, least of all your customers. Remember you are your brand and the way you behave impacts directly on your business.
3. Business is emotional (when it’s yours)
Yes, business is emotional. Things will happen that will mentally and physically exhaust you. There will be days that feel like hell and meetings that make you want to cry. You may start to panic and your mind will come up with all sorts of confidence-destroying theories about why you're not good enough.
Don’t listen, remain analytical and turn that emotional spew into a structured hypothesis statement to test. Then figure out what the problem is and deal with it. Have a look at destructively versus constructively dealing with disheartening business issues below:
So business is tough (duh!), and so must you be. The people you compete against aren’t perfect, even if they seem that way. I guarantee there are days when they consider throwing in the towel. Power through that sinking feeling and stay hungry to learn and improve!
Top tip: practise emotional intelligence in business. Choose the right way to frame your issues and then tackle them systematically.
4. Content, content, content
Content is crucial. Think about it, if you don’t have good product pictures then what do you have? If you don’t have a compelling ROI or well-articulated benefits to your service, who’s going to even consider hiring you?
For us at Saint Wools product pictures are essential. Our first batch was good (or so we thought), a month later our second batch was much better, but today when we look back at those we cringe. I’m sure in a year or two when we look back at the pictures we use today we'll laugh about how amateur we were. The moral of this story, is keep on developing content, keep taking those pictures and videos, revamp your product descriptions, experiment on social media, write blog posts, etc. You will learn so much along the way and get better and better until no one can differentiate your photos from a professional photographer’s or your writing from a full-time blogger’s.
Right now we recognise that video content and written content are areas where we can develop and are working on it. At the same time, we know we must keep refreshing our product photos, content for social media, website and basically everything. So, it’s a never-ending story and we accept that. After all our social media, our website, Etsy shop, product listings – these are all the customer sees and this has to be as good as it can be.
Top tip: just keep going... keep writing, keep snapping photos, upgrade your equipment and collaborate with a professional when you can.
5. Focus on one thing at a time
There is a simple formula - do one thing well (damn well!) and then start the next thing, and once that’s very good start the next.
If you build a website start with a basic one (e.g. the 2-4 pages you absolutely need) but make it awesome. The blog, customer reviews, gallery and all the other nice-to-haves can come when you are ready.
When it comes to your product or service offering, do not try to be everything to everyone. You should know your target customer, offer one product that is very good and once that’s established offer an up-sell or complementary product.
The same principle applies to your sales strategy. Do not try to go direct-to-customer and at the same time try to sell to retail on day one. Tackle one sales route first and once you’re an established player in that sphere you can consider taking on the next. You will not have the energy and resources to take on both unless you are starting with a few experienced employees and are a well-funded start-up.
Top tip: do not bite more than you can chew, master one domain at a time and remember that slow and steady wins the day.
Ramzi writes about home décor, design and much more. He wants to share interesting things from around the world.
Lana is the creative energy behind Saint Wools. She writes about her love of wool and passion for making the best chunky knit pieces.