May 25, 2012

Doing What Your Best At (A.K.A How Not to Fail in Business)

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 7:45 am


From time to time we get to chatting with our manufacturers and suppliers and we’ll hear “I really want to do what you guys do, start a label. Can you give me any tips on that?” or “I tried to start a label, it never worked out for me.” While I can understand the appeal of starting a label, it’s not the job description most people think it is and it’s not the job for everyone.

A surefire way to fail in business is trying to take on a job that doesn’t play to your strengths and interests. While some companies succeed in wearing multiple hats, it’s not what works for most businesses. When you are working with products you usually are going to fall into one of the following categories:

1. Manufacturer
My very first attempt at entrepreneurship mainly fell into this category. I liked making stuff for myself and thought it would be fun to make a whole bunch of stuff and sell it online. I pretty quickly realized that I actually hate making stuff. I enjoyed making one or two things for myself, but making hundreds or thousands of things didn’t interest me in the least. It was repetitive, it was boring, it was tedious. I failed because I’d taken on the wrong role for myself. What I really liked was product design, not manufacturing.

If you’re truly happiest chilling in your workshop all day listening to music and cranking out products manufacturing is for you. Maybe you enjoy working with your hands or find the repetitive nature of that work soothing. The world needs makers, so if this is your strength this should be the focus of your business.

2. Retailer
Having a storefront is an entirely different job description than being a manufacturer. To take on this role you’ve got to enjoy working with the public and have a knack for curating and merchandising products. People often ask me if I’m ever going to open a store for Ex-Boyfriend. The answer is probably not. We have no real interest in running a store of our own. We’ll do pop up retail events every few weeks, but we’re always glad when they’re over.

If you love the idea of decorating a space and filling it with your favorite finds and showing your space off to consumers and chatting with people all day, a retail store owner might be the perfect job for you. If those are the things you love, there’s no reason to get bogged down with tasks like product development or manufacturing.

3. Product Developer/Label Owner
This is what I do. My partner and I are most interested in designing and developing products and bringing them to market. We suck at making things, especially in high volume, but we love the design aspect and don’t mind the logistics of coordinating with manufacturers or finding stores to carry our line.

If your strong suit is design and you’re comfortable managing manufacturers and conducting business to business sales, this is the job for you. You can’t spend all day talking to consumers or making products, because you have to spend your time developing new products, coordinating their production and bringing on retailers to sell your wares.

You’re going to need partners…
While it’s possible to do two or more of these jobs, most business owners will find they are best suited to choose one or two at most. Your best shot at thriving is focusing on the role you’re best at and most passionate about. You can choose other businesses to work with to take on those other roles.

If you find yourself struggling with one of these roles, consider whether it’s really what you want to be doing. If you love making stuff but can’t stand sales and marketing, running your own label might not be the best fit for you. Consider working with other businesses that like that stuff and providing them your manufacturing services. If you want to start a store, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to fill it with your own exclusive wares, find labels you want to support and fill your store with those products. Think about what you enjoy doing most and excel with, that should be the focus of your business.


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June 14, 2010

5 Ways to Spy on the Competition

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , , , , , , — Meredith @ 5:49 am

You may think spying on your competition sounds a little dirty, but if you’re a savvy marketer, it’s something you’ll want to do. While I don’t advocate copying your competitors’ products, marketing tactics or copy, you can still learn a lot from your competitors and be inspired by them to come up with ideas of your own. So here are 5 places you can easily keep an eye on them:

1. Newsletter
Sign up for your competitors’ mailing lists. Things to take note of:

  • newsletter frequency (weekly, monthly, daily)
  • subject lines (Do they focus on what’s new in store? Do they pitch special offers?)
  • newsletter content (Is it entertaining? How long is the newsletter? Is it informative? Is it just full of promotions?)
  • newsletter format (Is it colorful? Is it bulleted? Does it use a lot of images? How did they design their calls to action?)
  • special offers and promotions (What promotions are they running? BOGOs? A percentage based discount? Free shipping?)

If the competitors are running a certain kind of promotion over and over, that could indicate that it’s been successful. If they’re doing subject lines that lead with discounts, that could indicate that those types of subjects are getting a better open rate for them.

2. Social Media
Follow the competition on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. Pay attention to the content they generate and how fans of their brands interact with them. Are people complaining about the competition on Twitter? If so it might be a good opportunity to woo their customers away.

Is the competition making hilarious Youtube videos and scoring truckloads of views? Maybe it’s time to produce a funny video of your own.

How does the competition use social media? Do they entertain? Do they inform? Do they delve into behind the scenes? How do their customers react to their posts? Do their customers seem engaged by their content? Do their follow/fan counts go up or down?

3. Google’s Link Search
See who’s giving your competitors links. Plug link:competitorurl.com into Google and search away. (You would enter your competitor’s url of course.) This should give you some ideas on how to get links to your own website. Are they in certain directories? Are they linked by coupon websites? Are they linked on Squidoo lenses or blogs? Take note of where they’ve received links and then try to get those types of links for your own site.

4. Press page
If the competition has a press page, take note of where they’ve received press. Chances are the same publications will give you press, so you may as well add them to your press list. Make sure you check out each press outlet to see if it’s truly a match for your brand. For example, if you and the competition both sell jewelry but your competitor got into Cat Fancy because she has a cat necklace in her collection, that doesn’t mean you’ll get into Cat Fancy too, unless you also have cat themed jewelry.

Take note of which items your competitor got press for. This might tell you what’s hot right now, but it will also give you insight into the particular taste of the publications that gave the competition press.

5. Website
Notice what’s new on your competitors’ websites. What new products are they pushing? Do they have any promotional specials or sales going on? Notice what they have on clearance that they’re trying to get rid of, this could be an indicator of an item that didn’t sell well.

Some sites will flat-out say what items are their best sellers, and you can use this information to look for clues about pricing, product design or sales copy. Some sites won’t tell you what their best sellers are by may feature their best sellers in a splash image on their home page.

Bonus spy tactic: You can put the names of your competitors into Google Alerts and get an alert every time they’re mentioned online. Doing this may result in an overwhelming amount of information so you may want to do this sparingly.

A final word of warning: Don’t assume your competitors have it all figured out. While it’s fine to see what they’re up to, don’t base major business decisions solely on the competition’s playbook. The competition isn’t always right. Thus, they should be A source of ideas, not THE source of ideas.

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