I know you may think the odds are impossibly stacked against you, but I’m here to assure you that you can have a thriving business. You can expand internationally. It can be done and it HAS been done by others before us. You just have to be extremely persistent, dedicated and focussed. Here’s an outline of what you can (and should) do if you want to propel your brand forward and grow your business.
Research, Research, Research!
Before doing anything you must research. I cannot emphasize this enough. Research your markets, research you ideal customer, research your competition, research potential collaborators and partners, research the retailers you’d like to stock your products. Pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes. Dig deep. Investigate other products, look at the presentation; the packaging, the font, the colours, the photography and other imagery, look at how it’s displayed. Use your current customer base to do market research, get feedback from them on what they like and dislike about your product, how you can improve it, find out how your product makes them feel. Find out how they use it in their daily lives. Part of your research is also reading; keep up to date with reports, white papers, and articles both related to business as well as your industry. Research is what should inform your business decisions. You shouldn’t be making decisions solely on gut feeling or hearsay. All of these activities will inform how you position your brand, structure your business and communicate your value to your customers.
I know it’s difficult to devote time to determining the short, medium or even long term direction for your brand, while simultaneously running your business, but planning really, REALLY helps. Mapping out the way forward helps keeps you focussed and on track. It also keeps you grounded because it serves as a constant reminder of where you want to be. I know businesses are dynamic and that unexpected events can happen, but having a guideline and building in some alternatives for better than expected results or worse than expected, is one of the best things you can do for your business.
Know who your customer is intimately
You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but it is VITAL to the success of your business that you identify (in great detail, might I add) who your ideal customer is. And “everyone who wants my product’ is not a good answer. You cannot serve everyone. You have to be very specific about the person that you’d really like to purchase from you.
You need to know this person inside and out. They are the backbone of your business and all your business activities revolve around understanding who they are.
Here are a few things about your customer that you should be aware of:
- Demographics– gender, age, job title, geographic location, income levels, marital status, number of children,
- Where they hang out – both online and offline
- Their hobbies
- Their buying habits
- Do they do their research online first before making a purchase? Do they comparison shop?
- Do they check online reviews? Do they consult with family and friends? Do they prefer an immersive experience where they get to try the product first before they make a purchase?
- Their aspirations and fears.
I will repeat, don’t try to cater to everyone- there is a very specific customer who will buy your product. Once you are able to identify and understand who that customer is, you’ll be able to align your marketing, communications and your product towards meeting their needs.
Understand yourself and your brand
The word branding gets thrown around a lot these days. Branding doesn’t only refer to tangible things like your logo, business cards and letterheads, It’s the sum of both the tangible and intangible elements that create the overall impression of your business in the customer’s eyes. You need to be able to clearly articulate why you’re in this business and what motivates you. You have to tell your story. It must be one that inspires and resonates with your audience. You have to create that connection with your audience and draw out an emotional response. Desire and emotion is what drives purchases.
There are other factors to consider when determining how you’re going to draw out that response. For example; decide what your ‘brand voice’ is. This is the tone and language you use to communicate Is it positive, happy, feisty, sarcastic. What is look and feel of your brand? Is it edgy, gritty, sophisticated, high end, minimalist?
Ideally, you’d be able to find that winning combination of local authenticity and international appeal. And I’m assuring you that it’s entirely possible to create an internationally appealing product while remaining true to your roots. Brands such as Kreyòl Essence and Immortelle Beauty are testament to that.
Listen to your customer
A hard pill to swallow as a business owner, is to realise that it’s not all about you. Yes, you started the business, and yes, you created the product, but ultimately, you grow without customers. Always seek out feedback from your customers about your product, packaging, service and even new products they’d like you to create. Listen to the language they use when describing your product and how it makes them feel. Create products to solve a need and address issues that customers have identified. It’s not only about what you want. It’s about what the market wants. Building a thriving business is about communicating your values, philosophy and vision while creating a product or service that meets consumer demands.
Don’t compete on price
Your product is a labour of love and a lot of time and effort goes into creating it and it should be priced accordingly. You need to consider ALL the aspects of pricing, the raw materials, the labour, the overhead costs as well as take into consideration you growth and expansion efforts. Someone once said, “you are probably not your ideal customer”. Don’t focus on what you’d be willing to pay for it. Price it based on the value you believe that you’re providing to that ideal customer you’ve identified.
You are not a commercial enterprise. Larger business can afford to compete on price because they are able to produce at scale. You aren’t at that point yet. As such, your focus should be on the quality, craftsmanship and scarcity of your product. There are many people in the world who value those things. Once you understand who your customer is and where to find them, then you’ll be able to show up where they are and use that opportunity to show them the value of your product.
Build true followers and real relationships.
You may have 10,000 followers, but only 1000 true followers. Your true followers are the people who fully understand the value of what you’re selling to them. They’re the superfans of your brands. They are already primed to buy, so selling to them is easier because they’ve already invested in your brand and don’t need a lot of convincing to purchase from you.
I know this word is a scary one, as many people have been burned before and are fearful of being taken advantage. However, Think long-term and building a legacy and not just short term gains. I know it’s immensely tempting to appeal to everyone and to enter into relationships to generate some quick cash, but you must be cautious. Additionally, you must weigh any invitation to collaborate very carefully. The people to whom you reach out to collaborate, must be in keeping with your brand and your philosophy for who you want to work with. For example, if you’re an eco-friendly brand, you’re not going to collaborate with a corporation known for its heavy polluting that isn’t interested in incorporating environmentally friendly practices.
It’s important to your sanity, but also to improve efficiency within your business that you have and standardised processes and procedures. Having guides like standard operating procedures (SOPs) are super important in this business as they serve as a guide so that your product is consistent, but also so that any new staff that you bring on also have clear guidelines as to how.
You can have a brand handbook for employees, where you give guidelines for interacting with your brand. The handbook would have guideline on greeting customers, taking orders, the turnaround time between customer orders and deliveries. How you respond to common customer questions, dealing with customer complaints, return policy etc.
Make sure you have an accountant! It’s important to understand the financial health of your business. Know how to read financial statements so that you can make informed business decisions.
Here’s a list of handy tools you can use to semi automate parts of your life:
- Scheduling- you can use an app such as Acuity scheduling or Calendly for appointments.
- Send invoices through cloud based programme like Waveapps. You can also use it to manage your accounting. The great part is it integrates with other systems like Quickbooks and you can also add other users (such as your Accountant) so that they have access to the information.
- Payments- Paypal, Payoneer 2checkout or any of a myriad of other payment platforms
- Organising your inbox. Have a dedicated inbox for your business. Do not mix business with personal at all.
- Use email marketing software to convert potential customers into buyers (such as Mailchimp, Convertkit, Hubspot, Aweber aand numerous others). Capture emails, develop your email marketing campaigns and build your mailing list.
- Contracts- cover yourself and your business
- Social media content planning and scheduling- if you still like writing things down, check out the Forward Forty social media planner or use other scheduling apps such as Later, Hootsuite, Planoly or Iconosquare
It’s impossible to do everything yourself and I know some business owners feel like super(wo)man, but it’s important for your own mental health and the health of your business if you delegate certain tasks, especially if you’re in the growth stage of your business. That may mean hiring an assistant to do some administrative tasks or hiring a professional to handle social media management.
Look for other opportunities to expand your business.
If you really want to grow your business you’ll need to look for opportunities to reach other markets, beyond selling just directly to the consumer. For example, you can sell wholesale to boutiques or stores, you can collaborate with an influencer to bring out a limited edition line, you can design a line under a private label or create a unique product specifically for a particular event. Look further than the national or regional market.
I know this is a lot of information to absorb (and do!) but have you ever heard of the 1 percent rule? It basically state that if you do one thing towards improving your business every day, then you’re going to improve it by 100% over the next 3 months. So you just need to start. Pick just one thing out of this (very long) list and implement it!
Until next time,
I’m a Business Operations Strategist specializing in the Fashion and Beauty sectors. I help local brands prepare for global expansion by streamlining their production, marketing and sales processes so that they can generate consistent, predictable sales.
If you’re ready to get your business organised for 2019, schedule a discovery call right here.