Sunday, 13 August 2017

Started from the bottom... start-up Q&A's

Before I even get into this Q&A regarding start-ups I just want to state for the record that I am no expert or billionaire entrepreneur but I do want to share my no BS knowledge of what I've learned thus far on my journey towards starting my own business and brand. I have a long (very long) way to go and much more to learn but for the past couple of months I've received so many messages, emails and questions regarding how to start, what to do/not to do, and so on. And so I thought why not just answer everything here in one post. 

Before I even get started, I know there are skeptics, because I'm also one of them at times. Why would she share anything with me? What's in it for her? Well to be honest, nothing. But then again if you truly love what you do then you don't need to consider others your competition. Businesses in general thrive on being the best in a certain industry BUT in the end it all comes down to how sincere you are in your own ideas, to your customers and taking constructive criticism. So yes I'm sharing my own tips and advice but not everyone follows it or relies on it. But for those of you who are interested in how I got started and what things I learned along the way... read on!

So these are a compilation of questions I received so let's get started.

How did you have enough money to get started? Did you take out a loan? 

Savings. I had originally wanted to save up to buy a home and so was saving every penny for that BUT when I finally got that call from a lab that was willing to let me test out a formula and rent out some space - well I was ecstatic to say the least. Those savings quickly went towards starting up Lady Burgundy. But I did underestimate how expensive it would be. So definitely be as detailed as possible when it comes to working out a budget for your brand or start up company. Hidden costs always sneak up on you so it's better to overestimate costs than to underestimate them. I never took out a loan from the bank because I started with very little inventory and worked my way up as demand increased over time. Loans and debt can really deter you and add increased stress, so unless you absolutely have to, start small and work your way up. Don't take out a huge loan when you are new to the game. It's only going to add more pressure on you to succeed very early on and take away from the passion of starting your own business.

Please remember that with any business it is going to take time. I know we all hear those inspirational stories about someone whose business just erupted in a short time span but in a majority of cases, businesses take years to fully develop and so have a source of income as a backup to carry you through. Don't fall for the lavish lifestyles that so many people promote on social media. Sometimes it's not really the truth, focus on you, your own passion project and forget what everyone else is doing or spending. Even when you do start to make a small profit monthly, DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB for at least 6-8 months. Watch the amount of money you are making and only take a leap like that if you see that your profits are steady and not fluctuating up and down. If your profits are consistent then you can switch to part time and later on leave your job once you feel you cannot handle both.

There's so much competition though, how do you know you will succeed?

You don't. And that's scary I know. But you know what will make you stand out? Having an idea or creating something that is unique and outside of the box. Do not be cookie cutter when it comes to your business. Do not play it safe when it comes to creativity. Yes play it safe when it comes to finances and your expenses but that's where playing it safe should end. Be different. It could start with anything, maybe the packaging is crazy innovative, your customer service is impeccable or you just have a product or service that is totally new from the norm (this one is the hardest to do I know). Ask yourself this question - would I personally buy this if I saw it on a shelf at my favourite store? Or if you provide a service - would I really hire someone to do this for me? If you honestly can't say YES - then go back to the drawing room. Do not sell a shitty product or service to someone. And this is the main problem with a lot of businesses, it's just all about the money, so you put a half assed (sorry for my language) attempt into something and then you cry boo hoo when you get a bad review or your customers call you out on it. 

Well in all honesty - you know when you launch a shitty product or service. No one is that innocent or inexperienced. Do not do this for the big bucks because you will fail. You need to really believe your product/service is going to be a game changer and can hold it's own to others out there. If you are reluctant for even a minute, then you need to re-evaluate it or get another opinion.

How do you get recognized as a brand? What are good ways to get noticed?

When it comes to start ups, after the financial aspect of it has been solved - the hardest part is getting noticed. This can take a while and this is where your patience is really tested. However, social media really is a lifesaver if you use it correctly. And now I'm going to be brutally honest. If you need to buy people's opinion of your product or service - you have a shitty product or service. Period. And if there are people out there who, without even trying out your product or service, are willing to falsely advertise and say IT'S AMAZING! OMG! YOU SHOULD TOTALLY BUY THIS - they are doing YOU a disservice. You learn when you actually let people be real with you about what you are putting out there. Some of the harshest criticisms I received before launching my business or even in the testing periods were the ones I most genuinely admired and trusted. Nowadays it's easy to get people to advertise for you falsely - just pay them. Of course you can pay people to rave about your product/service without even trying it out but what good does that do? It's all fun and games until a few customers call you out on your BS and lies. And then it's game over for your business. Customers aren't dumb, they have a lot of options nowadays and they know their shit. So either provide something that is at that level or go back to the drawing board. 

When it comes to genuinely advertising for a great product or service, you have to let people try it out for free. And that my friends is called Public Relations (PR). You can definitely use social media to reach those in your industry. BUT be vocal that you aren't interested in false advertising or buying false reviews. You would be surprised at the number of influencers on social media who just without even trying out any of my brand's products just told me their advertising rate. That was a complete turn off for me as someone who worked their ass off for years on this. I politely declined. You want genuine feedback, genuine reviews so you can better yourself. Even if someone doesn't like it, find out why and how you can improve. Don't get sulky or go into defence mode if someone doesn't like what you've put out. It's a business and you aren't always going to get rave reviews across the board. So find out WHY. And be honest with yourself - do they have a point? Does that aspect of your product really need improvement? If it does, then they just did you a favour and helped you improve for the better. 

When you get positive feedback and an influencer/blogger really loves your product, you can then choose to work with them on reaching a higher number of customers. There's so many ways to do this - make a cool video, take an awesome photograph, go live on social media and discuss your product and the list goes on... There's so many creative ways you can advertise BUT know your budget. If you don't have money to spend on advertising work with smaller influencers who just really need great content and new products to review. Yes you might reach a smaller number of customers at first but it is still a great way to not only get great feedback but also to gain a new following for your business.

Social media isn't the only way though to get noticed - use local events to your advantage. Create a budget towards attending an event related to your business and advertising it there in person. Join seminars where you can network and meet people who can help you take your brand/business to the next level - I'm talking about photographers, videographers, models and even website designers. There's so much out there and so many tools that you can use. 

How do you deal with negative criticism or just hate?

The internet and especially if you have a business that is centered around social media can come with drawbacks and that is most often hate. But take it with a grain of salt IF it's not constructive. If you provide a product or a service and the review is not even on topic - you have a hater. Give yourself a pat on the back and congratulate yourself because then you know you are doing well. People are insecure and when they hate for no reason, there is nothing wrong with you, it's just a reflection of the type of person they are. So move on and focus! 

If the review is negative and it does provide constructive feedback, then look into it. Do not get defensive! Do not provide excuses! If you know that there is room for improvement, this person just did you a favour. They called you out on it when no one else did. And honesty helps a business do better than false praise. So use it to your advantage. One of my biggest pet peeves is when businesses or brands get defensive and instead of owning up to their own flaws, belittle the person instead. It's unprofessional and it's actually preventing them from growing as a brand. I love constructive criticism personally. It makes sure my head never gets too big and it makes me work even harder. So use it to your advantage when it is useful. 

I just don't feel like I have enough experience to start something on my own. How should I prepare to launch something?

When it comes to a business, we all start from somewhere and you honestly are never 100% prepared. Starting anything from the ground up is always a learning experience and you will definitely learn from your mistakes. I don't think there's a single person who is prepared for all the ups and downs that come with starting something on their own. This is my first big leap into the world of entrepreneurship and business as well. Coming from the world of medicine, this was a polar opposite for me... but research really helped. I took out so many books from the library - from social media marketing, to website development, and I even researched cosmetic regulations and laws in Canada. I followed inspirational entrepreneurs on social media and I listened to their advice. I took notes. A LOT OF NOTES.  I booked an appointment with my bank advisor - who was the one that provided me with so much financial information and also perks for business owners, like business credit cards for purchasing, etc. Definitely do this! Even if you are not taking out a loan, you still need a business account and you need information. 

You can't just dive in without having any knowledge at all. You need to have a concise plan and have to have clear REALISTIC goals. What do you expect to gain in the first month, the first year? People underestimate the time it takes to actually set up for a launch - whether it's a service or a product, you need to know what you are doing. You have to work on the actual product and then you have to have a game plan to get that product out to your potential customers. My first month goal? ONE sale. I wasn't being greedy at all. If one person believed in my product I was doing the happy dance. My one year goal? Grow my social media following and have actual engagement on my posts. Do not buy followers, do not give in to false advertising. I know there are a lot of pages that say "hey pay us x amount of dollars and we'll advertise for you" - BUT once that video or photograph goes down the instagram feed - so do your followers. Those aren't really potential customers, most of them are ghost accounts and it doesn't help you at all. Slow and steady definitely wins the race when it comes to growing a social media presence. You have to post consistently, you have to stick to your industry and topic at hand and you have to be relatable. Don't do crazy giveaways either, unless you have reached a prominent milestone on social media like 100K followers (and genuinely want to give back) - you don't need gimmicks to attract people. If you have a solid presence, your content is unique and engaging - the people will follow you on their own.

How do you know though if you have a good product/service before you launch it?

Do you personally reach for it? Or is it somewhere in the corner of your drawer? If your product has the potential to replace a loved cult product that you were using before consistently - you are definitely onto something. Then give it to a small bunch of friends to try out, and then a few people in the industry that you trust. Have them try it out, ask them questions related to it, ask them what they like/dislike, how you can improve, etc. From there on, you have the groundwork to improve on it, or proceed with the launch. It really does help to listen to a variety of people's opinions. Sometimes with products or a business we start ourselves - we can put on rose tinted glasses and believe it's everything and more. 

You need people to view it for what it is and to help you look at it from another's perspective. I even handed over our matte lip creams to a few close friends, some experienced makeup artists and never mentioned it was my own brand. It took away the pressure on them as well to be "nice" and spare my feelings and it allowed me to get their honest perspective. You need honesty and constructive criticism to improve, that is a fact. You can love your product all you want but until there is a majority that agrees with you, it's only your opinion... which let's face it, is biased.

And a few tips I've learned along the way...

You can't do it all. I tried, trust me. You will need help along the way and that's fine. Know when to draw the line and not to over exert yourself. I learned how to design the website, I designed the logo myself, I ship out all the packages myself and I even do all the PR related work and then I tried to take great pictures... and create content. I drew the line at that. I sucked when it came to taking nice photographs of my products - and so I asked for help. I reached out to creative individuals on social media and I loved the results (and so did others). So ask for help when you feel overwhelmed. You can't do it all, and you shouldn't be so exhausted that you lose that drive and creativity which started it all. Network to make great friendships and meaningful long term relationships with others. Social media is such a big game changer when it comes to meeting other creative individuals in your industry.

Don't stray from your vision. Don't get caught up in trends. We all know there are fads that erupt on social media and then die down just as fast. And then something else comes along. But your business should be known for something - stick to it. Stick to the vision or image, or message that your business was made upon. Don't be a sell out. 

Work with people who understand your vision and sometimes it's okay if you decide not to pursue a long term working relationship with them. It happens and you don't need to feel cornered. Always start any work related task by having a trial period. If you work well together, the content produced is worthwhile and what you are looking for, then that's great! You can maintain a long term working relationship with them, but sometimes it doesn't work out and that also is fine. You have to always be honest and straightforward from the get go. If you don't feel like it's working out, let them know so you aren't wasting their time and your own.

Phew! That was a lot of information I know. Congratulations if you made it all the way to the end of this long post. If I still missed anything or you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below, DM on instagram or drop me an email at I love talking to you guys and I hope this helps anyone out there who is on the road to entrepreneurship. Good luck!