Starting a Business: Advice from BL
Have you started your own business or are you thinking about starting one? Well, congrats either way, because owning your own business is one of the greatest privileges we have besides our freedom! As Marcus Lemonis once said, “The greatest gift in this country other than our freedom, is our ability to lead other people and be business owners. It is the greatest gift and privilege.” And it’s true. If you aren’t familiar with him, you need to be. Starting your own business can be scary because you are jumping into something feet first putting everything on the line. But owning and running a successful business takes a lot of encouragement, passion, drive, creativity and the ability to listen to others.
I have owned Blythe Leonard LLC, my luxury leather goods brand for almost eight years now and decided to open a second business, BL Maker’s Market, in 2020 to help uplift and support other American made small businesses across the country and in North Carolina. As I am about to turn thirty years old, I am taking a minute to look back on my twenties to see what all I accomplished and how I got to be where I am today. Not every day was easy. Not every day was fun. But it has been an amazing journey and I am so grateful for everyone who has supported me through it.
Let’s start at the beginning. Branding is vital. It is the heartbeat of your business. It is the first and last thing a customer sees when they visit your business, website or social media platform. What do you want to say? What are you trying to accomplish by starting your business? What do you care about and why are you so passionate about it? All of those questions need to be answered in your branding. Building a logo and a company identity is the most important aspect of starting a business. Remember, less is more and ask other business owners what they think before you decide 100%. Once you finalize your logo, don’t forget to Trademark, but that will be a separate blog post. One more thing—are your going to donate part of your proceeds to a Non-profit organization? If so, share that with your customers. We connect in more ways than just a final product.
Building trust and reliability with your customers is key. You have to make sure that your customers feel confident that you will deliver when you say you will. Don’t forget your moms saying…or at least my mom’s… “don’t burn your bridges.” So many businesses shoot themselves in the foot for bad mouthing other businesses, not returning phone calls, ignoring emails and voicemails, not answering the phone, arguing with customers or just flat out gossiping. Every time you ignore an email or refuse to call someone back, you just lost a customer and a whole fleet of them by word of mouth. So answer your phone and your emails!
You also need to know your limits and what you feel like you just can’t do. You will get requests to make or create things you just can’t do that well. And that is ok. This is how you build reliability. Sending customers away to other small businesses who may know more about that product is a good thing. Not everyone is going to be excellent at the same thing. Find that small business for them and refer them to that business. Nine times out of ten they will refer business back to you in your specialty. Do ya’ll remember Miracle on 34th Street? It’s a good thing to send customers somewhere else!
Knowing your market can be one of the trickiest things to figure out when you first begin. It is major trial and error at least in the first three months. You have to see who is looking at your products, who isn’t and why the ones looking—aren’t buying. Is it the wrong price? Is it for a younger audience or older audience? Is it more suitable for customers who live at the beach or the mountains? Do you need to increase your price or decrease it? Targeting your consumer can be challenging at first but once you understand who enjoys you existing as a business owner, you get to know them and why they like your work. For me, it was easy because all of my customers are like family. But that took time, dependability and trust. You will get there as well!
Do you know your industry? Do you know your competitors? Do you know what they are selling their products or services for? What makes you different than your competition? Knowing and understanding the space in which you are trying to stand in—is key. If your entire competition is selling their products for $100.00 and you are selling your products for $5.00 that tells your customers that you a) may not know what you are doing yet, or b) you are under cutting yourself, or c) your quality isn’t going to be as good as someone elses. Now lets turn that around. If you are selling your product for $100.00 and your competition is selling it for $5.00 what does that tell your customer? Think about it and evaluate your pricing. One of my competitors in the luxury leather goods industry starts her custom bags at $4,000 and has a six month waiting list. This tells me that she a) values her time and her 10+ years experience and b) guarantees that your product is going to be nothing short of perfection. And this works for her because she has years of her experience and dedication.
Knowing how to take good photos of your products and how to post them on your social media platforms is extremely important. Make sure your have your product in good lighting, focus on your product and do not for any circumstances take it with a bunch of clutter in the background. If you are taking a photo on your Iphone, take it on Portrait mode with good lighting and plan how you are going to post it. What will you say about that photo and how will it directly impact your sales? Can you do a push to your website? Make your posts have “actions.” Make your customers comment their favorite flavor or share with a friend. The more comments, likes and shares, the higher up you are in the algorithm so more people will see your content. Or, send them to your story to see insider behind the scenes, etc. Make sure to research your communities’ hashtags and put them in the end of your posts for more visibility.
Think about your social media platforms like you are at a fancy dinner every single day. Never let your guard down and never post anything that you will regret in a few days, months, or years. Now I am not talking about not posting something controversial… if someone needs to speak up about something and you feel you need to and it relates to your business…then go for it. And we all love to see a glimpse into your personal life to get to know you, but don’t post your family vacation photos on your business accounts. We do not need to know everything. Also, look at what times your competitors are posting. The days of the week and the specific times of the days can make or break your post. Never, ever, ever post something about your business on a Friday night between 5:00-9:00pm. Never post anything on a Sunday morning either. Get to know when your customers are on their phones. You can view this in your analytic reports and your insights on all platforms.
Make a budget for advertising and stick to it. Divide it up between videography, photography, print, and take aways. Evaluate the areas you need extra help in and hire professionals to fill those voids. Make a list of goals and how long it will take you to take to reach those. Do everything you can yourself until you need help. If you can’t afford screen printed shopping bags (which no one can in the beginning) look into getting your logo printed on stickers to put onto your bags. You could also get a rubber stamp made and stamp each bag yourself. What about thank you cards to include in your shipping boxes? Design one generic card for all year so that you can buy them in bulk and save on cost per card.
Let’s chat packaging. This can BREAK your business. Make sure your packaging is clear, legible and professional. If you are a very eco-friendly minded business, you should be using recycled paper. If you are going for minimalism and sophistication, get rid of all the colors you got going on. Have you researched your fonts that you chose? There is a whole other blog post in itself. Let your packaging tell your story in a glimpse and don’t “fuzz” up your product. Make your customers’ eye go to your product first and your packaging as a supporting material.
Oh boy, I am almost finished for this post. NETWORKING is KEY in starting and running a business. Get to know your surrounding businesses and who they are and what they do. How can you support each other? Can you promote for them? Starting a business is like creating a huge spider web. The wider the web, the bigger your foundation will be. The more people that you get to know, really know, the broader your community. I cannot stress this enough. Get to know people. Get to know other people in different businesses that you have nothing to do with. I promise you there is a reason. When you look back on it, you will see why.
Build your team and build it right. Your team is your support system. They are your rock. They are your “I can do that” when you can’t. They can answer that question when your brain just cannot think of it because your brain is running with the other one hundred tasks you have to accomplish before you lay your head down. Never hire anyone you wouldn’t want sleeping in your guest room. Wow….you say. That is a hard task to accomplish. Well… yes it is. But it must be done. Take your time in filling those positions. Trust is something you cannot be shy on.
Building a business is hard work. It’s not easy. But it is the greatest job because you get to create your own life. And before you think, well I get to create your own schedule… well. Think again! I wrote all of this to say, if anyone needs help or has questions about starting or running your business and you just need someone to help, give me a call. I cannot promise that I will have your answers, but I am happy to try. And if I can’t, I will direct you to someone else who knows more than me! Not all of us are good at the same thing, remember!
owner of BLMM and BL