Howdy Cookie Lovers!
The new year is quickly approaching, and as most people do during the holiday season when they are not shopping, we have mapped out some lessons learned from 2018. Read below for our top 10 lessons learned about starting a business.
The Business does not run itself
This one seems like a no-brainer, but in reality, it is an aspect of the business that we hadn’t fully planned on. This year we launched our website and blog and we doubled down on our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. With all those outlets it was hard not to think that our business would just take off! We had all the tools! BUT just because you have the tools doesn’t mean you know how to use them, and it definitely doesn’t mean that those tools will run without your intense planning. After learning tips about each type of social media outlet we had running, we saw just how much time and effort other businesses put into this part of their business. It now makes sense why big companies have positions in their office dedicated solely to their online presence.
This year we’ve learned that pre-planning and goal setting is key to keeping the business running. We’ve also learned that it is good to have all of these things, but maybe not to start them all at the same time. No social media is better than bad social media. If you don’t plan out each aspect of your online presence, not only will it not run itself, but it will make your business look even worse.
We both have full-time jobs outside of starting our business (and mom has another part-time job on top of that), and we also have personal things to take care of like family. It is really easy to forget how long a task actually takes. For instance, when we go to a market we know how long it takes to bake and package the cookies, how long the drive is, the time spent at the market, and the drive home. However, we don’t always factor in how long it takes to unpack and clean and how long it takes to do post-inventory or making our finances up to date, or doing our taxes at the end of each quarter. We are weekend warriors, but we’ve learned to be more realistic about how much time each market or event actually takes.
Pricing is our decision
Throughout the year we’ve had so many people come up to us telling us that we could easily double our prices for our product. We’ve also had some sneaky vendors trying to get more than a fair trade. This year we’ve learned to be more confident in our decision on pricing and to stick to it. But on the flip side, we’ve also learned that there are some occasions that sacrificing a few cookies is okay if it is going to build a relationship for the long run. This is a difficult balance, and it is a continual learning process. The main thing, we’ve learned, is to be confident about our product and stick to what we think is right for us.
We are not selling a product, we are providing an experience and a feeling
We know we just talked about the pricing of a product, but we aren’t solely focused on our product in our business, which sounds crazy. We are more motivated to create that “simple” feeling or providing a comforting feeling of home. We find inspiration in the feeling of Luke’s Diner in Gilmore Girls or the smell of our favorite cookies in the oven. If we just wanted to sell cookies we could do that by creating outrageous new flavors every week and pumping them out by the hundreds. We love experimenting, but we are really all about creating relationships with our customers and providing a few moments of peace away from their chaotic schedules by enjoying a quality, no-fuss taste of home.
This year we learned that our business has a life of its own sometimes. In the beginning, we only focused on the product but we found that it was lacking something. We learned that our real passion is not just a quality product (which is very important) but also the feeling that we provide WITH our cookies and brownies. We’ve figured out that we might not have the same business motivations as everyone else, but that is fine by us- but we want to also follow our own passions as well and that means creating a business that we love.
Change is Okay
We are both a little resistant to change. We get so focused on our business and what we want to show our customers that sometimes a little change throws us a few days out of the loop. We question how the change will make our customers perceive us, we wonder if the change will make us look too corporate, or too …. Like everyone else. We’ve learned this year to embrace change (we’re still learning this one) and to see that sometimes change is okay, it could help us out in the long run- as long as it sticks with the image that we want to create. We’ve started to understand to try it first before we decide that it isn’t for us or if it is something we want to incorporate to our business.
Image, Image, Image
Speaking of an image that we want to create, we have learned that social media is not about selling! Social media is all about creating a brand! …. And that brand is as important as actually selling your product. Our long-term goal has always been to have a coffee shop. We have an image in our heads of what the coffee shop will look like and we are trying to craft our social media pages around that image in order to create a brand for ourselves before we are able to actually open shop. Creating this image has been hard, but we have learned that it is important to take time out every week or month to talk with each other on the direction of our social media and if it still fits the image that we want our customers to see and feel.
Relationships are everything
Having an image is important, but if you don’t know the businesses in your local area, or if you don’t engage with them online it will feel like you are swimming upstream forever. Simply commenting on someone else’s page, giving each other compliments on a good post, or having a quick chat before a market is what makes this whole thing fun and worth it. Yes everyone wants to be a self-made billionaire and see their product in every shop worldwide, but what we’ve learned this year is that in the digital age, those relationships with the customers and vendors are really what makes this whole experience fun and worthwhile.
Attitude is Everything
There are mornings that it is just plain difficult to get out of bed and get to work. Not only for our full-time jobs but for our passion- our own small business. The daily to-do lists of families and chores sometimes get overwhelming and we lose hope if something doesn’t happen as quickly or as well as we had planned. But we have learned that if we succumb to those negative feelings, and we allow our tiredness to get in the way, we will never be happy in the long run because we will have allowed our dream to slip away. It sounds corny and cliche but it is true. This is not just a project. It is a dream.
Another part of an attitude that we have learned this year is that our attitude to others is very important. If we don’t have confidence in ourselves as small business owners, no one is going to take us seriously. If we don’t take ourselves seriously why should other people? Not only do we have to be confident about our product and our dream, but we have to show other people constantly that we are in this for the long haul no matter if they think we won’t be able to accomplish it.
Consistency is not always Key
This is a difficult balance to learn. Quality and quantity are both important but we prize quality over quantity any time. We’ve learned this year that just as our cookies are better when we take the time to perfect them, our social media engagement and posts are much better when they are planned and edited. We’ve been reading countless blogs about how many times you need to post every week to gain a following, but there are sometimes when consistency is not as important as creating the image that we want. Our brand is important to us, and we would love to have a million followers, but we are slowly learning that if we don’t have something of quality to post about it- it is okay to sacrifice that quantity and consistency.
Social Media is a Full-Time Job
The biggest lesson we have learned this year is that Social Media is a Full-Time Job in its own right. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and blogging are all very involved and all very different from each other. When we started the year we didn’t think twice about all of our social media accounts- we thought we would create one post and share them on all of our outlets that way we could reach as many people as possible. Wrong. We’ve learned what it looks like to be a “spamming” company, we’ve learned about what kind of posts actually do better than others, we’ve learned about consistency in posting, we’ve learned about hashtag strategies, and we’ve learned that each outlet requires its own specific training and persistence.
On top of that, however, we’ve also learned that our social media is not the only part of our business. We still have our markets and our online sales that are just as, if not more, important to keep updated. We’ve learned out to plan out our posts the weekend before, and to set time limits on how long we stay on our page to either perfect our posts or to engage with others. That way we still have time to do the rest of our business duties as well as get back to our lives outside of our phones and computers.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from 2018? Have you started your own business? Have you started a new project that brought a lot of unexpected ideas and lessons? Let us know in the comments below!