Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Top Advice for First Time Business Owners

When I started a few years ago, things looked quite disappointing. I was 30 years old, I had no savings and the company I worked for was about to close down. No one in my family had ever done any business and I had no idea how to go about it. One thing I did was I solicited a lot of advice from anyone who was willing to give it - friends, family, small business men, naysayers etc. A lot of the advice, I didn't end up taking but some of it was golden. Here are a few that were pretty simple in hindsight but helped me a lot.

1) Give it 5 years : I met a 50 year old man who had been in business for two decades. I have almost no idea about the kind of business he did, but he told me - 'It will take at least five years before you will know whether your business is successful or whether you should try something else'. In the beginning, I was a bit sceptical because five years seems a long time but I guess though there are outliers, most businesses are not instant successes and the first couple of years are tough.

2) Create a Brand - The first year, I concentrated on creating a lot of products but at the same time, we took a lot of orders where we basically served a lot of architects and designers. It was pretty good but we hardly had any visibility into orders and had no pricing power at all. One of my good friends suggested that it was important to create a brand and make it stand for something that people could identify with. That's when I seriously started building our brand which has been a great thing.

3) Experiment - A friend of ours told us to do something outrageous - it didnt have to make a lot of sense but it will help push you to do things that you wont otherwise try. That's when we created the Wisdom tree using bamboo strips - it took us more than a month to create and it was exquisite and beautiful. It never sold because the price became prohibitive and was too big to ship but it re-inforced in us what we could do - everything after that became easy

4) If it breaks, fix it again and again - We sent a item to a customer and it got slightly damaged. We replaced it but the second time around, it got bent a little. The customer, being a perfectionist, advised us to send it again - we could have refunded the money and practically it was a small item with no real profits. However, the customer was adamant and didn't want a refund. In the end, we sent the same item for the third time and finally got it right. It was not a very pleasant thing to do, but in the end, it helped us be extremely quality conscious and made our packaging foolproof.