Five Lessons Learned from Five Years in Business
FILED IN: Behind-the-Scenes, Education, M&G Happenings
Posted By: Jamie Kutchman, Founder
Marigold & Grey is officially five years old! In many ways, it feels long. While in other ways, I'm not sure where the time has gone. To be honest, it kind of feels just like yesterday that I was sharing with you the lessons I'd learned after only one year in business. Nonetheless, what's crystal clear is the fact that I've learned countless lessons during the last five years. In honor of this milestone, I'm sharing five of the top lessons with you before our team takes some time to break out the bubbly and celebrate!
THERE'S NO SHAME IN STARTING SMALL
Like many small businesses who get their start in the owner's basement, Marigold & Grey is no exception. I didn't go into debt to obtain a studio space. I didn't even know for certain that my business model would work. I started from ground zero and built the business little by little. Once it became obvious that I couldn't grow the business anymore without expanding, only then did I take the plunge and sign a lease for commercial space. This was a full two years into the business. But thanks to the world of social media, you'll see all kinds of businesses and business owners with their fancy studios and rapidly expanding teams and I'm sure a tinge of jealousy may flow through your veins if you think you're not measuring up. But don't let the jealousy persist past that initial moment. Realize that with studio space comes financial commitments and pressure and that the time will come when your business is ready to sustain more and you'll know when that time comes. In the meantime, learn everything you possibly can in each stage you're in. Network with as many people as you can including those who are ahead of you in their business ownership and those who are your peers. I was insanely motivated but still allowed the progression to happen naturally without forcing it. Sometimes slow and steady really does win the race. I went from solo in my basement, to having one full-time employee in my basement, to two full-time employees in my basement, to signing a lease for a studio space, to a hiring a larger team, to signing a lease to double our square footage, to where we are today. While each stage has come with some level of worry about whether or not I was making the right decision and whether or not I would fail, in looking back, each stage made sense for where the business was at the time and was never a leap too far.
TEST THE MARKET
Oh my goodness, I learned this lesson the hard way. If you've been with us since the beginning, you may recall that the original version of Marigold & Grey was an online-only model whereby visitors to the website could build their own welcome gifts by choosing their own packaging, then choosing their edibles and beverages, adding keepsakes, selecting ribbon color, custom designing gift tags, etc etc. While the website was getting sales, the side of the business that was really taking off was our Custom Gift Design Service where we designed the gifts for the clients instead of them designing it for themselves. We also geared the site solely towards the wedding market and that was it. It quickly became evident to me that I'd undershot the market. I thought I knew our ideal audience and I didn't. I spent so much money on this high tech website and a few years in, decided to disable it altogether because it was confusing visitors to the website. They'd land on the build-your-own tool and if that's not what they wanted, they didn't realize that we offered Custom Gift Design Service (as well as pre-designed gifts in our online shop) and exited the site and didn't come back. This was a painful, expensive lesson in starting small and testing the market prior to making large financial investments based on incorrect and sweeping assumptions about the market. As soon as we disconnected the build-your-own tool, our conversion rate in both Custom Gift Design Service and pre-designed gifts skyrocketed because our core offering was much more obvious the moment people landed on our website and it was also better suited to this audience we had attracted. We also rapidly expanded into the corporate gifting space in addition to weddings which really rounded out our client base. Even though it was painful to let go of this gorgeous, high-tech tool that we'd worked for months with developers to create, we had to eliminate the complexity and confusion and make the hard decision to pivot and let it go.
IT'S OK TO SAY NO
When you first start out, you're so happy to have any clients that you'll do anything and everything to win their business. Does this sound familiar? At its core, this attitude is generally a good one. The hunger to grow and succeed is at the heart of every single successful business owner I know. HOWEVER. This attitude can also lead to burnout. And even worse, it can lead to the dilution of your brand. It's okay to say 'no' to projects you feel aren't a good fit for you. This frees you up to take projects that ARE a good fit. You'll then build your portfolio based on these projects and, in turn, end up attracting more and more of the right clients. If you spend too much time in the beginning working for free, taking anything and everything that comes your way, you end up appearing like you're a little bit of everything instead of a well-defined brand. You end up working around the clock for little result and find yourself resenting the business you worked so hard to start in the first place. It certainly takes a leap of faith to believe this and actually implement it. After all, you have bills to pay and I totally get that. But what if you took the time that you would spend on a project that is a struggle from the beginning and isn't paying you what you're worth, and instead, put your efforts into going after new, more ideal clients? Actively going after the clients you want builds your business for the future and propels you forward instead of keeping you in the present where you're spinning your wheels and feeling the misery of burnout. There's a tendency to think that taking anything and everything helps you grow faster but nothing could be farther from the truth. Only when I became comfortable with turning away projects that didn't mesh with our offerings did I begin to truly thrive as a business owner.
CHARGE WHAT YOU'RE WORTH FROM DAY ONE
There's always going to be someone out there claiming to do the same thing you do except for less money. There will also be potential clients who will come to you and make you aware of these lesser-cost businesses to try to get you to lower your price. But this shouldn't matter because it's more important that you know what you must charge to stay in business, be profitable, and have money to reinvest in the business to keep innovating and growing. You shouldn't base your pricing on what everyone else is charging. It's good to be mindful of market pricing but it should not dictate how you price. Similarly, you shouldn't apologize for your pricing or take potential clients' questions as insults or assaults on your work. Instead, learn how to sell your value. Take price out of the equation. Make them want YOU and then pricing becomes a conversation that's had after they decide they want you. Part of this involves becoming confident with who you are, what you offer, and knowing how to communicate it genuinely and concisely. Once you have this down, if anyone questions your pricing, you can confidently say "This is what I must charge to remain in business so I can be around to serve you this time and the next time and the time after that, and here's why I'm worth it". Once I learned to have this conversation with potential clients without fear of losing them, my entire world opened up. I was able to quickly book the clients who were a good fit (ie those seeking a quality experience) and ones who weren't quickly moved on (ie those focused solely on price). I took full responsibility for expressing my brand's value and full responsibility and learned to defend my pricing. If you don't steer potential clients towards the value of your brand, price is always going to be the first thing people bombard you with.
SOMETIMES CHALLENGES ARE MORE BENEFICIAL THAN SUCCESSES
The challenges you face as a business owner define you more than the successes do. We've had things go wrong. Sometimes they've been mistakes and other times, they've been full-blown disasters. But each time, we've rallied together as a team and fixed them in ways we can be proud of. Sometimes things happen that are completely out of your control and you're forced to face them whether you like it or not. Sometimes you face challenges and you honestly don't know how you'll go on but you dig deep and somehow you do. There are countless success stories out there. But not everyone can face adversity and remain motivated. To be honest, I always considered myself a hard worker, a good communicator, and able to make clients happy. But I never thought of myself as someone who could weather hard times and stay positive. Our recent building fire has changed my outlook completely and taught me so much. The level of destruction and the stress associated with it has been SO off the charts, that I immediately snapped into action and haven't stopped since. When you face a disaster that is fully out of your control and the way in which you handle it makes the difference between your business surviving and dying, you can rise to the occasion. When you realize that your decisions impact not only your own dreams but also the livelihood of others who have their faith in you to work for you, you can find a way to remain motivated. I learned that I have this survival instinct in me and I suspect you do too. Sometimes you just need the situation to arise to put you to the test. Successes are great and feel amazing. But they don't necessarily change you or define you like a setback can. So when setbacks happen, and they WILL, choose to view them as an opportunity to further define who you are as a business owner. Decide that this particular setback is your chance to see what you're made of and show others around you too. You may surprise yourself just as I have surprised myself!
FOCUS ON CLIENTS RATHER THAN COMPETITION
(If you're keeping count, you'll realize that even though this is titled "Five Lessons From Five Years in Business", we're technically headed into the sixth lesson. But hey, just like with most birthdays, this is "one to grow on" as they say!)
We've all been there. You know, that pit in your stomach you get when you see someone else's gorgeous Insta feed and their gazillion followers along with their seemingly effortless success. Meanwhile, you're overworked, in the weeds, and wonder if you'll ever get where you want to be. It's easy for me to say "don't compare yourself to others" and I admit it's way easier said than done. When I first started the business, there were very few artisan gifting businesses doing gifting in the way in which we do it. In fact, this is the reason I started the business in the first place. When looking for highly curated welcome gifts for my own wedding, I couldn't find a single service to do it so a few years later, the void in the market still existed so I decided to take the plunge. Since then, a bazillion gifting businesses have popped up doing the same thing that we do. And while most of these businesses are carving out their own aesthetics and offerings, some of these newer businesses have copied some of our designs item for item. When I see it, I actually feel nauseous. It's very easy to get caught up in what others are doing but the energy spent on worrying what others are doing is a complete waste of time. It doesn't change what they're doing and only slows you down and steals your focus. What I've learned is that the only way to combat this feeling is to focus on your own clients. They've chosen you for a reason. It's okay to put your blinders on and be laser-focused on your own brand. Take a break from Instagram and instead, look inward on giving your clients the very best experience you can. Also, realize that this sick feeling is actually your drive or passion or adrenaline. Competition is a necessary part of the business world and makes you push past limits and achieve goals you might never achieve if not motivated by competition. I've also realized that with more and more gifting businesses entering the market, it means that the demand for gifting is growing and become more and more mainstream which is great news for us all. You don't have to like that competition exists but appreciate it for what it is and remember that success doesn't happen overnight. By doing the right thing day after day, you'll be surprised at how much you can achieve with or without competition. (Some suggestions on how to stop fretting over the competition are here.)
Before I end, I want to thank each and every one of your for your support over the last five years. We absolutely positively would not be where we are today without you. We can't wait to see what the next five years will bring and hope to have you with us every step of the way. We vow to keep doing our very best to bring you the very best gifting experience there is.