Launching a startup as a newcomer in Canada is daunting. Launching a startup as a newcomer in Canada during a pandemic is...petrifying.
There are many questions that pop into our heads as new business owners. Here are the most common ones that I felt were recurrent for our business.
1. Am I in over my head?
Frequently I think are we out of our depth or I worry that we won't learn fast enough. I love tea and Christian loves business but does that mean we can sell it? It takes a certain motivation to look at the steep learning curve and not feel like you have stepped off a cliff. You must have the capacity to learn the craft and not have unrealistic expectations of being an expert overnight.
Choosing a business was key to making sure we maintained the drive to sell and stayed interested. A love of drinking tea is not enough. Not when there is a science to steeping tea leaves or cultivating tea plants or an art to choosing and creating a teapot.
I was ready to dive right in but there were so many unknowns not just about running a business or marketing but about tea itself. After centuries of use, there's a vast history and numerous developments of new blends of tea leaves or evidence based research on measurable health benefits.
Drinking and enjoying tea is the end result of the whole process. We needed to figure out why we wanted to encourage other people to get there too.
As the inspirational speaker, Simon Sinek says in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action --> "People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."
2. Do we have the funds to launch?
Financial risks with a small business on the side can be a huge worry for anyone. To add to that burden, there is the struggle with the parallel path of unemployment during a pandemic and burning through life savings to get by.
When will that elusive ROI happen? How can I be patient when there are bills to pay?
Maybe with a little luck and a lot of strategy I can know what giant leap to take and when to stop and say "No". Am I wasting money paying for ads to generate traffic? (which by the way can be a huge drain on funds) Are the right people seeing our products? How long can we last?
These thoughts weigh down like a heavy backpack you walk around with on a long hike. At the beginning you feel strong and you have the energy but in the end you crave the relief of the release of the straps from your shoulders, when you are finally able to rest.
I once had a conversation with someone who mentioned that you can start a tea company for a few hundred dollars. It's one of the many reasons we pursued these products. He wasn't wrong. There are many YouTube videos out there where small business owners give advice on starting with just $500 and their product could be lip gloss or scented candles. But in the grand scheme setting up shop isn't solely about the item you get from your wholesalers.
My takeaway from this is to set your limit before you launch. Try to stick to it and constantly keep track. No matter how tempted you are to just keep adding on because something isn't working immediately, be smart about what the additional investments are. Otherwise you will be stuck with merchandise sitting everywhere gathering dust and ads that are not optimized.
I think that starting small isn't a bad thing. It allows us to focus on what we chose to get and figure out how to have our buyers see what we really like about the item.
3. Will I get conversions?
When I was a teenager this social media craze was unheard of. I got my first peanut Motorola as hand me down at 17 years old. We had dial up internet and instant messages weren't always so instant. Our mobile phone had a couple of games, maybe Snake and Minesweeper and it could send texts and make phone calls.
Now being online is an obsession. Staying connected but not really being present. Manipulating algorithms, mastering keywords, hunting for trends, search engine optimization and finding the best platform for your product.
It's overwhelming to say the least. You can fall into this pit of expecting likes or views, impressions and outbound clicks. The mystery of why one post has outdone the other evades you. Who's at the top of the funnel and who's in the middle? Should I e-mail? Do print media? Gain traffic from Pinterest or Google, or frustrate myself with Facebook and Instagram.
For that there isn't a right answer. You find somewhere you can be the most convincing. Where the people who see your content, are the right ones to be exposed to your brand.
It's wonderful to have supportive friends and family who will purchase items. But it would be even better to have a complete stranger say: "I have been looking for this product, I'm so glad I found it!"
You will read or hear that consistency and persistence is the key. I hope that's true. I'm positive that we feel like we are gaining momentum. The more content we put out there, the more brand awareness we get and the more creative I feel. So before harping on conversions, find that audience, drive and entice them. Then analyze what they are doing when they get to your site. Design and implement small improvements then analyze again. It's like a Lean Six Sigma process improvement cycle.
I'll let you know if this works ;) Shopify keeps telling me every visit is a potential customer. Let's hope they are right.
4. Can I take feedback and make adjustments?
No one wants to be told after all their hard work, they're doing it all wrong. Or to immediately get a negative reaction when they have spent hours developing a concept.
Countless times I have fought with my partner on little (and big) business decisions whether it's a design, copy, grammatical errors, shipping costs or social media appearance. It creates a toxic environment for all parties involve. It's one thing to vent, but creating problems without a solution won't help the business along.
Your closest friends and family will have opinions, suggestions and advice. So bear with the inevitable two cents that are thrown in. They will also likely be your biggest fans, to encourage and share a post, comment on your website or like a video ad.
Honestly, the feedback isn't meant to undermine. It's not a personal attack or an insult to your intelligence. After bristling for a few hours...or 24...I usually end up brainstorming and making lists, to see what suggestion or critique can be tweaked, implemented or thrown out. I went old school and stuck a bunch of pink Post-its all over the desk near my laptop and started crossing out items as I investigated or knocked them off. Then I did a To-do list in Outlook then I transferred ideas to my mobile notepad. Wherever you are and whatever you use (whether you need to sleep with a notebook at your bedside), just write it down.
Christian always says that after the wave of expressed frustration has passed, I inevitably find a solution days later and then the status quo is restored.
Even if the comments are not wrapped in a positive feedback sandwich, they will likely drive you away from stagnation and complacency.
5. Do I believe in the products I'm selling?
This might feel like an obvious one. Well of course you believe in it, you chose it, you're paying for it. But maybe you don't and you just picked it because it seemed to make sense for the market.
I have never viewed myself as capable of selling anything. I once worked for an organization where I had such terrible SPH (sponsor per hour) stats that my hours were docked accordingly. That isn't to say I didn't have the most conversations with strangers for the day though. I am by nature, approachable. One of my supervisors, knocked it down to my background. No offense to these organizations but convincing someone to sign up for monthly donations is a sales pitch. Plain and simple. And I was so used to giving people choices as patients about their health care because of autonomy and patient rights.
Back to the tea...visiting this online tea store is the consumer's choice. Something led them here. Keywords, ads, TikTok videos, YouTube shorts, Google leads. Now we have to tip the balance in our favour with words.
It's so much easier if you believe your product does what you say it does. If I say this thing tastes like flowers, it has fragrant rose petals and reminds me of cherry blossoms in the spring, I really do mean it. I'm infamous for overfilling my teapot and dripping tea all over the table when pouring the first cup. So if I mention a glass teapot has an easy pour spout, no mess, no fuss, it's because I have repeatedly tried it, to see if it would cure my innate tea pouring clumsiness.
Believe in your product (this makes a full circle to the quote I mentioned in #1) because you use it personally or you can attest to its features. It makes everything about your business more genuine.
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Stay tuned for a follow up article on why you should believe in tea.