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5 Important Lessons I’ve Learned From Growing My Online Business.

Entrepreneurial experiences are filled with difficult challenges. Some feel the financial pressures, while others just could not cope with the stressful life of having to sacrifice everything.

My startup of Mirsky Mode was no different. It was filled with ups and downs. The important part here is what I’ve gained from those experiences. Here are top lessons I’ve learned:

Help Comes From The Unexpected

When I set out Mirsky Mode, I really felt I knew where my customers will mostly come from. I’ve done the marketing analysis, identified my target demographics and the best methods to reach my products to them.

I did not spend much on marketing and advertising (too expensive), and so relied heavily on my PR Strategies. So much information was shared within my family, their friends and my friends, their friends’ friends and forth. I expected much sales will come from them. Dead Wrong.

Six months into business, I learned to hard truth. While my family members were mostly onboard (not shocking) but NOT my friends. Not many of them were into the idea. Some felt the idea was too generic. Some even put my emails into spam box (yup). Some even gave me the hint that the business has no future. Some did give me the support and purchased the products but the number was just too low.

Then I looked at their friends’ friends – whom the majority of them I have not met. Jump of joy! The amount of sales referrals from this group was astounding. They bought the idea. They know the price of the bags and sneakers are affordable compared to other major online stores. They like the idea of my business collaborations in the CSR area too – which improved my PR standing in the public eye.

I started spending more time on these groups of people realizing they like my idea and lesser time promoting to my friends since then. The important lesson here is you will never know exactly where your market audience is and don’t ever be afraid to adapt to new markets once identified.

Planning Is In The Details

I always remember the day I did my MBA, a professor of mine always says that in business, the ‘Devil Is In The Details’. It is true. Most business owners these days understand the importance of having business plan, but never really paid attention in the details.

I made a mistake when I planned out my marketing strategy for Mirsky Mode. While the strategies covered all the important aspects, I realized later on it was too focused on online consumers leaving offline consumers clueless. Realizing this, we expanded our reach to the offline consumers and reaped healthy sales from it.

I thought I had all the tools to successfully plan and implement for the business. Dead Wrong. While MBA was really helpful to jumpstart my business, in the long term, getting into the details is key. Plan every possible things that could’ve happened or may not happen. Always learn to anticipate and plan for the worse. Do not ignore your data analysis report! From my experience, these details if not attend to, are likely the root of your business failure.   

PR Beats Marketing

If you’ve known me long enough, I’m always championing for PR. It is cheap and it lets me to acquire sales through referrals – which is the most cost-effective form of sales. Most strategies it involves are low cost – e.g. collaborations with social media influencers, promote through e-magazines/magazines, article sharing, sharing through communities and many more.

Referrals are my preferred form of sales mainly due to its ability to drive customer retention. Like every business owners, we know that customer retention is highly sought after – they are cheaper to maintain compared to acquiring new customers.

On the other hand, online marketing did not do much justice. I feel the returns are just not enough despite spending more. The internet is just too saturated with online ads these days making it difficult to make your business stands out than the rest. This affects drive sales to my business. It even attracts a lot of unwanted attention such as spammers and self-proclaimed consultants.

Having said that, I have summed up the things I feel have made PR better than marketing. Keep in mind these are suitable mainly for small business owners since there is no way we can afford all the expensive marketing & advertising expenses.

  • Referrals
  • Blogging/Vlogging (Share daily life experience of running the business)
  • Social Media Collaborations with Influencers. (Use social media figures to your advantage)
  • Contribute Articles (Approach publishers to share your article/expertise)
  • Promote with e-Magazines/Magazines.
  • Social Events (Barbeque/Bowling with Customers etc)

Set Impossible Objectives

I keep getting advises to ALWAYS set up realistic objectives while I was researching for my business. While this can be taken as something rationale, I personally feel this is a safe approach into not believing that my business has a chance of greater success.

Although, not many will admit this, I feel the objectives should be made intentionally above what you feel your business could achieve. Take the plunge. If you feel your business is solid, well prepared, and well committed, take the plunge like what Steve Jobs and Elon Musk did. They set out with impossible tasks to achieve while being made a mockery.

I know some might feel this approach is a little extreme or unwise. Truthfully, you shouldn’t expect that you can achieve the objectives. It is just made to drive yourself to work beyond your comfort zone, to do things which you’ve never thought you could and into believing that anything is possible.

Coming back to my experience, I have set out Mirsky Mode with one of the goals in mind, to achieve the RM50,000 sales within 6 months of opening. I was selling branded bags and sneakers. So, I thought there’s no way I can achieve that number in short time, and considering we are a new business. But I set out anyway.

Although I did not reach the targeted RM50,000, I did exactly RM30,425 in 6 months. I learned an important lesson. Despite of pushing myself all out and long hours, I still failed to reach the sales target. Still, it did not make me feel like a loser, I was actually impressed. I have breakeven in less than a year. I’ve realized that the impossible tasks I set out helped motivate me to operate my business at level I never thought I could. I started working beyond regular hours and was constantly learning more about the business non-stop.

In short, I set out impossible goals to push myself further beyond comfort zone.

Resilience Is Key

I don’t come from a family of business owners. The only business owners in my family are my old man, a small time property developer, and myself. I have always been fascinated at the idea of working at your own leisure and developed interest to start my own following my father’s footsteps.

I’ve witnessed the ups and downs of my father’s company. He was a successful businessman. But what is important here is what happens when things go south? Housing market was declining in Malaysia, nobody was buying property, construction materials became too expensive – Year 2008, one of the worse recession period of the country. People told him to abandon the project and return it to the government but declined to do so. People called him ‘stupid’, ‘insane’ all sort of insults for not doing so.

He ignored and persevered. He continued on while many other developers start to consolidate their projects back to the government. He still persevered. When the economy got back on its feet, he simply went to the bank and started to fork out money to continue the construction projects and succeed on selling almost every house.

What I’ve learned from this is that running business is not all about planning and executing. It is also about persevering during ‘rainy’ days. You could be getting few good business years, but recession comes, you need to be able to resist it. You will feel troubled when it does happen, concerning all the unpaid bills to come.

Stick to the plan, it’s there for a reason. You’ve done the homework, now you just need to trust it. Use the following tips to prepare yourself for one of the ‘rainy’ days:

  • Learn more about economic recessions (What are the indicators? The factors?)
  • Save money. Spend less.
  • Diversify your income. (I rented out some office spaces to cover my business expenses & offered engineering consultation services).
  • Diversify your investment. (Approach investment/insurance companies for investment. It helps grow your money at higher rates. Take less risky ones)

Final Two Cents…

You can never stop learning from mistakes. What’s important here is what have you learned from it? An even better question “How do you overcome this challenge in the future?” This is where a proper and long term business plan comes in handy. You have done the countless hours of research and it is important you stick to it. Trust it and learn from the mistakes.

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