My experience as a store owner has taught me some very valuable lessons. I hope that this list will help other young entrepreneurs from U.Va. avoid some of the mistakes I made and become successful as business owners.
Help is available
My boutique lets me do what I love doing most: buying and merchandising. But that’s not all I do. My list of to-do’s includes accounting, marketing, event planning, selling, and even cleaning the store. I don’t have all the skills to run my business but one thing that prepares me for all of it is asking questions. I was always good with numbers and the accounting courses that I took in college definitely came in handy, but it’s wise to consult a certified accountant to help you for the first couple of months and to get help with taxes. I talked to other store owners about what marketing/advertising works for them and then I tried to use similar ideas to grow my business. I received help from some of my friends in law school to better understand contracts I needed to sign. No matter what your questions are, just pick up the phone or write an email. Nine times out of ten, the person will help you or direct you to someone who might be able to help.
Social Media is a must
Having an online presence is important but more than that you have to market it or your website will never be noticed. I have a Facebook Page, Instagram account and manage Yelp pages. I plan to start a Twitter and Pinterest accounts too. I’ve sold items right off my Instagram page. Social Media expands your market 10x. It takes time to establish a following but it pays off.
Spread the knowledge
I started carrying a beauty line in my store. It sat on the shelves for a month without anyone even noticing it. I automatically thought it was a bad buying decision. Till one day a person looking at the line asked me a question, “What is this hand cream made of?” As soon as I told her it was made of natural shea butter and was handmade in USA, she was sold and bought three different hand creams. Since then, even if a person looks at the line, I make sure to mention what’s so special about it. Train your sales associates to know your products inside out so they are able to market it.
Be ready to say NO
At first I was desperate to get my name out and was donating items for every cause, and it felt like I was participating in every local event. After the first couple of months, I didn’t see much return on my investment, so I decided I would have to be very selective about where I invested my marketing dollars. It’s hard to say “No” at times but that’s when you have to think about what makes the most sense for your business.
From vendors to landlord, negotiate everything. Don’t take the first price that is quoted to you. More than often, there is wiggle room to get the price to be lower or get discounts for services. I was able to get my Point of Sale system at a discount for a year if I paid for the year upfront rather than per month. I’ve negotiated price of products because the vendor wasn’t able to offer a full size run.
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