Gemma Whates helps mothers to start and grow a business alongside raising a family, via start up courses and the ALL by MAMA community.
We’ve spoken a lot about how to create and launch a product to sell – but not about how to set up a business around it. Gemma shares with us 10 things to do as you begin to plan and create your physical product, to ensure your product business gets off to a great start.
1. Work on your vision
When you start a business, you realise very quickly how time intense it is, and you therefore really need to know why you’re doing it. If you don’t know why you’re building your business,what the vision is, and what that ultimately means for you and your life and your family, it’s very easy to become demotivated very quickly.
It’s also very difficult to make decisions if you don’t know what you want your business to be and to become.
When I talk about your vision, it means sitting down and thinking about the following questions:
- What does this business mean to me?
- Why am I starting it?
- Where do I want it to be in five years and in ten years?
- What do I want from it personally?
Your vision may well change as your business grows, as you grow as a person and as time goes by, but you need to define what it is, so you can use it to guide your decisions and to motivate you
2. Work on your business model
It’s really important to actually look at how your business will make money. I end up working with, and talking to, so many small business owners that are running their business around family life and haven’t taken the time to look at their business model,how it scales, when it will make money and if it actually works.
If you’re thinking about selling a product, you need to make sure that you’ve got the right margins built in. You could work really hard at getting that product out to wholesale and then realise there was hardly anything left at the end.
The business model is really important at the beginning. The only way to really come to the right conclusion about what way to run your business, is to put the figures into a spreadsheet for different scenarios and figure out what works.
You might look at the different places you’ll sell your product, because depending on which marketplaces you sell on, for example Amazon, eBay, ALL by MAMA, your own website, or anywhere else, there might be service fees or commissions that you pay on your sales, plus the shipping and storage fees, and you need to run through all of those scenarios and work out which will be most profitable,
For example if you’ve based your business idea around selling your products on Amazon and then you work out that the fees are a bit steep and you’re not left with any money, at least you’ll know that before deciding whether to use that marketplace or not.
If you’ve got a good product idea do move forward with it, but also spend some time thinking about will it actually work, can it be profitable, and what’ s the best way to do this.
3. Understand your ideal customer
Niche your customer as much as possible at the beginning. You might say “my product’s for everybody” or “my product’s for mums”, but really that’s not defining who your product’s for.
If you’re able to really identify who your ideal customer is, it’s going to be much easier to find them and they’re going to find you. The other reason to identify your ideal customer early on is because you need to understand not just the fact that they’re a mum, or they have two kids, or they live in Scotland – it has to be more of an insight around that customer.
The kind of questions you need to ask yourself are:
- So, what’s their pain point?
- What do they struggle with?
- What keeps them up at night?
- What value am I bringing to my ideal customer?
If you haven’t got a niche customer, or a specific type of person, you can’t answer that because they’re all going to have different problems.
It makes the marketing a lot easier if you know exactly who you’re talking to, what sort of things concern them and what they’re looking for in a product. The clearer you can be on your messaging at the start, targeting a particular type of person, the more likely you are to attract those initial customers
Remember, when talking about your products you want to be sharing benefits, not features, and you can only do that if you know what’s important to your customers.
Listen to: Episode 9 – how to carry out your own customer and market research
4. Identify your USP (Unique Selling Point)
This is really important, because you don’t necessarily need to be the first person to have a product idea. There are lots of examples of massively successful businesses that weren’t the first. I’m not suggesting you ever copy somebody’s idea, but there’s obviously lots of different types of towels or for example, so do you know what makes your product different? Is it a product benefit that’s unique to you? Is it a branding element that’s unique to you? Is it something that you are bringing from your experience or your knowledge? What is the differentiator to your product?
This is where it’s sometimes beneficial to look at what your competitors are doing and what’s on the market already so you know why you can stand out, because ultimately if you’re bringing a product to the market there’s got to be a reason that someone’s going to choose that over another product and that’s going to be your USP.
5. Set up at Companies House & give your company a name
You need to set your business up properly from the start. You could invest in an hour of an accountant’s time and understand the different ways you can set yourself up as a business; as a limited company or as a partnership or as a sole trader. You’ve got to do that properly from the start. You can go on to gov.uk and find all this stuff out for yourself, but a conversation with somebody who knows is really going to help you.
There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to structure your company, because there are so many differences with things like tax and all kinds of different implications, so it will depend on your own circumstances, how you want to grow and how big you want the company to become, linked back to your vision.
Naming your company
There’s also a lot of thought and research to be done when you’re naming your company and 3 basis checks you can do.
- You need to check that your chosen name isn’t trademarked and isn’t already taken at Companies House.
- Type your company or product name into Google. Are there a million names that sound like yours, or are similar to yours, and it’s going to be really hard for you to rank?
- Check that you can get the name you’ve chosen on the social media channels you’d like to use. Reserve these as soon as you can (you can always just put ‘coming soon’), so you know you’ve got it. The last thing you want to do is register your company and then realise someone else has taken the Instagram name that you wanted.
6. Design a company logo
There’s a book called the Lean Startup which is a really good place to start if you’re just starting a business, because what you want to do is do everything as quickly as possible, in the most cost effective way as possible, so you can test it. I guarantee it will change once you adapt and learn and listen to feedback.
Depending on what your skills are like you could go on to Canva and design yourself your first logo if you wanted to. I know lots of people that have successfully done that and then rebranded two or three years down the line when they’ve got more money behind them or they know the business is going in the direction that they thought it was going to go in and they want to rebrand. In fact, we did that with ALL by MAMA; we rebranded it two years in, we actually totally changed the logo, changed the colours, changed everything.
There are also websites like Fiverr and 99designs where you can get a logo design created.
Alternatively you could work with a designer and ask them to design a logo for you.
In both instances you’re going to have lots of upfront work to do thinking about what your brand represents, what are your brand values, what brand colours have you chosen, why have you chosen them, what does that represent.
But my best advice is to not get caught up on the logo!
7. Get an online presence
This includes setting up your social media pages, including Facebook pages. Although people aren’t reading a lot of content on Facebook pages, or massively engaging with them, they’re still really important if you’re going to run any Facebook ads or if you’re going to do shoppable Instagram. Get yourself a Facebook page!
Instagram is probably a good place to be for a products business as well and you can do posts directly linking to your products once you have that set up.
Also don’t under value LinkedIn and your own networks. When I was starting a business I got a lot of support from my networks on LinkedIn and I know a lot of people have had that same experience.
One of the easiest places to buy a domain is GoDaddy. You want to look at buying your domain name first and then building your website.
Again, there’s lots of different ways you can get that built. I wouldn’t go overboard with spending lots of time and money building your first website. It’s just a case of getting a presence, whether that’s a sales page explaining what you’re doing, or a very basic website that you build on Shopify, Wix, or WordPress. Just start with the basics and get yourself out there. It doesn’t need to be perfect at this point.
Even if you’re planning to sell on Amazon, eBay, or another marketplace, you still need to have your own website – because that’s yours. Marketplaces can shut down, or kick you off at any point. You might not even sell anything through your website at first, but you should build up some owned presence, something that you have control over.
You should also start building up your mailing list right away. If you don’t start now, you’re always going to wish you did it sooner. It just makes life so much easier if you have a list of people you could email when you release a new product or you have a sale. No matter how many followers you have on social media, getting in someone’s inbox is really important and conversion rates are much higher from email too.
8. Make yourself accountable
When I talk about making yourself accountable what I really mean is setting goals. If you don’t have goals set then it’s going to be very easy for you to drift and then before you know it a few months has passed and you feel like you haven’t made any progress and then you can become demotivated.
One of the best things you can do is tell somebody what you’re doing! If you’re starting a social media presence you could start to just put it out there and talk about what you’re creating, so you’ve made yourself accountable and you have to get it done.
Or you could find an accountability partner, someone else that’s starting to set up a business and you can hold each other accountable. Or perhaps get yourself a mentor – someone that’s been there before and is happy to give some time to support you.
9. Work on timings
When you start your business you might think “right well I’ll launch it in January and by February I’ll probably have about 10,000 customers.”
The truth is at the beginning of a business, not only are you finding your feet and working out what your ideal customer wants, you’re also going to get feedback from that and you probably will change your business slightly.
You’ll be learning all the time and I think 90% of small business owners will probably say things took longer than they thought to happen – whether that was getting the website up and running, or building a certain piece of tech, or finding that twentieth customer.
Most of the time it takes a little bit longer than what you think initially if you haven’t done it before. So make sure you’re realistic when you work out where you want to be at a certain point.
10. Create your personal finance plan
Everybody’s going to be starting a business from a different place. You might have nothing to invest and really need it to work, you might be coming from a point of security and having some money to invest, you might have a little bit of savings and a bit of time for your product to start making you money.
It’s really important to look at what you’re expecting from your business financially, at what point you’re thinking you’re going to get that and what does that mean for you?
For example, I did bits of freelance work at the beginning of starting ALL by MAMA, to run alongside it, because I knew there were times when I wasn’t going to be making enough money from it. Mapping out your finance plan so that you know that you’re either going to be getting the money that you need from the business, or if you can’t get it from the business where else it might come from, means you’ll be able to focus on what you need to do to grow it, as you’ll have a plan in place.
Just sitting down at the start and having a really honest conversation with yourself about how your finances look, how much you have to invest, what you can afford to spend and on what is a good thing to do.
If you’re going to borrow money to get started you need to think about how you’re going to pay it back – and by when. It’s good to think about this at the beginning, rather than getting six months in and realising you’ve made no money, yet I’ve spent this money and what do I do now.
If this seems daunting remember you don’t need to do it all at once, you don’t need to do it all perfectly and everything can be changed. Gemma and I have created a handy checklist for you to work through, get your FREE copy below.
If you’d like more support, you can find more information about Gemma’s business start up course and the All By Mama network and marketplace.