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My love affair with product-based businesses goes a long way back. I have found such a purpose in championing product-based entrepreneurs like myself, particularly those who bring an artistic point of view to the home and lifestyle industries.
And no, I’m not saying a greeting card, planner, or new throw pillow for your couch is going to pay your bills or cure an illness. In Covid world, it’s almost as if we’ve been programmed to unconsciously ascertain “essential” versus “nonessential” with every decision we make.
Yet, particularly during the pandemic, many of my clients and their product-based businesses have thrived. To me, it’s no secret why. Taking the time to write a letter to a friend or send someone a new knick-knack for their home accomplishes something universal for us all. Something that each and every human needs to survive. And that something is connection.
Allow me to pause here and say that if my opening words make it seem like owning a product-based business is all sunshine and rainbows, that is absolutely not the case. These small businesses saw success during a hard time because they kept moving forward, making new products and finding ways to let their customers know they were still open and ready to delight. These businesses also built strong relationships with their wholesale accounts, which was critical for staying afloat financially.
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Having interviewed more than 200 product-based business owners for my podcast, I have come to realize there are five primary principles you must have if you’re looking for long-term success for your product-based business. And let’s be clear, long-term success means preparing for the next recession or downswing in the economy. Because if there’s anything we have learned these past couple of years, it is not a matter of “if” your business will hit hard times, but “when.”
With that, allow me to share the five things all of my successful clients have in common.
1. They value the importance of community
Running a business can feel very isolating at times, particularly for those solopreneurs who do not have a team or coworkers. Having people to bounce ideas off of and share struggles and success tips with not only enhances your mood and mindset, but it also benefits your business decisions. During your most trying times you will want to have access to a community of business owners who understand the trials and tribulations that running a product-based business entails.
2. They are comfortable growing their business in their own way
Let me tell you, the beauty of business ownership is that you set the rules. You can apply the systems or processes that work best for you and stick with them. With brick-and-mortar stores, ecommerce and social media, there are so many different avenues to increase sales and revenue.
Over the years I have had clients turn to a variety of different business strategies to make their businesses work for them and the lifestyles they want to have. For instance, one of my clients wanted to simplify her revenue streams so she could begin to focus more on custom work. Another one of my clients decided to split her business into two different brands to more clearly serve her custom audiences. The point being, find what works for you, and run with it. And if you find what you’re doing no longer works, then don’t be afraid to change things up.
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3. They understand their work as a creator matters
No one is more aware than I am of how some product-based business owners tend to diminish their work. “Oh, I just sell greeting cards.”
But no matter how big or small your business is, you need to recognize your work matters, especially if you want to make it for the long haul.
My advice is to celebrate your successes, big or small! One great way to do this is at the end of the month, reflect on your biggest success of the month and write it down. Better yet, share your success with others. Remember the community we talked about above? Hold one another accountable for sharing successes and celebrating them. Oftentimes what seems like a small win will end up leading to the bigger, business-altering wins.
4. They have learned to say no more
Lacking boundaries is only going to hold you back. There were two major milestones in my business where if I look back and reflect, I think the reason I was able to achieve them is because I allowed myself to say “no” to opportunities that were not going to move my business forward.
In 2016, I made the decision to stop speaking at other people’s live events and instead, focus that time and energy on starting my own podcast. In 2020, I made the decision to slow down on press outreach and interviews on other people’s podcasts so I could focus on my family and my kids’ remote schooling (as I’m sure many fellow moms who own businesses had to do as well).
Saying no has also worked well in the past for my clients. One client said no to a brand partnership deal that would not have been financially advantageous. Another client closed down a revenue stream that was taking up a lot of time, energy and focus but not producing the revenue or results they were hoping for. In both of these situations, the act of saying no actually opened up new and better opportunities for them — opportunities they would not have been able to pursue had they not declined something in the first place.
Saying yes too often can distract you from your true priorities, which is why I like to say be open to opportunities, but intentional with your decisions. Could saying “no” more actually help you grow your business? If my track record is any indication, then saying “no” might just be your secret sauce to success.
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5. They realize that good things take time
As much as we would like them to, sustainable, profitable businesses don’t just pop-up overnight. They take years of trial and error, successes and failures, and pivots to garner that success.
That is why I have always been a proponent of slow, steady growth. In fact, I’ve run one of my most lucrative programs for my business, Paper Camp, nearly 40 different times in 10 years of business. The crazy part is, each and every time we do it, we think of new things to alter or change to make it even better the next time around.
The same goes for my clients. Some of their best-selling products are actually items they created years ago, but they have kept things fresh by expanding on what is already working for them. Instead of changing the product entirely, they focused on updating the packaging, marketing and the functionality or materials used to make the product. These small iterations and adjustments allowed them to improve how customers use and love their products, and it also enhanced their business operations.
Most businesses will not stick with anything that long, and I think that is a huge mistake! Instead of being afraid of our mistakes, why don’t we use them to make ourselves and our businesses better?
In closing, if there is one message I can leave you with it is this: Your work and your artistic vision matters. Creating and selling items that foster human connection is not frivolous, it is necessary. Keep up the great work and know that I am pulling for you.
Related: The Formula for a Thriving Product Business