How A Slapshot Taught Me About Business

When I was in college, I signed up for a lot of different intramural sports – many of them I’d never played before.

One evening my team and I were warming up for a hockey match when I noticed some of the guys ripping slapshots that looked like they had been shot out of a cannon rather than hit with a stick.

I secured a puck, wound up, and hit that puck with every bit of strength I could muster.  The puck slid leisurely across the ice.

“What?!” I thought “I just demolished that thing and it barely moved!”

I tried swinging even harder.  I tried holding the stick differently.  I tried twisting my body the wind up.  It didn’t matter what I tried, I couldn’t hit the puck as hard as these other guys.

freeimage-6929741-web

But then…

My friend Garvin skated up to me and explained how it works.  As any hockey player can tell you, you hit the ice in front of the puck.  The stick bends a little bit so when you hit the puck all that stored energy is unleashed.  I tried it and the puck rocketed out like I was Wayne Gretzky.

What That Has To Do With Business

When you’re trying to start your first business (or learn anything new), you’re going to encounter a lot of challenges and wonder why things aren’t working out the way your favorite entrepreneur podcast is telling you it will.

Why are your facebook ads not returning?

Why are people not following your blog?

Why aren’t people following your twitter account?

The slapshot taught me that even though I’m working hard and doing everything I see others doing, things work out a lot better if you stop trying to learn it by yourself.  Find people you can learn from.  Not just blogs and podcasts and online videos… you need real people.

When I was on that ice, I could see everything the other players were doing, but I still couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working for me.

Get help from people that know more than you do. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

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Getting Back On – A Business Update

On Saturday, April 26, my friend Marty texted me:

“If you are going to skip out on kickball, the least you could do is write a blog post during that time so those of us who care can read something about what you are up to each week. ”

I told him I would post on that day… but I didn’t.

I’ve been failing recently at following through.  It can be hard when you’re a solopreneur because you don’t have somebody holding you accountable.

Nobody asks me if I accomplish what I was planning to accomplish. Nobody makes me explain myself when I fail.

As we all know, when you fail – when you fall off – the only thing to do is get back on.  The best time to write that blog post was on Saturday, April 26.  The second best time is now.

Scrunchie Dog Logo

Cue Business Update

There have been several things happening recently so I’m not going to be talking about any one thing in too much detail. If you’re only here to see how my facebook ads worked out, scroll to the bottom. :)

Contract Sewing Manufacturing

I read the book “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing” and will be meeting with the author, Kathleen Fasanella, on May 18th & 19th.  We will be rapid prototyping the leash construction and meeting with a sewing contractor to discuss leash manufacturing.

You can see her site here: http://www.fashion-incubator.com/

I’m working hard on the leash design and finding fabric sources to make sure I’m ready for this meeting!

This is in an effort to make production scalable so I can begin marketing to retailers and going to…

Pet Expos

I’ll be signing up for several pet expos over the next few months in order to market the leashes to customers and retailers.  My hope is at-expo sales pay for most of the expo and the exposure continues to pay-off after the fact.

I really want to focus on developing good relationships with retailers.  They know what their customers like.  If I have to change the leash or switch to a different product altogether, they are the ones who will help me get there.

While there are many independent expos available, I’m planning to use the Amazing Pet Expos network (http://www.amazingpetexpos.com/) since I can get a multi-expo discount.

I’ll be locking in my expo dates around the end of May, after I get an idea of production schedule from the meeting on the 19th.

My Interview on the Chris Cerrone Show

This interview was actually recorded a couple weeks after Scrunchie Leash launched on Jan 23rd, but it finally went LIVE on April 25th.  Check it out! I think I only say a few dumb things…

http://www.cerroneshow.com/jacob-karasch-scrunchie-leash-chris-cerrone-interview/

National Small Business Week

Starting production and expos is going to put a major strain on my finances.  In order to help fund these expenses, I’m going to making a big sale push for National Small Business Week NEXT WEEK.

So on May 12 – May 16 you can get 10% off AND free shipping!

Here’s How:

  1. Buy a leash at http://www.scrunchieleash.com/
  2. For 10% off use the code: NSBW10
  3. For free shipping use the code: SHIP4NSBW

These codes are stackable, so you can use them BOTH during that week.

I will be posting on this blog, on the scrunchie leash blog, on twitter and facebook about this sale.  Please share the deal with your own network! I really need this sale to be successful so I can move forward with production.

Every post and share really helps.

Ok, on to the last topic in this already LONG post:

Facebook Ads

As you may know from reading previous posts, I’ve been experimenting with facebook ads.  This really needs it’s own post, but here are a few quick lessons learned:

  1. My ads rarely convert directly to sales, so running my ads for sales conversions doesn’t really work. Running ads for site visits works a lot better.
  2. Retargeting those who have already visited my site reminds people we’re still there.  It seems to be effective.
  3. Ads performed MUCH better when I made them more specific to the target audience.  For instance: ads that said “Check out Greenville’s new dog leash” performed better than ads that said “Check out this new dog leash” for my target audience in Greenville SC.
  4. The ads seem to take some time to soak in.  I ran the ads for a couple weeks with very few sales, BUT the sales kept coming after the ads stopped. I’m not sure I’m quite at a positive ROI yet, but there is definitely some good potential.  More learning is needed.

 

As always, if you have any comments or feedback, please leave a comment! I love hearing from others and it always helps to have people to chat with. :)

 

My Facebook Advertising Strategy

I’ve dabbled in Facebook ads in the past, but I really haven’t given it enough of a chance to see results. Now, I’ve decided to find out if it lives up to the hype, and this time I’m going to do it right.

fb_ads

Facebook offers automatic ad optimization (called optimized CPM) and I never used or understood it in my previous attempts.

Previous Attempts:

Create ad. Throw $30 at Facebook. Get some clicks. No Sales. $30 is gone. End of Story.

Seems pretty weak, right?

Using Automatic Ad Optimization:

Create a bunch of different ads. Choose a mid-sized audience. Install conversion tracking on my site so facebook knows which ads are generating sales. Let Facebook automatically identify and run the best ad to the best audience to get me the most sales. and Boom! I’m a billionaire.

Is it really that easy?

I’m sure it isn’t. Your ads have to be good. Your audience has to be well-chosen and highly targeted. Also, there are certain truths about purchasing psychology that play into it. Recently, a marketing friend of mine told me that a person has to encounter your product ad 3 times (on average) before they’ll be inclined to purchase. That means even if you hit the right people with the right ad, you still have to find them enough times to get it to turn into a sale.

My Plan

I haven’t decided how big my ad budget is yet, but I plan to make myself a student of Facebook advertising. I’ll be meeting with my marketing friend next week to discuss it and I’m considering purchasing a course on Facebook advertising.

I’ll be sharing the things I learn on this blog, so make sure you subscribe!

Two Blog Posts I Found Useful on Facebook Ads:

Good blog post on Optimized CPM: http://allfacebook.com/dennis-yu-optimized-cpm-facebook_b103941

I also learned a lot from this post: http://www.jonloomer.com/2013/10/03/how-to-sell-on-facebook/

How To Accomplish Your Goals

This one is short and sweet: Write it down.

Yesterday I was challenged by Neil Patel (along with everybody else in his mailing list). Here was the challenge and I suggest you do it too. Actually do it.

  1. Go to your analytics tool and look up how many unique visitors your site had in the last month. Mine was 455.
  2. Choose your target for the next month. Neil suggests doubling your traffic.
  3. Then write “Between DateA and DateB I will bring in X unique visitors to MyWebsite.com”
  4. Tell somebody about it and make yourself accountable.

Here is mine. (JK are my initials, I’m not Just Kidding about this.)

My traffic goal for March

My traffic goal for March

Neil also has some great content out there on how you can increase your traffic. Here is his blog: http://www.quicksprout.com/blog/

Today I’m also writing down what I need to accomplish to make those 910 unique visitors a reality.

Here is my todo list to make Scrunchieleash.com a success. Coffee will be needed.

Today's todo list

Today’s todo list

Month 1 Business Review

Yesterday marked 1-month since I launched http://www.scrunchieleash.com. Here is a quick review of how the month has gone.

Sales

25 Leashes Sold

  • 0 Retailer Sales
  • 20 Scrunchieleash.com Sales
  • 5 In-Person Sales
  • 0 Etsy Sales

4 Retailers Contacted

1 Online Retailer Added (http://mrchowsemporium.com/)

Marketing

1 Blog Review (http://hismuddypawprints.blogspot.com/2014/02/scrunchie-leash-review.html)

1 Blog Review Pending

6 Facebook Posts by Customers

27 Shelter dogs walked (ahead by 2)

Outlook

This was a good first month. We got some steam on the launch and made some sales. One concerning fact is that the majority of sales and activity was in the first 2 weeks. There was a drop-off after launch so I need to figure out how to reinvigorate myself and my marketing campaign.

My biggest challenge right now is time. I work a full-time job during the day and I’ve been taking grad school classes in the evenings. As the semester has been picking up, my time and energy available to scrunchie leash has diminished. I need to rework my schedule and get back in the game.

Another huge challenge I’ve been having is developing content for the scrunchie leash blog. I’m going to go more in depth on this in a later post.

My goals for this next month include:

  1. Add 5 retailers
  2. Get 5 blog mentions from doggy blogs
  3. Write 2 scrunchie blog posts per week.

I see retailers as my best sales channel going forward and I see blogs (both mine and others) as the best way to reach new customers. As you can see with my goals, I’m planning to focus on those.

As usual, I’m always looking for feedback! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 

How To Get Started With Social Media Automation

When you get squeezed for time, do your social media fall by the wayside? This happens to me all the time and I feel terrible when I wake up 5 days later to see my traffic has plummeted.

I do my entrepreneurial work in my free time. I also work a full-time job and take grad classes in the evenings. As the semester picks up, the amount of free time I’m able to find has all but vanished. Here is one step I’m taking to reclaim my sanity.

Putting My Social Media On Autopilot

This is something that marketing gurus talk about doing ALL THE TIME but there were various reasons I always ignored it.

“It’s really impersonal if it’s planned.” ~Me

Disappearing for a week at a time is impersonal. You can still respond to comments and interact.

“Generating the content is the hard part, not remembering to post it.” ~Me

Creating content is easier when you do a lot at once. Take a picture, add a funny phrase. Tell a joke. Link to a blog post. Comment on relevant current events.

postSchedule

Sitting down and writing 1 post takes me about 30 minutes. Sitting down and writing 10 posts takes me about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Due to necessity, I finally took the plunge and I wish I had a LONG time ago. It’s FREE. There are some limitations to the free account, but don’t let that be an excuse. Did I mention it’s free?

Here are the steps I took that you can easily copy.

  1. Go to https://bufferapp.com/
  2. Add your social media accounts. I’m using the Scrunchie Leash facebook page and twitter account.
  3. Choose a posting schedule. Choose time. Choose days. Don’t get hung up on this. You can change it tomorrow if you change your mind. I picked the evening every day on facebook and the afternoon every day on twitter.
  4.  Write a post and click “Buffer”
  5. Continue writing posts until your buffer queue is full (10 posts)

That’s it! Your social media is covered for the next 10 days. You can always post more if inspiration hits or you think of something that is time-dependent, but your minimum is covered.

The Key to Small Business Contracting Success

“Above all, success in business requires two things: a winning competitive strategy, and superb organizational execution. Distrust is the enemy of both. I submit that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one.” ~ Stephen M.R. Covey

Abamath Series – This is the 6th in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st , 2nd3rd4th and 5th)

Signature

 

Some Businesses Will Happily Neglect Your Best Interests

Being a small business often leaves you with less negotiating heft. You aren’t anyone’s biggest client. You don’t have a massive legal team. Sometimes the way you’re treated is just terrible, but you do have some control over how much of that treatment you allow.

6 days after we opened our first location, we received a letter that the mall would be undergoing serious construction within the next year. Not once during contracting did the landlord mention the multi-million dollar construction project that they had been planning for over a year. They had completely misled me, and when I asked for more information, they had no comment. We would be required to move some time, but wouldn’t know when.

Obviously that was awful. Fortunately, my friend’s mother had encouraged me to push for 60 days construction notice instead of 24 hours, and for a way out of the contract. So, given the chance to leave early, we did. We officially left on December 31. We timed things correctly. Every business that stayed was given a letter on January 1 saying they had 60 days to move.

Thanks to my contact, we dodged a much more devastating blow, but needing to relocate after just opening is not good for business. Granted, most of our clients stuck with us, and we moved to a nicer place with lower rent, but we got lucky.

The Work Starts Before the Contract is Drafted

I was lucky to have a legal connection like my friend’s mom, but the point isn’t only that you should read the small print (of course you should). At the end of the day, being forced to move 5 months after opening is pretty miserable, even if the contract gives you some protection. That’s not good enough.

The point is that you should work with people and businesses you can trust. Since that initial misstep, I have been working almost exclusively with business partners who have been referred to me by trustworthy people.

Use Your Network

If you have a friend who does business in your area, ask them who they work with. What software do they use for accounting? Who is their insurance agent? They might run a completely different business, but all businesses have some basic needs. Before you move into a new location, ask other tenants what they think of the management. Life is a lot easier when you can stop worrying about having the rug pulled out from under you. This is where that all-important “network” becomes your most valuable asset. Use it.

Trustworthiness might seem subjective and fluffy, but it can save a lot of very real money.

Luke Schlangen is the founder and president of Abamath: A Better Approach to Math

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

Are You Wasting Your Ad Dollars?

Abamath Series – This is the fourth in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st , 2nd3rd and 4th)

I hate losing money (you too?). There are few things as frustrating as throwing money at advertising and seeing no impact on your customer base. Here’s the rundown on the first three months advertising my math tutoring startup.

  • Method: Local Newspapers, Google adwords, Facebook Ads
  • Cost: $15,000
  • Timeline: 3 Months
  • New Clients: 1

You read that correctly. I only gained a single new client from the ads. You could argue that we didn’t execute correctly or maybe it wasn’t the right channels. Regardless of why it failed, a small company can’t afford to spend and see no conversions. It was time for a change.

Advertisements aren’t the only way to advertise.

On January 25th, we hosted our first “Abamath Invitational,” a 90-minute math competition for middle school students.  This gave me a great excuse to talk to the schools in the area and spread the word. On the day of the event, 8 potential clients and 5 current clients came to Abamath and had an awesome experience.

  • Method: Math Competition
  • Cost: $500 (including my time, employee time, and the computer)
  • Timeline: 1 Month (including planning)
  • New Clients: 4 and growing (already paid for itself)

Bonus: Kids from the area experienced math insanity, and the winner got a brand new laptop!  I got tons of pictures for our website, and an excuse to build relationships and credibility with local schools. I also had the chance to plug our robotics league.

Everybody wins.

Abamath Competition

Abamath Competition

Give out free high-fives on a street corner, smash a car, sponsor a mission to Mars. Do anything! Companies like Red Bull have mastered event marketing! (anybody heard of Flugtag?) The good news is you don’t need to be Red Bull to pull off an event. This applies to any business, you just need to get creative.

The Bottom Line

Give an advertiser $15,000 and you can get a couple thousand views. Spend $15,000 on a pizza party, and you can get a couple thousand real people in your doors to talk to and interact with on a personal level.

Spend your ad dollars on awesomeness, not on clicks.

Luke Schlangen is the founder and president of Abamath: A Better Approach to Math

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

Trust Yourself and Keep It Simple

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” ~Albert Einstein

Simple-Pricing

Abamath Series – This is the fourth in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st , 2nd and 3rd)

Be Careful Who You Listen To

As a new company, you will do anything to get even a single sale. Don’t let that temptation degrade your company.

I started Abamath with the idea that people wanted something better from tutoring. I believed there was more value in tutoring as a gym-style membership. One price, unlimited tutoring. Students can come in whenever they want help, not pre-scheduled times whether they need help or not. What’s not to love?

People had never seen gym-style membership tutoring before. They kept insisting that they wanted an hourly rate like other centers. So finally, I caved. I offered hourly options. How many new customers did that net me? Zero.

Nobody actually wanted that option, they felt entitled to it. The people who suggested it weren’t potential customers, just people who thought that is how a tutoring business should be run.

We offered private tutoring for $49/hour and membership for $199/month. Just having these two products caused a lot of confusion. Did that mean $199/month and then $49/hour on top of that?

Help Customers See Your Value

If you’re still experimenting with price (and who isn’t), here is a fun experiment to run.

When someone tells you to offer something you don’t, ask them, “If we did offer that, would you buy it today?” It’s a simple test to tell the difference between serious customers and those with no intention of buying.

Unless they’re using that option with a competitor or would consider buying it today, they probably aren’t going to pay you for it. Cluttering your communication with confusing pricing destroys the clarity of your key message: your value.

After 3 months of messing with it, I was done. We took the hourly tutoring option off the brochure. When potential customers are considering our service, we offer our one-week free trial membership to see if an Abamath membership is what they want. It always is.

Keep it simple. It’s not easy when you feel potential customers are slipping through your fingers, but you need to trust your value proposition.

Simple and easy aren’t synonyms in business, but complex and difficult definitely are.

Luke Schlangen is the founder and president of Abamath: A Better Approach to Math

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath