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. :)

 

It’s Big. It’s Scary. And it happens ever so quietly…

I haven’t been writing as regularly as I mean to, but I’ve been pretty busy. It’s time to get serious about starting a business. This decision was not easy. It’s big. It’s scary. And it happens ever so quietly with the click of a submit button on a website.

I just withdrew from my Masters of Engineering program. (like 5 minutes ago)

Doing your masters is a part of the overall engineering development program I’m part of, but I realized this week that my requirements to the program had been fulfilled. I have a few other projects and trainings to finish up before my evenings are actually my own, but grad school will no longer be taking my time. Sometimes “time management” means spending less time on facebook, but sometimes it means something much bigger.

“But they’re paying for your grad school! Why don’t you just finish!”

Imagine spending an entire semester – hours and hours every week – learning about how a ball presses into a surface. While useful to some engineering applications, this is not helping me toward my ultimate goal: Starting a successful business. I can’t put this on hold for another 2 years. It’s happening now. I’m taking back my evenings so I can make this happen. I don’t plan to quit my day job any time soon, but grad school had to go.

It’s big. It’s scary. But I know this is ultimately the right move.

 

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!

 

4 Tricks to Building a Great Network

Networking is key to accomplishing your goals whether you’re in a corporate environment or a budding entrepreneur. You need to meet people. Unfortunately, most of the advice currently available is pretty weak. If I get told to “smile more” or “have a firm handshake” one more time, I might lose it.

I was at a conference recently and here are some tips I picked up. (Thanks Rick Von Feldt – https://twitter.com/hrfuturist)

Networking

1) Form Your Core Structure

Many people think networking just means meeting more and more people. I don’t know about you, but to me that just sounds exhausting! Is it even possible to develop meaningful relationships with so many people? I love meeting people, but a more strategic approach to your network will serve you better than quantity.

This is where the idea of your Core Structure comes in.

  • 1 or 2 Sponsors
  • 5 Mentors
  • 25 Allies
  • 100 Contributors
  • >500 Acquaintances

The goal isn’t to know as many people as possible, the goal is to fill your top 150 roles with the best people possible. Here are the roles you need to fill.

Sponsor (1 or 2) – A sponsor is somebody who is well above you and takes an active role in helping you along. They will provide you with more than advice and guidance, they will take action to help you along.

Mentor (5) – A good mentor is somebody who is a few steps ahead of you in wherever you’re headed. They can give you guidance and help talk you through decisions you’re struggling with. When you find a really good mentor who advocates for you and takes care of your interests, they become a sponsor.

Allies (25) – These are people who are interested in what you’re doing. They know what you’re up to and you know what they’re up to. These are your really good friends and peers.

Contributors (100) – Contributors are similar to Allies, but you don’t stay in as close of contact with them. You know the general changes that are taking place in their lives, but you aren’t involved in the day-to-day.

Acquaintances (many) – This is everybody else. Friends, family, friends of friends, coworkers, old classmates. These are people who know who you are, but you don’t necessarily keep in very close contact. You may like their pictures on facebook occasionally, but you don’t typically talk much.

2) Fill The Roles With Stellar Candidates

Now that you know what your core structure should look like. It is time to start filling the roles. I suggest being deliberate about it. Make a spreadsheet. Figure out who you currently know that reasonably fits those roles.

It can be difficult to fill the Sponsor, Mentors and even some Ally roles. Leave them blank if you don’t have anybody that really fits the bill. If you have some blanks or even if your network seems a little on the weak side, that means you have some work to do and some people to meet.

Fill your network with people who have a network greater than your own. They will help open doors for you when you need help. You don’t want your network to be a small, closed system where everybody knows the same people. Ideally, you would like them to be able to introduce you to the right person when you have a serious need. That’s the whole point.

Actively seek these well-networked people. Fill your core structure with as many as you can find.

3) Communicate With Your Network

Here are some simple communication guidelines. Again, this will work a lot better if you’re deliberate about it. Whether you use a simple CRM or even a spreadsheet, make sure you communicate.

Do a 72-hour followup. Contact people you just met 72 hours after meeting them. It could be a thank-you card or maybe even just a “it was nice to meet you” email.

Also do a 14-day followup.

You should be contacting your network’s top 150 people at least every 90 days. Many of these will happen naturally as you interact with people socially and via work, but make sure you’re doing this with people you don’t see regularly. If you regularly interact with about 60 people, then you should be sending one email each day to keep in touch with the other 90.

Again, be deliberate. Track it.

4) Provide Value

This is really fundamental. Provide the people in your network with value. Always try to give so you don’t have to feel guilty when you need something.

Here are some example ways to provide value:

  • Introduce them to somebody else in your network.
  • Learn about what they’re working on and give them some feedback.
  • Ask if they need anything. Often a facebook post or retweet can be very beneficial to their business.
  • Send them information that directly pertains to what they’re trying to do. It doesn’t have to be anything big. I have a friend who curates a music newsletter every week and when I hear a new song that fits his style, I send it to him. That’s it. Sending a link to a music video. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Also, don’t forget to think about ways that people could help YOU. If your network is good, they’ll ask.

I hope you find these suggestions to be helpful! A strong network is important. I’m refocusing on mine and am implementing everything I just shared in a spreadsheet.

Remember, you become the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose them wisely.

Do you have any tips or strategies that YOU use for networking? Share them in the comments!

 

 

The Truth Shall Set Your Business Free

“The man who can keep a secret may be wise, but he is not half as wise as the man with no secrets to keep.” ~E.W. Howe

Top Secret

Abamath Series – This is the second in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st)

Secrecy Is a Bad Policy

Abamath is the only tutoring center that uses computers instead of worksheets (yes, it is 2014 and that was a real sentence). Math worksheets are boring for students, and computer games are awesome. It is a significant competitive advantage and I spent the first month running my business scared that someone would steal the idea.

We stuttered whenever people asked what math tutoring software we were using. This hesitation to share our methods with customers was scaring them away. It took a month, but we finally figured it out: When you’re small, your competition doesn’t care about your secrets. They have their own way of doing things, and until you start taking students from them, they don’t want to change.

Honesty Empowers Your Employees

Being honest with customers is crucial, but honesty should really be your default policy. Your employees will always know what to tell customers (the truth). When your customers ask about your pricing, your employees can tell them the truth: paying rent, paying employees and providing a high quality service costs this much.

Don’t forget to be honest with your employees. The whole truth. Not just, “We’re doing this…” but “We’re doing this because…” One silver lining to losing money for the first few months is your employees can see you working your butt off and getting paid a lot less than they are. Sharing the cash flow with my employees has also empowered them to cut costs and improve the business, because they can see the problems. As the business grows, you may want to reevaluate whether to share your multi-billion dollar salary (because obviously you’ll get there in a few years). For now, show them you’re in this together, and your company will benefit.

 

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

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

 

Drop Your Ego and Improve Your Ideas

Abamath Series – This is the first in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath.

If you are arrogant enough to start a business, your ego is probably over-inflated… like mine. You feel so strongly that your ideas are better than others, that you have decided to go head-to-head with other competing companies.

Naming a Company

When I purchased abamath.com, I was going to call the business “Abamath: Amazingly Better At Math”. I thought it was cute and catchy. I sent the idea to a couple friends and one suggested I name it “A Better Approach to Math.” It seemed more professional, but I really thought my idea was better. Planning to prove myself right, I polled a few other friends on which name they liked better (without telling them which one was mine).  The results were a resounding “No” to my brilliant idea.

I had spent a week trying to figure out the perfect name and my friend topped it with a 10-second suggestion! I thought I was so smart, so clever, but the results showed otherwise.

Discussions at Abamath

Discussions at Abamath

Drop The Ego

We all like to think our ideas are the best, but it’s better for your business to understand that they’re not. You may be the person that started the company, but if you have 2 bright, invested employees, your ideas will only be the best ideas one third of the time (and the odds only shrink as you grow).

It’s hard to let go of your original ideas, but if you want your company to succeed, you have to get good at being wrong.

How To Pick Up Better Ideas

I’m not simply suggesting you allow employees to come to you with their ideas. Force them to criticize your ideas and have them tell you why. Requiring confrontation is the only way to let your employees know you are sincerely looking for feedback, and that you can handle the criticism. It also helps everyone (including you) understand why these decisions are being made.

A genuine critique will invite better ideas.

“Change or die” – It’s a scary mandate, but the good news is that for a small company, flexibility is your edge. Make that your advantage, not your downfall. Recognize great ideas when you see them, and don’t cling to what you thought was best. After all, you can always take credit for recognizing a great idea.

When you think about it, I came up with “better” and “math” so the name is still half-mine, right?

 

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

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

2 Ways To Be More Effective Every Day

I’m implementing these two principles to help me to be more effective every day.  I’m writing this to help others with productivity, but also to help me be more accountable.

Strangely, these only work if I actually DO THEM.  (Strange, right?)

The First Thing You Do

I read this tip in the 4-hour Workweek.  Figure out what the most important thing you need to get done today to feel successful.  Do that first.

If you get nothing else done the rest of the day, at least the most important item is checked off your list.  Don’t check your email.  Don’t read the news.  Don’t work on that less-stressful yet less-important project.

Pick the single most important thing and knock it out first.

The Ten Mile March

There are plenty of resources out there that go into detail about the 10-mile march, so I’ll only give a brief overview.

Basically, don’t run 50 miles one day and then sit around exhausted for several days.

Pick a small and entirely manageable amount of progress you need to make.  Do that.  Only that.  Make sure you do this every day.  The idea is to drive consistency and continuously productive behavior.

Even if you think you can do more, don’t.  Don’t give yourself the excuse to slack off the next day.

Do it every single day.

Good luck! I hope this was helpful.

**CORRECTION**

The “10-mile march” I wrote about is normally called the “20-mile march.”  It is a reference to the race to the south pole between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott in 1910 where Scott did bursts of hiking while the men were in good spirits and Amundsen was methodical and only marched the planned amount each day – every day. Long story short, Scott’s team died in the cold. Amundsen made it to the south pole and back on schedule.

Dealing with Hard Times

Over the last week, I haven’t been able to spend time on this blog or my entrepreneurial pursuits.  I’ve been struggling for productivity in my day job and in my grad school work.  There is a feeling of helplessness when you’re failing a class and can’t seem to understand anything the professor is saying.  Watching and rewatching lectures… going to the professor during office hours (he’s not there)…. no other students to talk to because I’m taking it online.  Like drowning in slow motion and not being able to pull yourself up.

“If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” ~ Mary Engelbreit

Well, here goes, Mary.  I can’t change the struggles I have so I’m going to attempt to change the way I think about them.

Changing My Perspective

Is my situation REALLY that bad?  My school is connected to my job, so failing a class could mean losing thousands of dollars and putting my job in jeopardy.  It would be bad.  Could I recover? Yes.  Unfortunately this may all mean that I really need to put my entrepreneurial endeavors on hold.  Time will tell.

Applying Lessons-Learned to a New Project

I was recently contacted by an old friend who wanted to work together to create a web app with advertising revenue.  My thoughts on this were varied.

Pro: Plenty of people make good side money on creating a useful little web app and slapping some advertising on it.

Con: I just came off an experience where my primary problem was driving traffic to a tool that ended up not being as useful as I thought.

But! My previous project didn’t encourage repeat use and sharing.  This product could be designed to encourage sharing and repeat use.

I decided to pursue this in addition to my long-term goal of selling custom software solutions to businesses in need.

2 Lessons Learned that Bear Repeating

1)   Customers THEN products.  In that order.

2)   Speed is king.  If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail FAST.

I will keep those at the forefront of every decision and action.