In the beginning, Mas Tacos was only a 1974 Winnebago, tweeting its location to early Nashville food-truck adopters and serving on sidewalks. Today, the East Nashville shop, says Esquire, is “nothing short of an institution.”
Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co. founder Scott Witherow started out oven-roasting beans and separating nibs from shells with a hair dryer to make small batches to foist on friends. Today he leads an award-winning chocolate company with coast-to-coast notoriety. Then there's juice. Nashville and The Bloomy Rind (both part of our upcoming CO.STARTERS for Food Entrepreneurs), whose owners set a foundation for their businesses by selling at farmers markets before opening their own, locally beloved shops.
The common thread here: These entrepreneurs felt driven to start building their business now, and knew that to start now, they had to start small.
For many entrepreneurs — but particularly for creative entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs focusing on building locally — starting small can be the key to starting at all. You may or may not have a grand vision for a wide range of products or regional expansion. But here's some truth: You don’t need to realize your broadest vision of your business from the get-go. Your better bet is to think about ways you can start small.
For this week’s Starting a Business installment (as our current CO.STARTERS at The Skillery cohort moves into week five), let’s give some big thought to starting small.
How and why to start small
Think about ways to get started today
There’s much more of a chance that your idea will stay an idea if you’re waiting for everything to line up for that grand vision. If you were going to start today — and you want to start today, not someday — how could you approach it? Passionate about opening a bakery? Research local farmers markets, and start selling there. Dreaming of developing and growing a handmade jewelry line? Test out an Etsy shop, and submit to great maker markets like Porter Flea. Envision some baby steps toward your ultimate goal. They may be baby steps, but they’re steps — real moves toward graduating your business out of the idea stage.
Focus on making a sale, quickly
Where are your customers? How quickly can you get in front of them and make a sale? There’s no better validation of your business idea than having a customer pay you money, and once you decide on a method of putting yourself out there, it’s time to start pushing toward that confidence-boosting first sale. Give our recent post about finding customers a read, and take some of those steps to spotlight and broadcast your name and your products. And when that first sale comes in, be unwavering about delivering exactly what you said you would.
Don’t get discouraged
One of the reasons you’re starting small is to keep your overhead low while you’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t. That first sale might start a flood, or a trickle, or it might be your only sale for a little while. It’s OK — there are lessons to be learned from all of that, and right now, you’re in learning mode.
Measure and get feedback as you go
Those lessons? You’re going to learn them by measuring and tracking. What kind of data are you keeping track of? Is the bounce rate on your website much higher on your homepage than on pages for your products? That might tell you that your customers like your products, but your website’s front door isn’t terribly welcoming or user-friendly. Are you seeing five times the sales for your savory baked goods over sweet ones at your farmers market stops? Maybe your customers are giving you a hint about a niche, or showing you where you can improve. Every bit of feedback, positive or negative, can push you toward ways to fine-tune. So stay metric- and feedback-minded while you start small; the data will help you move toward better decisions, and more sales.
Make sure you’re solving your customers’ problem
Customers are coming to you so you can solve a problem or fill a need. That problem might be the lack of a highly durable laptop bag. Maybe they can’t find locally made baby clothes with creative style. Solving those problems is the ultimate goal here — whatever you’re trying to sell must achieve that goal, or your sales success will be short-lived. In a sense, the problems and needs you’re solving and fulfilling are your business’ unique personality. When you’ve gotten that sharply defined, hold tight to it — if your customers can depend on you to solve that specific problem effectively again and again, you’ve built trust, and trust builds devoted customers. Devoted customers fuel growth, and put you firmly on the path from starting out to breaking out.
Have some thoughts about methods an upstart entrepreneur can take to effectively start small? Post your ideas in the comments, or hit us up on Twitter.
Next week, we’ll talk about the importance of community. (If you’ve missed anything in this series, check out the full rundown of Starting a Business posts.)