Running a business is not easy. Media often glorifies entrepreneurship, but behind it all, being an entrepreneur is about accepting and welcoming the grind. Not knowing when or where your next customers are coming from is stressful. Not knowing how much money you’re going to make monthly is daunting. Yet, people continue to leave steady paying jobs to pursue their ventures because at the end of the day, what could be better than being your own boss?
We’ve learned a lot about business and ourselves in founding and running Neon Bandits over the past 4+ years and have put together a list of the 3 challenges that we have faced and how we have overcome them. If you’re thinking about going out on your own, or contemplating a side-hustle, reach-out! We would love to share more of our experiences and support you on that journey.
Challenge One: Having no (or very limited) budget.
When it comes to marketing, terms like “content” and “influencer marketing” are often thrown around as ways to grow your brand. And these tactics can cost a lot of money if you are not careful. However, we’ve found that you don’t need to pay top dollar to get great content.
We’ve had success reaching out to individual Instagram accounts that matched the look and feel and vibe that we were after. We offered these accounts free socks in exchange for quality, fun content of the product being worn. Though this can be manual, if you devote an hour or two a week to do this you will get diverse content that can be used across social media and the web.
Similarly, know what your core competencies are and fill in the blanks in creative ways. For example, consider tapping into friends and peers that may be able to support your business or take on a task that could otherwise cost a lot of budget. You could also look to local college students and offer internships to them in exchange for real world, hands-on experience. We had success working this way to get the website up and running and even today, we get creative with the development of some of our design assets by tapping into local colleges to find student interns to help us with some design work.
The lesson: think outside of the box. Not everything needs to cost big bucks to be meaningful. Know your teams core competencies and look to fill in the gaps through scrappy tactics.
Challenge Two: How to evolve your business model? On the fly…
When we first launched Neon Bandits, we only wanted to sell our own designs, we did not want to go into the custom side of the business. And while the customers and retail accounts that purchased our socks, loved them, they kept asking us to make custom socks. We initially said no, this was not part of the business that we set out to build. We were not in the business of making custom socks; we wanted people to come to our site, love our product and buy socks. However, the reality of it was that it didn't happen this way and getting traffic to our site was difficult and expensive.
Though we initially resisted customization, we gave in and decided to give it a try since our sales were pretty modest. The result? The first year offering custom socks, we more than 5x’d our sales. Had we been stubborn and inflexible and not evolved our model and accepted customer feedback, we likely have been a start-up statistic.
The lesson: be adaptable and open to change. Just because you plan to run your business a certain way doesn’t mean that that’s how you have to actually have to do it. One of the benefits of being an entrepreneur is that you can make your own decisions, and try things out without the pressure of corporate “KPIs”.
Challenge Three: Competing against much larger brands and businesses.
We are a sock brand and have lots of competition. Pretty much all of our competitors have a larger budget and more resources than us. Rather than sit and pout about our lack of resources, we found a way around it (and you can too).
One thing that you can do that is free, is to go out and cultivate strong relationships with customers and prospects. A good relationship with a customer or prospect is more valuable than anything money can buy.
Being timely with your communication, respectful of the customer / prospects time and clearly communicating expectations are three areas that we pride ourselves on and helped us maintain and build strong relationships. Don’t think that this works? Well these are three areas that we pride ourselves on and you can check out what some of our customers are saying about us here.
The lesson: not everything costs money and human-to-human connection is still incredibly important. Take time, be patient and listen. Your customer will be your biggest asset in going against competition.
When you run a business you are undoubtedly going to run into some challenges. And it can be easy to get frustrated and get down on yourself but we’ve found that acknowledging it and attacking it head-on has worked well for us. What are the lessons you’ve learned? Share them with us and our community by commenting below! Also, want to see what all the five-star fuss is about? We encourage you to give our socks a try so you can see first hand why a customer recently called our socks “the most comfortable pair of socks that they own”.