How to Reach the 5-Year Mark Without Imploding
Getting started is hard part but the real challenge is staying alive. The key to growing your six-figure microbusiness into a seven-figure small business is so simple that it's easy to forget.
If small businesses are the backbone of the economy, microbusinesses are the heartbeat that pumps cash through every vein of the financial body.
Etsy firmly believes that microbusinesses -- defined as businesses with fewer than 10 employees -- will one day run the world (the company even conducted a study underscoring that this year), and that prediction isn’t too far-fetched. Big-box retailers are closing left and right, and the internet has made it easier than ever to start a business with no capital, no investors and no brick-and-mortar stores.
While it’s easy for microbusinesses to enter the market, getting started isn’t the hard part; the real challenge is staying alive. The key to growing your six-figure microbusiness into a seven-figure small business is so simple that it’s easy to forget: Stay focused on adding value for customers.
Eyes on the prize.
Your customers are your No. 1 asset, but it’s not enough to simply provide customer support -- you have to create customer success. When JVZoo started, we were a small team, and we all had to wear multiple hats when the company began growing beyond our expectations. Some days, the only thing that kept us going was focusing on the big picture and realizing growth was good.
That said, growth isn’t always good. It’s far easier for microbusinesses to fail than to succeed, and many will fail even after they succeed. Take Nasty Gal: What started as a one-woman eBay store grew into an $85 million online retailer. Shortly afterward, it filed for bankruptcy and was sold for less than a quarter of that valuation.
It’s easy to lose sight of where you’re headed when everything’s moving so fast, and even behemoth companies aren’t immune to this struggle. While Facebook may not have ended up digging its grave next to Myspace, it wouldn’t be dominating the social sphere like it is without Sheryl Sandberg to guide it as it scaled.
Building your coat of armor.
It’s tough to stay resilient when you’re in the early stages of scaling a business; you’ll undoubtedly face hurdles and setbacks.
In the early stages at JVZoo, we were working up to 20 hours a day just to get the business off the ground. People will think you’re crazy for putting that much effort into a microbusiness, but the entrepreneurs who succeed are those who are willing to do what others aren’t. To create a story of success, here are four steps to consider:
1. “Grind till you find.”
Be persistent, and grind till you find that one thing that works. You won’t hit a home run every time you step up to bat, but it’s important to not give up after your first strikeout.
One of the biggest roadblocks persistent people face is that others don’t understand their energy. To be successful, you’ll need to learn how to find motivation from within. Success is a way of life, not an ultimate goal -- if you live it, you’ll find it.
When you’re just not into your business, the company suffers -- whether you realize it or not. Nasty Gal suffered because its founder, Sophia Amoruso, lost focus on what she really wanted. As CEO, she was managing employees and working on high-level business objectives when what she really wanted was to focus on the creative side. By the time she stepped down as CEO, it was too late -- the damage had been done.
2. Stay safe out there.
If there’s one way to instantly lose credibility and put your company on the brink of collapse, it’s having your customers’ private data stolen. Don’t skimp on good developers. At JVZoo, our small team is comprised of individuals from varying backgrounds and with more than 100 years of combined experience. Our team draws upon that knowledge to help combat the ever-evolving threat of cybersecurity.
There are approximately 20 million cyberattacks a day, according to the Utah Department of Technology Services. Our job is to stay one step ahead of them. We do this by keeping up on the latest technology and following industry standards in general security, encryption, data communication, server hardening and network maintenance.
Our goal is to have the system defended enough that our users don’t notice the attempted attacks. However, every single one that does get our attention is a learning opportunity, and we’ve had some pretty significant attacks. Luckily, 99.999 percent of them never impacted our users, but we adjusted to each one so we could defend our system passively the next time.
For the few that have affected our users, we’ve implemented brand-new systems and services to better defend ourselves. We’ve learned it’s very valuable to leverage third-party services that specialize in specific threats.
3. Make new friends.
The best way to get your name out there is to network, network and network some more. But with today’s “digital divide,” you’ll have to go the extra mile to connect with customers and partners online. If you play your cards right, though, the payoff is worth it.
The Internet Advertising Bureau found that 90 percent of customers were willing to recommend a brand to friends after they interacted with the company on social media. Brands can form a connection online through storytelling and authentic behavior, and that connection is what leads consumers to decide to buy.
JVZoo relies heavily on social media to update customers on what’s happening, and they’re the first to know about what we’re working on. This is important: Consumers thrive on honesty and transparency. A survey from the Authenticity Gap Report found that 49 percent of customers expect honesty from brands. One of the reasons Zappos is so successful is because it has always been transparent with customers (even before it became the norm).
4. Don’t get too comfortable in your onesie business pajamas.
Never get too comfortable, no matter how successful you are. Remember that 90 percent of startups end up failing, according to a Startup Genome report. When you start to slip, there’s someone out there waiting to take your place.
Social gaming company Zynga -- most known for Farmville, its Facebook app -- felt the wrath of success. After the release of several successful games, the company let its guard down and lost focus. In 2013, it had to lay off hundreds of employees and shut down three of its offices.
Success can be a blessing and a curse for microbusiness owners. You could be flying high for the first year, then come crashing down just as quickly. If you want to be one of the few who makes it to year five, you’ll have to stay focused and motivated -- and avoid letting success get in the way of truly succeeding.
Laura Casselman is the CEO of JVZoo.com, an online software solution that allows sellers to create an instant affiliate program for their products on blogs, websites and online forums. Laura has 16 years of hands-on experience in successfully growing sales and revenue, improving customer service and aggressively controlling expenses in competitive market environments.