I recently came across this article in Practical Ecommerce written by someone who, like me, had built an ecommerce business and then sold it. It got me thinking about my old business and the things I wish I’d done differently. So here is my own list. Some are very similar, some are different and one or two are the exact opposite.
Get better outside advice
In the early days, like most new businesses, I trotted along to Business Link and asked for help. I particularly needed help in finding suppliers and the whole trade purchasing process as I had no experience whatsoever. The advice I got? – look in Yellow Pages. In the end I worked it out for myself.
A few years later, when I was trying to grow the business to the next level, I hired a business coach who turned out to be an expensive mistake.
What I wish I’d done from day one was be prepared to ask lots of questions, spoken to many different people and found myself good business mentors who I could trust.
Blow My Own Trumpet
Looking back, I don’t think I did nearly enough PR, especially in the early days. I could have really established myself as an expert and had a much stronger market position when the competition started to grow.
Focus on Profitability
This is one of those where my feelings are the opposite of the writer in the original article. He wishes he concentrated more on traffic and customer acquisition rather than profitability. However, I believe (at least some of the time) I took my eye off the bottom line too much in the search for growth. In particular, I failed to anticipate the effect that VAT registration would have on my profits and, later, I continued to push for growth as the recession started to bite.
A wedding business is slightly different in that customers don’t come back to buy from you again and again over a period of years, so building a large customer base is less valuable.
Improved my Management Skills
Staff management was an area where I struggled. My previous management experience was in large IT departments and motivating workshop staff was very different to managing skilled technical teams.
In ecommerce it’s so easy to stay behind your computer screen and never go out. By networking in both ecommerce and wedding sectors I would have gained knowledge and also found better suppliers.
Been more Hands On
As I grew the business, I focussed mainly on marketing and business growth – a good thing according to most business advisors (and that expensive business coach). But looking back, I think I went too far, lost sight of some of the day to day issues and became too remote from the production side.
Sorted out my Photography Sooner
In the early days, I did invest in a session with a professional photographer and got some great styled product shots. But the individual product photos were a problem. Have you ever tried to photograph a plain white placecard – it isn’t easy! Practically, we needed to do the majority of our photos in-house (large number of low margin products) and I dabbled about for years when I should have got myself some proper training and set up a decent mini studio.
As we replaced low quality shots with great photos, we saw sales increased dramatically.
Been more ruthless with the product range
In the latter years, I created the “dog list” – products which were just not performing – and removed them from sale. But in the earlier years I let things drift – adding new products but not clearing out the poor sellers.
Kept a closer eye on the competition
In the early days, there was very little direct competition – there were craft suppliers who dabbled in the weddings market and wedding stationers with DIY ranges but hardly any other pure DIY wedding specialists. That changed, and I should have monitored them much more closely to stay ahead.
Invested in better equipment
While I don’t regret doing many things on a shoestring, I could have invested in better production equipment much sooner and streamlined the workshop side of the business.