Your startup is growing faster than you can say “Hulk Smash.” A nice problem to have, but you still need a plan to wrangle your business as it grows.
By Holly Bartman (Founder & CEO, SuperflyKids)
My startup began as a simple way to solve a problem that threatened to spoil my son’s dream birthday party.
In 2006, Owen wanted a superhero-themed party. But there were no cool superhero capes out there aside from the standard Spiderman and Batman capes.
So I took to my sewing machine and made my own superhero capes as party favors for the kids. A friend of mine suggested I start selling them, too. After a few successful craft shows and some online marketplaces, I started to see a potential business.
The business quickly grew and although the growth was exciting, I was becoming overwhelmed with the business side of my growing company.
Now, I have a marketing genius who manages the business details (marketing, bookkeeping, payroll, shipping, customer service), leaving me to focus on the creative and production of my company. With our combined efforts, we have been able to grow my little hobby-turned-startup in ways I wouldn’t have been able to on my own.
Here’s what I learned along the way that I wish I knew back then:
1. Give up Control Sooner Rather Than Later
I went into this business from a hobby point of view. I had planned on returning to my “real job” once all my children were attending full days of school.
Had I truly thought that this would business would be as big as it is today, I would have taken the beginnings a little more seriously. I stumbled at the start when I tried to do everything myself. I was in charge of creative, buying materials, processing orders and bookkeeping. I had to quickly adapt and create an assembly line to keep up with production.
Even things as seemingly insignificant as buying materials in bulk has helped the production process run so much better. I’m not constantly running out for materials like I was before. (Not to mention the cost of fabric goes down in larger quantities.)
2. If You Don’t Have a Certain Skillset, Find Someone Who Does
Starting out, I did not know a thing about marketing! I had the mentality of “If you make it, they will buy.” I was happy with the sales I had doing with no marketing at all.
Little did I know that with a tiny bit of SEO tweaking, I would have loads more sales and be even happier!
Bringing on a marketing genius team member allowed me to focus on the product line development and creative side, which I truly love. Find someone who knows how to market the goods you are trying to sell. If you aren’t good at selling yourself find someone who is!
3. Think Beyond the Obvious Customer
At first I was entirely focused on selling to moms of small children. I had no idea I was missing a huge customer base in the promotional products market. Once we figured out adults were just as excited about wearing capes as the kids, our screen printed cape business soared.
We’ve made capes for Old Navy, Taco Bell, FedEx, American Heart Association and so many more. Our capes are a great vehicle for promoting a brand — corporations use our capes for special promotions, fundraising, incentives, corporate events and more. Sometimes you need to think beyond the obvious consumer and find an entirely untapped customers base.
4. Sleep Whenever You Can
The amount of time a new business takes is overwhelming. I found that for the first few years I had to juggle everything (family, friends, work), but it’s worth it in the end.
Don’t give your life completely over to the business, but understand that your free time goes away until you find the balance. I lucked out with an incredibly supportive spouse who took on more of our home responsibilities so I could grow my business.
Early on you’ll have many late nights, early mornings and lots of weekends, but eventually it will balance out.
5. Ignore the Naysayers
I have had a few friends who said, “Capes? Really? Who will buy those?” or “What will you do when nobody buys your stuff anymore?” and “Isn’t that a pretty limited market?”
Yes, at first I worried this was just a fad and I would be closing up shop before too long. Years later, we’re still going strong (2013 sales were $2.3 million.)
It’s hard when people question your product or the future of your business, but don’t let those few people deter you. If you believe in what you do or what you’re making, let that passion push you to make the most of your ideas.
I truly believe as a business owner you have to learn along the way — it makes you better as both a business owner and a manager. There are lessons I learned the hard way, and things I definitely would have done differently had I known better. But if I had to start all over again with just one sewing machine and some fabric, I would. The smiles on kids faces when they open their superhero cape for the first time make it all worth it.