7 lessons to grow as an entrepreneur
By our very own Niels Vandecasteele
#1 The gap in the market
People are constantly looking for that one gap in the market. But in fact, there are more gaps in the market than you would think. In our case, it happened rather coincidentally. I really wanted to buy a T-shirt of Avicii, I was a big fan. That was the first time ever, I wanted to buy merchandise from an artist. But there was no merchandise to be found. A popular DJ like Avicii and no merchandise… How is that possible?
That’s where it all got started. There was just one problem… We didn’t have experience, money or a network. Starting from the bottom was exactly what it was. We never printed a T-shirt before.
#2 Be critical
There are lots of so called experts that focus on the guidance of start-ups. It’s normal you want to find specialised companies or consultants that can give you tips and guide you along the way. Make sure you find the right kind of guidance for your company. We recommend you to not let those companies get into your head. Don’t let them make you crazy. Wrong guidance could have meant the end for Merchandise Essentials. The basis of running a business is selling something. Try to sell your product or service to someone before investing tons of money into an idea. Start from the customer and grow from there.
Know your company and be critical. Do what you’re best at. If we get requests for things we can’t do, we just say no. On the other hand we keep an eye open for upcoming trends, then we will seize that opportunity.
#3 The importance of cash flow
Money is only temporary when you don’t have a positive cash flow, keep that in mind. What if a customer doesn’t pay the things you sold him? You are entitled to that money, but it isn’t in your bank account. That way you can get into trouble. Imagine that you bring in a customer that’s 10 times bigger than all your other customers. If that customer doesn’t pay you, then there’s a good chance you can’t pay all your costs and you go bankrupt.
Everything can go well theoretically, but that doesn’t mean you have enough money in your bank account. Do not lose sight of your cash flow.
#4 Listen to your customers and create added value
The feedback you get from your clients is more important than the opinion of any consultant whatsoever. You work in service of your customers, if they aren’t satisfied than the end of your business is in sight. Actively ask for their feedback and listen to their frustrations. As already said: start from your customers.
#5 Vision & focus
A clear vision helps you to set priorities. Also, it’s a good motivation for you and your employees. Our company was pretty chaotic in the beginning, another entrepreneur recommended to think about where we wanted to be within a few years.
We determined where we wanted to be in 5 years; it was our goal to sell in Europe and have 10 employees. Then we thought about where we wanted to be in 3 years; we wanted 5 employees. Eventually we also decided where we wanted to be in 1 year; we wanted 2 employees and market abroad. Every half year we reconsider this and we adjust where necessary. This helps us to keep a clear vision and to work efficiently.
#6 People are most important
All the money in your bank account is only temporary when you don’t have good people in your company. This is your responsibility through recruitment and guidance of your employees. Your employees, your customers… they’re all people so you have to treat them like that.
We have weekly meetings with our team and are always available for them. In their first year, we have an evaluation interview every three months. After one year, that’s every six months. We want to know how our employees feel in our company and we want to offer them training moments so they can keep evolving.
You are never helpless, there’s always something you can do. There are so many excuses for not starting your own business. I don’t have money, I don’t have a network and so on. We started without money, so consider if it’s possible to start your business without investors. We didn’t have a network either but we did everything in our power to create one. Just have some respect for the people and realize that they are busy and might not have a lot of time for you.
We had our worst month ever when we started working fulltime in our business. We realized that nothing comes for free. So we started calling customers, making designs for every customer that ever ordered something from us. We did everything in our power and that’s how we got back on track. There’s always something you can do, remember that!