This post is part of an editorial series, “Money Matters.”
Hi, we’re Caitlin and Suzanne and we own The Happy Lark.
Every month has its ups and downs, and it can be overwhelming owning a small business. When our friends at Fort Worth Moms Blog asked us to write an article for Money Matters, we were a little unsure. We aren’t small business experts, but the truth is we have learned a lot in the past two years. Some of those lessons were painful; some we figured out quickly. So, here’s our advice from our years at the helm of The Happy Lark.
Find a small business mentor — one who’s not your competitor. We are so lucky to have a good friend who owns Unrefined Bakery (six DFW locations, just opened their first Fort Worth location). She gave us invaluable advice when we were starting out, and we’re so grateful. But, here’s the important part — she was happy to help because we are in no way a competitor of hers. We’ve been in the awkward position of someone asking us for advice for a potential business that is very similar to ours. We wish them the best of luck, and we always support fellow entrepreneurs, but we have worked hard and taken risks to get where we are. We just can’t afford to share that information with potential competitors.
If something isn’t working, stop doing it. We know, this one seems obvious. But you really must be so incredibly adaptable when you’re running a business. Sometimes things that seem like a great idea to you do not translate to money in your bank account (this isn’t always the end goal, but if you can’t pay your bills, you can’t stay in business). When we opened, we carried a brand of clothing that was very expensive. Everyone loved it. They ooh-ed and ahh-ed over it. Also, absolutely no one bought it. We chalked it up to us being brand-new and not having a big enough customer base. So, we ordered it again for the following season. Same thing. And then, we did it one more time, just because losing money is so much fun! Finally we admitted that those really adorable, very expensive clothes were NOT going to work. Since then we have done a much better job of being honest with ourselves. If something doesn’t sell, it’s one strike and you’re out!
Know your accounting software, but ask a professional if you need help. We use Quickbooks, and we typically look at it every day. It’s a valuable tool, but it can be overwhelming. Toward the end of last year, we hired a professional to help us get a few kinks straightened out and make sure we were putting everything in the appropriate place. It was SO helpful, and taxes would have been way more painful if we hadn’t taken the time and money to do that. It’s still a skill we’re learning, but we think it’s beneficial for us to do most of the leg work at this point in our business.
Don’t get fooled into thinking you’ll find all your customers on social media. We were definitely guilty of this in the beginning. When you’re brand new, it’s easy to think your tidy collection of Facebook and Instagram followers is all you’ll ever need. While these marketing avenues can be powerful and cost-effective, they have huge limitations. The bottom line is, whether you believe it or not, not everyone is on social media. Our hands-down most powerful tool for acquiring new customers has been face-to-face interactions. This includes holiday markets like Christmas in Cowtown and other events like FWMB Bloom. Telling people about your business face to face is powerful when you believe in it 100%. Even if face-to-face marketing doesn’t fit your business, challenge yourself to explore avenues of marketing other than social media. In the age of Amazon, having a personal relationship with your customers is not only rewarding, it’s good business.
Play the long game, and don’t let the peaks and valleys get you down. This is one we’re working on. Each week (sometimes day) can have extreme highs and lows. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional side of the business. But that is exhausting, nerve-wracking, and ultimately unproductive. Bad days are hard, bad months are harder. The bottom line is, if you’re having a rough patch, all you can do is look at yourself and your business and think “What can I do to bring in more business?” Hopefully your struggles will inspire new outlooks and ideas that make business boom again.
Don’t invest your time and money in something you’re not passionate about. Running The Happy Lark is a ton of work, but it [usually] doesn’t feel that way. We are so absolutely in love with our business and our mission that it just seems like fun. We recently tested out an “Invitation to Play” and it was such a refreshing change of pace for us. Parents and kiddos reacted positively, and it was another reminder of the good that a play-based business can do. Don’t get us wrong, we want to make money from our business. But, starting a business that you’re lukewarm on would be so emotionally draining. You must find at least some aspect of your business that really fulfills you. Otherwise, don’t do it!
Starting a small business, especially one which requires a large upfront investment, is hard and scary. So, one final point: the support of the local community is hugely important. If you are reading this, please consider how you can put less of your money into companies like Amazon and more of your money into local small businesses. For us, it can be the difference between success and failure. And for you, it fosters a more vibrant community.
Thanks for reading our blog post! We own The Happy Lark. It’s our happy place, and as our website states, “We’re all about play, coffee, parties, and the best kids products out there.” If you haven’t visited our shop and indoor playspace, we hope you will soon!