In the very simplest sense, running a business consists of exchanging a good or service for money. When I started Custom-Models.com back in 2003, this was really all I was worried about. I was going to paint model horses, sell them on eBay and make some moola.
Well, that and pay taxes (of course).
I didn’t worry about how I was going to paint them, or photograph them, or list them, or advertise them, or ship them, or track them, or keep any useful metrics beyond ‘I made a profit.’
So now, eight years later, I’m sorting through the information trying to piece together the important bits that I never wrote down. I’m cutting myself some slack, since this all happened before I got to the business classes in my Accounting major, but the urge to thrown Younger!Martha out a window is pretty strong some days.
Thus a quick run-down of things for which you Really Need to Have a Plan.
Tracking Costs per Artwork
The mistake I made the first time around was to only track the material costs of the horses. I also need a way to track time spent, listing fees, closing fees, advertising fees, shipping fees– all things that I had lumped into separate ‘cost of sales’ categories. This let me overlook the ‘bad’ horses that needed to be pulled and reworked instead of continually relisted.
Presenting a Cohesive Design/Brand
In 2003 I didn’t start thinking about a cohesive visual design until after I’d already started listing horses and posting advertisements. This time around I need to keep track of what images, what formatting, what layouts, and make sure that no matter where or how you come across me I’m always presenting the same look. (There’s a reason big companies put so much money into branding.)
Identifying the Customer Base
I sold on eBay, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to where my customers were coming from or why they were buying. Looking back, one of the interesting things I notice now is that a lot of my customers only bought one horse from me, but they also weren’t part of the model horse hobby. Because fantasy models aren’t currently competitive in the hobby show ring, chasing the non-hobby market may turn out to be a better bet for future sales.
I didn’t seek out customer feedback, beyond making sure I took care of any issues and that everyone was happy with the horses. This time around I need to be more proactive, asking what drew people to the various horses and what they would be interested in seeing more of. Single buyers can become repeat buyers if I give them a reason too!
Document, Document, Document
The one big, enormous, frustrating thing was that I didn’t document a lot of what I did when I ran the business. I got the profits and costs down, but I didn’t pay attention to how or why I was ending up with those numbers. As you can see by the lack of information on the older models, I have no idea when I painted them, when I sold them, who I sold them to, or even what I used to make them.
Now are these five things the only things I did wrong?
Not by a long shot– but I think if I focus on fixing these first, everything else will follow. I have eight months left to get everything in place, so it’s time to get moving…