When you're an entrepreneur, growth is a funny thing.
You want it. You crave it. You get up every morning and grind your heart and soul into your business to achieve it.
My company didn't stumble into success, but during our 16 years in business the world has become gadget-centric and bogged down by travel restrictions. Our products help people carry and use electronics, so this cultural shift was good for business. Coupled with great PR, we experienced constant growth for more than a decade.
But a few years ago, we stumbled. Our online ads weren't as effective. Our emails weren't opened or clicked as much. Our social media looked good but didn't produce the results it once had.
Growth is no longer funny when it stops. It felt like we were failing in slow motion. Then after years of hard work (and a few gambles), everything came together with a bang and our growth exploded.
Entrepreneurs like to sprint, not stumble. Here's how you can find your footing again.
Embrace the Un-Attributable
In e-commerce, we like to measure everything. With Google Analytics, we can reasonably tell how effective our ad spend is through online channels. But once you step out of the online realm, ROI tracking becomes a more shadowy and unknown place.
We had to get over our fear of "murky metrics" and adopt avenues of growth that weren't as trackable as we were used to. As the 19th-century American merchant and marketing pioneer John Wanamaker once said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."
As a business owner, sometimes you need to embrace what you can't know and accept that you can't measure everything. If you're too focused on micro measurements, you may end up missing the macro. Did sales go up? Are you seeing a lift in traffic and engagement? Then ask yourself what the likelihood is that your marketing affected this.
Do It Yourself
When starting my business, I learned how to code, I did my own PR, I designed some of our products -- I wore many hats. Over the years, I've built a great team, but that doesn't change my commitment to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. By being intimately involved with major business operations, you'll produce better results and (usually) spend less doing so.
Most recently, it was our TV commercial.
We learned that we could write a good commercial for $6K, film and edit it for $6K, and that media buys were $2K and up for each run. But this was after extensive research into every contractor involved. If we just signed on with the first flashy firm, we would've spent $500,000 more than we did.
All of this being said, you still need to trust experts. Just do your homework before nodding your head. We went through three media buying firms before finding one that fit our mission and budget.
Our ROI on TV spend to date? 150%. Plus, it created a halo effect that's impacted almost every department of our business. Pretty solid, but we only saw returns like this because we researched and did a lot of the work ourselves.
Go with the Flow (of the Largest River in the World)
It's not easy to get set up as a clothing seller on Amazon. The logistics of sending so many SKUs, sizing information and marketing creatives is daunting on its own. When you factor in the possibility that Amazon will decrease your CRM and cannibalize your sales, you may wonder why you should sell on their platform. In our case, we struggled with half-attempts to sell on Amazon over the years and never held it as a high priority.
Then it all came together.
In another "why didn't we do this sooner" moment, we pushed hard to get our products on Amazon, then to promote the Amazon pages over our own site. That was Q3 of 2016. Now in Q1 of 2017, our Amazon sales are approaching 40% of our total revenue.
I was afraid of cannibalizing our sales, but to my surprise 90% of the Amazon customers were new. Better yet, Amazon shoppers are less accustomed to using coupon codes so it didn't cut into our margins.
Even while we were seeing amazing growth through Amazon, I knew there was more to do. We found new programs and promotions, we constantly added new images and video to the pages to better educated potential customers.
Amazon has more traffic and a smoother checkout than you can achieve on your own. It's the golden ticket for e-commerce business and if you want to grow, it must be part of your plan.
Follow Your Own Advice
My final piece of advice is to follow your own advice.
I don't know your business, so I can't tell you with certainty what will work for you. Identify what works and what doesn't. Once you see sustained success through a channel, pour your time and money into it. Then continue to measure back to see if you're effectively scaling the program, or just spending more on it.
When you work online, it can spoil you to think that everything is measurable, but real-world attribution can be a lot softer than the hard metrics shown in a dashboard. With so many metrics instantly available, you still need to see the forest for all the trees.