Brand Shaker Episode 003: Top 5 Small Business Mistakes I'll Never Make Again

Hey there, Brand Shakers. Welcome to episode numero three of the Brand Shaker podcast. I'm your host, Sharon Sprague, and today we are talking lessons learned. Well actually my lessons that I learned all in the hopes of inspiring you to make some better choices when it comes to making your business dreams come true. So today I'm covering five small business mistakes I'll never make again. Oh, it's about to get real. Alright, let's do this.

Okay. Starting your own business. It's, not for the faint of heart, but the rewards. They're really good, so much to learn, so much to do, so much to mess up, so much to get excited about. And let me say bravo to you for having the guts to go for it because this ish't easy. It's one of the hardest things you can do. Starting a business, building a brand and seeing it through. Most people don't. So I'm glad you're in here. I'm glad you're working it and I'm just....I'm just really proud of you in this episode. I wanted to take a moment and reflect and share and reveal some of those things that you know I learned from and will never do again. Like the time I rushed into getting business cards before I was sure on my logo. I mean. All right.

Come on. I love paper and the little details get me excited. I don't know. New Cards. Your new name on the cards. It's your business. What's not to love and want in your hands right away. Come on. I know I'm not alone in this. Especially when you first see your logo. You're like, okay, how many things can I slap this on right now? Guilty, guilty, guilty.


Now before I dive into the five shaking my head mistakes, how about a little quick background? For some of you who may not know me that well, I'll try to keep this brief. Try being the operative word here. Of course. Ok, I have two businesses. One is a paper goods and gifts brand called. Ok Silly Ink that I opened in March 2015. It features my illustrations and writing in a delightfully inappropriate way to help you laugh out louder.

That's my tagline. Laugh out louder. I also have The OK! Workshop. My small business coaching and services company for copywriting and branding, which I started in May of 2017. So I've been at the entrepreneur thing for a little over three years. However, I've been in marketing and advertising since 1991. Don't you dare do the math! It's a long time. Trust me on it. I spent most of my career on the corporate and agency side as a copywriter and content creator and have pitched in board rooms for Fortune 500s to developing local radio spots for regional businesses. So radio, TV, outdoor collateral, print, interactive, you name it. I've birthed big brand ideas through all of them. (That's kinda gross.) I've worked in the halls of Disney Universal, Leapfrog, Walgreens...taught storytelling at the Charles Schulz Museum, won a coveted Addy from the advertising world and pretty much kicked ass. But, there was a part of me that really wanted to take what I knew and do it for myself. Hell yeah. Right?

So I left the corporate world to build my own big dreams. Bye, bye, cubicle. I wanted my own business just like you. So the illustrator bursting inside me. Okay. That's a little graphic. Ok. The illustrator brewing inside just doesn't matter. It just sounds weird. Anyway, there was an illustrator part of me that wanted to come out. There, that's better. So the best way to explain it is, it's like the writer and illustrator...they got together and had a big old baby and that was Ok Silly Ink. .So since 2015 I've sold cards and prints to thousands. Been featured on Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post. (So cool!) And continue to make people blush with my kooky and somewhat out-there designs. So as I was building and promoting Ok Silly Ink, I joined a few entrepreneur-focused communities online and after some time I found myself helping other makers and small businesses get their branding in check. I guess once a brand builder, always a brand builder. All these people started coming to me asking for help and then I realized it kind of feels good to help people. And I know everything there is about building a brand, marketing a message and reaching an audience.

This was my entire career. So after a couple of years of building my own brand, I decided to share my experience as an entrepreneur with other small business dreamers as well as offer coaching and writing services. So that's how The OK! Workshop came to play. Now through the Workshop, I have a giant community on Facebook. I hold in-person workshops and meet-ups and have worked with over a thousand clients in just a little over a year. It's pretty cool. This all feels like the perfect culmination of my 25 years in the corporate agency world coupled with my entrepreneurial journey. It's a great mix. And here we are loving what we do. So that's my career in a nutshell. And that brings us to today some huge wins, some big losses, some really, really wish they didn't happen mistakes, too. Comes with the territory. But let's dive into some of those little buggers, those smh moments.


Okay. Let's count it down, on our list at number five. Why do I feel like I'm doing a music countdown show right now? Okay. Okay. Small business mistakes I'll never make again. Number five is, wait until the end of the year to do my books. Oh my gosh, you guys. Ok, this was just not too smart on my part. I didn't know. I was just having fun making cards and getting them in front of people, but having to scramble at the end of the year and find all the receipts, find all the invoices, go through all my purchases. No, I had to be better at it. Just had to be better. It wasn't working for me. So now I reconcile at the end of each month, receipts all go in one little foldy wallety thing and I use a spreadsheet that I bought from Etsy. Tons of great ones out there by the way, and some software to keep it all together. I may not be altogether, but my books are at the end of each month.

Listen guys, I know it's not fun. We all want to do the fun stuff. Hence me putting it off like I used to, but one of the reasons that old way of doing it didn't really work well for me is because Valentine's Day is a huge holiday for my card business. So December through February 14th, I'm jamming big time. That's also the time you start getting your taxes all ready to go, so you see where I'm going with this. It really didn't make sense for me to put all that on me at once. So being more organized throughout the year is the smarter play. Also it gives me the opportunity to stay on top of how I'm doing month by month and not ignore those important statistics.

I recommend this so much because it will save you time and headaches and come first quarter. The next year. You won't be messing up your priority list by having to get all this put together. You need your calendar clear and full of fun things to do for your business, engaging with clients, creating new product, designing awesome content, not this behind the scenes financial stuff, unless you really liked that kind of thing. Some people do. Look, there's so many ways you can just automate things, and these programs will do it for you. So just do the leg work, do the research, get the right things in place and go for it. I say just rip that proverbial bandaid off at the end of each month and get it done. Do this for yourself and then you can just hand it over to your accountant, your tax person, your cousin, whomever, and you're golden.

So that is a biggie. You'll thank me for it. I like diamonds and bags and anything with sprinkles on it.


OK, Number four, small business mistake. I'll never make again is: not have enough inventory on hand around Christmas. Like many of you, Christmas is huge for my shop. People buy cards and my Christmas card box sets do pretty pretty well. All of a sudden I'm not selling one card per person. It's 18 or 25 or something. My first year I didn't have a whole ton of money to shell out to fill up my inventory, so I got what I thought would be enough and guess what? It wasn't. Not even close and right now you're like, oh boo hoo Sharon, you sold too much, but listen, I ran out of my popular reindeer card design, not once, not twice but three times and had to beg my printer, who luckily is a local by the way, to express print many times and have them ready the next day.

All these cards people were buying. I think at one point I was like, can these be printed today? What a problem to have, right? Oh, I was so stoked at their success. Don't get me wrong, but I was scared. I didn't want to let anyone down and I was running frantic trying to fill these orders, get them out and not piss off anyone and still run the rest of the business. It was a mess and I ended up spending more money than I needed to because I could have saved by buying more upfront, you know, in bulk. Then doing the smaller little runs with the and learn. So right now I have a good back stock of my cards just in case. So there are no surprises. Fingers crossed. And that's why I really recommend you take a look at your inventory frequently and keep tabs based on what time of year is busiest.And what were the trends the year before for you and be sure you've got it all covered.

Spreadsheets help. Do creative people like spreadsheets? No. Are they kind of a necessary evil for some things? Do I like doughnuts more? I do. Bottom line, it's all about planning, so put that planning hat on. It can be a nice frilly, fancy one. No judgment.


All right. Number three is a good one to follow umber four, plus, that's just how numbers work. But it has to do with my printer, so my third small business mistake I'll never make again is not finding a local vendor to work with sooner. When I first started making my cards, I didn't have a clue where to go to have them printed. What kind of paper, how big should the cards be? What about envelopes? Where do I get those, how do I send them all this stuff to print them?

At first, I went with a popular big online service that, and I didn't really know it at the time, was really, really expensive. I just thought, well, this must be what it costs. So after doing a little research and getting advice from friends, I found a local printer to go with. After using the online service for almost half a year, again, wasted a ton of money...the product was okay, but working with someone local was full of a ton of wins. I was supporting another small business. I had more access to the people working on my cards. I was close by so I could swing by and pick things up and save on shipping—just all good things. Oh, and I saved a ton of money by going with a smaller company who happened to have a killer reputation. They have taken great care of me and I can't thank enough. If you're in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I highly recommend Print-n-Press.

So, I do recommend you do a little research and find local vendors or just small businesses to work with when it comes to what you need to run your business. It's a feel good all around and guess what? Your quality, it might be better as well as the price and they send me a nice thank you Christmas card every year. Hello!? Love that. Working with them is a great thing. I wish I did it from the start.


Let's move on to the next one on our countdown. That would be the beautiful number two small business mistake I'll never make again and that one is, not being patient. It's probably the one thing I see across the board with my clients, and today I actually saw someone post in another group on Facebook asking "how can I grow my Instagram and get followers really fast?"

I mean, I get it. I felt that way many times...that things just weren't happening fast enough. We post and do what we're supposed to do and we just want to get reactions and followers and sales. With Ok Silly Ink, that first year was good, but it was a slow climb to start getting noticed. So I had to hustle, create more designs, update my listings, reach out on social media and you guys, that's what it takes. A lot of little things to move the needle inch by inch and sometimes the needle moves back and then you still move forward and if you're doing all the right things, it'll happen. I think what really matters is to create an agile environment for yourself and what I mean by that is to create, test and revise over and over and over and over and guess what over again.

But what also goes with that is you have to give things enough time to test out and see if they'll work. Sometimes people will change up their seo too quick or they'll take down an ad before it's had time to be effective. You just have to give things time to get noticed and picked up. But I learned quickly it's my job to get my stuff out there in front of the right people and just be patient and know it will happen. And I did and I grew and I got noticed. So that is another huge one.


And guess what, that takes us to the number one small business mistake I'll never make again. And that is doing what everyone else did and blending in. Oh how I was in a bubble at first when I came out with my cards. I looked at what other shops did and I took cues from how they were doing it.

Photos especially. I mean we all do that. It's a new thing, a new shop. It's all new everything, so you want to see where to start. And the best way to do that is to check out other shops. I was new to Etsy and the world of selling my art that I was kind of in the dark at first and not creating my own way of doing it right from the start is the one thing I wish I avoided from the start. But I learned from it—finding my own style, my own way of taking photos and creating my own brand voice was the only way to cut through the clutter and get noticed and stand out from the competition. Blending in was the opposite of what I wanted. When I figured it all out for me, things started to click.

I picked out my own signature envelope color, bright sunshine, yellow. I made sure my copy was easy to read and I had a little bit of experience in that department. I created a tagline, again, my department, that really sold my brand's promise and I even changed up my logo and type treatment so it really had its own identity and couldn't blend in with anyone. The trick is to create something unique enough that someone can't slap their own logo on it and claim it as theirs. This was my shop and my work and it was going to stand out on its own. A tip I give my clients about standing out from the competition is to look up your competition, dig into your category and see what everyone else is doing on that search page and find a way to make sure you will not blend in with them. Look for the opportunities available.

What is someone not doing? Where do you see a hole that you can fill? This is how you find your own voice that the world needs to hear.


And that's my top five small business mistakes I'll never make again. Listen, we're all gonna make mistakes and we need to and we should, because that means we're taking risks. We're seeing how it works out and then we adjust and that's just how this all goes. There is no one sure way formula. There are certain steps along the way that make sense. Sure. But what's important is that you try and test and see what sticks. So please do this. Embrace failure. Scary, I know, I know, I know. Look, I know you can handle it because you're out there putting your mark on the world. We're doing this together, creating our dreams, so I know you can embrace failure. It's not a bad thing, so make those mistakes.

Be brave, be bold, take risks, get empowered, be that awesome, smart, savvy, small business owner you are. I'm amazed at all the talent and smarts I witness when talking with you guys on coaching calls. You truly inspire me and it helps me be better at what I do.

I do hope this was helpful. Thanks again for joining me on the Brand Shaker podcast. Remember, you can find me at THEOKWORKSHOP.COM; in our exclusive Facebook group—just look up groups, The Ok Workshop; and on Instagram and Twitter @theokworkshop. Oh, and don't forget to subscribe to this podcast and leave a review (if you like it, of course) We did it. Now go out there and shake some things up. I'm Sharon Sprague. Thanks again for joining me.


(singing) bonus time, bonus time,  this is what we call bonus time. Welcome to an after show bonus. I have a tip for you. Another lesson learned on my part that I really hope you take to heart. The bonus one is: work hard but go easy on yourself.

Isn't it funny that we actually have to say that and think it. I guess you could say this goes with the patience one, but giving yourself a break from time to time is something you have to do. Here's the thing. As an entrepreneur, you are everything in your business, right? Maybe some of you hire out and some of you have a team. Awesome. But for a lot of us, we are the creators, the product dev team, the ad team, the design team, the copy team, the accountants, the new business team, the social media team hat after hat, after hat we have to wear.

And I know firsthand how overwhelming it can be and how down we can get on ourselves thinking it's not happening fast enough, thinking we aren't good enough, thinking it won't happen. Thinking your idea is dumb and here's what I'm going to say to you. Stop it. Just stop it. You're going to have bad days and you are going to have good days. That's life, but please don't play into that negative talk. I get this one so much. I questioned myself all the time, should I be coaching? Do I keep selling cards? Can this really work? Do people really care what I have to say? And the only thing you need to care about is, are you truly following what you want to do? Do you love doing it? Work your fricken ass off and don't leave anything on the table. Then look at your work. Be damn proud and celebrate every single little win, no matter how little it may be, go out and buy a whole bunch of ribbons and gold stars and get ready to throw them out yourself because you are doing this and you're giving this all you have and you are awesome. So yes, do that and love what you're doing. You know you got this. Alright, bye bye.


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