The internet has lowered the barrier to entry to many markets. Anybody can publish a book, sell t-shirts or coffee mugs, or become their own record company. But launching a new product or service from nothing doesn’t happen by magic. Your book can be “out there” … and not sell.
What’s the secret? How do successful entrepreneurs push through and find success?
I want to find out, so I’m going to start interviewing some people who have made (or are making) the transition from a regular full-time job to working for themself. Here’s the first in what I hope will be an on-going series. This is my interview with Tina Henry of Tina Seamonster.
Tina is one of the most creative and hard-working people that I know, and she’s built a business from scrap. Literally.
Q: If you had to pick one thing that has been the secret of your success, what would it be?
A: Say yes to things you are afraid of. This has happened to me many times, but the best example was when in 2008 a big book store chain asked me to make fridge magnets to match the bookmarks they were already selling.
I had no idea how to manufacture a fridge magnet, but I said yes anyway. I did the research about getting a factory to make them, but then figured out that I could buy the machines and do it myself cheaper. I invested in the machines (with a loan from my brother) and started on the order all on my own. That first order was for 5,000 fridge magnets. I made them in 3 weeks.
Many many people told me I couldn’t do this. Many many people told me to pass. That first order paid for the machines and I paid my brother back a month later. Since then I have delivered around 30,000 magnets to stores around the world. Since then I have learned how to get them manufactured, as well, also opening up a whole new world for my business.
Q: How did you learn to be successful in your business? What did you read, who did you talk to, etc.?
A: I would say I learned to be successful through my own failures. Many many people stop after one failure. I am just not made that way. I fail and I try something else. I press on. I firmly believe that you have to fail way more than you want to before you will succeed.
Q: How long did it take for you to transition from full-time employment to full-time self employment?
A: Because my business is often seasonal, about 50% of my sales happen between September and December, I still work part time a few hours a day as a web contractor. I do this because I have twins and live in DC. If I lived in Ohio on my own, it would be a different story. I also love to travel abroad, so the extra work helps pay for that.
So I am technically fully self-employed, but I do a few different jobs. When your business is selling a product, you have to always be ready to make money doing something else. It is just something that you can’t get worried about. So in some ways, I just made this decision and there was no transition, but in other ways, I am still making the transition. This means I don’t work a normal week. I work everyday.
Q: Marketing depends on “reach.” In the old days that meant foot traffic, or viewers, or lists of phone numbers or addresses. Now it might mean Twitter followers or Facebook fans. How do you reach your customers with your product, and what did you have to do to develop that “list”?
A: I spent a lot time cultivating Twitter and Facebook, etc, but found that those things became too personal for me. I couldn’t separate myself from these forms of marketing. And doing so would have made me seem fake. So I have mostly given up on Twitter, and Facebook is just for real friends and long time fans. I don’t want to be that person asking people to “like” things.
A big marketing tool for me has been selling my products wholesale. I sell my products wholesale to the Books a Million bookstore chain and so people see and buy my products in 225 stores across the US. Many of those people will seek me out in person at a show or come directly to my website to buy more. Each piece that goes to the store is marketing if it is branded well.
I also sell products in yarn stores across the US and that is getting a niche group of people to notice me. Then there are online wholesale sites like Fab.com. A sale on Fab.com means that my products and brand go out to millions of people in their emails. I can sell 300 items in a the course of 3 days, but I can reach the eyes of 3 million.
For me as a real person, these 3rd party experiences are better. I didn’t know this at first, but luckily I do now. I don’t need to spend my day creating fake relationships with faceless people on Twitter, I can manage 1 message rather than hundreds of little ones.
Q: Are there any third-party services that have been helpful to you?
Etsy.com has been invaluable as a storefront. Finding the right supplies for whatever you make is also really really important.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in working for yourself?
The biggest challenge is not knowing what will happen next. I hate not knowing the future. I hate seeing sales slowing down and getting worried all the time about it. Many many people will quit for this reason, but I feel like great opportunities comes my way because I keep at it, I say yes to things that are scary and I learn from my failures.
… and one other thing …
Always find a way to help others with what you do. I am a big believer that you get from the world what you give to it. I sell bookmarks to bookstores, but in recent years those sales have slowed. So I decided to start a project giving the excess bookmarks to schools and public libraries. The project then changed into letting other people design those bookmarks. I will be giving away 10,000 bookmarks to schools and public libraries this year (have given away 4000 so far) and the return on the investment has been really fantastic.
I hear all the time from librarians about how kids are so excited to read and use the bookmarks because they are so fun and interesting. Sure, it doesn’t sound like much, but librarians are always looking for incentives to give kids who read more and they often spend time and money to print out bookmarks themselves. You can find that project at www.readwithfriendsproject.com.