Lessons I've Learned in My Second Year of Lois Avery
As of 28th October, Lois Avery will officially be two years old and I am so proud. I remember so clearly that day two years ago as if it were only yesterday. I had just clicked ‘live’ on the Lois Avery website and wondered if anyone would know my little corner of the internet even existed.
Thankfully my kids were on holiday from school and it was my twins’ sixth birthday, so I was gratefully distracted. Instead of sitting at home hitting refresh on the website’s backend 37 times every minute and checking email obsessively, I went to the cinema with the children. We saw Storks, munched on buttery popcorn and giggled the whole time. It was when we came out of the movie and I checked my phone that I felt Lois Avery was officially a business - I’d made my first sale!
And now with anniversary number two approaching, I have spent some time reflecting on where I was this time last year. I wrote this post on lessons I learned in my first year of business, and though those all still ring true, year two has proved to be as much of a challenge as year one.
Why do I think this? Well, with all the pressure that comes with starting a business, there seems to be even more that comes with growing a business. There is a perception that after a year of trading, you’re more established and no longer need help or favours, but on the contrary, the support I’ve received in year two have been just as hugely appreciated as in year one. And the gratitude I have for those who have offered their time and knowledge to me is huge. It is matched only by my thankfulness to every single customer for their orders, emails gushing with excitement about their Lois Avery cashmere and all the photos and comments that pop up on social media. Saying thank you simply isn’t enough. You’re all amazing and I’m so lucky to have you. Thank you!
As for the lessons learned, there are quite few. I hope by sharing these experiences that I can, in some small way, help other business owners out there in the world who are building their own Lois Avery.
Never forget to look after your existing customers
I am so fortunate that Lois Avery has a very dedicated customer base and that a high proportion of our sales come from repeat custom. I credit this to the quality of our shawls. Once people see and feel our cashmere with their first order, they tend to stick around.
Unfortunately though, we live in a world where social media is dominant and there is a lot of focus on growing numbers. It can be tempting to look ahead and think only about courting the next customer. The intoxication of the ‘new’ is definitely a real thing. Yes, you absolutely need to draw in new people all the time, but never, ever do that at the expense of your existing customers; those who have been buying from you since the beginning. The people who read every blog post and email, the customers who comment on your Instagram posts and let you into their lives—you need to take care of them first.
I try to show my existing customers appreciation constantly. I believe in small gestures like always using their first name when responding to a social media comment. And I share any Lois Avery news with my mailing list first, always. From time to time I offer discreet ‘thank you’ promotions that you never see on the website or on social media. I do this because it is just so important to me that these customers know I am grateful for their support.
Show your face
This seems vital for any small business like mine. I’m not saying you must be ‘the face of your brand’, I’m simply saying your customers need to know what you look like. One of the great things about being a small business owner is that I can draw on my own experience as a consumer. There is not one independent brand that I am invested in that I don’t know what the founder looks like. Because the truth is, people often don’t buy from businesses, they buy from people. So let your customers know who you are, it can only have a positive impact.
That said, I think that it’s pretty natural to feel uncomfortable posting a photograph of yourself for the world to see. You are opening yourself up to criticism on a very personal level and it can feel easier to hide away. I completely understand this feeling, trust me. But a warm smile draws people in. Those conversations I’m always telling you about that take place in a coffee queue or on the train, they usually start with a smile. You can interact in exactly the same way on social media. Post a photo of you looking directly at the camera, smiling and start a genuine conversation. See what happens…
It’s okay if it’s just you
In the early days, it can be tempting to try and appear much bigger and more established than you actually are. However, reminding everyone from time to time that ‘it’s just me here’ can really help you to connect with customers. A ‘real’ conversation usually means bringing your personal story to your brand, which in my experience can be crucial. Here’s my real conversation...
Lois Avery is now two years old, and guess what, it’s still just me! I have support when needed from a great team, including a web and graphic designer, an accountant & business adviser, and business coaches. And I work with a team of wonderful photographers who all bring something unique to the Lois Avery story. But it’s just me on the full-time Lois Avery payroll.
Being “just me” hasn’t stopped Lois Avery from being stocked at Fortnum & Mason in London or Isetan in Tokyo or interviewing wonderful women for my series “A Dozen Flavours of Gelato” or even from being mentioned in Vogue Australia!
My point is that YOU are amazing. And being a small shop of one doesn’t disqualify your business from the biggest of accomplishments. Even when one grows to two and two grows to three, etc., etc., you can be proud to say (I know I am) that you started out as “just me” and still were able to stand tall and make amazing things happen!
Instincts are everything
I often share with you the courses I’ve been on, the books I’m reading or the inspirational podcasts I’m listening to. I love accumulating knowledge and I believe that education is key to staying on top of your game. However, you can accumulate an awful lot of knowledge and never do anything with it.
At the end of the day, it’s how you use that knowledge and implement it into the running of your business that’s the most important thing. Unfortunately none of these books or courses ever tell you exactly how to do that. Ultimately, it comes down to instinct. The passing of time does help with that and I feel much more confident in what is right for Lois Avery now than I did when I first launched. There are still occasions when I have to make difficult decisions based upon my intuition rather than what the book says, but be brave and you will be fine.
Keeping the conversation going
What exactly is this conversation I keep talking about? As a small business you will spend 95% of your time trying to be noticed in a very busy world - it’s basically one long conversation you have to keep going for the life of your business. So you had better have something genuine to talk about and some real passion or that conversation won’t be very engaging.
One of the reasons I started Lois Avery was because that conservation was already inside me screaming to be started. I was sick of the lawyer conversations I was having about billable hours, regulatory changes in the industry and legal proceedings about overflowing water mains. I wanted to talk about my love of style, soft folds of cashmere, the Italian language, following your dreams, romantic colours, Italian islands, the best glass of wine I ever had and how I felt staring at the sunset in Ponza.
I’ve been having that conversation for two years now and I find it just as inspiring today as I did on launch day. Of course I worry that I will run out of things to say, but I have so many ideas, stories to tell, places to visit and people to meet that I know I will likely be rabbiting on for years to come.
Just Keep Going
There will be hard days, and whilst I’ve desperately searched for a magic formula to overcome those times, I think that sometimes the answer is to just keep going.
So let me finish with this—my favourite poem. I’ve shared it before but it’s so special it deserves to be shared again (it was on the front of a card sent to me by someone very special in 1999—the card still sits on my desk). This poem really helped me and I hope it will inspire you to keep going on the journey of fulfilling your dreams. It’s by Australian poet and cartoonist Michael Leunig, and I think it’s the secret to success in most aspects of life.
HOW TO GET THERE
by Michael Leunig
Go to the end of the path until you get to the gate.
Go through the gate and head straight out towards the horizon.
Keep going towards the horizon.
Sit down and have a rest every now and again,
But keep on going, just keep on with it.
Keep on going as far as you can.
That’s how you get there.