My husband is a mountain bike enthusiast.
Over the 20 years I’ve known him, he’s always had a second-hand bike that he’s been “working on”.
Our garage is full of bicycle parts, bikes without wheels, bike tubes, half-finished projects. Who needs a home security system when you have a newly spray-painted mountain bike frame hanging out to dry from the roof of the back porch? I’m just lucky I haven’t walked into one on my way to hang the washing…
In 2014, my husband and I were both unemployed at the same time. We were both made redundant (laid off) from our jobs and faced with an uncertain future.
And as you do during uncertain times- we talked about our dreams. My dream was to run my own business, but I didn’t know what kind of business. I didn’t have any “passions” or crafty skills in my bag of tricks but I knew I wanted to be my own boss.
Mark, on the other hand, had a dream of owning his own bicycle store. But rather than a traditional bricks-and-mortar store, he researched starting an online mountain bike business selling bikes on eBay and Amazon Australia.
Was I on board with this? Hell, yeah!
Fast forward two years to November 2017 and we had our first shipment of mountain bikes arriving at our warehouse here in Melbourne. We visited our manufacturer in China, chose the bikes we would sell, found a warehouse, set up a website, social media, eBay account and opened an account with a courier company.
A cheesy photo of a proud moment- first container of bikes arriving at our warehouse!
We were ready to do business.
Sales started off very slowly, but after a few months there were some issues. There are always issues!
We had to make the tough decision to change our business model. Some of the mountain bikes were packaged in such a way that they made the cartons too bulky, and our courier company wanted to charge us double the price for delivery. This would mean no profits.
Some of our bikes were missing a part or the “missing part” was not installed but was inside the carton. Fortunately, this was only a handful of bikes, but we had to decide how we would solve this problem. We didn’t know which cartons were missing the part!
Customers were contacting us for help with putting the bike together. The bike was 85% assembled, and the customer had to assemble the remaining parts. Some of our local customers came to us for help, and Mark was able to assemble the bike for them. But how would we deal with interstate customers?
Pivots, problem solving and patience
As with any business, our bike business had its fair share of challenges. There were annoying customers; refining our refund and warranty policy; a difficult manufacturer; warehouse issues; malware on the website.
But what lessons did I learn from selling a bicycle, that I’ve been able to use in my SEO business?
It’s okay to do a 360 pivot on a business plan or goal. If things aren’t going to plan, you can either continue to waste resources or you can pivot and try a new strategy.
Rather than sell our bikes on eBay, we decided to sell via Facebook. eBay was our goal because of the organic traffic on the website and bikes sell well on eBay.
However, all the problems we experienced with delivery costs, parts and customers not knowing how to assemble bikes, we knew we would have to use a traditional bricks-and-mortar approach. It wasn’t our original goal, but the new strategy was proving to be successful and profitable.
Likewise, with my SEO business, I used to focus on a range of digital marketing services, from content writing to Pinterest account management, SEO and blog coaching. But I decided to pivot and simply focus on my core strength of SEO. And already this decision is a winner.
I’ve problem-solved from day 1 in my B2B businesses, however when dealing with customers face to face, you must think on your feet and handle the situation in a calm manner. No hiding behind emails, and there’s no time to mull over the problem.
What did we do about the missing bike part? We managed to work out how many bikes were missing the part and ordered the part from our manufacturer.
To tide us over until the parts arrived, I went to every bicycle shop in the western suburbs of Melbourne and bought the parts (and I discovered just how intimidating a bike shop is for a woman).
Every bike we sold we assembled ourselves. Each bike was assembled correctly and safely (and the customer didn’t have to do it themselves!). It was a win for everyone.
I take the same “let’s just solve the damn problem” approach in my SEO business. If a challenge arises, I fix it, even if the customer isn’t right. You pick your battles.
In the early days of any business, you stress about when you’ll sign up the next client or make the next sale.
Mountain bikes are a seasonal product. They sell very well during the warmer months, but no one is interested in buying one in the middle of winter.
But, you know you will always make a sale again. It might be in a day, a week or 4 months but you know you will sell another bike.
You will book another client, even if you don’t know when.
Patience, my friends.
Other lessons I learnt:
You don’t realise the impact your business has on your client or customer.
Some bike feedback we had that really made it all worthwhile:
“My son used to sit in his room all day playing Fortnite. Now he loves riding his bike with his mates.”
“I wanted a new bike so I could take my kids for a bike ride on the weekends.”
“We took our new bikes around Australia- they are very good quality!”
“I no longer have to sit in traffic on my way to work. Riding gets me there faster!”
When a customer or client tells you how your product or service has made their life better, it reminds you why you started your business in the first place.
Remind yourself every time self-doubt creeps in…
This article was first published on LinkedIn in 2019, before COVID times. We were not in a position to purchase more stock due to the pandemic- needing to find and meet a new supplier, freight costs skyrocketed during 2020. We do plan to return to this business someday, but with a different product. Stay tuned!