7 Tips for How to Start a Small Business During COVID

November 25, 2020
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We’ve all been living through 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic together but we’ve seen that it, unfortunately, impacts some more than others.

Women are one group that’s been adversely impacted during the past eight months. Women have disproportionately lost their jobs. Between working, child care, remote schooling, housework, it’s enough to set things back a decade. Recently, Techcrunch ran an article that said that funding for female founders dropped to 2017 levels, erasing much of the progress we had made in gender diversity in the startup world. This is not ok.

If you’ve ever had dreams of starting your own business, now could be a great time to do so. Many of the best businesses were born during economically difficult times, Netflix (1997), Airbnb (2008), Warby Parker (2010). As a small business owner myself, I wanted to share some ideas on how you might start that small business or side hustle of yours based on my own experience.

1. Identify Your Product or Service Offering

What are you offering? Why is it better than what’s already out there? How is it fulfilling an unmet need? What can you do or offer that’s special in the marketplace? These are some questions to consider when you start thinking about what kind of business you might want to start. The 4P’s are a great framework to help you think about your business idea:

2. Start Small

I always tell entrepreneurs that if you want to start something, start small. Often, folks get intimidated by all the work and costs involved with starting a business. What you can do is start with one SKU, product, or service rather than focusing on having a suite of offerings right off the bat. Develop a prototype or sample of your offering. If it’s a product, try to make one in your home with whatever materials you have access to. If it’s a service, offer it to someone in your network to see what they think.

Put your product or service out in the market and get feedback then finetune and refine.

3. Try to Bootstrap Your Business, If Possible

I know that bootstrapping doesn’t work for all types of businesses since some are more resource-heavy than others but, if you can, it’s the best way to maintain control over your destiny.

Bootstrapping is using your own money to fund your business and then making it profitable as soon as possible so that you can reinvest those profits back into your business. This model means you won’t have to raise outside capital and you can call the shots for how you want to build your business. Hero Cosmetics has been bootstrapped for over three years with no outside investors.

Starting small as I mentioned above also helps you build a bootstrapped business since you’ll have fewer expenses in the beginning.

4. Brush Off Those Sales Skills

One of the most important skills you’ll need as an entrepreneur is sales skills. You’re basically your company’s spokesperson 100% of the time so it’s vital you know how to communicate your business and differentiation succinctly. Learn how to write a good pitch email. Learn how to write an effective sales deck. Get your 30-second elevator pitch down pat. 

5. Build Buzz via Press and Influencers

In the early years of Hero Cosmetics, I focused a lot on earned media, mostly press and influencers. It was free for the most part and reaped great returns. I used a platform that I recommend to everyone starting out called Launch Grow Joy (also a great female-founded business). It’s a kind of DIY press platform where I paid a nominal amount for access to their portal. Their portal had pitch requests from every major publication out there with the editor’s contact info. I wrote a pitch email and used Launch Grow Joy to pitch as many relevant folks as possible.

One of the first pieces I landed was in Into the Gloss. They linked to our Amazon page and I saw our sales significantly increase over the next three days. After a few more pieces in publications such as Business Insider and Buzzfeed, I moved onto hiring a PR consultant. I ascribe the to a “build demand the rest will follow” philosophy. After we started our press outreach and landing a few key articles, I started getting inbound requests from retailers to carry our products. 

6. Leverage Platforms Like Amazon or Etsy

Three years ago, we launched Hero Cosmetics with one SKU on Amazon. That’s it. Now, we’re an eight-figure business across retail, Amazon, and DTC. Leveraging existing marketplaces is a great place to start. A lot of creators build great businesses on places like Etsy and there are a ton of small businesses that tap into the power of Amazon to build significant businesses.

We launched our DTC site after we launched on Amazon because it was much, much easier to put a product on Amazon and take advantage of their hundreds of millions of customers than to start from scratch and build and acquire on our own platform. Consider other platforms or marketplaces where you can inject your product or service. Don’t build from scratch. Use what’s already out there.

7. Build Your Founders’ Network

If you’re serious about building your business, start also creating your entrepreneurs’ network. My founders’ network has been one of the most useful to me as I’ve been building my business. We share tips and ideas. We share resources and help each other find consultants and talent. Oftentimes, the only ones that can truly empathize with what you’re going through as an entrepreneur or creator are other entrepreneurs or creators. So, build that network and you will find that they will be an enormous resource as you build your business. 

About the Author: Ju Rhyu is the founder and CEO of Hero Cosmetics. Having previously worked for some of the world’s biggest brands including Kraft Foods, American Express, and Samsung, launching new products, executing multi-channel marketing campaigns, and consumer experiences were something Ju knew how to do and do well. Enter, Hero Cosmetics. Rhyu put her past to the test, and education from Brown University and Columbia Business School, and launched a clinical acne-care company in 2017 with just one hero product, Mighty Patch, as a test on Amazon. She was named to the Inc. Magazine 2019 Female Founders 100 list and named Yotpo 2019 Amazing Women in E-commerce. Now, Hero Cosmetics sells a box of Mighty Patch every 15 seconds in channels like Amazon, Target, DTC, Neiman Marcus, Goop, and its collection has expanded to 7 SKUs. Today, Rhyu splits her time between Paris and New York City.

About Hero Cosmetics: Hero Cosmetics is a consciously-clinical acne-care company. Since launching in 2017, the brand sells a box of acne patches every 15 seconds and has grown from a startup with a single Mighty Patch product to an established acne-care brand with holistic solutions that span your skin’s entire healing journey, from start to finish. Each and every Hero Cosmetics product is uniquely designed to bring your skin back to healthy. Gentle ingredients, transparent product details, clinically high standards—they’re all emblematic of Hero’s consciously clinical approach to acne care.

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