My “education”

My “education” all started when we decided to have an “official company-sponsored contest” as opposed to a more relaxed “ask your friends for some help, then pass out a prize” contest…

So what’s this “education” I mentioned in my last blog post?  Weeeelllllll, sit back, relax, grab a cup of something to drink and prepare to read aallll about my schooling and what Natril Gear has gone through in the past few months.  (This post is definitely longer than normal).

The “education” all started when we decided to have an “official company-sponsored contest” as opposed to a more relaxed “ask your friends for some help, then pass out a prize” contest.  Here’s the story:

Back in April – about 3 months ago – I posted a survey on our blog here asking you all to vote on some possible logo designs for Natril Gear.  The results were AWESOME!!  We got lots of participation, lots of feedback, and some great direction!  We ended up deciding on this logo (and we LOVE it):

NG_logo_for_email

So, fast forward to June 11, and Nathan and I were trying to think of a new name for panniers (yes, we want to rename our product!).  Since we got so much participation with the logo, I wrote this blog post to ask for everyone’s help for pannier names!  Ideas started rolling in, and we had a LOT of people participate again.  I was so excited!

One of our business mentors suggested turning the pannier-name search into a real contest, complete with prizes from Natril Gear.  Well I took that ball and ran with it, and overnight, we developed 4 official contests with awesome prizes for each winner! (Whew!)  Here are the contests we decided to have:

  1. Rename panniers – winning name gets a prize!
  2. Give Natril Gear a company tagline – winning tagline gets a prize!
  3. “Like” Natril Gear on Facebook – random winner gets a prize!
  4. “Follow” and “Mention” Natril Gear on Twitter – random winner gets a prize!

We decided the winner of each contest would get a gift certificate good for any 2 panniers from Natril Gear!  We set deadlines on the contest, and it felt like we were doing something great! I was getting more and more excited. Having a company was COOL!

And that’s where things changed and my “education” began.

I originally set the entry deadline dates around the end of June, thinking that felt like PLENTY of time.  EONS of time.  But then, about a day later, I realized that if we wanted to actually do this right, I needed to:

  1. Stop using my “how to start a business” blog (aka: TheRoadTo.org) to publicize my company, and start using a dedicated company website (aka: NatrilGear.com).  But we didn’t have a “dedicated company website”.  So we needed to make one….fast!  Well, of course, websites don’t just pop up overnight, so this took a while.  After the website was finally up, it needed content, and pictures, and pages, and links, etc.  Ahh!  So many details I hadn’t considered, and to make them all (and make them good, not sloppy) took a while!
  2. Make a company Facebook page.  Hello – of COURSE we need one of these!  So I charged right in…and did it all wrong.  I ended up making two different accounts that needed to be deleted and had to start all over.  Facebook is supposed to be easy!  But when you get into “pages” and stuff, it’s not.  I still don’t really get it.
  3. Make a company Twitter profile.  I’m not really much into Twitter, but it just seemed like this was also something we needed to do.  So I did it, and I even found a way to link it to our Facebook page.  Yay!  THIS actually went fairly smoothly.
  4. Create contest fliers and hand-outs.  Oh boy – where do I start!  I have a product that hardly anyone knows what it is, I’m a brand new company so I can’t just “direct people to my website for more info” because there’s nothing on the website yet, the prizes we’re giving away aren’t available yet (our bags were still in our prototype phase) so I can’t really show pictures of them, etc, etc, etc…   Let’s just say the first SEVERAL attempts at making fliers and handouts went pretty badly.  When I finally got something I thought I could use, I took it to a networking meeting, and the consensus was “it’s no good”.  Ah! 

I realized too late that I was in over my head and totally unprepared to do what I had said I would do.  I felt as out of my league as this poor giraffe:

giraffe

After a few frustrating weeks trying to learn the world of social media, the nuances of website design, and the art of the trifold brochure, I thought I had everything under control and I was FINALLY ready to start publicizing our contest! (Sheesh!)

I wrote a blog post to tell everyone on TheRoadTo.org all about our contests, but just before I published it, I had a thought: I should probably call the lawyer we’ve been using for Natril Gear and run the contests by her.  I didn’t think anything would come of it, but, you know, better safe than sorry.

Well, once again, I was in for a surprise.

After I told her what we wanted to do, she informed me that there was a BUNCH of legal stuff that needed to happen before we could have an “official company-sponsored contest”.   For example, did you know that the STATE GOVERNMENT has rules about contests that affect every contest run in that state?!  I never knew that.   We had to be sure our contest complied with state rules, some other rules, and our lawyer had to draw up a whole bunch of “fine print”.  To draw up all the “fine print”, we had to know things like “what are the odds of winning” and “what is the dollar value of the prize”.  Well, I had no idea how many people would enter the contest, so I couldn’t give “odds”, and our panniers were still in the prototype phase, so I also couldn’t give a “dollar value” to the prize.

And wouldn’t you know, after all the legal stuff was pulled together, I had to redo many of the things I had done before because they were out of compliance with the rules/standards I now had to follow in our “official company-sponsored contest”.  Arg.

After butting my head against the wall because 1)everything seemed more difficult than it needed to be, and 2)now I had to postpone the contests by ANOTHER week because of the legal stuff I never thought to check on before……AFTER all that, I thought SURELY things were good to go now.

So there we were, in the PRIME TIME of our industry’s “on” season, unable to get our act together, feeling like we were chasing our tail, and running into one unexpected delay after another. I am telling you  – I don’t know how I didn’t pull all my hair out!

pull-hair-out

By the time we pulled together all the loose ends, the original deadlines we had set were ALMOST HERE!  Ah!  So after “wishing it had all gone differently” for the hundredth time, we pulled ourselves together, pushed the deadlines back about a month to the end of July, and were finally ready to publicly announce the contests!

But the relief we felt from having gotten the contests under control was short lived, because all the extra time it had taken to pull them together had put something ELSE in jeopardy – our product!

We had been telling people that our panniers would be for sale sometime in July, but getting the contests ready had taken nearly the entire month of June….so now we were REALLY under the gun to get our panniers out on time!!

So we sent out a few quick emails about the contests and hoped our friends and fans would help us spread the word,then shoved the contests to the back burners and got back to work on our product.  Our focus now was entirely on getting feedback for our prototypes.  For the next two weeks or so, we traveled around, talked to people, and made contacts at local outdoors & active-lifestyle companies that could help us get feedback.  We threw out some contest fliers along the way, but we were mostly focused on getting feedback for our prototypes.

We were finally able to wrap up prototype research on July 10th.  We had 21 days left until the end of July to:

  1. Review the results
  2. Determine what features we wanted to add/change/remove for our final panniers
  3. Find someone to make the final pattern
  4. Find a manufacturer who could do the sewing, and have a new prototype made
  5. Find a manufacturer who could make the specially designed/sized plastic pieces we’d need
  6. Get the fabric, the mounting system, the buckles, and everything else that was needed to make a bag, and supply it to the manufacturers
  7. Create the marketing materials we’d attach to our bags
  8. Etc…

And we didn’t really have quite 21 days to do it in…we only really had 14, because the last week of July was family vacation.  Vacation came at exactly the WRONG time this year, but we had agreed to go about a year ago – before we ever made our own panniers to take on our cross-country bike trip, before we ever knew we wanted to go into a business for ourselves…before ANY of this even started.

Also as of July 10th, we only had 10 DAYS left to get pannier-name ideas and company tagline ideas because the entry deadline was July 24th!  I checked to see how many ideas we had, and there weren’t many.  Less than 20 people had entered our contests – and these were IMPORTANT CONTESTS that would determine some pretty serious things for Natril Gear!  This was NOT good!

There were too many important deadlines and company events happening all at the same time.  I didn’t have enough hands to juggle everything or enough experience to know how to do things the right/best/most efficient way.  Everything seemed to be taking twice as long as it needed to, and I was in a situation where I needed it all done “yesterday”.  I hope you can understand my incredibly UN-envious predicament here.

cat_head_in_can

To top it all off, our rental agreement had expired, and we had to move.  We ended up moving an hour away from the city we used to live in (which means we both had hour long commutes one-way to get into town now).  Our new rental house also had no air conditioning (except for one window-unit in the bedroom), and it was the middle of summer.

Oh, and I had to keep up my weekly granola stand at the farmer’s market too.

***Let me just pause, and say that I do not know HOW I survived this time period except for the grace of God!  I cried out of sheer stress and anxiety a few times, and I even lost some weight because of all the meals I was skipping just trying to get work done!  It was completely insane, and was undeniably the result of setting timelines without really knowing what needed to be done in order to meet them.***

Now let’s jump to the present and I’ll tell you where I’m at. Today is July 29th, and here’s the current status of things:

calendar

PANNIER MANUFAUCTUERS:

I ran around like a crazy lady trying to get manufacturing going before we left on vacation.  We decided on the final product features, I got a pattern drawn up, we got new prototypes made, I found a manufacturer that said they could make the bags for us, I found a die-cutting company to cut the special plastic pieces for us – it looked like everything would work out!  And then, long story short, the week before we left for vacation, everything fell apart.  There was no time or resources for a Plan B.  It was all or nothing.  So it ended up being “nothing”.  You certainly can’t say we didn’t try(!!!), but it was definitely a huge bummer to realize that we were not going to come through on the promise we had made to get our products out before the end of July.  We posted this on our website to let people know what was going on.  One thing I learned is to NOT set a hard deadline, and my new goal is to get them out “as soon as possible”. 

CONTESTS :

In an attempt to make lemonade out of our manufacturing lemons, I decided to use the rest of the week before our vacation to promote the begeebers out of our contests (now that I had 2 “extra” days not dedicated to manufacturing)!  I emailed a few hundred bicycle organizations, attacked my Facebook and Twitter followers with marketing messages, made more pages on our website, and sent out a few email blasts to every friend I had ever known asking them to enter our contests and help spread the word!

Name and Tagline contests: We wound up getting over 230 ideas entered for our product-name and company-tagline contests, and I was very pleased.  On vacation, we took a day to pick our top 10 names and top 10 taglines, then we put them up in a survey on our website, and once again blasted messages out through email, Facebook, Twitter, and our website.  As you could expect, we had a “crisis” moment happen with the surveys, so we took another day out of our vacation and fixed it.  Voting in our surveys ends today, and so far we haven’t gotten the number of votes we were hoping for.  Who knows – maybe a bunch more will come in in the last few hours.

Facebook and Twitter contests: Our Facebook page has gotten a lot of “likes” – over 120 so far – so I’m happy with that.  We haven’t had as much success with Twitter, but I also haven’t put as much effort into our Twitter account as I have our Facebook account, so that might be why.  The deadline for entering these contests is August 1st (Monday), so we still have a few days to promote it.

One thing I can say is that all of this madness has helped me learn a few things:

  1. Avoid hard deadlines if you can.  Rather than saying “it’ll be done in July”, say something like “it’ll be done this summer”.  I know that sometimes you have to give a decisive deadline, but if you don’t HAVE to, save  yourself the anxiety, and DON’T!
  2. Have contest at the beginning of your company launch!  Apart from all the trouble we ran into, we learned a LOT about the difference between representing ourselves versus representing our company!  When you run a company, you have to be careful with your words, the way you present yourself, the way you ask for help, etc.  We learned a lot, and the lessons were INVALUABLE!  I would definitely recommend running a contest at the beginning of every company launch, because it is great training for the new business owner to realize the weight and significance of the endeavor he/she is undertaking, and the new image they now have in the public eye.
  3. Make friends with similar businesses.  They most likely already know many other valuable contacts and can introduce you.  They also know the ropes of your particular industry or area and can help you navigate it better than you would be able to on your own.  The contacts we’ve made like this have been very helpful!
  4. Take the time to do it right the first time! There are so many things new business owners need to do.  Take your time, educate yourself, and do things right the first time.  Even if it takes longer to slow down and “do it right”, it’ll take less time than messing up and having to go back and redo it later when you realize your mistakes.  Also, it’s a great stress relief to just be DONE with things and not have to worry about needing to redo them later.
  5. Don’t always go with the first thing – research and give yourself options.  I got into trouble a few times because I just said “yes” to the first opportunity that came along, never taking the time to check out the competition or other alternatives.  (This relates to graphic design, lawyers, manufacturers, vendors, etc.) You can unknowingly end up taking more time, spending more money, getting a lesser product, etc. if you say “yes” too soon.  Check things out first, and give yourself the confidence of knowing you’re making a good choice.

Nathan and I are trying to do a good job, and we’re praying real hard that we don’t mess things up entirely.  So my peace in all this comes from knowing that we’re giving it all we’ve got and believing that God’s keeping us on the right path…even when the path gets crazy.

I suppose that’s about it for now.  Thanks for reading this mega-post.  🙂  Let me know if you have any questions or want more info about something I didn’t cover very well.


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