It’s one thing to have a business idea. It’s quite another to act on it.
Just ask Lori Greiner. Long before her days as a bonafide startup guru, the Shark Tank star would often come up with a product idea, not pursue it, and kick herself when she’d see someone else do it.
“I was always thinking of ideas, and then later I’d see it out there and think ‘Ugh! If only I’d just done it,’” she said at a panel discussion for business owners hosted by Staples in New York City this week.
Eventually, in 1996, Greiner did move forward, inventing an earring organizer that sold out in four minutes and launched her career.
These days, the so-called Queen of QVC has some words of wisdom for others who are starting out on the entrepreneurial path. Here are 10 of her top tips.
1. Ask the important questions.
When you’re starting out, it’s important to know the details of your product. Is it for mass audience or a select few? Can it be made for a reasonable price? Is your idea something people truly need and want? Is it unique? This will help you get a sense of your customers, your costs and your sales pitch.
2. Do the market research yourself.
How can you answer all of those questions above? Get out there and pound the pavement. Look beyond your friends and family — their innate desire to support you and give you positive feedback might not be indicative of the larger consensus. Go to different neighborhoods and get opinions from all types of demographics. When Greiner did market research on her earring organizer, she went to all different neighborhoods and showed a prototype to people on the street. Then, she asked them to fill out a simple, basic questionnaire: Would you buy this? How much would you pay for it? Do you like it? From those responses, she knew she had something big.
3. Don’t overspend.
Greiner says overspending in the early stages is a common problem. People hire more staff than they need, for example, and pay rent on a fancy office when they could easily work out of their homes. Too much inventory is another common problem. “You can’t take up warehouse space when you have no sales,” she said. “In the beginning you need to stay lean and mean. Do what you can yourself, hire prudently or outsource small jobs.”
4. Be likable.
When people are considering investing in your idea, they’re also considering investing in working with you. If you are open to constructive criticism, able to communicate and are honest and ethical, it makes a difference.
5. Pay attention to your packaging.
Packaging is super important to Greiner, who often spends months working on it with the entrepreneurs she mentors. “It’s very important that it catches your eye, it tells you exactly what it is instantaneously and it makes you want to pick it up,” she said. In addition to eye-catching color, remember that the image on the package is especially important because people see faster than they read. Therefore, Greiner says, the image of the product has to be appealing and grab your attention. Font style is also something to think about when considering how to get your message across to consumers.
6. Adopt a mindset of persistence.
If there are roadblocks on your path to success, don’t give up. Instead, figure out how to get around them. As Greiner says, “There are no ‘nos,’ just ‘how can I?’”
7. Don’t let personal feelings ruin a business relationship.
If you have a solid business, but you don’t like someone you have to work with — a client, a manufacturer, a supplier — ignore it and laugh your way to the bank, Greiner says.
8. Know that it’s ok to have just one product.
Unlike some of the other sharks, Grenier has no problem with a company that only has one product. “If you have one genius product and good entrepreneurs, you can turn that one product into a success,” she says, pointing out that the Squatty Potty and other products pitched on Shark Tank bring in millions of dollars.
9. Avoid borrowing money from friends and family.
While angel investors and venture capitalists understand that they’re giving you money that they might not ever see again, family and friends might expect repayment without regards to how the business is doing. To avoid straining or ruining relationships, find a way to raise the funds from other sources.
10. Protect your idea.
With 120 patents to her name, Greiner is very careful to protect her ideas. While it can be tricky to balance protecting your intellectual property while conducting market research, patent protection is helpful and smart. She also advises against putting your unprotected idea online. “If you put it online, it can go around the world in a second, and someone will knock it off,” she says.