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Preparing for success: Lessons learned from early mistakes in a small business

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4 min read

Preparing for success: Lessons learned from early mistakes in a small business

By Tamika Scriven · January 19, 2021

If you're anything like me, you've gone through a ton of business ideas and have spent lots of money getting started on them. I went to school for marketing and thought I would be a graphic designer after graduating. So I spent money on a portfolio website and design tools before ditching that idea and snagging a job as a cosmetic counter manager at a retail store. I enjoyed working with clients, so I set out to become a professional makeup artist, spending time and money on courses, tools, and, of course, products.

Fast forward to now: I'm neither a graphic designer nor a makeup artist.

See, while I was working as a counter manager, I would also handcraft lace wigs for myself. My clients would inquire about my wigs, asking where they could buy them. And that's how I realized that I could turn my wig hobby into a career.

Three business ideas later, and I've finally found the one that stuck. In April 2020, I launched Allure Wigs.

Scaling my business model

I got started right away, splurging on every wig-related item I could find: from wig caps to hair bundles to swiss lace materials—you name it, I bought it. I gathered all the tools necessary to make several wigs from scratch. I'd also compiled a list of my makeup clients who (I thought) were prospects. I was so sure that this business would become a huge, overnight success—in my mind, the product would sell itself. 

I quickly learned that my supposed prospects didn't love the fact that each custom wig took me an average of 40 hours to make. Those same people also complained that my prices were too high. They told me that they could spend less money at a local beauty supply store and receive a decent wig in only a few minutes. 

It was clear that my business model wasn't working. There was no way to scale the tedious labor on my own, especially with such a small budget. So I decided to find a manufacturer that I could purchase wigs from in bulk—then I could customize them. Customers would still get the unique wigs I knew I could offer, but without the 40 hours of labor (and accompanying price tag).

The mistake

I started on my search for a manufacturer, did loads of research, and prepared to order some samples from the first few. It seemed easy at first: I searched online, ordered, and within three business days, I'd received some sample wigs to try out.

I narrowed down my options to select the manufacturer that offered the best combination of quality and affordability. They were an international company, so I reached out to a sales rep via WhatsApp and placed a bulk order the same week that I launched my website. 

Wigs on the Allure Wigs website

I didn't get any sales that first month, so I didn't communicate with the vendor either—no sales meant I didn't need any inventory. Meanwhile, I began hosting paid courses where I taught others how to customize the lace on their wigs. I figured I could promote my website while building new leads and making a little extra income for myself on the side. 

It worked: a month later, I made my first online sale—and the customer had ordered two wigs! I was thrilled. I immediately reached out to my vendor for more inventory, as I'd only ordered a small batch the month prior and had since altered the wigs during demonstrations in my classes. 

I didn't get a response.

By day three, I began to panic. I'd assumed I would have received my order by now, and instead, I was still waiting for a response.

Naturally, I panicked. There was only one fresh wig in my possession, but my client had ordered two. As my anxiety grew, I began reaching out to new manufacturers, with hopes of finding a product similar to that of my original vendor. When none of the reps replied, I froze. I didn't know what my next move would be, but at the same time, I refused to let my client down. I had to quickly find a solution, as my business reputation would depend on it. 

I decided I'd make a new wig by hand and informed my client that her order would be a bit delayed. As a thank-you for her patience, I sent her a coupon that she could apply toward her next purchase. I crammed 40 hours of labor into just two-and-a-half days—and sent her the two wigs she'd ordered.

Lessons learned

A day after I shipped the wigs to my client, I checked my WhatsApp to see that all eleven vendors had replied—and all around the same time. As it turned out, they were on a national holiday in their country, hence why no one had gotten back to me. 

The point of all this? (Other than hopefully making you feel better about your own business panics, of course!) I learned a few lessons.

  • Be proactive and require updates. Never think, "oh, they'll get back to me tomorrow"—if you need something by a certain date, be sure your vendor will be able to deliver on it. And take this lesson to heart for your own business: your clients and customers are expecting you to deliver on time as well, so be transparent if that's not going to happen (or if you'll be out of the office).

  • Prepare for success. It's almost easier to prepare for failure, but you also need to anticipate an influx of success. What will you do if you have more people interested in your product or service than you have available? 

  • Have a backup plan. Never depend on one vendor, one partner, one client. Have a backup ready.

Most importantly, though, I learned that one mess-up, one setback, one crisis doesn't mean you're not on the right path. I could have given up when I realized it was taking me too long to produce my wigs. I could have given up when I didn't get any customers in my first month. I could have given up when my vendor fell through and I missed my first deadline. 

But here I am, over six months later, working with a team of four and a consistent stream of customers. 

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Tamika Scriven picture

Tamika Scriven

Tamika is the founder of Allure Wigs Inc. She has a Bachelor's degree in Visual Analytics and a professional background in marketing and sales. Tamika is also a proud aunt and catMom who enjoys reading, customizing wigs, and cooking plant-based meals.

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