My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 3: The Gift of Feedback
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My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 3: The Gift of Feedback

How to seek constructive guidance on your business when you're a solo owner.

I recently bought a company, Bella Virtu Organics. It had an established, profitable Amazon business, great reviews, excellent products and a ready to go supply chain; it was a “business in a box,” saving me the trial and error process of building those pieces myself. It also, in my opinion, had lots of potential for growth in terms of branding, product line, and distribution channels.

After ensuring the Amazon business was ticking along, I set my sights on updating the brand image, starting with the logo. I decided to use 99designs.com. It is an incredible resource with thousands of designers from all over the world ready to help. However, rather than trawling through portfolio after portfolio and then hoping you’ve picked the right one to brief, you can post a design competition and invite designers to enter. Then begins a week-long process of receiving designs, giving feedback, getting revisions and so on. Phase 2 narrows the field to the top five designers for more revisions before choosing a winner.

For about $400 (guaranteed prize money for the winning design including 99designs fees), I received more than 300 designs from 19 different designers. Most importantly, after some requested revisions, I was able to get to a logo I love. It is almost embarrassingly good value for money.

But the point of this article is not to plug 99designs! What I want to share are some thoughts about feedback. One of the things I am loving about owning this business is the freedom to do with it exactly what I want. No one but myself to hold accountable: no stakeholders, no board, no employees, not even a retail partner (yet). Nevertheless, that is also the challenge, because there is no one to give me feedback or guidance, no one to share ideas or brainstorm with, and no one to stop me from veering off-track.

Often the feedback that is the hardest to take ends up being the most beneficial.

Fortunately, I have lots of friends and family who are more than willing to weigh-in, which brings me to the skill of welcoming feedback. As much as I know I need other people’s input, and am grateful for it, sometimes it can sting a bit or leave me with a sinking feeling, perhaps from a resistance to having to re-work something I’ve put a lot into. Sometimes the more accurate and helpful the feedback is, the harder it is to take. I tend to wonder “why didn’t I think of that?” and feel myself getting a little defensive. The thing about the ego is that the more it is threatened the more defensive it becomes. I’ve learned to recognize the signs of my defenses rising; the aching feeling in my stomach and my brain desperately seeking reasons why the feedback isn’t right. When I pick up on that ego defense mechanism, I know to take a breath and consider the possibility that it is great feedback, focus on gratitude that someone has taken the time and energy to help me be better, and choose the best way forward. Often the feedback that is the hardest to take ends up being the most beneficial.

Choosing the appropriate people to ask for input in each situation is also important. I’ve taken three different approaches to feedback in my short time since buying this business.

  1. Polling. For my logo, I used 99designs’ built-in polling feature that enabled me to send a link to friends and family to have them vote on a selection of 10 design options. I did this twice. The first time made me realize I had narrowed the field too early (thanks to my sister’s rather blunt comments), while the second validated my direction and forced me to consider and articulate for myself why I chose the second highest rated logo, not the first.
  2. Ask an expert. For my new packaging design, rather than open up designs to a wide group for feedback, I tapped into a couple of people who had strong brand communications backgrounds as well as great taste. Their feedback was independent but consistent and made huge improvements to my concepts. Recognizing patterns and overlap in separate sources of feedback can be a clear sign to stop and evaluate.
  3. Survey. As I began writing the brief for the brand’s new website (coming soon!) and re-writing the product copy for Amazon, I wanted to make sure that the benefits I was focusing on were the most relevant to my potential customers and that the brand message was compelling. For this I needed a broad, quantitative piece of research. Working on a shoestring budget, I turned to Survey Monkey. I created a survey to get feedback on four written brand concepts, rank the various benefits of the products (such as “prevents dryness” and “corrects fine lines”), and understand the relative importance of the different ingredients (antioxidants vs rosehip oil, for example) and claims (organic ingredients vs made in USA). Although I had to subscribe to the paid version of Survey Monkey ($32 a month), I was able to get 150 responses for about $400. With that number of respondents, I can even break down the results into those who choose organic skincare already, or those who are over 40, and still have robust data. This information is an invaluable resource to help me choose the best words, messages, and new product benefits to be most impactful in the marketplace.

That survey also taught me something even more important: it’s easier to get feedback from 150 random strangers than from your own big sister.

 

Third in an occasional series that follows the former CEO of J.W. Hulme as she shifts from running consumer brands to building one of her own. Catch up on Part One and Part Two.