Build an audience before launch.
This one was really hard for me; how do you get people's attention before you have anything to show off?! But I see new brands doing it all the time, and it makes the world of difference. I think this is one of the situations I needed to have recognized my limitations and found someone with the right skills for the task.
As you're developing your concept; researching the competition and suppliers is front and centre. As you're finding these targets, research how they launched. Or if it's a new brand, study how they're building their audience and learn from it.
Beware of getting caught up in the details, have a story and tell it.
At this stage of the business, everything is a detail and requires attention. But dont get caught up in figuring out how best to manage the accounting for example and lose site of building your brand story. After the first six months I realized I had spent too much time figure out the mechanics of the business and wasn't writing the story. In my mind I have a great brand story to tell, but I had completely lost sight of it in the marketing. Which means my audience has no idea what the brand is about and less of a reason to connect with Thresherman and share the site with their networks.
Keep your costs low to maintain efficiency. Plan to scale up is easier than over building.
Its so easy to jump in the deep-end and go gangbusters buying equipment and supplies to set up the office. I know it can make it feel like you're accomplishing so much, and gosh darn't a real business has a laser printer!
I made the mistake early on committing to a long-term contract that seemed to make a lot of sense at the time. Ultimately however it was way too soon and costly waiting out the terms to cancel.
Don't focus on competitors. Do your own thing.
Ok, its very important to know what your competitors are doing and steal the good ideas. Just don't lose sight of what your own brand. Start out with your own strategy and tactics, and then compare and contrast against your competitor's approach and adjust as needed. I think it can be far too distracting to start by looking at the competition and taking ideas from them to start your plan, you run the convenient risk of just flat out looking like the competition. Being a copy cat means you're already in second place.
I've certainly borrowed ideas from the competitors, and at times I've worried if I copied ideas instead of adapted them to the brand. We're all busy people and taking a short cut might be easy, but in the end the gains won't be as good as they could be.
Podcasts with great ideas and conversations.
Meetups with other entreprenuers is a great way to exchange ideas and think about your business from another person's perspective. Finding a good group may not always be easy or convenient, especially while working a full-time job, so as a good substitute I've found several ecommerce podcasts to do much the same.
Although you're not sharing your businesses specifics with other people for comment and evaluation, you can hear others sharing their startup stories. I've learned to keep my notebook nearby while I'm listening as I'm always jotting down new ideas to investigate later.
Here's my list of recommended podcasts to try out: