If you’re reading this in real-time, we’re already halfway through May which means we’re almost halfway through the year. I recently started watching the masked singer… a show my mom has told me to watch for years.
Which, if you’ve never seen it… it’s so much fun and just a joy to watch. The costume design is amazing, the panel is hilarious. It’s just an all-around great show and I understand why it’s already on season 9 in just a few short years.
My point of sharing that is because I went back to the very beginning and started watching from season one which kicked off in 2019.
Watching these old episodes where they reference the pandemic, they reference stars who have since passed away, when you say the year 2019 or 2020 they don’t sound that long ago… and sometimes they don’t feel that long ago… but at the same time, it feels like a lifetime ago.
It’s been such a roller coaster ride. It reminds me that time really does go by so quickly, and that there is a lot of life outside of our businesses to live.
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Being Busy Isn't a Badge of Honor
Look, I love to work. I love learning about business and marketing… these things can totally be my hobby. I also happen to be in a season of grind right now as I work on some back-end shifts in my business. And seasons of hustle are natural in a business. No one builds the business they want without a little hustle.
But there are also times when we hustle simply because it feels good to be busy, or like if we’re not spending every waking moment on our business we might be missing out on something, or we won’t be able to grow and hit our goals… or insert reason why you feel compelled to hustle in your business.
But there’s something else that I see come up too and that’s when we try to fix things that aren’t broken. We hear someone talk about a concept on a podcast or in a workshop, and we think oh shit… I need to do that too.
But do you really?
I’ve talked about this a bit on the podcast before… mostly in reference to how to deal with conflicting advice on the internet from “experts” and you know I’m always using that word in quotation marks.
Don't Fix What Isn't Broken
But what I’m talking about today is a bit different. And it was a question from a Lounge member during a recent guest workshop about finances and inventory management that prompted this episode. By the way, the workshop host will be on the podcast soon so stay tuned.
Anyway, she was talking about inventory management and open to buy. And this attendee, who makes her own products was asking about how she goes about applying this concept to her business and she expressed a bit of overwhelm just at the idea of having to implement this new tracking and calculation in her business.
Now, before I tell you what I told her… please understand that Inventory management is one of the most important skills you need to master as a product-based business owner – or you need to hire someone to do it for you. Poorly managed inventory truly has the power to put you out of business.
But there are times when getting that nitty gritty in your calculations and inventory management might not be your #1 priority at the moment.
Why Your Specific Needs Should Dictate What You Focus On
When I first started my business I did some consulting with a client who had a hobby that she loved and started a podcast about it. She quickly built a community of other people who loved this hobby too and ultimately started an eCommerce business so she could share some of her favorite products related to said hobby.
Because she was in such a great niche and had a unique product that wasn’t readily available in the States… her business grew pretty quickly. And having essentially no experience in running a product-based business before this, she was struggling to manage everything on her own. She was often selling out of her best-selling product because she was hesitant to invest too much at once… but she also had a long lead time. Then she had other products that weren’t really moving and we’re tying up cash.
One of the first things I walked through with her was her inventory situation. We looked at her weeks of stock, we got her set up with an inventory management app, and ultimately I said your next hire should probably be an inventory manager. This was never going to be a thing she loved to do or enjoy… and her time would be much better spent engaging with her community and making money.
Another client I worked with started with a brick + mortar store and while she had a website, she wasn’t really doing much with it, which is why she ultimately came to work with me. And this was her side gig. She had another business that paid her bills but she really wanted this new business to become her full-time focus. But it just wasn’t generating enough cash to support her yet. So that was the ultimate end goal.
While I often focus on strategies to increase sales on your website, marketing, and all that stuff… when I work 1:1 with a client I’m really taking a holistic view of their business as if it were my own because at the end of the day, eCommerce and product-based businesses in general are one big puzzle and we need all the pieces to fit together to really get where we want to go.
We can have the best email marketing strategy but if there aren’t any people going through them, they can’t make us money. We can have the best-converting website, but if we don’t have the inventory to sell them, we can’t make any money. We can have the best product on the market, but if no one knows we exist… we can’t make any money.
Anyway, so this client had a lot of inventory. I think it was over a hundred grand tied up in inventory that wasn’t moving quickly enough. She was essentially overbought in every single category…and there were a lot of categories because her brand and business were focused around a particular lifestyle… so there was apparel and accessories, gift items, furniture, you name it… she probably sold it.
Now, when you’re in a brick + mortar, it’s easy to sell all those categories. People come into a local boutique because they want that feeling of discovery. Online, that’s a lot harder to do until you’re super established and people know they can come to you, search your website and find some hidden gem. For a brand-new customer, in most cases, that is going to be so overwhelming.
Now, in the case of the hobby business I mentioned… she can get away with a wider assortment of product because that customer is skilled in this hobby and is looking for specific items. They collect these products. So it’s a different experience than just going to a lifestyle store. Do you see the difference?
Okay, so for that lifestyle store, the main focus for her and the website was all about making it easier to shop, putting the top sellers front and center, and removing the items that were hard to ship like the furniture. And while inventory management and following a strict open to buy would be important for her moving forward… her number one focus right now had to be selling what she already had.
So how did this all differ from the student who asked how she should implement this into her business during the guest workshop? First things first, she had a small assortment of product, a handful of item and she makes them herself, so her focus needs to be on the raw materials and the lead time from ordering those raw materials to when the finished product is available for sale. Her product is also consumable, so she is just selling the same products over and over vs. the previous two examples that have a lot of newness and turnover in addition to their evergreen products. And she’s essentially only one category.
So the first thing I said was, if you’re not finding yourself running out of product and whatever system you’re using right now to decide when to get more materials and make more product is working for you. You don’t have to worry about this right now. If you do feel like you struggle a bit with inventory management and like you’re always flying by the seat of your pants… focus on weeks of stock and manage it that way.
By the way.. if open to buy, weeks of stock and all that sounds foreign to you. Listen to episode 145 of the podcast where I break down some of the most common and important inventory management things you need to know.
So look, here’s the deal. If we were working together or you were a student of mine. One of the things I would ask about or help you look into would be your inventory management. And while I’m all for proper systems and data… I will preach that shit all day long… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Does that mean you’ll never need to learn these things and better manage them? No. The bigger you get the more important something like inventory management will be. Can you implement a solid inventory management system too soon? No. But if what you’re doing today is working for you. And I mean actually working, like the data is proving to you that it’s working because you’re not running out of your best sellers, nothing is getting dusty on your shelves, and you have money to pay yourself with… then don’t worry about it right now.
Let me give you another example of fixing things that aren’t broken. A client who makes the majority of her money in-person right now and is working on building up her online presence saw that her Shopify theme had an available update but she’s not super tech savvy and was concerned because it told her she wasn’t eligible for an automatic upgrade because she had customization to her site.
What that potential customization was? She has no idea because she didn’t set her site up. So here’s what I said… I’ve had clients doing multiple 7-figures on 5+ year-old themes… so you don’t have to update your theme every time they release an update. I advised her on some other technical things as well… but at the end of the day, for where she was at in business her main goal is to drive traffic to her online store.
The main reason you want to update a theme is to transition to Shopify 2.0 and or replace apps with native theme functionality. But even then, you don’t have to go and do it every single time.
Okay, one more story to really drive this point home. I recently had a strategy call with someone who has one product that he started selling on Amazon. His end goal is to build a brand and sell it, and he’s just learning all the things, getting comfortable with inventory management, etc. Anytime I do a strategy call I have you fill out an intake form so I can do some brainstorming ahead of time that way our time on the call is super productive.
One of the things he wanted some ideas about was how to expand his customer base. So he already had a pretty good lock on parents with young kids but wanted to branch out into teens and young adults. My initial thoughts were… don’t try to be everything to everyone AND that teens and young adults might be too cool for this product and he should consider adult adults instead. He asked me what I meant by that and I said people like me with gray hair. For context, he’s currently a college student.
Anyway… when I shared that with him he immediately said… I can understand why you would think that, but the data says otherwise. And I was so happy to be proven wrong by data.
In his research, including talking to other college students, especially those in sports, they expressed a lot of interest in the benefits of his product and how it could help with injuries, etc.
So yes, conventional wisdom would say don’t try to expand your customer base, to just lean into what is already working… but focusing on this other group is an untapped market because none of his competitors are targeting them and his data tells him there’s opportunity there. The key point, it’s data-backed. Again, I was super proud of how focused he was on the research and am excited to see where he takes this thing.
There’s another way I see this manifest in entrepreneurs, myself included, and that’s tinkering with every last thing on our websites thinking it’s somehow going to revolutionize our businesses.
Again, this is not to say your website doesn’t matter, that conversion rate optimization isn’t a thing, or that it’s not important. But in most cases… instead of tinkering on your website you could be working on SEO, sending an email, collaborating with another small business owner, taking a walk in the park, hanging out with your kid, going to get a massage, or insert thing you wish you had more time to do here.
In fact, that college student I had the strategy call with. He’s studying architecture. So he definitely has a creative side. I also got him set up with a forever free Shopify trial so he could start building out his website without the pressure of the 14-day trial and my parting words for him were… don’t spend hours trying to create a pixel-perfect website. Focus on the copy and driving traffic. He appreciated the permission slips.
So here’s the deal. Being busy is not a badge of honor. If you love to work… there is nothing wrong with that but make sure you’re working on the right things. Not just because you heard someone say you SHOULD do something. Especially if they don’t know you or your business. There is a ton of value in learning and getting support from the people who have gone before you. Hell, I made a business out of it. But as the CEO you are the one that ultimately gets to decide what you’re going to focus on when.
If you don’t know what that should be, or you thought you knew and then things didn’t really work out the way you’d hoped… that’s when it’s really time to dig deeper with someone who can help clear the cobwebs for you. Someone who is giving you direction based on what they’ve learned about your specific business and goals… not just some random general shit they shared on a podcast episode. Yes, even mine. Please don’t stop listening though, okay?
If you’re in need of that kind of support right now and want my brain on your business… come join the Lounge, my membership for eCommerce entrepreneurs, or book a strategy call. These are the fastest and easiest ways for me to help you figure out your best next steps.
I’ll stick links in the show notes where you can learn more about those opportunities along with links to the other episodes I mentioned here on the show.
Your action step for today… set aside some CEO time and some personal time. Get out of the weeds of your business and start looking at the big picture. Then step away from the business completely… even if it’s only for a day.