If you aren’t prepared, the best thing to happen to your business could hurt it. Two business owners share best practices for handling popularity surges.
While most business owners rightfully court popularity, it’s possible for a business to be too popular. Becoming an overnight sensation can potentially lead to problems like struggling with cash flow and lacking the infrastructure to handle an onslaught of orders, leading to a base of unsatisfied customers.
“Overnight popularity is a good problem—but good problems are still problems,” says Chad Corzine, who knows of what he speaks.
His Los Angeles-based company is The Urban Agriculture Company
, which produces gardening kits, aimed at apartment residents and city dwellers. His products became popular overnight after appearing on a list of favorite things on Oprah.com
. Not surprisingly, that kind of attention helped the business: Orders took off. But if Corzine hadn’t been prepared, the attention could have killed his business.
If you’re ever lucky enough to have sudden popularity, take these five pieces of advice into consideration.
1. Delegate tasks to your team instead of micromanaging.
Corzine had been working on his business throughout 2015 in his downtime. (His day job was spent working as vice president of sales for his father’s candle company.) In January 2016, he started his own company full time. Success came quickly. By the summer of 2016, Corzine had employed 10 people and was operating out of a warehouse. He was having great luck with selling his growing kits at independent and brick and mortar retailers as well as gardening trade shows.
But then in November of that year, Corzine learned that his company was going to become very popular, very fast, very soon.
“We were told, ‘We’re thinking of putting you on this list,'” Corzine says. “We signed an NDA [non-disclosure agreement], and they tell you to get ready, and that’s about it.”
Corzine did need to get ready: His business had a warehouse, but not a website. E-commerce was something he wasn’t yet focused on.
“In a week, we designed our website and created our entire e-commerce department,” Corzine says.
The day that his products were to be featured on Oprah.com, by 3:30 a.m., Corzine didn’t even attempt to sleep.
“I was like a kid at Christmas,” he says.
I felt like I had gotten the best endorsement ever, and I wanted to take full advantage of it. I kept saying, “We need to take this and run with it.”
—Chad Corzine, founder, The Urban Agriculture Company
As predicted, that morning, the customers came. “We went from no orders to over 100 our first day, and the orders didn’t slow down,” Corzine says.
Corzine had micromanaged his business up to this point, and for several hours, that was still his first instinct. But he quickly understood the futility of continuing that approach.
“We had a team meeting that morning,” Corzine says, “and we were asking questions like, ‘What exactly is in front of us?’ ‘And what happened last night?'”
He thinks if he hadn’t delegated important tasks to his staff, the company might not have flourished. As it stands, Corzine’s company, four months later, has 25 employees and has hit the one million mark in annual sales.
Jennifer Sparr, a San Antonio-based entrepreneur, agrees that delegating is crucial. Sparr created the Rest-Rite Sleep Positioner, a sleep aid that she sells at RestRite.com
. Earlier this year, she wound up learning that her product was selected to be in gift bags for two separate national awards shows, both events attended by numerous Hollywood celebrities. Once the bags were passed out, and the media took an interest in the gift bags, sales shot up tenfold for about three weeks, and Sparr was pulled in seemingly a million different directions.
“There needs to be at least one other person you can trust to make decisions and delegate in your place,” Sparr says.
2. Be reactive and proactive to sudden popularity.
As you might expect, overnight popularity can bring its share of woes and wrinkles.
Getting far more orders than normal was wonderful. Having her website stop working properly, however, wasn’t.
“Although you could go through the website, if you tried to buy anything you would get an error message,” Sparr says. “My coder tried working with our hosting provider to fix the problem, but it kept happening over several days.”
Ultimately, Sparr says, she and her coder created an Amazon store and put a link on their website. Until they could get their own website issues resolved—which included building an entirely new online store—they were at least able to get sales via the giant national e-retailer.
But while you want to be ready for problems, like a website not working properly, you also want to make sure you’re being proactive and are still doing things like marketing. Both Sparr and Corzine kept up their marketing, no matter how many orders came in.
“If anything, I doubled my marketing efforts during that time,” Corzine says. “I felt like I had gotten the best endorsement ever, and I wanted to take full advantage of it. I kept saying, ‘We need to take this and run with it.'”
3. Be wary of offers that come out of the woodwork.
So you’re popular now. Everybody loves you. That may not be as cool of a development as you would think.
“We got slammed with emails and calls from ‘companies’ wanting to buy large quantities of product,” Sparr says. “But after talking about what all they could do for us, they required from us a fee of anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 to cover the cost of production of their infomercial or cable show.”
She also was approached by “a lot of unheard of magazines, websites, papers and bloggers.”
Just because you haven’t heard of a magazine or blogger doesn’t make them suspect. But in many cases, Sparr says, after a lengthy conversation, the so-called writer would request payment for writing about her product. That isn’t done, ever, in reputable journalism.
Sparr says that she had plenty of legitimate requests mixed in with the shady characters, but she needed to be able to tell the difference quickly so that she wouldn’t put off and possibly lose valuable media coverage.
4. Plan for your overnight success.
Corzine had a week to prepare for his company being mentioned on Oprah.com. Sparr had about two weeks before the first of the two national awards shows featured her product in gift bags. Some business owners get even less time
Still, you can always talk to your vendors or suppliers and come up with a plan for what should happen if you’d ever suddenly have a massive amount or orders come in. It’s the same kind of thinking that goes behind having an emergency plan, in case of a natural disaster. You want to be prepared for the unexpected, and in the case of overnight popularity, no business owner wants the potentially best thing to ever happen to their company to turn out to be the worst.
“The obvious things to do are to talk with your website hosting company to make sure that your site can handle the traffic and make sure you have plenty of stock and a distribution system put into place,” Sparr says.
5. Don’t get overly optimistic.
Everything is going great for now, but remember: Business may return back to normal. Stay jaded.
Corzine was already growing rapidly before his sudden influx of orders, and so it’s not surprising that he wound up adding more staff. Still, even as he added 15 new employees, he says he didn’t rely on emotions or gut instincts. He always followed a mathematical formula based on demand and how many growing kits his company could manufacture.
Deciding who to hire for non-manufacturing work, Corzine admits, has been harder: “Do we need three people to help us file, or do we actually need no one?”
Sparr, who has three employees and a number of freelancers working for her, didn’t go on a hiring spree. She knew that the surge in popularity was a tool she could use to build upon for future growth and not the new normal in sales.
But it’s all too easy to imagine some business owners going overboard, after a crazy-high surge in sales, and building out a team of employees or an infrastructure only to later see their revenue plunge to pre-overnight popularity levels. Every company and situation is different, of course, but it’s always smart business to remember that as fast as the customers arrived, they can leave, too.
This article first appeared in www.americanexpress.com
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