The Story

3 Fixable Bumps in the Road

It’s inevitable, really.  Everyone who starts a business reaches a point where things aren’t going perfectly.  And it’s hard to know whether or not that imperfection is temporary or permanent.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen self-imposed ultimatums, always the result of that inevitable bump, come and go.  My freshman year alone, I thought of giving up Yellow Box at least half a dozen times.  I would tell all my friends it’s over, stop posting things on social media for a while, and then the nagging in the back of my head would start.  The “well, just go a little harder, push a little farther, it can’t hurt that much more” voice always won.  And so far it’s been for the better.

That, I like to attribute to Thomas Jefferson’s best line ever: “I find the harder I work, the luckier I am.” (Exact quotes vary based on the source.)

But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes, ideas, and business models, are just bad.  Or just simply won’t work at scale.  So how do you know if your idea is one of those that is doomed?

Well, to be honest, I’m not sure either.  However, here are three common problems that can create that feeling of doom that are totally fixable.

  1. You’re not converting leads into customers. This is kinda a big one.  And can be indicative of larger, doom-like problems.  However, this can also be as simple as a messaging problem.  Apple makes the same tablets that Dell makes, and they both make the same tablets as Samsung, Sony, etc. So why do people think of tablet as being synonymous with the iPad?  Apple’s messaging.  Their messaging doesn’t say, “Oh hey, we have a great tablet that is easy to use.  We made it because we believe in making the world more accessible.”  They say, “We believe in making the world more accessible.  That’s why we make easy to use technology, like this tablet.”  Bam.  So take the same approach.  Everyone in your industry offers the same end-product more or less, so don’t try to sell users on your end product – sell them on who you are.  While sometimes that who-you-are as a college student can be a turn-off, play it to your advantage.  Let them know that you’re not bogged down in industry dogma, and that you are taking a fresh approach to their problems, instead of just doing what every other company has been doing for the last 20 years.
  2. You’re not getting any leads. This is almost certainly not an indicator of doom in your model, but rather doom in your approach.  Even if your business absolutely sucked, you could still generate leads.  All you need to do is be vigilant, set aside a certain amount of time each day to reach out to people, be it through social media, email, Google AdWords, Craigslist, whatever.  While attracting leads does have to do with your branding (make sure you present your business professionally and articulately!), it’s also a numbers game.  The more you put yourself out there, the more people will see you and come on over to chat.
  3. You’re not making money. Which also sucks.  And while this is a function of generating leads and turning those leads into customers, it is also a function of profit margins.  At the outset, I was pricing Yellow Box’s work pretty low to make sure that I had the best chance possible to get the client.  That was all to build a portfolio and get things rolling forward.  Once they’re rolling forward and you have some experience to refer potential customers to, move your prices up to market.  As a college student, we might feel that we shouldn’t be charging what other companies charge for the same service, that people won’t take us seriously if we’re only a Junior and asking for $50 an hour to build out a site.  But psych studies have shown that if you price yourself too low, people won’t place any value on your services and won’t hire you.  Which then forces you to keep them low even longer to find get a gig to build that experience.  So basically, if you’re playing in the big leagues, charge like you’re at least in the minors and not tee-ball.

There are tons of other smaller issues that pop up, but shouldn’t cause as much alarm as these.  And while these are generally fixable, it’s not always the case.  Just do what is right for your business and for you.  If you have to take some time off and rethink everything, go for it.  But if you can continue to forge ahead, there’s nothing stopping you.


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About Author

Nate started Yellow Box Studios, a digital advertising agency based in Chicago, in 2010 as a high school senior. He's graduated from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign with a degree in Creative Writing and is currently working on a Masters in advertising, also at the University of Illinois.