As the Principal and Gourmet Coffee Roaster of Lake City Coffee, I can confidently say that just having a great product isn’t enough to succeed. A successful business is also built upon tried, true, and tested processes, procedures, and tools. The challenge is that testing everything from one end of your business to the other takes time.
If you study the history of business, you’ll find that from the Romans to the ancient Chinese, from the British Empire to the American colonies, all the way to the present era, what you’ll find is that growing a business is a slow and arduous process. In spite of modern technology, growing a business still takes time. A lot of time. And there are NO short cuts. But there is a faster way to test what works and what doesn’t.
Who & What Are We Serving?
In my experience, it takes the first year to just figure out exactly what you’re truly selling and who your customers truly are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard successful business owners say that they started out doing one thing, only to end up doing something entirely different.
If business owners have one thing in common, it’s that we have a high tolerance for failure because we are the eternal optimists, having far more faith in our ideas and plans than they certainly deserve. Long past the point when a reasonable person would have quit, we’re still in there trying to quickly figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
Old But Not Dead
Speaking of time. As you know, time is our most limited and most valuable commodity. I loath the saying, “Try it, you never know.” Trial and error works great. Unfortunately, the price is always time. As I approach the last third of my life, I still want to try new business ideas. I still want to do things that have never been done before. I still want to succeed. But, I am far more aware of time’s ticking clock. Therefore for me, and hopefully for you, reducing the amount of time that it takes to learn what works and what doesn’t work is a critical factor to launching a successful business.
So, as business owners, here we stand with a serious problem. We have the propensity to fail with limited time to figure out how to succeed. Part of the solution is to find a repeatable system to quickly and inexpensively test new business ideas. In manufacturing they call that prototyping. In software development they call that rapid-development. Obviously, as business owners, we want the same kind of quick testing platform for launching new businesses. Here’s what I found.
I was attending a business-networking event in Coeur d’Alene Idaho, when I met a fellow businessman and entrepreneur Arthur Shaw. Arthur owns an ITEX franchise. ITEX is the country’s largest bartering service consisting of 25,000 small business owners like me. It also has an online marketplace where its members advertise and sell their wares to each other.
Our Rapid Testing Platform
ITEX seemed to have the potential of compressing the time it took for market and product research, marketing and sales testing, shipping and back-office processes. By this time, I had already failed miserably trying to build a wholesale gourmet coffee business. Considering that this ITEX testing platform was only $25 with a 6% service fee, I was pretty excited to give it a whirl.
Thanks to my ITEX broker Arthur and his tireless efforts in promoting our business to the ITEX community, the first month we did over $2,000 in ITEX sales. By the end of the first full year we did over $29,000 in ITEX sales. But more importantly, we had a viable and repeatable testing-platform.
Very quickly, our testing-platform taught us that our shipping costs were killing us. Our online shopping cart was cumbersome. Our product descriptions were too detailed. Our marketing message needed refining. Our pricing was far more elastic than we thought, i.e. we weren’t charging enough.
Most significantly, we quickly learned exactly what people wanted and we learned exactly who our customers were. If we never made a dime from our ITEX membership, these lessons alone would have been worth it. Without using ITEX as a testing platform, it would have taken us years to learn these lessons. Instead, we had a handle on our problems in a few short weeks. Then it was just a matter of tweaking, re-testing, and doing it all over again, with near instant feedback.
Moving From ITEX to Cash
Our next challenge was to turn our ITEX sales successes into cash sales successes. Once again, we turned to our broker Arthur. Arthur then turned us onto Justin Monk, an SEO (Search Engine Optimization – Google Ranking) expert, who was part of the ITEX community and who accepted ITEX payment for all of our SEO needs.
As a result of our SEO efforts, Lake City Coffee is now very highly ranked on Google for:
- Coeur d’Alene Coffee Roaster
- Coeur d’Alene Gourmet Coffee Roaster
- Coeur d’Alene Coffee Roasting Company
- Coeur d’Alene Whole Bean Coffee
- Coeur d’Alene Gourmet Coffee
- Spokane Whole Bean Coffee
- Spokane Gourmet Coffee Roaster
- Spokane Whole Bean Coffee
- Best Spokane Gourmet Coffee Roaster
Including about a dozen other cities.
Gourmet Coffee Roaster Ranking
Additionally, we’re nationally ranked on Google for “Best Whole Bean Coffee” and “Conservative Coffee Roaster”. This SEO effort has slowly developed a steady stream of new non-ITEX cash customers. Keep in mind, that we would never have been able to afford an SEO budget, if it weren’t for ITEX. In essence, ITEX is building our non-ITEX cash business.
Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We never would have made it as a Gourmet Coffee Roaster if it wasn’t for our very efficient and effective testing platform. My advice is, when starting a new business is to fail fast and fail small by using a testing platform like ITEX.