Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Between the current inflationary environment and the looming economic recession, launching a business may seem riskier than ever. In fact, 89% of small business owners have increased the prices of their products or services since the global health crisis, and 60% are concerned about the financial health of their businesses due to inflation.
Even so, brands are still launching every day, but not without some necessary pivots. For brands to thrive, they must make hard decisions concerning ingredients, packaging and distribution. Knowledge of risk factors and the ability to implement risk-management strategies is crucial before launching your brand.
Laying the foundation for your risk management plan
Taking an idea from the brainstorming stage to product development and into launch can be difficult. It is crucial to create a risk management plan for your small business.
The first thing you’ll need to calculate is the cost to launch, including your marketing and sales plan. Solidifying concrete numbers will give you a solid foundation to work from.
Next, be sure to assess and know who your target market is and establish your unique selling point. Your product or service should be filling a gap, and knowing what gap you fill will help you and your employees stay on track.
Finally, you will need to map out realistic goals for where your products will be sold. Will you be an ecommerce, online-only store; brick and mortar, or perhaps you opt to sell your products through a retailer such as Amazon? Having a solid business plan that addresses these core areas and questions is key.
Once you work through the risk factors as a company, you are ready to launch your brand. Here are four key strategies to help you mitigate risk.
1. Account for risk in your business plan
Your business plan is your guide. It should be highly detailed with information on all aspects of the business, including an industry snapshot, go-to marketing strategies, finance, personnel and other various operating procedures.
To do this, ask yourself the following questions: What is the current state of the market for this type of product (think supply and demand)? What is our ideal customer profile? How do competitors fit into the landscape? How are we different? What is our profit margin and how do we plan to pay off debts? Do we have the proper contracts in place?
And last, but not least, be sure to plan past your initial launch. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by Fundera, roughly 20% of small businesses fail within the first year, 33% within the first two years and 50% within the first five years. Having a one-, three- and five-year plan in place with widespread company knowledge that you may need to adapt can help prevent business failure.
Taking steps to avoid risk does not mean you will be free from the threat of failure, but a business plan will help you reroute quicker. Setting this expectation with your company ahead of time will help you mentally prepare for potential roadblocks, treating them as opportunities rather than setbacks.
2. Establish your place in the market before you scale
You do not need a huge collection; you need a pain point and a solution. According to research from CBInsights, startups fail most often due to two reasons: failure to verify market needs and not spending money wisely.
It can be easy to get caught up in size and scale, but consumers are looking for quality authenticity and a compelling brand story. Focus on these things first. A quick way to run your brand into the ground is sprinting too fast out of the gate with no clear direction. Find your place in the market and develop one really good product first, and the rest will follow.
Take Sara Blakely’s form-fitting shapewear brand Spanx as an example. While the company is now branching out into more categories of apparel, the brand got its start in 1998 when Blakely had just $5,000 in her bank account. Chopping the legs off a pair of pantyhose is how Blakely first created her shapewear prototype. Thus, Spanx was born.
You can always innovate your products later, but establishing your place in the market is key to building your brand reputation. When it comes time to maximize growth, you will be ready.
3. Find a manufacturer that can help you scale your minimum order quantity
Make sure your manufacturer has capabilities that fit your needs, from the size of the facility to quality and speed. You do not want your initial brand launch to turn out the way Jaclyn Cosmetics did in 2019 when its highly anticipated makeup products were found filled with mold, hair and bubbles.
The reason for this error? The fibers from the cleaning towels were left in a big tub where the lipsticks were mixed. Although this was not the fault of the brand, it took the hit and its reputation never recovered.
Knowing what to look for in a manufacturer is essential. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on the front end before deciding to commit to a manufacturer. Look through their website, read reviews and visit their factories. Invest in your manufacturer just like you would your own brand.
4. Perform small test runs to gauge consumer interest
Gathering feedback on the performance of a product does not have to be expensive, nor does it have to be a huge undertaking. To gauge consumer interest, test your product on the market. This could look like doing a soft product launch on your website, or utilizing more general third-party selling platforms. Rather than purchasing 500 units, put 50 of each SKU and measure product performance based on key KPIs.
Once your product is out, pay close attention to customer reviews. Criticism is not necessarily fun but take it to heart and respond accordingly. This information is a gold mine and can help you develop the best product on the market. Want to know what your customers want? Listen to them.
The fact of the matter is, there are risks when it comes to launching a brand. And with costs rising, it may feel too risky at the moment. But with the right plan, manufacturer and mindset, you can successfully start a business while cultivating your unique space in the market.