I honestly love reading stories like this one because they help me realize that every business goes through struggles and none are an overnight success. So I hope this story will inspire you too and show there are many failed business attempts, mistakes and years behind successful businesses.
If you’re looking for advice on how to turn a failing business around, check out: HOW TO TURN A FAILING HANDMADE BUSINESS AROUND…IN 5 STEPS.
Today, I can confidently say I run a successful business called Made Urban. But if I said that a couple of years ago, I would have been lying. I wasn’t confident about how my business was progressing and would pray people wouldn’t ask me what I did or how Made Urban was going.
I had the idea for Made Urban several years ago and quickly acted to write a business plan, get a loan, and hire developers.
We spent years and thousands of dollars trying to get the website to where we thought it should be but were constantly struggling to get traffic, no matter who we hired or asked for help.
I worked tirelessly to get the word out about the Made Urban MARKETPLACE. On top of conventional marketing efforts (i.e. social media, newsletter, SEO, cold calling/emailing, etc.) I was also working with local craft shows, handing out postcards, going for TV interviews, organizing giveaways, cross-promoting online and off, and even spending money on ads, as well as SEO and public relation services.
A lot of my time was spent reaching out to sellers and asking if they’d be interested in joining the free online marketplace. If you think about average conversion rates of 1 – 2%, you can imagine how defeating it felt to email a hundred sellers and only get a few signed up.
The plan was to get the marketplace booming locally, and then once we had a success formula, focus on growing other provinces, then states and maybe even one day, expand overseas.
As you can probably guess, we never made it that far. Although the marketplace did start to catch on in my province, and we did begin attracting sellers in other locations, something just wasn’t clicking.
I had honestly gotten to a point where I dreaded waking up in the morning and couldn’t fall asleep most nights because of the stressful thoughts running through my head.
I was exhausting all my options when it came to marketing and was getting to a point of not knowing what to do.
I felt like I had tried everything.
Even when I had a new idea that might work, I would quickly poke holes in it and doubt the chances of its success because of my past failed attempts.
But, one day, everything fell into place. I had a shift in my mindset, an aha moment, and a change of heart and focus for Made Urban.
The good news is, I’m now in a much better place with a thriving blog that attracts millions of readers each year, I have written several successful ebooks that have thousands of happy customers, and I have a newsletter with over 15,000 subscribers and growing.
I have lots of new exciting goals for Made Urban. So if you’re a fan of Made Urban, not to worry…it’s not going anywhere 🙂
The bad news is, it did lead me to where I am today, announcing the closure of the Made Urban MARKETPLACE.
Made Urban will continue to thrive and be a resource for people to find tips, tools, and advice for growing their handmade businesses. However, the MARKETPLACE will be shut down and there will no longer be handmade products for sale on Made Urban.
Although the MARKETPLACE technically failed, it really doesn’t feel like a failure, but rather a stepping stone to where I am now. I would have never started a blog or began sharing my advice had it not been for the Made Urban MARKETPLACE.
It also taught me a LOT of really valuable lessons, many of which I’ve shared and will continue to share on the Made Urban BLOG.
I realize Made Urban is a different type of business than yours (a business selling handmade products), but the lessons in this article apply to any business.
If you’re currently feeling defeated, you don’t have to give up. Every single business goes through adjustments and changes so don’t be afraid to make a shift.
Even if you’re feeling good about your business, have a look over the mistakes that led me to a failed portion of a business so you can be sure you don’t make them in the future.
MISTAKE #1 – NO NICHE
Without a niche, you’re competing with the biggest companies in the world that have millions of dollars to spend on marketing, teams of people, and years of experience under their belts.
We were focusing on the local aspect of selling online when we started Made Urban, but it wasn’t niche enough and we were ultimately trying to compete with the biggest handmade marketplaces online: Etsy, Zibbet, Artfire and the hundreds of others popping up each month (here’s a list of Etsy alternatives).
Were there lots of people I could market the Made Urban MARKETPLACE to by not narrowing down a niche? Absolutely. But it was completely overwhelming.
I had hundreds of emails in a spreadsheet before Made Urban even launched, full of businesses that could join.
Emailing people on that list was like throwing darts in the dark. I’m sure no one felt I was offering an experience tailored to their business or different from what they were already using (e.g. Etsy).
I would have been better off focusing on a niche, for example, handmade business owners selling jewelry. Or gotten even more specific on the type of jewelry, the business model they were following, or the type of goals they wanted to achieve.
I could have tailored my pitch to appeal jewelry makers, sharing why Made Urban was unique and how our site would benefit their business. That would have been more likely to get more people signing up to sell.
A niche isn’t about reducing how many people you can sell to. It’s about going after an existing group of people being underserved and creating a product or service that’s so perfect for them, they can’t help but be your customer.
The Made Urban MARKETPLACE tried to be everything to everyone who sold handmade, which wasn’t successful.
The Made Urban BLOG has succeeded because it started with a focus on craft show advice. As it’s picked up steam, I’ve been able to expand to other subjects related to running a handmade business.
MISTAKE #2 – I WANTED TO DO EVERYTHING
Part of the reason the Made Urban MARKETPLACE failed is because we didn’t just launch Made Urban as a marketplace. We launched as a marketplace for products AND services, an events calendar, a blog, and had several other half-baked ideas.
Had we focused on one of those aspects; being just a marketplace for handmade goods OR a website for listing and finding local events OR a blog, we would have saved a lot of time and money.
Instead, we put a ton of effort into perfecting several aspects of the website and ended up with every aspect being mediocre instead of an amazing event listing site, or marketplace, or blog.
Creative minds come up with so many great ideas, but remember, you don’t have to do them all right now.
When you’re a small team, or single business owner, with a limited budget, you don’t have the time or money to bring all ideas to fruition at once.
Choose the best idea, prove its concept, perfect it, bring in revenue from it, and then use the profits to expand.
Think about the bare minimum you could get by with and challenge yourself by asking if you really need all the bells and whistles.
Do you really need a full website built before you start your newsletter or can you start with one page that has one beautiful image of your work and a sign up form so people can be the first to know when your website launches?
We see all the bells and whistles our competitors have and are tricked into thinking we need everything at once.
Go as big as you can without compromising quality. It’s better to have a really amazing one-page website than a poorly designed 10-page website.
Once you have one part of your business perfectly in place and running smoothly, you can move to the next.
MISTAKE #3 – UNDERVALUING
I honestly thought: it’s free! Why wouldn’t people join?!
I’m sure it’s a mentality many handmade business owners have when pricing their goods. It’s only $5…why wouldn’t someone buy it?!
But low prices make people question the value of the product or service or wonder if it’s too good to be true.
If every hairdresser in your city is charging $100+ for highlights but one is charging half that, wouldn’t you question the quality of their work?
Low prices and profits also prevent you from improving your business.
Free meant we didn’t have the revenue to put back into the business and make improvements for our members until ad revenue picked up.
I thought “free” meant people wouldn’t think twice about joining but I was wrong. People still put a value on their time and end up thinking: how good can it really be if it’s free?
Don’t undervalue your work or time, or price it based on what you think people will pay. Think about what you would expect to pay for a high-quality item like yours (jewelry, soap, art, etc.) and if it’s higher than your prices, consider raising them.
MISTAKE #4 – IGNORING FACTS
For the longest time, I ignored the fact I was no longer enjoying the work required to market and maintain an online marketplace.
I absolutely loved seeing all the amazing products being listed and discovering new handmade businesses. But I really didn’t enjoy emailing people all day, going on local television shows to get the word out, dealing with website glitches, organizing thousands of postcards to be mailed to event organizers, etc.
Aside from dreaming up ideas for website improvements, I didn’t get to be creative every day.
One day I realized, my favorite days that flew by and didn’t feel like work were the days I wrote articles for the blog.
But in a way, I was resentful towards the blog. I saw how much traffic was going there but I wanted it to be going to the MARKETPLACE.
Finally…and thankfully…I had the light bulb moment to embrace the blog’s traffic and focus more of my efforts there.
I always paid attention to my stats but I wasn’t letting them guide my decisions. They were clearly telling me the blog was providing more value than the marketplace.
When I finally let those stats guide my actions, I started spending more time on the blog and looking for more ways to monetize it. That’s when Made Urban really took off.
I was stubborn in trying to stick with my original vision for what I wanted Made Urban to be and where the money would come from.
Focusing on the blog was a completely different direction than planned. But when I finally swallowed my pride, admitted what I was doing wasn’t working, and opened my mind to other possibilities, it was like I had stopped paddling upstream. I still had to work hard to get where I am today, but every day didn’t feel like a battle and I was finally being rewarded for all my efforts.
Don’t let your ego stop you from recognizing other possibilities and avenues for reaching success. Be willing to go with ideas that are going to be the best for your business.
MISTAKE #5 – IGNORING MY GUT FEELINGS
I absolutely knew when things were wrong and we were making a business deal we’d end up regretting. But I’d often push those gut feelings aside because everyone said it’s what we should be doing, I had already taken up someone’s time and felt guilty not hiring them, or because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or ruffle feathers.
I also should have been paying attention to the pit in my stomach that was present every morning. If that’s not a clear sign I was on the wrong path, I don’t know what is.
Challenging yourself and dealing with a few nerves or butterflies can be great and mean you’re growing. Spending every day in a cold sweat and being stressed out with a mind full of negative thoughts, is not helpful.
You have to be able to believe you can achieve the goal you’ve set out for yourself.
Every time I tried to visualize what my idea of success looked like for the Made Urban MARKETPLACE, I was stumped. When I did imagine it as an Etsy-sized marketplace, I didn’t believe in it…or want it.
I’m not someone who wants to lead a big team of people, manage hundreds of employees, or give speeches to thousands.
I didn’t believe I could do what it takes to build a successful marketplace with millions of listings.
That obviously reflected in the success of the Made Urban MARKETPLACE.
But I did, and do, believe I can run a successful blog, offer valuable advice, write ebooks, and help millions of people that way. And I’m doing that today.
I didn’t start with the goal of selling my ebooks to thousands of people or having my articles read by millions.
I started with small goals that I had no doubt I could achieve. That way I was excited when I would see 100 people read my new article, not disappointed.
As my business grew, so did my goals and I’m now setting ones that would have been unbelievable to me just over a year ago.
Although one aspect of my business failed, it led me to a thriving blog, successful ebooks, and connecting with thousands of newsletter subscribers and millions of readers.
If you were a seller on the Made Urban Marketplace, thanks for being a part of it! I hope you’ll stick around and be a part of what Made Urban has morphed into.
And if you’re a subscriber of my newsletter, have joined a free email challenge, purchased one of my ebooks, or are just stopping in to read this article, thank you for helping me grow Made Urban into something I never imagined it could be.
Do you have any businesses behind you that didn’t work out? Share any lessons you learned in the comments or let me know how you’re feeling about your current business.
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!