Early Stage Essentials For Small Business

A casual discussion about early business and providing support for small businesses or prospective small businesses in any capacity.

Image credit: Billy Bubbles

William (Billy), a designer, used to work at Exo and started a side hustle at the beginning of the lockdown in Melbourne. He has a knack for finding a hole in the market, and his business took off straight away. It grew steadily and then snow-balled, resulting in Billy turning his small idea into his full-time job.

Let’s have a look at how Billy Bubbles started, how it’s going and where it’s headed.

How It Started

Billy started his business purely out of curiosity around people’s potential problems with refilling their Soda Stream gas cylinder. He discovered that customers would generally forget to take their cylinders to the store, and it wasn’t easy to use.

He launched in the easiest way he could, realising that delivery service was a massive thing. He offered a ‘pick-up and refill’ service in Melbourne at the start of lockdown when it was difficult for people to get out. Bookings were made online, and customers left their canisters on their doorstep for Billy to pick up and refill and return.

How It’s Going and Where It’s Headed

Billy has had an edge over the last 12 months due to his design background and a mindset of experience and testing. He hasn’t been sidetracked by marketing agencies, websites and getting accounts in order. This focus and perseverance have resulted in a customer base of 3,500 customers and is continuing to grow purely through word of mouth.

To interact with his customers on a more personal level, Billy makes use of Facebook and Instagram. This way, he has direct contact with each of his customers, and he can be in control of the user experience from beginning to end. Having a website could potentially result in him losing some control; however, it could also increase the number of enquiries and customers the business receives.

The more customers he has, the faster he can scale up and expand as a business; however, to do that confidently, the processes and systems that he has in place need to be rock solid. A sound business foundation takes some time to establish, but it’s worth it because it sets you up to succeed as your business grows.

The business is essentially a logistics business that’s able to provide a circular service of picking up and providing refillable containers. I’m thinking of other products I can provide using re-usable containers. I first need to build a solid foundation and resources.

Billy – Owner of Billy Bubbles

As a start-up, Billy Bubbles is still in the growth stage of the business lifecycle and isn’t quite at the point where it is profitable enough to start scaling up. As such, the systems and processes that Billy imploys are a work in progress.

For example, he uses minichat, Snapchat and Google Sheets to process orders. Once the business grows and gets larger, he will move to more sophisticated software.

Starting with what you know is excellent at the beginning of your small business journey. Once you start looking at scaling up, expanding your knowledge through upskilling is a natural progression and stands you in good stead to succeed.

Another example is that he currently only offers a Pay-As-You-Go service. Being a start-up with just one employee, a subscription service would be complicated to facilitate. However, it could be a natural step to take as the business expands and has the capacity to support a slightly more complex process.

Relying on sub-contractors you trust to help you get your business off the ground can be very beneficial. It relieves a lot of the pressure associated with delivering your product or service and lets you focus on establishing the groundwork before stretching your wings and taking on salaried employees.

It all comes down to personal choice and the best business practice as the company expands. In the case of Billy Bubbles, Billy uses sub-contractors for deliveries and warehouse work. This works just fine for right now and could potentially continue to work no matter how large the business gets.

Key Takeaway’s Through Q&A

Can you tell us something that was an essential element before scaling up?

An essential element is the ability to identify a problem and being able to test something and validate the idea or solution. Another essential element is to launch as quickly and cheaply as possible

What have you found works and what doesn’t work in the testing phase?

There is a vast choice of design tools documented online. It’s about being in the moment, identifying and using the right tools.

What is your biggest challenge in the business?

Business ownership and keeping a level head.

Did you go through any pivots or major insights that have improved your business?

Providing the product through sellers but I’m still working it out. My business is the service I provide not the product itself. Solving the problem for my customers is the most fulfilling thing for me. I don’t want to become a wholesaler – that’s not solving any problems for my customers

What do you think about the environmental cost for your business?

It’s something I’m very conscious of and has been a very large focus. My customers are at the heart of everything I do with my business and the environment is very close after that. I provide my service with as little wastage as possible. None of the materials that my business uses is used once. The cylinders can be used for at least 10 years – boxes are used 5-6 times until they disintegrate. The gas is a by-product of other processes that is re-used as well. Driving around the streets could be done a bit better – electric cars are the way to go in the future. I am aspiring towards that.

Image credit: Billy Bubbles

Having a clear vision and working towards short and long-term goals keeps up your momentum through the high points and motivates you to keep going through the low points. You must be willing to make mistakes, adapt to change and accept that you won’t have all the answers.

Starting a business can be daunting, but it should still be fun. Lean on the people around you, ask for help and support when you need it and embrace the experimentation process. Do what you love, and you’ll love what you do.

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