Things About Our Business That Didn’t Go According To Plan

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from starting our online wedding linens business, it’s that good planning can only get you so far. You can spend hours and hours putting together the most intricate and well thought out plan only to have it blow up in your face because of one false assumption.

In order to be successful, you have to be open minded. You have to be willing to change. You have to accept that your plans might be complete garbage and that you need to start over from scratch.

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Looking back, my wife and I had a ton of things that didn’t go according to plan. Come to think of it, if we had proceeded down the path of our well laid out plans, my wife would still be working right now and this blog probably never would have existed.

Recently, my wife and I whipped out some of our old planning files and got such a kick out of reading them that I thought it would be interesting to share some of our failures with you.

Our Ingenious Ebay Marketing Plan

One of our biggest fiascoes was in developing the marketing strategy for our online store. At the time, I was completely new to web marketing so I had no clue what I was doing. Basically, I hinged all of our marketing efforts on the use of Ebay. Please allow me to explain.

Ebay invests a tremendous amount of money on adwords and web advertising and in general, Ebay products do fairly well in the search rankings. My ingenious plan was to launch a bunch of auctions with links pointing directly to our wedding linens website. The Ebay shopper would read the auction description and then go directly to our store website to make the purchase instead of waiting for the auction to complete. We even offered lower prices on our website than on our EBay auctions in order to entice buyers to come to our site directly.

Why Didn’t It Work?
We discovered the hard way that people that shop on Ebay like to shop on Ebay. Very few of the buyers actually clicked on the link to visit our website directly. Instead, they simply bid on the auction and as a result, we ended up selling a bunch of items at a much lower profit due to Ebay’s high final value fees. We also squandered a good amount of money on Ebay listing fees without converting any customers on our direct website.

The final nail in the coffin was when we found out that it was against Ebay’s terms of service to deliberately steer buyers away from the Ebay site. Fortunately, we managed to take down all of the links before Ebay banned us altogether.

Directory Submissions

The second prong of our web marketing campaign was to obtain backlinks through directory submissions. There are many services out there that offer a bazillion web directory submissions for one low price. Earn thousands of backlinks for just $19.95! Sounds like a deal right?

Well it was too good to be true. We submitted our site to a bunch of directories using some of these services and then waited for our web traffic and Google rankings to rise. Nothing happened except we received a few meaningless clicks from some random directories.

Even over two years later, I can honestly say that none of the traffic from any of these directories has ever led to a single sale on our website.

We Picked Our Best Selling Product Before Selling Anything

There was this one particular linens style that my wife and I fell in love with and thought would sell extremely well. So what did we do? We based our initial product marketing strategies around this one particular item. Oh and did I mention that we ended up buying a crap load of these linens as well?

Yes, it’s always wise to make critical product related decisions before you’ve even made an attempt to understand your target market:P We ended up being so wrong about these linens that over 2 years later, we still haven’t gotten rid of our initial inventory! If there’s a lesson to be learned, just because you love a particular product doesn’t necessarily mean that your customers will too. It’s hard to predict what will sell and what will not. In fact, we are constantly surprised by what items actually become popular.

Our Initial Product Sourcing Plans Failed

From the beginning, our plan was to source our products from Asia. All we had to do was find a cheap vendor, import the goods and sell them in the US for a nice profit. Easy as 1-2-3.

So when we found our first vendor, we placed our initial order anticipating a ridiculous profit margin. And based on this margin, we drafted up these nice hockey stick (you know up and to the right) looking graphs that depicted our massive profitability potential.

But unfortunately, our first vendor sent us a bunch of unsellable linens. Either they were damaged or the quality was horrific. Almost none of the inventory was fit for sale.

We discovered the hard way that you have to pay good money for quality merchandise. Taking into account these extra costs brought all of our profit projections back down to earth. To think that during this time I thought that we had discovered a hidden profit making machine!

Things Never Go According To Plan

Things have never gone entirely according to plan for any of my ventures. Maybe I’m just be a poor planner but I sincerely believe that it’s just impossible to predict the outcome of certain aspects of your business. There are just too many variables to consider.

The proper mindset when going into business is to assume that many of your assumptions will be wrong. That way when things go awry, you’ll have an open mind when it comes time to solving your problems. If my wife and I had stuck to our original strategies, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

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25 thoughts on “Things About Our Business That Didn’t Go According To Plan”

  1. I can relate to things never “going according to plan”. No matter how many consultants and experts stress the importance of planning, you don’t really know how its going to be until you get started. I had a business plan (for myself) target customers, etc and all of my assumptions were probably 80% incorrect.

  2. I laughed out loud when I saw the “Directory Submissions” headline. I knew what was coming!

    My first online job was for an SEO company. I was the person who actually submitted all those websites to the directories! They actually paid pretty well, too. But I doubt many of those customers who had paid a few hundred dollars to be submitted to “500 search engines!” actually got much of a return on their investment.

    -Erica

  3. Chi says:

    Great article steve. Never any shortcuts, are there?

  4. david says:

    while I understand the “things don’t go to plan” point, it seems a few quick internet searches could have informed you about the effectiveness of directory listing services.

    in fact, most of your “things which didn’t go to plan” look suspiciously like “things which were planned with little to no actual effort”

    maybe you should change the advice to, “sometimes you actually need to do some legwork”

    1. @Erica
      That’s hilarious. I guess a lot of other people have fallen for this.

      @Chi
      Nupe, but you’ve got to try at least.

      @David
      Designing and promoting websites was a completely new subject to me when we started our online store. When you are clueless, you tend to look at what’s easy to do and go from there. Doing some “quick internet searches” isn’t all that easy to do when you are getting conflicting messages all over the place. Magnify that by 100 when you don’t understand a thing. In any case, it’s easy to forget the little things that are now common sense. That’s why looking back on our plans was so comical.

  5. Ethan says:

    I recently came across a wise statement along these lines:

    You don’t plan because the plan is what’s going to happen; you plan because it helps you respond quickly and confidently to change.

    In other words, our plans form baselines from which reality inevitably diverges. If we don’t have that baseline we are slower to recognize the departure and less goal-oriented in our response.

  6. Ha ha funny article, loved it. Refreshing and honest look at how plans are kind of silly really, especially when you look back at them later.

    As for @David, why don’t you butt out and go take care of your own business, which I bet is a real multi-million dollar winner seeing as you’ve got so much time to go around dissing people. (oh wait … that’s what I’m doing here … all the same … my point stands.)

  7. A plan has value because it gives us an initial direction to start moving in. Being able to adjust our plan according to the new information that experience provides is the real key to success. This is true both in life and business.

  8. A good book that doesn’t subscribe to the plan everything idea is Start Small Finish Big, by one of the founders of Subway (I hear they’ve made few dollars).

    Planning before we know much will always be a mistake (unless we’re lucky). It’s best when starting to just wander around, try different stuff, see what works. In a situation of complexity (like the www) there isn’t much else that will work.

    I think planning is useful to help us sort out our desires and priorities and to decide what to do next. I don’t think I have ever been able to predict the future – things have always turned out different than I planned.

  9. Excellent tips. I always like your posts and this one is filled with great business tips. I am always eager to hear about how you and your wife achieved success!

  10. Excellent tips. I always like your posts and this one is filled with great business tips. I am always eager to hear about how you and your wife achieved success!
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  11. Been there, done that with the biz plans! ;-) I heartily agree that one assumption can lead you down the wrong path.

    The key lesson I learned was to reduce costs so that you can experiment long enough to find the right business model.

    Michelle

    http://www.watcheditem.com

  12. So how did you generate the traffic to sell enough products so that your wife could afford to quit her job? I guess that’s what I am looking to learn ;-)

    Blogging Banks

  13. “You can spend hours and hours putting together the most intricate and well thought out plan only to have it blow up in your face because of one false assumption.”

    This is true about everything in life. I believe in planning to be flexible. This was a really good article. Thanks!

  14. Yep things almost never go according to our plans. That’s why it’s a better [plan to plan on making frequent mistakes and not be too attached to the outcomes. We can always adjust. I’m betting to know a lot more now than before. I applaud your courage.

  15. We ran into 2 hurdles just this week alone.

    Our supplier sent the product for our entire order and we cant refund it since we are doing international business. Thankfully, we were able to sort it out and they agreed to send the proper items to us again.

    The second was that our other supplier’s shipment is being held by the FDA and they are now going to perform tests on it to see whether it is safe…

    But I’m learning from all this and it’s good experience.

  16. Lisa says:

    “No plan EVER SURVIVES contact with the ENEMY!”

    I think I’m on plan five… six, after consulting your site? That’s okay, I’m closing in… I think. ;)

    Regardless, I have $30k of supplies I need to leave my basement by hook or by crook. Hopefully, it’s with some degree of profit on their purchase price.

    Small businesses have maneuverability on their side. I continue to leverage that — or at least that’s the ‘plan.’ ;D

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