Growing Pains That We Are Experiencing With Our Online Business

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There’s a point with every successful business where the level of sales slowly begins to exceed the infrastructure required to support it.

While this generally indicates that business is good and fundamentally strong, the volume of customer support issues can be overwhelming especially if you don’t have the necessary manpower or capital equipment.

Overwhelmed is exactly how we feel about our online store at the moment. As we struggle to grow to the next level, our business is currently going through what I call “Growing Pains”.

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Photo by Tavallai

Now if I didn’t have a full time job and if my wife didn’t have to take care of a cute little 14 month old during the day, we could devote our full efforts into expanding our business and these growing pains would not be as much of an issue.

But under the current circumstances, my wife and I only have the weekends to make the necessary changes to our online business. Here are some of the fundamental adjustments that we are currently making with our online linens business.

We Are Upgrading Our Current Equipment

We offer semi-custom embroidery services on many of our linen offerings. I don’t know whether it’s because Mother’s day just passed or whether we are better indexed now in Google, but the embroidery portion of our business has skyrocketed as of late.

Previously, we were using a home embroidery machine to do the stitching and while the quality of the embroidery was excellent, it was not well suited to a commercial environment.

For example, the home machine only had one needle and required rethreading every time a new thread color was required. In addition, it simply could not stitch as fast as a commercial machine.

There were also many other little factors involved with the home machine that required additional time for setup that all added up in the end. Ultimately, we decided that we needed to make an upgrade to confront the rising demand for embroidery services.

This was not an easy decision to make. A commercial sewing machine is almost the cost of a small car and purchasing one requires a ton of research and shopping around.

I can say though that once we purchased and started using the commercial machine, I was kicking myself that we didn’t make the purchase sooner.

If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that you should map out the upgrade path for your business ahead of time so you at least know what’s out there.

If I had known about the capabilities of a commercial machine earlier, we probably would have made the upgrade a long time ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until I was already swamped with orders.

We Are Hiring More Help

We’ve been getting by with just some hourly help on a semi-regular basis in order to help process orders and organize inventory. The main problem though is that the help we’ve been receiving has not been consistent.

Now that our business is generating a large number of orders on a consistent basis, we are considering a full or semi-full time person to come on board.

However, there are still many issues that we have to work out. Do we outsource more of the work or do we hire someone to work for us full time? This is actually not an easy decision to make and we are considering the following factors in deciding between the two options.

  • Is the nature of the work part of our core competency?
  • Can someone do the work better than we can?
  • How much time can we save by outsourcing?

We are somewhat hesitant to hire a full time employee because it means doing payroll and obtaining workers compensation insurance. Do we really need our own employee? Is it time to take on the additional paperwork burden?

These are all questions that we are in the process of answering. I’ll be sure to update the blog once these decisions have been made. In general though, my philosophy is to outsource over hiring as long as the nature of the work is not a fundamental part of our business.

Inventory Tracking Needs To Be Improved

There was a time when I could tell you exactly how many of each type of linen that we currently stocked in the store. It’s no coincidence that during that time, we didn’t have that many orders to fulfill.

There seems to be a direct correlation with the quantity of orders and the amount of chaos that ensues with your organization. This doesn’t have to necessarily be true if you have the proper infrastructure in place but our current methodology is simply no longer working.

My wife and I are currently thinking of ways to better manage our inventory. We are considering using bar code scanners and reorganizing the way we store our linens.

The main problem with managing inventory is that you periodically have to do a complete check to make sure that your numbers are accurate. Since my wife and I simply don’t have the time, getting help is absolutely required to achieve better inventory controls.

We Need A New Space

An increased flow of product means that we now have to purchase and order more linens in order to keep up with demand. These linens have to be stored somewhere and we are quickly running out of room.

At some point, we are going to have to move the entire operation to a new and bigger location.

What’s ironic is that once upon a time, my wife and I dreamed of having the volume of orders we now have. Now there are days where we wish that business would slow down so we could have more time to work out some of the issues we need to solve.

It’s Just A Matter Of Time

Working out all of these issues is going to take a bit of time. In terms of priorities, getting help whether it be a contractor or a full time employee is an absolute must. Once we have someone on board, we’ll then work out the remaining issues.

In the meantime, I would love to hear some of the “growing pain” type of stories involved with some of your businesses. How did you resolve them and when did you finally decide to hire a full time employee?

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15 thoughts on “Growing Pains That We Are Experiencing With Our Online Business”

    1. @Ashley
      Thanks! I hope that my wife and I can hold out until help arrives.

      @Andrea
      I admit that having a business and making money is fun, but delivering the goods isn’t. If only there was a business in which I could just accept money but not have to deliver anything! Sounds like you have the scalability of your venture under control. Kudos to you!

      @Cindy
      Happy to have you as a reader. I love reading about other people in similar situations because I can relate to their problems. Outsourcing and hiring are all huge steps in the life of any business

      @Marc @Stephen
      Thanks guys for your support!

  1. Aren’t growing pains just the best problem in business??? About two months ago, I was totally exhausted from too many sessions with too many clients. My solution was to redirect my efforts towards more group classes and programs, and to launch a high-end program for individual clients.

    This month? Highest revenue so far with one heck of a lot less work. Hurray for the leveraged, scalable business model!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  2. It is nice to follow your story… not really sure why. I think it’s comforting to hear from people doing similar things…

    No embroidery machines here. But lots of thinking about the first stages of outsourcing and dealing with inconsistent work etc.

    Looking forward to the next episode :)

  3. Growing pains are to be expected. It sounds like you guys are moving in the right direction.

    Truly insightful.

    Thanks a bunch! 😉

  4. The Happy Rock says:

    On the bright side, it is a good problem to have I guess! Hopefully you are able to make some excellent quick decision without letting the stress and pain cloud your vision.

    1. @HappyRock
      Yep, it’s a good problem to have as long as I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Getting help that you can trust is harder than it looks

      @Steve
      My wife and I had this exact same conversation the other day. Would we be happy if the business achieved a certain income level and then stayed that way? The competitor in me wants to constantly expand but deep down I’m not sure if I want to grow our business too large. My dream is to eventually hire enough good employees to put the entire business on auto-pilot. Not sure if I’ll ever be able to do that, but I’ve got plenty of time to find out.

  5. Consider this from a guy that grew a big business from a small start, bigger is not always better.

    It is okay to not be able to handle some jobs or tasks to keep your business in a comfortable and small size.

    As you get larger you loose that family feel and for me at least, it became more about managing the business and less about what I love to do most.

    Once it got big I then spent my time making it small again. Back to a point that I love.

    Some growth is necessary but don’t feel you need to get too big.

  6. @Steve – That is a pretty darn insightful comment. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Ethan says:

    After a few years in business I realized that there are no such things as “good problems to have.” I recognize the sentiment being expressed when people talk that way, but nevertheless… THERE ARE NO GOOD PROBLEMS TO HAVE! That’s why they’re called “problems”. :)

    Now whenever I’m in a business planning conversation and someone responds to a question with, “well, that will be a great problem to have…”, I quickly jot down the issue as one that needs to be addressed a bit further right now.

  8. It’s good to find your niche and work on your own business. The success or failure is up to you. It’s hard work, but at the end of the day, the way you run it and the rewards gained are the results of your work, and you take the credit. Better than working for someone else who really doesn’t care. And best of all, the hours you work are the ones YOU want to work!

  9. TK says:

    Steve, have you read The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss? If so, have you found any practical advice?

  10. Andrew says:

    Steve, just wondering, but it seems like you guys are doing all the inventory management and fulfillment yourselves. Why don’t you outsource it to a third party provider? Then you wouldn’t have to lift a finger. Shipwire and Amazon are both good candidates. Yes, they do charge fees, but you seem to be raking it in at the moment. Those costs should be minor to you.

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