Every online business owner will experience happy and exciting milestones as well as stressful ones.
Today I will discuss all these different milestones so you know you’re not alone.
This blog alone is proof that there’s a whole community of handmade business owners out there, going through exactly what you are.
My hope is that instead of worrying (which is a sport for us business owners), we give ourselves permission to get excited about our progress with our business.
At the end of the day, all of these milestones have one thing in common: they prove that we are here and we are making our dreams come true.
My name is Mei Pak, and I help makers, artists, and designers make a living selling their handmade products online.
I have three online businesses myself – Creative Hive, Tiny Hands, and a brand new business that I just launched with my husband.
Through each of my businesses, I’ve seen the patterns of the same milestones happening over and over again.
It’s like deja vu, or a rite of passage for every business it seems!
When you think of milestones for your business, you might think of finances or numbers like hitting a certain profit margin, or a specific number of sales.
Well, those milestones are super important, but they’re not really what I’m going to talk about today.
Instead, I’m focusing on less tangible milestones in the everyday life of a business owner.
The point of this post is to show you that you’re not alone and that these things that happen are totally normal.
These milestones PROVE that we are doing what we need to, to make this business happen.
Not all of these will feel great in the moment – but remember, everything we do is proof of the hard work we’re putting in, and the progress we’re making.
Which sometimes is more important to acknowledge than hard sales milestone numbers.
These milestones are not going to happen in any particular order – it varies for everyone – but at some point or another, your business WILL hit all of these.
1. Your First Sale to a Family or Friend
You make your first sale to a friend or family member. Woo-hoo!
The first sale is always the hardest to get.
It’s amazing to have such supportive friends and family.
This is a proud moment for any business owner.
Ironically, I was more nervous to promote my work to my friends so that was never something I did.
I guess I didn’t want them to feel obligated to buy from me, but I’ve heard from people that it’s the reverse for them.
Now, after a while of making sale after sale to family and friends, you start to wonder if they’re just being nice to you or if your product really has legs of its own out in the real world!
It’s that question that hopefully makes you start promoting your shop in places outside of your immediate network. And I know that feels scary!
2. Your First Sale to a Stranger
The first time you make a sale to a complete stranger! WHOA.
This is an exhilarating moment.
This is when you really feel like you’re onto something. When all that hard work feels so incredibly worth it because a total stranger doesn’t know you and they don’t owe you anything.
At this point, you know your product really is awesome and maybe you could turn this business thing into something serious!
When a total stranger buys your product, try to take a moment to reflect.
- Remember when you first had the idea for this business?
- When you designed your website?
- Made your product?
- Refreshed your screen over and over again to see if anyone was viewing, or maybe buying, what you had to sell?
It was all for this.
Let me tell you – it’s surreal when you think about it.
A person you’ve never met, in some unknown corner of the world, using YOUR product that you made with your hands.
Such a powerful and motivating feeling.
Never forget that feeling, when one sale could make you so happy.
I guarantee that when you’re making your hundredth sale, we tend to lose a little bit of that joy, unfortunately.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
3. Your First Review
I don’t know about you, but for me, this is a scary time because what if they hated my product?
I know, we’re our own worst enemies and always thinking the worst of our own work!
But once you see that it’s a positive review, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you did your job well.
You should feel so proud! It feels SO good!
It’s the best kind of validation – and it will make you want to keep going.
This is proof that you’re doing all the right things.
4. Missing Package
When your package goes missing for the first time.
I warned you that not all of these milestones were going to be celebratory moments.
I’m just going to lay this all out there.
You will lose a package. You just will.
And most of the time, it won’t be your fault.
Things get lost in the mail all the time.
When this happens to you, it might feel like a disaster.
- You might be quick to blame yourself
- to fall down the guilt spiral
- or to become incredibly overwhelmed
I want you to know that you are not the first person this has happened to and you won’t be the last.
Take a deep breath.
Give yourself a HUGE pat on the back for caring so deeply about your business.
Take a moment to appreciate why you’re in this position in the first place: because you’re a freakin’ business owner and you’ve had sales and packages to ship.
How cool is that?!
This is the kind of milestone you can plan ahead for.
Try to get tracking for your packages and have a plan or policy in place for if any packages get lost.
For example, will you resend the product or offer a refund?
Most customers will appreciate any effort on your part to make up for it, even if it wasn’t your fault.
Make sure you’re priced correctly from the get go so that you’ll have more options and flexibility on what solutions you offer to your customer.
5. Your First Negative Review
I’ll admit, it’s an awful feeling when someone doesn’t like – or even hates – the product that you made.
After all, that product is like your baby! You’re proud of it!
You birthed it out of your own hands!
Remember, though, that a negative review does not mean your product is bad.
It just means that this one particular person wasn’t a fan.
And that’s bound to happen from time to time.
It actually happens quite infrequently, so the fact that you’ve even gotten a negative review means that you’ve made a ton of sales!
Focus more on all the other reviews you’ve gotten that were positive!
I know it’s easier said than done because humans have what’s called a negative bias, and we tend to focus more on negative things.
That’s just how we’re built.
Even when we do everything in our power to ensure positive reviews – from going out of our way to make sure our customers are happy to shipping the product right away so it gets to its destination on time – negative reviews are bound to happen.
They just are and it’s normal.
So, when you get your first negative review, instead of wasting energy feeling angry or bitter, see how you can fix the situation with the customer and move on.
That review will get buried by positive reviews soon enough – and at some point, you’ll forget it even existed.
6. Your First Product Feature
The first time someone wants to feature your product. Eek!
This is another fun one.
Let me tell you, there is nothing like seeing an influencer unboxing your product to make you feel like a total celebrity.
Or to see your product in a glossy magazine, or even on TV!
It feels GREAT.
When done right, it should get you more sales!
This is one milestone that might seem far away to new business owners, but rest assured: it will happen for you as long as you keep putting your products out there.
Take a moment to acknowledge how cool it is that your product is so good that other people want to tell their audience about you and your work.
It’s one thing to be good, but it’s another to be so good that people can’t help but to talk about you and recommend you.
Check out my video on pitching strategies to learn the steps it takes to get featured.
7. Burn Out
Yep, this is something we’ll all go through from time to time.
Running our own online shops is HARD WORK.
Relying on our own business for income is extremely stressful.
It might feel like you’re up to your neck in work, and that you can never take a break.
Cue burn out.
If you find that you’re feeling:
- exhausted all the time
- highly irritable
- losing focus
- and never taking breaks
You’re probably facing burn out.
It’s not a fun feeling and I actually think it’s a terrible place to get to so avoid it at all costs.
It can be really hard and take a long time to get out of burn out.
Worst yet, it can make you feel like you don’t love your business anymore and want to throw in the towel.
That’s why it’s so important to delegate whenever you possibly can, take breaks every day, and make time for yourself.
This isn’t an easy job – but we can make it a little bit easier when we’re kind and patient with ourselves.
Self care is truly so important for a business owner.
Don’t forget that we’re all only human, so if you’re anything like me, powering through because we were taught that's what a strong work ethic means, is only going to lead to burn out.
We need nutrition, sleep, rest and fun.
Make sure you’re getting plenty of each.
8. Your First Hire
Remember what I said about delegating?
Hiring someone for the first time should feel like a major accomplishment – and a relief.
It means that your business is growing and that you don’t have to do everything all by yourself anymore.
You CAN’T do everything by yourself anymore – that’s why you have help!
This is definitely a moment to celebrate because your business has reached new sales levels to be able to justify and support a small team.
I know some of you guys don’t ever want to get to a size in your business where you have to hire help.
But I wonder how much of that is because you don’t want to deal with the trouble of managing other people?
Hiring and managing a team definitely involves a learning curve, but it can also be the ticket to total freedom from the daily minutia in your business.
9. Drama and Copycats
Drama. Copycats. Drama brought on by copycats.
Say you’re scrolling through Instagram one day and you notice, wait…what?
Is that a post by another shop for what looks A LOT like YOUR product?
You zoom in. Click the link. Visit the website.
Everything on this website looks eerily similar to yours – but it’s just different enough that there’s nothing you can do about it.
Congratulations! Your first copycat.
I say that tongue in cheek because this is a sign that you’ve made it! But I know it really sucks too.
Copycats are a sign of success.
When your product starts trending, other people notice that, and they want in.
The biggest two tips I can share with you here is to not get sucked into the negative drama that seems so alluring to protect your intellectual property, because it’s not worth the energy, time and money.
Take it from someone who’s been through this multiple times.
Know that because you are the artist with a vision, copycats will never ever do better than you because you will always be ten steps ahead of them.
Focus on doing what you can to keep your products relevant, keep innovating, focus on your own work, and trust that you’re doing all the right things.
After all, your successful business is what caused this drama in the first place.
That’s pretty cool – even if it doesn’t feel that way.
I know it’s easier said than done, but try to take a moment to be proud that other people admire you and that you inspire them.
Every new business owner will reach some or all of these milestones and more – and they’re all worth celebrating.
At the end of the day, they prove that we’re on the right track.
We’re putting in the work and we’re making this happen for ourselves.
No matter which milestone you’re celebrating (even if it’s falling asleep on the couch in the middle of designing your website) take a moment to celebrate YOU.
You’ve got this!
Have you hit any of these milestones? What other milestones can you share?
Let me know in the comment section below.
Be sure to check out my YouTube channel for more great tips and tricks for handmade businesses.