This year has been a huge one here at East Coast Tags. We want to thank every local and internet friend, business, customer that ordered and supported us, and every dog that stopped in the shop this year. It's also been a learning experience (what an understatement). As the year comes to an end, I’ve been thinking a lot about what lessons I’ve learned. A lot of it’s technical and job-specific, like Adobe techniques and shirt graphic placement. Beyond that, there were lessons on what it means to be a local small business, grow as a shirt company, but most importantly we’re learning to grow as members of a community. Without further ado, here are 7 lessons I learned at East Coast Tags in 2021 that will also help you grow in 2022.
1. Community Connection Is Invaluable.
No one is an island and you never know what can come out of a friendly conversation. As a local small business in Brevard, North Carolina we learned that if you don't know how to do or find something, learning is as easy as asking the community. We are involved with many local organizations around town with other small business owners who have “been there and done that” and gave incredible recommendations.
Growing your business in 2022: establishing relationships with people in the community has often led to more business. The more people who know your name and value your reputation, the more people will spread the word about your business. In a small town, there is a delicate balance between aggressive networking and casual conversation. You can’t hard-sell a friend, but a good friend will sell for you.
2. Communication is everything
This is a lesson that I am still very much learning. Every shirt that we produced and designed for a customer this year began as an idea and a conversation. Then it grows through threads of emails and text messages. Colors and materials are discussed and proofs are approved. Every step is a discussion with the client. Clear and friendly communication makes the entire process easier and makes clients want to come back time and time again.
Growing your business in 2022: Every error I personally made this year had its roots in a failure in communication. A detail was missed or a number was overlooked, and it took time to go back and correct and discuss with the client. Double-check your work! Communication can also involve landing or losing new clientele. If you discuss an idea with a business order but drop the ball on communication you won't be working with that business for very long.
3. The Human Element Goes A Long Way
My favorite moments from the past year had everything to do with human interaction. From working with great businesses around the area to giving someone the perfect shirt and seeing their reaction to the final product. We often would have clients walk in and we would immediately begin and finish a design while they watched. This gave the client the opportunity to give immediate comments and critiques on the design. This experiential approach to design and client interaction is, in my opinion, the antithesis of the digital age where there are so many online platforms that can generate a cookie-cutter design or websites that hire freelancers in a chatbox. We are believers that great designs are rooted firmly in being human-focused.
Growing your business in 2022: The human element is the thing that will keep clients coming back. They will be more likely to tell their friends about the experience they had and give the business positive reviews and ratings. But most of all it's much more satisfying in the long run.
4. Flexibility = Survival
Not everything goes as planned. Flexibility is essential in a small business. Being able to quickly pivot or change plans in order to meet a quick turnaround time or dealing with events out of your control, i.e. covid, the supply chain, are what will make or break a business. You might have a plan for your day, but 3 customers might walk in and ask for design changes or status updates on their orders. Besides, the unpredictability of the job makes it more exciting.
Growing your business in 2022: Moving quickly to adjust to changes will also inspire confidence in your clientele. Fast turn around? “Of course, we can handle that!” “How many orange tank tops do you need?” Clients will love working with you when you are flexible.
5. Question everything
There is no one way to make a shirt. Every step of the process should be analyzed and questioned. And there’s no one correct way to meet most goals. Look for pinch points in the process and ask if there are better ways of doing things.
Growing your business in 2022: Try new ways of doing things. Experiment with different techniques and materials to see what works the best. If it doesn't work try something else. We wouldn't have come as far as we did in one year if we hadn’t continually asked “what if?”
6. Plant seeds
Big things grow from small seeds. We grew big projects by asking people if we could use their tik tok sounds or if their business needed new apparel. We started new brands and tried out new tools.
Growing your business in 2022: Keep a dry erase board of all the things you want to try in the future. Little seeds of ideas could end up growing into something big if given the right amount of time and attention. Not everything will grow to fruition but you will learn a lot along the way.
7. Don’t forget to have fun
Finally above all. Enjoy yourself and enjoy the process. If you aren’t having fun then you’re taking yourself too seriously. Laugh, smile, and joke. Make a good product that you are proud of and make others smile. Enjoy the friendships you make along the way.
Thanks again to everyone reading this!
Happy New Year,