Looking back: small-business lessons learned in 2017.

Apr 10 2018 | Alice Wong, Small Business North Americas, PayPal

Launching and growing a business is about learning by doing: Every decision you make, both good and bad, feeds into your knowledge of the market and your customers. Mistakes, painful as they are, also build knowledge about what to do better next time.
In hopes of avoiding missteps, we asked some entrepreneurs (who are also PayPal customers) to share lessons they learned in 2017.

1. Learn from your mistakes.
“You’re definitely going to fail at something, it’s how you course-correct that makes for success.” says Anna Wallack, founder and creative director of children’s clothing and toy company Misha & Puff. "When something’s going wrong she says, "you have to view it as a learning and research opportunity.”
In Anna’s case, the mistake was not carefully planning for busy shopping periods. “On our first Black Friday, the logistics center was swamped, and we were swamped,” says Wallack. “I’m a hands-on person, and having things out of my control isn’t my natural way.” She’s studying the problem so she can plan for a less-stressful future.

Lesson: When mistakes happen, prepare to change course quickly.

2. Move beyond SEO and organic traffic to help find customers. 
"If your customer-acquisition efforts are built around where and how your business appears in search rankings, you’ll be disappointed when changing algorithms cause your ranking to plummet. Changing search engine algorithms can impact your search rankings and traffic to your website. We got caught behind the eight ball this year,” says Michelle Ellis, owner of beach-inspired furniture retailer Cottage & Bungalow. “We don’t want to solely rely on search rankings moving forward.”
To help reach customers, Michelle plans to build out an integrated marketing campaign that includes social networks like Instagram and Facebook. She also plans to increase the original content on the Cottage & Bungalow website, which can help to improve search engine optimization (SEO).

Lesson: Don’t assume organic search rankings will hold steady. Explore other marketing channels like social media or paid search.  

3. Pay attention to your shipping and supply chain.
A packaging hiccup taught Adam Potter, owner of Puna Chocolate, about the importance of keeping an eagle eye on shipping. The company created chocolate bunnies for Easter, but realized late in the shipping process that the bunnies didn’t fit into standard-sized postal boxes. “We had to spend a considerable amount for custom boxes and pay extra shipping costs,” Potter says. “Next time, we’ll think about the entire package and its journey” – and, he jokes, “we won’t go outside the box – literally.”

Lesson: By planning out the supply chain in advance, you can reduce the chance of unexpected costs and shipping delays.  

4. Balance work and personal time.
It’s painfully easy for business owners to spend nights and weekends working on the business. By strictly limiting at least some off-hours to focus on personal life, business owners can avoid burnout. “Treat your social life like currency, says Jeff Malkoon, founder of nut butter purveyor, Peanut Butter Americano. “I think it’s important to guard your social life in a similar way to the way you guard your business. We check our bank accounts every day – I think it’s important to watch your social capital in a similar sort of fashion. Essentially, that means spending time with people in your personal world.”

Lesson: Protect your personal time – it’s good for you, and will give you more energy to put into the business.  

5. Learn when and how to delegate.
As a small business owner, you probably try to do everything yourself – at least at first. Paul Goodman, co-founder of Pura Vida, which sells Costa Rican-made bracelets, realized the limitations of this approach when he and partner Griffin Thall tried to handle shipping and customer service, on top of everything else. Worried that they were shortchanging customers, they now use a logistics firm for shipping and a professional customer service provider. This way, they can focus on product development and working with Costa Rican artisans.

Lesson: Focus on business tasks you’re best at. For everything else, outsource.  

6. Plan early and often. 
In the first couple of years after launching Mountaineer Brand grooming products, COO Meredith Young felt she wasn’t prepared for the craziness of the holiday rush. “We pulled it off, but it was close,” Young says. “In 2017, we started planning in the summer, and it still didn’t feel like we were ready.” She and her brother, founder and CEO Eric Young, have decided to start 2018 holiday planning now.

Lesson: You can’t begin too early to plan for the next holiday season.  

7. Call in the experts. 
Small business owners may not want to spend extra money on expert help, but sometimes, it’s a good investment for your money, time, and sanity. When work pants company Luggerz was in launch mode, “we were learning the garment business from the ground up,” explains CEO Ronnie Genotti. After hitting the limits of their business and creative knowledge, “we decided to seek expert help from experienced merchandising consultants,” he says. “That really got us through some steps that we probably couldn’t have done otherwise. I think that’s a key takeaway for entrepreneurs: A leader knows when to seek help so you avoid some rookie mistakes.”

Asking for help can also mean seeking the financing needed to keep the business healthy and growing all year. Zeke Freeman, founder of natural honey company Bee Raw, needs to buy honey from beekeepers during the summer when supplies are high, but that’s also the time of year when cash flow is squeezed because the holiday season hasn’t kicked in yet. “PayPal Working Capital1 gave us additional capital when cash flow was tight, and the loans are paid directly from our PayPal account when we have sales,” Freeman says.

Lesson: Know your limitations, and ask for help when you need it.   

We hope the advice above will help you achieve a successful year ahead. To help you stay on track with your business goals, check out the PayPal Business Resource Center often. You’ll find ebooks and articles on how to help keep your business healthy and growing in 2018.


The contents of this site are provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.

To apply for PayPal Working Capital, your business must have a PayPal business or premier account for at least 90 days and process between $15,000 (or for premier accounts $20,000) and $20 million within those 90 days or within any time period less than or equal to 12 months. PayPal sales include processing on PayPal Express Checkout, PayPal Payments Standard, PayPal Payments Pro, and PayPal Here. Minimum payment required every 90 days. See Terms and Conditions for details. 

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