I’ve made a few business mistakes in the last year.
Ok, more than a few…
One of the biggest mistakes was experimenting with making physical products. In short, it was a massive distraction from my true business and a waste of money but a hugely valuable experience that I want to share as a cautionary tale.
By the way, if you make physical products, I’m not dissing your business model. I’m also not saying that there’s a divide between physical and digital and you can never cross it.
But … as usual, I’m going to give you some really valuable, REAL-TALK lessons about how I’ve screwed this up in my own business and the lessons I’ve learned from it, so you don’t have to!
How it started…
Making my own money with my face on it was the start. I gave them out instead of business cards at conferences and they were funny and memorable. As far as business cards go, they were pretty pricey but it was totally “on brand” for me to give out fake money. I found a whole bunch of them recently but they have my old site on them, so pretty useless (one cautionary tale for physical stuff – order wisely so you don’t have piles of boxes in your garage of old stuff).
Then few years ago, I made a whole bunch of branded products for one of my live events. I went pretty crazy, thinking that it was a MUST to give everyone a branded notebook, pen and CALCULATOR because I talk about money… obviously.
That’s also when I made my oracle cards. It was honestly fun and relatively harmless but I could feel myself getting obsessed with the possibilities – what about branded chocolate? A money box? Eventually common sense (and time restrictions) made me calm down.
I’ve only just off-loaded (sorry, Kon-Mari’d) this stuff to someone who’s hosting a conference soon because I still had boxes of it a year later.
I thought I had learned my lesson
Then when I redesigned my website last year, Ellissa Jayne and I created a unique tribal pattern. My inspiration was beachy, boho, surfy brands like Billabong.
For a long time now, I’ve referred to my community as “Lucky Bees” rather than “bitches”. It just feels nicer and more inclusive, plus I believe that we’re all working towards a common goal – a more abundant and prosperous planet.
So I knew I wanted to incorporate bees into my new brand but as subtly as possible.
I mostly use it for borders – for example on my oracle cards.
When you look up close, you can see all sorts of awesome secret things in there.
Like my initials…
Usually on the website, you’ll just see it as a subtle trim or randomly in the background of my pictures, but I love how intricate it is.
When I got my new photos done, my set designer Naomi Findlay suggested we get some custom Lucky Bee set pieces made. I COULD NOT RESIST!
My own branded cushion!
See, just subtly behind me in the Kombi van? A cushion made from my pattern!
And here again, you know, when you write your blog posts on the beach, it’s handy to have your own branded cushions to hand…. and fresh flowers… and a surfboard in case you want to ruin your freshly blow dried hair in the ocean.
Again, I loved the subtle reminders of my brand. It’s not in your face but it was totally a unique way to style the space to have the cushions in the background of the main shots.
It’s subliminal brainwashing in a good way!
See – just a little bit of pattern on my chair.
Then, I wondered… what else could I get made?
The first thing I made was wrapping paper for a Christmas theme shoot. (I got it from Spoonflower, who also make custom fabric and wall paper).
Harmless enough. I mean, custom wrapping paper is cool. It’s obviously way more expensive than normal paper but from a brand perspective, it makes sense if you have a business where you have to, you know, wrap stuff.
And then stickers from Moo, which have been cool to put on my laptop and the back of my phone.
Then browsing Vistaprint one day for customizable branded goods, I decided to make this mysterious thing. What do you think it is?
Some guesses from the Lucky Bee community.
A key ring?
A name tag for pets?
It’s a Christmas ornament obviously!
It seemed like a great idea at the time, until they arrived and I saw the weird white part all around it. I was about to paint the sides in glue and then roll it in silver glitter, until I snapped out of it.
I realized that I was literally doing that thing I tell people not to do. ROLLING A TURD IN GLITTER DOESN’T NOT MAKE IT A TURD.
My dream of a fully branded Christmas tree didn’t happen.
Okay – chalk that one up to experience.
Then things got ridiculous.
I found this site that does print on demand CLOTHING. OMG OMG OMG!!!
I made a KIMONO BITCHES from my OWN BRAND pattern. Now this was cool.
Finally I have my own unique speaking outfit. Brilliant when I’m doing video interviews. It’s classy, subtle and a ONE OF A KIND statement.
I’m gonna be honest here. It’s not the … best… quality. I mean, it’s okay but not amazing. It also retails for $178.
YUP. That’s why I won’t sell them. Yes, I could make 20% on each kimono, but I honestly don’t think it’s worth it and I don’t think it’s right to sell them to the Lucky Bee community.
So sorry dudes – this one is mine.
But I wasn’t done. In fact, I was just warming up to the possibilities of branded clothing.
What do you think this is?
Again, I asked on social media, and virtually everyone said PJs.
Yeah, looks comfy right?
But it’s NOT PJs.
It’s… (you’re going to have to scroll down for this one)
IT’S A MOTHERFREAKING ONESIE.
That I actually had made and paid for.
For a MOMENT, I thought it would be another great speaking outfit, and I almost wore it to Leonie Dawson’s Shine Retreat.
And then I realized that I should never wear this in public.
Clown pants anyone?
You’d think I’d learn my lesson from this but no.
Here are some other branded items I’ve had made:
A clutch – I do actually use this one. Handy for you know, putting stuff in.
A see-through mesh vest. For exercising and the occasional interview.
A curtain. That I’ve never hung up. But I’ve used it to hang on the back of my chair for videos and interviews!
A linen towel. Great for lounging on the beach for branded Instagram photos. Terrible for actually DRYING oneself.
A SWIMSUIT. I can’t model this one for you because I’m pregnant and the material isn’t very stretchy.
From the same company, I could also get slip dresses, yoga pants, a neoprene trench coat and a denim boiler suit.
A slip dress?
BUT I’m cutting myself off. No more. It’s been fun, but this isn’t my business.
Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned:
1# Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Making products used to be really expensive, labour intensive and took a lot of skill. Trust me, if I had to make my own material, buy a sewing machine and design something myself…. well – even if I did – it wouldn’t be good.
But now there are so many companies who will do it for you for virtually no up front cost. All of the clothing in this post was made by Print All Over Me, a print on demand clothing service. No offense to these guys, because I think it’s a great idea. But it’s also quite costly and takes a while to make and deliver. As it should – it’s a physical good.
I uploaded a jpeg of my design to PAOM and I could create ANYTHING in seconds.
But just because you CAN, doesn’t mean that you should.
Ask yourself – is this really my core business? Am I contributing anything to the world with a branded neoprene trench coat or is it just for fun? Fun is a totally legitimate reason but it still doesn’t mean that you should.
2# Just because people WANT it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD give it to them.
Almost every day, I get people asking me where they can buy the kimono, or the Lucky Bee clutch. And the answer is… you can’t.
For lots of reasons. Basically, I don’t think the quality is good enough for the cost…
and it’s NOT MY TRUE BUSINESS.
If you asked your community what cool stuff they’d like, they’d probably come up with all sorts of random ideas. Doesn’t mean you should make it.
Honestly, when someone buys my Bootcamp, it feels good because it’s my real work.
I create good structures and customer service for my community. But if someone buys a clutch from a third party website and then has a problem with it? I LITERALLY CAN’T BE FUCKED.
So think about the implications of creating products. Do you want to go down the route of customer service? Helping people with delivery problems? Dealing with quality control issues?
Again, if that’s your business – that’s fine. But if it’s not? Then it’s going to feel like a huge pull away from your true work.
Which brings me to ….
3# Stay in your Zone of Genius.
Credit to Gay Hendricks here from his book, The Big Leap. He talks about shifting your work so you ONLY do things that are in your zone of genius.
My zone of genius isn’t making branded products or selling see-through mesh yoga vests emblazoned with bees. It’s helping women release their money blocks, and changing the way they think and feel about money.
I’m not going to have the impact I want to make on the world by selling a Lucky Bee branded towel – that’s not my job, and that time and energy can be used for other things – like writing a new book or even just building my brand in a bigger way.
Yes, it’s been fun, but it’s also been a total distraction from my real work, especially if I tried to sell any of it.
So ask yourself – should you REALLY be veering off course or is it a sabotage?
4# Don’t make stuff to procrastinate your true work.
Yeah, I’ll admit that my business has been pretty stable and successful for a few years now, and sometimes I get itchy to mess with that a little. You know, just to prove to myself that I can.
This is a recurring money block for me – the underlying belief that it has to be hard to make money. So when things get easy, my creative brain looks for new things to do.
By the way, this isn’t some “Lucky Bitch Problem” – like, “Oh my god, I’m so rich and bored.”
I see women do this at ALL stages of business. Changing direction, losing focus, chasing rabbit holes – almost distracting themselves from their true calling.
Sometimes it manifests itself as a desire to learn more before you take action – like doing another course or getting a new certificate. Procrastination disguised as learning.
But – for me, this procrastination manifested as a high-cut tank style Lucky Bee branded swimsuit.
Again, not to say DON’T do products, I’m just saying…
5# Be strategic about it.
For example, I already sell physical books through Amazon, but I don’t touch a single part of that process. Sure, I uploaded the file and the cover, but Amazon prints and ships them, and just pays me cash every month. (I make about $3000 a month from my books).
Making money from books isn’t my main business. I see every book sold as a business card to my larger, more important and profitable work, which is my courses and programs. It’s a strategic business decision.
So, if you are going to create physical products, know where it sits in your business. Is it for credibility? Fun? As a lead in to more profitable work? As a limited edition community building exercise?
If you’re going to do all the work yourself – manufacturing, shipping, customer service, etc – do you really want to go down that road in order to make a larger profit? Because chances are, if you added up the cost of your time, you probably wouldn’t make as much as you think, and it would cut into your true work – making art and creative works.
I’ve bought art prints from The Darling Tree through her Society 6 store.
I was kind of shocked to hear that artists make just 10% from sales on that third party site, but also remember, it’s all handled by the company, so it’s essentially free money for licensing your art to someone else.
When I found out that Society 6 also makes duvet covers, yoga pants, clocks and phone covers, I was allllllmost tempted. (I could do a clock that says one of my popular quotes, “It’s your time and you’re ready for the next step”… right?)
So it’s a trade off how you want to run your business, and how much physical stuff you want to make, and how.
I’ve been tempted to ship books myself, (especially for Australians who have to pay a lot to have it shipped from the US), but I knew that I’d get super super SUPER bored every day going to the post office to post my book, just to make a couple of bucks a time. NOT MY BUSINESS.
And I have a motto that I test things against, “There are easier ways to make money”
So I ask myself – am I making it hard here or are there easier ways to make money?
When someone asks me if I can sell my clown pants? Nope. When someone wants to buy a pack of my oracle cards? No, go to the online oracle page and pick one at random for free. Want some Lucky Bee Christmas decorations? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!
I don’t want my business filled with small dollar amounts here and there. None of these things is how I help women change the way they think and feel about money. It’s not my true work in the world.
Repeat it with me,
“There are easier ways to make money.”
I should put that on a T-shirt and sell it to you… wait. NO.
Plus, let’s not contribute to landfill by making stuff that’s going to be a cool gimmick for five seconds or filler in a gift bag.
But Denise – I want to make beautiful things!
You can! Don’t let me put you off.
In fact, the world needs beautiful and useful things – so don’t stop making art that improves people’s lives. Be unique, bold and express yourself through your art.
Don’t just do it to procrastinate, because people ask you to, or because it would be a good idea. There is no shortage of good ideas in this world and you don’t have to act on every single one.
I obviously had the need for more art in my world. Yes, I veered off course by making it myself, but there’s another way too!
Collaborate with amazing artists.
You don’t have to make everything yourself, and in fact, there was one collaboration I did last year that I’m actually really proud of.
Sarah Wilder from the Fifth Element Life approached me last year to do a collaboration with her as part of her “In her Element” series.
And we made a special edition LUCKY ring and pendant.
Since I was already a fan of Sarah’s and owned some of her art, I said YES.
This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. Because I know my capacity for going off track and regretting it later.
I suggest that if you do something like this, make it limited edition for a limited time, and know WHY you’re doing it.
For me, I decided that my portion of profits (around 15%) go to fund a Lucky Bee school through Pencils of Promise. I also thought it would be a fun way to connect all the Lucky Bee community around the world, to wear something that was symbolic and beautiful as a shared talisman.
Before you do a collaboration, ask yourself these questions:
Is it an established supplier?
Do I have to do the customer service?
Do I know, like and trust the brand?
Does it fit strategically into my business?
As you can see, Sarah incorporated many of my brand elements from my beloved tribal pattern.
The bee obviously, and some of the unique patterns, as well as adding some of her intuitively designed mandala patterns.
Sarah doesn’t just make jewellery, she makes coloring books, oracle cards, art work and all sorts of amazing things.
I asked Sarah to give us some insight into why she chose a product based business.
What are your biggest lessons from launching a physical product?
Don’t go too big, too quick. Purchase stock within your means, slow and steady growth is a much safer way to move into a new market or to carve your niche properly (unless you have a unique situation with finance or you’ve trialed and tested the market to launch products in a big way).
Listen to your consumers! They are the ones buying your product, not you, so always remain open and flexible (but within your brand and ethics) to feedback, change and new direction within your business.
Consider everything! Postage costs, profit margins, production locations etc – there are so many things to think about. Really do your home work, and spend as much time as you need to get it right. Stick to one thing and nail it, then, once you have that market cornered, you can expand on your new ideas then!
Your unique ideas are frequently copied, how do you personally deal with it?
If this had happened in the early days, I would have reacted differently.
But there comes a time in your business where you feel you have built a strong enough foundation in the market place, that copy cats really can’t penetrate that deeply, unless you let them.
My energy is everything, so it’s worth protecting at all costs – it’s what has made me successful and will keep me growing and moving forward for years to come.
Wasting time on legal battles, copyright infringements or feeling sorry for myself will do my brand more harm then good (unless I really feel strongly about the line being crossed – in which case, I would stand up for my rights and self), so instead I tend to channel the challenges into fuel for my creativity – and take it as a sign to level up again.
I know that no one can do what I do, and once you have that inner security in what you have created, it takes a lot to shake you.
Do you have any words of encouragement for those wanting to make beautiful things?
There is nothing more special than having someone share their story with you on how your product or creation has impacted their life.
This is the reason anyone should go into business, particularly with products because I feel there is a major shift now as we become more conscious consumers, that what you create can really make a difference, and the way we spend is now different – your ethics, views, creativity and ideas are unique to you – so as long as you weave them into your own unique brand, there is no limit to where you can take it.
Most of all, enjoy and share the process – it’s the best way to keep moving, growing and building the strongest unshakable foundation for your future!
Make beautiful things for sure. Just do it consciously.
As this is a limited edition run, we have less than 30% stock left, so if you would like a ring or pendant,
you can purchase them here. UPDATE – SOLD OUT
What did you learn from this article?
Thanks for reading this far. I hope it’s been an amusing cautionary tale for you to stay in your lane, stay focused on your business and not get distracted by non strategic procrastination!
And if you are in a product business, I’m sure you can use this to tighten up your business even more and recommit to the vision of why you did it in the first place.
Comment below –
Did you get an aha from this article?
Have you ever been tempted to make clown pants or other random products….?
Are you turned off creating physical products now, or more turned ON than ever?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS – I’m dying to know!
I’d also really appreciate if you shared this one in your business groups.
Did you miss last weeks video? Check it out here: When Your Goals Aren’t Manifesting Fast Enough