My first foray into business came at just 14. Growing up in Western Sydney, my family didn’t have a lot of money outside of the essentials to spend on luxuries, like toys, cars and going out, so I was motivated from a young age to be successful.
Like many teenagers I worked a part-time job in a supermarket during my school days. Where I differed was in taking on an additional part-time retail job as well as starting my own business installing car stereos from my parents’ garage.
I had a thing for electronics, having played with electronic kits that were purchased secondhand from the markets. I figured out circuitry and using my older sister’s car as a guinea pig, I managed to figure out how to install a head-unit and a set of speakers. I began telling people that I could install car stereos and word quickly got around. When people began asking for quotes, I requested they get a quote from a professional car stereo retail chain and promised to charge fifty per cent less.
When I look back I realise I was always a marketer, even then, using word of mouth to build a successful business. I was able to not only fund everything in my life from age 14 to 20, but also learn some critical businesses strategies along the way.
Here are my 4 key takeaways:
1. Market opportunity
I learnt the importance of embracing a market opportunity when it’s there and thriving. At the time, standard car stereos that came from the vehicle manufacturers were average. As such, there was a need and strong market opportunity to service this market with upgrades. This to some degree has declined as the technology and the integration of systems in vehicles has improved tremendously.
2. Word of mouth
This was the single biggest driver of business. I didn’t advertise, I just did a great job. In a world pre-social media, people saw me working, they heard the sound systems and they spoke with their friends. This ethos (of working hard and doing a great job for customers) has carried into each of the businesses I run today. My agency has grown exponentially through word of mouth, purely on referrals.
3. Understanding your audience
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I managed to hone in on a very select audience. Primarily these were people with nice car that they were doing up, who wanted an excellent sound system. I’ve also learnt to focus on exactly WHO I am best at servicing.
4. Understand the competition
I understood my strengths and my weaknesses. I knew I didn’t have overheads and I ensured my competitive advantage reflected that in my offering. I saw what the competition did, and I bettered it both in quality, service and price.
These lessons shaped how I manage my businesses today and the lessons I impart to other business owners. If you don’t know your customer, if you haven’t identified your unique selling points or haven’t invested in spreading the word about your great product or service, then there is work to do!
Kevin Spiteri is a digital marketer and founder of Menace Group. You can buy his book ‘I Just Want It To Work!: A Guide to Understanding Digital Marketing and Social Media for Frustrated Business Owners, Managers and Marketers’ here.
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