Top Lessons Learned in Year 1 [Part 2]
Picking up where we left off from Part 1…
6. Black People Don’t Trust Each Other.
I cringed writing that and I hope it makes you equally uncomfortable reading it. This is where that lament I spoke of in number two comes in. I’ve seen this inherent distrust manifest from some (not all) Black-identifying customers in two common ways: needing extensive convincing on the price-to-value ratio or, worse, that SRR isn’t believed to be a real business altogether. I value greatly having SRR be a Black-owned business but that comes with a few unwritten hurdles I hadn’t anticipated.
For the first issue, I dealt with my hurt and disappointment by absorbing it. I resolved that my initial ideas about target (and honestly, desired) market were off and needed some readjusting relative to the products and experience I believe I can uniquely provide. Does this mean I will abandon attempting to sell to Black people as a whole? Fam, don’t be a dummy. Of course not. But it does mean I have more work to do on my end with regard to attracting the right customer.
For the disbelief issue, honestly, I think that says more about the stereotypes associated with experiences at small businesses; in this case, Black-owned small businesses. Good and bad experiences happen at businesses. Period. Not solely at Black-owned establishments. Nor only at [fill-in-the-blank] owned businesses. Ethnicity doesn’t determine ability to deliver an experience well! That said, I was puzzled each time I was questioned either in-person or online about SRR being a legitimate, tax-ID having (and tax-paying!) business. I attempted to dissect this (possible discomfort with an online-based business? lack of awareness around LP pricing? something else?) but let it go after a while. This line of questions will keep coming from Black people and, simultaneously, won’t be given to my non-Black counterparts (have witnessed this repeatedly at pop-up events). And that’s just what that is I guess. Ultimately, SRR sells records, not discourses on how we need to trust one another more. I’m happy to educate on the brand but, beyond that, you just might not be my customer. And that’s okay no matter what your ethnicity.
7. Give Caesar’s What’s His.
Yep, taxes are a thing. And depending upon how your business is structured, they can be a very annoying thing. But they still need to be paid in full and on time. Tax jail is just actual jail and there’s no need to go to jail for not paying taxes! In my case, I need to stay on top of things to pay the state of Illinois quarterly. And I don’t yet have staff that can take on these duties so, I had to learn to get comfortable with digging into my numbers myself and making sure I remain in good standing with each of the governing bodies I need to work with. Quickbooks has been helpful, especially at this time of year when I need to pay federal taxes. It’s as unglamorous as you would imagine but, then again, so is jail.
8. People Purchase Their Identities
At pop-up events, I can almost tell within seconds who will actually make a purchase and who won’t. And it has a lot less to do with any amount of disposable income than you might think. I think it has more to do with whether or not a potential customer can see themselves (or who they would like to be) reflected in my available LPs. One of the goals I have for this business is to get people collecting vinyl records they way some people invest in artwork for their homes (because records are also artwork!). I think that people collect paintings and sculptures that either speak to them or reflects something about themselves that they hold onto strongly as true and valuable. So, in the year I’ve spent studying consumer behavior, I’ve developed what I believe to be a strong working hypothesis regarding non-purchases from within my (now adjusting) target market: they had a specific item in mind that I didn’t have or, a little deeper, they didn’t see a part of themselves reflected that they want express or share in some way.
9. People Are Also Mad Lonely.
No one warned me at the start of this that I’d have to play therapist at times! Specifically at in-person events, there are always a couple of people that want to stay and chat for a while. I usually welcome it as an opportunity to learn more about my customers. It always starts off with music then, somehow, veers into deeper parts of their lives. I think this is connected to music’s ability to help us see ourselves and connect us to one another. Still, I’ve heard enough at this point to suggest that people use these records to build community for themselves in meaningful ways. Invite some folks over for a listening party. Start a meet up group where you swap and listen to records. Whatever you do, don’t just collect and keep it to yourselves!
10. Your “Why” Is What You’ve Got.
And on some days it’s all you have. There have been plenty of days where there weren’t any online sales and other days when pop-up events didn’t quite go as expected. Those are the moments entrepreneurs speak of vaguely (if at all) because they don’t really make us feel good or successful. But, those are also the moments that force you to revisit and sit with your business “why.” Why did I start this? Why do I continue to do it even on the bad days? Why does the world need what I have to offer through this business? Having my “why” for these questions and more hasn’t stopped any of the bad days or experiences. But it has helped to ground me and keep me going. That plus a community of other entrepreneurs (many of whom are also solopreneurs) also pursuing their respective “why” who I gain encouragement from. The journey is long but, year one of many is down and I’m ready for more!