Kona Impact will soon celebrate its tenth year of business in Kailua-Kona. I remember very well the early days when the phone did not seem to ring very much, and we were not as focused as we are now. It took some time, but it was great to beat the odds: 50% of businesses don’t make five years, and according to this article, 96% don’t make it ten years.
So, we’ve obviously learned a thing or two over the years.
Here are five decisions we made that, I feel, were critical to our success:
- We kept expenses low at the beginning. A lot of new businesses look for prime office or retail space and spend a lot of money on newspaper advertising. We didn’t. Our first office space is now affectionately called “the dungeon” as it was a small, windowless space in a fairly run-down building. We spent almost nothing on print advertising and nothing on radio or television. This allowed us to have the resources to weather the inevitable financial storms we faced.
- We have done spectacularly well online. Even ten years ago, we knew that the best, most cost-effective place to be found was online. Over half of our initial clients came to us after finding us through online searches, and to this day, a large percentage of our new clients come to us through search (with the other biggest percentage coming through referrals).
- We knew when to throw in the towel. We had five pillars of our business when we started, and within a year, it was evident that two of these pillars were not working out. The demand was just not there, and, truth be told, there were other businesses in town more established and better at these things than us. We quickly stopped offering these services, cut our losses, and focused on what we were really good at. Failure was a great teacher!
- We identified inefficiencies in the market. After trying many times to buy local and support our local businesses, we gave up trying to send clients to some providers in town. Their customer service, products, and quality were horrible, so we saw an opportunity. Growing into the general printing, wide-format printing and signage businesses made a lot of sense, since we were already doing the design work. They were mostly unimaginable when we started; now they are a big part of our product mix.
- We have been active in the community. Kona is a small town, one that relies a lot of word-of-mouth marketing. For me, one of the best business (and personal) moves I made was joining the Rotary Club of Kona. Each week we have lunch and an outside speaker gives a presentation. The presenters are mostly community leaders, and their presentations are great ways to know what is happening in Kona and the issues facing our community. Another part of Rotary is the awesome community service projects we do like vision testing for our Keiki, building parks, planting trees, and fundraising. The connections in Rotary have not only provided me some business but also helped me meet some simply wonderful human beings. I highly recommend any entrepreneur at any stage of his or her business to focus on face-to-face connections in a service organization, a church, a sports team or any group of like-minded people.
Like any business, there are hundreds of decisions that we have made that have got us where we are. Some, have been disastrous, and others have been helped Kona Impact prosper.