This is a follow up story for Paper Saver. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Michelle Lee, co-founder of Paper Saver. The Paper Saver is an eco notebook that enables you to extend the life of your paper by utilizing it as its pages. We started the business with just the Classic Paper Saver (with faux leather covers) in only one color. Today, the Classic Paper Saver comes in five colors, and we have extended the range to include the Leather Paper Saver (with genuine leather covers), the Sparkle Paper Saver (with canvas covers), as well as the Paper Saver Organiser, an accessory to accompany the Paper Saver with a pencil case and card and document holders.
Our customers are primarily females who are environmentally aware with an interest in leading more sustainable lifestyles. This is not to say that we don’t have a smaller, yet strong male customer base as well :)
Since launching in 2015, we have experienced a steady 35%+ YOY sales growth.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The business has been largely stable since we last spoke with you, thankfully! Since the pandemic started though, we have taken a hit in our corporate orders, wholesale business (as brick and mortar stores make up most of this business, which has all been impacted), and sales through events. All three of these components of our business contribute to a large proportion of our usual business. So in trying to overcome these issues, we have ramped up advertising on social media to bring new customers, which has mostly worked well for us, especially when many were working from home and/or helping kids with online learning, which meant many printouts.
Make sure you are fully versed with the platform before you try it - even if you use it often on a personal level.
As economies have started reopening though, we have found that we have to constantly retarget our audiences and rework our creatives to ensure it stays relevant to our target audience to achieve our ad objectives.
We also had a promotion in April to get our existing customers to re-engage with us - we do find whenever we have a sale, existing customers purchase additional Paper Savers, for family and friends as gifts. Our email marketing campaigns also have a focus on keeping them engaged with the Paper Saver, such as offering eco-tips and new ideas on how to use the Paper Saver, such as providing them with complimentary printout templates.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The decision to increase our social media advertising at the start of the pandemic did not come easy. We were concerned that consumers would be spending less, especially on a completely new product. Were we a relevant product during a pandemic? So we budgeted to advertise for one month, targeted consumers working from home and managing online learning, and decided that if we just broke even, we would be happy. This was ultimately a good decision for us as the ads returned 150% ROI just in the first week, so we continued.
But when our social media advertising was delivering consistently over 300% in ROI for over two months, we became a little complacent and just continued running our ads - until a sudden drop. It happened so suddenly, so there was work that was done to identify the issues, such as rejigging the creative, spend, and target audiences to reflect the changing times in our community to optimize the ad delivery.
The social media advertising also helped us obtain new wholesale customers which have been able to re-open their brick and mortar stores, which has become a bonus.
Out of our control factors have primarily been in our lack of corporate orders, reflecting the contracting economy and businesses cutting spend, as well as our events being postponed.
The factors outside of our control do have a dampening effect on our morale, but the only choice we have is to persevere and look for other ways of doing business. The events that were postponed have also been super supportive in providing alternative ways of keeping our small businesses going, such as running an online live event involving all businesses that had signed up.
What also assisted was meeting with an external business consultant (online!). I found that having been so close to the business for a long period, a fresh face looking into our business provides some great new views and outlooks on our business in terms of how we portray our brand and business to new consumers.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We will be monitoring the state of the world, in how we re-engage consumers in other countries, especially the US and Canada. As North America uses a different standard size of paper to the rest of the world, we have to make a separate range for the North American consumers. Due to this, and our smaller customer base there, a smaller range of products are available to North America. We are constantly asked when other colors will be made available to our customers there. I would love to be able to expand our presence there to be able to extend our North American range, once we see more stability in the markets there.
Our short term goals are to stabilize and re-grow our corporate and wholesale businesses - these are based on some variable factors that are outside of our control.
Long term goals are to continue to grow our presence in overseas markets, in the US as mentioned, and the UK.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
“Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business”, by Paul Jarvis was an excellent read. I wished I had found it sooner! It is a refreshing read for entrepreneurs like myself, where we have just two key staff members, to focus on building a solid business with one sole person (or in our case, two). It is a great guide to building a business you’ll love that is fulfilling without needing to aim to become a large corporation while determining your hours and becoming more profitable.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
My one key highlight in the last 6 months was meeting with a business consultant. He enlightened me in his view of my business, especially after 5 years, when ideas become a little stagnant, and the same old views and messaging become stale. We are lucky enough to have a very supportive local business network where they provide access to business consultants, so investigate such avenues before thinking you will never be able to afford a business consultant.
Nothing happens overnight. There will be ups, and there will be downs, but there is always a way to overcome problems.
Digital platforms are still the most cost-effective way to reach potential customers, so experiment with each one. Make sure you are fully versed with the platform before you try it - even if you use it often on a personal level. There are many short courses available that will help you become more familiar with each platform in a business environment.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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