Some things are learned the hard way. Mistakes are part of life. But we can also learn from others’ mistakes and hopefully avoid them. We asked BAM practitioners in very different sectors in different parts of Asia to share a lesson they had learned about developing their product or service. Here is their BAM blooper reel:
1. Don’t jump from your idea to… we’re going to do it!
Do your research. Don’t do, “I’m just believing God” and not do your homework. Take time to do some basic surveys and cost comparisons. We’ve always done market research and surveys, asking: is it out there, what’s the competition, how long have they been around, what they are charging? If there is nothing out there then look at a nearby country or look at a product that is close to the one you want to offer. We’ve seen businesses come in with a ‘good idea’ and just go ahead, with no research. One man I met came in with an idea for selling waffles, a business he’d done before. However, he was very badly advised by a local consultancy. He only had one product and here in this country if you don’t have at least 10 things on your menu no one will come in and buy. I walked into his shop and saw in five minutes that it wasn’t going to work as a business. He’d spent his retirement money and closed up after only 6 months. – Ron
2. Make sure you have the people you need to deliver a quality product
If you are running a language center, you do need people who are visionary, but you also need people who are education specialists. In our case, the people who started our business were visionary, business minded people, and kind of assumed they could just add on the education piece. They didn’t have the expertise needed to offer the products they wanted to offer. When my wife joined the business, she has a Masters in Education, she took the quality to a whole new level. They were also using people to teach English who weren’t native English speakers and that was difficult because our clients always wanted to be taught by the native speakers. That was a case of making sure the right people are in the right jobs. – Steve
3. Don’t try to do everything
The biggest mistake we made was trying to do everything. We started off too diverse, wanting to sell something to everyone. Our custom manufacturing service was too broad, which meant that we spent a lot of time in product development and we didn’t develop a strong identity. We had to order in a lot of different supplies too, and in our location that added logistical challenges. Some of our designs were too complex – we needed to find products that our workers could make to a high quality at a reasonable cost, and with consistent suppliers. As we went on, a few products began to stand out. They fit our expertise and that of our workers, and we could sell them with a good margin. – Peter and Maria
4. Keep control of costs
One of the key issues we had in our cafe was that our chef did not stick to the systems we set up in terms of portion control and ordering. That lead to waste and inconsistencies in the cost of each plate, which ate into our profit margins. Our chef was experienced, he was fast and knew how to run a kitchen and that required a higher salary. However, it was hard to teach him our operating systems because he was used to doing things a different way. For other menu items we just did not build enough profit margin into the price in the first place. – Tim and Rebecca
5. Don’t forget the packaging
Once we tried to bring in a Louisiana Spice item on the menu with a special promotion. We were before our time with the new flavour, no one else was doing it. The way the promotion was run and the price, it didn’t appeal to our customers. So we changed the ‘packaging’ by taking more professional photos of the food, and promoted it differently. We changed the look and promotion and when we relaunched it, people liked it, it was a success. Great photos of food can make a 20% difference to sales. – Ron
6. Think about quality control
At first we had a lot of issues over the quality of products the factory was supplying us. We distribute extreme sports equipment and we believe the quality of our products is directly related to our credibility as a business, and therefore the credibility of our message. Early on we placed an order and the goods we received were just not of a high enough quality and we realised too late the mistake we made. We made the tough decision to withdraw them from sale, rather than damage our reputation. Since then we’ve worked more closely with our the factories on quality, requiring them to use the best materials. Every now and again some lower quality goods slip through, but it’s a lot better. – Jon and Dave
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.