It was a lightbulb moment to start up Challenge Coins 4 U. I had always been fascinated by the military and it was easy for me to know where to find my customers and how to speak their language, and so that always made it easy to approach and locate my customers. My first three customers came from social media! Facebook really worked wonders as well as LinkedIn. In fact, I aimed for ten customers, and I had no problem meeting my own quota. It was then that I realized that the market is much bigger than I thought, and the fact that these were frictionless sales really encouraged me to keep moving forward.
I made this business happen with my own funds. I kept hustling and contacting hundreds of people per day, until I raised $4,500 which was enough to get a website going as well as invest in SEO marketing. I have always been passionate about sales and sharing a product that I am passionate about. To me, this does not feel like work, and I love what I do. Each coin tells a story and I love asking my customers about what they do, and what each coin will be presented for.
My target demographic is the US Armed forces mostly, but occasionally we get overseas military customers from NATO countries due to referrals. The funniest and strangest request we got was from a group of soldiers who wanted to get retirement coins for their Sergeant. They were a unit in the Army. They wanted it to be a gag gift but also create a lasting memory. They wanted the coin to be in the shape of the male genital part, if you know what I mean. I thought it was just very awkward to make the artwork for it, and people at our office really had a laugh with that one, and no one can forget about it. We even had multiple referrals from others who saw that coin or who were presented one. Many of those soldiers now are Sergeants or higher ranks, so they want to have coins made for their companies or units.
What happened in the Early Stages of Challenges Coins 4 U?
I funded this idea initially with my own money generated from sales from my first ten customers. I tend to aim high, that one I am not disappointed with my results. I first met my co-founder through a friend, and then subsequent staff members were brought on by attending military networking events. My philosophy is that we as a company thrive when we have veterans speaking to those that are currently serving (they have a way of speaking to each other on the same level, vs a civilian like myself).
What motivated you to start your own business?
I don't have prior experience in the business. I wanted to start this business because I saw that there is a need and I am passionate about anything that I may promote and sell because I believe that you have to be. I also wanted the ability to do my business from anywhere, in case I go to conferences to find customers. I wanted the ability to make sure that my business can go with me, even if I may not be at the office. When I told friends and family, they just did not get the idea and did not think people would buy the products that I offer to our military and corporate clients. But as I started having more success they were pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you have to have a level of belief in yourself.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
I have had things go wrong so many times, and it really can ruin my day. But I have to think about things in the long run, that I will always make more sales, and find more customers. I just have to keep working hard day after day, and that will make me recover from any mistakes. My advice for those starting out is to take your business idea and test the market by seeing if you can get ten people to show interest or pre-buy what you are offering. It is a good way to test the market without jumping in blindly head first. Make sure to have a solid business plan in place. It is like driving a car to another city using GPS. You wouldn’t go to your destination in another city without looking up where you are going.
The most sales for us incredibly has come from social media (Instagram and facebook). I would never have thought, but that is where our prospects hang out and share media with others. As for us to grow our company, the only thing that is stopping us from growing 3x the size we are now, is the economic downturn associated with the coronavirus. This has brought supply chain disruptions to everyone in our industry, so we are learning to plan to operate and make money and customers in the face of such unforeseen events so we are better prepared in the future.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
We protect ourselves from our competition by closely studying their online marketing strategies. We know we offer personalized and quality service. When you have the owner of the company actually working like the rest of the staff, that really boosts morale of the staff and customers like to see that as well. We are quick to respond to customers whether there is a problem or not, and we make sure to talk to them like normal people. We also, unlike our competitors, work with them on price, because we understand these are members of our armed forces who are deployed.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?
The most important apps that we use are Google for Business, followed by the Vonage app, as well as Facebook and Instagram apps. All these allow us to keep in touch with our customers, through email and phone, as well as allow us the ability to stay synchronized with our staff members.
Books I would recommend are: The Art of War, Thick Face Black Heart, The 4 Hour Workweek, The Lean Startup.
What are your next steps?
We are expanding the products we offer, and we are in the middle of figuring out how to reach more corporate customers in various industries through email marketing and cold outreach campaigns. In 5 years, I can see the company making 5x to 10x more revenue that we are making now, because each day we work hard and build relationships. Everything will pay off in terms of repeat business and referrals, as well as new business. Our current revenue is at 993,000 as of 2019 and we plan on reaching the million-dollar mark soon by the end of this year. We are focused on selling products that people want and are happy to pay for.
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