Have You Just Started Your First Business in South Korea?
Running a successful business is very rewarding, but you must first have a successful business to be able to run one. And more importantly, you must actually have a business or a product or a service that people are willing to pay money for to have a successful business. But it’s not always easy, actually, it’s almost always a struggle at first. But if you do something you enjoy or something you are very good at, then with hard work and adjustments, you can be very successful and have A LOT of control over your lifestyle. But how is it really like when you first start out? Well, I can only share from my experience.
My first business was IGL English, which was an English Gyosoopso. There were 3 things that made me want to start an English Hagwon type business: 1. I wanted to be free to do what I believe is right 2. I didn’t want to be a slave to a salary 3. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I had big goals for IGL English, I mean, make a difference in the world?! Yeah, that was me, now I’m more about focusing on just doing the best I can to support my family. Anyhow, I share the three things that made me want to start my first business because those three things gave me motivation to work super hard and also allowed me to be very optimistic. I imagined that I would easily make 200,000won hourly from each of my classes within the first month, and that I would have to tell parents that we didn’t have space to take their children in our classes. And of course I was able to tell this to some of the parents by the time I reached my second year, but I had some very unrealistic expectations when I was starting out. And it is important to have some ambitious goals for your business, but you also need to be realistic.
Well, I’m kind of just rambling, but let me share the first time my wife and I posted up flyers in our English gyosoopso neighborhood. So we spent at least a week or so creating a wonderful flyer. Actually, I just wrote a blog post about selling yourself as the product and I highlighted the flyer that we used as our first marketing tool. So we worked super hard and we probably had like at least 2000 flyers, since most printing companies only print flyers in large bulk numbers. And we even imported some USBs from China with our Hagwon name, website, and phone number. Honestly, I thought my USBs were going to be a hit, but in the end, most people didn’t really care. Actually, some of the kids thought it was cool to have one. Anyhow. So we finally get the flyers printed and our plan was to put them up in the neighbourhood apartments. I learned that you have to get approval from the apartment maintenance office if you want to post up your flyers in the apartment buildings. So we go to the maintenance office of the apartment units and ask to post flyers on the bulletin board of the apartment buildings. They told us it would cost 60,000won to be able to post them for a week. So we paid the money and the lady stamped each flyer with their “official apartment stamp”. Then my wife and I excitedly went to each apartment hallway where the bulletin board was and told the security guy that we would post the flyers. Most of the security guys asked to see the stamp, and some of them were a little mean about it, but we brushed it off to the side and continued to post up the flyers. We then repeated this for 2 other apartment complexes.
Here is what the flyer looked like:
As I was posting the flyers up with my wife, my wife received a phone call from our very first customer! She was the mother of our very first student and she said that she received our USB. Actually, a few days before we posted the flyers, I actually asked one of my co-teachers to give a usb to each of the teachers at the school. Looking back, I realized that I asked her for a big favor as there were probably close to 30 teachers, but she still did it for me. Good thing I was on good terms with all of my co-teachers. And one of the teachers at the school I attended wanted to send her daughter to our school and ended up sending her! You can read about how my first student attended and how we kept her for more than a year on my other blog. So as I was saying, while we were putting up our first flyers, we received a call and our student’s mother said that she wanted to send her daughter to our English gyosoopso. And my wife and I got really excited. After that, we were really confident, and I really thought that we would get some calls before we finished up putting up the flyers. But one really important thing to note is that the parent who called us did not live in any of the apartments we put up the flyers in.
While we were putting up our flyers in either the second or third apartment complex, we received a call. We both thought that it was a parent of a student who wanted to send their child to our English Gyosoopso. Nice! But it was either my wife’s mother or friend. False alarm! Finally, we were done posting up the flyers and then made our way back to our English Gyosoopso.
And then we waited and waited and waited…
We were literally sitting beside the phone for at least 20 minutes. Here are some things we either said or thought:
“Why hasn’t anyone called?”
“Is the phone number on the flyer correct?”
“Is our phone working? Try calling our phone and see if it goes through.”
“Maybe someone took our flyers down because they were threatened by us.”
In the end, the day we put up the flyers, we received 0 calls. Honestly, I was a little discouraged, actually, I was very discouraged. I mean, how could people not be interested in my English gyosoopso? Don’t they want their children to learn from the best? I mean, I have a Bachelors of Education from University of Toronto! And lots of teaching experience! What’s wrong with them! How dare they not notice my beautiful flyer in their apartment building hallway?! Okay, actually I wasn’t that dramatic, but you get the point. It was discouraging to say the least. But getting leads and new customers takes time, and it takes persistence and consistency.
I have met my fair share of entrepreneurs in Korea. I have even interviewed a bunch of them in the past for my podcast at MarketinginKorea.com You can checkout the website to access the interviews and see the profile of the people and businesses I interviewed. And every single entrepreneur in Korea I met was very optimistic about their product or service. Some of them were so sure that their website would be flooded with people or that they would be making sales left, right and center. And if you actually go to MarketinginKorea.com and click the website link on the profile of the people I have interviewed, you may notice something very interesting. Probably more than half of the websites no longer exist or the business or startup has closed down. Maybe their business did well and they sold it, but for the most part, a good amount of people’s startup or business actually did not survive for more than a year.
So why do I mention this? Well, I want you to know that the very first year of your business or your startup will be the hardest. It is where reality hits and your expectations may have been very unrealistic. But if you do something you actually have some experience in or create something that a good amount of people already have an interest in, then you should be able to persevere past your first year or two. Because things will most likely not go the way you have planned. People may not think your idea is as good as you think, or that your service is as good as you think it is, or your product is as amazing as you think it is. Your friends will most likely only tell you positive things about your business ideas, but it is important to receive some constructive feedback from people who are not your friend. And if you can’t do that, create what is called a Minimum Viable Product, which is like a prototype of your product or service. That way you don’t spend all of your money and time working on it and can still find out if it is worth it to go through with your idea. Also, you may have a lot more business expenses than expected.
Another story where I was a little discouraged, actually very discouraged, was when I was handing out the same flyer to students and parents in front of the school near my English gyosoopso. You see, the back side of the same flyer looks like this:
You can see that the flyer includes a photo of me, a quiz, and then it states that the first 20 students will receive a prize from me! But it specifically states that they had to come to my English gyosoopso to pick up the prize. My strategy was to draw students and/or parents to my school and pick up the cool prize. Then I would engage them in conversation and hopefully get their contact information. And guess what the prize was? My most prized possession, an IGL Branded USB!! Yup, I seriously was going to give that to the students, whether the students were in grade 1 or in middle school. But my wife told me that I should at least give them a treat or a cool pen, but I insisted that my USB was the best thing to have. So we gave out a lot of these flyers, probably close to 1000 in a span of a week or two. One day while I was handing out the flyers, one student actually filled in the answers and brought it to me while I was still handing out flyers. So I just ended up giving her another pen, which I was giving out with the flyers. There was no way she was going to get a FREE USB that easily. I told her and her parent that we had a better prize at my Gyosoopso, but her parent explained that they didn’t have time to go there. So yeah, I didn’t think the whole thing through. But I did manage to make a sign up sheet template where the first 20 people who visited my school with the completed quiz could write their name down. I imagined myself apologizing to some kids since we only had 20 prizes ready. My wife thought it was funny because she didn’t think 20 people would come, and, she was right! Man, goes to show how positive and optimistic I was, which is a good thing though. In the end, zero, yes, 0 students came with a quiz. The sign up sheet for the 20 lucky winners wasn’t even used and it was another “learning experience” or defeat and I was quite discouraged for probably a day or an hour or so. Like man, don’t these people want to receive a special prize?!
It’s funny looking back on my first business and my first attempts to get customers/clients. It’s funny looking back now, but if you are going through the process right now, then it isn’t funny because you may be worried about next month’s rent or worried about facing your wife or your husband who told you not to leave your job to start this business. So I’m here to encourage you and tell you that things will get better, but you have to make changes, adjust, and keep grinding it out. Success won’t come easy, but it’ll come if you put in the time and work.