It’s taken 10 years to write this post. It’s difficult to believe, but ZSwag.com is celebrating its 10th birthday!
First, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude for all of you that supported me on this journey. My mom, my girlfriend, friends, mentors, team, and our awesome clients who believed in us. Most of all thank you to Chef Jerome Drosos for allowing me to go classroom to classroom presenting the chef coats I was offering at Triton College when I first got started. I’m not sure if Z-Swag would exist without you. May you rest in peace.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was printing, folding, and boxing up t-shirts all inside my parent’s house. That’s right! I was printing t-shirts by hand using a heat press. I printed the packing slips, taped the boxes, and hand-delivered orders all myself. I had a full-blown warehouse in my parent’s living room!
My first team member was my mom. She helped me with everything; getting stains out of chef coats, washing them, ironing them, and folding them into elegant retail packaging. This was when our first supplier was the flea market and we could only get products that had minor defects. Sometimes they were not so minor. Back then, I had no idea how to even find suppliers.
My mom definitely earned Employee of the Year back then. 10 years later I am lucky enough to have an incredible team. ZSwag.com was founded with the $800 I earned washing dishes, cleaning tables, and a lot of hustle. We’ve come a long way!
Having no formal college degree or education, I learned by doing. In celebration of our 10th birthday, I’d like to share with you 10 lessons I’ve learned over the last 10 years.
10 lessons from 10 years in business
1. Tunnel vision
Like most entrepreneurs. I’m guilty of having shiny object syndrome. There’s no question I’ve tried to launch many companies during the past 10-years. I experimented a lot. I don’t regret it because each experiment taught me a lot and helped me grow. There is too much noise in this world. Find your one-thing, put your head down, and focus.
2. Establish values
It’s critical to establish core values that dictate how your organization conducts itself, how it hires, fires, how it addresses conflict, and how it operates. These values are not to look pretty on a wall or website, but values each team member must embody.
3. Find Mr./Miss Perfect
Know who your ideal client is. This is my #1 advice for new business owners and entrepreneurs. It may be true that anyone may be a possible client for you, but you don’t want just anyone. You want your dream client. Someone who has a problem that you have a solution for. Create a client avatar document and map out everything about them. How old are they? What industry are they in? Where do they hang out? What are the biggest challenges they face? What title do they have? Do your homework and identify your Mr. or Miss Perfect.
4. It’s almost all about the benjamins
Sales should be the #1 priority for every business. If there are sales, most problems go away or can be easily resolved. It’s not the only metric for success that matters, but it’s certainly towards the top.
5. Bruises are sometimes necessary
While I believe you should learn from other people’s mistakes, I also think it is important for you to dive in at the deep end of the pool if you have conviction in what you believe. If you do have that conviction, go for it, even if the odds are against you. If you don’t quit you are still in the game. Keep flapping until you can swim.
6. Shake the right hands
Business is all about relationships. Everybody knows a guy. I’m here to let you know, ZSwag.com is your “guy” for custom swag! But it’s not just about who you know, it’s who you have a rapport with. Putting in the effort to cultivate those relationships and make them strong is everything. Make your CRM your best friend. It is the best way to keep track of your contacts, your touchpoints, and your relationships.
7. Leverage mentors
Mentors!! No matter how much you learn, there will always be something you don’t know. That’s where mentors really come in handy, people invested in your success who you communicate with regularly. I’m lucky enough to have several great mentors, all of whom have contributed to my growth so much.
8. The best teams always win
No one can do it alone. Micheal Jordan didn’t and neither will you. Your team is always your #1 asset. One strong team member is better than three average ones. Invest in your people. Train them, empower them, and step aside.
9. Everything is a commodity
You can and likely will be replaced by a machine. Create differentiation and de-commoditization by building a brand. Many of our clients leverage the power of Z-Swag to keep their brand top of mind by launching creative brand awareness campaigns with promotional merch that people actually want to use and keep. Position yourself as the go-to expert in your niche. Become a specialist, not a generalist.
10. Mindset calibration
The journey is difficult. It will break you. It will bring you down to your knees. There will be tears and sometimes waterfalls of tears and that is okay. It’s apart of the journey. I encourage mindfulness practice as a daily habit to all. Learn to calibrate your mind regularly. I use the Muse App and listen to the Motivate app every single day.
11. Bonus! Learn to ask.
A saying I’ve found to be especially true is, “Those who don’t ask won’t get fed”. Whatever journey you may be on, learning to ask without guilt or fear is critical. If you’re stuck – ask for help. Fortunately, we are not limited to three or four lifelines in the game of life like on the show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. We have unlimited lifelines, so pick up the phone, cold email an expert or your idol, use Google… Just use your lifelines.
The last 10 years have been the warm-up for what’s to come. Our focus as a company right now is providing PPE to serve our clients, and we want to be sure they have the protective equipment they need to feel safe and confident in this process. In addition, we continue to support WFH organizations with their employee onboarding swag kits, retention kits, and virtual conference swag kits. We will continue to manufacture Z-Swag, by providing a full A to Z approach from ideation to fulfillment. Thank you again to my mom, my team, our clients, friends, and family! Follow along with the journey by subscribing to our email list.