When Your Business Goes Viral
When a business gets a sudden influx of interest—whether from a national TV appearance, a celebrity mention on social media or an online video that goes viral — founders aren’t always prepared.
Unless the attention is overwhelmingly negative, it’s a good problem to have. However, an unexpected surge in interest can crash websites or cause customer service issues if a product sells out.
You often can’t predict when outside factors make you famous. For instance, an influencer mentions you on Instagram or the First Lady wears your jewelry to a state dinner. But in other cases, you may have time to prepare.
When Martin Hill, creator of a baby bottle holder called The Beebo, appeared on “Shark Tank” in September 2015, landing a $200,000 investment from Lori Greiner and Ashton Kutcher, the producers gave him eleven-days notice before the episode’s air date. Hill sprang into action upgrading the website, shooting new photos and preparing boxes of product to ship. However, he says he wishes he’d had more time to promote the TV appearance.
Here are his tips for other entrepreneurs preparing for a “Shark Tank” appearance or some other flurry of orders.
Prepare for all possible scenarios.
Hill hoped the TV appearance would lead to an uptick in orders—and it did. But he also recognized that things could have gone differently, so he didn’t over-extend himself by ordering excessive amounts of inventory or moving to a fulfillment center. “Look at the flow of how things are potentially going to happen,” Hill says. “Try and cover as many of the what-ifs as you can. What if we get only a few orders? What are we going to do?”
He hadn’t yet moved to a fulfillment center, so he had thousands of boxes in his home with stickers waiting to ship. When those sold out, he had more product on its way from China. Worst case scenario, he says, they would have just moved unsold product back to his storage unit. “You go through the process of getting on ‘Shark Tank’ but you’re still not guaranteed that you’re going to air,” Hill says. “You can’t start plowing in money and expanding for the potential ‘Shark Tank’ surge if it might not happen.” Later on, Hill moved to a fulfillment center so his family wouldn’t have to deal with boxes in his home.
Shore up your website.
Your current website may not have enough bandwidth to withstand a much higher volume of traffic, so plan accordingly. On a recommendation from Dan Greiner (Lori Greiner’s husband), Hill moved from a WordPress and Magento setup to a Shopify website. “He said there’s a high probability if you stick with the setup you have right now, it could crash,” Hill says.
Even if you don’t have much notice to promote a TV appearance or other success in advance, you can make it prominent on your website after the fact. A year since Hill’s “Shark Tank” experience, the company’s homepage still reminds visitors of the “Shark Tank” appearance. It continues to capitalize on the show’s popularity and build instant trust with potential customers.
Communicate about delays.
In cases of sudden interest, customer demand often outstrips the available supply. When the product sold out, Hill says he likely missed out on orders because customers didn’t want to wait. “Manufacturing takes a month and it takes another month on the ocean,” he says. Once the current inventory sold out, the website automatically reverted to pre-ordering so customers understood the timeline for shipping. “When someone pre-orders, it’s all about education,” he says. “Make sure the customer knows the expected date of delivery prior to them hitting confirm purchase.”
Even if you lose some orders, it’s better to be upfront and transparent about delivery timelines than deal with customers who are irate over delays or other issues they didn’t anticipate.
You can’t anticipate every possible scenario. However, by preparing for potential outcomes and communicating with customers about issues, your business can capitalize on sudden interest.
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