In the latest installment of Savvy Startups, a series highlighting the personal and professional journeys of some of the most dynamic entrepreneurs, YFS Magazine speaks with Melanie Duncan, founder of e-learning and business coaching startup The Online Edge Academy.
Melanie Duncan is no stranger to entrepreneurship. In 2006 as a college student, she founded Garden Grove, CA-based Custom Greek Threads, an online sorority, and fraternity apparel company, with an embroidery machine, from her garage.
Following the success of her online venture Duncan, along with her husband and business partner Devin Duncan, created Luxury Monograms, an e-commerce website dedicated to customized home accessories and personalized gifts.
In 2010, through the experience Duncan gained from building two successful e-commerce companies, she soon realized that other women could benefit from the lessons she had learned along the way. “After I moved to New York City, I began to meet all of these amazing women who were so passionate and talented but lacked a necessary foundation in business and marketing,” Duncan explained in a May 2013 Rue Magazine interview. “Because of my background, I knew that I could save them a lot of time, money, and tears by sharing some helpful insights.”
After working with other female entrepreneurs, Duncan was inspired by the questions and hurdles they faced. This experience inspired Duncan to create online courses to help women advance their businesses. In 2011, Duncan launched The Entrepreneuress Academy, a members-only website offering business advice and tips to encourage female entrepreneurs.
Within a year, Duncan realized that her target audience and client base would become more diverse than she first suspected. “I realized I needed to rebrand in order to grow,” Duncan admits. “I didn’t want the academy to be specifically for women, since I had a lot of men joining and wondering if that was okay. The Online Edge Academy is my new vision.” Slated to launch in August of this year, Duncan plans to help women and men alike, work smarter.
Learn how three-time entrepreneur Melanie Duncan transitioned from selling online products to services and why she believes delegation is essential for success.
|The Online Edge Academy, MelanieDuncan.com
|Melanie Duncan, Devin Duncan
|New York, NY
|E-Commerce, Business Coaching Services
How I Got Started
I’ve been running e-commerce businesses for the past six years. I realized there was an opening within the market for a young female to come in and really speak to the strategies, not just mindset, etc. of entrepreneurship. I really wanted to come in and start teaching the nitty-gritty of scaling online businesses.
In 2011, Duncan created the Entrepreneuress Academy, an online membership website developed to share instructional videos and host a forum to exchange business advice and tips with female entrepreneurs. In 2013, the company plans to rebrand as The Online Edge Academy to serve a larger and more diverse client base.
This August, The Entrepreneuress Academy, which is still a membership site will transition into The Online Edge Academy. We started to close membership availability over the past year so we could fully go in and do a lot of things differently.
The new site is going to have a lot of really cool features, including the launch of a credit system so when people join they receive a certain number of credits, and every month they get access to more credits to put towards specific courses. We will also offer workshops, live training, etc. We wanted to introduce gamification so people would receive rewards and enjoy more fun, interactive and engaging learning environment.
Duncan, now a three-time entrepreneur, admits that with success also comes challenges.
An entrepreneur’s main struggle is focus and trying to do everything themselves. You see more and more people coming onto the scene as solopreneurs. Research is showing us that entrepreneurs aren’t launching businesses to bring in a 300 person staff. More and more people, women, in particular, are launching businesses that they want to run from home and manage independently.
So my goal is to really give them resources and shortcuts and ways to handle running a business — not just marketing, but also fulfillment, customer service, and online web presence. I am trying to help people through this struggle, who are mostly solopreneurs, or who run a very small team.
Biggest Startup Challenge
Talking specifically about my business coaching and online services, switching from selling products to learning how to sell services online was a big challenge for me. I didn’t realize the amount of effort and learning that would go into creating a personal brand. Nor did I know, initially how to build the rapport and trust that is necessary when you are selling a service, versus selling a t-shirt or a pillow like I had done previously.
I really had to learn how to teach and give a lot of free value in order to position myself and help people see the value in my services.
I soon realized that you have to give your best stuff away for free. It is very counterintuitive, but a lot of people when they start selling services and coaching, tend to not want to give away their best advice or give away a lot of training for free. When in fact, the best way to actually get clients and to have people buy your services is by fully demonstrating, outright, what you know — your best ideas, your best tips, and your best training.
That is what will get you media attention and draw people to you. When they see you giving away so much good stuff for free, you would think they would say, “I’m not going to pay for it,” but in my experience that was a tipping point. When people say, “Wow, she gives this stuff away for free, I definitely want to hire her because I can only imagine what an asset she would be if we paid her.”
Best Success Story
In 2010 my husband Devin and I decided to run our businesses completely remotely. We moved from Orange County, California (where our headquarters are located) and move to New York. Since then, we have managed our home decor and apparel companies remotely.
We go into the physical office once or twice a year and we’ve been able to grow and still manage those companies. This has enabled us to find a balance of lifestyle that allows us to travel and also grow our businesses at the same time.
To do this, the biggest challenge is getting yourself out of the way. As entrepreneurs we want to, so badly, believe that nobody can do things like we can do them. The truth is, you have to find the right people and trust them — let them make mistakes and help them learn through it.
We spent about a year hiring and training our managers who now run those offices. I think most entrepreneurs get in their own way of being able to grow their businesses because you have to duplicate yourself. If you don’t learn how to duplicate yourself your business will never grow beyond you.
#1 Tip for Entrepreneurs
Delegation. So many people wait until their business is doing a million dollars before they bring in other people. With the incredible resources and freelancers that are available online right now, the sooner you learn to remove yourself from areas of your business that you don’t need to be doing the more you can focus on growing your business.
As an entrepreneur, you need to focus on the strategic direction — instead of writing email copy or updating your social media status. When you do this you can become aware, be present, get yourself out there, and focus on developing yourself instead of just responding to customer service emails. You can do that for $8 per hour somewhere.
Connect with Melanie Duncan on Twitter.
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