5 Lessons I Learned From Being A Small Entrepreneur | Morena the Label

Hiya! If you’re new here, let me give you a quick introduction:

I’m Ayn Bernos, a vlogger, a writer, and—just added recently—a small entrepreneur. I am the founder of Morena the Label, a clothing line that celebrates sun-kissed skin, body positivity, and everything in between.

The advocacy behind Morena the Label:

Morena, in Filipino, is a word used to refer to dark-skinned women, or women with brown skin. Having dark or brown skin has long been looked down on in Filipino society, generally believed to be undesirable, less attractive, or just something to be ashamed of.

Morena the Label takes that archaic beauty ideology and challenges it by empowering Filipinos to wear that label on their chest proudly, embracing their sun-kissed skin and everything it else it stands for.

It’s been eight months since I first launched Morena the Label, and it’s been quite the journey since. Looking back, there were so many things that I wish I could’ve done differently and things I wish I’d known sooner. But alas, it’s all part of the process and I’m just glad to be sitting here, typing this down, having had this journey at all.

Hopefully by reading this, you can find inspiration for when you go on your own entrepreneurial adventure.

Without further ado, here are 5 lessons I learned from being the small entrepreneur behind Morena the Label:

Photo by  Melaninja

Photo by Melaninja

Launch ASAP, and then move on to more important things

Ever since I caught the entrepreneurial bug at 14 years old, I’ve been obsessed with “big ideas.” Over the years, I’ve planned a gazillion launches of a bajillion products — from shoes to bags, to social media agencies and online magazines, to blogs even — but very few of them ever escaped the notorious launch stage. I would secure myself an Instagram handle or a business email, brainstorm products, look for suppliers, figure out a budget, but never really followed through. I was so obsessed with the perfect launch that I never made it happen.

But something happened in April 2018 that set things in motion for me. I had received confirmation of my move to Spain, and I realized that I had five months to gather the funds I needed to support myself in Madrid. The light bulb in my head went off like a fire alarm, and I told myself I needed to launch now.

So within a month I figured out the logistics of my favorite big idea yet, set up a photoshoot with some of my best friends, and in May 2018, I finally did it. I launched Morena the Label.

BUT—big but —running a business takes more than good planning and a banging launch. After I’d released the initial promotional material, Morena the Label had taken me three times the commitment of a 9-5 full-time job, but earned me only half the income… maybe even less. Continuing to invest time, energy, and funds into a project that spread me thin felt ridiculous.

However, what kept me going, and what keeps me going, is the fact that I’ve already launched. I’d made such a big deal out of my photoshoot and my big business idea that I knew I would be embarrassed to pull the plug without even trying. I’ve come too far to give up.

So dear reader, whatever big idea you have now, launch it ASAP. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Being present makes a world of a difference

A lot of people ask me how I manage my Manila-based business from Madrid. The answer is, well, I paid attention to my Facebook ads. Hah!

When I started scouring the web for shirt suppliers, I remembered seeing a Shirt.ly ad—something about setting up an online store. And so I headed over to their website and signed up for the workshop required to start selling my designs. Turns out, their business model was perfect for my situation. I had no money to use as a capital, I was busy with a full-time job and freelancing, and I had no time nor energy to handle the logistics by myself. Not to mention, I was moving to Madrid in five months. Luckily, with Shirt.ly, all I had to do was promote my store and do the marketing. They did everything else.

You can probably see why I thought managing it from halfway across the world would be easy. I mean, everything is digital. What could go wrong?

A lot of things, apparently. But they’d only revealed themselves when I’d decided to expand.

First off, I don’t want Morena the Label to be a form of passive income anymore. I want Morena the Label to be a project that I can pour my heart into, a project that I can be hands-on with. That means being around for photoshoots, meeting collaborators and suppliers personally, shipping packages to influencers myself, and dealing with customer inquiries on time, unaffected by time zones.

I’m really grateful for the opportunity and the circumstances that led me and Morena the Label here, but in a few months, when my Spain contract expires, I’ll be ready to go home and be present for my business. I think Morena the Label deserves it.

Social media can level the playing field for anyone

It’s amazing what social media can do. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is missing out on a business opportunity of a lifetime.

As I’ve previously said, I didn’t have funds when I started Morena the Label. Whatever money I had at the time, I’d spent on the initial photoshoot and the social media ads that followed. With Youtube and Google making learning so easy—though to be fair, I did have 3 years of digital marketing experience prior—gaining an audience for Morena the Label turned out to be much easier than I thought. After all, it was one of my biggest concerns when I started: would Morena the Label ever grow a following? Will people respond?

I spent around Php 3000 over a period of 2 months, boosting audience-worthy Instagram posts every now and then, and promoting the Instagram account and Facebook page. Once I’d gained a good amount of followers, I started seeding products to morena influencers, including Kiana Valenciano and Dominique Cojuangco. Eventually, Cosmo.ph picked up our story, and more notable publications followed. Every time it happened, my chest swelled with pride like it was the first time anyone’s mentioned my brand. It was surreal. It still is.

But more than all of the above, I think the biggest game changer was the Youtube channel that I had launched two years before this. With my morena makeup videos, vlogs about self-love, and commentary on colorism, it was the ultimate other half of Morena the Label. It was like the universe conspired to make it happen. Or maaaaybe, I just followed my heart.

You can only go solo for so long

For a long time, I’ve been a avid disciple of the “if you want something done well, do it yourself” philosophy. I loved overworking myself and doing everything end-to-end, whether or not I was actually skilled end-to-end, whether or not I even had energy or time to do so. I just always flew solo. Solopreneur. One-woman team. I took pride in that.

But my location problem taught me a valuable lesson, one that was so obvious but I still had to learn the hard way: I should ask for help when I need it.

Towards the end of last year, I finally hired an intern. Her name’s Czarina. I needed someone to help me execute a photoshoot in Manila, someone to be there physically to handle everything I couldn’t from Spain. She also helped with social media and marketing. She even came up with our latest Instagram campaign #KwentongMorena.

But more than that, Czarina—then-intern, now-freelancer—taught me the value of trust, delegation, and teamwork. When I was in the middle of a sad spell over the holidays, I’d pretty much given up on work. I’d given up on Youtube and Morena the Label. But having Czarina hold me accountable for what I did and what I didn’t do had given me a sense of purpose that I didn’t have when I was working alone. With her around, I had real deadlines. Real targets. Real responsibilities. A real company.

Morena the Label had become a real business—not just a passion project launched by an indecisive twenty-something.

Passion goes a long way, but planning will take you further

I started Morena the Label with a vision, an advocacy, and I guess… some form of a business plan. I had everything in a deck, just as I’ve learned in my years in a digital marketing agency. I had my target market identified to a T. My supplier, Shirt.ly, had logistics and production under control. But after laying down the groundwork… what else was there to do?

My passion led me here. I’ve always been vocal about colorism issues in the Philippines and Asia, and I’ve always worked to empower others to choose self-love. But when that passion is misguidedly laid out to be the backbone of the business, things can easily fall apart. Why? Because passion does not always burn brightly and consistently. What happens then, when inevitably you’ve reached a burnout and ultimately cannot go on mentally? Emotionally? What happens when you’re drained? You can’t count on passion to keep you upright. Planning does that. Extensive, brutal planning that I’ve yet to fully accomplish.

This is why I was so glad that 2019 finally decided to show up. It was the perfect time to plan out my year, what I hope to achieve with Morena, and when, more importantly, I hope to achieve them.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last eight months of running Morena the Label, but I’m optimistic about the growth that we can achieve when I humble myself and accept these lessons as what they are—warnings, opportunities, and milestones. I’m a small entrepreneur learning the ropes through the path that I’ve paved for myself, and hopefully I can one day look back at this blog entry fondly, knowing that I’d made it. :)

Any small business tips you’d like to share? Experiences? Stories? Let me know in the comments below!