It's time for a marketing revolution for entrepreneurs

At the start of 2015, I vowed to take my business to the next level. For those not familiar with our story, I started Bella Lulu Ink (now Get Polished) on an absolute just-had-a-baby-and-need-a-hobby whim. I told literally no one. I just put a few blog templates up on Etsy and sat back, expecting to get a handful of sales over the course of a year. I got a handful of sales in my very first day, having done nothing to promote myself or spread the word. I was blown away, and spent the next two years quite overwhelmed by my business, caring for three kiddos, selling our house, moving across the country and trying to battle some serious health issues my kids were facing. Add to that my pregnancy with my fourth baby, and it's not surprising that I didn't do much to promote myself or take my business seriously. But year after year, my sales increased. I wasn't bringing in six figures, mind you (or anything close), but I was in a good rhythm and loving the flexibility it allowed me to earn a little income while staying home with my kids.

When 2015 started and my sales exploded, I got excited and suddenly felt completely unprepared to run an actual business. Seeing how successful I could be without trying, I assumed that if I tried, I could be even more successful. Maybe I could bring in that mythical six figure entrepreneur income that's touted so loudly by coaches and gurus.

But what happened was the opposite. Not only did my sales drop as I tried harder, but my love for my business fizzled out (no doubt the two are related). By the end of 2015, I'd decided to shut the doors to my shop all together. My husband and I decided that it wasn't worth persuing at the cost of my sanity and happiness, so I would go back to being a stay-at-home mom. 

Maybe you can relate to this story. When being transparent about my struggles in several small biz/entrepreneur Facebook groups in 2015, I got so many, "Me too!" responses. I knew then that I'd hit on something that resonated with a lot of small biz owners.

Over the course of the last six months, I started reading all I could get my hands on in regards to marketing. I went to college for marketing, public relations and advertising, so I'm not a stranger to the industry. I worked in advertising after college until I quit to stay home with my son. While I have never considered myself an expert on the matter, I've always had strong gut feelings about the way businesses go about marketing. 

The more blog posts I read, the more courses I took, the more "gurus" and "coaches" I began to follow, the more dejected I felt. As I tried harder to increase my social media presence, I felt ickier about what I was doing. As I began to really focus on the behind-the-scenes marketing stuff like SEO, titling blog posts, pushing content, planning webinars, periscopes and e-courses, I got the sinking feeling that none of this stuff was for me. And, even more profoundly, that none of this stuff was for anyone.

I read book after book and began to form my own philosophy. I began to understand why I'd struggled in 2015 when finally actually taking my business seriously. I began to view my problems as not unique to myself or my own business, but something that was impacting the countless scores of entrepreneurs I was meeting. We were burning out faster than ever. People were walking away from their businesses, completely defeated, because they just couldn't do all the things or afford all the contractors to do it for them.

There are a lot of examples out there of entrepreneurs who have done everything "right" - the webinars, the e-courses, the persicoping daily, the opt-ins and pop-ups and seemingly exploding numbers. And perhaps, for some of them, success is attainable. But what I'm finally learning from marketing experts like Seth Godin, the stuff I never learned in college which was pathetically behind-the-times, is that that sort of business is unsustainable. While temporary success is achievable by anyone, it doesn't take long for those customers or clients to recognize they're being played/manipulated/lied to/abused for the sake of profit. Particularly in this day and age, when consumers are more demanding, aware and distrusting than ever before, manipulative tactics, pop-ups and interruptions are not tolerated. They may work temporarily, and they may work on a smaller percentage of the population, but they are fleeting customers; it's fleeting success and fleeting business. And who wants that?

I'd rather have a smaller niche of loyal, interactive customers who know how much I care about them than a huge slice of the pie that was manipulated into following me and doesn't interact with my business in any way. And worse, customers who eventually figure out that they aren't being cared for at all; that they are supporting a business whose top priority is the number of followers and income they can acquire. The "I made six figures in six months and you can, too!" entrepreneurs might actually be telling the truth, but their care and concern for you or your success lie at the very bottom of their priority list. Visit them in five years and you'll be happy you chose not to follow that business model.

Solid, lasting success comes in the form of loyal customers who feel loved, who feel so wooed and excited and cared for by your product or service that they can't wait to tell their friends. They can't wait to come back to you time and time again.

TOMS, Apple, Warby-Parker - these are all companies founded on an experience, a desire to dazzle and wow and woo their customers. None of these companies launched a new, never-before-created product. They were launching a new idea, but in all three cases, it was based on creating an amazing experience for their customers. TOMS began the one-for-for movement by donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. Buying a pair of TOMS shoes has always been an experience, and it makes their customers feel good. Their boxes, the little flags they include in their packages, the feeling that your purchase helps another and the lightweight shoe itself - these all combine to create an experience that is undeniably unique and exciting for each customer. People can't help but talk about TOMS! Word-of-mouth created a revolution in new footwear for a purpose. Warby-Parker did the same, but for eyewear. They created truly affordable glasses that were super stylish and they donate a pair for every pair purchased. People who shop at Warby-Parker get an experience, not just a new pair of glasses. From the designs to the incredible customer experience, people love to recommend Warby-Parker to their friends and family.

These companies were created out of a passion and a desire to make things better. The founders wanted their customers to understand that they were cared for and that their products were made with them in mind.

While many of us entrepreneurs might not be looking to change the world or achieve super stardom with our businesses (I know I'm not looking to create an Apple or TOMS! I'm a mom to four!), we can still follow the thought leaders in marketing and look to the companies who have achieved tremendous success in the last decade to guide us in our own marketing efforts. If reading every, "10 things you must do to promote yourself on Pinterest TODAY!" article makes you queasy and stressed and trying to follow the lead of the entrepreneur gurus has you ripping your hair out and hating yourself at the end of the day, then join me in saying NO MORE! No more complicated strategies, sleazy practices, e-courses that promise us six figures in six months. Entrepreneurs are often driven and passionate people who sometimes get knocked off course or manipulated when sales are stagnant. I'm guilty! But don't fear! We're in this together! Let's learn how to make a living without selling our souls or working ourselves to an early grave; two things that many entrepreneurs have in common. 

Stick around for more posts on this topic! After spending a year getting wrecked and pummeled by following the lead of gurus galore, I've got my spark and focus back, and I can't wait to share my heart on the topic now that I've made sense of it all in my head. 

Chelsea Hibbard

Greenville, SC