My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 7: What Now?
I’m feeling rather stuck at the moment.
Since acquiring Bella Virtu Organics last May, I have created a small customer base, made up mainly of friends and acquaintances as well as a bunch of wonderful people who saw my appearance on Twin Cities Live. They seem to love the products and what the brand represents, and early information suggests that many of them will buy again. But of course I need more people to create a sustainable, profitable business and so I am figuring out “customer acquisition.” I can’t stand that phrase; it sounds so cold and transactional. I like to think of it as how am I going to broaden the brand’s circle of friends.
My options fall into three general approaches:
Classic Digital Customer Acquisition
This one involves throwing a lot of money at digital advertising (likely to be mainly Facebook and Instagram), optimizing by audience type as I learn what works. This will hopefully lead to a “predictable model” for return on advertising spend that I can use to go to investors when I am ready to go big on this strategy. It probably involves a negative cashflow for some time but with the potential for big rewards at the end. However, it does leave a bad taste in my mouth– I just don’t think my customers would feel great knowing that 50 to 70 percent of the price they’re paying for the products is going straight to the large social media companies. And even if they were okay with it, I don’t think I would be. I want this business to be a force for good, after all.
Relationship Building/Word of Mouth
This is really what I’ve been doing to date, but with a more scalable approach. It took me a long time to accept that I needed to have a personal presence for the brand, and that appearing in videos, on the website, on social media was key to connecting with people and giving them a reason to try and trust the brand. This reality has certainly proved true in the responses I’ve received when personally delivering the message, such as on Twin Cities Live. This strategy would mean finding more places to connect on a more intimate level with potential “brand friends,” whether literally in person (when we are eventually able to do so) or via video ads, TV segments, emails, zoom webinars, social media. I could turn my customers into brand ambassadors and reward them for spreading the brand story.
When I was in business school this was called a “push” strategy. It involves finding intermediaries to be the distribution points for the brand such as natural food stores, boutiques, gift shops, even online retailers. There are also opportunities to be included in monthly sampling subscription boxes (such as Birchbox, Ipsy, or BoxyCharm) that get your products into the hands of many people with the hope that some of them will love it and buy it. Trade shows are the traditional entry point to this growth strategy, but these have obviously been curtailed in recent months. There are also numerous online wholesale marketplaces (Faire, Tundra, Abound, Range) where the challenge remains similar to that of consumer digital marketing: how to stand out amongst a huge number of competitors.
Of course, it’s not a simple A, B or C decision. I could do all three, and they certainly amplify each other. Nevertheless, there are limits to finances, time, and focus which would suggest choosing one way forward and prioritizing it as the sensible and perhaps only viable option.
Therefore, for now, I am talking to lots of people and getting reams of advice, but ultimately I’m revisiting the guiding principles of why I’m in this business to begin with (to make some money while spreading joy), what the brand stands for (moments of joy through self-care), and what I’m really motivated and excited to spend my time doing (inspiring people to self-care, to power their lives and build resilience).
I believe that if I stay true to these goals and add a good dose of solid business thinking then I will find the right way forward. I’ll keep you posted!
Catch up on Powell’s entrepreneurial journey:
Part 1: Intent vs. Buy
Part 2: Help Wanted
Part 3: The Gift of Feedback
Part 4: Human Vs. Algorithm
Part 5: A Vs. B Minus
Part 6: End of Year Reflection