TO: SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION
Subject: Content Request
On the topic of Instagram, how on earth do you genuinely grow a business on Instagram...any advice you could offer on this would be great. I refuse to buy followers but I also don't want an audience of just family and friends. It completely baffles me how small businesses gain huge audiences, so literally ANYTHING you can offer regarding this would be a big help!
BUILDING AN BUSINESS ON INSTAGRAM
This is a great, and very common question. One I don’t exactly know the answer to. I think all markets are very saturated these days, and unless you are launching with HUGE marketing budgets & putting big dollars behind sponsored posts, the growth has to be organic, and as such, will take time to build. This is not always a bad thing, as it allows you as a entrepreneur (especially if you are a solo-preneur,) to make mistakes along the way & grow & develop with the growth.
I was asked a similar question recently, and I answered it like this. Don’t focus on growing the number of followers, or hitting a certain dollar amount. As a brand in start up phase, if you are aggressively chasing these things, you will make decisions that will compromise your brand. That is not to say do not chase sales! I talk a lot about business being the ‘what’ and your brand being the ‘why’. Simon Sinek famously does a brilliant TED talk on this, with the quote ‘People don’t purchase WHAT you do, they purchase WHY you do it.’
It is so easy to veer off course, not only in the start up days, but even as an established brand. This can be compromised decisions that you are casing to obtain a commercial outcome, it could be posting content on Instagram that possible gets you a few more followers, but is not at all on brand for you, it comes when you are not being truly authentic, to your brand, and as such, yourself. As an entrepreneur, what you have that no one else does, is the passion for WHY you started. When you feel like you loose your way a little, or you are frustrated that a certain outcome is not happening – ALWAYS GO BACK TO THE WHY.
SIDE STORY (But really, the actual answer): Around 2008/2009, the SAMANTHA WILLS brand was booming. We were known as a boho luxe brand, our design language was consistent in being known for large, statement pieces. Lots of turquoise stones, burnish metals & lots of layering.
I spoke very transparently about the brands journey to that point, the start up on a Bondi Market table, from very humble beginnings on my dining room table, and how without a design degree, or university education, I would hustle my way through, in my bid to reach my dream of creating a brand that people wanted to be a part of. (That was my WHY from the very start). Our consumer was highly engaged, because she related to my story, and when your consumer is engaged, their spending pattern matches this. As such our retailers couldn’t keep product on the shelves, we were dressing every A-List celebrity as the category of costume jewellery was on fire, and every day would see a new celebrity placement hit our inbox out of the USA, Rhianna, Katy Perry, Drew Barrymore, JLO, and then Eva Mendes wearing the Bohemian Bardot ring – which put us on the map.
Due to the celebrity placements, retailers from the USA where calling, placing orders without seeing samples because they just wanted the brand so much, and we were opportunistically sending orders over. It got to the point where my business partner said that it was probably high time I spent more time over there, and managed the brand for how we wanted it to look globally – with the view, that when we rolled out through Europe & Asia, they wouldn’t be asking ‘what does you brand look like in Australia’, they would be asking, what does your brand looking like in the United States.’ Needless to say, we were having a stellar run, both brand wise & commercially, it was like everything had just aligned.
So, I packed my bags & moved to New York City. I was in my late 20’s, it was the first time I had lived outside of Australia, and the first time I had ever really had a some disposable income.
As soon as I landed, I was instantly romanced by everything that was New York City. I had stars in my eyes – and for the first time, had an income that allowed me to buy into luxury brands. I was besotted with the CHANELs & JIMMY CHOOs of the world, not only their product, but their brands. I would attend luxury brand conferences learning all I could about branding, especially Heritage Brands.
In branding, you can hope & wish all you want that your brand sits where you want it to in the market place, but at the end of the day, the consumer is the one who dictates where you brand sits. Whatever price point they are purchasing the most of, is your core price point, and want & wish all you will, but if you want a commercial business, you need to have a very sound understanding of where your consumer is spending & how they see your brand. And it should go without saying – if something is working, booming even, probably best not to fuck with it….
So, here I was in New York, in the middle of a stellar moment for our brand. We couldn’t keep product on shelves, retailers where doubling their orders season on season, we were bohemian, and layered, and bright stones, and burnished metals, and statement size, and relative & authentic in our communications…. And in a hot second, I made the decision that I wanted the SW brand to sit a tier, to a tier & a half higher in the market than where we were sitting.
So, I instantly changed the design language – not over a few seasons, or subtly to progress it….. no. I made the decision that the next collection was going to be minimal. And absolutely NO turquoise. Lets show shiny metals! And petite sizes – nothing statement. And minimal styling, definitely no layering! Yes! … and then I thought, starting on a market table is not very glamourous!? Nor is working from your dining room table – I am going to remove those elements from our story (Which, given I didn’t go to design school, or have much else to say, left our story pretty uninspiring & down right boring.)
Coming off the back of such a successful season, retailers backed me & my hasty change of direction, and ordered big on our new Minimal, shiny, turquoise free collection.
(Not so) shockingly, it didn’t sell.
Also (Not so) shockingly, the consumer became quickly unengaged, because they didn’t relate with the unauthentic narrative I was now telling.
So retailer’s were left with a massive black eye, and a shit load of stock that wasn’t selling. Our consumer, as she was now unengaged with the brand, naturally adjusted her spending to reflect this (shopped elsewhere). In one season, I nearly folded the company. I had lost the trust of retailers, our consumer, and worst of all, my team. All because I was trying to make the brand something it wasn’t. I was not being authentic, and I had completely lost sight of WHY I started in the first place.
SO – I had a long hard talk with myself, and had to do a lot of reflection & work on the WHY. And then it was time to rebuild. Rebuild the brand how I wanted it to look, but with authenticity & owning our story. Time to rebuild trust with our retailers (taking back the shit load of shitty stock), re-engaging the consumer through relativity & talking WITH her, not TO her, and regaining the trust of my team. It took about a year & a half to turn around that one (massive) mistake – but it all stemmed from me completely loosing sight of my WHY.
…..So how does that all relate to building a business on Instagram? Well, it doesn’t directly, because at that time, a business on Instagram wasn’t even a thing! But the point is, if you are truly authentic, in everything you do with your brand (and everything you do on Instagram), and you are doing everything to fulfill your WHY, then the business will grow, and the money will follow.
People don’t want to be sold to. They want authenticity, and realness, and validating, and purpose. Never underestimate the power in sharing your vulnerabilities. No one cares about a perfect, glamourous story (one, because its not true, and two, because perfection is boring). Tell people your why, share your hurdles, share what inspires you. So in answer to the original question, my advice on building a business on Instagram is focus not on WHAT you are selling, but WHY you are doing it.
…So WHY are you doing it? - SWx