Don’t have a Coca-Cola size budget for marketing? It doesn’t mean you can’t direct attention to your business. I first drafted this list of ways I’ve marketed Styleta
without spending money for Tory Johnson’s Spark & Hustle conference
in conjunction with the Massachusetts Conference for Women
in December this year, since I’ll be speaking at the bootcamp. I then gave a talk on this for an informal Start-Up Chile
meetup on marketing. After getting great feedback, I’m now posting this list of ways you can advance your company without money so hopefully you can get the attention you need to get your own company off the ground!
- Networking with media – whether through Twitter, HARO (Help A Reporter Out – a great resource to find reporters looking for stories), events, etc, getting connected with reporters interested in your story is key for getting publicity for any events, launches, online competitions, etc. Styleta has been featured in Glamour, People Stylewatch, Seventeen, InStyle, Teen Vogue and others, while Gym-Pact has been featured in the Boston Globe, NY Times Freakonomics Blog, UK Independent, NPR, Atlantic Monthly, Good.is, Next Web to name a few.
- Tapping into alumni networks – Harvard’s network is great, but tons of schools have amazing alumni in your field who are happy to give you a hand. For Styleta, I built my list of advisers from the alumni list. For Gym-Pact, while in Santiago for Start-Up Chile, I have had meetings with corporate partners, potential investors and advisers just by emailing my alumni list.
- Creating opportunities for evangelism – When your users love you, make it easy for them to tell their friends and reward them for that. Gym-Pact incorporates groups, free days and other rewards for people to refer our product to friends and family. Also, we make it easy for people to get involved in building our business – from easy feedback loops on our website and mobile app, to letting them help us build our database of gyms. Crowdsourcing is key to building something huge on a budget.
- Create a little controversy – The easiest way for something to go viral is if there’s something to talk about, so create a debate to get people talking. Gym-Pact’s blunt, cheeky and counter-intuitive message of paying when you DON’T get to the gym amplified our media exposure and made a lasting impression on readers.
- Following and getting to know key influencers – for Styleta this was fashion bloggers, for Gym-Pact it is fitness bloggers and personal trainers. Styleta’s Student Designer Challenge and Style Fusion on the Runway show in NYC could not be as big without bloggers behind us.
- Speaking opportunities – like Spark & Hustle, Harvard’s Intercollegiate Business Convention, NY & Boston Fashion Week, pitching to Jason Calacanis on This Week in Startups (and getting him to sign up to be a beta user of Gym-Pact!). I am a personal evangelist for my business everywhere I go!
- Sponsored events – It’s amazing how many things you can get for free if you operate under that mindset. Styleta has had multiple 250+ people, capacity-filled events on just $50-150 budgets. Get local sponsors with a key stake in your audience to sponsor everything from venue, equipment, volunteers, food & drink, etc.
- Don’t forget your friends! – It’s a bit tricky to navigate between tapping into your personal network and overselling to your friends, but if you keep it infrequent, targeted, and low-pressure, there are tons of people in your own personal network who are willing to “Like”, vote, tweet, sign-up, comment, share or otherwise support your ventures. Styleta’s and Gym-Pact’s mailing lists both started with 150 friends and grew from there.
- Exchange campaigns – sharing your audience with other similar organizations and vice versa. Styleta did a “Keep or Donate” campaign with Fashism.com and banner exchanges with blogs. Gym-Pact is doing the same with our fitness prize sponsors, exchanging marketing for goods. Find out what you have to offer and give something to get something in return, especially with organizations with similar missions or audiences.
- SEO – I’m not an expert so any tips you have would be great!
This past Saturday, I was able to spend the day with Tory Johnson, ABC Good Morning America workplace contributor and female entrepreneur extraordinaire, and the amazing women (and men!) of the Boston Spark & Hustle conference. As the Q&A Keynote on Saturday morning, I was able to share some of my experience as the founder of Styleta and Gym-Pact. I was pretty nervous the night before, since it was my first time being a conference keynote, but Tory was amazing at guiding me with the questions. The audience questions were also fun to answer and gave me some great ideas for both startups!
I stayed the rest of the day to listen to the other speakers and definitely learned a ton. Here are some great tips I learned.
From Dan Schawbel, personal branding guru:
- Update those online profiles – yes I mean Facebook too! I’ve seen plenty of FB profiles of recent grads that still seem to say they are students. For me, I definitely need to do some work on my FB and LinkedIn.
- Leverage small successes to get bigger ones, especially in media features. Got covered or wrote for a local newspaper? Put it in your bio and keep adding to it. I’m going to update by bio to include media mentions!
- What to read: Mashable and ReadWriteWeb
- Have 3 soundbites rehearsed that you must share with reporter no matter what questions they ask. Good advice that I wish I had heard before my interviews!
- PitchEngine – social press releases
- Always say thank you to the reporter, and offer additional content to build the relationship
- People have different preferred communication methods – if they’re not responding to emails or calls, try Twitter, FB or texting.
- Break that mental barrier between personal and business contacts, and don’t be afraid of telling people what you do for a living!
- Become an expert, the go-to person on a specific topic
- Listen for people’s needs and give before you get
Got other tips? I’d love to hear them!
Whenever people congratulate me on Styleta, my first reaction is usually surprise. In the middle of my hectic day-to-day work (i.e. typing emails at lightning speed, mailing sales or lugging donations, all with an illogical sense of impending doom), it’s sometimes hard to step back and see the big picture. Today – April 12th – celebrates the official one-year anniversary of Styleta’s incorporation. My baby is turning one year old, and the realization of that fact finally shocked me into stepping back and reflecting on how far we’ve come as an organization. And indeed, how far I’ve come from the earliest days.
It’s amazing how different things look when you take a step back! One of my board members told me at the beginning that I can’t let the past day, week or even month dictate my overall evaluation of a startup, but rather to work relentlessly until a set check-in point, when I evaluate the totality of my work. I think this one-year anniversary is just such a check-in point. Styleta is now on 4 campuses solidly and we’ve found 4 out of the 6 targets for launch this fall. We’ve had sold out runway shows, professional quality photoshoots, partnerships with some impressive companies and nonprofits and currently have a strong board and team in place. Not bad for the first year. And as for myself, I’ve gained a world of experience – pitching to CEOs of large retailers, leading meetings with people twice my age, navigating through the 501(c)3 process etc etc. But most importantly, at least to me, I think this year has finally made me feel like I’ve sloughed off my teenage/college student skin and become a real adult, and capable of real impact.
While I’m sure the impending doom feeling is not going away any time soon, and probably shouldn’t go away because it keeps me on my toes, I’m taking a moment to finally take a little pride in where Styleta is today. There’s too much work still to be done to have a big celebration, so here is my small celebration of Styleta.
IU’s Rock the Runway Show
I wanted to repost this because I love Lindsey’s blog and thought this info might be interesting to some of you! Check out the real blog post here.
I’m so honored to be invited as a guest author for Lindsey’s blog! I’m the founder and CEO of a student-run fashion nonprofit called Styleta, which collects and sells designer clothing donations online – a virtual Goodwill meets Gilt Groupe. For all of you women who are thinking about blazing your own path as an entrepreneur, here are some tips to help turn your idea into a business.
Always begin by researching your idea and the competitive playing field. A simple Google search (i.e. “designer clothing donation”, in Styleta’s case) can give you a brief snapshot of how many other companies are pursuing similar ideas and who they are. Start keeping a list of these competitors and some of the key metrics that you are interested in, such as annual revenue, target demographic, etc. It’s also useful to set up a Google Alert for keywords related to your startup idea – for me, I track “clothing donation” to see daily updates in the industry. Don’t panic if there are a few other companies in your industry! No competitors may be a sign that the idea doesn’t have enough value while 50 competitors may mean an overcrowded market.
Next, you want to test out your startup concept, ideally with the customer demographic you are targeting to see if the idea has legs. In starting a nonprofit, my job was easier because there was no need to protect the idea. I spoke to as many people as I could in all the industries in which Styleta would operate – retailers and boutiques for clothing donations, individuals about online shopping, and charities on partnerships. With a for-profit startup, it is wise to be more discreet, especially if there are no high barriers to entry. However, you can still create surveys, mock website designs, and even trial websites to test with trusted advisers — sometimes under the protection of a Non-Disclosure Agreement. One of my favorite resources is Weebly.com, a drag-and-click site to easily create functional websites.
- Get Legal:
If you feel ready to continue pursuing your business, it is time to incorporate your company. There are huge debates in the entrepreneurship community about whether to form a C corporation (the big guys like Coca-cola and Microsoft are all C corp’s), an S corporation (similar to C corps but with tax and reporting advantages for small businesses), or a limited liability company (LLC). I won’t go into the details here –there are tax and reporting benefits to all three and entrepreneurs debate over the merits of each form – but I suggest you research the pros and cons and decide on the right fit for your business. There are many firms who can help you incorporate, or you can fill out your own paperwork. However, do apply for a federal employee identification number (EIN) so that you can apply for a business bank account.
- Find the Money:
Getting the startup capital to fund your idea is tough. Nonprofit or for-profit, you will probably pitch to numerous donors/investors before getting a yes. My best suggestion is to begin tapping into your networks, whether from family, work or college alumni network, and keep in touch with supporters. Someone who isn’t in a position to invest may still be a valuable mentor and ally.
Good luck, and best wishes on the success of your startup!