Having a digital presence has become an easy given for so many new and old, big and small businesses. I have built a career in large part thanks to digital and social media marketing.
But I recently spoke with Cat Bradley, founder of the systems growth hacker SewEthico, and she's got a different take: "New founders feel pressure to immediately get on social or build a website, but business is 90% behind the scenes and 10% what you see as a consumer."
At a time when reports have shown that it's increasingly difficult for solo entrepreneurs to reach profitability, Cat suggesting taking a grass roots approach. She told me the 3 reasons your digital presence can wait, and what you should be do instead:
1) You're wasting time
It can be easy for the first year of a bootstrapping company to go by without making major progress when new businesses focus on the wrong thing. "Instagram, Facebook, your first Shopify... it's all a huge time suck. How stressful is it to wake up in the morning feeling like you're out of content? But you've been focusing on the website or social media... and as a result, you haven't focused on the growth of your actual business. So then you try to figure out how to be a copy writer! Those are hours you could have spent growing the core of your business."
2) You're having a one-way conversation
Another mistake? Solving the wrong problem. "Your business should be solving a problem for your customer, and you need to get to know them really well in order to do that." This is a challenge when a new brand establishes a digital presence because it isn't easy for customers or audiences to engage, "it's like a one-way mirror that's facing the wrong way. Your audience sees some of what you're doing, but you don't see them." Plus, authentic engagement online is so much harder than in person. You need to have strong two-way interactions in order to gain trust. Trust leads to relationships. Relationships lead to business.
3) It's all about you
If your product is strong, solves a pain point, and you find the right customers, your product will sell. That's why Cat thinks new business owners who immediately set up their website and social media may be doing it for the wrong reasons. She said, "If you don't have a lot of customer feedback on everything, then you've built your entire website and social strategy on guesswork and your own opinion." That can hurt because it takes longer to build proof of concept. "Almost all of the business owners I meet with tell me they know they could be doing a better job of getting to know their customers. But what they don't realize is that not putting that relationship first, and the business second, is actually keeping them from growth."
So what are Cat's top 3 suggestions for what new businesses can focus on instead?
1) Drop the screen: Build strong relationships with your target audience, and if your product is strong enough, they will buy it from you, even without a website. Cat told me about one of her clients, "She's pre-launch, and while I don't take many pre-launch entrepreneurs, her idea was so good that I knew I wanted to help her build it. And it sells, for $100 a piece. No website, no Instagram, so yes, it's possible. Plus, we've been able to test her target customer in real time, so she could pivot as needed without ads, web designers, or wasting resources. When she launches online, she'll launch to an engaged audience that loves and trusts her without as much trial and error."
2) Read more: Entrepreneurs who have come before you are spilling their secrets, but if you don't look for them, you can't learn from them.
3) Listen to your customer: If you're still set on going digital right away, make sure to create space for your customer and engage with them. Don't guess at what they want, learn what they want. There are ways to do this, even in the digital space. It can be done online, but it's definitely faster in person.
Whether your business is new, or has been around a while, it's always smart to go back to basics once in a while, to build relationships. It might actually be more important than getting more followers on the latest social network.