When I launched my online course in 2014, I faced the same dilemma all lean startups do: how to market my business and get the word out without breaking the bank. I was coming off unpaid maternity leave with my two-year-old when we learned that my husband's job was slated for cuts.
We didn't know how soon time would run out.
I had $300 left in my bank account and had just hired my first virtual assistant with no idea how to pay her.
As I sat at my computer with my phone on airplane mode (to avoid calls from concerned friends and family members who wanted to know if I was sure my startup,Baby Got Booked, was a good idea), I realized something social media experts don't like to talk about.
Likes don't pay the bills, sales do
So instead of trying to build the audience (something I realized I didn't have much tactical knowledge about), I chose to focus on content and go to where the audiences were already active and being nurtured. I wanted clearly defined audiences -- ones that were made up of my ideal clients -- rather than broad, all-encompassing ones.
Since my course was built for entrepreneurs, authors, speakers and coaches who wanted to do their own PR, it made sense for me to find out where these people regularly got their information from. I realized that the very things about the changing traditional media landscape that made me decide to quit my TV and radio journalist job in the first place had opened up a huge opportunity for me as a business owner.
With smaller budgets, fewer resources, and the 24-hour news cycle, the ever-expanding digital audience puts pressure on the media to produce an enormous volume of quality content with a fraction of the resources it used to have. The gap is usually bridged by people like you and me. People who are experts and thought leaders. Folks who have compelling stories and information that educates, informs and entertains an audience.
So here's what I did
The very first pitch I sent out got me on my local morning news program. I then leveraged the heck out of that clip to land my first 5 course sales and we were profitable in the first 30 days.Things only grew from there. Within 3 months, I was being approached (and booked) by event planners who were used to paying 5-figure speaking fees, which led to more course sales. As my media presence grew, more media came to me organically, growing my footprint without me having to spend a cent.
We hit six figures in our first 5 months in business with less than 100 likes on our Facebook page. I was able to "retire" my husband (and put him to work as our operations guy), and we've since grown and now have a team of seven who all have flex time, pay and growth opportunities.
Here's a map to do it yourself:
1. Pitch your local newspaper and morning TV programs first: Local shows are much more likely to do a segment or article on a business or entrepreneur in their city. Once you've got some media, it's easier to get more.
The opportunity: Morning news tends to be 3 hours long - that's 15 hours per week in 4 minute chunks. They're hungry for content and looking for guests to come in and educate and entertain their audience. Guess who can help fill that gap?
2. When you get press, you gain instant credibility: Think about the amount of effort it takes for you to gain even 100 Facebook followers (only eight of whom will actually see your posts according to FB's latest algorithm).
The opportunity: When you get on TV, you can include a link to the clip on your website, your email signature, your e-newsletter and your press page. It says that your opinion and expertise matters in a way that mere likes or followers do not. I found prospects who were considering working with me tended to be pre-sold when they saw that the press considered me an expert in my field.
3. You never start at the bottom again: Unlike starting a fresh Twitter or Pinterest account for each business you launch, you will be able to feature all your press logos on your "about the founder" page forever after.
The opportunity: Just as established founders don't have to prove each concept from scratch, you too get to ride the media credibility train and bring your past successes to lend credence to your latest venture.
I'm not anti-social media
But my own story (and those of hundreds of my students) seem to underline the fact that there might be a faster, less painful way to grow a business. Especially for those of us who are short on time, budget and don't have the luxury of working 60 hour weeks. Plus, any media exposure only tends to fuel one's social media presence.