Over the more than 25 years that I have been in business, I have contributed to building many businesses and brands. Many are household names, others are small companies that you have never heard of. What has been common across many of them is that they fight hard to gain customers and create business traction. It often takes creativity and "out-of the-box thinking", but with the right leadership, growth strategy, and sales and marketing plans, the businesses ultimately grow.
So what does it take when the road to business growth is ever longer, bumpier and filled with potholes? As a business strategist, entrepreneur and VAGIPRENEUR™, I have experienced firsthand the challenges that stand in the way of building businesses and the perseverance required to gain traction when trying to do things that are against the grain or require a change in behavior. These dynamics happen in all businesses, but some experiences stand out more than others.
When my business partner and I were building a female sexual health business, we contacted more than 100 media outlets network TV, cable TV, radio, web - and 90% of them refused to take money to place our ads for our safe, clinically-proven product. It became crystal clear that we would not - under any circumstances - get access to advertise our product in places, channels and outlets where our targets might be looking.
The topic made the media decision makers uncomfortable - really uncomfortable. So what did we do, armed with a great product and no place to tell anyone about it? We got creative and used the rejection of our ads to fuel a creative PR strategy: "If you won't let us buy media, we will create it." And with the right partners and focused strategy, we told our story over and over again to anyone who would listen, making it about the disparity of standards and access to advertising for male and female products. The NY Times, ABC news, and dozens of other major media outlets and sites covered it. And people heard about the product and bought it.
I decided to really study this phenomenon of what appears to be systemic or even societal resistance to certain types of business. So I embarked on a project conducting interviews with dozens of innovative business leaders and creative thinkers as input to a book to shine a light on those who are trying to create new, better and breakthrough solutions - NO MATTER HOW HARD IT IS. Many of the businesses these entrepreneurs are trying to build have characteristics that often lead to exponential business growth - dynamic teams, innovative, effective solutions, well thought out plans, among others.
Whether the business is helping alleviate pelvic pain, incontinence (which affects both men and women), feminine hygiene or satisfaction, many entrepreneurs experienced different standards being applied to them than they had seen in their other businesses. During fundraising meetings, many conversations stopped cold if the people in the room weren't interested or worse, uncomfortable, with the product. Most responded with something like this: "This must not be an issue because my wife never mentioned it, so I am not sure this has big market potential." Not willing to take no for an answer, I've been inspired by the creativity and drive that business leaders who market product 'outliers' continue to demonstrate to drive their businesses forward and become market success stories. And I call that Orgasmic Leadership™.
So what have these business leaders learned (and taught me) despite bucking convention and how might it apply to other businesses?
1) Never give up.
Find a path over/under/around if going straight through is not an option to get to your goal. Sure, double or different standards clearly exist. You don't have to like them, but you need to acknowledge them and find a way to work around those who don't get it. Many entrepreneurs describe distribution doors literally and proverbially slamming them in the face - until they found the visionary who "got it", who took a chance on carrying their product. And then they watched the laggards join the movement.
2) Ask for help from people who have fought the same battles
You can save a lot of time by using others in your industry as your business brain trust. Or look to leaders in other industries who have faced the same hurdles; those who experienced years of pushback before making headway. Think of the discussions of driverless cars just a few years ago or the lengths people had to go to get shelf space for "gluten-free" foods.
3) Never, ever lose your sense of humor.
You will hear offensive comments, inappropriate and disparaging remarks about you, your product and the prospects for your business. You need to find what works to keep your focus and lighten your mood in those stressful times. For me, I think of quotes from my favorite movies (think Airplane, Wedding Crashers, The Hangover). Find your own solution to keep smiling through the pain (and pleasure).
4) Use your passion to make stuff happen.
Don't listen to the naysayers who confuse your passion for business with being emotional. Your passion will keep you motivated.
So be bold. Be creative in getting your message out. Find people who can help you with tried and true strategies. Keep focused in spite of the challenges. Make sure your business has its time in the sun - no matter how many times you are told no and how delightfully uncomfortable you make people.
Growth strategist, marketing expert, vagipreneur™ and public speaker, Rachel Braun Scherl is a trusted authority on innovation and topline growth. In her successful 20+ year career, Rachel has grown leading brands and businesses, focusing on insights, repositioning, market dominance, and development of strong customer bases for female health start-ups. As Co-owner and Principal of SPARK Solutions for Growth, Rachel counsels a global client base including Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, Pfizer, Bayer and Deloitte, among others. Rachel was Co-Founder and President of Semprae Laboratories, Inc., a venture-backed company focused on developing and marketing women's sexual health products. The company was sold to Innovus Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in 2013. Rachel is a monthly contributor to Huffington Post on entrepreneurship, leadership and women in business and speaks broadly on those topics and has been featured in leading media outlets, including The New York Times, ABC News Nightine, CBS News, msnbc and Forbes. Rachel earned her BA from Duke University, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa and her MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.