OK, so maybe you aren't a 17-year-old girl whose heart has been terribly crushed by the quarterback of your high school football team, but there's still a lot you can learn from Taylor Swift.
Aside from being a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic and having managed to capitalize on the one thing that seems to remain constant for young women--boy troubles--Swift is also the founder, CEO, and head marketer behind a multimillion dollar enterprise: herself. And despite where she is now, starting out was no easy task for the now-25-year-old.
Here are four things anyone could learn from the Grammy nominee:
1. Knock on opportunity's door.
When Swift was 11 she traveled from her hometown of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, to Nashville and literally knocked on the doors of producers along Music Row--an area famous for housing hundreds of music-related businesses. She handed out CDs of herself singing covers, but received no attention. Two years later, she returned with her own music and was the youngest songwriter to be signed by Sony/ATV. And so Swift, the born and bred Northeasterner--along with her parents and brother--took her nascent talent to Hendersonville, Tennessee. There, she officially threw her hat into the country music ring.
The takeaway: Things don't always work out the first time, or the second, but you can always learn from rejection. Make the necessary tweaks, find the best path to success, and go back to knocking on those doors.
2. Be confident in your product.
Swift wanted to write her own music, and she was confident she could do it better than anyone else. The music scene in Nashville was most conducive to this choice, and sheer force of will landed her right in the middle of it all. It wasn't easy, but she bet on herself. Like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Swift is known to be exacting, passionate, and exceptionally resolute. She works hard, but she also fights for what she believes in.
In November the singer decided to pull her music from the popular streaming service Spotify. The reason? She believes her hard work should be rewarded and that streaming services devalued her work's worth. "I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit she has in wanting to maintain control over her product," says Jeffrey Carr, clinical professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at New York University's Stern School of Business.
The takeaway: You have a great idea, a great product, an awesome concept, but if you don't wholeheartedly believe in its quality, no one else will. Carr's take on Swift's Spotify decision is that "from an entrepreneurial standpoint, you need to choose marketplaces and distributers just as closely as they choose you."
3. Connect with your audience.
'Twas the night before "Swiftmas," and all through the land, fans received packages and notes written by hand. This holiday season, 32 of the singer's most fervent Tumblr followers got personalized FedEx boxes with gifts handpicked and wrapped by Swift herself. But Swift didn't just send these bundles of joy; she documented every step of the campaign--a move that surely brought tears to the eyes of Swifties and non-Swifties alike.
Before the release of her latest album, 1989, Swift scoured her Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr pages in search of her biggest fans in order to invite them to her "1989 Secret Sessions"--a private show in which her admirers got a first taste of the new songs. Not only does Swift engage with her fans via social media--she has 21 million Instagram followers and trails closely behind President Obama on Twitter with 42 million followers--but she also manages to do so sustainably. And somehow she's managed to attract both middle-school country gals and Northeastern preppies by crafting songs and campaigns that create memories.
Carr says "the more engagement anyone who is at that level has with the 'common people' is a good thing, rewarding those who are the best customers and heavy users and recommenders. I think that's good, solid marketing and brand building."
The takeaway: Know your customer and create positive, nonsuperficial connections with them. You might not have the same resources as Swift, but when you make your customers feel special, they'll be devoted to you. Remember: Loyalty is earned, and you get that by communicating with your customers and adding value to their lives.
4. Be a branding genius, but deliver on your promises.
That she connects so well with her fans really does a lot for her brand, naturally. But by artfully extending her reach well outside of her fan base, that also signals the strength of her brand. When Swift wanted to reinvent herself--from a heartbroken country artist to everyone's dream pop superstar--she did so without shunning her core. She went on to sell more than 1.2 million copies of 1989 in the first week--marking the third time an album of hers has sold more than a million in its first week on sale. To borrow from country lingo, that ain't easy. After all, the name Taylor Swift comes with a set of expectations, as does any brand name.
"It is incredibly difficult to start to do things that are not within people's expectations because that brand promise comes with expectations," says Carr. "What is impressive about Swift is that ability to cross lines."
The takeaway: Even if you've garnered a large enough fan, or customer base, you still have to strive to deliver the quality product your brand promises.
Though Swift may seem like an unlikely candidate for business inspiration, it is difficult to deny what she's accomplished. And at 25, she's only just scratched the surface of "this sick beat" called entrepreneurship.