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I grew up in a big Southern family with three brothers and two sisters and was never taught that I would be treated any less than a boy. My mother was the only woman to graduate from her law school class, and that was in the ’50s! My aunts were all Steel Magnolias. I never considered being female as a roadblock to starting a business, or an impediment to success. Yes, as my business grew there were times that I felt intimidated or shy at the all-male negotiation table. There can be a lot of posturing in those situations. But that fear is in your head, and you realize it’s something you have to work through. The road to success is just conquering those small fears — and keeping them small. Below, I have provided six pieces of advice that have helped Bobo’s get to where it is today and that I hope will help you in your business journey.
Be prepared to let people sample your wares
When you’re launching a new product and no one has heard of you, it’s very important to get as many samples in the right hands as you can. I’m lucky to have a product that’s easy to sample. When I first started my business, I began by dropping off samples at my local coffee shop. After giving samples to local businesses and co-ops in my area, I began getting orders for my bars. If you believe in your product and think it tastes great, then others will too!
Without a marketing budget, when you first start your business, sampling is the only way to get noticed. Plan to spend some money on free samples in the beginning and even after your buyer brings you in.
But don’t stop at sampling. Following up is key. Business owners and buyers are being bombarded all the time by other brands with the same goal in mind, meaning being persistent and following up is key. When I first got into Whole Foods, I sampled to in-store customers every weekend all over the Denver area. Keep the free samples flowing to get the word out and find creative and fun ways to follow up with your buyers. If your product is a breakfast snack, grab the buyer their favorite coffee before you go into the meeting. Try to personalize their experience with your product as much as possible.
Networking and showing up for every trade show is an important way to ensure that your company is getting valuable face time with retail partners. Although in-person trade shows may not be going on at the moment, there are virtual trade shows that retail partners are still attending that could have the potential for one-on-one time or virtual “mixers.”
Trade shows give brands that are just starting out the opportunity to check out the competition, learn about new industry happenings, and meet existing and potential new partners who will help build up the company. In the beginning, I never turned down a meeting. You never know who you will meet and what you’ll learn, so be a sponge and soak up all the information you can get from those meetings.
Since networking can be challenging during a pandemic, look into joining a networking organization for women-owned businesses like the Association of Women’s Business Centers, a nonprofit organization that partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), that works to help women make connections and get advice from like-minded women.
Best practices for getting noticed by the right investors
Finding investors that are the right fit for your brand can be a daunting task. It is so important to ensure that they are aligned with your vision of the company’s growth. Taking the time to do your research will be worth it in the end.
You can start by joining Facebook Groups specific to your industry and geographical area. You can also look for local commerce organizations, as they could give you some leads on the right people to connect with.
Look at angel-investor networks. My first investment came from angel investors, and they have networks now that are membership-based that tend to service by location. They are often operating from a fund that has been set aside by an investment firm to source deals for the network. This cuts down on the complication of having to personally go from angel to angel to find a good fit for your business.
Understanding the funding rounds will be very valuable when pursuing an investor. “Seed” funding or angel investor funding is a common practice for startups in which a private investor will exchange equity in the company for capital. Next, this can be followed by Series A, B, and C funding rounds. If you are still in the developmental stage of your business and have already held seed funding, you’re likely looking at conducting a Series A round next. This stage will allow for you, as a brand, to continue turning your great idea and strategic plan into a larger, more successful company.
What to do once you’re in the boardroom
The standard advice in raising money is to do it before you need it. It’s easier for an investor to take advantage of your company if they know that you are already hurting for capital. Pitching and selling might not be why you founded your business, but they are necessary skills and can be learned. Start small, practice and get some training to become more confident. You can find resources to practice from The Women’s Venture Fund, an organization that offers training programs, one-on-one advisory services and business loans to women entrepreneurs.
How to get in front of your target audience
Don’t get discouraged during Covid times that you may be unable to sample. There are other ways to get in front of your target audience. If stores are not facilitating sampling, be creative. Ideas can include sending products to influencers who have an engaged following, donating products to small local events and nonprofit organizations that cater to your target audience, or even creating an interactive, socially distant experience in a target market. Figuring out what will be the most impactful tactic for your consumers can ensure your brand’s success.
Marketing and PR
At the onset of starting your brand, thinking of how to market the product will be key to finding the audience that is going to love your company. It’s important to know who your top customers are when you start a business. Is it men, women, children, elderly? For my brand, its moms with small children, anyone on the go, athletes and vegans. As my business grew bigger and I had a bigger budget, I brought on a marketing team and hired consultants to conduct in-depth surveys to fine-tune exactly who our customers are and why and discover when would they eat a Bobo’s bar. This detailed information has been very valuable for the focus of our marketing team going forward.
In addition to marketing, when the brand is mature enough, PR is an important way to begin building brand awareness. It allows companies to be recommended by genuine writers who want to tell the businesses’ story and let their readers know about all of the amazing products that a brand has to offer.
Now go dismantle those roadblocks, conquer your fears and launch the business of your dreams.