I get a lot of questions about Magnolia Marketing, but one of the questions I get the most often is, "how did you start your business?" I thought I'd share a little background on the humble beginnings of your favorite marketing firm.
I've had an entreprenurial spirit for as long as I can remember, though I didn't really identify it in myself until recently. My brother and I used to collect our old toys and set up tag sales in the driveway of our house, and I made jewelry in middle school and high school to sell to friends and family. After learning to sew in college, I started my own line of handmade accessories and home decor, then after working in the gift and home furnishing tradeshow industry, and in retail marketing for many years, I became a stay at home mom, but couldn't resist the need to create! I started my first legitimate business of handmade children's boutique clothing, Goat & Lulu, while I was pregnant with my third child. My business was booming, and growing, but it was growing into a business I couldn't scale on my own, and something I couldn't manage. What I needed was to establish a scaleable business so I could establish and cultivate a sustainable life. The effort and time I was putting into Goat & Lulu was exhausting, and certainly nothing I could sustain in the long term. I knew I had to do something, but didn't quite know yet what it would be.
In January of 2016, my husband asked me for some help with his business. He had recently become the managing partner, and though he highly valued social media and what it could do for his business, he was bogged down with other tasks and responsibilities, and simply did not have the time for it. He asked me if I might be able to post regularly on a few social platforms, promoting events, sharing content, and establishing a digital presence, and I was happy to help. In addition to my educational background in marketing and experience in corporate and retail marketing, I had spent years promoting Goat & Lulu on social media, and also maintaining and promoting my own personal blog, so I was very comfortable sharing content and increasing brand exposure for his business. I created my own little post calendar in Excel (archaic compared to the tools I use now!), and managed my own posting calendar for his business. I created and curated content, managed their event calendar, tagged, hash-tagged, shared, and cross-promoted every bit of social media fodder I could, and it started gaining some traction.
As Scott's business picked up, folks in his networking circles began to ask about his social media presence. Colleagues would comment to him about his social media presence, and "who are you using to manage that for you?" He would proudly reply, "my wife!" and offer up my services to anyone inquiring. Word of mouth, and first-hand testimonials from my husband was exactly what began the expansion of Magnolia Marketing Group.
I gained a couple of new customers through Scott's connections, and then gained another through more word of mouth promotion. Initially, in the beginning stages of my business educating my family and friends and other business and social acquaintances on what I was doing was a KEY reason I was experiencing growth right off the bat (and is still true today!). I had a whole little network of people directly and indirectly promoting Magnolia Marketing, and then I was also doing a small bit of promotion myself, though I wouldn't really develop a strategy for my OWN social media marketing until much further down the road (I was my own ideal customer- a small business owner who finds much value in social media, just not the time to do it myself!). I built my own website, established my social media platforms, then I made it official and established Magnolia Marketing as an official LLC on May 2, 2016.
The next few months flew by as I adjusted and grew into my role as a small business owner again. My old school Excel spreadsheet quickly became inadequate as the needs of my clients increased and it was replaced by a combination of social media management tools. I created systems and templates (that I am still tweaking and adjusting!) to help streamline processes and make my time management more effective, since by the way, I am a mom of three working from home! In 2016, I had a 6 year old in school full time, and a 4 year old and a 3 year old in part-time preschool. I HAD to be maximizing those hours that I was dedicating to work because I was working in blocks of time all throughout the day.
I continued to grow adjust in the next year, but by the spring of 2017, I was at a crossroads. I knew I needed more bandwidth to manage my clients, and needed to work on scaling the business so I wouldn't run into the same sustainability issues that I ran into with Goat & Lulu. My husband advised me, "sometimes you need to spend money to make money. And it might be time to add on some help!" He asked if I needed someone to sell and promote for Magnolia or someone to help with delivery. My short term needs were most important to me at the time, and delivering on my clients' expectations, so I hired Michele as a colleague, an assistant, and an important, and now integral, part of the Magnolia Marketing team to help deliver our social media management services to our clients. And man, did we start growing from there.
Hiring Michele completely changed the business. It wasn't just multiplying the bandwidth by two, it seemed to increase exponentially! I was able to delegate and hand some tasks off to her to use my time more wisely. She helped in our long-neglected self promotion and own social media strategy, and became a social mouthpiece for Magnolia Marketing in ways that didn't come naturally to me. We complemented each other in our strengths and weaknesses, and were able to take on more customers and have two very different perspectives on business that still works in growing our reach and our client base today.
By November of 2017, we started thinking of how we could continue to grow the business but also fulfill our needs not only as small business women, but also as moms and service minded individuals! We attended Christy Wright's Business Boutique conference in Nashville, and left with our minds blown, a new business strategy in motion, and our lives changed.
We kicked off 2018 with BIG goals, BIG plans, and LOTS on our plate! We created new and improved plans for increased and consistent content creation through this blog on our website, we established our Bloom with Magnolia Marketing Facebook group and the weekly Facebook Live videos we offer there, and we have scheduled the first of what will become monthly networking meetings for local members of the Bloom with Magnolia Marketing, for increased exposure, but more importantly to serve as a marketing resource and a support system for other small business owners navigating the rough waters of entrepreneurship. And we have even ideas and plans we haven't even gotten to quite yet! We have added six new clients in the past two weeks, and are in the process of expanding our team with two new additions in the next few weeks. We are continuing to grow, and develop, and change into a more focused and more effective version of Magnolia Marketing than we started with. And though the evolution of our business has taken a bit of time to fine-tune and we are definitely still learning and adjusting, I believe the process and the journey are what have made us more resilient and more inspired than I would ever have expected.
There are four things that I really think have helped Magnolia Marketing grow over the last two years, that I feel have been elemental in how how we've developed into the business we are today.
First of all, I used what network I had to help promote my new business. I was so lucky to have my husband as my first client, and several of his business colleagues that quickly followed! But he was out in the marketplace speaking on my behalf. So were my friends, offering up the Magnolia Marketing name when anyone needed social media help. My mom helped me gain new clients as well! It was cheap and easy marketing, and I was not ashamed to use what I had access to, and thankfully, they were all more than willing to help out.
Secondly, I began establishing those initial systems and templates to help streamline processes and make my time management more effective. This was imperative as I was working within time restraints, and I HAD to be maximizing those hours that I was dedicating to work. They became the foundation of my business, and though I have had to adjust and fine-tune certain systems as we have grown, they still help keep me organized and focused on tasks at hand, goal setting, and client strategies, both short term and long term.
Third, once I was maxed out time-wise, task-wise, and energy-wise, I asked for help! I have to admit that it was tough initially, to admit that I needed help managing my business and that I couldn't do it all anymore. But WHOA, what a relief when I had another person to help me manage the workload, and even someone to just share ideas with! And if hiring an employee is more than your business can manage financially, take a look at your own prices, your overhead, and see where you can make adjustments. Or get creative! Perhaps a virtual assistant, a contracted employee, an intern, or even just outsourcing another small business for certain tasks would help shoulder the burden. I have never had a situation in which two heads were not better than one in my business, and delegating some tasks that you HAVE to do but don't enjoy or that don't utilize your strengths, frees you up to work on the duties that serve your business best.
And lastly, I have committed myself to continuing to learn and never get too comfortable. As the saying goes, if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. It's a necessity in the ever-changing world of social media to keep up to date with trends and new technology, and new analytics, but it's still easy to become complacent and to stick with "the same old thing that's been working so far." It's not easy to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there, but I promise that you will stretch and adjust and grow so much more once you do. I know I have! I would have never imagined that I'd be giving seminars on Social Media or publishing weekly live videos on various topics when I am far more comfortable behind my computer posting on behalf of my clients. But there's another saying that "life begins at the end of your comfort zone," and I believe that good business and incredible opportunities do too. I believe you can start your business within your comfort zone, but you're not going to grow unless you move outside of it.
What is YOUR story? What do you believe have been the keys to growing your small business?