Small business owners love what they do. They’re passionate about their work and their customers. And, of course, they want new customers to find them. But when the actual work – and paperwork – takes up too much time, there’s often not much left for marketing.
Leena Kawamura (better known as Mimmi), now Customer Success Manager at Holvi, has experienced this first hand during her many years as an entrepreneur in the beauty industry. She shares her entrepreneurial story, including some interesting learnings and her best tips to help other small business owners find marketing success.
It all starts with a passion
Entrepreneurs are usually driven by their passions. In Mimmi’s case, her passion was clear at an early age.
“I knew that I wanted to work with something that feels very natural to me – where I would both get to be creative and work with people. I was always interested in hairstyling and the cultural and self-expressional aspects of style. So my choice of becoming a hairstylist was in the end pretty evident. After all, I was five years old the first time I cut someone's hair!” Mimmi explains.
Entering the beauty industry often means setting up your own business. The industry is powered by small businesses, so as a hairstylist you usually work either as a sole trader in your own salon or share the roof and brand with other entrepreneurs. Mimmi found quickly after her graduation that there weren’t many open positions for newcomers in the industry.
Working in a very competitive field, where the product can’t easily be scaled, hiring workforce can be a big risk. Therefore, if there’s an ad for an open position, the requirements for the stylist often are a strong existing customer base and several years of work experience.
“As I was 19 and just out of school, I was lacking both. But, in the end, I didn’t let this stop me from pursuing my passion. When I was offered a chair in a nice salon where I already knew the staff and the owner, I didn’t really hesitate to register my own business.”
Running your own business brings along new responsibilities. If you don’t market your work and get customers, you won’t have income. You have to learn bookkeeping, taxes, pricing – things you don’t really think about as an employee. But when you have a passion to pursue your dream, none of this will stop you.
“I was actually quite proud to be an entrepreneur, even if it meant I needed to learn many things from scratch. I think I was young and eager enough not to think about the risks too much.” Mimmi says.
Growing pains – mentors and peer support
Experienced entrepreneurs know that after the initial honeymoon phase comes reality.
In the beauty industry, you work with physical services that tie you to the working hours of your customers. You need to be present in the salon, even if you don’t have any appointments booked, in case someone would walk in or call to make an appointment.
It usually takes time to become comfortable with the unpredictable nature of running your own business, especially if your industry is prone to fluctuation. Mimmi actually went back to working for someone else for a while but it just wasn’t the same.
“I found that the ‘easy’ side of working for someone else didn’t give me the satisfaction I’d had when managing my own business. Going back to running a business of my own took a lot, but, in the end, the freedom to do my own thing was more appealing.”
No matter how passionate you are, you will see tough times. To get through the rough patches, the most valuable asset for small business owners are good mentors and colleagues who support, help and inspire you. It also helps to learn to foresee patterns, trends and customer behaviour and to prepare a bit for the rainy days.
Small businesses marketing power
At some point in their careers, business owners usually come to realise how much there is that they don’t know. It can be frustrating to realise your own limitations. How could I manage my business more efficiently? How do I grow and find new customers? Marketing is one of the most common pain points for small business owners. All this is familiar to Mimmi.
“I'd been a bit frustrated with my own limitations in actually managing my business. For example, when I had new services I wanted to offer to my customers as a result of my new training, I wasn’t sure where and how to market them properly.” Mimmi explains.
Luckily, digital marketing offers many easily accessible channels to small business owners to reach out to their audience. Taking your business to social media is practically free, and eagerness and creativity can take you a long way.
But sometimes the industry can be resistant to change.
“I was striving for something bigger. But even with all my enthusiasm, I sometimes ran into the old conventions of the industry. The general thinking seemed to be that in the beauty industry you don’t really need online marketing to be successful.”
And, even if the industry, or at least individual entrepreneurs, acknowledge the value of marketing, another challenge follows. On top of your actual work and the paperwork, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to learn more about marketing. And this would usually require money, too. Although investing in learning new skills and experimentation would pay off in the long run, finding the resources in the first place can prove difficult.
But times are changing. The beauty industry has seen some creative ways of leveraging digital channels. Just look at the many makeup artists and hairstylists using social media, like Instagram and YouTube, in innovative and successful ways.
This is what entrepreneurship is all about: learning new skills, trying out fearlessly new things and constantly developing yourself. Marketing is a good place to start.
Understanding Makers and Doers
Entrepreneurs’ struggles often come down to not really knowing where to turn with their questions and where to search for help. It might sound easy to look for information online, but there is also a lot of information out there. When you have something very specific in mind and little time at hand, searching for answers online can be frustrating.
“At Holvi, I really embrace our vision of entrepreneurship-as-a-service. As a Customer Success Manager, I often get questions related to what to do in situations like dealing with unpaid invoices, what to take into consideration when creating products in the online store and how to get visibility for your business,” Mimmi reflects on her current position.
Mimmi’s background and first-hand experience of running a business helps her to understand fellow Makers and Doers. She says that sometimes she ends up having discussions with Holvi customers about the joys – and pains – behind entrepreneurship.
“It reminds me of how rewarding, but also lonely, life can sometimes be for the self-employed,” Mimmi adds.
To make life easier for small business owners, Mimmi really wants to understand their needs and make their voices heard at Holvi.
“An open dialogue with our customers is really important to me. As an entrepreneur, you want to use services that are easy to approach, and this is something I strive to offer to our customers. By understanding what our customers actually need and where the need comes from, I’m able to take their voices further.”
Mimmi’s 5 marketing tips for small business owners
1. Build networks
Focus on co-operation and working with people outside your own industry to keep things interesting and fresh. Create and follow networks in the “real” and online worlds – social media is full of people who can support you, who need your services and products, and who might want to work together with you to create something new. Listen also to your competitors to find who they work with and to spot trends and patterns.
2. Match your marketing to your product
Think about your own niche – what makes you tick, how do you communicate this to others and how does it show in your marketing and in your work? If the results of your work are visual, use visual tools and media to show it! Create tutorials, behind-the-scenes snaps and find the time and place for documenting the results. If you love writing, communicate it!
3. Be real
Even if it’s easy to feel pressure about creating all that high quality content, too much self-criticism will hinder you from reaching your audience. Your customers, partners and coworkers want to know who you are, what you stand for and how they can relate to you and the service or product you offer.
4. Highlight your uniqueness
Trust your own speciality and uniqueness and let your networks see that – setting yourself apart from your competitors will take you closer to the people you want to work with. Don’t be afraid to use your persona. Active communication with your networks and highlighting the uniqueness of your product will help people to share your story and build awareness.
5. Have fun
Find joy from the routines and remember to have fun! Knowing how to do something by heart allows you to do more, play more and laugh more. And, being able to have fun in less-than-ideal situations will keep you positive and happy about your work.