Maya Penn started her business at the age of eight and has been in the media ever since. She has been featured in a number of publications, including Forbes, Conde Nast, Entrepreneur, and Business Insider. Watch the video or download the Social Media, Press, and Your Business presentation (PDF) to learn the principles behind getting media exposure, developing your story, and more.
When I started my company in 2008, I was eight years old. I started my brand from finding old vintage clothing and scrap fabrics around the house and sewing them together. I had a passion for sustainability before sustainability in the fashion world was a mainstream topic.
I was following a local blog about fashion and different things I was passionate about. This was a smaller, more niche blog, but I really loved her writing style, her voice, and who she interviewed. I decided to go ahead and reach out to her and say, "Hey, I really love your blog and what you're writing. Here's my business..." Fast forward, she wanted to interview me and was interested in featuring me on her site. One quick reach-out can snowball into so much more.
We’re going to cover how to find your niche, build authentic communities, define your mission and your company’s story, and learn how to sustain it all.
The first thing that I recommend to small business owners is to get familiar with your brand and know your brand like the back of your hand. What do I mean by that?
I have a sustainable fashion company. I’ve always been passionate about sustainability in the natural world, art and creativity, and figuring out how to incorporate those elements together. So those are really crucial to the core of my brand.
People want to follow a brand that is authentic. Consumers are not just here to shop. They also love learning about the person behind the company, which ties into the story, as well as your unique voice, perspective, experience and message. They want to know how and why you've started your business. Having that authentic message show through your brand is really crucial.
Think about what's currently happening in market trends or in the world in general and see how your brand or your service or product addresses that in some way. Sustainability is a popular topic right now and that's a huge point of relevancy. Relevancy is something that is sometimes a missed by brands, but all brands can create relevancy. Even if it's something that's not an integral part of your company or your service, you can find a gap or a trending topic that really means a lot to people. Finding relevance is something you’ll have to keep doing and keep recalibrating depending on what's happening in the world.
Next, is intention. A lot of small business owners that I talk with already have the brand they're trying to pitch. You may have the company, the product, and everything that you're trying to showcase, but what is your intention in showcasing it? Do you want to get more customers? Do you want to get more sales, more social media followers, more newsletter signups or pre-orders? Define the top one or two things that you're really trying to nail down and zero in on that.
Think about the questions that people might ask about your business in order to get a better understanding of it. Incorporate those answers into your pitch before they can even be asked. Make sure that how you describe your product or service is really sharp and straightforward. It’s all about owning all of the elements of your business. I'm someone who is a multi-hyphenate entrepreneur, and that's something that I lead with. So, people already know that when I'm talking about myself and my companies, there are a number of areas that I focus on. And that's something that can be done with any sort of brand or service or product of any kind.
Everyone has a story and a mission. Think about that for you. If you're someone who does not have a mission-driven business or you're not really focused on the human aspect, see if you can incorporate some of that in subtle ways. That could be on your website or on a social media post. Getting to know the human side of a business makes consumers more interested in wanting to learn more about your brand and product or service. I think everyone, especially small business owners, have a unique story and background that ties into everything they do.
Next, let's focus on the press and media specifically. Press and media can take many different forms.
For me, what has helped the most are these key elements:
A lot of my early press was from a local newspaper or online publication or a local news channel. There are so many local media publications of all kinds that are looking to showcase and spotlight small business owners and entrepreneurs in their area. And I think it's important to look to those people that are already within your community instead of immediately trying to jump into something that's a worldwide or a global publication, because even local media has huge reach around the world.
Niche communities is a huge one. Sustainability and social entrepreneurship are a few of my niches. And I think that everyone has a unique niche if they look hard enough. When I started my business in 2008, sustainable fashion was nowhere near the mainstream conversation, but I went into those conversations anyway, and that really helped me find an authentic audience that would follow me on the journey for years to come.
It's really important to look at all of the varied, unorthodox, and unique ways to get your message out there. Whether that’s doing podcasts or joining online chat rooms, there are many unique and interesting ways to find your community. And of course, people tend to think of social media platforms such as Instagram or TikTok. But it's crucial to also think about podcasters or micro-bloggers, and really focus in on collaborating and building relationships with them. It’s important to not only think, “what am I getting out of this as a small business owner?” but also, “What is my brand getting out of this?”
I have received my most effective media and publicity from building relationships with the people that are working in media, such as micro-bloggers, because they're trying to grow as well. That's their business and brand. I like to think of it as more of a collaboration than just “what can I get out of it?” How can you work together and support each other to build a long-lasting relationship and create multiple opportunities to showcase your respective brands?
Obviously, social media is not emerging; it's already fully emerged as the most crucial way to get your brand out there. And it's really leveled the playing field in many ways for small business owners, which is huge. So, when we look to social media content creation, what's important?
First of all, know your common threads. This goes back to your story and bringing in that authentic voice. For me, of course, my common threads are around eco friendliness, fashion, and creativity. Pull out up to three common threads and make sure you weave that into all pieces of content that you create.
Next, use all tools at your disposal. There are countless social media apps and platforms and communities, but at the same time, there are so many new tools that are coming out. So really stay updated. Do a Google search to find out what some of the latest tools are in platforms that you use, and see how you can experiment with them. All of the platforms are trying to keep up with each other by creating new tools. As a small business owner and content creator, this means that you will continue to receive new, unique, and exciting tools to make your content stand out and engage your followers.
Many people think, “well, I'll just go over here and see if I get my success here” or “I'll just go over there and see if I get my success there.” You really have to see what works for you. And this is two parts, because exploring all platforms and letting the brand lead you go hand-in-hand.
Some creators prefer short form, quick, bite-sized content. Some work better with long, sit down, conversational content. Whether that is talking about how you started your business, showing how you make a certain product by hand, or showing how you pack orders for your customers, we wear so many hats as small business owners, so there is a ton of content that can come from the day-to-day. Explore and let the brand lead you where it wants to go. See where your audience organically comes from and what fits not only your business, your brand, and how you are presenting yourself, but also your personality and your style of editing in the time that you have available. Just see what works best for you, gets you the most growth, feels really authentic to your company. Try everything.
Most importantly, have fun. I think there's a lot of stress when it comes to social creation and how we're going to appear and find our audience as well. We get in our heads about it a lot, but I think it's important to just have fun and to go with the flow. Your audience will have fun with you.
Let's say you've gotten your 15 minutes of fame. You've gone viral. You've blown up. All of the things, right? It's really important to figure out how you can keep that momentum going. We're trying to avoid stagnation, which is the state of not flowing or moving. You should already have a game plan in place. It doesn't matter if you have five followers 5,000 followers, think about how will you be able to keep this momentum sustained for your business.
Never be afraid to reintroduce yourself constantly on social media to everyone. It’s crucial to remember that people have a very short attention span. They're consuming so much information all the time from so many different companies of all different sizes, so it's always important to restate what people should know about your brand through the content that you create. Don't worry about being repetitive, because I guarantee you that it’s critical to repeat yourself to stay top of mind.
There are many ways to engage your audience. Show the behind the scenes; for example, while you’re creating a t-shirt and pressing on the design. Maybe give a preview of an upcoming line that you're working on or a project that you're doing for a client, if you're allowed to. Figure out how you can continue to engage and keep your audience interested. Do giveaways or collaborate with other brands to do a giveaway package. The possibilities are endless. It's about being creative and seeing how you can continue to keep people engaged and keep people telling their friends about what you're doing. When people want to share your work, you never know who’s going to see it.
Always remember it sometimes takes just one person to get many eyes on your brand. So again, just keep having fun with it, keep reintroducing yourself, keep that authenticity strong, and recognize connections. If you know someone with a lot of followers or is in a similar field who seems interesting, they could be a great person to connect with. Reach out to them through a Direct Message (DM). Say, “hi, thanks for following me.” And just see what comes out of that, because you're going to have to be on top of all possible areas and opportunities to grow and expand your brand.
In a nutshell, it's important to zero in on how you want to present yourself in the world. Who can help you do that? Also focus on community and the resources you already have around you in your local area or niche communities online. Maximize your connections as much as possible in a way that's really fun and authentic for everyone involved, and take all of your current customers potential or future customers on the journey.
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Maya Penn is a 22-year old award-winning founder and CEO of sustainable fashion brand Maya’s Ideas, started in 2008 when she was just eight years old. Maya is a sustainability, CSR, and brand consultant, artist, animator, eco-designer, 3-time TED speaker, and Simon & Schuster author. Maya’s book, You Got This! is being used in schools around the world as curriculum to teach youth sustainable entrepreneurship, creative problem solving, and giving back. She has been certified by University of Cambridge Business School in Circular Economy and Sustainability Strategy. Maya consults a number of brands from Fortune 500 businesses to small start-ups. She has received a commendation from President Barack Obama for outstanding achievement in environmental stewardship and is Oprah’s youngest Supersoul 100 entrepreneur and change maker. She has been featured in Forbes, TIME, People, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, Marie Claire, The View, Grist, and more.
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