I’ve been running my content marketing firm for nearly 13 years. I imagined I’d run it until my fingers cramped up and I couldn’t type anymore. But recently I did something utterly shocking to me: I started a second business.
How Starting a Second Business Made Me Relearn Everything I Knew About Marketing
There’s a wine bar in my neighborhood where my friends and I like to meet for happy hour. Across the street, there’s a retail space for rent. A year ago, we’d fantasize about what kind of business we’d put in there.
“A cute boutique!” my friend exclaimed.
“Nah,” I said, “there’s not enough foot traffic.”
Then I got the idea of a space where adults could create and make art just like kids. There are dozens of art studios and workshops for kids…but where are those for adults?
That nugget of an idea morphed into my new creative workshop business, Creating Space in Kensington. Because I wasn’t ready to sign the lease on real estate, I decided to run my workshops at local venues in my neighborhood.
I’ve been in business long enough to know that having (what I think is) a good idea isn’t enough to guarantee business success. So I started researching other companies that offered creative workshops. There were some that offered succulent arrangements in breweries or “paint and wine” nights.
I wanted something in between. I wanted to offer creative classes that weren’t intimidating—and I think the word “art” scares a lot of people off—and that let people have a good time with friends while they made something and stretched their creative muscle.
I couldn’t find any consistency in the companies that offered these workshops. Most focused on holidays or had a sporadic schedule. I knew I wanted to offer diverse types of classes every month: collage, macrame, paper arts, painting…you name it.
Another way I saw that I could stand out was in pricing. A local boutique held classes similar to what I wanted to hold for $100 or more. I knew I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money for a few hours of crafting! I wanted my classes to be more affordable and accessible so that people would come back again and again.
I was amazed at how quickly I got up and running from a branding perspective. A friend designed my logo. I bought a domain name and set up my website using Wix, which I adore because it lets me easily create events and collect payment from customers. And though I already have three email addresses I use for various endeavors, I set up a professional email address with my new domain name. I wanted to be professional!
I use my mobile phone for my marketing business line but opted for a virtual phone number from Google so that callers would get my voicemail message for the new business and I could keep my contact info separate.
Here’s where things got tricky. I’ve been marketing global businesses for more than a decade. I had little experience marketing to a local audience. I’d moved away from social media and networking in favor of guest blogging and content creation. But with this new hyper-local business, I’d need to shift how I attracted new customers.
Everyone I talked to about the idea loved it. My neighborhood is a close-knit one; I can’t walk down the street without having at least a couple of conversations with people I know. So it was my hope that these neighbors would support a local business, and by proxy, me.
I’d run my marketing business for so long, I was a known entity in that space. But for this one, particularly given it was such a niche company, I’d have to start from scratch.
I think there’s nothing scarier than having an email marketing database of only yourself and your closest friends, or an Instagram account with zero followers. But I had faith: build it and they will come.
Because my neighborhood is so very Mayberry-like, I found plenty of opportunities to chat about my business. I was on the Board of my local business association for more than five years, so I knew most of the business owners on the four-block stretch of our retail area. When I’d talk to them about the workshops, they’d get excited and invite me to hold an event there. Check.
When I attended the monthly women’s group meetups in the ‘hood, I’d tell people about it, too. Always, people got excited.
Though it was hard for me to do, I always asked people, “would you like me to add you to our mailing list so you know about upcoming classes?”
And they always said yes.
Though my email database is still tiny, I have a phenomenal open rate between 30 and 50%. I know 99% of the people on my list. They look forward to hearing about upcoming classes.
I also am using Instagram and Facebook to promote classes. That’s slow-going in terms of driving people to sign up for classes, but the photos I post of the classes (and the students) get a ton of likes, and my followers are slowly growing.
I’ve been running Creating Space for five months now, and already I’ve seen an (extremely tiny) profit. I attribute this growing success to the level of detail I put into my classes.
Usually, the events are held at a restaurant or bar, so I negotiate a deal for an adult beverage and appetizers and build that into the price. I’m not out to get my customers drunk, but I find that everyone relaxes into the project when they’ve got a glass of wine or locally-made craft beer. Usually, they buy additional food and drink beyond that, which is great for the restaurant.
I don’t skimp on supplies. I am a great deal finder, so I shop months in advance for the best price and best quality materials for a given workshop. Attendees are always happy with the creations they take home.
The business is still small, which has the benefit of me knowing all my customers. Like Patt and her daughter, Susan, who came to the first vision board workshop and keep coming back again and again. Being able to banter with them at each event is one of the best parts of running this business, and it warms my heart to know they’ll be back and bring friends.
It’s been interesting to let go of the tried-and-true marketing tactics that I’ve used for dozens of clients over the years, but I find it more gratifying to market to people that I’ve met and spend time with my customers in-person as we paint, glue, cut, and create together!
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