You’ve surely heard this line from the Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” It’s a nice sentiment, buzzing with positivity. Unfortunately, it comes from a movie. Movies aren’t real life, and this advice amounts to total crap in a business context.
If you build your product, service, or venture, customers won’t magically appear like ghosts of dead baseball players. Real people have better things to do than show up to a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.
So let’s tease out a better lesson for building bravely from Field of Dreams. The lesson is this: People don’t have much space in their minds or lives for your precious idea. That’s why you must help them make space and earn their attention.
Building an engaged audience usually takes months of calculated persistence and tedious effort. This is good news. Most people, including your would-be competitors, will tire of the tedious work and give up before they see results.
I certainly hope you will persist though. I have witnessed firsthand how focused, consistent, daily effort yields an extraordinary harvest.
Pineapple Consignment grew out of frustration.
Balernum helped founder Megan Church launch the [Pineapple Consignment] brand. Pineapple Consignment is a twice-annual pop-up consignment event, specializing in upscale furniture and home decor. I’ll share Megan’s Instagram strategy in a minute, but first, I want to tell you about our hero.
Megan started the business in summer 2018. The idea germinated not in passion but in frustration. Megan wanted to sell an ottoman. She did what many folks now do. She posted photos of it in a couple of different Facebook groups dedicated to buying and selling in a certain zip code or geographic area. Megan’s photos and price of $100 generated plenty of interest. Multiple people left a comment saying they wanted to buy the ottoman.
Megan then arranged a time and place to meet with the first person who had called dibs. On the appointed day she packed up her three children—all five years or younger—and drove to a nearby Panera Bread to make the hand-off. Unfortunately, the buyer never showed.
Unfortunately, she got stood up not once but four times before she finally rid herself of the ottoman. The final transaction was weird too. The woman tried to negotiate in a passive-aggressive manner.
Megan was irritated. “It’s not like I changed the price on her at the last minute. I mean, the price was always $100. She had to have known that. The price was right there in the original Facebook post.”
The problem with selling furniture and home decor on Facebook and Craigslist is the uncertainty surrounding the hand-off and payment. Strangers can simply flake out on you. They lose no relational equity by changing their minds at the last minute. They can stand you up, waste your time, or cause you to miss out on serious buyers.
Sellers are forced to absorb all the risk. And selling the same piece of furniture four times, like Megan did, makes the whole experience costly and frustrating, not fun. As the time invested in the sale goes up, the value of the transaction for the seller goes down.
Megan started to wonder, “What if I can make the experience of upcycling furniture and home decor better for buyers and sellers?”
Many of the best businesses grow out of gaps, inefficiencies, and annoyances like selling an ottoman. Such opportunities lie hidden in plain view. An enterprising young woman notices one because it affects her more than others. She decides to do something about it.
However, Megan didn’t start by filling an empty warehouse with furniture and knickknacks. She was smarter than that. She started by building an audience on Instagram months before the first consignment event in October 2018.
Stop looking for shortcuts.
One would think, with all of my exposure to influencers and my careful study of thought leadership and internet marketing, that I would have prioritized audience-building for every single product and venture. One would be wrong.
More times than I care to admit, I have made the classic mistake of artists, creators, and founders make. I built a beautiful baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Oops.
Megan chose the more tedious and effective route. She studied up a bit on how to grow a following on Instagram. She made a rough plan. She gathered content. She started posting daily, and meanwhile, she proactively added new followers, one at a time.
James Altucher would applaud Megan. In his book Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth the author has this to say about shortcuts:
“I’ve done enough interviews now on my podcast with people who (are) the best in the world at what they do and I can see there are no real shortcuts. This is true no matter what field.”
Megan is a diligent, hard-working gal, and she didn’t go a-hunting for shortcuts. She identified Instagram tactics that had worked for other people, and then she employed those tactics every day. Every day for months on end.
Should I repeat that one more time? Probably not, but here goes… Every. Day.
The Marketing Problem Most Founders Have
You can now see clearly the problem that most founders and product creators encounter: inconsistency.
Inconsistency will sabotage your diet and workout routine. It will undermine your monthly budget. It will erode the foundation of your faith, relationships, and aspirations.
On the other hand consistency will ultimately bring you want you desire. It makes for a rather tedious dinner guest, but it works.
If you have an engaged audience of people who have made space in their lives for your new venture, then your early business experiment will be more successful.
Right-size your goals.
Even with an audience, you must right-size your goals. Megan’s goal for her very first Pineapple Consignment event was realistic. She didn’t expect to make a bajillion dollars and to become best friends with Joanna Gaines, Brené Brown, Michelle Obama, and Reese Witherspoon.
She wanted to launch the brand and break even. The first Pineapple Consignment event paid for her software subscription, her two new laptops, her scanning wands and point-of-sale system, and dozens of other small tools and office items needed to operate the business and make the shopping experience enjoyable for customers.
In many respects, Megan had the cards stacked against her. Her business model has many moving parts:
- Create a brand from scratch.
- Rent a venue.
- Recruit consignors.
- Convince consignors to pick out furniture and home decor, price it, tag it, and drop it off at the venue.
- Recruit and manage volunteers.
- Build awareness for the first pop-up event.
- Drive foot traffic on each day of the sale.
- Accept credit card payments with relative ease.
- Get rid of leftover stuff and clear out the venue.
- Send out commission payments to all of her consignors.
Lots and lots of things could have gone wrong, but Megan changed the odds by building an Instagram following before the event. She then leveraged that audience throughout the event.
Most of business “success” is tedious follow-through.
At Pineapple’s first event I witnessed how effective social media can be for building awareness and driving foot traffic to a physical place. You can bank on this: People will forget unless you remind them.
Don’t you? How many times have you learned through an email or tweet that your favorite band is playing soon in a city near you? You regret it later when you hear how good the concert was. You friggin’ love that band! You could have come up with the money. It’s not like you had a major conflict that weekend. So what gives? You simply forget.
If you have an audience though, you can send them frequent reminders. Repeated exposure will incite action.
At the end of the day the success of early business experiments is a numbers game:
- What is your sales goal?
- What is your average sales value?
- How many average buyers do you need to hit your sales goal?
- What percentage of shoppers become buyers?
- How many total shoppers do you therefore need to hit your desired number of buyers?
- What strategies and tactics will you use to get shoppers?
- How will you track and quantify the results of those strategies and tactics?
- What activities support and enable those strategies and tactics?
- What frequency or schedule do you need for those activities?
Once you put those specific activities in a marketing calendar, the rest is just tedious follow-through. That’s what grows in the field dreams: tedious follow-through. Rather ironic, really.
Build your audience first.
Megan’s first Pineapple event was a success precisely because she ground through the many, many tasks and activities required to not be the victim of the Field of Dreams Fallacy.
Build your audience first. Then, you touch your audience a hundred times leading up to launch. Then, on the big day, tell them to show up at the baseball diamond at the appointed time. When they do show up, it wasn’t magic. It was marketing.
Megan trained the volunteers working the register to ask customers, “How did you find out about Pineapple?” The vast majority of people said “Instagram.”
Before you can effectively market, you must build an audience. A megaphone will do you no good if no one is listening.
Building your audience is tedious and boring. Especially because we live in a smoke-and-mirrors society where everyone gives you the edited version of the success story. To wake up and add another ten measly Instagram followers might be discouraging if you weren’t convinced that there are no shortcuts. There are no shortcuts.
Let me encourage you to do your math. Break down the numbers you need into small increments and right-sized daily goals. 100 or 365 days will go by faster than you think, and by the end of that marathon, when you have an audience all your own, you’ll think, “That was harder than I thought. Why did I wait so long to get started?!”
Start building your audience today.
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