Alternate Realities: The Dangers of Social Media for a Fledgling Business
As an owner of a small business I've had to learn to tackle the world of social media over the past year. While it is a powerful an effective tool for any fledgeling entrepreneur, I also worry that it is doing as much harm as good. In the interest a clarity I'm going to break this one up into three posts.
Part One: An Alternate Reality.
The primary threat to a new business social media presents is one that usually starts doing damage before the business is even started. It is also a plague on any business that is still trying to find it's footing.
If you are anything like me, or if you are reading this on any social media platform, you probably spend a fair amount of time looking at other people's lives. If you are a small business owner, or are thinking about becoming one, you probably follow a lot of other business owners in your field. Their feeds can be very inspirational. Photos of well crafted leather goods perfectly staged on one hundred year-old barn wood that has "I *heart* Judith 1911" carved into the bottom corner are part of what got me into this gig. Photos like that are also why I almost didn't start this business and why I have to reaffirm my desire to keep with it on a regular basis.
Okay now, stay with me here. There is this thing called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which basically states that by observing an experiment we alter the results of that experiment. The way I see it, every business is an experiment. We come up with a theory of how to reach a goal (How do I make money?), come up with an experiment (make leather goods) and alter the procedure based on the results (write more blog posts).
Now we assume that we are accurately witnessing the results of that experiment by following along on social media. Pictures don't lie after all. This is the heart of the problem. Ignoring the fact that some of these pictures are painstakingly constructed by a staff of stylists/marketers/photographers/set-designers to look natural, the fact of the matter is that this reality is being presented by someone who is part of the experiment and has a vested interest in the results. Assuming that the person running that feed is genuine and trying to be honest about their business, they are still making a decision that something is notable enough to be worth mentioning.
The result is that as a fledgling business owner, in a best case scenario, you are being bombarded with other people's notable moments. In reality most moments are not notable. Every hour isn't perfectly lit and surrounded by perfect decor. The people in your life are not always influential. Your kids are sometimes weird looking or boring. You have to sit there and write your return address on all your utility bills and sit on hold with the cable company. There is no lake with a tire swing in the backyard. The backyard needs to be mowed and the neighbors have ugly lawn ornaments.
The damage comes when you look at your life of relatively un-notable moments and feel like you are missing out on something or that your aren't in a position to be a real competitor. It gets worse when you start thinking things like "I need move to Portland, rent a cool studio space, and then I can start my business the way it should be."
I had to come face to face with this a few weeks ago. I'm planning on relaunching this website sometime soon and as part of that I had a photographer come over and take some pictures in my "workshop" (read this with fully intentional air quotes around it). At first I really didn't want to shoot here because the reality is that it is located in my sad, crappy basement. There is no golden hued light streaming in through barn windows. I've got glass block and fluorescent bulbs. There is laundry I haven't gotten to yet in the corner. My tools are not family heirlooms oozing patina. They are the cheapest ones I could find that would get the job done. For some reason I felt like I had to hide all of this. Like I wasn't legit unless I had a shop-dog napping next to a freshly baked blueberry pie cooling on the window sill complete with antique silver server.
Then I realized that is a bunch of crap. I started this business a little over a year and a half ago with $150. I turned that into a business that I can do full time. I have waded into the deep water and painstakingly hauled my life back on to shore. I've done it all in my crappy basement with my ugly tools.
You don't need perfect lighting, artsy tattooed friends, a rehabbed industrial studio space, a white washed house in the country, or a set of tools that look like they were last used by Noah while building the ark.
People do amazing things every day with what is available to them. Most of them don't even live in the Pacific Northwest. All you need is the desire for change, the will to take action, and the determination to keep moving forward. It may not always be pretty, but it is pretty damn notable.