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Build a community behind your business & they will come

Do this! Do that! Make a video! Post regular content! 

Yes, it’s all very well and good that myself and other marketers are always telling you to spend time curating your social media accounts. But what we often miss emphasising is the ‘why’. 

See, we’re not telling you to do it just for the sake of it. There is a very important reason behind posting consistent, engaging content – and that is your target audience. Because what you’re aiming to achieve with all of this marketing activity is a loyal base of followers who are commenting on your posts, messaging you privately and building a relationship with you and your business. This is the ticket to more sales (and of course, a rather uplifting way to do so!)

At the end of the day, having a largely supportive community who enjoys interacting with you and your brand is the absolute gold standard of knowing that your marketing is nailing it. And while you may be thinking ‘well yes of course Rachel’, what I am trying to get across is that so often we get caught up in the day-to-day ‘chore’ of marketing, without focusing on the end goal.   

So, how do you begin to build that community? 

I love hearing a good story about marketing success – especially from a small business – so I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Cherie Metcalfe from Pepper & Me on a recent MAP IT Marketing podcast. She has built an amazing community of fans and repeat customers, all through organic (i.e. free) social media activity. 

It all began when Cherie wanted to contribute to the family income, but didn’t want to return to the hectic life of hospitality. So five years ago, she started selling salts, laid out on a duvet cover at the local market.  

With a minimal budget, she was focused on using free or very low cost ways in order to sell. And even once she was making sales, Cherie didn’t put a lot of it back into the business. Instead, she started using social media to share more about her products, ways in which to use them and also chose to open up about her life as a mum of young children, experiencing the juggle of work, parenting and home life – the ups, the downs and her love for delicious food. 

Cherie says her secret is that she isn’t shy about sharing her failures with her followers, and has done so since day one. 

“People actually don’t only want to see the wins. If they’re riding the roller coaster with you, and you’re vulnerable and you’re showing that, that’s when people connect with you on another level, and they learn to trust you and they actually want you to succeed.”

Ta-da! Here’s where Cherie is today. 

And it has certainly been a recipe for success (excuse the pun). Because that one small market business is now four thriving offshoots, alongside a best selling cookbook Keepers.

Cherie also owns and runs the Pepper & Me Club – a recipe sharing membership site – KitCo which is a cookware brand, and her newest venture, Cain and Abel knives. 

All four businesses are run from her own premises, and Cherie has a team of 12 supporting her with production, packing and distribution. It’s absolutely phenomenal!  

Growing slowly and steadily has been Cherie’s main focus, moving her way through a few different-sized warehouses until settling on where she is now, with wholesale, dispatch and production all under one roof. It has meant their capacity has tripled instantly, and they can ship three times faster, which is a relief for Cherie.  

But here’s the thing. Cherie has invested very little money in digital advertising, however she has spent literally thousands of her own hours creating content. Now that the businesses are thriving, she has started using professional photography, taking two days a month to create professional imagery for all of her social media platforms – and she makes sure to schedule these posts in advance.  

Of course none of this can be done without a little bit of sacrifice. And while Cherie has a success story, as the businesses were growing she had little time left for herself. And she has no qualms admitting that the early days were hard, when she was doing everything herself – from making the products to packaging them, and then taking them to the post office. She spent months chipping away at the business before seeing any real traction. 

The importance of investing in people and the community around you.   

But what Cherie always invested in was her fans and what is amazing is that right from the start, people were very willing to dedicate their own time and effort into creating recipes with her products. And while this was ideal for Cherie, she also wanted to be able to pay them because they were actually promoting Pepper & Me. Which is where the Pepper & Me Club originated, with the monthly charge allowing her to pay recipe developers for the content they created, and the new followers that came along with it. To keep the site fresh, the recipe developers are continually revolving, and new recipes are developed each week. 

Perhaps what is most interesting, and is actually something Cherie is a bit embarrassed to admit, is that she didn’t get where she is today with a detailed, mapped out plan. What she did do was build a loyal fan base through sharing her love for two things – food and people.  

“Everything I do is part of a greater aim to connect people with food. I love people, and I love food. So that’s what I do.”

And being open and honest about her struggles was key, it helped her uncover a huge amount of support from a community of people who wanted to see her succeed. From trying to balance work and parenting, finding it hard not to spend as much time with her kids as she wanted, to how much time she spent working – everytime she shared this, more people were drawn into her story, and became invested in it.   

“They’d say I want to support your business. I love your products, I’m going to talk about them, I’m going to tell my mom about them, I’m going to tell my sister about them.”

Don’t be afraid to be yourself, that’s how you find your community. 

What I also love is that Cherie isn’t afraid to let her personality shine through into her brand. And it by gosh it works! Stuff.co.nz picked up a story recently when someone spied her fragile stickers on Lockdown deliveries, her products have very catchy names (I highly recommend the ‘Man Rub’), and her new knife range Cain and Abel has biblical references on the packaging.  

Cherie also comes across very relaxed and natural in her videos and daily Instagram stories, adding to her appeal – I love watching her cooking a meal for her staff, with generous helpings of her products to make them extra tasty! 

What’s magic is that you never feel like you are being sold to. It’s simply about sharing her cooking experience, and if you like what you see, you can try it yourself at home with some of her products. I actually picked up a super cool new onion chopping technique from her a few weeks ago, and then gave it a whirl when I cooked a meal which incorporated a couple of her products. Delicious!  

Three key takeaways from the Pepper & Me story. 

So, here’s the crux of all of this. What can other small business owners learn from what Cherie has done with hers? Lots! But I’ll break it down into three points. 

Number one: You don’t need a huge investment to get going.

Cherie didn’t pour thousands of dollars into her business, or have fancy branding. With her initial investment around a couple of hundred dollars – if that – the money wasn’t what made her business a success, it was about a solid product and a desire to serve her customers. 

I see many small businesses who spend thousands on looking great and then feeling a bit stuck with ‘where to next’. Of course if you can afford it, that’s fine. But if you can’t, that is okay too, start small and road test what you’re doing. 

Number two: You don’t have to pay the big bucks for social media success

But what you have to do is show your face, share your story and be open about your journey. People love and are drawn in by those who are honest, with the real highs and lows because at the end of the day we are all humans who crave connection. So be you and the community will come. 

Number three: Focus less on the sales, and more on serving your fans and customers

If you naturally add value, people will love that. Cherie has a great way of being able to talk about a product but also how she uses it in her own world, so you can imagine it in yours. 

And yes, I get that it is easier to do all of this with food, fashion and beauty products. So if you have a  “boring business”, you may be wondering how it applies to you. 

Sure, it’s harder to get people excited about spreadsheets and legal documents, but I’m telling you it can still work, because it will attract ‘your people’. 

Social media activity is not a ‘tick a box’ task, it’s about building relationships with those who like what you do and benefit from it too. 

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