Self-promotion : is social media really that important for your business to succeed?

03 Apr Self-promotion : is social media really that important for your business to succeed?

Over the last 2 years, I’ve travelled thousands of miles, attended countless trade shows, exhibitions, panel discussions, pitch sessions, cocktail parties, meetings over coffee, drinks or breakfast (the worst!) while talking to investors angel or otherwise, entrepreneurs from novice to veteran, consultants and subject matter experts on every topic imaginable and unimaginable for that matter.

Throughout this kaleidoscopic journey, I kept hearing about the importance of building your “personal” brand. Each person I met seemed to be standing on top of their personal “soap box” extolling their virtues and those of their products or services (whether still a spark of inspiration in their eyes or ready for immediate consumption) via facebook, instagram, twitter and other popular social media platforms or at any and all public appearances.

As I waded through this sea of white noise, I started asking myself….”Which ideas and individuals made the deepest impression on me?” The realization was startling as it was subtle. The individuals who seemed most credible to me were typically low key with little to no self-promotion, had built up their competencies through sheer effort over time often against daunting odds and had seemingly limitless reserves of determination that enabled them to learn from their mistakes. These “Doers” kept going while maintaining a laser focus on developing and delivering a product or service that created real world value or satisfied a genuine market need.  The businesses that came to mind ranged from interior decorating to auto restoration and repair and were often characterized by hand craftsmanship, attention to detail and close customer relationships . Though they occasionally used the internet as a sales channel, they were not reliant on the internet for success. 

One of the most productive and innovative entrepreneurs I know designs products for sale via television infomercials and has successfully signed distribution deals globally. However, it took him 15 years to hone his craft, understand the industry, develop the right relationships and risk his entire personal network before success started trickling in last year. He still doesn’t have a personal facebook page nor does he talk about his personal trials and tribulations. I know his journey because I’ve known him for 20 years and share an office with him when I’m in Silicon Valley. Each day would start with him bouncing ideas for new products off me followed by mockups, prototypes and even shooting pilot commercials. He also usually gets in to the office by 4am.

Another example would be my mechanic in Arizona who immigrated to the U.S from Eastern Europe decades ago and started out driving freight trucks before setting up his own repair business literally out of his garage at home. Largely self-taught, he has built a family business with a reputation as the place to go if you want your classic German car well looked after. Now, the main Mercedes dealers in the area refer their clients to him as well, resulting in a multi-million dollar business which has a loyal and growing customer base, recurring revenue streams, a strong reputation and only recently did they decide to have a basic website.

Not all of these businesses were established before the internet boom. I spoke to a former finance professional now 60 years old, who decided to embrace her passion for interior décor a few years ago and started her own interior decorating firm. She was able to attract a number of corporate clients from the start and has built a business that is financially successful and allows her to do what she loves. When I was talking to her about her business recently, she modestly asked me, ”Do you think I should have a website?” In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how to answer her. She loved her work, had a comfortable lifestyle and had customers who appreciated her. What more could she ask for?

My last example is quite literally close to home and is a bakery about 250m from my parents’ house in Singapore. This bakery has changed little over 40 years and still uses the same ovens to churn out a largely unchanged menu specializing in custard puffs and flaky, buttery pastries filled with red bean paste. On most afternoons and on weekends the line of customers waiting for their orders winds its way out the door. In a stroke of genius, they recently opened a small lunch counter to offer customers meals while they waited for their baked goods. The bakery has a stellar reputation but has little presence on social media and the only publicity afforded to them was an independent newspaper article written in the 90’s which is pinned on a wall.

This may all sound dramatic but in practice, occurs so quietly that it is easy to miss amidst all the “shouting” going on. Yet many of these businesses have strong fundamentals most startups or tech companies only dream of. 

Kannan Ramakrishnan 

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