Tips from America's first female self-made millionaire.
By now, you have probably heard about or seen the limited series on Netflix called "Self-made". Self-made is a chronicle of the incredible story of Madam C.J. Walker, who was the first African American self-made millionaire. If you do not know, Madam CJ Walker was an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist. She was considered the wealthiest African-American businesswoman and wealthiest self-made black woman in America at the time of her death.
She started out as a "washerwoman" washing the clothing of another black female entrepreneur who would in exchange do her hair and provide her with the products she needed to regrow her hair after stress caused her to loose it. But, don't worry, I wont spoil the entire series for you. However, there were so many amazing branding take aways that I wanted to point out because who else would you want to learn branding from than America's First Female Self-made Millionaire?!
So, lets get to it and I promise not to spoil too much!
Madam CJ Walker was getting her hair done by a light skinned mixed woman, Addie Monroe, who had beautiful hair. In the first episode of the series, Addie told Madam CJ Walked (Sarah) that she could not sell her products. She then hired two other mixed women to sell her products and say that her products were the reason that their hair was so beautiful. Madam CJ Walker called her out immediately basically saying that people are going to already know that those girls have always had beautiful hair and it had nothing to do with her product.
In other words, people want the real deal. They do not want you to over promise and under deliver, matter of fact, you should always aim to do the opposite! For example, hiring the most fit people that you can find to sell a weight loss product is not authentic! Yeah, I know its done a lot, but although many may fall for it, even more people see through the lie that is being portrayed and it ends up tainting your brand.
Have a Strong Brand Story!
This is one of my favorites and something that I talk about all of the time! It is so important to have a story behind your brand. Its your "why" for your brand or business. It tells your audience the reason that you do what you do and more importantly how you can help them reach the goal that you have promised.
In the movie, Sarah (Madam CJ Walker) tells her story at a market to try to get more people to buy her hair products. At first no one really paid her any attention until she started to tell them about her hair loss and how the product helped her. Not only did her story draw a crowd but it moved them to buy, which is the ultimate goal!
Not Everyone will Celebrate
Madam CJ Walker had so many people directly connected to her that didn't see her vision. From wanting to work for her hair stylist, Addie, and not being accepted because of her looks, her first husband leaving her, and then the "haters" that told her she would not be successful.
Like Madam CJ Walker, we all will have to face people that will tell us what they THINK we can not do. But, just as she did, you have to surround yourself with people that believe in you even when they do not see your full vision. And, when you do encounter those who do not believe in what you are doing, remain focused. Build a tunnel vision so strong that nothing or no one can stop you!
Opportunities do not always Create Themselves
Madam CJ Walker became successful in a time where being a woman, and a black woman was not a good combination for success. And, although we still may not be on a level playing field we have to learn how to level our own ground. As Madam CJ Walker searched for endorsements and investors for her business, she had to invite herself into rooms that she would not normally be welcomed into. She didn't care that she was the wrong race or wrong gender, she believed in her vision so much that she knew all she needed was the opportunity to display her talent.
It is true that we should build our own tables and create our own opportunities. However, sometimes your vision will cause you to have to go after opportunities that will test you and push your limits. You may have to walk into rooms uninvited or enter spaces where no one else looks like you or has your story. But, when you walk into those rooms be sure that you can deliver, that you know your brand story, and that you know how your brand can help those that you are talking to. Bust down the door and break the rules only if you have a plan!
Get Out of Your House!
Madam CJ Walker did everything in her power to spread the word about her brand. She was not scared to talk to people about what she had to offer because she was confident in the solution that she provided. She did not wait on customers to come to her to tell them about what she had to offer, she hit the streets, literally going door to door to increase her brand awareness. Think about this, she was in a new state where she didn't know anyone, she did not have a lot of money, and she did not have social media. Surely with all the resources that we have now, we can do the same and even more!
Know Who You Serve and then Get to Know Them
In the second and third episodes of the series, Madam CJ Walker did something that was absolutely amazing! There is a scene where she is at a market. And, again no one is paying any attention to her until she starts telling this story. However, the story this time is totally different from the story that she told at the beginning of the series. She was able to download everything she needed to know about her audience within minutes of being in the same place with them. So much so that many of them became her clients and helped to sell her products in the future. She "knew them" enough to tell them a story that would convert them into customers, but then she took the time to get to know them to convert them into advocates for her brand!
You can have the best marketing and best brand story in the world but if you are not in front of the right people, none of that will matter. It will be like talking to a brick wall. You have to know your clients and customers in and out in order to be effective! You have to know what motivates them, what are their goals, what are their pain points, what is their why, and what do they value.
Seek out the "AMEN"
My church folks know what I mean. "Amen" is like endorsing what someone just said or did. She strongly pursued out an endorsement from a well known black figure head (I will let you watch and figure out who). But again, he was not willing to listen so she did what she knew best. Madam CJ Walker knew the importance of collaboration so what she did was gathered people and made them believe in the product so then she no longer had to work hard to convert the entire city, now those who she converted can also convert others to become her customers! Now can I get an "AMEN" for that! If you think about it, Madam CJ Walker was really one of the first "Mary Kays" in black hair care.
For your brand it is important to do three things. (1) Make every interaction with your audience as good as it can possibly be because word of mouth is one way to convert your audience into endorsers of your brand. (2) Do not be afraid to ask for feedback and recommendations. Sometimes, people don't mind sharing their love for your brand, you just don't ask. And, (3) share what you do! When you work with a client, share it. When you make a sell, share it. And, don't be annoying with it but share it from a place of gratitude that you are able to help your customers or clients because of what your brand has to offer.
Do NOT Allow People to Prostitute Your Brand
There was one particular scene in the movie that was so shocking it really made me mad! As promised, I wont spoil it for you. But, what I will say is that you have to be careful when you allow people to attach themselves to your brand. Remember, all money is not good money. And, if you are ever in a situation where you feel like you have to do something against your morals or ethics or harm yourself to elevate your brand, just know that elevation is not for you!
Remember that Everyone Wants to Relate to Someone
Madam CJ Walker was not a light skinned woman nor did she consider herself the "standard of beauty". There was a time where someone on her team (*insert eye roll) wanted her to use a more attractive woman for her brand. Now clearly, is you have read up to this point, you know that Madam CJ Walker was not having it! But, it was something that she wrestled with for quite some time.
No matter what industry you are in, people are looking for someone that reminds them of themselves. Someone that is flawed and still successful! Do not feel as if you have to build your brand without authenticity and your uniqueness in order to reach the masses! People will be drawn to you because of you, not because of who you portray to be! Stay true to yourself, it will encourage and build the blueprint for others like you!
Its not About You!
Sometimes we start out with this big vision of where we want our brand to go and what we want the end to look like, Madam CJ Walker was no exception. She wanted an empire. And although she built it, it didn't look like what she thought it would. So much so that towards the end of the movie, she is faced with a decision to abandon a dream that had finally came true or continue to make an impact and help other women do what it is that she was doing. Again, I wont spoil the ending, but I believe she made the right decision.
It is so important to remember that when you build a brand you are building a legacy. It is so much bigger than just you. Your brand will touch lives that will forever be impacted by your interaction with them. Not just your audience but also your loved ones. The better you serve your audience, often times, the better off you are able to leave your loved ones. Its not something we always want to think about, but we have to.
Now that I have given you some things to think about, go back and re-watch (or watch for the first time) the series (since it looks like we won't be going anywhere anytime soon anyway) and think of ways that you can apply what Madam CJ Walker did to your brand!
And of course, I am here to help! We live in crazy times, but one thing is for sure you can build your brand from anywhere!