Tag: Flow

An Introduction to Tumblr

An Introduction to Tumblr

In the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, Tumblr is one of the more familiar alternatives people are exploring. Already, public figures are testing the waters — actor Ryan Reynolds made a move – probably for publicity purposes. But as a power user who joined in 2014 and never left, I can see the signs of the app’s resurgence.

Even though it’s been around for quite some time – since 2007 – and has its place in the social media space already, we want to take the time to walk through what Tumblr is for anyone who may be unfamiliar with or hasn’t used it in a long time. We’ll go through what it is, how it works and how you can get started using it today.

What is Tumblr?

Tumblr was launched in 2007 by David Karp and is currently owned by Automattic, owners of WordPress.com and WooCommerce. It’s a microblogging social platform that allows its users to post various types of content, from text and photos to music and videos. Here are some facts to consider as you explore Tumblr as a content channel:

  • There are currently 561.3 million blogs – keep in mind that one user can create multiple blogs
  • The platform currently has 135 million monthly active users and 11.1 million posts daily
  • 69% of users access Tumblr via mobile apps and 31% via web
  • Gen Z makes up 48% of Tumblr’s active users

Creating a Tumblr is very easy, and the website offers lots of options for customization, a departure from any other social media platform. Users can easily personalize everything, from their blog’s colors to its HTML. You can also set a unique URL for your blog and add a theme song. And to engage with content, you either reblog or like a post.

There are two main types of creators on Tumblr: those who create original content and those who curate (or re-blog) posts. In addition to functioning in the traditional blog format, Tumblr also displays content as a stream, much like the news feeds of popular social networks.

However, unless you’re actively looking for current events, the platform doesn’t prioritize the latest news in its recommendations. You can keep up with the most popular tags in the Search tab, but that doesn’t always extend to recent events like Twitter’s top Trends.

As a power user of the app, I will say that Tumblr’s most similar feature to Twitter is its users’ love of short text posts, but in other aspects, it’s quite different. You can edit posts, customize your page, or wake up to a made-up Martin Scorsese movie taking off as if it actually exists – with art, theme music, and storylines to boot.

An Introduction to Tumblr

If you’re interested in exploring the platform, it’s quite easy to get started. But be warned – it’s not much like Twitter.

How to get started with Tumblr

If Tumblr’s capabilities and audience seem like the right fit for you, here’s how to explore the platform.

  • Step 1: Sign up by adding your email, preferred username, and password. You can also use sign up directly through Google or Apple.
An Introduction to Tumblr
  • Step 2: Select which tags and accounts you’re interested in following. Tagging is a great way to get more out of Tumblr because it helps you discover content and your content be discovered.
An Introduction to Tumblr
  • Step 3: Create your first post. There are many options for content creation available on Tumblr – text, images, GIFs, audio, video, quotes, and a fun chat option for re-enacting or making up conversations.
An Introduction to Tumblr
  • Step 4: Customize your blog with one of the available themes. You have the option to keep your account simple, but if you want to reflect your personality, you can customize your blog and choose a unique “.tumblr.com” URL (mine is tamioladipo.tumblr.com). To customize your blog, click on the 👤 icon and navigate to 'Settings'. Then select 'Enable custom theme' and 'Edit theme'. Here, you can browse different themes to make your website look more unique – I use one called Iconic. You can also edit the HTML to your heart's content.
  • Step 5: Participate! Follow relevant search terms, find accounts you want to follow, and engage with content on the platform. Also, play around with the features and look at other accounts. Because it’s so simple to get started, you can invite your existing audience to follow and engage with you on Tumblr.
Check out the Tumblr glossary to get up to speed with common terms used on the platform.

4 interesting Tumblr accounts to follow

Once you’ve gotten started and messed around a bit, it gets easier to understand what to post and how to post it. If you’re still looking for inspiration, however, here are some interesting accounts on Tumblr to check out:

  • Buzzfeed Unsolvable: The popular true crime show on YouTube also has an equally popular Tumblr account and fanbase. The account shares memes and inside jokes, and fans can communicate with the people behind the project.
  • Zillow Gone Wild: This account is famous for posting outrageous Zillow listings on Twitter and has now created a Tumblr account. The nature of their posts means they don’t have to change much about their content but still reach existing and new audiences.
An Introduction to Tumblr
  • Netflix: Media companies like Netflix thrive on the conversation that their content generates on Tumblr. Netflix still updates its account regularly, which will be a great way to understand how a brand can use the platform.
  • DuckDuckGo: The browser company uses all of Tumblr’s features, from text to gorgeous images and animation on its profile. It also uses Tumblr as an extension of its blog, posting content and directing to its main website or just sharing the whole article at once.
Check out the Tumblr brand directory for more inspiration from other businesses. A quick note that a lot of brands abandoned their blogs and usernames, so content may be outdated or even gone.

6 tips for using Tumblr

Tumblr’s been around for a while and has an established mode of operation. You’ll likely have to go in and fit in, not go against the grain. Here are some tips to get the most out of Tumblr

  1. Plan ahead and create an editorial calendar with Tumblr’s built-in scheduling and queuing functionality.
  2. Reblogs are far more important than likes. Liking something is essentially bookmarking, which is great but not valuable to creators, while reblogging counts more clearly toward statistics.
An Introduction to Tumblr
  1. The tone and primary audience of the platform is irreverent — formal language is far from the norm.
  2. Tags work similarly to hashtags and increase the visibility of your content. Proper tagging is expected and respectful.
  3. Remember that people who view your Tumblr on desktops will see a website-like format — it’s very different from Twitter in this way. Take advantage of Tumblr’s customization capabilities to create a site that matches your existing brand.
  4. Evergreen content does well on Tumblr. This is because Tumblr isn’t news-driven, and stories that receive attention today could still be popular, even a few years down the road.

Explore Tumblr as a new way to connect with your audience

While Tumblr is gaining popularity at lightning speed because of its longevity and existing audience, it’s not a replacement for Twitter and shouldn’t be treated as one. The truth is, it’s harder for brands to find a foothold on Tumblr because branded content doesn’t always connect with the existing audience. So we don’t think Twitter’s going anywhere just yet, and most social media professionals agree.

However, it’s worth setting up a Tumblr account and engaging with the platform and it’s audience as part of your brand strategy. Some of your audience might already be there because it’s been around for a while, so it won’t be too hard to get them to find you there. While we don’t currently have scheduling for Tumblr within Buffer, you can use the platform’s great native scheduler.

Stay updated with our upcoming features through our product roadmap or join our community for updates.

For more alternatives, check out our article about getting started with Mastodon.


Social Proof: The Golden Rules of Personal Branding (According to Experts)

Social Proof: The Golden Rules of Personal Branding (According to Experts)

We’re super into helping people grow on social media, including individuals who want to boost their online presence. So we’ve created Social Proof, our series on personal branding. The series chronicles how amazing individuals with different goals grew on social media to further their career and business prospects.

Each interviewee so far has shared amazing insights into their process and mindset around personal branding, so you should definitely check out the full interviews. However, in this article, we highlight the Golden Rules of personal branding – the main thing each interviewee suggested that you should be doing on social media to grow your online presence.

Katelyn: Dive deep into one channel before exploring multiple

In the early days of building your personal brand, you may want to start sharing across multiple platforms – but this can be more harmful than not. While convention dictates that you be discoverable through different channels, you may not be able to keep up with the demands and specific culture of each one.

That’s why Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO and Lead Trainer of Customer Camp says, “I think you should go really deep into one channel and build an audience there, get good at creating content for that platform, and understand what works with your audience on that platform.”

Start small and build up momentum as you grow your personal brand.

The real struggle with spreading yourself too thin is that you’re just one person. And if you’re not a professional at creating content calendars and keeping up with publishing frequently, then you may not be able to keep up with the cycle. You also won’t be able to build deep relationships with people on any platform as you hop from comment to message.

Start small and build up momentum as you go along. As Katelyn suggests, “Once you have an audience – and it doesn't need to be a big audience – it might be time to get started getting people to sign up for a newsletter. Focus on publishing that newsletter every two weeks and getting your Twitter following to allow you in their inbox.”

Fadeke: Have a distinct online presence outside your employer

In our interview, Fadeke Adegbuyi, Lead Writer at Shopify, shared, “I think it is important to have an online presence and have a brand distinct from your employer. That's something that's always been important to me – having a presence online where I can share what I'm working on and what I'm interested in and, in turn, connect with people who are interested in the same things. And it also helps me have an inflow of hiring and collaboration opportunities.”

Take stock of what and how you communicate online, and make sure it’s true to you and not your employer.

The main part of a personal brand is the “person.” If all your content is primarily subject to the place(s) you work, it only furthers your employer’s interests. But what happens if you leave that organization? Will you have to change your personal brand to fit a whole new tone and voice?

If your personal brand only highlights someone else’s brand or company or work but doesn’t show who you are, that won’t help people know why they should be interested in what you have to say. Take stock of what and how you communicate online, and make sure it’s true to you and not your employer.

Steph: Treat every project you undertake as a vehicle for your personal brand

Steph Smith, Podcast Host at a16z, said something that resonated with me, “Everything I do, whether I like it or not, relates to my personal brand and is a vehicle for it. But ultimately, what drives that vehicle, good or bad, is how I perform in every one of those circumstances.”

You won’t always find yourself doing work that aligns with your passions and dreams. But if you’re going to do something, you might as well do your best at it.

“Everything I do, whether I like it or not, relates to my personal brand and is a vehicle for it. But ultimately, what drives that vehicle, good or bad, is how I perform in every one of those circumstances.”

Also, in the same vein, you might put your all into a project, but you can’t control the outcome and reception. But the one thing that will always stand out is the effort and eventual quality. “If the quality of your work doesn’t match your audience’s expectations and seems like a money grab, you’ve harmed your personal brand and that trust is hard to win back,” says Steph.

Shaan: Outline your future self and then work towards being that person

Shaan Puri, entrepreneur, investor, and creator, shared a great framework for outlining what you want to reflect to others through the Pillar Branding Exercise. The idea is that you draw out three or four pillars and put at the top the words that represent your personality the best. Then, you outline which stories from your life and career uphold these pillars. If you don’t have any stories to share, you’ve identified what to work towards. So if you say “creative” but can’t share the evidence of creativity, you want to take more action towards making that evidence.

Social Proof: The Golden Rules of Personal Branding (According to Experts)
Shaan's pillar branding exercise

As Shaan said, “…for some of the pillars, I had more stories than others, which helped me realize that even though I wanted to be perceived a certain way, I hadn’t taken enough action in that direction. So this exercise was also a note to try more things I wanted to be part of my brand. It became more than just a branding exercise – more of a roadmap for how I wanted to approach life.”

Jack: Love what you do or risk failure

It’s hard to keep at something you’re not passionate about – Jack’s advice echoes this sentiment. In our interview, Jack Appleby, Creator at Morning Brew, shared, “A big part of personal branding: if you don't love what you’re building your brand around, it will fail. I’ve found great career success in building a personal brand around social media strategy because I love it! I’m genuinely curious about social media and communities, so it doesn’t feel like work to me.”

…if you don't love what you’re building your brand around, it will fail.

What are the topics that interest you the most? What could you talk about for hours on end? Find the intersection between what you know best and what you’re passionate about, and use that to kick off the content you share.

Tori: Remember that it takes time and patience to be successful

Success doesn’t happen overnight, and no one understands that more than Tori Dunlap, founder of HerFirst100k. Tori didn’t become the owner of a multi-million dollar business in one sitting – it was compounded effort that helped her build her business and community.

“Even if you know you're capable of something, it won’t work out as you expect if it's not the right time. You have to make all the mistakes and learn all the ropes to reach the same level of success [as the people that inspire you],” she shared in our interview.

You can build what you want through time and patience, but if you’re trying to be at the same level as people who have been working at something for five months before you, it likely won’t work out as you expect.

“You have to patiently build that over time till you get to the point where you can build the business that you want. It has to come through time and patience, and dedication,” says Tori.

Take what resonates with you

The final golden rule, coming from me, is to take what works for you. Not everyone will struggle to write a newsletter and be present on Twitter and TikTok. And not every topic you cover will be something you’re absolutely passionate about. What matters is understanding how you work and what it will take to keep you consistent enough that you can build a lasting personal brand.

And whenever you get around to creating your personal brand, save time and maximize your resources by using Buffer to track your ideas, schedule your content, create a simple microsite and engage with your new audience. Get started today!


How These Small Business Owners Set Boundaries During The Holidays

How These Small Business Owners Set Boundaries During The Holidays

For the majority of folks, the holidays are for rest and relaxation as it’s the one time of year most people get a break from school and work. Yet, for small business owners, that’s not quite the case. In fact, November through December is often the busiest season for these entrepreneurs. Many depend on sales made during these months, leading them to work long hours during the holidays. But this can lead to serious health consequences. One study found that individuals who work over 61 hours a week have an increased risk of developing high systolic blood pressure.

By establishing some boundaries however, it is possible to create a good work-life balance during the most festive time of the year. Here's how three small business owners tackle their busy schedules during the holidays so they can enjoy the season with their loved ones.

Why setting boundaries is so important

There are a ton of advantages to being your own boss, but the one downside is that your workload can oftentimes feel like it’s never ending. Whether it’s responding to emails, posting seasonal deals to your social media channels, or shipping out products, work can pile up – especially during busy seasons.

By setting boundaries during the holidays, you’re not only developing a healthier relationship to work, but are also giving yourself some necessary downtime. Simply put, individuals who work 24/7 have a much higher risk of developing burnout. This can result in several consequences, including no longer feeling fulfilled by your job, which leads to poor performance and impacts the quality of your work. Other symptoms include fatigue, stress, insomnia, and in severe cases, some people even develop anxiety and depression.

This can be a tricky subject as most business owners feel a strong obligation to work around the clock and ensure that their customers and employees are taken care of. But once you take a step back, you’ll often find that you’re more productive and happier.

At least that’s what happened when freelance writer Kat Boogard switched from working four days a week to three in order to spend more time with her kids. While the transition did require boundaries, Kat says it’s been more of a mental shift than anything else.

“Somebody asked me if my three-day workweek was more of a mindset shift than a system-building exercise, and I think that’s a great way to describe it,” she said in her newsletter.

While cutting back on work means that she can no longer do all of the things she used to, the writer believes it’s been a fair trade off. Not only has she been able to be more selective and strategic about the projects she now takes on, but she’s no longer putting pressure on herself to constantly be on the go. Most importantly, this switch has allowed her to have more family time.

“My kids and I potted some flowers and are caring for them. We take weekly trips to the library or playground … Will I earn as much as I did last year? Nope. Probably not even close,” Kat said. “But at the end of the day, it’s all the other stuff that feels way more like “success”—even if the number on my profit and loss statement is smaller.”

Even if you’re not looking to have a three day work week like Kat, her mindframe on scaling back with work can be useful for any entrepreneurs wanting to dedicate more time to themselves and their families, especially during the holiday season.

How these small business owners approach work during the holidays

These three entrepreneurs tackle work during the holidays differently, but they’ve each implemented some kind of boundary into their schedules to ensure that they don’t overload themselves.

Implementing a strict schedule

A single mom and a team of one, Assie Khoussa is used to working 24/7 on her small business Eizzy Baby. When it’s the holidays, however, she establishes clear boundaries with work so she can ensure her son doesn’t miss out on any of the festivities.

“The holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for me. Not only are there several sales, promotions, and new product launches happening within my business, my schedule is just as busy,” Assie said.

“As a single mom, It is important that my son does not miss a single holiday experience from thanksgiving dinner to wrapping and opening gifts. To make sure I am as productive as possible, I make sure that I am fully scheduling my days,” she said. “From 9 am – 4 pm, I focus on my business and work. Once I pick up my son from school at 5 pm, my attention shifts to family time, we laugh, play, eat and work on the things he needs.”

The entrepreneur has found that without this structure, she tends to gravitate towards working more.

“I try to be very strict with this schedule because it allows me to prioritize and focus on what is important. Once [my son] is in bed, then I have the flexibility to work on whatever I need, whether it is self-care or opening up my laptop to edit content. I am the queen of going with the flow, but I've noticed that when things are not scheduled or prioritized, That's when I drop the ball the most.”

Assie acknowledges that creating boundaries as an entrepreneur is hard, but she credits her discipline, especially when it comes to her son.

“The strict boundaries really come from having the discipline to shut your computer or phone off,” she said. “For me, dropping the ball when it comes to my son sucks and because of that, I use the time allotted to really focus on him. My advice would be to build discipline and realize what's important during [the holidays].”

Being selective with work events

Sisters Kelly and Anna opened up their small business Arctic Haven Studio in 2021, and sell hand-crafted paper art inspired by the Alaskan wilderness. Still early in their journey, the duo work during the holidays to grow their customer base.

“As a small business still trying to gain a foothold in the industry, we take advantage of every viable opportunity we have. During the holidays, we participate in several local holiday markets to reach customers individually and concentrate sales. The holiday markets themselves require a lot of hands-on work from ourselves and our family members who help us create, set up, and maintain the booth space, all for a two-day show, at most,” they said.

Fortunately, these events are closely tied to the holiday season and are a great way for the entrepreneurs to meet their customers in person, making it feel less like work and more like community building.

“These events require energy and preparation, but they are festive and a great way to interact with potential customers. We listened to customer feedback we received last year and created a holiday card since notecards are our primary product line, and they have been well received this season.”

Still, Anna and Kelly don’t say yes to every opportunity during the holidays, and instead are selective about which events they choose to attend so they don’t overwork themselves.

“While we do not take time off from the business during the holidays, we are able to regulate our workload by choosing the holiday events we participate in and how much marketing we want to send out prior to the season. Each season we learn new ways to fulfill customer interests and ways to prep better for the upcoming year.”

Closing up the business for the holidays

As a content creator who operates her tarot reading business through her Twitter account, Ashani has more flexible hours than the typical entrepreneur. But that doesn’t mean the creator hasn’t had issues with burnout. In the past, she’s worked through the holidays and didn’t have clear boundaries with her followers.

“I remember, back in the day when I would not carve out [vacation time], I’d be like, “oh, my goodness. Why are people hitting me up on Christmas?’ But now, it's as simple as just closing my readings to be quite honest … I'm blessed to have that function and work for myself. I don't have to go ask anyone if I can put in PTO or anything like that. I get to create my own schedule.”

But Ashani only implemented these boundaries after learning from her first couple years running her business.

“A lot of people have their own business because they want more flexibility. But I remember thinking like, ‘this is not more flexible. I'm overwhelmed with having to do the [reading] services, and run the business, and also schedule myself in.’ But, it’s gotten so much easier [to take time off] over the years.”

She sometimes still deals with the struggle of feeling like she’s not working enough, and empathizes with other business owners who have a hard time taking time off.

“Sometimes [closing my readings] creates additional pressure. Because, of course, the holidays are the time where people are wanting to spend money and buy gifts. And so, you want to be making more money. And I've definitely had to work up to the point. Years ago, it was much more of a struggle, knowing when I should be working more, or working less,” she said.

Rather than focusing on holiday sales, Ashani now prioritizes a good work-life balance.

“A lot of things are in demand during the holidays, and people are super busy. But I try to take this time to relax and spend it with family and friends, and just do little things for myself,” she said. “So vacation time isn't as much of a priority for me as just simply maintaining that balance between work and play. And seeing the people that I love, of course.”

At Buffer, we also close down the company for an entire week at the end of the year to ensure everyone on our team has the opportunity for some self-care time.

We hope these examples from other small business owners have inspired you to carve out time for yourself this holiday season. Remember, giving yourself a break is healthy and the end of the year is the perfect time to recharge and reflect.

If you’re interested in creating more boundaries with work right now, there are a ton of productivity habits you can incorporate into your schedule to free up some time. We recommend creating a content and social media calendar to have an organized view of all of your work. Batch-creating content is also an efficient way to get more use out of your time.

One of the best ways to ensure you’re present during the holidays is to schedule your social media posts ahead of time — and we can help with that! Get started with Buffer for free today to schedule your content, analyze the performance of your posts, and engage with your followers!


I’ve Never Offered a Black Friday Sale — Here’s What My Boutique Does Instead to Have a Six-Figure Weekend

I’ve Never Offered a Black Friday Sale — Here’s What My Boutique Does Instead to Have a Six-Figure Weekend

From the moment I launched The Flourish Market—a boutique that specializes in selling clothing, accessories, and gifts that have a bigger purpose—I knew that we would need to think about our holiday promotions differently.

Given that most of the 200+ brands we partner with are B-corps or fair trade companies, our margins are already tighter than the average store. I felt the biggest discount we could afford to offer holiday shoppers would be 20 percent—which isn’t very exciting when the big box stores and even smaller boutiques would be offering 40-60 percent (or more) off.

I’ve always been a big believer that when you can’t compete, you get creative. So I thought about what we had to offer. I thought about what aligned with our company mission. I thought about what would be exciting to our customers. And I came up with the idea for Grey Friday.

The gist of Grey Friday is this: The week before Black Friday, we have our big promotion weekend when, instead of offering discounts, we offer 40-60 percent of the customer’s purchase back in free gifts. At different tiers of spending—$40, $75, $150, $250, and $500—customers get a different gift, plus all the gifts from the lower price tiers.

I had this idea mere months before my first holiday season as a shop owner, and I decided to launch it on a whim. It was a resounding success, and we’ve done it every year since then—and every year, even during COVID, we’ve grown our total revenue that weekend by 40-50 percent.

I love inspiring business owners to zig when other people are zagging. While I’m not saying you have to do this exact promotion, I want to share why it works for us and our customers in hopes of encouraging others to think differently about holiday deals this year, or for years to come.

We figured out how to create more value with less

Something that often surprises people about Grey Friday is that it costs us the same from a business perspective as offering a 20 percent discount—but creates much more value for the customer.

Let’s say a customer is spending $150 that weekend. If we did a 20 percent discount, we’d lose $30 as a business, and the customer probably wouldn’t feel like they got an especially great deal. But, if I take that same $30 and think of it as my budget for free gifts, it can go shockingly far. For instance, last year customers spending $150 got a free bracelet, a pair of artisan earrings, and a cozy winter shawl. Because we’re buying these gifts in bulk from our artisan partners and our purchasing timing often aligns with promotions they’re doing, we’re able to get a great price, which allows us to offer so much.

The actual value of these products is higher than the $30 a customer might save with a 20 percent discount—if customers were buying these products off our shelves, they’d cost $80 or more. But, perhaps more importantly, the perceived value is higher. Our customers get so excited by the fact that, while they’re doing their holiday shopping, they get additional gifts for people on their list or to keep for themselves as a treat.

We get customers before they’ve blown their holiday budget

Another key factor in Grey Friday’s success is that we hold it the Friday before the major holiday shopping weekend.

I always thought it was weird that Small Business Saturday is the day after Black Friday. My thinking is that, if you really want people to support small businesses, you need to get in front of them before they spend all their money at the major retailers. In fact, numerous customers thank me every year for running such a great promotion early, before they’re tempted to use their purchasing power on less meaningful gifts from larger businesses.  

This has the side benefit of making the holiday season much more pleasant for my team. We’re still open on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday but, because we’ve already finished our major weekend, we don’t open early, and I don’t need all hands on deck. We split up work Thanksgiving week so that all of my employees get some meaningful time with their families.

Of course we get people who come into the store Black Friday weekend and are confused by the fact that we aren’t offering a special. We never apologize, and instead use this as a moment to share what we stand for, explaining that we can’t compete with the big box stores and that we hope they look around at our artisan products and find gifts for the people on their list anyway. Plus, we can always encourage them to sign up for our email list so they’re notified about Grey Friday next year.

We build a lot of excitement around it, and always deliver

So how do we promote Grey Friday to grow our sales each year? Of course we do all the classic marketing tactics. We tease that our big promotion is coming up on social media and do a big reveal of the free gifts. We email our list first thing that Friday to let them know the doors are open, and send them a last call email on Sunday (something I missed in the early years and now drives about 20 percent of our sales for the weekend). And we build a lot of excitement in the store to draw in downtown foot traffic, playing holiday music and offering free drinks for shoppers.

But the biggest reason our numbers grow so much year after year is that we really deliver on the customer experience. I’ve noticed two big drivers for our sales growth. The first is that existing customers spend more. If a new customer has never experienced Grey Friday, they typically spend around $75 because they almost can’t believe it’s true. Once they realize that we really aren’t messing around with the free gifts, they plan their holiday shopping around it the next year, and spend triple or quadruple what they did before. The second growth driver is new customer acquisition through word of mouth. Grey Friday is almost like the best kept shopping secret that people love sharing with their friends and relatives.

We try to keep this customer excitement going by making our gifts even better year after year. For instance, last year we created a custom product with one of our partners so that one of the gifts was something you literally couldn’t get anywhere else.

We tied our promotion to our purpose

Ultimately, like so many things in our business, this holiday promotion was never just about growing the bottom line. Our heart behind Grey Friday is to be able to deliver a thrilling experience to our customers while sending our artisan partners a heck of a lot of work.

Instead of just offering a discount and taking a financial loss as a business, we’re able to pass that money along to help other businesses succeed. Being able to place orders for hundreds or thousands of units is life-changing for many of our partners. And we always make sure to share that impact with our customers—along with the impact on our own small business—so that they can feel even more excited about the purchases they made.

After sharing all these details on Grey Friday, my advice to other business owners may sound odd: When it comes to creating your best holiday promotion, don’t look around at what others are doing. Instead, think about what would be exciting to your specific customers and what you have the power to deliver this holiday season, then find the overlap.  

The truth is, you will get some sales if you do a standard discount for Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. However, you could be doing triple or quadruple that amount if you get creative in delivering something that creates even more value for your customers.


A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon

A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon

Post-Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, interest in other social networking sites has spiked significantly. Some names may be familiar to you while others are completely new, but a quick search on Google Trends reveals that old or new, people are looking for the next, best microblogging platform.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon

Tumblr’s one of those familiar names and a popular choice — actor Ryan Reynolds made a public move to Tumblr. But that’s not what we’re here for today. Instead, we’re introducing you to Mastodon, which many may not yet be familiar with, but is quickly rising in popularity.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon

Mastodon, founded in 2016 by Eugen Rochko, is a microblogging platform that looks similar to Twitter on the surface but is more complex under the hood. In this article, we’ll walk you through what you need to know about Mastodon and how to set up an account.

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a collection of free, decentralized, and loosely organized group of servers. You may also see it referred to as the “Fediverse,” short for “federated universe.”

Mastodon is an open-source platform, meaning anyone can set up a server and run a community if they wish to, similar to a forum or discussion board. The platform is self-described as a “federated network which operates in a similar way to email.”

Similar to Twitter, it offers microblogging capabilities, but while you can easily pinpoint some similarities to Twitter’s web and mobile applications, they’re not quite the same. A better (but still incomplete) analogy is Mastodon is what you get if you were to combine Twitter and Tumblr.

Instead of tweeting, you post, and if you share someone else's post, you've reblogged or boosted it. There are hashtags and lists, and you have up to 5,000 words to express yourself – as well as the ability to add GIFs, videos, and images.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon
Example of a post on Mastodon

Your Mastodon handle includes your full identity, plus the server name. If you sign up for Mastodon via the most popular server – Mastodon.social – your address will be @[your username]@mastodon.social. But no matter which server you sign up with, you can communicate with users from any other server, just like how Gmail users email Hotmail users and vice versa.

If you want a checkmark alongside your name to prove that you are who you say you are, you don't have to pay anyone; instead, you add a link to a website that's under your control and that serves as verification. On Mastodon, you can also edit your posts (a much-requested Twitter feature) whenever you’d like and at no cost. And to tackle misinformation concerns, you will get a notification when a post you boosted/reblogged has been edited.

The biggest benefit of Mastodon is probably its extensive content moderation. Each server can decide its moderation policy and which servers it will communicate with.

Check out this helpful, short video for added clarity on how Mastodon works.

How to set up a Mastodon account

While Mastodon is quite similar to email, it’s not as simple to set up. you have to find a server on your own (I’m on the C.IM server) to set up an account. Here’s a simple breakdown of how to get started with an account on Mastodon (from experience as a non-technical person).

Step 1: Join a server

You need to find the address of a server running the Mastodon software (called an Instance) that is accepting new sign-ups to join.

Check out https://instances.social for potential servers to join or where your current Twitter followers are hanging out on Mastodon with Debirdify (for security reasons, remember to revoke permissions when you’re done).

Users who can be discovered have usually added their Mastodon handle to their bio or profile on Twitter — you can also do this once your account has been set up.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon
My Twitter community that also has a Mastodon account

You can also use Fedifinder, which extracts the Mastodon handles of Twitter accounts you follow as well as those you've added to a list; you can import that list on Mastodon to follow all those accounts at once.

Alternatively, try going to the Mastodon activity page and looking at the list under the Instances heading. The entries at the top of the list are the most popular but may also take the most time to join.

If you’re worried about whether or not you’ll like a server, you can always move your account to a different server later.

Step 2: Sign up to your chosen Mastodon server

Once you identify an instance you would like to join that’s also accepting new members, fill in the form. You can reuse your Twitter ID or any ID you choose. I picked my name because I didn’t catch the Twitter train in time the first go-round. Here’s the sign up page for the C.IM instance on the web.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon
Server sign-up page for C.IM server

Click Sign Up and wait for the confirmation email. That could take anywhere from a few minutes (like mine) or several hours. With the surge in sign-ups, some people report never receiving the email to activate their accounts.

Once you have access, remember which instance you used. You'll need to enter that server's address when you sign in using a different browser or another mobile app. You can't use those credentials to sign in on a different instance.

You can create different profiles on different servers or choose to transfer your data from one server to another.

Step 3: Set up your profile

Make it easy for people to find you by filling out all available details. Once you've confirmed your account, use the Edit Profile button to add some details about who you are.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon
My profile

Fill in your bio and add a picture (or an “avatar” as it’s called in Mastodon) so that people will be able to identify you.

Finally, add your Mastodon handle to your Twitter bio. That will make it easier for people who know you from Twitter to find you in the new place.

Step 4: Start following people and engaging with the community

Start following people and engaging with the community. If you have Mastodon IDs for people you know are active, type that name in the search box to find their account and follow them.

You might need the full ID with username and server, like @tamilore@c.im to find someone.

Step 5: Introduce yourself.

Mastodon has very “first day of school” energy as everyone learns their way around the platform.

Give some background about who you are and your interests, then pin the post to the top of your profile. This helps people who find you online figure out if you're an appropriate follow for them.

Step 6: Find your friends.

You can use tools like Debirdify and Fedifinder to look for people who have shared their Mastodon handle on Twitter.

You can also check the hashtag #TwitterMigration and filter using “People you Follow” or look for lists made by people migrating to Mastodon.

What to consider before ditching Twitter entirely

It might be tempting to migrate to Mastodon and cut ties completely with Twitter, but you need to consider several factors – here are some of them.

  • Mastodon hasn’t yet cracked the smooth sign-up flow of platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Adjusting to the technicality, user interface, lingo, and rules takes a while – not all your Twitter followers may want to jump on the bandwagon.
  • Content moderation is taken very seriously in Mastodon servers — some even require content warnings for political content.

  • Mastodon is still growing: The platform is still hiring, and some users report long wait times before they receive confirmation emails and can set up their accounts. This means that even if your audience is willing to jump through the hurdles it takes to set up an account, they may not have access for a while.

  • Messages aren’t encrypted, and server admins can see them, so it's best not to use them for any important or sensitive business. You also need to be careful about sharing private vs. public messages, as it's easy to get the two mixed up on Mastodon.

Before you make the jump, take the time to consider your audience, your content and whether you want to weather the Twitter storm or bow out while you’re ahead.

Think of Mastodon as an interesting new channel to explore

While Mastodon is gaining popularity at lightning speed (it’s almost always the first option on any list of “twitter alternatives”), we don’t think Twitter’s going anywhere just yet, and most social media professionals agree.

However, it’s worth getting to know how Mastodon works as an app separate from Twitter. Don’t treat it like Twitter, but as its own new, exciting space. While we don’t currently have scheduling for Mastodon within Buffer, you can use the platform’s native scheduler.

And if you’re wondering if/when we’ll add Mastodon to our current roster of features, keep an eye on our product roadmap and join our community for updates.


How These Small Business Owners Learned To Let Go

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). Check out episode eight here.

How These Small Business Owners Learned To Let Go

Running a small business requires grit and perseverance, but these entrepreneurs found in order to really succeed they needed to relinquish certain beliefs that they once held close. In our final episode of season 2 of our podcast Small Business, Big Lessons, we spoke to several entrepreneurs about former thought processes they had to leave behind in order to grow their small business and why that was the right decision for them.

Why letting go is important for these longtime entrepreneurs

Letting go of previous viewpoints is never easy, especially when it comes to beliefs or ideas we’ve held for a long time, but according to business consultant Holly Howard sometimes entrepreneurs can get too attached to certain beliefs and need that push to let go. She finds author Katie Byron’s concept of asking oneself “Is it true?” is a great way to think about whether some of our ideologies are still relevant today.

Holly shared, “’Is it true,’ is a helpful way to sort of play with this idea of letting go with entrenched beliefs. Because sometimes, when we are challenged around our beliefs, we can get really triggered, right? And we can double down and we can hold tight to things, because those beliefs have been our safety.”

Checking in with yourself and evaluating whether your beliefs are relevant and whether they still resonate can help from becoming stuck in a certain mindset. Seasoned entrepreneurs Rand Fishkin and Ari Weinzweig have learned the power of letting go early on in their careers and say it’s helped them immensely in all aspects of their lives.

How one entrepreneur practices detachment

Rand Fishkin, co-founder of audience research tool SparkToro, finds letting go a bit easier than most people do. The entrepreneur says he’s developed an unusual detachment from previously held beliefs and prior ideas, and even has learned to not get too attached to the sentimental things in his life. He credits this to his maturity and that fact that he’s able to rationally reason about things – even when emotions are involved.

When it comes to his past experiences as a small business owner, Rand does have some regrets. Specifically from his time as CEO of his first business Moz, a SEO software company. Looking back now, Rand believes he valued the wrong things when running Moz, like having a big staff, a huge IPO, and raising lots of money. Now, he thinks the opposite is true, and is running SparkToro with different values, including smaller team sizes.

“I have so many things I regret from my time at Moz. And also, I'm deeply grateful for the experience. And I think those two things can be tough to reconcile, but they can simultaneously exist and you can still be at peace,” he said.

While it’s not always easy for Rand to reflect on his former business, he has chosen to forgive himself from his past mistakes and has let go of any deep feelings he has about the time. This has allowed him to start anew with SparkToro.

Still, he understands that forgiving oneself and detaching from past experiences isn’t always an easy journey. But he believes that, eventually, anyone can get there.

“I think people who have gotten to that place [of letting go], have gotten there through active work on it,” he said. “Through emotional processing, and the ability to reflect on their actions and reflect on the life they want to lead. How they want to be in the world and the impact they want to have on people around them.”

Viewing letting go is an essential part of life and business

Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman’s community of businesses, believes that once we become conscious of our beliefs, we are free to unlearn them or choose beliefs that are more compatible with our lives. This philosophy around letting go has allowed him to succeed as an entrepreneur but in his personal life, too.

Thinking back to his childhood, he can pinpoint certain beliefs that have benefited his life and others that he’s had to confront.

“I love to read. So this is something I grew up with. And that belief that I got when I was two has served me really well,” Ari said. “Other beliefs, like that asking for help was weak, were very unhelpful. And so I've needed to relearn how to do that.”

Similar to Rand, Ari also learned to detach himself from Zingerman’s. He tries not to let past failures with the business define him. He takes insights from author Carol Dweck’s book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," and believes that everyone is a good person who is trying their best. By operating with that mindset, Ari views failure as a necessary component of life.

“When we embrace imperfection, then of course, I make mistakes. Of course, not everything's going to work out. And then I need processes, techniques to help myself reground because there's failure happening constantly in the ecosystem,” Ari said.

How these entrepreneurs had to let go in order to start their small businesses

Here's what these entrepreneurs had to let go of in order to go all in with their small businesses.

Leaving full time jobs to pursue a passion

When Becky and Huw founded Paynter Jacket, an ethical clothing store that drops four jacket releases a year, they were both still working full time jobs while running their small business on the side.

They did this to be cautious and not put all of their eggs in one basket, but eventually, as they started gaining social media followers and released their first batch, Becky decided to quit her job. She left on her birthday as a gift to herself. Letting go of the stability that a job provides was nerve-wracking, though she was also excited for the future of Paynter.

“I think it was lucky that I waited until after batch number one [to quit my job], because we had customers and we really did have a lot to do. It was everything I'd wanted,” Becky said. “And it was also really intimidating at the same time because you don't have a boss or a mentor that you have in a bigger company that you can say I'm struggling with this, or can I just check this with you?”

Soon after, Huw took the plunge and quit his job, but letting go was a bit more difficult for him, especially because he really appreciated his work environment and colleagues.

“It was actually really hard for me to leave my job because I was in a company that I absolutely loved,” he said. “I loved the people there. I loved the purpose of the business. I loved doing my job every day,” Huw said. “It was hard to even think about leaving because like, this whole team around me, I absolutely loved them.”

It was Huw’s boss and mentor who finally gave him the push he needed. He sat Hu down and told him he believed in Paynter’s success. And also reminded Huw that he was at the perfect stage in his life where he could take the risk and go out on a limb.

While letting go of jobs that provided stability and comfort weren’t easy for Becky and Huw, doing so was the only way they were able to put their all into Paynter Jacket.

An evolution of a career path

Before Kelly Phillips founded Destination Unknown Restaurants, she was working full time as a journalist and food writer. It was through her day job at the Philadelphia City Paper where she was able to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant industry that made her interested in opening up one herself. While switching careers to owning restaurants instead of simply writing about them may seem like a big jump, Kelly sees it as a natural evolution of her career path.

“I think this is my story. I think I was meant to open restaurants and I was meant to be this person, I still get to tell a story in a different way.”

This career change has helped Kelly let go of limiting beliefs she once had about herself. As a writer, she never felt confident about her public speaking abilities, and felt more comfortable putting pen to paper. But after founding Destination Unknown Restaurants, she’s been invited on podcasts and has participated in multiple speaking engagements.

“Writing brought me a lot of happiness, seeing an article published in the newspaper, I would be really proud of that. But I think what I'm doing now is more of a challenge for me, it's harder for me and it's less comfortable for me. And because of that I've grown and become a better person,” Kelly said.

Letting go of comparisons

Founding a start-up is never easy, especially when you’re living in Silicon Valley and are surrounded by hundreds of other start-ups. Andrea, co-founder of Harlow, a small business with the mission to help freelancers get organized, has learned to not hold herself to the standards of what everyone else is doing in the industry.

“I live in San Francisco, I'm in the heart of startup tech culture here. And a lot of times success is measured by funding by how much money you've raised, by how many employees you have. And it's definitely a work in progress to remind myself that that's not our measure of success and come back to our core beliefs and our values and that we're building something different than a lot of people in Silicon Valley. And that's okay.”

By choosing to not compare their business to other tech companies, Andrea is letting go of traditional startup values and instead embracing what makes Harlow unique. This has allowed her to dive into her small business and run it without being constricted by other people’s input and ideas.

How letting go has allowed these small businesses to reach their highest potential

For many entrepreneurs, letting go of certain mindsets was an essential part of starting their brands. But, the learning never stops. Throughout the course of their small business journeys, these leaders have had to let go of old habits and ways in order to successfully grow their companies.

Realizing the power of teamwork

When Joel first founded Buffer, he held the belief that, as a founder and CEO, he alone would have the answers to all of Buffer’s problems. But eventually, as the company grew (we now have over 80 team members), Joel realized that he needed to let go of this notion that he himself could do it all on his own.

“I think I've had moments where I might dip back into that and be like, ‘okay, this isn't working. I'm gonna dig in and solve this,’” he said. “I think I've had to let go of that being the way to solve things and lean much more into communication and getting everyone aligned and onboard and understanding the vision.”

As an introspective person, Joel still often takes time to reflect on situations by himself, but has learned to share his thoughts and reflections with the rest of the team. This creates an environment at Buffer where everyone is on the same page and has a chance to speak up on key issues.

Letting go of the need for praise and accolades

Initially, Kelly was focused on the reviews, accolades and stars she could receive for her food when she first opened her restaurants. But once she took a step back and focused inwards, she noticed that her business was improving internally.

“And I think when I let go of that, when I stopped putting that pressure on myself, and I focused on just being a great restaurant in our community, and a great place to work for our team, I think that's when the restaurant actually clicked. That's when things started to work,” she said.

Instead of thinking about the press and other external factors, Kelly honed in on the important things: that the business was profitable, her employees were happy, the food was good, and customers were having a great time. Looking at things from this perspective ultimately allowed her restaurants to succeed.

Being flexible and open to shifting one’s perspective

Samantha and Andrea had a specific vision of their community’s needs when they first opened up Harlow. But once they started getting more and more clients, they realized they’d have to let go of the idea that they understood all of the obstacles their users faced.

“One of the most humbling things about building Harlow is recognizing that Andrea and I's pain points as freelancers are not the same pain points that all freelancers are experiencing,” Samantha said.  “So just recognizing that this audience is very diverse, and they have a lot of needs, and that there are a lot of different ways that they do things.”

If the duo were set in their beliefs and unable to pivot in their thinking, they wouldn’t be able to support the various freelancers who use Harlow today.

Ultimately, letting go of certain beliefs can allow for a healthier and more sustainable business. While some beliefs may stand the test of time, more often than not, entrepreneurs have to be flexible and open to switching things up in order to grow their business to its highest potential.

Want more on letting go? Check out the full episode

The businesses we interviewed in this episode have further insights to share about taking a stand and its value for brands. Listen to the full episode here.


How I Learned to Show Up Authentically as a Black, Queer Business Owner (and Why It Matters)

How I Learned to Show Up Authentically as a Black, Queer Business Owner (and Why It Matters)

I spent a lot of years not showing up authentically in my career and business.

As a Black, queer man who had dreams of being a professional baker, I was afraid my identity would hold me back. I didn’t see people who looked like me in the food industry. When I entered professional kitchens, I just wanted to be seen as someone dedicated to learning and advancing, without being “othered” because of my sexuality or burdened by the negative stereotypes that are often put on Black people.

So I did a lot of code-switching, stifling my true self and presenting what felt like a more buttoned-up version. I would never disclose my sexuality, and I would never get too close to any of my colleagues for fear of them discovering more about my personal life. I was trying to come off as a masculine man who had it all together, and I ended up feeling small. Plus, keeping up the act was exhausting.

Everything changed when I realized that masking my identity was not only harmful for my mental health, but it was also potentially holding back other people in my community. This was right after I had my first major TV appearance competing on Bake It Like Buddy with the Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. I had so much fun doing it, but I held back showing off my full personality. It struck me that there was nobody who represented my intersection in food media—someone who was Black and queer and loud and proud about both. I thought about how much having a role model like that could help younger people like me see a place for themselves in this industry. I grew up watching Emeril Lagasse and thinking how I wanted to be like him: What if a young Black or queer kid could watch TV and say, “I want to be like Kareem?”

Suddenly, it felt like my duty to show up fully as myself. I’ve spent the past six years doing the work to be okay with the man that I saw in the mirror so that I could fully share that person with others. Now, when I walk into a room to represent my business, the energy is entirely different. I walk in smiling, I take up space, I feel strong and full of life, and it shows.

Instead of trying to hide my identity, I intentionally look for ways to show it off, whether it’s a little feminine movement or using phrases from the Black vernacular. I look for opportunities to bring representation into my work, such as by insisting I make a Mr. and Mr. Claus cake for a holiday special I participated in. And now, all the energy I used to put into hiding myself, I get to put into supporting others, such as through my work with C-CAP (a nonprofit that provides underserved teens a pathway to success in the culinary world) and The Queer Food Foundation. It’s important to me to be part of changing the face of my industry.

Other business owners of underrepresented identities may hear my story and wonder how I do it: How do I feel confident bringing my whole self to the table? How do I have enough energy to also support others? And how do I do all of this while dealing with the daily needs of running a company and supporting my own boundaries and mental health?

Here are some of the steps that have helped me take care of myself so I can take care of others while taking care of business.

I Found a Network of Support

The single biggest thing that has helped me on this journey is therapy. That may not sound that groundbreaking given how much more normalized going to therapy has become in recent years, but I think it’s especially important to call out given how much of my Black community still shuns it. Therapy was so valuable in carving out dedicated time to understand myself better, giving me a sounding board to process things, and helping me realize the tools I already had for taking care of myself (along with teaching me some new ones).

While I always advocate for seeing a professional if possible, there are other ways to find support systems. For me, it was the teachers, family, neighbors, classmates, and friends who supported my identity and were happy to help me build my dream in any way they could. Not everyone was so accepting of me, but the love I did receive helped me ignore the haters.

Finally, in being more open about my identity, I’ve been able to connect with communities of people like me, which has been invaluable. I always tell people that supporting my Black and queer communities doesn’t feel like work to me, and part of that is because our time together builds me up as well. By hosting or participating in events that center Black or queer business, for example, I not only get to uplift their voices, but I also leave with some new advice to bring into my own work or meet new people who I know will have my back.  

I Choose Carefully Where to Invest My Energy

As I started giving more of myself to others, I had to work hard to create the boundaries that would make this sustainable for myself. A big lesson was learning not to pour outward into vessels that have holes in them.

What do I mean by that? It meant avoiding spaces and relationships where I didn’t feel accepted, and instead finding opportunities where I love the people and the energy. Even better is if I can surround myself with what I call “rocket booster friends”—people who actually fill me back up when I invest time and energy in them.

It also meant being mindful about who within my own community I was choosing to support. I used to try to pressure people to grow, to show up for them even if they didn’t want it or weren’t ready for it. Now, I make sure they want my help before giving it.

For instance, I recently opened my first brick and mortar kitchen as part of Le Fantome food hall in Riverdale, MD, and I was able to hire three queer employees as part of the expansion. My goal as a manager is to not just help them succeed as employees, but to help them grow as people. But I have to make sure that’s what they want, too, before investing in doing that work together. Otherwise, I’m just wasting energy on someone who doesn’t want to take it.

I Carve Out Time to Just Be

Between running my business and supporting others, I reached a point where I felt like I was constantly running on empty. I was a champion for everybody but not really for myself. That’s when it struck me that if I wanted to be a vessel that is pouring out love, I had to pour back into myself.

Now, the first two hours of the day and the last two hours of my day are always dedicated to me. I try to spend that time doing things that fill my cup and help me learn more about myself: meditating, listening to a motivational speaker, reading a good book, speaking to my ancestors, and strengthening my body, which I believe also strengthens the mind. I also sometimes try to just let myself be during that time—to sit in my backyard without an agenda. As high-achieving business owners it can be so tempting to attach a goal even to our relaxation, but I’ve found it so beneficial to my mental health to create time to let my thoughts be free.

I’m not saying that every BIPOC or LGBTQIA business owner has to bring their identity in their work. But, if you dream of being able to show up authentically in your business or hope to help improve representation in your industry, here’s my advice: It’s gonna take a while to get to where I am, to have the confidence to walk into every room proudly and fully yourself. It's going to be a lot of work, and it’s going to be scary sometimes.

But do the work scared, because I promise that what’s on the other side—this freedom, this comfort with who I am, and this sense of wellbeing—is so much greater than living in fear.


Saying “No” Instead of “Yes” Helped Me Build a Six-Figure Business

Saying “No” Instead of “Yes” Helped Me Build a Six-Figure Business

You’ve heard the adage that the best leaders frequently say, “no.” But it’s one thing to hear the advice and another to experience it. I didn’t believe in the power of that phrase until I actually started saying “no” with intention. As a result, I watched my revenue grow threefold while clocking half the hours and enjoying my work far more than before.

I also think that advice needs a caveat: Saying “yes” to every opportunity that comes your way isn’t always a bad approach. Especially when I was transitioning from working in-house to starting my own marketing consultancy, The Lane Collective, saying “yes” to new projects and people was a learning opportunity, helping me suss out the work I really wanted to do. Plus, it was a confidence boost to prove to myself that I could get a full roster of clients.

But about nine months in, I realized that defaulting to “yes” was no longer serving me. I was constantly task-switching and bandwidth constrained. It seemed like no matter how much I hustled, my revenue seemed to stay the same. My work was suffering—and so was my personal life. I was so burnt out that I was considering quitting this independent career altogether, even though I loved the work.

After deep reflection, I realized that it was time to reorient myself in relation to my work. Naturally, my goal was a thriving marketing business—but “thriving” began to take on a more well-rounded meaning. I wanted my work to enable a more full life, one with more room for hobbies, and more mental and emotional space for loved ones. After all, I believe that my work’s purpose should enhance my broader purpose, not become it. I decided that if I was going to do the work, it had to work for me, too.

That meant things needed to change

A wise independent consultant once told me, “the things that get you to your first $100,000 are the same things that will hold you back from your next.” If saying “yes” is what allowed me to get my business going, saying “no” is what helped me grow to new heights. Here are some things I started saying “no” to and the measurable effect this shift had on my business success and my personal wellbeing.

I Said “No” to Certain Types of Clients

Something had to give, and I realized I needed more room to focus on specific, aligned engagements. That meant letting go of some amazing clients who just weren’t going to be a fit for the future of my business. I started culling my client roster, and I mean seriously culling: I let go of 70-80 percent of the clients I was working with at that time.

I wanted to focus on tech-enabled startups at the earliest stages who were ready to grow. I had about 10-15 clients at the time, and less than a third matched that profile. So, I did the scary thing and let go of all the rest. That meant parting ways with clients I really liked. It also, of course, meant turning away a lot of revenue.

They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but that was simply not the case for me. Working with wonderful yet unaligned clients meant that I couldn’t attract those who were a better fit. Letting them go opened up that space, and, amazingly, the “right fit” clients found me pretty quickly afterward.

Reducing my client load also opened up time to strategically think about the kind of business I wanted instead of getting buried in the day-to-day tasks. I built an inbound process so I could better judge whether new potential clients would be the right fit, and I still turn down about 90 percent of inquiries to this day.

But the clients I have are those I feel lucky to work with every single day, which has made a phenomenal increase in the amount of mental space and enthusiasm I have for the work.

I Said “No” to Tasks Outside of My “Zone of Genius”

I also began saying “no” to certain types of tasks within my client contracts.

As is common for many marketing consultants, especially early-on, I was doing a little bit of everything: social media strategy, content strategy, content writing, and even helping out with paid media when a client was in a pinch.

And while I could do all of these things, it wasn’t the most efficient use of my time, or how I could provide the maximum value for my clients. Plus, it often wasn’t the most energizing work for me to do.

My superpower is translating an idea into action, so I decided to focus on fractional CMO work. I shifted from being a one-woman show to the “collective” model I have today. Now, when a client needs full-stack marketing support, I have a network of marketing experts I can introduce them to.

Strategists tend to be expensive executors. It’s far more valuable to my clients to work with expert partners when necessary, and more junior people for execution as applicable. Plus, focusing my services has allowed me to continue to build my expertise in that area, so that I can provide more value to clients and raise my rates.

Perhaps most importantly, spending more time on the tasks I love most has dramatically improved my energy and enthusiasm—I can’t remember the last time I dreaded my work.

I Said “No” to Charging By the Hour

Around this time, I began researching different pricing models for independent contractors or freelancers. One idea really stood out: value-based pricing. The idea, in a nutshell, is that you price your services based on the value you’re creating for your clients. Like most consultants, my value is my expertise, not my time.  

Moving away from hourly contracts was the most difficult, but also one of the best changes I made. I was terrified. Charging by the hour felt safe. But like so many things that feel safe, it was also limiting.

I shifted my contracts to a project-based approach, focused on deliverables and results instead of hours worked. I was able to grow my income by focusing on high-value deliverables; these are the ones that are the most aligned with my zone of genius, and most critical to my clients. I found that my clients grew to prefer this approach, too. It’s measurable, predictable, and quality-driven in a way that hourly contracts simply can’t be. Win-win!

I’ve found that not only do clients like the ease of project-based agreements, they also like the value-add. I’m on their team in a way that an hourly contractor can’t be, because I’m motivated by results just like they are. Almost every client has asked to grow the contract, even without my needing to pitch anything.

I Said “No” to Burning Myself Out

Due to the state of my wellbeing when I started this process, I had the intention of working half the time and making double the money, which frankly felt impossible. But I was burned out, working 60+ hours a week, and giving too much of myself to too many clients in a way that was draining my love for the work.

Miraculously, saying “no” more helped me achieve that goal, and then some. I now work about 25-30 hours a week and am making close to three times the revenue. I have four or five anchor clients at a time, plus capacity for one or two strategic sprints per month with new clients. Sometimes I fill those slots, and sometimes I don’t so I have more time to, say, go on vacation and actually unplug (another goal that once felt impossible).

Giving time back to myself has ultimately helped my business grow, too. I have a friend who always says, “When you work for yourself, you are your own business.” That means taking care of your own needs isn’t just “self care,” it’s what allows you to show up as your best self in your work.

When you say “no” to one thing, you’re saying “yes” to something else. For me, saying “yes” to a more fulfilled life and career required saying some difficult “nos” along the way. Was it worth it? Absolutely. In the end, saying “no” was freeing for me, allowing me to commit my energy to things that have the greatest impact in and out of work.


How These Small Businesses Stand Up For What They Believe In

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). Check out episode seven here.

How These Small Businesses Stand Up For What They Believe In

Today, businesses are not just known for the products and services they offer, but consumers also take into account a company’s values and morals. According to a recent study done by Ipsos, people believe brands have a responsibility to address social and political concerns. And now is an especially opportune time for these entities to speak up, says business consultant Holly Howard. She credits social media for both normalizing discourse around current events and making it easier for company's to vocalize their thoughts on these topics.

“20 years ago, you could take a stand as a business, but it wasn't going to spread as much as it can when a business is online … I think a lot of things contributed to the fact that people feel more comfortable [speaking up] nowadays … Using those times as a source of inspiration and motivation to create something new in the world is really important.”

In season 2 episode 7 of our podcast Small Business, Big Lessons, we spoke to several entrepreneurs and learned why, for them, taking a stand is embedded within their business’s overall purpose.

A small business galvanized by social justice

In the spring of 2020, Azikiwee Anderson, or Z, was dealing with the pandemic like most Americans were. At the time, Covid-19 had not yet become a household name, and there was a ton of uncertainty in the air. But then, in May of that year, something else occurred that disrupted Z’s world: George Floyd was murdered in police custody. Floyd’s death caused an uproar and pushed the issue of racial discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of American society.

A Black man himself, Z was profoundly impacted by this incident and it led the private chef to reevaluate his life, purpose, and the way he is perceived by society.

“During the pandemic, I went down a rabbit hole. I tell people, it kind of broke my brain,” Z said. “The whole murder of George Floyd, what it meant to the world, what it meant to me. What it meant because he looked and was seen like me in the world…,” Z said. “How the world sees people like me. Like the person I am … can I be my own authentic self?”

Angry, frustrated, and confused, Z felt like he had no place to just be. It was a time of immense reflection and contemplation and when he finally was able to pull himself out of this rut, it was thanks to an unlikely source – sourdough.

At the time, baking sourdough had been a popular pandemic activity, something that helped people keep busy during lockdown and also provided comfort during an unprecedented time. But for Z, the hobby would become so much more than a relaxing pastime.

“Baking helped me back from that edge,” he said. “The actual act – the zen of getting lost and working with my hands and being really present and enjoying that action – healed a lot of cracks in my heart.”

Z ended up sharing his baking adventures with his followers on his personal Instagram page when dozens of individuals inquired about purchasing loaves from the private chef. And just like that, Rize Up Bakery was born. What first began in Z’s kitchen, has now expanded to a thriving small business in San Francisco.

The entrepreneur makes clear that social justice is baked into Rize Up’s overall purpose. Not only is it how the business got its start, but Z’s mission is to show others, especially Black youth, the power of baking. Z hopes this can help kids see that there are other life paths they can take to be successful.

“If you only think you can be a basketball player, or a rapper or drug dealer, or like some dude who's flossing, if that's the only reality that your force fed every single day, it's no wonder that people have an identity crisis,” Z said.

For Z, Rize Up Bakery has multiple goals: spreading his love for baking to others, brightening up customers’ days, and providing nourishing food to his community. But as he continues to lay down the roots for his small business, he’s adamant about incorporating a greater social justice angle to his work, especially when it comes to working with the younger generation.

“I don't think the world, especially kids, are taught to be great,” Z said. “They're taught not to make mistakes, they're taught to get along, they're taught to not stand up for themselves or not stand up for someone else …They're taught all these things, but they're not really taught like, ‘hey, you know what, you can be great.’”

How these entrepreneurs take a stand through their work

Z isn't the only entrepreneur who’s passionate about making a difference through his work. The below small business owners are dedicated to pushing back against what they feel are societal wrongs – including wasteful consumption, tech monopolies, and misinformation – by implementing policies and initiatives within their companies that address these issues.

Paynter Jacket is an alternative to the fast fashion industry

Co-founders Becky and Huw created their small business Paynter Jacket with one mission in mind: do things differently and more ethically than most clothing companies. They only sell four limited edition jackets a year and have a made-to-order business model, meaning they order the only what they need – down to the exact meters of fabric and the precise number of buttons – so they don’t produce any waste.

Becky knows that their clothing company may not be able to fix the fast fashion industry on its own, but she hopes Paynter Jacket’s philosophy around ethical production can help remind customers that they don’t need to be constantly buying new clothes, but should buy fewer, higher quality staples. The entrepreneur finds herself nostalgic for the days clothing was actually valued.

“I remember some of the most exciting days actually, as a child growing up, when my cousins would come over, and they'd bring their bags of hand-me-down clothes and we'd rifle through them and decide what we're going to keep,ultimately giving those garments a longer life. I don't think that really happens anymore.”

Despite the fact that Paynter Jacket has grown in popularity and could very well expand their operations, they still choose to produce a limited number of jackets each year – staying true to their roots.

SparkToro speaks up against large tech monopolies

Rand Fishkin has co-founded two tech companies – SEO software Moz and his latest company, SparkToro, an audience research tool. As someone with a ton of experience in the tech industry, the entrepreneur has been very vocal about the lack of antitrust enforcement in the U.S as he believes its harmed economic opportunity in the U.S. and allowed for more inequality.

“You have just a few companies that kind of control the gateways to the Internet, control internet commerce, control internet advertising, and that lack of enforcement is also illegal, it is breaking the rule of law in the United States.” In fact, Rand built SparkToro with principles to ensure that it would run differently than most tech companies, as one of their values is egalitarianism – they want to help small businesses catch up to the big tech giants with audience research.

But Rand has also published research on how big companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google are stifling innovation and fair competition. This very research has been cited by the U.S. Congress and even featured on Last Week tonight with John Oliver. Rand is also open on his social media accounts and blog about this issue, and hopes his words and research can have some kind of impact.

“My hope is, if there's just a few more people contributing in small ways, maybe together, we can make a difference.” In his opinion,“I think that everyone has an obligation to help.”

Buffer combats online misinformation

In recent years, there has been a trend of blatantly false information spreading – including misinformation about elections and vaccines – on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and unfortunately, we’ve noticed our products and tools at Buffer sometimes being used to publish these false messages.

This misinformation can potentially lead to real life consequences and it was important for our entire team at Buffer, including our CEO Joel Gascoigne too. That’s why we’ve adjusted our terms of services and terms of use of our products to more clearly define what is and isn’t allowed. We’ve been cracking down on accounts that don’t follow the rules.  

“Since we're a small company, we can do that. And we can move pretty fast with those things. And so that's the direction we've been going more recently and it's feeling like the right thing for us for the stage where the culture, the DNA, the type of company we are.”

As our core values revolve around transparency, authenticity, and helping our customers thrive, we plan to continue to stand up against all kinds of misinformation.

Taking a stand by nurturing community relationships

Sometimes as a business owner, you may want to take a stance in multiple ways, for multiple events, but Holly advises her clients to pick one or two causes they really resonate with, rather than try to do it all.

“I tell people to really take a step back and ask yourself why you're aligning with certain causes, not from a political perspective, But I just mean from an internal culture perspective,” Holly said.

Another way these small business owners have taken a stand is by reaching out and partnering with other organizations and causes they feel connected back to their greater mission.

Made with Local addresses food insecurity

Made with Local – a B corporation that produces a variety of granola products – has always actively worked with their local community to address social inequities. One of the causes founder Sheena Russel is passionate about is providing food for those in need in their community in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

“We work closely with organizations that are helping to address food insecurity, which has much deeper roots than just not having enough food in your pantry. These are systemic issues that are a significant issue in where we live in the world,” Sheena said.

They’ve partnered with North Grove, a community food center in Nova Scotia that advocates for and provides a healthy and fair food system for its community. Along with that, the small business also helped found the Dartmouth community fridge project, another organization with the goal of feeding the community.

By supporting local community partners, Made with Local is actively advocating for all community members to have access to fresh and nutritious foods.

​​Rize Up partners with a variety of San Francisco orgs

As a child, Z and his family experienced homelessness for some time, and the experience has shaped the way he thinks about giving back to others. The baker is big on donating a portion of the bakery’s sourdough loaves to multiple organizations within San Francisco.

Rize Up partners with Glide – a SF social justice center that works to combat poverty, housing, and homelessness within the city, and One Richmond, a community center that aims to strengthen the bonds between residents. Z has also donated loaves to battered women shelters throughout SF, as well.

This small act of charity is one small way Z feels like he can help his fellow neighbors.

“I might not be able to fix everything on the planet. I might not be able to buy somebody a place to live in. But what I can do is use my hands and use my skills to make beautiful food,” Z said. “Because some days, you just need enough food to get through the day, so you can live another day. And for me, that really matters.”

Buffer’s annual charitable contribution

We’re big on giving back at Buffer, and something we’re proud of is our annual charitable contribution. At the end of every profitable year we have, we take about 20 percent of our profit share and match that and donate to a deserving cause that the entire team gets to vote on.

In recent years, we’ve incorporated more flexibility in how we donate, for example, in 2020 we donated to various organizations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, in addition to matching team donations and continuing to invest in anti-racism education for our team. We also make room to donate to new causes whenever the need arises. That’s why in 2022 we showed our support to Ukraine and donated to Global Giving’s Ukraine crisis relief fund.  +

It was important for Joel that the causes we chose to support aligned with our overall mission at Buffer.

“We've started to shift thinking about it, not just as, ‘okay, we're donating money.’ But can we do something that's really intertwined with our own mission…,”Joel said. “We started thinking more about underrepresented groups and causes focused on them that are also focused on small businesses in some way.”

Paynter Jacket raises money for Ukraine

When the crisis in Ukraine was first unfolding, Becky and Huw immediately knew they wanted to help in whatever way they could. While they didn’t have a ton of resources as a small business, what they did have was some leftover samples from their previous batches. They decided to put these prints and samples to good use with an online fundraiser. Thanks to user donations, plus a very generous anonymous contribution that matched, Paynter Jacket raised 23,000 pounds and donated that money to the Red Cross's humanitarian work in Ukraine.

“We felt it was really important to help people in Ukraine, because, how totally and utterly frightening, and we felt like we couldn't do anything from so far away. So the best thing that we can do is show solidarity by raising money,” Becky said.

While taking a stand is absolutely something you should do as a small business owner, sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and reflect before speaking up about an issue. Holly takes inspiration from activist Loretta Ross and her thoughts on being an ally.

“[Ross’s] whole posture is about approaching activism from this space of first taking a moment to really think about why it is that we're doing what we're doing,” Holly said. “And to not approach it from a space of, ‘we have to get out there immediately and do this thing.’  And I think that moment of pause is really important,” Holly said.

It’s crucial to not come off as being performative in your activism, something that customers and followers can usually notice. You want to make sure you truly understand the cause, and back up your words with actions, too.

Once you do find a deserving cause that feels aligned with your brand’s mission, however, take a cue from these entrepreneurs and be vocal in your advocacy and support.

Want more on Taking a Stand? Check out the full episode

The businesses we interviewed in this episode have further insights to share about taking a stand and its value for brands. Check out the full episode here.


Why Small Business Owners Need Support Systems, With Examples From 6 Small Business Owners

Why Small Business Owners Need Support Systems, With Examples From 6 Small Business Owners

Starting and running your own business can be incredibly stressful. One survey of small business owners from Capital One found that 42 percent of them are currently experiencing burnout or have experienced it within the past month. This is why having a good support system is invaluable for entrepreneurs. Having a space to share the ups and downs of small business ownership and having people around you who understand your challenges can help make you more resilient and able to weather the storm that is small business ownership.

We spoke to several incredible small business owners who are juggling multiple growth challenges, growing families, and all the while being focused on ensuring they get the support they need to be the best version of themselves and take their businesses forward.

Holly Howard, a longtime business consultant says it best “I always say there's no business growth without personal growth.” She goes on to say, “it's about how we show up and how we take care of ourselves.” And the data supports it; in the same Capital One report, they found that more than half (53 percent) of business owners report that when they experience burnout, it is a barrier to success for their business.

In Small Business, Big Lessons, season two, episode six, we detail how the owners of Harlow, SparkToro, Made With Local, Zingerman’s, Destination Unknown Restaurants and Paynter Jackets approach getting support as small business owners.

Set healthy boundaries and intentional work policies

The first place many small business owners mention when talking about support is getting support through setting healthy boundaries. Those can be in the form of setting healthy boundaries for themselves, as well as supporting those boundaries through intentional work policies that protect their team from burnout as well.

Kelly Phillips, the founder of Destination Unknown Restaurants, a group of restaurants based in Washington, DC, knows that boundaries often start with her as the leader. “I am very respectful about time off and not texting, not calling, not emailing when I know people are off when they're on vacation.” She leads by example when she’s not working, “I try not to let myself get caught up into work when I'm off. I know that I'm a better leader if I have time to rest.”

Kelly is also focused on the environment that she cultivates at her restaurants. “I try to have a stress-free environment. Yes, it does get stressful. Yes, it does get busy, but I'm a big fan of lightening the mood by making a joke or, you know, giving somebody a high five or just saying something that's gonna perk them up a little bit and make them feel good about themselves.” This environment makes a difference when her team is more supportive of each other through the highs and lows, “We know it won't always be hard, you know, we're gonna get through this. We have to close the doors eventually, and tomorrow will be a new day.”

Intentional work policies can make a huge difference when it comes to burnout and cultivating a supportive network. Andrea Wildt and Samantha Anderl, co-founders of Harlow, a software designed to help freelancers with their business, know this first hand. They quit their nine-to-five jobs because those jobs didn’t work for them, so they built their business in a way that supported them and future employees. “So we have this saying actually at Harlow, that we believe that we are all better and more creative when we're living well-balanced lives.” Samantha shared about their approach.

They put into place policies to have limited meetings and a work culture that takes away the feeling that everything is urgent. The result? Both co-founders say they’re showing up as better versions of themselves. “Our brains don't function in this ‘on state’ for eight, nine hours a day. We need downtime, we need breaks. And I think that. A lot of corporate environments just aren't conducive to that at all. And so Samantha and I really wanted to build something different where we could foster more creativity.”

Read more about how Kelly Phillip’s approaches business in her post about putting employees first, not customers.

Build up a community of other founders and of your customers

Another way to get support is to build up a community around yourself — both of other founders who understand what you’re going through and are facing similar challenges, and also to look to your community of customers, who understand your business better than a lot of others.

Holly explains it as, “Who are those people that you can go to, that you can speak to about what you are going through?” She says that gathering can be really powerful because “everybody goes through the same challenges as an entrepreneur, and when we see our peers, and we have that camaraderie with our peers.” And this group environment is better for growth, too. “It's actually much easier to change than when we're isolated. So that support network of other people who understand what you're going through and you can lean on each other is really important.”

The co-founders of Harlow have been doing this since the beginning, proving that it’s never too early to start building a community. Samantha explained that they’ve been building up their community for the past eight years, it includes other founders and freelancers, and it has a very positive effect on them because, as it stands, Samantha said, “I don't think we ever have a problem that we need to solve, that we don't have somebody in our community that we're like, ah, we should go talk to that person.”

Community can also be found through more traditional business groups. Sheena Russel is the founder and CEO of Made with Local, a Canadian snack bar company and a certified B-corp. She’s found a lot of support through the movement. “I absolutely feel like we're part of an incredible purpose-led business community.” Sheena knows the importance of community through her own experiences, “It can be lonely out there as a founder and as an entrepreneur.” She looks not only to her community of other entrepreneurs but also to her customers. “We have an amazing community around us of other businesses, but also of our customers as our community.”

The theme with all of these business owners, as Rand Fishkin, the co-founder and CEO of SparkToro, is that he calls “an intentional investment in building a network of like-minded founders and like-minded companies.” There are a lot of ways to go about building up a support network through community, the key is just to get started.

Why Small Business Owners Need Support Systems, With Examples From 6 Small Business Owners
Several members of the Made With Local team.

Join an existing network of like-minded people through groups or social media

Sometimes there is already an existing community where you can find support. Kelly is a part of an organization called Re: Her, a national non-profit driven by women restaurateurs. The organization’s mission is to empower women entrepreneurs, specifically in the food and beverage industry. She explains, “We have regular calls where we discuss issues in the restaurant community, and we have resources for each other. And even if it's just checking in to say, Hey, how's everybody doing? Oh, you know, prices have gone up on this. Does anybody have a good vendor for that? We really help each other.”

This kind of existing organization can be a huge advantage for gaining support and making like-minded connections. These groups can be found online through tools like Meetup, Facebook Groups, and LinkedIn Groups. You can also ask around in your industry to see what organizations others already know about.

Social media is another powerful tool for finding existing communities, groups, and resources. Sheena, who runs Made with Local from a smaller city in Canada, turns to digital platforms to connect. She shared, “If you're an entrepreneur that's struggling to connect with a community or with some mentors, I would say start looking online, honestly, through social media is an incredibly algorithmically driven way to find people that are doing things just like you are. Whether it be through Instagram or LinkedIn. It's a really nice way to figure out where your people are."

Samantha from Harlow has had the same experience. “I'm very active on Twitter. I'm very active on LinkedIn on Instagram. And so I am constantly making connections there.” When it comes to joining those communities, Samantha’s advice is: “People are there, and people are having the conversations, and you just have to throw yourself into it.”

Look for professional support through therapy

Support comes in many forms, and sometimes the kind of support that you need might be professional support in the form of counseling or therapy. Holly, who in addition to being a long-time business consultant is a trained therapist, explained that with her background, “often I end up recommending that clients go to therapy. And a lot of times for entrepreneurs, it's the first time they've had an experience of therapy before.”

Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, has personal experience with getting this kind of support. “I started going to therapy, and then at that point, I was ready through pain, and I wish I would've gone at 10. I mean, it's like having a coach at the gym. There's nothing weird or wrong about it. Who wouldn't want a grounded, thoughtful, caring, slightly disengaged with your day-to-day emotional struggles, person to talk to?”

Ari is definitely not alone in seeking this kind of support. Rand has had the experience of looking to therapy after a particularly difficult time. “I am a few years away from my experiences with mental and emotional challenges, depression, and anxiety. And I'm very grateful to be through those times. But it was absolutely heart-wrenching and awful going through it. When I experienced that, I ended up stepping down from my CEO role at MOZ, and eventually away from the company.” Though Rand says that “talking to a professional coach and therapist helped“ he’s also hesitant to give advice on the topic because “I don't think that what worked for me will work for everyone. In fact, what I hear over and over again from other founders and other people who've been through this kind of thing is the solutions are often different, right?”

Now, Rand is taking a different approach to his mental health. “One of the things that I've done to try and prevent that same pattern from reemerging is to prioritize personal health and happiness over work, as hard as I can.”

Why Small Business Owners Need Support Systems, With Examples From 6 Small Business Owners
Rand Fishkin alongside co-founder Casey Henry.

You can always pause as well

There are a lot of different avenues for getting support as an entrepreneur and small business owner. It’s important to remember that that support can sometimes also look like showing down.

Becky Okell and Huw Thomas, co-founders of Paynter Jacket Co, a company that creates limited-edition jackets four times a year, both have healthy perspectives on slowing down when needed. Huw shared, “When you get momentum going in your business and you sort of keep it going and the busy times become normal times one day.” He said he and Becky experienced this and realized they needed some time for themselves. Huw describes it as, “It's kind of being self-aware enough to realize, okay, you need me to pause and slow down a bit. Take a breath.”

Becky’s perspective on the busy times is that “There has to be peaks and there has to be troughs. Not everything can go at a million miles an hour and not everything is going to be perfect either.” Her approach and advice to others is, “you have to actually take time to top up your creative energy to, to make sure you're reading and getting an outside perspective.”

None of us can go it alone, and we all need support from others. Whether it’s specific knowledge, emotional support, a kind word, or just someone to listen to our rants, we rely on our communities to lift us up when we need it.

Want to hear more about getting support as a small business owner? Listen to the full episode of Small Business, Big Lessons.


An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks

Almost everyone, when given the opportunity, has one oddly-specific topic they can spend hours giving a presentation about. Mine would be young adult books of the mid-2010s, while others are very into football or recreating vintage recipes.

Vertical networks — social platforms solely dedicated to niche interests — are there to support those interests. Reddit may come to mind as it is essentially several vertical networks (subreddits) in one horizontal network.

In this article, we’ll go through what vertical networks are and the opportunities for businesses to adopt them in their marketing strategy.

What are vertical networks?

A vertical network — or vertical social network — is characterized by an audience interested in content created to address a specific topic, interest, or industry.

These platforms provide an alternative to “horizontal” networks like Twitter or Instagram, which bring together people with diverse interests into one platform – advocating specialization and specific knowledge.

The increasing adoption of vertical networks and popular social networks’ efforts to replicate them (Twitter’s Communities and Super Followers features come to mind) show that audiences are increasingly looking for community online.

Why brands should keep an eye on vertical networks

On paper, niche social networks are an excellent idea for brands because you can easily identify a platform with your target audience and craft appealing outreach. However, the members of these communities can be protective of their space — rightfully so.

Instead of diving headfirst into a new space, take some time to consider what audiences need when they use a vertical network instead of a regular social media platform and focus on them in your strategy. Here are some tips to understand how to approach vertical social networks:

1. Don’t just join them — understand them

Before joining, the first step is to research and understand the platform’s purpose and community. Pay attention to their language, overall tone, and what kind of content performs best. For example, some platforms might prefer images, while others prioritize long-form content.

2. Go beyond “promotion”

The most effective way to use a vertical network is to be a part of the community by joining conversations and providing valuable content. This doesn’t mean that businesses can’t use these platforms to market their products – they just have to be strategic in how they do so.

It’s best to avoid the hard sell and provide helpful and relevant content to the community instead. The key is to be genuine and authentic to build trust with potential customers. Additionally, it’s important to remember that these platforms are meant for building relationships – not just for making sales.

3. Get content ideas for your regular social channels

Another – and arguably the main – value proposition of vertical networks is to use them as a content creation tool for your regular social media channels. For example, you could use Goodreads reviews to develop ideas for blog posts or Twitter threads for your indie publishing business. Additionally, you could use them to source images or videos for your website or social media channels.

You want to be strategic and intentional in your content creation, which means ensuring that your content is relevant to your target audience – vertical networks can help you with that.

What are some examples of vertical social networks?

Vertical networks are not only growing in adoption but also in creation. As social media users look for platforms to serve their hyper-specific interests, more networks will crop up to address their needs. Here are some vertical networks you may or may not have heard of:


Dribbble is a self-promotion and social networking platform for digital designers and creatives. It serves as a design portfolio platform, jobs, and recruiting site and is one of the largest platforms for designers to share their work online. Users can share their work and receive feedback from the platform’s 12 million-strong user base.

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks

The platform offers tiered plans for designers of all sizes, from individuals to agencies. If you’re a designer, you can also source clients directly from the platform in addition to getting your work out there.


Fishbowl prides itself as a working person's virtual water cooler where people can talk to each other about anything work-related, whether it's about their role, their company's culture, or the community they are a member of — all anonymously.

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks


Goodreads has been described as “Disneyland for book lovers.” The app, owned by Amazon, is where readers congregate to catalog, discuss and rate the books they’ve been reading. With over 60 million users, Goodreads is one of the most popular vertical social networks.

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks


Letterboxd is a social film diary where users can rate, review and tag films as they watch them. Co-founded by Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow in 2011, the platform is home to both cinephiles and casual viewers who use it for recommendations from friends and Letterboxd influencers.

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks

Although it’s been around for over 10 years, it reached new levels of popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Active Letterboxd member accounts nearly doubled, jumping from 1.7 million to 3 million member accounts within a year.


Nextdoor operates a hyperlocal social networking service for neighborhoods. The platform allows users to get local tips, buy and sell items, and stay updated with happenings in their area.

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks

Because users need to sign up with a verifiable home address, brands with a hyperlocal focus or marketing strategy have a lot of opportunities with Nextdoor. According to Modern Retail, brands like Imperfect Foods and Stop & Shop are investing in ads on the platform.

If you’re a local business, you can take advantage of the platform to reach potential customers in your area.


Strava tackles a significant pain point for athletes – tracking exercise. The app uses GPS data and data from other devices like wearables to automate the process of logging bike rides or runs. Users can invite friends and gain followers while showing off their workout statistics or asking for advice from the community.

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks

Fitness and activewear brands have an opportunity to reach their target market easily by participating in conversations with users on the platform.


Supergreat is a network that has narrowed in on a critical component of beauty videos — the product — and organizes content in line with this insight. Every Supergreat video is about one product, and every product has a page where users can see all of the reviews and click to buy. While watching and making videos, users earn coins they can redeem for “drops” of popular products.

An Introduction to Vertical Social Networks

Beauty and skincare brands can take advantage of the platform to connect with their customers while also getting user-generated content from users who show off their products to use on other platforms (with creators’ permissions, of course).

Vertical network adoption shows that people want community — give them that

The popularity of vertical networks provides opportunities for businesses to better connect with their target audiences. And their increasing creation and adoption show that people are looking for spaces where they can express themselves to people like them.

If you have an engaged audience and focus on creating an excellent experience for them, you can be anywhere, and they’ll come to you. However, it’s essential to approach these platforms thoughtfully to create meaningful relationships with potential customers.

Are you using a vertical network in your marketing? We’d love to hear about your experience on Twitter @buffer.


How These Businesses are Posting for Small Business Saturday in 2022

How These Businesses are Posting for Small Business Saturday in 2022

For small businesses, a little visibility can go a long way. And there’s no better time to show off your small business or the ones in your community than Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday is an annual event that takes place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in the United States. It was pioneered by American Express in 2010 after the global recession and is now recognized all over the U.S. and the world at large.

It’s a day meant to encourage people to shop from small businesses during the holiday season – a necessary time as there are more entrepreneurs than ever but also more difficulties than ever. This year, it’ll be happening on Saturday, the 26th of November.

There are many ways that businesses can post for Small Business Saturday. Whatever method you choose, it’s a great opportunity to get the word out about your business or encourage people to shop local. In this article, we’ll share some ideas for how you can post on Small Business Saturday by taking inspiration from our favorite small businesses.

How these businesses are posting for Small Business Saturday

We’re big advocates for planning content in advance and extra-big on small businesses taking opportunities when they come. Small Business Saturday is one of those opportunities – a day when people are more conscious of where they shop.

But it’s not enough to just be a small business on Small Business Saturday – you need to communicate and perhaps remind your audience. Some businesses choose to set up in-store indicators and offers for customers, but social media is a more accessible way to reach a wider audience.

We’ve got you covered with ideas for your posts, featuring inspiration from some great small businesses.

Kinfield organized a campaign featuring over 30 small businesses in an easy-access directory

Kinfield, a skincare brand, created the Better Together campaign to help customers find female- and BIPOC-owned brands to shop from during the holiday season. They included sustainable companies like Pineapple Collaborative and OUI The People. They also encouraged their audience to tag other businesses in the comments of their post.

The tagline “Shop Small, Gift with Intention” clearly communicated the goal of their project – to support small businesses.

If you’re interested in supporting or collaborating with more brands, check out the Better Together directory here.

EYO Active and Rubies in the Rubble asked customers to do the spotlighting

EYO Active, a sustainable activewear brand, shared an Instagram post asking its followers to tag their favorite small businesses for Small Business Saturday. While the brand chose an alternative path to Black Friday, they urged their audience to shop small if they were going to shop anyway on Black Friday.

Rubies in the Rubble adopted a similar strategy to EYO, with an additional benefit for its audience. Customers that shared a small business in the comments of Rubies in the Rubble’s Instagram post got a 25 percent discount. The brand also mentioned that it would be sending curated packages to handpicked commenters.

This method not only gets lots of eyes on different small businesses but also gets customers excited about participating.

DAME and Fishwife spotlighted small businesses

In a more straightforward (but worthwhile) approach, Fishwife, the tinned fish brand, spotlighted several small businesses in its community in an Instagram post and shared a message appreciating them, saying, “One of the absolute best parts of running this business is having so many opportunities to talk to and work with other small business owners. It’s unbelievably inspiring to witness folks build something out of nothing and bust their butts to create incredible products and incredible community.”

In addition to spotlights, DAME went a step further by offering a discount code and consistent deals throughout the day on their Instagram Stories. They shared the reasoning behind their approach: "Small brands are often lost amongst the Black Friday chaos, so we’re taking this opportunity to put small sustainable brands in the spotlight.”

Everybody World held a physical event with other small businesses

Perhaps one of the most interesting approaches to Small Business Saturday on this list, Everybody World not only shared a social post highlighting small businesses to shop from but also held a physical pop-up with them. The event was elaborate, featuring over fifteen small brands, and was done in place of a typical Black Friday campaign.

Customers who didn’t want to wait for the day of the pop-up or couldn’t make it had the opportunity to shop from them through the website.

Ombar Chocolate and Stojo turned customers’ focus on them

Take advantage of your size and turn the spotlight on yourself for Small Business Saturday. Stojo, a reusable cup brand, highlighted that they’re a small business and offered a discount code to shoppers.

Ombar Chocolate, a chocolate company, did the same thing but also added that proceeds from their sales would go to a foundation. In addition, they highlighted other small businesses for their audience to shop from, tagging them in their post.

Remember, people love shopping small – this Intuit survey found that 70 percent of Americans shop from local businesses. And there’s no better day to reach them than by posting when you’re almost guaranteed visibility.

Let your Small Business Saturday campaign reflect your values

Despite the frenzy around heavy discounts and shopping sprees, your campaign must reflect your values as a business owner. Instead of encouraging overconsumption or pushing sales to get rid of inventory, take an intentional approach to Small Business Saturday.

You don’t have to offer discounts – it’s just as beneficial at bringing attention to you or your fellow small business owners. And you don’t have to be limited by format either – there are other ways to approach Small Business Saturday outside of social media.

However you choose to approach it, we hope these ideas inspire you as you start planning your posts for Small Business Saturday 2022!

Let us know what worked for you this year on Twitter or Instagram @buffer!


How and Why to Take a Social Media Break (and what happened when I did it)

How and Why to Take a Social Media Break (and what happened when I did it)

If you’re anything like me, you might spend hours and hours on social media. And if you do, then you’re probably familiar with the TikTok infinite scroll or doomscrolling on Twitter first thing in the morning. But excessive use of social media has been linked to increased depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, and other negative effects.

Of course, nothing is healthy in excess amounts – and the time we spend on social media is something we don’t often stop to think about and check. So in this article, we will share the reasons for and benefits of taking a social media break, as well as insight into what happens when a Chronically Online person (a.k.a. me) decides to take one.

Why take a social media break?

There have been multiple studies to corroborate the negative effects of social media. One 2022 cross-national survey conducted across the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Norway found that those who used social media for entertainment or to decrease loneliness during the pandemic experienced poorer mental health. And ExpressVPN, in a 2021 survey, found that 86 percent of 1,500 Americans reported negative impacts of social media on their happiness and self-image.

Social media can also become an addiction. Social media addiction is defined as “an uncontrollable urge to log on to and use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other areas of life.”

If any of this resonates, then you may need a social media break. And even if you’re not quite at the point of addiction or poor mental health yet, there may be some other signs that show you need to take a break:

  • Frequent annoyance or frustration with trending posts or topics
  • Comparing yourself to other people
  • Having trouble sleeping and checking social media first thing upon waking up
  • Experiencing or noticing an increase in anxiety or depression symptoms
  • Spending a significant amount of time on social media
  • Feeling disappointed for not receiving any engagement with a post or comment
  • Losing focus and missing deadlines or neglecting chores
  • Feeling physical distress if you can’t check your social media for a period of time

Remember, social media is designed to be addictive, so it’s not surprising that many of us find it hard to break the habit. But it might be time for a break if you find that social media impacts your mental health or productivity.

Potential benefits of taking a social media break

Stepping away from social media, even for a short time, has many benefits. Several studies have been conducted on the effects of limiting time on social media, resulting in some interesting findings:

  • This 2021 study found that limiting social media use for a week improved well-being by preventing sleep problems.
  • Another 2021 study found that most students reported a positive change in mood, reduced anxiety, and improved sleep during and immediately after a break from social media.
  • The authors of a 2020 study asked participants to abstain from social media for a week. They report a significant increase in mental well-being and social connectedness after the period of abstinence.
  • A 2018 study found that abstaining from social media use for about a week reduced stress in both typical and excessive social media users and that the effects were more pronounced in the latter group.
  • And this 2018 study found that limiting social media use to about 30 minutes daily significantly reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.

Most studies have found positive connections between social media breaks and improved mental well-being. But what do those breaks look like in practice?

What happened when I took a social media break?

Statistics and data are great, but they’re not lived experiences. So to prepare for this article, I took a week-long social media break and documented my feelings about it. I picked the length of time and method because I felt it was realistic – social media is a big part of my job as a Content Writer at Buffer, so I can’t take too much time off. I also deleted the apps I use the most from my phone for the week.

Now that we’re on the same page, here is all the data and highlights from my time off (henceforth called Break Week) and the week after.

The Parameters

  • Deleted Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Whatsapp, LinkedIn, and Tumblr (yes, I still use Tumblr)
  • For 7 days, from Sunday to Saturday
  • Collected the hard data from iPhone’s ScreenTime tracking feature
  • Took notes in my Notes app

The Stats: Before and After

Total Screen Time: I actually spent more time on my phone during Break Week overall, but on apps like Chrome to read content and YouTube to watch videos. My time on Chrome dropped by nearly half the week after my Break.

Most Used Categories: During Break Week, the time I spent on Social Media overall, even considering the times I had to redownload apps to get screenshots for articles, was WAY down. Despite the seeming drop in screen time, I reverted to my old habits once the Break was over, spending a total of 24 hours, 13 minutes (!) on Social Media apps the week after.

Pickups: I picked up my phone a lot more during Break Week than the week after. This is definitely because of my instinct to go for social media apps when I open my phone. I turned to my browser when I wasn’t met with my usual distractions. The difference between the two weeks is the apps I opened after picking up – Chrome was the most used during Break Week, while Twitter was my most used the week after. A funny note is the amount of time I spent on my usual shopping app, Farfetch, during Break Week – window shopping to self-soothe is very on-brand for me.

What did I learn from the experience?

Social media is a distraction and a method of procrastination for me

I often found myself reaching for my phone when I needed something else to occupy my time. Without the apps on my phone, I found other ways to occupy my brain for those moments. My screen time didn’t really change, but I spent more time reading, watching videos, and listening to music than usual. To quote my Friday log, “I’ve consumed so much random YouTube content this week that I just know my recommendations are forever altered.”

The FOMO hit me hard – but it wasn't as bad as I expected

Social media has become the first place many of us go when we see a breaking news headline, and ultimately the primary source of information for many people – myself included. So, without the apps on my phone, I often felt like I was missing something even though I was getting my New York Times newsletters and regular updates from Google News.

My notes reflected this as I stated multiple times that I didn’t feel tuned in to what was happening outside of my bubble. Even though it wasn’t quite news (depending on who you ask), my Tuesday log has a hilarious progression:

  • 6:43 pm: Generally, FOMO isn’t as bad today – I’ve had lots of things to take my mind off social media
  • 7:06 pm: The FOMO is back! A Nigerian artist called Burna Boy dropped a new video LIVE – and I’m missing the live tweet experience

I found myself wanting to share things that didn’t really need to be shared

I’ve become used to sharing on a whim, so not being able to take a picture or film a video and upload it wherever, or type out a quick tweet or LinkedIn post, felt odd.

Of course, scheduling content in Buffer is an easy way to make important updates without needing to hop into the social media apps themselves.

One note from my Wednesday log said, “I got my parents a couple of nights at a beach resort for their anniversary, but I can’t post the pics of how cute they were taking all their pictures. Sad.” A bit dramatic, if you ask me.

However, I did find that once the cycle of wanting to share and then realizing I had deleted social media passed, I didn’t feel the urge as much. Even now, nearly a month later, I don’t update my social media as much as I used to. I may return to old habits eventually, but I’ve definitely gotten better at managing the instinct to post once I get inspiration.

Ultimately, although I had to redownload some apps for work purposes, the week and the time I took off were quite low-stakes. Nothing super interesting happened, at least not enough to warrant profound regret about my decision to take that particular week off.

All this is to say that taking a break, even if it's sporadic and once in six months, will cause you less discomfort than you think. It may even drive you to be a bit more creative with how you choose to spend your time online. And it will definitely drive you to rethink your relationship with social media and set healthier boundaries.

How to take a social media break

If you’re considering taking a break from social media, let’s discuss how to do it. Here are some tips:

Set a limit

One way to break the social media habit is to limit the amount of time you spend on it each day. Use a timer or app to track your usage, and stick to your limit. This will help you be more mindful of your time on social media and hopefully reduce the amount of time you spend on it overall.

Apple devices come with automated screen time tracking, and you can try apps like Space or Forest to help manage your usage.

Delete the apps

If setting a limit doesn’t work for you, try deleting the social media apps from your phone. This is a more extreme measure, but it can effectively break the habit. You can always redownload the apps if you feel like you absolutely need to – I often needed to get into one app or the other to grab screenshots or links. But you would be surprised how much there is to do without boredom-induced Instagram deep-dives into your university professor’s niece’s account.

Take a break from specific platforms

Another option is to take a break from the social media platforms you use most. If you find yourself spending hours on TikTok, for example, try taking a break from that app specifically. Come up with a reward system for every time you feel the urge to open the app and can resist to make it fun.

Find other things to occupy your time

When you find yourself with the urge to scroll through social media, try to find something else to do instead. Go for a walk, read a book, or call a friend. You can do plenty of things that don’t involve looking at a screen. In fact, you may find yourself picking up a new hobby – I discovered more podcasts during my time off.

Be realistic in your approach to taking time off

It’s important to be realistic when thinking about disconnecting from social media, especially if you currently spend a lot of time on it. Not everyone wants or needs to stay away from social media for extended periods of time – like everything in life, it’s essential to set boundaries.

But whether you choose to go cold turkey or take little chunks of time off, like one day a week or one week every month, you will likely see increased benefits for your mental and emotional health.

Have you ever tracked how much time you spend on social media? Let us know your stats over on Twitter @buffer! It's a judgment-free zone, promise.


How These Small Businesses are Growing Their Impact

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). Check out the fifth episode here.

How These Small Businesses are Growing Their Impact

Some businesses may be small – but they’re also mighty. Many small teams are capable of making great strides in their respective fields, while also contributing to their communities and deserving causes. Creating an impact is not necessarily about how much money you’re able to donate – or how many resources you have – but the purpose and intent behind your actions.

In Season 2, episode 5 of our podcast, Small Business, Big Lessons, we detail how three small businesses – Made with Local, Sparktoro, and Rize Up Bakery – are making a difference. In this companion blog post, we cover how, through deliberate initiatives they’ve baked into their company policies, they’re making a huge impact and supporting marginalized communities and sustainability along the way.

Business growth and impact are not mutually exclusive

According to Holly Howard, a business coach, and consultant, business owners don’t have to choose between making a positive impact and growing their business financially.. Holly works with many entrepreneurs and often finds they see a dichotomy between doing good with their work and doing well in their business.

“People will sometimes say, ‘well, I can either make a lot of money or I can make a really good impact.’ And I say, ‘well, the first problem that we have is that divided mindset that those two things can't coexist together.’ And so if our mindset is divided, that it has to be one or the other, then the results of our impact are certainly going to be divided,” she said.

Rand Fishkin, co-founder of audience research tool Sparktoro, also believes that entrepreneurs do need to grow their businesses in order to bring about change. But to Rand, this growth doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary success. A company can grow in many other ways as well. Rand uses the example of a popular, but small, Japanese sushi restaurant. Although they’re a small business with limited resources, they’ve managed to have a huge influence in the culinary world.

“[The growth] came from the attention and awareness,” Rand said. “The message resonating, the media coverage, the amplification that [the sushi restaurant] received, the following that they have. And those are beautiful ways to build the impact of a business, too.”

For Sparktoro, Rand even considers his free users who never become paid members as positively contributing to the company's growth as they help bring awareness around Sparktoro’s mission – to make audience research accessible to everyone.

Still, sometimes doing good can slow the growth process a bit. Sheena Russel of Made with Local – a B corporation that creates granola products – has social impact baked into their mission. This means, every step of the way, Sheena ensured that Made with Local was working with local farmers and food producers, which slowed the pace of their operations.

How These Small Businesses are Growing Their Impact
a Made with Local granola bar 

“I'd be lying if I said, you know, there weren't — I'm going to use air quotes here — negative impacts on the speed of our growth of our business…,” Sheena said. “That would be something I think in a conventional business space where people would see that as a potential negative, right? But it was a deliberate choice on our behalf.”

But even then, Made with Local grew, they just took the “scenic route,” as Sheena says. Their story is proof that businesses can stick to their morals, make a social impact, and still thrive.

These Small Businesses are growing their impact by uplifting their communities

The impact a business makes can manifest in various ways, and for these entrepreneurs, a huge purpose behind their small businesses is to positively impact their surrounding communities.

Made with Local operates with a three-pillar impact system

Every business decision Sheena and the Made with Local team makes, is based on their three-pillar impact system. Which consists of the following:

  1. A local, ethical, and transparent supply chain – The small business works with their local community to source everything for their granola, including their ingredients and packaging.
  2. Social impact manufacturing model – Made with Local partners with two social enterprise bakeries in Nova Scotia, who train and employ adults with barriers to the mainstream workforce. Not only do these individuals make all of Made with Local’s food, but they assist with the distribution as well.
  3. Community connection – Made with Local started out as a stall at a community farmers market. So it’s no surprise that maintaining community connection has been a main focus for Sheena. They are involved with community urban farms and mutual aid fridge projects and donate and volunteer with organizations fighting food insecurity in Nova Scotia.

Abiding by these guidelines is a must for Sheena as she’s very deliberate about using her small business as a vehicle for a positive impact in her community.

“For us, social enterprise means incorporating the concept of creating social impact into every business decision that we make…,” Sheena said. “Really knowing that we can take a business and use it as a force for good in the world.”

Sparktoro donated $25,000 to charity when they launched

When Rand was getting ready to launch Sparktoro in the spring of 2020, it coincided with the beginning of the pandemic. People were scared, isolated, and job security and financial concerns were creeping in for many. Rand and his team knew that they wouldn’t feel good about launching their company unless they addressed the current events happening.

“We felt that launching a software product for marketers at the height of the pandemic — it just didn't feel like a cause that you could be 100 percent behind,” Rand said. “I mean, we were excited about it. We've been working on it for 18 months before that… but also, we wanted to do something that spoke to the broader ecosystem that we were in.”

How These Small Businesses are Growing Their Impact
Sparktoro's VP of Marketing Amanda Natividad (L) with co-founder Rand Fishkin (R)

So, Sparktoro decided to partner with GiveDirectly, an organization that allows people to directly donate to individuals in poverty. For every person that simply tried Sparktoro for free during their launch, the small business donated GiveDirectly. At the time, the charity was fundraising money for Americans struggling in the wake of Covid-19. Sparktoro ended up donating a huge amount.

“We ended up doing about $25,000 — a little bit scary for an early stage company to be giving away a hefty chunk of its investment,” Rand said. “But I think I think it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Rize Up Bakery hopes to work with at-risk youth

At Rize Up Bakery, founder Z is also hoping to make an impact through his work. Z opened up his San Francisco bakery in part because of the protests of George Flyoy’s murder in 2020, so representation has always been important to him. Specifically, he wants to help the at-risk youth in his community, as he was one himself.

As a Black baker, Z believes he can help kids and teens realize that there are a world of options for them, even career paths they’ve never heard of.

“Before I started doing this, I had realized I'd never even met a black Baker. Never seen a black Baker… it definitely doesn't have very much representation,” Z said.

Since Rize Up is still in its development phase, Z currently doesn’t have the bandwidth to launch a program just yet. But it’s something that he hopes to do soon, and he’s currently considering what schools and organizations he can work within the Bay Area to make this happen.

“The concepts of inspiring and working with youth and helping people find love the same way that I have in [baking], I feel would be something really worth spending time doing,” he said. “So I'm going to be working towards that in the future.”

Growing impact by supporting employees and suppliers

A small business's employees and suppliers are an integral part of the company. Here’s how these entrepreneurs ensure they’re prioritizing these very relationships.

Made with Local ensures their partnerships align

When considering which suppliers to work with, Sheena has a unique approach. Her small business sends a questionnaire to each and every potential partner to verify their values align with Made with Local’s missions.

“We have a series of questions that we asked [our suppliers] about their environmental impact, and also their social impact. And those are things that clearly loop back into the values piece for us,” she said. “But we want to see specific examples of how they are prioritizing positive impact and the social and environmental space.”

In this way, Sheena supports other businesses that are doing good. This positively contributes to Made with Local’s overall impact as Sheena is uplifting and supporting other small businesses that put their community first, champion the environment, and are striving to be as sustainable as possible.

Rize Up Bakery raises team members’ salaries frequently

Z is very passionate about cultivating a positive and supportive environment for his employees. When he onboards a new employee, he does his best to show them the ropes and teach them techniques to make the best sourdough bread – their signature item.

Employees at Rize Up start at $18 an hour – impressive considering California’s minimum wage for businesses that have fewer than 25 employees starts at $14. After two months, Rize Up team members are then eligible for a $2 raise. Z is also open to giving his staff multiple raises in a year if he sees improvement. His head assistant baker has been with him for just over a year and has already had her salary increased thrice.

“[My head assistant baker] just keeps getting better and better,” Z says. “And she handles more and more responsibility. If you keep learning and keep working and keep wanting more responsibility, and I can count on you more than that means you are earning your keep.”

Taking care of his employees connects Z back to his broader mission – making a positive impact on his community. For the entrepreneur, his bottom line is not how much he can make, but how much he can contribute to the bakery and its employees.

“And the way I think about it is, well, how much can I invest? Right? Because I want people to walk away with the skill set. I would love to have people learn from me,” Z said. “And then when they go off and do their famous amazing things. They know that the person that taught them cared about them.”

Small Businesses can be a vehicle for greater social impact

One of Rand’s goals is that everyone who comes across Sparktoro, from customers to suppliers, takes away something positive from his small business. For one, the entrepreneur wants to make audience research accessible to all individuals – something that has typically only been available to larger corporations.

But on a smaller scale, Rand also strives to empower and support the individuals who’re contributing to his company. While Sparktoro’s core team consists of three employees, there are dozens of contractors and other organizations the software company works with, and Rand hopes they’re all benefiting from their involvement with Sparktoro.

“We have a ton of people in our orbit and ecosystem who’re small and medium businesses. I hope we're helping by being great partners and customers of theirs,” he said.

Businesses like Sparktoro, Made with Local, and Rize Up Bakery are why Holly got into consulting in the first place, as she loves to help entrepreneurs make a difference. She’s optimistic about the future of small businesses, as she’s seeing more and more organizations wanting to do good.

“So in the 10 years that I've been consulting, I've definitely seen [ the B corp certification] become a priority. And that people want to create good jobs. And that's something that really inspires me… I really felt like businesses can be a real force for good.”

Want more on making an impact? Check out the full episode

The businesses we interviewed in this episode have further insights to share about making an impact and its value for brands. Check out the full episode here.


4 Alternative Ways to Approach Black Friday in 2022

4 Alternative Ways to Approach Black Friday in 2022

We’ve all been part of the rush to figure out gifts for family and friends as the end of the year approaches. Many companies even recommend starting holiday shopping months in advance to avoid shipping delays or out-of-stock notifications. The holiday season often means a busy time for brands — and that’s what events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday intend to capitalize on.

But consumer sentiments are changing. People are questioning and expecting more of the brands they shop from. Brands themselves are also saying no to the flash flood of demand and the rush to supply. In this article, we want to highlight how businesses can use the shopping season as an opportunity to do good instead of encouraging the same old consumer habits while maintaining a strong brand purpose.

Highlighting other businesses to support

Instead of sharing discounts, some businesses choose to highlight small businesses to support in a bid to give back to the community and discourage excess consumerism.

Ocean Bottle, a reusable bottle brand, highlighted other businesses to support and why on Twitter and Instagram. The reason, they shared, was to “…show how consumers can be a force for good by highlighting a few small brands that could use [your] support that 'do good' too."

The businesses Ocean Bottle highlighted also fit with the mission to ‘do good.’ One of them was From Babies with Love, a “purpose-led sustainable gifting brand” that donates 100% of its profits to orphaned and abandoned children worldwide.

DAME, a sustainable period products company, took its spotlight a step further, highlighting small businesses in one post and educating consumers in another.

Along with Black Friday encouraging people to buy more than they need, one of the key statistics highlighted by DAME’s educative post was illuminating on the push for more sustainable practices during the shopping season: eighty percent of clothes from Black Friday sales end up in a landfill.

There are specific days for highlighting small businesses around the shopping season as well. Check out our article on Small Business Saturday for some more ideas.

In recent years, more brands have switched up their Black Friday marketing strategy by supporting social causes instead. Many brands choose to donate the profits from their shopping season sales on Giving Tuesday or independent of any particular event.

Misfits Market is a sustainable grocery company that allows customers to shop for groceries in curated boxes that would have been thrown out at big-chain supermarkets. Instead of offering discounts on Black Friday, they partner with Feeding America to donate money and meals through their skipped box donation program. Customers can choose to donate their order instead of just skipping it to earn points.

Grove Collaborative, a home goods company, also skipped Black Friday altogether for Giving Tuesday, allowing customers to donate or gift a donation to a chosen cause.

Stasher Bags, a reusable bag brand, highlighted the benefits of shopping from a sustainable brand and offered a discount.

In addition, they highlighted that they donate 1 percent of their profits year-round and made an additional pledge of $50,000 to the Surfrider foundation during Black Friday.

Skipping Black Friday entirely to do something different and make a statement

Some businesses choose to skip Black Friday entirely, creating their own spin on the event. Rubies in the Rubble, a condiments brand, shared that they would be doing Green Friday  – a day to shop from small, sustainable brands instead of Black Friday.

In another post, Rubies in the Rubble asked their audience to tag small businesses to shop from.

Ombar Chocolate also chose to do Green Friday instead of Black Friday by highlighting other small businesses and donating all the profits from products sold to Fundación Jocotoco, a nature-focused nonprofit organization.

Paynter, a sustainable fashion brand, chose to donate instead of discounts for Black Friday. Paynter’s animosity towards the season can be linked to its brand ethos to create a better way to consume clothing.

The brand only releases new products in batches, so its business model doesn’t lend itself to Black Friday as it is currently practiced anyway. But they choose to actively take a stance against Black Friday, going as far as closing shop entirely in October 2020 and instead starting their now popular Paynter at the Pub meetups.

Like Paynter, This is Unfolded is a sustainable fashion brand trying to encourage low-waste consumption. The brand creates made-to-order clothes, only making an item when an order has been completed. The company created ‘Do Good Friday,’ a way for their customers to shop better and positively impact the world simultaneously.

The idea is to highlight businesses and practices that don’t encourage waste or purchase regret, as Black Friday does.

Promoting conscious consumption

One of the best ways to approach Black Friday from a new perspective is by encouraging conscious consumption – often easier if your brand already adopts sustainable practices. You can keep to the traditional Black Friday style of offering discounts or new products while also encouraging consumers to shop sustainably.

This is the approach that Pela, a phone case company, took by doing regular Black Friday promotions through discounts while highlighting how shopping from them benefits the planet. In addition to supporting a small business, shopping at Pela means that customers donate to 1 Percent For The Planet, a nonprofit whose partners contribute 1 percent of their sales to environmental causes.

Wild, a natural deodorant brand, conducted a campaign in tandem with their Black Friday promotion, pledging to plant a tree with every order made.

On their blog, Wild shared their motivations for approaching Black Friday in this manner, saying, “As a small company, we cannot stop the waste that all Black Friday sales will cause by not taking part. Instead, we’re using this time as an opportunity to challenge shopping habits for the better and propel sustainable products into the mainstream.”

4 Alternative Ways to Approach Black Friday in 2022

EYO Active, a fitness wear brand, took an interesting approach to Black Friday by raising their prices by 300 percent.

The founder, Lucie Halley-Trotter, shared in an Instagram post that she started EYO to tackle waste, not create it.

The post went on to say, “Every year, the big brands inflate and then slash their prices and pressure people into buying things they don’t need, and a whopping 80 percent of it ends up in landfill. As a business on a mission to empower women and get people to reappraise their relationship with fast fashion, I refuse to play ball. So, instead of cutting my prices for the weekend, I’m tripling them.”

4 Alternative Ways to Approach Black Friday in 2022

Lucie shared that they didn’t make any sales from this tactic – but that was the point. “We used this ‘holiday’ to show the world that we stand strongly behind our core morals,” she said. The campaign was well-received among consumers, as the brand shared in a follow-up post, showing that perhaps consumers are also looking for more sustainable ways to shop.

Most businesses find a lot of success around the shopping season, so it’s not practical to expect everyone to take a firm stance against Black Friday or Cyber Monday. There are other ways to take advantage of the season without encouraging overconsumption, and these brands have proven it.

What are your thoughts on Black Friday? Do you often find that you make more sales and get more customers during this period? We’d love to hear your thoughts over on Twitter @buffer.


How These Small Businesses Are Growing Sustainably

How These Small Businesses Are Growing Sustainably

How do you know when to say ‘yes’ to opportunities for growth and ‘no’ to the things that will lead you from your path? Turning down chances to bring more money or manpower into your business can feel foolish. And in a time of billion-dollar valuations, it can be tempting to look at the growth of your business and feel inadequate. But growth looks different for every business, and it’s vital that business owners can identify when to scale and how to do it without compromising their core values.

In this article, we bring you success stories of businesses that have figured out ways to grow sustainably, entrepreneurs who scaled without compromise, and we offer practical advice to those thinking about retaining their identity while building their future.

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). This article is adapted from the fourth episode, which is out everywhere you listen to podcasts now.

Define and understand your vision and values

When thinking about growth, it pays to take a holistic approach – to think hard about all of the aspects of your business, where you are, and where you want to be. Then use that to help identify areas of growth that best serve those goals.

Holly Howard runs consulting firm Ask Holly How and highlights the importance of not only understanding the vision for your business but also staying true to the experience you want to have. Not all businesses will grow into millions of revenue – and not all business owners want that. She says, “The reason we start a business, oftentimes, a lot of people will say for the money, but also people say for freedom, and what they mean is the freedom to work in the way that they want to work.”

To hone in on your vision, Holly shares the following questions she also asks the businesses she consults with:

  • How do you want to spend your time daily?
  • What are those interactions?
  • What are you doing with your time?

While it can be easy to define your vision and values, it can then be difficult to keep putting them into practice, especially when it comes to making decisions that will impact your business. Sheena Russell of Made with Local, a snack foods company, understands this.

Sheena faced some big decisions about how to respond to the growing demand for her products and how to scale her operations. “When you go to the energy bar section in your grocery store, you're gonna see that the lion's share of those bars are made in the same way because they're made at the same manufacturing facilities, with the same equipment, and with the same ingredients — just in different packaging,” she shared.

But Sheena wanted something different for her business: “We knew from the get-go, that we were not willing to take that route. I didn't want to make the same kind of product as everybody else. I didn't want to compromise on our product and on our values. [That] works for a lot of brands, but I just knew that it wasn't for us.”

She pushed back against convention and decided to build partnerships with social enterprise bakeries instead, even though that would slow the company's growth. But she maintains that she was and is proud of her decision. By sticking to her original vision, Sheena ensured Made with Local didn't lose its soul and continued to be the business she wanted.

Scaling your business isn't just a question of where you can grow and how you go about that growth, it’s also a question of sustainability. How much to grow and at what rate are equally important questions to grapple with. This is something that Joel Gascoigne, CEO at Buffer, has thought about a lot as he shares that, “When you're growing fast [at 50-100 percent every year], that pace of growth [can] cause a lot of problems culturally.”

Hypergrowth isn’t part of Joel’s vision for Buffer, who states that the ideal growth rate would be 20 to 30 percent yearly. “That’s the growth rate that allows us to be very intentional, [it] allows us to continue experimenting within our culture in the working environment,” he says.

The next step after defining your business’ vision is usually choosing which metrics to measure performance against. And if you have a set of values you don’t want to stray from, you’ll need to be firm about choosing metrics that help you maintain your vision.

Step away from traditional metrics to avoid traditional pressure

When you know your vision for your business, it’s easier to define the metrics with which you’ll measure performance. And although tried-and-true metrics exist for a reason, it’s crucial to determine and stick to your own goals – even if they buck against the traditional methods.

Huw Thomas, co-founder of Paynter Jacket, shared, “When it comes to growth, the stereotypical way to measure business is by its revenue, or the number of employees., We might look at it and just go okay, it was a positive measure of reputation or impact. How interesting we are as a brand.  Can we just stop for a minute and stop measuring traditional metrics and think of other ways to grow a brand.”

The founders of Paynter Jacket have avoided looking at their business through the lens of traditional growth metrics because the ways they want to grow are at odds with some conventional ideas of growth, such as producing more products. In a saturated market like fashion, choosing metrics and goals that make you stand out is also vital. “To make sure that we make a small dent in our industry, we'd like to be the thorn in the industry’s side. To make an impact, we need to be around for a long time, that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to be a big company or grow a lot. That means we do have to grow our reputation,” says Huw.

The Paynter founders focus on quality and sustainability, which also influence how they measure and determine how, when, and where to grow their business. Becky Okell also shares that because production takes so long, customers build an emotional connection with the brand and the product, so improving customer experience is an essential metric for them.

Each piece of your business framework, from your vision and values to the metrics you use to measure performance, impacts the other – including your chosen growth model. You may not start out with grand expectations, but most people hope for a successful business. Determining what to do when that success comes is one of the steps in defining what growth means for your business.

Evaluate your growth model — or define it if you don’t have one

Different businesses will scale in different ways – the priorities and values of the business owner often drive decisions to grow. “Sometimes people might think of growth as creating a family legacy. Other people have defined growth in terms of how can they set up a structure that they can take a sabbatical six months of the year. [And some] think of growth as scaling to some sort of acquisition…or an employee ownership model,” says Holly Howard.

However you think about your business, and whatever your vision is, a growth model can help you achieve the scale you seek. Zingerman’s, for example, hasn’t taken the traditional model to growth but has scaled regardless.

Instead of franchising or opening up more of the same original unit in different locations, Ari Weinzweig, co-founder and CEO, had a different idea of what the business could be. “Zingerman's community of businesses has certainly grown in a model that, at least in our minds, we made up, it's certainly not the typical growth model,” he says. “Those aren't necessarily bad [but] they're not for me.”

Although Ari and his co-founder Paul didn’t start out with a set-in-stone vision for Zingerman’s, Ari acknowledges that, in hindsight, they had one. “Essentially, [the vision] would have said from the beginning, we want something unique and really special. We also want great food, great service, a really down-to-earth place, and a great place for people to work. And those were very clear in our heads from the beginning. And then last but not least, and we knew from the beginning, we only wanted one [business].”

The growth model that Ari and Paul eventually devised was to create a community of businesses all operating as one connected organization with semi-autonomous pieces. In the way they imagined it and wrote it in the vision, each business would have a managing partner or partners in it.

“So there was an owner on site who was really passionate about the product and or service that that business did, and that we would operate as one synergistic organization that models that philosophy and that framework still underlies everything that we do,” Ari explains.

Following this growth model, Zingerman's family of businesses now includes the original deli, a roadhouse diner, a creamery, a bakery, and many more companies, including a business management consultancy.

Prioritize people when seeking growth

Periods of growth are periods of change. When you're growing and changing, it's very likely that you will have to make compromises — choices between two opposing priorities — and making the right choices can be more accessible when you communicate and consult with other people involved in your business.

Ari understands the value of involving the community in decision-making, saying, “Compromise is something that we all do every day – and that's okay. Part of the benefits of the community is that we can bring diverse perspectives together of like-minded people and through that arrive at better conclusions. And then by making conscious collective choices, when we do compromise, it's a group [decision].”

Part of the value of prioritizing people is avoiding communication breakdowns which can lead to tension and mistrust. Holly emphasizes the importance of over-communicating with your team by pointing out what happens if you don’t: “…when the team doesn't have an awareness of what's happening, that's when we start to have tensions within the team. Or we might say we have things like culture issues.”

Whenever you're going through a phase of change, involve the people that are stakeholders in your business. Explain why you’re making certain decisions and what you hope to achieve. Give the people your big-picture context.

“We define that vision or purpose statement, and they live in the manual, or they live on the wall in a poster or something like that. But they should be living and breathing documents that continually weave into our conversations. Maybe we're checking on our goals or our KPIs – we want to keep that context alive,” Holly advises.

Be aware that alternative paths to scaling your business will bring unique challenges

Growth can be challenging and will require hard choices. So to be prepared, you need to look inwards and consider how our decisions now impact the future we want to build.

One of the main challenges of scaling a business is staying agile in understanding and defining who the customer is as you grow. “Understanding our customer should be a continual process,” says Holly. “We sit down to define who the customer is and then we're like running with a content calendar and strategies and our social media marketing, but it should be a constant conversation. Are we sure that this person doesn't exist in this area?

Another challenge might be dealing with the consequences of an alternative choice in your overall business model. Made with Local has been outpacing demand and production capacity but their decision about how to scale their business sometimes leads to capacity crunches.

As Sheena shares, “It has slowed our growth, because we've been doing things differently. And proving that we can grow this model, but we've been pulled out in the market faster than what we've been able to grow at. So that has been tricky.”

Or, as you grow, you might find yourself with more competition and a changing industry that requires you to redesign and repackage your product – a challenge that Buffer has been facing. Navigating shifts in the market while staying true to the vision and mission of the company has been a significant challenge over the years.

As Joel shares, “Social networks changing so rapidly has been a challenging place to be within the last five, six years. [There have] been times when we've seen opportunities to keep our growth going. But it would have taken away from really the DNA of the company, which to me was always around merely serving small businesses and staying committed to them.” Working through challenges like these is why you must know and connect with the vision you have for your business.

Finally, when you’ve chosen an alternative path to growth, it can be a strength to take the constraints you encounter and turn them into an opportunity, as Paynter has done. If they chose the traditional way of making clothing, they wouldn’t have the same connection with customers.

“To think about growing our experience and making [it] better, we have to be firm on staying small and what that actually means to us. So think about what you have and the constraints that you have in your business. And then what that actually means because it often means that you can do things in a way that no one else would,” shares Huw.

Want more on growing a business? Check out the full episode.

For more thoughts on growing a business from the small business owners in this interview, check out Season 2, Episode 4 of the Small Business Big Lessons podcast.


Why these Small Businesses are Intentionally Staying Small

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). Check out the third episode here.

Why these Small Businesses are Intentionally Staying Small

Small businesses are small for a reason – they often have a limited budget and resources, and usually consist of fewer team members. Yet, this can be their greatest asset. When things are done at a smaller scale, without the pressure to pursue growth, entrepreneurs are less constrained and can fully embrace their vision and goals. This leads to building a business that they can feel good about.

Companies don’t have to grow at an exponential rate in order to make a great impact. In season 2, episode 3 of our podcast Small Business Big Lesson, we cover how for some businesses, staying small can be a superpower. In this companion blog post, we’ll share their stories and showcase why, sometimes, thinking small can lead to the biggest dividends.

What are the benefits of staying small?

There can be a misperception that small businesses need to expand their operations in order to be successful. Not only can small businesses stay small and still be profitable, but there are a myriad of other benefits that they can reap.

Stronger team relationships

According to business coach Holly Howard, one of the biggest advantages of staying small is that it allows for a healthier company culture where individuals can form stronger ties with one another.

As mentioned in season 2, episode 2 of Small Business, Big Lessons, employees can sometimes get the short side of the stick when a company focuses on growth at the expense of their team members. This can lead to team members feeling overworked, undervalued, and less connected to the company, decreasing employee engagement – the emotional commitment an employee has to the company. But when team sizes are smaller, there’s more opportunity to develop a healthier, more connected company culture.

“​​It has to do with intimacy,” Holly said. “When you intentionally stay small, you can have really meaningful connections with everybody on the team or in the company.”

Creating a healthy company culture is not only good for employees’ overall satisfaction, but it can lead to a better bottom line for the business. Studies have found that when teams have higher levels of engagement, productivity increases by 17 percent, and sales increase by 20 percent.

More autonomy

Another plus of running a small business is that entrepreneurs have more autonomy and control in their day-to-day work. This is because small business owners are their own bosses and can do whatever they feel is best for their company. Since team sizes are typically smaller and there are fewer levels of management to go through, small businesses allow for more adaptability – a huge pro for entrepreneurs.

According to Forbes, a 2018 study found that this very freedom allowed self-employed individuals to be more engaged and find their jobs more rewarding than their peers who worked traditional jobs. Holly believes this flexibility is one of the reasons some entrepreneurs choose to intentionally stay small.

“The other part might be this creative adaptability that you really have when you are smaller, versus when you've scaled to a certain size,” said Holly. “And that creative adaptability is something that a lot of entrepreneurs are very passionate about, that really inspires them.”

More equity

More small businesses can lead to a more equitable society, according to Sparktoro co-founder Rand Fishkin. He believes that it’s healthier for society and democracy when there are more thriving small businesses and fewer monopolies. This is a driving principle for how he operates Sparktoro, and why he has no plans to expand the company in the near future.

“A big part of our passion around [small businesses] comes from our broader beliefs about sustainability and economic justice,” Rand said. “We believe that economies work really well, democracy works really well, capitalism works really well when there are lots of small and medium businesses, lots of competition in a sector, and that competition is fair and equitable.”

Why these Small Businesses are Intentionally Staying Small
Rand (L), co-founder of Spark Toro shooting a promotional video

And Rand’s not wrong. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “small businesses create jobs, build wealth and help close racial and gender wealth gaps, especially in communities where opportunities have been limited historically.”

Championing small businesses means supporting diverse and oftentimes underrepresented communities and also stimulating the economy.

How staying small has allowed these businesses to operate differently

Rather than sticking to the status quo, these entrepreneurs are able to run their businesses differently, and in ways that are more sustainable and impactful, all because of their agile size.

Harlow pursues growth on their own terms

Andrea and Samantha left their marketing jobs because they wanted more autonomy in their work lives, something they now have at Harlow – a small business they created together that helps freelancers get organized.

At Harlow, they’ve been able to establish ground rules that allow their team to work at their own pace, including no meeting days, flexible working hours, and prioritizing self-care. These are initiatives they were able to put in place because they’re a smaller team, and they believe these policies will benefit them in the long run.

“We want to build a profitable and sustainable business, and one that doesn't burn us out, you know? We are in this for the next 5, 10 years,” Andrea said.

Staying small has allowed the co-founders to pursue growth on their own terms. While they do hope they attract more clients to Harlow, they’re not willing to compromise their values in doing so.

“I think the thing that gets lost sometimes when we talk about staying small is it's not that we want the company to stay small. We want more and more users to join Harlow and experience the power of Harlow and the simplicity of Harlow. …. But again, we want to do so in a way that feels good for us.”

Paynter Jacket cultivates personal connections with their suppliers

A huge plus for Becky and Huw of Paynter Jacket – an ethical clothing company that releases four limited edition jackets each year – is that they’re able to develop a close relationship with their suppliers. This is often not the case for larger clothing companies that place bulk orders and never meet the factory workers who produce their garments.

This relationship between Becky, Huw, and their supplies didn’t happen overnight. But as Paynter Jacket placed more and more small orders, a trusting relationship soon developed.

“After long enough of doing that, when the proof is there, and they do trust you – that's when [the relationship] then turns into something really special. And actually, our factories have told us they are small businesses too.”

Becky also believes by ordering a limited number of jackets each year, and by forging friendships with the factory workers, they help ensure their products are made with the highest quality.

“And we were really lucky to work with some incredible suppliers,” she said. “So we would rather keep working with them and keep creating orders that are the right size for them to manufacture at a really, really high standard and grow together.”

SparkToro forms a different relationship with their customers

As a company not focused on hypergrowth, Sparktoro isn’t interested in retaining as many customers as possible like other Saas companies. In fact, Rand knows that most tech companies purposely make it hard for customers to cancel a membership or subscription and he’s very intentional in doing things differently.

“There's a lot of what I call ‘UX dark patterns' and sort of marketing tips and tricks that you can use to make sure people don't leave the subscription,” Rand said. “You make the cancel button harder to find, or you have to call to cancel … And we don't do any of that stuff.”

Instead, Sparktoro sends monthly reminders to customers to cancel their subscriptions before they get billed. This means that the small business does have a high cancellation rate, but, they also have a very high recidivism rate, meaning people will renew their membership.

“People come back to the product again, and again,” Rand said. “We've had folks who signed up for Spark Toro and quit five, six times, and we've only been around two years. We wouldn't be able to do those kinds of things if we were pursuing growth at all costs.”

Other personal benefits these entrepreneurs have gained from staying small

Operating small and lean businesses has provided these entrepreneurs with many advantages in their personal lives as well.

Rand observes a chill workweek

Sparktoro’s three team members observe what they call a “chill work week." Rather than spending over 40 hours a week working, as many tech companies do, Rand and his colleagues typically put in 25 to 30 hours a week.

Of course, there are some weeks when the team may have to work more hours, but for the most part, they’ve been able to run a successful business and maintain a great work-life balance all at once. Rand credits this to the company’s philosophy around keeping things small, not chasing growth, and focusing on the most essential work.

“I spent almost a month in Italy in the spring,” Rand said. “And I was barely putting in two hours a day. It was beautiful – running a company that's got a million-plus dollar ARR run rate and growing nicely. And still managing to work very few hours essentially.”

Samantha and Andrea conduct one-on-one meetings with freelancers

Samantha and Andrea conduct free, 15-minute one-on-one sessions with various freelancers to offer advice and support. It’s a way for them to give back to the community but also grow their personal networks as well.

If they were a larger company, it would be difficult to scale this size of a program, but because they’re smaller and have more flexibility in their days, it’s something they can easily fit into their schedules. Their nimble size allows them to quickly pursue these kinds of opportunities, rather than having to go through a longer approval process.

“It would be a lot harder to launch a program like that at a larger organization … and so it is wonderful that we can just test something out like that. I can, on a spur of the moment, just tweet about something, and then we can build a program around it,” Samantha said.

Becky and Huw get to be a part of every step of the process

A huge perk of running a small company for Becky and Huw is that they’re able to work on every aspect of the business – including product design, customer service, annual planning, and setting up photo shoots – themselves.

“We're both really detail-oriented,” Becky said. “And we just get really excited that we have a whole variety of things that make up our day. And we're completely in charge of our own learning.”

Why these Small Businesses are Intentionally Staying Small
Huw and Becky at a clothing factory 

As they only have one other part-time employee, being a small team has also allowed for more originality in their work. Becky says that this shows through in everything they do, including the way their product shots turn out.

“It might mean that if there's a storm, and your location is the beach, then your umbrellas are upside down and things look a bit chaotic,” she said. “And you're probably going to stop and look at that picture a lot more than you would with something that looks kind of perfect.”

This is important to the duo, as they always want their customers to see that even though they’ve created a successful fashion brand, Paynter Jacket consists of real people.

It’s not that there aren’t any challenges to staying small, but ultimately, these business owners wouldn’t have it any other way. For Huw in particular, running Paynter Jacket with Becky has been immensely rewarding and he hopes to keep doing it for years to come.

“There's a great quote in this book called ‘Rework,’ and it's, ‘small isn't a stepping stone, small is a great destination in itself,’” he said. “We truly believe there's beauty in small business. Just the statistics of it. Small businesses are the biggest employers in the country.”

Want more on intentionally staying small? Check out the full episode

The businesses we interviewed in this episode have further insights to share about intentionally staying small and its value for brands. Check out the full episode here.


Why these Small Businesses are Turning Down Big Money

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). Check out the second episode here.

Why these Small Businesses are Turning Down Big Money

In 2014, Buffer was offered a nine-figure deal from a giant tech company but our founder Joel Gascoigne turned it down. He’s not alone. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, sometimes saying no to big money can be the best move you can make for your small business. Oftentimes, if accepted, this money comes with strings attached that can alter your vision for your company. Choosing to do things on your own terms instead – but on a tighter budget –  can lead to a more sustainable business that allows you to make a greater impact as well.

In season two, episode two of our podcast, Small Business, Big Lessons, we spoke to entrepreneurs who chose to walk away from the traditional venture capital (VC) funding path without any regrets. In this companion blog post, we'll share their stories and why pursuing alternative models of funding was the right option for them.

What’s been the status quo for funding

Starting a business from the ground up is no easy task and usually requires at least some amount of money upfront. Traditionally, startups and small business owners might consider VC funding as a way to gather large investments. VCs will typically come in during the early stage and will inject a lump sum of money into the business to help get the ball rolling.

But just because an investor agrees to fund your business doesn’t mean they believe in your brand’s mission wholeheartedly. The traditional VC model operates by spreading a large amount of money across a range of companies, expecting at least some of them to fail. They earn back their investments by relying on the few startups and businesses that do succeed.

Once an investor comes on board, they usually will retain quite a bit of control over the business as well, impacting a company’s culture and operations. Unfortunately, the VC funding model is conducive to fast pace growth – which isn’t always the healthiest environment for these businesses.

You may already be seeing some of the downsides to traditional VC funding. So does Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Sparktoro, a small business revolutionizing audience research. Rand has a ton of experience in small business growth – he previously co-founded Moz, a SEO tool and software. He believes that this business model can actually hurt brands.

“What I believe is that if you don't force companies to pursue hyper growth, they are more likely to survive long term, and survival long term gives options for being profitable and giving off dividends to investors,” Rand said.

The other drawback here is that when entrepreneurs are approached by VC firms or angel investors –  individuals who use their own capital when investing – they can feel a ton of pressure to accept the deal, even if their vision doesn’t completely align with the investor’s goals.

Holly Howard, a business coach who consults entrepreneurs on the best strategies to pursue for their brands, also believes individuals should be more cautious when fundraising for their small business. Holly understands that entrepreneurs feel pressured to accept deals that seem promising on the surface. But she recommends individuals take a step back and really reflect on the deal.

“When we're in a stressful situation, we sometimes undermine our own values, because we feel like we need that money, or we're not sure if any other money is going to come through,” Holly said.

If you don’t accept these huge injections of cash, you may be wondering how else can a business get off the ground? Well, here are three other small businesses that managed to succeed without VC funds.

How these businesses gained more by pursuing alternative funding routes

While VC funding can garner tons of press and media attention, it is by no means the only option for growing a business. When working with clients, Holly reminds them that there are alternative routes that can be better suited for their companies.

“Fundraising is such a broad question,” she said. “And oftentimes, when people come, they think it's a very narrow question, you know, their concern is just raising money, and they don't realize the broad spectrum of possibilities.”

At Buffer, we’ve followed a somewhat non-traditional approach when it comes to growing as a startup. In 2018, we bought out our main venture capital investors. Even before then, back in 2014, Joel defied expectations when walking away from Buffer’s largest acquisition offer to date. But the decision didn’t come easily. It was only after many thoughtful conversations with the executive team that the answer became clear. In these meetings, Joel really reflected on Buffer’s mission and one specific question he asked himself was, “Are we done yet?”

“It was great because it led to really thinking deeply about, ‘why are we doing this?’ ‘What more can we do here?’ What do we gain if we take [the deal] and what do we lose?’” Joel said.

Ultimately, Joel realized there was still so much more he wanted to pursue with Buffer, and he knew the journey wasn't over yet. Another reason he declined the large offer from the tech company had to do with their plans for the future of Buffer. Had that company taken over, the reality was Buffer would no longer be a remote and transparent company.

“Where I really gained clarity was more in the cultural choices we made, especially the movements we ended up being a really big part of at the time, that was remote work … and then the other one was transparency,” Joel said. “Which to this day, we're probably still one of the most transparent companies in the world.”

By turning down this offer, Joel was able to keep Buffer’s core values intact.

A friends and family round has given Harlow more flexibility with their business

Harlow, a small business that helps freelancers organize their work, was founded in 2021 by Samantha Anderl and Andrea Wildy. The duo knew they didn’t want to build a company that only valued growth, which is why they decided from an early stage that VC money wasn’t for them.

Instead, they opted to do a family and friends round, which is a type of crowdfunding where many individuals – whether they be relatives or friends – can invest in your business. This kind of funding typically comes with fewer restrictions. A huge benefit of this is its led Harlow to have a variety of great investors who truly care about their business.

“We lean on our investors all the time. If we're struggling with any aspect of the business, there's somebody on the cap table that can help us out,” Andrea said.  “And we were also able to be picky about the types of people that invested in the business and we're really proud of the fact that over 50% of our investors are female.”

This model of funding has also forced them to be very deliberate with their financial decisions. But Samantha believes this ultimately allows them to run the business in a more sustainable way as it forces them to deepen their existing connections.

“We can't just come out of the gates and spend, you know, $50,000 a month on paid advertising to grow and get the word out there. Again, that kind of comes back to the benefit of community and building your audience in a sustainable and lean way,” Samantha said.

Both Andrea and Samantha are happy with their decision to crowdfund, as they know this has allowed them to run the Harlow the way they originally envisioned.

Personally investing allowed Paynter Jacket to be more creative and intentional in their approach

Becky and Huw co-found Paynter Jacket, a clothing company that releases four limited edition jackets each year, with 100 percent of their own personal savings. The co-founders were still early on in their careers, so the savings didn’t amount to much at the time. Still, they were able to stretch the money to cover all of their main costs: web designs, fonts, fabrics, and their manufacturing process.

Becky believes the fact that they had a limited budget which consisted entirely of their own money played a huge role in their eventual success.

“We had to make decisions that we felt were the right ones. We had to really consider those. I think also having a constraint definitely makes you more creative with your outcome … and it’s continued the way that we work today,” Becky said.

Their personal savings weren’t enough to cover the manufacturing costs initially, which is why they decided to use the ‘make to order’ model, which has now become an integral component of their business.

Why these Small Businesses are Turning Down Big Money
Paynter Jacket's latest release: The Italian Denim Carpenter Jacket (Courtesy of Paynter Jacket)

Today, Paynter Jacket drops sell out within minutes. This success has grabbed attention from multiple investors, but Becky and Huw aren’t interested as they don’t want to lose control over their vision for the brand. They’re very intent on being a different kind of clothing company, one that’s moving away from the fast fashion approach. For Huw, investing their personal money has made him even more connected to the business – and he and Becky don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

“We’re building real businesses, not businesses that we hope that one day we're going to flip or sell…,” Huw said. “We love what we do. We want to be doing this for as long as we can. As long as we can keep getting away with it.”

By foregoing the VC approach, you can provide more stability for your employees

What makes up a small business are the employees and team members who embrace the mission, put in the work, and create a unique culture. But more often than not, these very individuals become collateral damage – a consequence of following a traditional VC funding route. This is because VC funding leads to a high risk approach where people are seen as cogs in the machine.

“I don't understand how these high growth, high risk companies can attract people to them,” Rand said. “Who wants to work in an environment where it's like, okay, ‘now probably next year, we'll be out of business and have no jobs.’ What a pitch as an employee!”

Fortunately, other investment models can put your employees first – not your business growth. When you create a beneficial atmosphere for your workers, you’ll often see your team members’ output and happiness will increase. That’s what we found at Buffer when we transitioned to a four-day work week in 2020.

Your employees’ well being should be a huge factor in how you approach your business growth as they’re essentially the heart of your company.

Staying true to your vision and higher purpose

Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s community of businesses turned down what many would consider an offer of a lifetime – opening up a store in Disney World. If he had pursued the offer, it’s safe to assume this would create a world of opportunities for Zingerman’s. Yet, for Ari and his business partner Paul Saginaw, the decision to pass on one of the biggest companies in the world wasn’t difficult at all.

“The longest part of the conversation was how the [Disney team] wanted to explain to me why I wasn't understanding how great of an opportunity it was,” Ari said. “And I tried to say, ‘I’m honored that you're asking – it's a really great compliment. But it doesn't fit our vision.’ And finally, at the end, I just said, ‘if you want to open a Disney in Ann Arbor then we could talk.’”

You may be a bit confused as to why exactly Ari chose not to partner with Disney. The entrepreneur practices visioning, that is, laying out clear goals of what success looks like for Zingermans, and he sticks to those goals when considering all business opportunities.

Ari always knew he wanted to open up a community of businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan specifically. Opening up a store in Disney World and venturing out of Michigan would mean straying from his initial vision, which is why it was so easy for him to say no to the offer.

By sticking to these values, Ari has learned not to be reactive when making decisions, but intentional instead. He believes this has allowed him to keep his community at the forefront. While he does acknowledge this approach can lead to limitations, he believes these are good limitations to have.

“And theres problems that go with [turning down big money] — you're constrained. But it's the constraints of your choosing, and you're choosing to make your art in a way you feel really good about,” Ari said.

Understanding your business’s higher purpose is essential when considering accepting money from investors. Holly believes that all entrepreneurs need to thoroughly assess who they talk money from, especially because this decision could mean releasing control over their vision.

“What people tend to overlook when they are in the fundraising process is that they should be vetting the investors themselves,” Holly said. “You still want to understand if there's mutual respect for values, and especially if there's mutual respect for your vision of where the company is going.”

All of these companies – Buffer, Harlow, Zingerman’s, and Paynter Jacket – turned down big money offers and are thriving to this day, proving that money isn’t always the answer when growing your business.

Want more on turning down big money? Check out the full episode.

The businesses we interviewed in this episode have further insights to share about turning down big money and its value for brands. Check out the full episode here.


How These Small Businesses Cultivate Community

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). Check out the first episode here.

How These Small Businesses Cultivate Community

Building and managing a community has become a major piece of the successful small business puzzle for good reason — customers want it. Sixty-four percent of online community visitors say they’re visiting those sites more often, and 46 percent say the sites have become more important to them over time. This shows that digital spaces have become just as important as physical ones as more people interact online than ever. Creating that space in a meaningful way is vital for brands that want to connect with their audience.

We’ve written about how to build a meaningful community for your business. Now, we want to share precisely how different businesses build community around their brands with the hope that it will inspire you. In this companion piece to the first episode of Small Business, Big Lessons Season 2, we break down the most significant learnings about community from small business owners who have built theirs successfully.

Extending company culture to the audience

Part of the purpose of building a community around your brand is to extend your values and culture to the people that are meant to benefit from your product — the people you want to help.

Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a consultancy that provides entrepreneurs with the tools they need to grow their businesses while staying true to their purpose. She has used a culture-first approach to consultancy and adopts the following analogy when thinking about community.

“We want to think about company culture as the soil […] It provides all of the nourishment, it provides the stability, it is the foundation,’ shares Holly.

Of course, extending company culture and values to external parties relies on knowing what those look like in the first place. Values are very important to us at Buffer, and the same rings true for the businesses we interviewed in this episode.

On identifying your company values and tying them to company culture, Holly says, “…ensure that your values are clearly defined and that nobody else defines your values for you. [Values] have to come from our own personal internal motivations. They can't be something that we [outsource to a] focus group.”

People aren’t islands and will always need a community of some sort to get by. Ari Weinzweig, co-founder and CEO at Zingerman’s understands that, saying, “We're all products of a community. And so understanding that, we can either be passive about the community, or we can embrace that that's the reality and then try to make it as healthy as possible. …the healthier the community, the healthier we are, and [vice versa].”

Involve your team in community and culture building

You can’t extend your company culture without involving your employees. If your culture internally isn’t great, if your employees don’t buy in — it’ll be hard to get that out to an audience.

“The internal company culture and the external community should mirror each other […] I like to say employees can't deliver an experience they don't receive. So if we're selling this experience to our community we want to make sure we're delivering the same experience internally,” shares Holly Howard.

The idea of creating a great internal culture that feeds into your external community is corroborated by Kelly Phillips, co-founder of restaurant collective Destination Unknown, who actively transformed the service staff culture at her restaurants.

Kelly shares that at Destination Unknown restaurants, to offer workers a stable income, the company uses a professional wage model where full-time workers are offered a salary with a bonus incentive. This differs from a traditional wage model where workers don't know what they're going to make as their pay is based on tips that leave servers at the mercy of guests. Workers are also incentivized by a bonus structure which is a monthly bonus based on good reviews.

Kelly reports that turning the traditional idea of how service jobs are paid in the US on its head has led to amazing results. “The company has noticed a better quality of life for people and better teamwork. Servers are helping each other because they want to get good reviews because that's what their bonus is based on. And because they’re not as concerned with tipping, they can focus on providing guests with outstanding service that keeps them coming back.”

Kelly has written further on the Buffer blog about putting employees first. Read it here.

Bake community into the fabric of your company identity

From fitness to web3, some spaces rely on community to succeed from the jump. If you’re in an industry where your potential customers rely on collaboration with others either for education or networking, community should be part of your company identity.

Samantha Anderl and Andrea Wildt had a vision for the target audience of Harlow, a freelance management tool, before they even began building their product. So it made perfect sense to them to cultivate that community before they even started developing their tools.

For the Harlow founders, they knew they wanted to build a product that would solve their audience’s problems. So instead of focusing on what they wanted to build, they went to their community and asked ‘what problems do you need help solving?’

“…the best way to understand [customers’ problems], for any organization, is to be deeply connected to your community. So it just made sense for us to start connecting with freelancers early on in order to get that feedback to ensure that we're building what they needed,” shared Andrea.

Huw Thomas, the co-founder of Paynter Jacket, agrees with this sentiment and tacks on extra advice for thinking about building a community-first brand. “…the best advice I have for building a community is building it before you're even ready. Before you have a product before you have launched, start building it. Start with family and friends, get them signed up, and then get their family and friends signed up and build it on Instagram, or whatever social media platform that you're comfortable with.”

When your audience knows that they can trust you for whatever reason, whether that’s authority or expertise, or even sentiment, it’s easier to convince them to buy or engage with your product.

Samantha agrees saying, “We really want to build trust early on. If you build authority with your community, the more likely that community is to want to take a leap of faith and try out what you're offering or share your story. We'd been building connections and meaningful relationships … when we finally did launch, we had a bunch of people cheering us on and being really excited about what we're building and what we're trying to help solve.”

Curate a fanbase by building in public

We’re avid advocates of building in public and have been talking about it, and doing it ourselves, for years now. This is because we understand how valuable it can be for companies and their audience. Some companies have found success sharing every aspect of how they are building with their audience – Paynter, which sells clothing in limited-release collections called Batches, is one of them.

Fun fact: Paynter spoke to us about building in public in Season 1 of the podcast and an upcoming episode in Season 2. Subscribe and stay tuned for the latter!

Becky Okell, co-founder of Paynter shares, “It's really easy to mix up having an audience with having a community, but we think that they are two really different things, you can have a community and feel so part of something. And I think it's all about how engaged you are with that brand or that business.”

And although the audience for a clothing company might not naturally blossom into a community the way a fitness brand might, Becky emphasized the value of putting in the effort anyway. “As an online clothing brand, [community] is not going to happen unless we really invest, try, and work for it. [But] building a community for us was super important [and] working in public was a huge part of doing that.”

Paynter’s strategy of attracting fans and community by building in public continues to bear fruit. Their audience is constantly engaged and sells out each collection of their jackets within minutes.

The brand also actively takes steps to engage its community with frequent in-person meetups held in different cities around the world. This allows them to be present in their community and extend it beyond clothing.

Create authentic connections by putting your personality front-and-center

Solo, small business owners have an opportunity to connect with their audience based on the strength of their personality alone. Azikiwee “Z” Anderson, head baker and owner of Rize Up bakery in San Francisco, California, is a passionate advocate for putting your whole self into your business.

Z shares, “The purpose behind my businesses the same purpose that is behind me, which is trying to make the world a better place. This is one of the first things I've ever done where I really feel seen, like my individuality resonates with people and that they're excited to follow my story – it's very freeing.”

Connecting with people by showing them the real people behind the brand and letting them know about your passion for what you do and how you operate can deepen your connection with them.

Solving problems and being creative comes as naturally to Z as making great bread. He says about creating content for Rize Up, “A majority of the stuff that I put up is not really preconceived – I'm having a good time and so I show people what I'm doing.”

Go beyond online spaces to meet your audience face-to-face

Meeting in person is an invaluable way to create deeper connections with your audience. We’ve interviewed companies that do this as part of their community building, and the podcast interviewees are no strangers to the value of face-to-face interactions.

Sheena Russell is the founder and CEO of Made with Local, a Canadian snack foods company that has social impact baked in. She credits the community found by setting up at farmers’ markets in the early years of the company with the deep understanding and connection the brand has with its customers.

Sheena looks back at their farmer’s market days fondly and shares, “the market research that we could do with all those customers that came by was invaluable. I think we [now] have a clear view of exactly who our customers are at Made with Local. I don't think we'd be where we are today without having that foundation built of deep community connection.”

And Z agrees that in-person interaction is powerful for building community. “It's the easiest way to connect directly with people and have interactions where you matter to them and they matter to you…And so I wanted to be a part of that. And I wanted it to be a major part of what we do.”

Becky and Huw have also found ways to take their online clothing brand to offline spaces. They kicked off “Paynter at the Pub” as an anti-Black Friday event. “we thought instead of having a sale or trying to sell anything, let's just bring people together. And let's do it physically this time, it'd be so nice not just for us to meet our customers but for our customers to meet each other.” They made it open to absolutely everyone in their community, not just customers.

Meeting their community in person was really powerful for the Paynter co-founders, “ It was just really special to put faces to names, to have a really good chat [and] for customers to meet each other. ”

Shine the spotlight on the community — not the business

Community should be about the people within it — make it all about profit or your business, and you risk driving them away. And the best way to understand what your community needs from you is by listening to them, insist Harlow’s founders.

“We've really learned how important it is to start by listening,” says Samantha, “and to start by advocating and by honestly just being selfless. So you have to give to get when you're first building your community. It's so important upfront to establish that trust and that authority. And you really can't do that unless you spend the time listening.”

Andrea follows up, adding, “I feel like I can't stress that enough – that you can't go into building community, just from the perspective of ‘what am I going to get out of it?’ It really does need to be more of a selfless act of ‘how can I connect? How can I listen? How can I help? What resources can I provide?’ And that's where I think you're able to build the more robust and meaningful connections with people.”

Want more on cultivating communities? Check out the full episode.

The businesses we interviewed in this episode have further insights to share about community building and its value for brands. Check out the full episode here. And for practical steps on setting up a community for your own business, see this full-length guide to community management.


Introducing Season 2 of Small Business, Big Lessons — a Buffer Original Series

Introducing Season 2 of Small Business, Big Lessons — a Buffer Original Series

We encounter a lot of incredible small businesses regularly at Buffer. Last year, we had the chance to highlight eight of them in season one of a new Buffer original series — Small Business, Big Lessons.

We’re happy to share that the series is back! So start listening to Small Business, Big Lessons Season 2 wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll release a new episode every Tuesday for the next six weeks.

In this series, we’re bringing you business stories like you’ve never heard before. We’re going behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they’re questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys so far.

This series includes interviews with:

Last season, we heard from innovative entrepreneurs using their businesses to redefine how great work happens.

This season, we’ll hear from innovative small business owners building communities, turning down big money, and proving it’s possible to build a successful business while doing good along the way. We’ll talk to an incredible group of entrepreneurs who prove that you can run a successful small business on your terms.

You’ll hear uplifting and inspiring stories from a new group of incredible business owners and a few familiar voices from season one, and you’ll gain insight from us here at Buffer.

Be sure to subscribe to Small Business, Big Lessons wherever you get your podcasts, and you’ll be the first to hear about new episodes as soon as they’re released.


5 Small Businesses to Support this Hispanic Heritage Month

5 Small Businesses to Support this Hispanic Heritage Month

Every year, the U.S. observes Hispanic Heritage Month from September to October. The celebration got its start in California when congressman George. E. Brown introduced legislation to create a week acknowledging the positive contributions of the Hispanic community. That same year, President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed September 17, 1968, as Hispanic Heritage Week.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the holiday, declaring September 15 – October 15th Hispanic Heritage Month. There is significance to these dates as September 15 marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity to honor individuals of Hispanic descent as well as highlight their culture, traditions, and impact. Today, almost five million businesses in the United States are Hispanic-owned and bring in more than $800 billion dollars each year. Most small businesses have limited resources, making your support crucial. When you buy from these brands, not only are you stimulating the economy, but you’re making it possible for these mom-and-pop shops to stay afloat.

We wanted to highlight five small Hispanic-owned businesses that are providing innovative products and services as well as ushering in more representation in their respective industries.

Bonita Fierce Candles is creating candles inspired by Hispanic culture

Melissa Gallardo, a Salvadoran-American, created her own brand in 2020 called Bonita Fierce Candles. The small business creates scented candles with distinct aromas that Melissa grew up around. Her candle range includes a variety of warming and calming scents, including ‘cafecito con leche,’ which is inspired by Latin American coffee, ‘coquito,’ a scent reminiscent of traditional Puerto Rican eggnog, and ‘abuelas bakery,’ a candle meant to make you nostalgic for home.

On the company’s website, Melissa discusses how she’s struggled in the past to connect with her heritage but found solace with the Latin American community after she graduated college. When the pandemic hit soon after, she began making candles as a quarantine hobby and realized most candles on the market did not represent the various scents she grew up with, which led her to open up Bonita Fierce Candles as a way to celebrate Latina heritage at home.

For the rest of Hispanic Heritage Month, Bonita Fierce Candles is offering twenty percent off its products along with free shipping.

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Alter Eco’s chocolate is fighting back against climate change

Alter Eco is a small business that is revolutionizing the chocolate industry. Their slogan is “the cleanest, greenest chocolate,” as the company’s mission is to create food that nourishes the Earth rather than depleting it. They work on small-scale fair trade farms, practice dynamic forestry, which can mitigate climate change, and launched the world’s first commercially compostable candy wrapper in 2013, to name just a few of their many sustainable practices.

While the brand has a range of chocolate products and also sells quinoa and granola, they created new limited edition items with A Dozen Cousins in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month: hot cocoa bombs. The product can be bought in two flavors, Mexican Hot Chocolate and White Chocolate Coquito.

In a newsletter announcing the collaboration, Alter Eco’s CEO Arnulfo Ventura reminisced on his own childhood, “Growing up my mom cooked dishes native to her hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. When we were lucky, the aroma of simmering Mexican hot cocoa filled the kitchen.”

Alter Eco is donating all proceeds from this collaboration to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.

TOA Waters is shaking up the bubble bath industry

Most bubble bath products contain floral scents, something Javier Folgar wanted to change. As someone who takes bubble baths himself, the entrepreneur is on a mission to end the social stigma around men enjoying baths, which led to the creation of his small business, Toa Waters. The company is named after a Cuban river – a nod to Javier’s heritage.

Tao Waters bubble baths come in a variety of bold scents, including teakwood, rum, sandalwood, and tobacco. All of the products are vegan and made with organic and responsibly sourced ingredients. Customers can feel extra good about supporting this brand as the small business has partnered with several deserving causes, including the American Cancer Society. They’ve also donated ten percent of proceeds from their Sweet Temptation line to the Ukrainian red cross.

El Comalito is serving authentic Salvadorian food

Pupuseria El Comalito is an artisanal Salvadorian pupuseria, or tortilla shop, with several locations throughout Maryland. They prepare their food with a traditional cooking process from El Salvador, making their cuisine authentic and delicious. Silvia Huezo is the current owner of the pupuseria and inherited the business from her parents. She immigrated to the United States with her family when she was only six years old.

By the time she was in high school, her mom and dad had opened up the first location of the restaurant. Now, all these years later, the family owns four locations, and their food has been a staple for the Salvadoran community in Maryland.

Silvia was interviewed by a local Maryland business association in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and said she was happy to take on her parent’s legacy. She also spoke about what it’s like being a Latina entrepreneur. “One of the things that I am most proud of as a Latina is our resilience and tenacity,” she said. “Our unwavering disposition to never give up! Whether it’s unstable political climates in our homelands, poverty, lack of acceptance … we continue to get up, dust off and carry on.”

El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil is passing down traditions through the arts

El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil, translated to The Student Folkloric Ballet, is a nonprofit organization in Michigan that preserves Mexican culture and educates its students on Mexican folkloric dance and music. The Ballet then performs these very dances throughout Michigan, bringing more cultural awareness to the community. They also provide private and group lessons for students wanting to learn instruments.

The organization’s goal is not only to help students embrace their heritage, but to also provide them with structured community programs that can help them become well-rounded individuals. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Ballet performed at a local community center on October 7th.

5 Small Businesses to Support this Hispanic Heritage Month

We love highlighting diverse voices at Buffer and appreciate all the good these five brands are doing, all while staying true to their roots. Remember, these businesses deserve your support beyond Hispanic Heritage Month, but all year round.

While purchasing their products is the most impactful way to help these small businesses, there are other ways to show your support, like sharing these brands with your friends and family on social media and leaving reviews for their products and services.

What small businesses are you supporting this Hispanic Heritage Month? Let us know on Twitter and Instagram!


Social Proof: Katelyn Bourgoin on Knowing Your Audience

Social Proof: Katelyn Bourgoin on Knowing Your Audience

Welcome to the sixth and final (for now) installment of Social Proof with Katelyn Bourgoin. Katelyn is an entrepreneur and creator who’s built several companies and agencies and even sold one successfully.

She’s currently working as the CEO and Lead Trainer at Customer Camp, a company dedicated to helping its clients better understand buyer psychology. Her wealth of experience in marketing and customer research has earned her the nickname of ‘Customer Whisperer’.

In this interview, we talk about how she grew her personal brand, with a newsletter called Why We Buy that has an audience of 10,000 people and a Twitter account with eight times that number.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Q: I’m so excited to have you on for Social Proof, Katelyn! What do you think about personal branding in general? And would you even call what you have a personal brand?

Yes, I would call it a personal brand. I wasn't very intentional about building a personal brand initially. What I knew was that I wanted to expand my audience beyond Atlantic Canada, which is where I'm based and where most of my clients are. But I didn't want to be beholden to only working with companies from one region, so it made sense for me to work on building an audience beyond.

I chose Twitter as my first platform because I like writing there – and I do some on LinkedIn now too. But I never went into it necessarily thinking, “I need a personal brand.”

I just started sharing things that I thought were interesting and interacting with people I admired and thought were interesting. I found that it was such a fun place to both create content and meet people that I just started spending more time there. The audience was growing and then eventually was like, “Oh snap, I think I have a personal brand.”

Q: There's often so much fighting for our attention, which must be even more prominent for you running a company, publishing on LinkedIn and Twitter, and writing a newsletter. How do you balance all of those things? Do you adopt a consistent voice across all your channels and cross-post content with a focus on one over another, or do you have a strategic approach for each channel?

It's a mix that started with boosting traffic for our business. For example, initially, I wasn't working with sponsors or doing any revenue-generation with my newsletter. I wanted to grow the email list, but I was using it as a channel to get the audience to discover the other parts of our business. I was also working on growing my social media following to grow awareness of the company more broadly. But I would say that since deciding to focus on growing the newsletter, I've become much more intentional about my social channels than before.

Where before I stuck to the same topic of customer research because that’s our main product, now I'm finding that I want to create something more like a hub and spoke model that more broadly covers buyer psychology. So I’m educating the newsletter’s audience on buyer psychology and then on why they need to do customer research on their own customer base.

Q: You already mentioned that it was the need to find customers outside your immediate region that led to you focusing on growing a personal brand. So chicken or egg question: would you say that it was a need to grow your business that led you to social media, or did social media inspire your business ideas?

There are opportunities that I have now because of growing my social that I never considered a possibility. I knew that building my social would allow me to open doors that may not have been open to me before.

Social Proof: Katelyn Bourgoin on Knowing Your Audience

But like with the newsletter, for instance, I never thought about growing my social so that I could one day have a newsletter that could become a revenue-generating asset for my business, but because I have the social channels and following. I knew at a high level that it would open up doors, but I didn’t know exactly what doors would open. It’s been a fantastic surprise to see it all evolve.

Q: Which of the channels you work with have been the most valuable for growing your personal brand?

I would say they each play a role. Twitter's definitely the place where I have invested the most time and energy. And because of that, most of my newsletter growth comes from there in the sense that it's someone finding the newsletter through Twitter and then recommending it there as well.

Then the newsletter allows me to deepen the connection with those people from Twitter because I get to have this amazing spot in their inbox every week where I get their full attention, as opposed to being in the feed where there are lots of other things competing for attention.

I’m fortunate to have both, and I'd much rather interact with my audience on Twitter than respond back and forth via email – I think it's more fun for us. The conversations are more effortless and casual. I think that the two are used in different ways but are also symbiotic. They work together.

Q: There is a question I like to ask which is can you define your personal brand in three words/phrases/terms?

I've given some thought to this because I used to own a branding agency. So we're very intentional about my brand, the Why We Buy brand. I want people to think about me in three words: ‘geeky’, ‘fun’, ‘marketer’.

Social Proof: Katelyn Bourgoin on Knowing Your Audience

I get excited about the nerdy parts of marketing – buyer psychology and understanding people, but I also want to make it fun. I want to make it fun for me, and I want to make it fun for my audience. So I'd say if I had to sum it up, I'm a geeky marketer, but I really want it to be fun. I want the people learning about the sometimes dry and dull stuff that we teach to be entertained.

Q: You have the label “Customer Whisperer” in your Twitter bio, which is so interesting. Is that an intentional personal brand label or a nickname that came about because of your work?

Well, somebody called me that, so I didn't come up with it myself. We offer training [at Customer Camp], and typically we would do it through partners here in Atlantic Canada. And one of our partners works for an organization that supports a whole bunch of different styles of businesses and helps them to export outside of Canada. And she started introducing me to the workshop participants as the Customer Whisperer.

So I started using it, and I think it creates curiosity which is really important in marketing, but it also speaks to an evident desire that people have which is they want to have more customers, and they know that they need to understand them to be able to have more of them. I think that it just fits with everything that I want to be about.

Q: That’s a cool example of the power of social proof in your personal brand – everything you’ve been communicating leads people to the conclusion you want them to have of you and your brand. You've done a lot of work with branding and understanding the customer psyche. Has that impacted how you communicate yourself and the projects that you work on or your achievements?

Absolutely. I don't consider myself to be a super customer researcher or buyer psychology expert, but I consider myself to be more like someone geeky about it and always learning. Oftentimes the topics that we're talking about in the newsletter are presented like I have a high-level understanding. But really, we’re just learning about it ahead of teaching it to others. There’s a lot that I'm learning about only weeks before I'm sharing examples in my newsletter or on social.

I love learning about these topics and then testing them in our own business and seeing what works for us and what doesn't. It always makes me reflect back on our own marketing collateral or website or on messaging and see opportunities for optimization. We experiment and apply many of the principles we cover because our audience relies on our advice, and we want it to work for our customers.

Q: Can you paint a picture of actions you’ve taken for your personal brand as Katelyn Bourgoin and not necessarily as Katelyn of Customer Camp? And what opportunities have these actions gotten you?

I would say the most significant actions that have led to opportunities are engaging with people I admire.

When we were still producing our podcast, most of our guests came through the interactions and relationships I’d built on social. I’d been engaging with people whose careers I admired, like Rand Fishkin and Bob Moesta, not for any ulterior motives but because I admired them. So when I reached out to get them on the podcast, they said yes. Then when we got to meet on the podcast, because we had so many things that we were geeky about in common, we would just start talking, and that led to other opportunities to get to work together. Bob Moesta and I co-hosted an event together, and Rand Fishkin invited me to a founder retreat he was doing in Italy. All of this came from getting to first start with very small interactions on social and amplifying their work, supporting them, and getting excited about what they were doing, which then led to real offline friendships with people who I only ever dreamed that I would get to talk to.

The benefit for my personal brand was that the more I got to kind of be seen in association with these folks – authority figures in their industry – it acted as a form of social proof: Oh, Katelyn got Rand on her podcast, that's amazing, or oh, she's doing a webinar with Bob Moesta, she must know her stuff.

The reality is it just came from starting to build a network on social and then turning that into a quick conversation and being excited about the same things and then turning those into friendships.

Q: Would you say that Customer Camp relies on your personal brand a lot, or have you been able to separate the two? I ask this because in my research before this interview, I almost fell into the trap of constantly equating everything Katelyn with everything Customer Camp.

If you asked me this question two years ago, I would have said very wholeheartedly, “I'm a champion of Customer Camp, but at the end of the day, I want people to know it's bigger than me.” I had a larger team at the time. And so yes, people will associate me with the brand as the founder, but ultimately Customer Camp is what I want people to think of, and I want there to be a separation between us.

In the last two years, my life has changed in many unexpected ways, some good and some difficult. So we had a baby, but at the same time, my husband ended up having two unexpected surgeries and was unable to work and lift our son. That caused me to make some changes to the business, and I had some plans of how I was going to grow Customer Camp that I reevaluated and changed.

Now I'm actually in the process of focusing on growing Why We Buy as a media brand and me being the face of that. So I'm okay with people associating Why We Buy, our newsletter, with me because I plan to grow that asset, and I want to be the face of it in the same way that – and this is a crazy example I'm not comparing myself to him – Joe Rogan is the Joe Rogan Experience. You can't just pop him out and put somebody else in and have the company be the same. I want to do that with Why We Buy, but that wasn't always the plan.

Q: With everything we've discussed so far in mind, what would you do if you were starting your personal brand today? What platforms or mediums would you decide to go with?

I'd probably I would still do Twitter because it fits into my life and takes advantage of my personal strengths with short-form writing.

I might also consider TikTok, but I could see myself getting into the weeds and trying to make the most elaborate TikToks ever. But I've intentionally stayed away from it because I just don't need another thing to be addicted to.

And I would throw LinkedIn in there as well. The nice thing is that you can repurpose most of your Twitter content. While I haven't been as intentional with LinkedIn as I'm going to start being, I have been able to take years worth of content that I've been creating over on Twitter and modify it for LinkedIn.

Q: Have you experienced any downsides in building a personal brand?

I wrote a thread about this when I crossed 75,000 followers on Twitter, sharing seven lessons I've learned and five hard things that nobody tells you about but growing your audience.

For one, social media becomes addictive and not in a good way. You're constantly logging in and refreshing, waiting for more notifications – that's not good for your brain. It's not good for your relationships because like you're way too plugged into what's happening on your phone.

Also, as your audience grows, it becomes more challenging to respond to everything and interact with everyone. Sometimes, I get hundreds of notifications – thousands if a post goes viral. I used to be able to interact with everyone, answer every question, and respond to every comment. Now I'm missing things, and it's hard to ensure I've interacted with everybody.

You'll also start to have a lot more people reach out to you, asking questions, for advice, for your time, and often people who you've never interacted with before. I'd like to get to a place where I can respond to everyone, but I don't see how unless I hire somebody to start managing my personal account. I don't see how I could keep up with it all, especially as the audience keeps growing.

And the final thing I talked about in the post is you start to compare yourself to other people. You compare yourself to other creators. You see people that are growing faster than you that are putting out a lot more content than you, and you wonder how they can do it all because they have a busy life too.

Q: What would you recommend for someone that is trying to be intentional about not only building their own channels, whether that's publishing YouTube videos or writing a newsletter, but also trying to deepen the connection with their audience on social media?

I think you should go really deep into one channel and build an audience there, get good at creating content for that platform, and understand what works with your audience on that platform. Once you have an audience – and it doesn't need to be a big audience – it might be time to get started getting people to sign up for a newsletter. Focus on publishing that newsletter every two weeks and getting your Twitter following to allow you in their inbox.

Social Proof: Katelyn Bourgoin on Knowing Your Audience

What I think that people struggle with is they try to be on too many platforms at once with a too-small team. If you have a larger team, it makes sense for you to be across these different channels. But for many companies, they've got one marketer, and they're expecting them to post to Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Tiktok.

Show up in their attention, and then get their trust enough that they'll come to where you are and actually get value over in your place.

Q: Finally, I’d love to pull on the thread of going all in and direct that to the topic of picking a niche. Would you say that focusing on customer research and buyer psychology was a valid initial approach for your content?

It depends on what you're talking about and who your audience is. For Twitter, I was really focused on understanding the customer – that was the thing I wanted people to associate with me. But I also identified my sub-topics in offering marketing tips and generally sharing things from my personal life. I’m very intentional about staying on topic, but I pepper in other things to see the response.

With the newsletter, I tried to avoid a mistake I often see others make. They will pick a topic that aligns with the service that they offer or the products that they sell, but their audiences aren’t interested in reading about it every day. Or one that is only relevant to them when they're doing a relevant project. I've seen people launch newsletters on writing sales pages, and it's like, that's a newsletter that people are gonna sign up for when they have to write a sales page. And then, three weeks later, they're not going to open your emails anymore because it's not relevant.

So in my case, I could have written my whole newsletter about customer research, but in most companies, customer research is a project and not something they do every day. It's not something that they always care about. But buyer psychology is something that, regardless of what you're working on, it's going to be relevant whether you're designing a new landing page or whether you're trying to convince your boss to give you a raise.

When it comes to people's newsletters or YouTube shows, you want to grow an audience that's going to come back to you week after week. You want to make sure that the topic that you talk about is something that is going to be consistently relevant to them.


Katelyn’s experience building a personal brand has evolved with her growth as an entrepreneur. She’s become so well-known for her knowledge in buyer psychology and customer research that she earned the nickname “Customer Whisperer.” Here are some of the top takeaways from our interview with Katelyn about building a personal brand that speaks for itself:

  • Pick a niche that has lasting relevance: Katelyn’s – and Customer Camp’s – expertise and service is in customer research. But both the founder and the company are known for a deep understanding of customer psychology – a broader topic that has relevance regardless of whether the audience needs their service or not. Try to find topics that your audience will always come back to you for, regardless of whether they need your services immediately or not.
  • Start with one channel and work your way up from there: As Katelyn said, people often try to be on too many platforms at once but end up being spread too thin. Grow an audience and develop trust on one platform – then carry them over to other channels as you evolve your personal brand.
  • Adopt cross-posting for your personal brand: A sentiment we also heard from Jack Appleby is that you should be repurposing content across your social media platforms. It saves you time and is an easy way to connect with a new audience using content you’ve already created.

🔌 Do you want to build deep relationships with your audience and show off your expertise? Start publishing consistently to your chosen channels with Buffer today.


How I Built a 200,000-Person Paid Membership Community With $0 in the Bank to Start

How I Built a 200,000-Person Paid Membership Community With $0 in the Bank to Start

If I could give one piece of advice about the best way to start a successful community, it would be to build the one you need yourself.

I launched Tech Ladies for selfish reasons. I worked in tech but didn’t have many women colleagues, and I wanted to build a network that could help me grow and weather any job change. Also, it was fun and validating to meet other women facing the same issues I did at work.

Turns out, so many other people felt the same way at work too. As one of the first communities for all women in tech, not just engineers, Tech Ladies had a wide pool of potential members, and they started showing up in droves. Our community was adding hundreds of new people each week without any paid advertising.

Over the past six years, Tech Ladies has continued to grow steadily with very little money spent on acquisition (which was especially important given I made the decision to bootstrap my company instead of seeking outside funding). With over 200,000 members, we’re now one the largest communities of women in tech. And more importantly, we’ve had a measurable impact on the lives of our members, helping them land jobs, grow in their careers, and find support they might not have access to at work.

The strategies that got my community here weren’t complicated—most of them I could implement myself while building the company from my couch. They just involved a deep dedication to and understanding of the people I was here to serve.

Here are four simple approaches that worked for me while building my community on a budget.

1. I made it easy to join and tempting to stay

When building a community, it’s not enough to bring members in; you also have to know how to keep them.

To think through this, I did a lifecycle analysis of my target member. I started by asking myself: Why would someone join Tech Ladies? I knew most people came to us through the job board when they were searching for their next opportunity, and given that was our biggest acquisition path, I wanted to keep the job board free and easy to access. We simply require people to sign up for a free account to start applying, which also subscribes them to our newsletter.

If I had just left the community at that, members would churn as soon as they got a job, maybe returning in a few years when they’re ready for a new role. So, I asked myself, what would make someone stick around? My thinking was, at any point in a person’s career, they need help with something—how could we provide exactly what they need at every step?

This inspired me to add a free community forum, where people can ask for help when they’re stuck on something at work. It also encouraged me to make sure the events we hosted weren’t only about networking for job searchers, but also focused on other topics that would help members grow their careers. This exercise also helped me see the potential for adding a paid membership tier—with even more learning resources and networking opportunities—for members who wanted a deeper investment in their career.

Thanks to this exercise, many of our members have been around for years and years. And when they see the value they get from the community, they refer others, making this customer lifecycle a flywheel that helps Tech Ladies keep on growing.

2. I integrated the community with my members’ habits

To keep community engagement high, I looked for repeatable ways to help us become a part of our members’ daily lives.

In the very early days, this was our job drop email. We were posting new jobs to the community daily, but by rounding them up and branding them as “Job Drop Tuesdays,” we had a feature members looked forward to every week. We check in with our paid community weekly with a “goals and wins” post that everyone can contribute to. And we’ve always been mindful of having a regular cadence of events.

This repeatable content has been really key in terms of building relationships and thought leadership with our members. Think about it: With the weekly emails alone, members hear from us 52 times a year and start to think of us as the place to go for fresh job listings. The weekly community posts and regular events became an easy way members could engage with each other and be reminded of the value we offer.  

Key to this approach is ease and choosing activities that my team could feasibly deliver on a regular cadence. A mistake I see a lot of communities make is over-promising and under-delivering: For instance, throwing one massive event and then getting busy and never having another event again. I found it’s better to start small with something we could really stick to so our members never feel like we’re letting them down.

3. I aligned my incentives with the community

As a business owner, my incentive is to make money—at least enough to support myself, to pay my team, and to grow the business. But I never want members to feel like we’re constantly trying to upsell them on the paid membership tier. In fact, that’s a fast way to compromise the health and integrity of the community.

So we built a revenue model that functions no matter how a member engages with the community. Obviously, it’s great if someone joins as a paid member, because they offer direct revenue to the company. But a free member who finds a job through us is also valuable—it’s a win for our hiring partners and encourages them to keep renewing with us year after year. People who contribute to the community make it more valuable for everyone and may refer someone new to join Tech Ladies.

Ultimately, there are so many ways members can benefit our community and our company, I’ve found it doesn't serve us to obsess about who’s going to pay us and when. By creating multiple revenue streams, we’ve made it easier to focus on supporting our community in exactly the ways they need so they’re excited to keep supporting us back.

4. I’ve always stayed obsessed with what my members want

Yes, I started Tech Ladies because it was the community I needed personally. But it turns out the best way to build the community was by setting aside my own needs, wants, and vision being obsessed with what my members truly want.

My team does user research constantly. Sometimes it's formal: Sending out a survey asking members what they’d like to see from us, or doing A/B tests on new features to see what people interact with. But, more often than not, this simply involves staying engaged in our own community and paying attention. What are the topics that pop up in the community most often? Which events have the highest attendance rate, and how can we build on those topics?

This is how we came up with the idea to launch a Leadership Accelerator. We saw over and over that once members got jobs, they often struggled to continue growing. We just launched the first accelerator cohort this fall and plan to continue working with our members to hone how we can best support them through this next step in their career growth.

In other words, the obsession with learning from our community never stops. We launch something new, we learn more, we tweak our approach or come up with fresh ideas to offer our members. Rinse, repeat—and watch the Tech Ladies community continue to grow and thrive for years to come.

Want to learn more of my growth strategies? Subscribe to my newsletter, Bootstrap to Millions (with Allison), for more regular advice and stories from Tech Ladies’ growth.


All the Founders Around Me Were Raising Money — Here’s Why I Didn’t

All the Founders Around Me Were Raising Money — Here's Why I Didn't

I always wanted to build something big.

When I started Tech Ladies in 2015 as a coffee meetup in New York City, I could immediately see the potential for it to grow into something larger. As a woman in tech myself, I craved a network to support me through the unique challenges I faced in the workplace. I also realized I was sitting on the answer to the “pipeline problem” that every tech company at the time was claiming prevented them from hiring more women in tech. It seemed like such a simple solution to connect our community with those who wanted to diversify their teams.

Of course, when you’re building something big in tech, most people expect that you’ll raise money to help you grow that big thing faster. While nearly all the founders around me were going the VC route, I decided bootstrapping would be better for us. And now, all these years later, I’m so glad I built it this way.

Don’t get me wrong, there are downsides to bootstrapping your business: You will move slower in staffing up your team, you will operate in lean ways that make you miss out on some opportunities to test at scale, you could lose out to a well-funded competitor who gets market share of what you’re doing (although I find that last one to be somewhat rare). And sure, I had moments when I felt wistful about the glamor of raising venture capital. It would have been nice to have a quick win, to be able to say I raised millions and therefore had a solid idea that important people thought was going to be profitable for them. Sometimes I wished I had a shiny office like all of my founder friends, and the ability to hire right away, staff up, and get this thing as big as we could make it.

But ultimately, none of that stopped our growth. Today, Tech Ladies is the largest community of women in tech with over 150,000 members and generating millions in revenue. We’ve helped hundreds of women find jobs in tech and helped companies diversify their teams. We’ve offered events, training, networking, and resources to women in tech and have had a huge impact in the industry. And I got to do it all without sacrificing my vision (or a percentage of my company).

Here are some of the reasons why bootstrapping was the right path for me and the ways it has helped our company succeed since.

I Proved My Vision Quickly, But It Wasn’t VC Scale

The first indicator that I could bootstrap was the pace at which I started generating revenue that would, in turn, support business growth.

Early on, we started charging companies to place job postings in our weekly newsletter. At the time, the community only had 3,000 members but, because it was an incredible high-quality group of smart women in tech, it was a great pool to hire from. When the postings started bringing in around $5,000 a month and I didn’t have time to reply to every request coming in, I knew it was time to leave my job and work on building Tech Ladies full-time.

Since it seemed like everyone around me was raising money from venture capital firms, I figured I should take a few meetings with some VC connections I had made over the years. From the first meeting, a friendly VC encouraged me to put together a pitch that would promise outsized returns. “How is this a billion dollar company?” he asked. Embarrassingly, I returned with a blank stare and fumbled some answer off the top of my head. Another VC offered me a $50,000 check on the spot if I would just tell him I was “building the LinkedIn for women.”

I went back to my desk later that night and started drafting up some copy around how Tech Ladies could be a billion-dollar business. But everything I wrote felt out of touch with reality, or like a huge exaggeration. When I thought about becoming a massive social network, it didn’t sit right, and I wasn’t sure we could maintain our quality at that scale. I glanced over at the whiteboard next to me where I had clearly mapped out a bootstrapped pathway to make $500,000 our first year, a million after that, and $10 million in the following years. I was the sole owner of this company. Why would I not take a swing at that?

I canceled all the rest of my VC meetings and got back to building.

Going all in on your business without venture capital can be scary. But I asked myself: Do I want to be the founder who burned through $20-30 million in capital trying to build something I don’t totally believe in, or the founder who made even $5-10 million building something smaller but meaningful? Yes, some companies need to raise venture capital because they can’t create revenue until they spend years finalizing their product. But a surprising number can start making an impact (and a profit) quickly. I felt in my gut that was the right path for Tech Ladies.

I’ve Had to Make Everything Work ASAP

As we all know from watching the rise and fall of unicorn startups, raising money actually says very little about whether a company will succeed. Many companies that go the VC route spend a lot of time and money spinning their wheels without ever quite figuring out how to make a profit.

The thing I always tell people about bootstrapping, on the other hand, is that everything has to work. You don’t have six months to ponder revenue models—you have to get to profitability as soon as possible. You don’t have time to debate different strategies—you need to start trying them and see what sticks.

That’s the hard part about bootstrapping, but also the great part. Building a successful company isn’t about getting a few rich people to believe in you, it’s about putting something out into the world that people think is valuable enough to pay for. I’m glad we were forced to figure that out instead of having the money to try a business model for years and have it ultimately not work out.

This isn’t to say we never had failures, we just had to learn from them and adjust very quickly. For example, when you’re bootstrapping it’s very easy to be overprotective of your revenue. After all, that’s your money at the end of the day, so investing it back in the business is another muscle you need to learn to build. For me, one of our biggest mistakes was not hiring full-time people to the team sooner. I think we could have accelerated our growth by about two years if we had made one to two strategic hires, instead of me stubbornly running everything on my own with a few freelancers.

Of course, there were times when I looked at venture-backed companies and dreamed of sitting in their beautiful offices with their massive teams. But I was okay with learning to live without that so I could stay focused on what really matters: the thing we were building and whether it serves people.

I’ve Been Able to Stay Dedicated & Responsive to My Community

Bootstrapping has been especially powerful because I’ve been able to stay focused on our community and our clients as our bosses, rather than having to balance shareholder interests, too.

Like many community-oriented businesses, we have a tight feedback loop with our members and are always paying attention to how we can better serve them. Unlike VC-backed businesses, we can stay really nimble and adjust with our members as their needs change over time. We’ve had instances where we’ve beaten companies with huge amounts of venture capital because we were able to ship something quickly while they were still running things by their biggest investor, putting together reports, and debating the plan.

While they were scaling up global teams that never panned out, we were focused on getting hires for our partners, hosting events that resonated with our community, and building a paid community to help women in tech grow their careers.

Ultimately, my favorite thing about bootstrapping a business is that it's available to everyone and ready for the taking. The only thing holding any of us back is limiting beliefs about what we can build, how we can build it, and if we even deserve it. That’s especially important given that only 2 percent of venture capital funding went to women-owned businesses in 2021. We can talk about all the societal changes that need to happen to fix that—and I’m personally investing my own capital in women-founded companies I believe in—but in the meantime, I hope more founders will stop waiting for permission from the VC powers that be and start working on their ideas on their own terms.

You can build any company you want on the internet right now and make millions of dollars doing it. Why not get started?

Want to learn more of my bootstrapping strategies? Subscribe to my newsletter, Bootstrap to Millions (with Allison), for more regular advice and stories from Tech Ladies’ growth.