The Shark Group
When he started his fashion business FUBU in 1992, Daymond John made mistakes because he didn't have much financial experience managing a business. But one thing he did exceptionally well was use inexpensive marketing techniques to build an appetite for his company's fashions.
When the business started, John and his friends had to stitch FUBU's hats and T-shirts together themselves in his mother's house. “We turned the house into a factory, and we would sleep in sleeping bags next to the sewing machines,” John says.
But thanks to his marketing savvy, FUBU — which stands for “For Us, By Us” — has earned more than $6 billion in sales worldwide, and John, 50, is a star on the four-time Emmy-Award-winning reality TV show Shark Tank. He shared the following three tips on how small-business owners can spread the word about what their companies have to offer without having to spend lots of money on advertising and marketing.
Use your influencers
John started FUBU because he saw a need for fashion that captured the style of rap. It was created specifically for fans of hip-hop music.
"At that time, we were really taking the clothes that were made for a whole different purpose and reinterpreting them for the street,” John says. “Fila and Ellesse, those are all for tennis. Timberland was for mountain climbing. I wanted to make clothes that were for hip-hop, period. This wasn't to climb a mountain. This was for walking down the street and feeling fly."
And because FUBU's styles matched music, rap artists started to wear the brand's clothing in their music videos. This approach to marketing helped FUBU get high-profile exposure, even though John and his friends were still sewing the company's signature T-shirts and hats themselves in his mother's house.
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"We got such a groundswell from placing our shirts in videos,” John says. “Mariah Carey, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Busta Rhymes, Puff Daddy videos. People would just see these shirts and think FUBU was everywhere.” In reality, at that time the company had such a limited budget, they were just loaning the same handful of shirts to different artists to wear while filming their videos. Once the video shoot finished, the artists had to give back the shirts.
John shared the story to point out the power of getting influencers to acknowledge or support your business. In his case, 20 years ago, it was popular musicians. But influencers today include people who have lots of followers on Twitter and Facebook — and sometimes are just a tweet away.
Make the most of social media
There's no reason you can't become an influencer on social media yourself, which can attract more customers for your business. The keys are to have a consistent presence and share your enthusiasm on topics where you're an expert, John says.
"If you're a chef, you could talk about healthy meals every day at 12 o'clock,” he says. “Where you can get the best cuts of meat or where you can get the best food. What is organic or not organic. Every day, you post that, and you say ‘Hey, when you go home today, try these things.’ Then when you have a restaurant you're opening, a food delivery service that's online or a book you're selling, you already have built a community."
Work with other small businesses
For example, if your company makes and sells jewelry, you might consider partnering with a local clothing or shoe store for an event where you sell your jewelry in their shop at a discount for their customers, John says. The clothing boutique benefits because it brings more customers into their shop, and your business benefits through purchases from customers who might not otherwise know about your business and tell others.
"You want to make it a win-win for everybody. That's how you can build a community."