Women in Business: Social works

Social media networks are essential to startup success

Gaby Bayona built a successful bridal line with the help of social media; Truvelle boasts more than 48,000 Instagram followers | Laurie K. Jensen

After high school, Gaby Bayona applied to the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. Although the 18-year-old didn’t get accepted, she displayed an innate head for business when she helped turn her mother Merly Bayona’s fledgling wedding dress design company into a profitable business.

“I began by starting a blog to document each part of the gown design process, and then at the end of the process, there would be a grand reveal,” she explains.

Within two years, her mother went from eking out a living to a six-figure-plus income.

Before long, Bayona was designing and sewing gowns herself from her small apartment. Once again tapping into the power of technology, she launched her own bridal line, Truvelle, on Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade items.

“I was on Pinterest and I noticed all these links coming from Etsy. I decided it was the perfect fit for me,” Bayona says.

Five years later, the designer’s bridal gowns are sold to more than 23 retailers in the United States and six in Canada, and are also sold in Europe, South Africa and Australia. In 2017, she followed up on her phenomenal success by launching another bridal line, Laudae, with her mother.

“I spend a lot of time looking up my competitors’ followers. I often comment on those individuals’ personal Instagram pages to gain followers and new clients for my wedding gowns,” says the shrewd businesswoman. “Instagram … is an extremely powerful tool.”

Truvelle boasts more than 48,000 Instagram followers.

Bayona says Pinterest is another powerful tool to capture new customers and business.

“Early on, Pinterest was especially crucial as it gave me a lot of traction when I went to approach retailers.”

Today, Pinterest helps make the connection with brides extra special and very personal to them.

“We see how much thought goes into women planning their weddings, from gathering inspiration from many sources or simply tearing pages out of magazines,” Bayona says. “Pinterest just makes it so easy to collect inspiration and ideas in one place. It’s also a really fun way to have a dialogue with the ladies.”

To this day, Bayona says, brides-to-be tell her they go to retailers armed with their cellphones to show them the Truvelle wedding gown of their dreams on Pinterest.

For savvy entrepreneurs like Bayona, free social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube, are crucial to help build up a loyal following through marketing, publicity, customer relations and market research purposes.

“I know first-hand that social media is imperative for any business to succeed and thrive in today’s world, and I think every business would be crazy not to embrace it,” Bayona says.

All about influencers

When Devon Brooks co-founded the first Blo Blow Dry Bar with her mother and mentor, Judy Brooks, back in 2007, social media was still in its infancy.

“Twitter and Hootsuite were just starting, and social media was just entering the stratosphere,” says the 32-year-old. “We used the power of social media every time a woman would come into the Blo Bar. We would document their experience, then we would take photos of them and tag them on Twitter. I’d also talk about my clients’ successes and built on that.”

Soon, Brooks noticed that bloggers were also influencing consumer choices. The savvy entrepreneur saw that influencer marketing was poised to become another key strategy for fostering her brand.

“Bloggers were taking social media networks to new highs, extending into the online world and keeping conversations going,” Brooks says. “We made the most influential bloggers into ambassadors, or content producers, if you will, for our brand, inviting them in a fluid way. We built a lot of traction that way.”

Enough toehold that Blo Blow Dry Bar now has more than 90 locations across four countries and boasts collaborations with celebrities and major brands alike.

Today, Brooks’ newest venture, Sphere, a personal development app that connects people with life coaches who can help them access their full potential, is also using social media to build its trademark.

“Sphere will launch this fall in Canada and the United States and will be 100 per cent driven by social media,” says Brooks. “I also use social media to canvass talent to hire the best people for Sphere. I discovered my co-founder of Sphere, Los Angeles’ Shona Mitchell Beats, on my personal Facebook page.”

Regularly ranked on top-30-under-30 lists, Brooks says social networks are all about building and interacting with a community. So it’s no surprise that executives who are active on social media have an easier time recruiting new employees, engaging with potential investors or opening conversations with prospects – all leading to business growth.

“Startups can be full of obstacles. If I must give one piece of advice, it is that no one starting a new venture should ever, ever underestimate the power of social media,” Brooks says. “It is important to know that different platforms serve different functions. For example, Instagram is one of the best platforms for brands to partner with influencers to reach new audiences quickly.”

Strategic social media

Shelley McArthur, founder and principal of SMC Communications, is another successful businesswoman who uses social media to her advantage. The professional marketing communications strategist for hospitality, lifestyle and consumer brands increases brand awareness and creates social media opportunities to expand her Vancouver-based public relations consultancy business and, more importantly, her clients’ businesses.

McArthur says the key to a successful social media strategy is to understand your audience and choose the platform that suits them best.

Content is another crucial component of the equation. SMC’s social media manager works solely on content creation and updates. In addition, her team takes a good hard look at its clients’ performance stats, demographic information and referral traffic every day.

“We can’t do what we do without social media.… It’s an integral part of our business,” McArthur explains. “We try to stay two steps ahead of technology, so we know how it can be used to better reach our clients’ target audiences.”

When the numbers for the previous day’s posts come in, the team looks at what went well and why. Then, McArthur says, they adjust their strategy accordingly.

“It’s not enough to just post a nice photo that feels esthetically good; the time of day you post and what you say to capture interest is especially important,” McArthur notes. “We have seen our clients’ social media networks double their followings by choosing peak engagement times.”

The future of business is technology, agree all three of these dynamic entrepreneurs. No longer does business get conducted only within four walls. Creative social media marketing tactics can enable a startup to quickly grow its customer base.

“Social media marketing done right helps businesses stay top of mind among their followers,” says McArthur. “Customers trust companies that connect with them in genuine, captivating ways – and they want to establish relationships with them.”