I've always believed that God knows exactly when you've reached your breaking point and will find some way to send someone or something into your life to help you get over that hump and get moving again. Day seventeen of the Lactivist project was the day that saw that belief tested...and proven. While struggling to deal with some fears and frustrations related to the project a simple trip to the milk bank gave me everything I needed to get moving one more time.
(If you're just catching up with this series of articles, be sure to swing into the ongoing discussion thread at the Small Business Ideas forum. You'll be able to link to each day's article and participate in the discussion going along with it.)
The Fear of Failure
I've never launched a business before. I've worked at my share of start-ups (eight of them to be exact), but the risk was never really mine. I was there as part of a team and someone else was shouldering the responsibility of being that ultimate decision maker. I also knew from those experiences that the majority of business start-ups never make it past the first year. (Seven of the eight are now closed for business.) As someone with absolutely no experience running a businesses, I was simply hoping to survive through thirty days.
To be honest with you, day seventeen saw me fighting fear from every direction. From the first day I launched the project, I knew that I was taking a big risk on Search Engine Guide's behalf. I was going to be devoting most of my time over the next month to working on this article series rather than reporting on the industry. That meant that if this series didn't go over well with our readers that I was going to have a lot of making up to do to both our readers and my publisher. As a resource site that people turn to for advice and information about marketing their business online, I was really putting our reputation on the line by opening up and sharing both the successes and the failures of my own marketing abilities. This wasn't going to be a showcase where I shared only the ideas that flew, my work was going to be out there for everyone to pick apart and criticize and even point to if the experiment flopped. That's a big chance for a site like Search Engine Guide to take.
Seventeen days in, I still wasn't quite sure what the ultimate impact would be on our reputation and I was starting to get a little nervous. I was also still more than a little upset at the fact that my pay-per-click campaign appeared to be failing miserably. This was one of the things that I had feared the most when I started the project...that my failures would show up in the area that I was supposed to be an expert on...search marketing.
Finally, I had taken some criticism in the forums and from some blog posters that claimed the project wasn't' legitimate because I had too large of a network and was gaining too many links for it to "count." This was probably the hardest criticism of all to deal with because I'd taken pains to set-up my own rules for this experiment so that I was coming as close as possible to replicating reality. In fact, I'd probably gone overboard in that I only ever asked for a single link from a marketing site and relied on everyone else to pick up the story themselves. If I'd been a regular start up, I would have been selling my story to anyone that would listen.
As I sat at my laptop contemplating the project I realized that I was looking at this all wrong. I realized that every one of those things that I'd been letting drag me down was actually a boon to the project. Why? Because I was facing the exact same thing that every entrepreneur faced: fear. Launching a business is not without risk, there's simply no way around it. That meant that pretty much anyone reading my site and trying to learn something to improve their own business had (or would) at some point dealt with the exact same fears I was dealing with.
People setup pay-per-click campaigns that fail. It happens all the time. People have to listen to criticism from other people about the ways that they run their businesses. People have to face the fact that they could fall flat on their faces and make a fool of themselves. They have to face failure...and then they have to move on. I knew that I was capable of running successful pay-per-click campaigns, I knew that my experiment was legitimate and I knew from the emails that were pouring into my inbox that Search Engine Guide readers were thrilled with the series.
In fact, day seventeen saw the delivery of an email that included this snippet:
Oh, and you may be pleased to hear that virtually the first thing my colleague says to me when he comes into the office is 'is the next one up yet?', asking about your blog. Recently, when you had a few days gap with no blog, he was thoroughly convinced you'd been kidnapped and that we'd have to mount a heroic rescue. I was quite looking forward to it, but reading your blog made up for the disappointment when you reappeared. :D
That email gave me an enormous boost. It sort of gave me a Sally-Fields-at-the-Oscar's-moment as I realized that people were enjoying the series and that what I was doing was working on at least some level. That's when I realized that it was just important to share the issue of fear with readers as it was to share tips on blogging, viral marketing and organic search.
Despite that renewed vigor, I was still upset with the fact that I'd sold just two milk banking shirts, which meant just $4.00 had been logged for the milk bank. Since the milk bank was pretty much what sparked the whole project, I felt like I needed to be doing something more.
A Trip to the Milk Bank
Elnora had turned a year old a few weeks prior to day seventeen, which meant that I could no longer donate any milk that I pumped. I'd decided that it was time to wean myself from the pump anyway, so that was ok with me. I still had about 200 ounces of milk for the bank in my freezer though, so I thought it was as good a day as any to make a trip down to the milk bank to drop the milk off.
If I needed any reassurance about what I was doing, that trip provided it. The ladies at the bank made me feel like a movie star when I stopped down. They raved over the shirts, they loved the project idea and they were bubbling over with excitement at the possibilities. From their perspective, whether the project raised money or not, I was helping spread awareness and I was giving them the chance to have someone else create products that they could buy and use for their own fundraising.
It turns out that they had already been talking to lactation consultants, La Leche League leaders and even the other milk banks to see who else might be interested in working with me. I had told them that I was more than happy to sell, at cost, to any other milk bank and would happily customize products with their own names and logos as well. As it turns out, there was lots of interest. I spent more than an hour talking to them about the project, brainstorming new ideas and figuring out how we might approach the milk banking association in the UK to see if they would also be interested in fundraising shirts.
I toured the bank again and was absolutely floored to see that the walk-in-freezers that were almost empty when the bank first opened were now lined floor to ceiling with processed milk ready for shipping. Neatly labeled shelves showed which bottles of milk were 20 calorie milk, which were 29 calorie and every level in between. (Donor milk is tested for calorie and nutrition count and separated so that babies can receive the milk best suited for them...formula has 20 calories an ounce, but some breast milk has up to 29 calories which means fragile babies can get so much more nutrition from the same amount of feeding if they are on high-calorie donor milk.)
I also spent quite a bit of time listening to stories about donor mothers and the babies that were receiving the milk from the bank. Truth be told, this is the real reason that I can't drag myself away from the milk bank when I go to visit. I am simply fascinated by these stories. From the two year old girl suffering from a rare degenerative disease that had her down to just 16 pounds (but who suddenly started gaining when they put her on donor milk) to the tiniest NICU babies that receive donor milk to help protect them from NEC, these stories bring tears to my eyes. This was what my business was all about, this was what made me realize that the Lactivist project went beyond an article series.
I returned home with a story from one of the early donor moms to post on my blog. That story drew more visitors than any other post I've made to this day. It's well worth taking a few minutes to read. Check out: "A Donor Mom's Story from the Mother's Milk Bank of Ohio."
Getting Back to Work
Apart from answering some emails, checking in at each of the sites and making a blog post, I hadn't gotten much done on day seventeen. I realized later that there may have been a reason for that. It's fine and dandy to run an article series that shares tips and ideas about marketing your business, but maybe there was a reason to take a day from the project and write an article about facing your business.
Don't let the naysayers get you down. Don't let fear of failure get you down. Everyone falls, everyone fails. It's what you take away from the experience and how quickly you get back on the horse that determines whether or not you'll eventually make a go of it.
Coming up on day eighteen, I get back to work with a slew of new shirt ideas, some community marketing and a very exciting email that could pave the way toward enormous success with the upcoming public relations campaign.
Jump to Day eighteen.
(Want to read the entire 30 Day article series at once? Download the free 30 Day ebook!)
December 6, 2005
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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