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Marketing Strategies From The Top: “Create an extremely specific audience” With Khila James

Create an extremely specific audience. If you’re going to create a line of expensive winter coats, you can’t market to everyone because you think it’ll bring in the most sales. That actually will result in bringing no sales at all. You have to identify your target audience so that you can create marketing efforts that make them feel special and seen. If I need your product, but you’re not doing anything to let me know that your product was made for me, I’m going to take my money to someone who makes sure I feel taken care of.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Khila James, a 22-year-old serial entrepreneur, from the Bronx, NY. Launching her first company during her senior year of college, Khila is the founder of 3 successful e-commerce brands, two of which have already hit the 6 figure mark. Not only does she run her companies on a day to day, but she also mentors aspiring entrepreneurs, teaching them how to achieve entrepreneurial success online as she has.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Absolutely! So, believe it or not — my original intention was not to start a business. During my sophomore year of college, I started a club called SHE Muse. The goal was essentially to create a platform for women who were interested in beauty and fashion to connect with each other. That idea actually came from me just realizing there were a lot of women on my college campus of Saint John’s University in Queens, New York that were all trying to pursue their passions individually and I just realize that we would all be a lot more successful if we worked together. As people in the community started to find out abut the brand, they wanted to get involved so I hosted an event where women could network and learn from women already successful in various fields. The event was extremely successful and when I realized what I could do with my new platform, I realized that I had a budding business and I had to get serious about what I was going to do with it. I stepped into the entrepreneurship role and have not stepped out since.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

OMG! This is so embarrassing but I’ll chuck it up to simply being a student of the entrepreneurship game. One of my first businesses while in college was a hair extension company. I had launched and gotten ZERO sales. So I started reaching out to people in my target audience, literally DM’ing them on Instagram, asking them to be brand ambassadors for my company and in exchange I gave them a really huge discount. Well, one of them actually took the bait and made a purchase. Only when I saw the order come through, I realized I gave her a discount so huge that not only did I not profit from the sale, I would have to use my own money to buy the hair from my manufacturer. I would have been better off not DM’ing a soul. Now I’m essentially just giving a product away for free. At the time, I felt like the biggest failure ever. But now, I laugh at the story and feel more grateful than ever for how far I’ve come. I think the biggest lesson I learned there is that true marketing is creating a demand for people and then trusting that they will come to you because of how good your product or service is. Chasing customers is definitely not the way to go. If you create a good product/service and create tasteful awareness of this product/service, then you’ll be flooded with customers and clients.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My business development agency, the Bougie Business Brand, definitely stands out. I knew it would when I was building it, and it continues to prove itself every day. When I created it, I knew I was creating something in my industry, specifically for my target audience that didn’t really exist. When women entrepreneurs want to start businesses they have to learn how to get started from this person, get manufacturer resources from another person, and then hire a third person to design their website. I wanted to create a one stop shop where you get everything you need to launch your business & I think it’s proven useful. I had a client a few months back that told me she tried to start a business several months ago, but got stuck at figuring out how to price her products based on how much she was buying them for. She was stuck on this for so long, she essentially gave up and put her business idea on hold. When she realized that we had a service that could help with this, she booked it instantly, worked with us, and was re-motivated and ready to launch her company. She then booked us for the remaining steps and has now launched her company. She’s one of many examples, I believe, that prove that the Bougie Business Brand’s work is vital to women in entrepreneurship. The rate is growing rapidly and we want to continue to be a useful resource to aid in that growth.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on so many new projects. I’ve recently decided to write a book, that should be coming out later this year. I’ve been working really hard on it these past couple of weeks and I’m excited to share it with the world. I think a lot of my e-books and courses are very straight to the point. In order to achieve this, you have to do this, that, and this. I think my new book has allowed me to share my story and personal journey a bit more, which is also important. Yes, I want to teach people how to run Facebook ads, but I also want them to know that I struggled a lot to get to where I am now but my resilience and dedication to achieving success is what kept me going and helped me achieve all that I have. I want to share my story in hopes of helping someone, by inspiring them to either get started, or keep going.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?

The tipping point was definitely when I started to get the hang of prospecting and traffic. I had built my brand, an attractive website, had my social media posts all scheduled but didn’t seen any sales for quite some time. I knew about social media advertising and influencer marketing but was hesitant. Looking back, I truly believe that I was scared of the “what if.” What if I run this ad and it really does become successful? What if I work with this influencer and I get 1,000 new followers? These were things that I had only dreamed of and the thought of making them reality was exciting but also horrifying. When I finally decided to just ignore my fears, launch my ads and reach out influencers, it was like overnight success. I launched a few ads one night after fighting with Facebook at like 2:00am, and when I woke up the next morning at about 10:00am, I had made about $900. I remember the exact moment I opened my Shopify account that morning. The rush that I got at that moment has had me locked into e-commerce ever since. I think the lesson in there is that imposter syndrome is real, even before you start seeing the success. I believe it is actually heightened on the eve of success. It’s most important that at that moment, you make the decision to step out and step on fear, truly believe that what is for you is for you, and take risks.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

I’ll be honest, I still struggle with burnout. My company has grown extremely fast within the last 13 months and I, even though I am often afraid to admit it to my team, sometimes cannot keep up. The best advice I can give to other marketers is to create manageable growth. When you’re not making any money, you think the best thing that can happen to you is waking up the next day and making 1,000 sales and then just keeping that momentum going forward. But the reality is that, if you weren’t prepared for that, you may not be able to handle it. I’ve had to pull many all-nighters trying to catch up. Now I struggle with things like feeling guilty for going on vacation, or even taking a nap when I feel like I should be working. I’m starting to manage it better now, but when I meet new, growing entrepreneurs — and I’ll tell any one of them that’ll listen, set your momentum and grow. Be strategic and intentional about your growth, and don’t forget to stop every now again, and pat yourself on the back.

How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?

I think marketing is everything you do that formulates what your company is in someone’s mind. So for my companies, I stress what our advertisements look like, what influencers we work with, what our social media platforms look like, what our website looks like, how we handle customer service. All of this comes together to create what a person thinks of your company in their mind. It all has to be strategic. The strategies put in place to steer what someone thinks about your company, is marketing.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think it’s going to sound cliche but my mom has truly been my rock this whole experience. I’m a child of working class immigrants from Antigua & Barbuda. I have no entrepreneurs in my family and so I still have no idea how I took an interest in it. But I did, and my mom has been extremely helpful. She didn’t sign up for any of this, and is on call whenever I need her. She helps with photoshoots, packaging orders. She listens to me vent about daily business woes & even listens to me plan marketing strategies out loud even though she most likely has no idea what I’m talking about. She’s just great. I don’t think when I was 2, saying I want to be a maid because I loved cleaning, did she ever think I would become a 6 figure entrepreneur 2 decades later, but we’re here and she hasn’t missed a beat.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners?

I think systems and software often can be intimidating for new small business owners and so sometimes we stray away from them. The first time I opened Facebook Ads, I closed it immediately. It looked too complicated and I figured it just wasn’t worth it. I was WRONG. I think systems like Facebooks Ads are extremely helpful as well as other systems and softwares like Klaviyo for email marketing, Later for social media scheduling. What’s great about marketing software now is that they all include automation elements which is essential for small business owners because they do a lot of what used to be daily tasks for you & your team, so you can focus on other things like scaling your business. I also think small business owners try to do a lot of things themselves to save money, either because they want to stay in budget or because they just don’t have the money. In my early days, when my budget was a small portion of my $188 weekly check from a nursing home where I was a receptionist, I used websites like Fiverr, Upwork and Canva for things that I wasn’t an expert on.

What are your “5 Non Intuitive Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses”?

  1. Create an extremely specific audience. If you’re going to create a line of expensive winter coats, you can’t market to everyone because you think it’ll bring in the most sales. That actually will result in bringing no sales at all. You have to identify your target audience so that you can create marketing efforts that make them feel special and seen. If I need your product, but you’re not doing anything to let me know that your product was made for me, I’m going to take my money to someone who makes sure I feel taken care of.
  2. There is no specific “X” amount of dollars you need to market your business. People comment on my pictures on Instagram and DM me all the time, “How much money do I need to pay influencers?” “How much do I need to hire brand ambassadors, or run ads?” The truth is that there is no specific amount of money you need. You save up what you can, you do research, and you go with the best options available to you based on your resources and budget. The goal is to invest and build, which is why it is totally OK to start small.
  3. You don’t need to create something entirely new. Clients come to me all the time, saying that they want to start a business in a specific industry but they feel like it’s already been done. Do I have to give the bread aisle example? New companies come out with “old ideas” all the time. It’s not about who did it first, it’s about who did it the best. The goal is to observe a company, and see how you can improve upon what they do, or do it for a more specific group of people. Fun fact: The owner of Lyft used to work at Uber. He had an idea, pitched it, and no one listened to him. So, he took his idea and created his own company. Today, Lyft is worth $24.3 billion. & You’re not starting your business because something similar already exists?
  4. Over-saturation is a myth. & I know some will disagree but I stand by this. & I think I have the perfect example, myself. There are thousands of business development and digital marketing agencies out there, and even more business coaches. I know that now and I knew that back when I was launching my company. There’s truly room for everyone. Dare I say it, the bread aisle example, again. It’s all about what you bring to the table. I knew that my take on women in entrepreneurship would be impactful, regardless of others focusing on that in my industry. I knew I would make a difference. I knew I had something of value to share and I stepped out on it. Several business experts like myself have come before me, and several have and will come after me, many even inspired by my journey. I don’t scoff at it, I welcome it. The way I see it — the more resources created, the better.
  5. Continue to educate yourself. My business coach once told me that she could tell I had stopped reading. & She was right. I had become so overwhelmed by a dip in sales that I was spending all of my time trying to get my sales back up again, I stopped reading. I stopped trying to learn and improve my craft. When she called me out on it, I challenged myself to read 3 books that I’d been wanting to read for some time. I accomplished it, read all the books, and do you know what? I applied all of what I learned in those books and it’s made me about $200,000 in revenue since. It’s important to keep educating yourself, even when you’ve achieved success. There are always new developments and new things to learn in business. Staying on top of it & making sure to educate yourself can bring you major paydays in your business. Hint: One of the books I read was Ca$hveritisng by Drew Whitman.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Well, lately I find myself being passionate about educating people on financial freedom. The internet has made it very possible for people to create large amounts of wealth and success all from their laptops or even their smartphones. I want more people to learn about entrepreneurship, stocks, and real estate and explore the possibilities in these spheres. I think people in society are often scared of the unknown, or they think success in things like business and real estate are only possible for already wealthy people. That’s why I try to document my journey so much. I want people to know that you can literally start with nothing and end up with something miraculous. The information is there, Google and Youtube are amazing resources. With hard work and dedication, a lot more than people realize is truly possible.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

So, about a year ago, every morning I would read a page from Joyce Meyer’s “The Confident Women Devotional.” And in one of the devotionals, she speaks on fear — something I often struggled with. & She essentially says that there is no secret to not feeling fear anymore. The true secret is to just decide that you are going to do it afraid. Yes, you’re going to be afraid, you might even be physically shaking, but you just have to do it anyway. Ever since reading that, I’ve put down the hundreds of self-help books that claim to help you get over a fear, and have just decided that as long as I’ve done the research and have reason to believe that my next move is a good one, even if I feel fear, I am just going to do it anyway. I’m just going to do it afraid.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m most active on Instagram where my handle is @iamkhila. I try to post business tips and motivational content as often as possible so if that’s what you’re into, be sure to check me out.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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