When the pandemic hit and businesses began to struggle with staff and stock shortages, cashflow issues and sudden lockdowns, it took some outside-the-box thinking from those who managed to stay afloat. Editor and Flying Solo podcast host, Cec Busby, chatted to two savvy Aussie business owners who have not only managed to survive but thrive, thanks to social media.
Allen Fu, a co-founder of beauty brand Cheeky Glo, built a seven-figure eCommerce business from his garage during the COVID pandemic. Fu successfully used viral video-based social media platform TikTok to market his new product.
Carolina Giraldo’s popular fashion and lifestyle brand, Carolina Lifestyle, had multiple brick and mortar stores around the country until the pandemic hit. Then, she successfully pivoted to embrace online sales via Instagram – and saved her business from going under in the process.
Here the pair share some of the secrets to their success – and it’s stuff every business owner needs to know.
What were the biggest challenges for your business throughout COVID?
After starting Cheeky Glo with nothing more than a good idea, a laptop and a desk in his garage at the height of Australia’s lockdowns, Allen says, “It wasn’t easy. I think every small business owner, or even big business owner out there that deals with any supply chain, understands the struggles right now.
“We’ve had container costs [grow] almost ten times in the last 12 months. Even air shipping costs have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in prices in the last couple of months. With delays happening all the time in manufacturing, there are also shortages in raw materials. It’s definitely not an easy thing to deal with. It’s pretty insane that we have to plan and future-proof our business months and months ahead.
“We try to adapt as much as possible with constant communication with our manufacturers, just for them to update us on supply chain issues, whether it’s ingredients, materials, colours, dyes, all sorts of things.”
Listen to Allen Fu on the Flying Solo podcast:
For Carolina, her nine bricks and mortar store locations were the hardest hit.
“It was as though someone turned off the tap,” she says. “We didn’t know what to do because all of a sudden, sales stopped completely. I was eight months pregnant at the time. I remember just shaking the laptop and thinking, ‘Oh my God, is this real?’
“Scaling was really, really, really tough. For us, it was about making a plan and reviewing it week by week and trying to adjust that plan to deliver as much as we could to customers’ expectations.
“That was the beginning of a whole new cycle in our lives and in the business … and look, that initial week was panic.”
Listen to Carolina Giraldo on the Flying Solo podcast:
How did using social media help your business survive?
Carolina’s business underwent a massive change from brick and mortar stores to a predominantly eCommerce enterprise.
“What was very challenging was that every day was a different day. And the situation was changing so quickly that it was affecting how the customers were behaving as well. So we have to listen and react fast. So, Instagram went from being a tool we had in the business to being one of the most important tools, because it communicated all those changes.”
Carolina also realised the power of getting honest with her customers online so that they could see the face behind the brand.
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“I started with little videos, to show them a little more about the business, you know, the behind the scenes – how we make our fabric, how we make our clothing, who makes it, and how we operate at the office. It became an essential platform to show the behind the scenes of the business and give customers a better understanding of our operation. And obviously, why we are different. We started doing more influencer marketing, and I made this video saying ‘Thank You’. The reaction was absolutely phenomenal.”
Allen says going viral on TikTok took some time and effort and a lot of trial and error, but it was the thing that kicked off Cheeky Glo’s success.
“We’re like, okay, this is a new concept. No one’s seen it before … how are we going to generate that audience?” he says. “We started on TikTok. The whole goal we had for our marketing campaign initially was ‘let’s try to create a viral trend’. If we can create a viral trend, then we’re going to get a lot of free marketing, organic marketing.”
“I think it was our ninth video,” says Allen. “It went semi-viral – not really viral, but I call it domestically viral. It got 80,000 views or something like that within 24 hours, and that was where the business started to grow. That sold out our first batch of inventory.”
Allen firmly believes that embracing video is in all businesses’ best interests.
“Social media right now is very video-based. People love videos,” Allen says. “They love the raw, behind the scenes of your business. I think as business owners; sometimes we’re quite scared to put ourselves out there, or even use our voice. And so, my recommendation to all business owners that are listening to this is definitely getting onto TikTok for your business.”
What makes a great customer experience, and how do you satisfy them?
Allen says, “I think honestly, there’s one word that I could pin it down to, which is communication. If I was a customer, I don’t really mind if there would be a delay. I don’t mind if there are product changes. I don’t mind any of that at all, as long as it’s communicated to me in a very clear sense, then that’s okay with me.
“I think managing expectations is incredibly important. So, what we try to do, obviously, is reply [promptly]. We commit a lot of time to our customers, especially to those one-star reviews. You know, those complaints often give us the best feedback for us to either improve the product or the shopping experience. And so, we do our best to look after them.”
Carolina’s advice is all about being ready to adapt to changing customer habits, especially on socials.
“We have to adapt. Now it’s all about Reels on Instagram and we need to keep up to date with those changes, so we don’t get left behind.
“I knew the future of the business was based in that connection with the customer. That’s crucial these days – you have to connect with your customers,” she says.
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