Join us at YouTube Small Business Day on June 24, where we’ll spotlight and celebrate small businesses on YouTube, highlight new product innovations, and offer tips for growth.
Running a small business is no easy task, even during the best of times. But over the past 18 months, it’s meant facing existential challenges that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
In a matter of days and weeks, small business owners around the world found themselves pivoting operations online: learning how to sell products and services directly to customers, converting events to live stream experiences, navigating the ins and outs of video content creation, and more. With customers’ realities and needs changing just as quickly as their own, many companies spent the pandemic experimenting and pioneering a new, successful way forward.
For some, YouTube played an outsize role in business recovery and helped unlock new opportunities for growth. To learn more about their tactics, we asked three small businesses to share tips that all brands — large or small — can apply to their own video marketing plans.
Pull audiences in with authenticity
It’s been five years since Kim Lewis and her husband co-founded CurlMix, a clean beauty brand for natural hair. In that time, CurlMix has grown from the Lewis’ garage to a warehouse with more than 40 employees. But the company’s priorities haven’t changed. Empowering Black women and their beauty through transparency and honesty still reigns supreme.
The company’s YouTube channel has been key to delivering on this priority, by providing a hub for sharing with customers the stories behind CurlMix products and the ingredients they contain. As Lewis explains, “YouTube is the place that really led the natural hair movement, and that’s why I decided to start a channel.” Her videos are a blend of educational, teaching viewers how to best use and style CurlMix hair products, and personal conversations, which have helped build a supportive community around the brand and keep people invested in coming back.
When the channel reached 9,000 subscribers, Lewis began investing in YouTube ads to continue to grow brand awareness. She quickly learned that ads featuring her authentic self were the most effective. “The best ads were the ones where I literally took out my cellphone and I was like, ‘Hi guys, I’m Kim, CEO and Co-Founder of CurlMix.’ People don’t want to hear from brands; they want to hear from people.”
Lewis’ approach helped grow the CurlMix channel to more than 30,000 subscribers, and put relevant content and products in front of more people searching for natural hair care tutorials and reviews. Her story shows how customers are looking to support and return to businesses that they feel personally connected to.
People don’t want to hear from brands; they want to hear from people.
When the pandemic forced many companies to halt operations last March, Texas-based heritage grain and corn distributor Barton Springs Mill made a quick decision to pivot its wholesale model to sell directly to consumers.
To help the transition, the company started uploading bread-baking tutorials to YouTube to teach viewers how best to use their locally sourced grains in bread recipes. While Barton Springs Mills’ founders originally saw the tutorials as a tool to help local customers, they soon realized the videos were meeting a larger demand. Far beyond its Texas community, the Mill’s videos were being watched by people around the world who were curious about using specialty grains and who were already searching YouTube for bread-related how-to videos.
“One of the things about artisanal products is that they require more education to equip people to work with them,” explains company founder James Brown. “We needed to be able to answer frequently asked questions in a thorough way. Doing that online through short YouTube videos was a definite benefit,” says Brown.
Drawing on the popularity of its tutorials and Q&A videos, Barton Springs Mill began creating additional content to offer a closer look at how it harvests and processes grains, and shares stories about the Mill’s farmers and employees.
We needed to be able to answer frequently asked questions in a thorough way. Doing that online through short YouTube videos was a definite benefit.
While the quality and style of its videos have evolved over time, Brown believes that the content continues to be successful, because it is genuinely helpful and satisfies customers’ needs.
Build community and connection through live viewing
Three weeks before New York City-based MCC Theater’s largest gala of 2020, “Miscast,” the city shut down due to the coronavirus. Not only was “Miscast” a keystone event in the musical theater community, but its proceeds helped support the nonprofit’s operations year-round. For MCC to survive, cancellation was not an option. The show had to go on.
So, within days, MCC transformed its in-person extravaganza into a virtual fundraising event on the theater’s YouTube channel, featuring actors performing their favorite musical songs from their own homes.
The event was the MCC team’s first foray into live streaming on YouTube, so they were unsure how it would go. One hour before showtime, the team began to notice something unusual: the YouTube live chat was active with people buzzing about the show. At first, the team considered disabling the chat feature altogether. But as messages came in from viewers around the world, they saw it as a virtual theater lobby, where fans could casually interact before the curtain. And as the event began, the live chat became one of MCC’s most important ways to hear directly from the audiences in real time.
We’ve connected with people around the globe who we will never be in the same room with. They will never walk through the doors of our theater company, but YouTube gave us the experience of connecting with them.
After “Miscast,” MCC understood that live streaming would be a powerful tool to foster its community during the pandemic. It reached more than 350,000 people in all 50 states and 47 countries over the past year and a half.
While the event will return to in-person next year, MCC is working to ensure that there is a virtual component to reengage viewers from around the world who have become a part of the theater’s story.
According to MCC’s executive director Blake West, “We’ve connected with people around the globe who we will never be in the same room with. They will never walk through the doors of our theater company, but YouTube gave us the experience of connecting with them. I’m confident that we’ll keep this as an aspect of our programming.”
Regardless of size, sophistication, or marketing budget, all brands can look to the approaches taken by these resilient small businesses as new opportunities to connect with audiences and drive growth on YouTube.