Erika Geraerts is 27-years-old and the co-owner of three successful businesses: content and copywriting agency Willow & Blake, Melbourne-based cafe LBSS, and frank body: the coffee scrub company which has a social media following of 687K, and $15 million in revenue as of 2015. This is what she had to say at our live interview event about social media strategy and women-specific targeting.

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Frank body turned three in June, 2016. In some ways it’s still such a baby company, but I feel like I’ve aged about 10 years in the process. I’ve also had a writing business for the past six years called Willow & Blake. I started Willow & Blake with my two best friends, who are also co-founders of frank. At Willow & Blake we create tone of voice for brands, then roll it out across all of their marketing assets and social media. Our style of writing is very conversational and has always lent itself well to digital content. About two years into Willow & Blake we were like, we’re offering this service to other brands, why don’t we do that for our own product? We’d obviously been spending a lot of time on social and noticed a gap in the beauty industry for a brand that spoke to women quite directly. Keep in mind the landscape was a lot different three years ago. It was quite boring and dry. So we needed a product, and that’s where my two business partners came in—Steve and Alex. Steve owned a few cafes in Melbourne, and he had some women come in asking for leftover coffee grounds. He grew curious, asked them what it was for, and they told him the grounds improved cellulite and stretch marks. After some research we found plenty of coffee ground recipes online, but no actual product packaged in a cool way.

So that was the beginning of frank. We had a small capital injection of about $5,000—which we used for very simple branding, a shitty website, and making the product ourselves by hand. We launched on Instagram and Facebook and it took off—we made back that $5,000 in one week. Three years down we have 11 skews, we’re sold in 149 countries through our website, and have 30 staff between the two businesses.

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In terms of a strategy for frank—we were faced with the challenge of making coffee in a bag seem appealing. It looked like dirt, you could buy the ingredients at the supermarket, and we knew we couldn’t charge a whole lot. But our price point of $14.95 was really accessible to the 16—24 year-old-girl who we were selling to.

We wanted to speak to women in a way that wasn’t being done at the time—to be very direct, honest and frank with our customers.

So that’s where the whole approach of “Let’s be frank” came from. #thefrankeffect came from the idea of personifying the product, and having this cheeky male personality. We wanted to create a conversation and relationship with our customer that was similar to the course of flirting, dating, then committing.

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The influencer scene has changed a lot since then, but at the time, we were sending out a lot of product to a lot of people—and it was as simple as manually finding people on Instagram that we recognized and felt had an alignment with the brand. We contacted them directly, started building relationships with them, sending them product, and seeding this idea of how to take photos with it. I think people wanted their 15 minutes of fame on the social platform, but they could also have fun with the scrub. And I still do feel that way about coffee scrub—it’s fun. Other products are a bit more product-placementy, and at the time this felt like a novel way of doing things. frank was also very identifiable. There are a few coffee scrub competitors out there now, so it makes it harder, but if someone posts a picture with lipstick or a moisturizer on, it’s not instantly recognizable as a brand.

Relationship building is also really important—it sounds cliche but we have a Brand Relationships Manager. And it’s all that she does. She meets with people, talks with them and creates natural relationships. Then people in your community become ambassadors for your brand in a way—without it being a weird transaction. Influencers can command crazy prices now and there’s no standard. They put their price out there, and if you say no, they say, ‘OK, I’ll get someone else to pay for it’. I think that’s why there has to be some kind of friendship or relationship, and that’s really hard to do if you’re a one-man-show. It’s not really my specialty either. I have a 20 minute attention span in meetings, and sometimes these conversations require 2 or 3 hours.

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Everyone asks how we got such a big following. Well, we started at zero. At one stage we had 10 followers, and at another stage we had 100 and it slowly grew—but people forget that we started with zero. When we started seeing these user-generated posts, it was pretty amazing for us and we realized how powerful it was going to be, considering the reach of each person. It wasn’t always about how many followers they had, sometimes someone with a couple hundred followers might have equally great engagement. When we launched, we had really cheeky commentary from frank on what he thought it was like to be a girl. And that got a lot of engagement—but our first account got deleted (we had 10,000 followers) because we took it a little bit too far. I think we posted some boobs. So that was a bit of a shock because we were reliant on that—it was our revenue stream and then it was gone. We had to build up from zero again. We’re lucky that it happened at 10,000 and not at 700,000, but it still sucked. My business partners wanted to kill me but I was like, ‘Oh well, that’s happened! Moving on. Let’s start again’. And you just have to.

There’s no point dwelling on shit. That’s my philosophy for life in general.

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After three years, even I get bored of our content at times. And as our team has grown… when it was just Brie, Jess, and I posting, that was really fun. We could bounce off each other. Now we have 20 people in our ear about what we should post, and it’s hard to know whether you should go with your gut or what you’re being told is ‘the right way.’ When we first started it was fun and we had nothing to lose. Now we have so much to lose. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Michael O'Keeffe, the CEO of Aesop, who said,

“Big companies don’t want to take risks anymore. But they need to. It’s what enables them to survive.“

Which was really nice to hear—because when we started, we took so many risks. Now we get quite scared and a little bit paralyzed by choice—you become so critical instead of just going with your instinct.

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While product posts are important and you need to educate people about your brand, you need to show that you’re much more than your product. You need to have a reason behind your posts. I always say to the girls who work with us—If it makes you laugh, think or cry, then do it. But you can’t post something with no reason behind it—and I think people often post for the sake of it, or post what other brands are posting. It becomes pointless and you’ll see that it won’t get the same engagement. I think, generally, when we post too many product-focused pictures, people get a bit bored of it. They know what the product is by now. So we need to mix it up. A lot of people like it when we get more risky with our caption commentary—but you’re always going to get people who hate it. You can’t please everyone. Especially as a male voice talking to females…When people confront us about it we’re like, ‘It’s three girls writing these captions. This doesn’t cross the line for us.’ But different people react differently. We welcome healthy debate, but we also know when someone’s a troll—you’ve got to just cut them then and there.

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A lot of my decisions are based on what my own reaction might be. I always bring it back to: would I be interested in seeing or hearing this?

Like with email newsletters: would I find it annoying to receive two emails in a row from frank body? Or, do we generally have two really interesting things to say that people will be like, ‘Hey, fair enough’. You can relate it back to your friends and relationships. Do that with everything. If my friends or the people in my life have good stuff to talk about, I’ll pick up their phone calls. If I don’t feel like they’ll have anything good to say, I won’t want to talk to them. It’s very simple when you think about it in that way. Same with Facebook ads. Ask yourself—Would you click on this? Because just saying: ‘Shop Now!’ is bullshit and you’re not going to get anyone’s attention. You have to know what your audience responds to. For us, that means less model imagery, and more customer photos. People will ask me, ‘How often should I post?’ and it comes down to the same reasoning… if you’ve got 10 good things to say during the day, say ten good things. If you’ve only got one good thing just say that one good thing. That’s a mistake I think brands make. They either push too much shit content or they don’t push enough good content.

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Personally, in terms of the way I like to be spoken to by a brand—I don’t need someone to pander to my ego in any way. I’d rather that they tell it like it is. I don’t want to be told that I should look a certain way or be a certain way—so with frank, we tried to encourage and welcome women from the start. And that’s where the whole ‘every body is a babe’ thing came from. Frank calls girls babe. Which is funny because I hate when people call me babe. Haha. But for the brand, we support the idea that being a babe is a state of mind, it’s a feeling. It’s an attitude and a confidence. So that’s what we wanted to tap into and support. But sometimes I have no idea how women want to be spoken to. I can be talking to my best friend or sister and be like—‘I don’t get you.’ So I think talking is the most important thing and what women want—they want to have a conversation.

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You guys love the word authenticity over here in the US. We don’t use it much in Australia. I find myself accidentally throwing it into conversation and I’m like, ‘Oh God!’. I mean, I get the idea. I just think it gets thrown around so much. When people are like, ‘Oh, I just want to find what’s authentic to me.’ or ‘Is this really authentic?’ and I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’. Everyone should just be themselves, which I guess is authenticity, but since when did that become such a label? I think people are promoting it more than they actually are living it, particularly on social. People have this facade of who they are, then you meet them in real life and there’s a complete disconnect. As a brand and a person, you want those things to line up. For example, we might swear on our Willow & Blake website, and if you meet me in person, I’ll swear in conversation. I want people to have that same experience and I think that’s what potentially being authentic is about. It’s about maintaining consistency, so people don’t feel like they’re getting two different sides of you. This female empowerment thing is really big at the moment. It kind of drives me (and my business partners) insane. We’re like, look, just because we have a vagina doesn’t make a difference. We turn up to work every day, and get on with it.

Again, I don’t want to put a label on it and be like, ‘it’s because I’m a female’ or ‘it’s because I’m authentic’.

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Don’t feel like you have to be on every platform. It’s a waste of your time and your energy if you’re just sharing content, or you can’t actually respond to people. Investing in community management means you can have conversations with people—that five minute back and forth can convert someone over from not being a customer to being a customer. You’ll also get an understanding of what your customers want. Snapchat is just beyond me, personally. I feel like my 15-year-old cousins are going to put me out of business very shortly to be honest.

Regardless of platform, I think quality over quantity is important. No one wants to see that much of someone’s life.

I also hate it when people recycle the same memes or hashtags that everyone else is using. It’s fun to think of new ideas—I don’t know why people don’t make more of an effort. I think hashtags in general are really lazy. They can be a great tool for aggregating content if you are having an event, or if you have one or two hashtags that are brand specific, but to put 20 or 30 in a caption just to get likes? It looks like shit, it’s not actually doing a good job. Also: know that big Instagram followings can be deceptive—sometimes they don’t mean anything. I’ve got friends who have businesses on Instagram with huge followings, and they’re struggling to pay their rent. A large following doesn’t always mean conversions.

Going back to consistency, a lot of people aren’t as happy as they’re what they’re projecting on social. I’ve met a lot of influencers who appear to have this perfect, happy existence, but are incredibly insecure in real life.

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When I first went out on my own, I didn’t have any money saved and my parents thought that I was crazy. But I’m a naively optimistic person and tend to throw myself at things, and I feel really lucky that things have worked out the way that they have.

I do think if you believe in what you’re doing, and you’re willing to work really fucking hard for it, then you will find a way for that money to come in.

But you have to love what you’re doing—because before the money comes in, the love is only thing that is feeding you. Literally—there were a lot of nights where I was eating oatmeal for dinner.

Like a lot of us, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I wouldn’t have the brand that I have without it. I think it can be such a powerful tool to educate and influence, but I think people get lazy with it, take advantage and abuse it. You can’t let it consume you, and you have to remember it’s but one aspect of life. And there are so many other parts that are more important. I always get nervous when people ask me to speak about social or the brand, because we’re still fucking up all the time. Sure, we’re OK at writing. We’re good at what we do, I guess. But we’re still learning and make mistakes all the time. I’ll say to my business partner, ‘Uh, I don’t know about that post. That was a bit shit.’ We call each other out all the time and I think that’s important. I remember when I had a client with Willow & Blake who went through a bit of a rough time on social when their product (shoes) were delayed in the post. Moms were saying their children weren’t sleeping at night because their shoes hadn’t arrived… all this crazy stuff. And I genuinely felt like a bad person. I couldn’t sleep and I was like, ‘This is crazy. They’re these plastic shoes. Why do people care? Why are they telling me I’m a bad person?’ What I’ve realized is that some people have a lot of time on their hands. You can’t take it personally. frank body is a huge part of my life, but I’ve learned that it’s just one part of it.

Work is an incredible thing which I love, but at the end of the day, it’s just one thing I do. It’s not me as a person.

That understanding makes you cope with work drama better—it makes you tougher.

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