Beyond Pumpkins & Pantyhose: 4 Business Lessons I Learned from Martha Stewart
Growing up with a large stack of Martha Stewart magazines scattered around my family coffee table, and learning how to bake my first batch of homemade brownies alongside the crafting legend, I would’ve never thought I would someday be in the presence of such a successful and influential entrepreneur. Not only did I watch with awe as Martha Stewart graced the stage of HubSpot’s annual Inbound conference last week, but I even enjoyed an organic breakfast with the household name. Martha opened up her keynote by making green juice on stage as shot-glass sized cups were passed along to the audience to sample.
To me Martha is the queen of entertaining, crafting and building a brand centered around her identify. As she addressed the audience I felt a sense of familiarity, like we’ve known each other for years. No, I do not subscribe to her magazine today or religiously read her blog, but if I come across a Martha Pinterest recipe my brand loyalty is automatically hers. I can still remember the 4th of July when I made her brownie ice cream cake dotted with raspberries and blueberries – it was an absolute hit!
Inbound, which took place last week at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, brought an audience of over 10,000 marketers from around the world (I even met some from New Zealand!), and naturally Martha’s keynote speech was received with mixed reviews. Scrolling through the Inbound app’s activity feed there was a lot of hilarious criticism. For example, Martha taught the audience how to make a creative pumpkin with pantyhose and spray paint; this naturally received a plethora of mockery.
But this is what she is all about – DIY (doing it yourself)! Martha is all about empowering people to do it themselves whether that be through her 83 published books, Martha Stewart Living Magazine, or nationwide television segments. And her strategy has worked on more than 100 million customers in the United States alone. Mockery and judgment aside it is clear there are numerous lessons to be learned from this wildly successful business woman.
I spotted Martha’s most recent issue of Living at Starbucks right after listening to her keynote.
So, inspiring entrepreneurs and struggling marketers, listen up! Martha grew her brand from $0 to $1.4 billion. Here are some tips to take away from the one and only Martha:
Create incredible, informative content
I know what you’re thinking – this is easier said than done, but Martha’s content has two overlapping themes that I believe make it successful. Make sure your content does one or both of the following:
- Teaches and informs: Martha’s magazine Living is entering its 25th year, but began with a bumpy start. She wanted to start the magazine with a beautiful 4th of July image displaying a patriotic dessert and continue this tradition in July as the magazine grew year after year, but the men she was working with did not see the value in this. “They didn’t have the ability to see the 4th of July as a limitless holiday,” she stated. But year after year Martha has made her readers feel like “Oh I can do that, how patriotic, how beautiful.” She has taught her readers how to do something new every year for the past 25 Independence Days. “If we show you how to plant a tree today, and we find a better way to plant a tree in five years, we will alter our information, but we always get that information to you,” Martha says.
- Tells a story (use humor as an added plus!): Martha told the audience a variety of anecdotes throughout her speech, whether it was the time her mother, who recently passed at age 99, and her scarfed down perogies on a flight abroad or her adventures as a 20-something stockbroker on Wall Street. Stewart kept the audience laughing with her witty banter and reacting to a picture of herself in her 20’s: “WOW! I looked good!” When asked about how she stands out from her competitors, Martha responded, “Like who?” Her sense of humor was definitely appreciated by the audience, but without directly saying it Martha demonstrated the value of being able to tell a story in an engaging manner. Applying this to content creation will surely make you stand out (even if you claim not to have competitors like Martha!).
Learn something new every day
This holds true for entrepreneurs and marketers alike because knowledge is power, and will serve as fuel to get your creative juices flowing and thriving into incredible ideas. Martha spoke about how she never takes the same route to her destination. “We try really hard to always stay curious; we’re constantly looking for new ideas,” Martha said. “Use your curiosity and research to create beautiful imagery and informative stories...Many of us can come up with ideas that will make life better.”
If you are in a rut when it comes to sparking your curiousity, take the following steps to get the juices flowing.
- Dedicate time to reading: Whether it be industry blogs or books by influencers in your field, setting time aside to read each day will spur your motivation to learn and move forward with your ideas.
- Take notes: On a sunny stroll through the busy streets of downtown Boston I found myself almost getting hit by a UPS truck when jotting down an idea on the notepad I found buried in my purse. Always keep some form of writing device on hand or use your iPhone notepad if you’re desperate, but if a new idea sparks write it down (if you’re like me you will most likely forget that idea when trying to dig for it later). But please make sure to avoid moving vehicles in the process!
- Bring your best ideas to life: Martha stated, “I really encourage entrepreneurs, if they have a great idea, run with it. Find ways to finance, build, market.” So what are you waiting for? Create an action plan to showcase your winning ideas and your business will likely grow.
Hire like-minded people
“The people who come to work with us are like-minded people,” Martha says. She describes them as she describes herself, “learners and teachers.” Fostering a culture of individuals that share similar values can help move things in the right direction and create an environment that makes it possible to bring your innovative ideas to life. Figure out what traits are critical for success. Maybe you value creativity and transparency above learners and teachers – this can vary, but creating a culture of individuals that are driven by the same motives will help your company thrive. According to HubSpot founder Dharmesh Shah, “Peers are greater than beers. Perks don’t matter, people matter.”
Handle failure with grace and move on
Unless you live under a rock or were born a few moments ago, you are most likely aware of Martha’s insider trading scandal that surfaced in 2002. Martha had no choice but to hang up her apron and retreat to five months in prison with a $30,000 fine and two years of house arrest (although personally I would not mind being forced to stay under Martha’s roof for a few years).
But with the wave of mockery and criticism that Martha surely continues to endure to this day, she even answered the question referring to this incident with grace. “Leaders make mistakes,” Martha stated; when faced with setbacks you need to be “frank, open, honest, calm, and forthright … Listen to the legal solution and change course as quickly as possible.” Martha discussed how her legal issues were hers and it didn’t affect the company. Are you likely to make mistakes? Absolutely. But when setbacks creep up, don’t deny, don’t curl up in a little ball under your desk, but do as Martha did – take responsibility, deal with the problem, and move on.
So green juice and pumpkin pantyhose jokes aside, at age 73 (shocking, I know!) Martha Stewart serves as an inspirational female entrepreneur who can teach us all the value of overcoming setbacks and working towards making your dreams and ideas a reality.
Martha hopes to leave the following legacy: “To have been a really good teacher. And a successful entrepreneur who did things that made living every day better.”