Laura getting interviewed by CNN one year after Jimmy Beans Wool opened.
Photo courtesy of Laura Zander
When I opened my yarn shop, Jimmy Beans Wool, in 2002, there was no Facebook, no Instagram, no social media. Back then in order to get press you contacted your local newspaper and pitched your story. Scary, but I told myself over and over, what do I have to lose? The answer is always no if you don’t ask. So I psyched myself up and called the local newspaper, asking if they would write an article about our opening. They did and we got lots of new customers — I quickly learned the value of publicity (full disclosure: we were in a super small town and everything was news!).
Since then, we have been mentioned in the news more than 250 times.
The truth is, not only did I have to ask for those stories to be written, but I had to ask a whole lot of times, and I had to come up with a story that was worth writing about.
Learning to Ask
Growing up as a latch-key kid in Raleigh, North Carolina, I learned quickly that if I wanted something, I had to get it myself – no one was going to get it for me. On most days, what I wanted more than anything in the world was an ice cream cone from McDonalds. With tax, a cone was $.26: a quarter and a penny. I was always finding pennies on the street but coming up with a quarter was more difficult.
One afternoon a woman in our apartment building asked me if I could help with her groceries, and when I was done she gave me a quarter. At that moment, I realized if she was willing to pay me to help, maybe other people would, too. I promptly started knocking on doors and asking people if there was anything I could do to earn some money. More often than not, people said no, but sometimes they said yes.
Eventually I understood that the ‘no’ is just part of the game and that you simply have to endure lots of ‘no’s’ to get to one ‘yes.’ The lesson that really stuck with me was that if I wanted something, I had to ask for it, and I had to ask a lot.
Laura, and her husband Doug, prepare for an interview with a Japanese business channel.
Photo courtesy of Laura Zander
The Japanese business channel photographer goes in for the shot.
Photo courtesy of Laura Zander
Figure Out Your Unique Story
Twenty-five years later, I owned Jimmy Beans Wool. But after five years of business and three years of stagnant sales, I was getting frustrated. I had grand dreams of getting our yarn into major magazines like Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple, but every time I reached out, I got no response. One weekend after a visit to the Napa Valley with friends I came home to find a copy of Fortune Small Business magazine in my mailbox. Inside was a five-page feature on the Napa restaurant The Girl and The Fig I’d just eaten at. I was shocked. It was a good restaurant for sure, but not life-changing good. I thought, “If The Girl and The Fig can get five pages, why can’t we?”
Yarn is pretty, it photographs well, and at the time it was often quoted that 1 in 4 American women knew how to knit. In my mind, an article about knitting would appeal to an eighth of the American population. I called the magazine and asked them to write an article about us, a local yarn shop started by dot com software engineers. I said I thought it would be fresh and different from any of their other business profiles. And you know what? They agreed!
They sent a writer, a photographer, and three experts to mentor us for a day. But the best part of this story wasn’t the actual story in the magazine – it was what one of the experts who owned a public relations firm said. She told me to quit trying to get people to write about yarn. The yarn isn’t the story, she said. It’s about us – two former Silicon Valley dot com software engineers who left the rat race to follow their passion.
Our story is about turning a passion into a business; it’s about giving people hope and inspiring them to follow their dreams. It’s about sharing our unorthodox journey.
Hundreds of “stories” later, she was absolutely right!
You have to have a great story. Remember that no one will do this for you. You are your best advocate and no one will ever be as passionate about your story as you are. And remember, the answer is always no if you don’t ask.
5 Tips to Help You Get More Press
1. Start in your own neighborhood and build your confidence. Ask the local TV and radio stations if they’ll help spread the word about an event you’re holding, for example. They may be especially interested if it’s a charity event or if other community organizations are involved. Ask a local professor if you can talk to their MBA class about what it’s like to run a business. Ask if you can set up a booth at a local non-arts-related event (you’ll stand out more!). Ask the local newspaper editor if you can write a piece about running a small business in today’s retail environment. Ask to sponsor local events that have a target demographic similar to yours. Essentially, start knocking on doors.
2. When pitching ideas, visit offices in person when you can. Attend trade shows and local events where the press will be, and come prepared with a postcard that explains your business and what makes it special and newsworthy. Ask people to think of you if they’re ever looking for a story.
3. Shoot for the moon. For every 10 local people you reach out to, reach out to 1 big national publication. Why not?
4. It’s all about the numbers. Think of every no as one step closer to a yes. Check off the no’s as if they are items on a to-do list. You just gotta get through them before you get to a yes!
5. Believe in yourself. Think beyond your product and come up with the aspects of your story that make your business unique and interesting. Lead with those. Believe me, if I can get press, so can you.
Laura is the co-owner of Jimmy Beans Wool. Along with her husband Doug, she worked as software engineers during the dot-com boom in the San Francisco area. When Laura and Doug saw the boom begin turning into a bust they quit their jobs and moved to Lake Tahoe to begin a new adventure, opening a small yarn shop. Today Jimmy Beans Wool has been named one of the 5000 fastest-growing private companies in the US and Laura is one of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women. She was invited to the White House for a forum addressing the American Jobs Act where Jimmy Beans Wool was recognized as a notable Nevada business.