Have you seen Self Made on Netflix? It’s the story of Madam C.J. Walker and how she rose from being a laundress in poverty to becoming the first female self-made millionaire.
Born Sarah Breedlove, empowering Black women and making products for Black hair was her passion. The options were limited, and she was committed to making sure every woman felt proud to rock their crown, knowing how much confidence can come from a hairstyle.
After watching the series when it was released in 2020, I reflected on how Self Made had so many lessons in entrepreneurship that we all could learn from. Those notes were tucked away in a notebook until now. Whether you are all in as an entrepreneur or you have an entrepreneurial spirit, I’ve rounded up my five takeaways from Self Made by Netflix for you to ponder.
In Self Made on Netflix, some of Sarah’s first unofficial clients were members of her sister-in-law’s church choir! The director tried the product, had great results, and “all of the Sopranos want(ed) it,” so an order for 20 jars came through.
The lesson here is that while influencers are influential, social media and traditional promotion is not the only route when it comes to building and growing brand affinity. Influencers are simply people who have a connection to your ideal customer/client/follower. Knowing that Sarah targeted Black women, the choir became a great focus group/test of concept for her as she was developing her hair-growing product.
Now, in the movie, Sarah Breedlove (Madam C.J.) was working for Addie Monroe, selling her hair products after they worked for her. There was an immediate point of friction between the two, and something that stuck out early in the movie was that Sarah had enough of Addie, and that she was determined to create a hair product that worked harder than hers, and one that smelled better, too. In the movie, it was quoted as “Gotta find a way to set myself apart.”
That’s exactly what I encourage each one of my clients to think about and own. There can be dozens of people offering the same product or service as you, but what is your magic? Is it the way you craft the idea? Are you using sustainable materials? Whatever your key differentiator is, that should be part of your brand story so that your ideal customers/clients/followers find you.
Sarah moves her operations from St. Louis to Indianapolis, and this was to increase production of her product in an area that had more opportunities for people of color with the recession. Operations remained in the home until they took over a factory. The lesson here is that you always have to think about where your ideal customer/client is at. “Physically” and in the process. She wanted to reach Black women and knowing that an area had an influx of Blacks moving to, she capitalized on it.
Where are the people that you serve? Is it geographic? Are they in certain online groups? That’s why knowing your ideal customer/client is so important. You want to be where they’re at so you are their go-to choice.
So you’ve got a great product. How does it work? Sarah opened up a salon for women to share her marquee product, but guess what? No one showed up. Even though she was new to an area, she was pounding the pavement handing out fliers. But it wasn’t enough. She retooled her strategy and created some buzz.
Sales women became a core part of the business, but in the beginning, Sarah was out there in the streets herself, on soapboxes at farmers’ markets, sharing her dream and her why behind creating the product. She took it a step further by inviting women that were listening to her story to the salon for a free service because “I know how hard hair is.” She became relatable and appealed to others’ emotions.
Now, I’m not saying to give out everything for free, but in the early days of growing a brand, you have to provide value to get proof of concept and even testimonials to back up the promise you are delivering. Sometimes that may involve a free sample or a consultation. Maybe it’s free training on Instagram Live or a Webinar. A taste of what having a product/service long-term can do for them. In your case, that may be the result of being part of your coaching program, or maybe it’s the promised result after using a product consistently.
Sarah noted in Chapter 1 that there were 3 million Black women in America, and if she could get each of them to buy just one jar, she’d be a millionaire. Instead of scaring her, it inspired her. She later scaled her business to include more products, brought on investors to increase production and distribution, and truly became the first Black, self-made millionaire. We cannot forget to acknowledge the many setbacks she faced, many of which were a direct result of being a Black woman in America at the turn of the century. It didn’t stop her, and she created opportunities for many other women along the way.
There are so many more lessons that we can learn from this series, but those are my favorites. Self Made on Netflix has four chapters at about an hour each, so you can binge it during the evenings or over a weekend.
Have a lesson to add? Please leave your takeaways from Self Made in the comments. Cheers!