It’s not every day you start a new green business, and getting the word out about your sustainable products and services can be the biggest challenge you face as a green entrepreneur. Carrie Staller knows all about the challenges of starting out – not only because she’s a green entrepreneur herself, but also because she represents many of them as a sustainable sales consultant.
What niche were you trying to fill with Sustainable Sales?
I had been working as an account executive for Gaiam and Conscious Enlightenment for 2.5 years selling advertising and sponsorships to green companies. Our company went out of business in March of 2009 and I realized I had enough contacts to continue the work on my own. So I picked my favorite media outlets and events in the green scene and started connecting great companies who are making smart choices for the planet with great events and media outlets.
I pick up new ones all the time. I currently offer opportunities with LOHAS, Green Fest, several eco-music festivals, Common Ground Magazine, Facebook Causes, viral YouTube videos and Google ads. I also decided to start grad school at Presidio Graduate School getting a green MBA.
My business is a perfect fit for me because I can make my own hours. There are a lot of people who can sell advertising, but not that many people who can speak the language of sustainable business. I quickly discovered that my skill set was in demand and a lot of people were interested in my network and services.
How did you first get started as a green entrepreneur?
I basically continued where I left off as an employee, except now I had no guaranteed salary and had to make my own rules. I didn’t need any start up funds since I’m working in the spaces in between – I sell other people’s products. I wasn’t totally confident it was going to work at first, but a year and half later I know it did!
Is marketing a green business different than marketing a conventional business?
Yes, absolutely. Marketing for green business is far more values driven, and strives to reach a psychographic rather than a conventional demographic. Green consumers are very educated and demand authenticity and transparency.
What are the biggest challenges of getting a green business noticed by potential business partners or consumers?
A lot of times green products will cost more than their conventional counter parts. The trick is to get consumers and businesses to realize a triple bottom line that accounts for people, planet and profits. When people realize the social and environmental impact of some conventional products, they are often willing to pay a little more for a product that takes care of people and the planet.
What are the most powerful marketing methods for a green business in today’s economy?
I think social media is the best method to reach people currently, and particularly cause-related marketing. It’s a moving target and a lot of companies don’t know how to make metrics and set performance goals. If harnessed correctly, messaging can spread like wildfire and a lot of people can be reached in a short amount of time.
[Carrie helped promote the Plastic State of Mind video recently, a campaign that relied heavily on social media.]
Have you made any mistakes as a green entrepreneur that you’d like to help others avoid?
If you are working with a new client, always get things in writing. It’s easy to want to trust people, but sometimes this doesn’t help anyone when both parties remember an agreement differently.
What advice would you give green businesses looking to make their mark?
I would say that when you are in a phase when you are working from home a lot, it’s great to get out and meet friends at coffee shops who have a similar lifestyle. It helps to keep me on track to be around the energy of other people being productive. Other than that, believe in yourself and know that it’s not always going to be fun. There are upswings and downswings, and it takes persistence and stamina to get through the hard parts. Find mentors and talk to whoever you can to get more feedback and ideas.