Some of the biggest challenges I face time and time again when I come out of my self-induced social media hibernation state is justifying whether or not I’m allowed to be present in the space again and if there’s enough room for me to exist there when it comes to me and my business.
In today’s day and age, social media dominates. It’s the main way we’re able to connect with those close and far, conduct business and realize we’re not alone in enjoying videos where people eat 10x their body weight. There is essentially something for everyone, no matter the interest, so why is it so hard to feel like I belong when I try and be a part of it?
I’m considered an older millennial — the kind who started life without dial-up internet but eventually learned how to strategically time my AOL sign-ons between my mom’s phone calls to friends. I was told that being social meant hanging out in “real” life and connections weren’t made behind a computer screen. Because of this mentality, I was pretty late to the party on a lot of fronts. I remember discovering 9gag back in the day and just becoming so fascinated by it. A friend even had to explain a meme to me.
When Instagram launched, I was in college and because I had never jumped on board the Twitter train, I figured might as well see what this is all about. Photos felt like an easier thing to share rather than me trying to be funny in 140 characters or less. My first photo shared was a beach shot I took while on a tennis trip, and I probably used Valencia as a filter thinking I was edgy.
I used it so sporadically I barely noticed when the social shift happened from Facebook no longer being cool and Instagram was where everyone could be found. Soon enough, the things that filled my feed were more than pictures of friends or their dogs or blurry photos of food. Quotes and relatable memes took over and eventually the main way I was using the app was to tag friends in photos I thought they’d find funny. Then more and more marketing started happening through Instagram and influencers became a thing.
Again, because I was late to the party (and this was also at time before I started work in a marketing field) I just didn’t understand how business done through social media was viable. That was until I started my business back in 2016. Back then, I left my corporate job because of a chaos-fueled impulse decision and began a life of entrepreneurship with essentially no foundation. No clients, no projects lined up, no clue on what I was going to do. So, copying what I was seeing happening around me, I made a business page on Instagram and started sharing graphic designs I’d make daily to try and entice people to work with me.
Others saw success from it, so if I just did something similar, I should have been in the same boat. But unfortunately, I have a nagging personality trait where I need to see the fruits of my labor instantly, and when I don’t, I assume I’ve failed. It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time, but four years ago, this resulted in me falling off on Instagram.
I ended up finding a lot of work over the last few years through networking and connections with people who worked at companies who just so happened to need design at the time, so in my mind, I didn’t need social media to find new clients. And I believed for so long that in the times I would come back online and start sharing stuff about my business and not see new clients come through from Instagram or Facebook, that my market just didn’t live there. The cycle was vicious for me, and it was all constructed in my mind.
It went something like: decide to share online to attract new clients > engage for a bit with some people but not have it go anywhere > maybe share a bit more > feel burnt out and rejected when I would see meme accounts thriving and my business teetering around the same follower count > get discouraged > disappear for awhile. Rinse and repeat.
I know it’s not healthy to fall into the comparison trap, but I’m human and I have faults. One of the things that took a lot of time over the last year to learn and realize is there’s space for everyone; the key is consistency and authenticity. It’s also recognizing that the reason I didn’t feel like I belonged in the space was because I wasn’t creating my own piece of it, but instead was trying to find a different kind of success but by doing it the same way as everyone else. So it’s no surprise I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t being true to myself.
When I took the time to evaluate where my business came from in 2019, I didn’t realize until it was in black and white right in front of me, a great deal of new clients and new projects came from connections made on Instagram. In my mind, I had convinced myself somewhere along the way where so much of my new business originated because of how little time I was giving to social media. But after some reflection, I realized the relationships built there led to referrals for work. Maybe I didn’t necessarily get a job directly from my DMs, but someone who was following me for awhile shared my name to their friend when a conversation about graphic design needs came up and that’s why that person visited my site.
So, for me, this year is all about coming back and taking up space and continuing to exist in it because it’s filled with support and opportunities, and I do deserve the right to be there. I also want to be sure that whatever it is I’m putting out there and sharing with the rest of the world is authentically me. I can’t succeed fully by trying to copy and paste someone else’s game plan and thinking it will work for my business, and I’m pretty glad I’ve found some great support already to help me stay true to my own path. Though the path I’m in may seem crowded, there’s plenty of elbow room and kind enough folks also present in that shared space willing to make extra room.