Donna Marie Antoniadis | Crain's Toronto

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Donna Marie Antoniadis

Background:  

Offering consulting services and social media strategies, The Influential Agency is a vibrant online community built to connect female influencers with some of Canada's top brands, including Canadian Tire, Tangerine Bank and Leon's. 

The Mistake: 

We were trying to be all things to all people.

We launched with the name ShesConnected and wanted to focus on connecting bloggers with each other, and with brands. But then we became the first dual-profile social media site for women, letting women create a personal as well as a business profile.

The problem was that we just kept adding things to that. We thought, "Oh, if women have an event, let's have an events calendar as well, and then let's add a deals section, and a promotions section," and on and on. So the problem we had with getting to market was that we kept overbuilding and adding different features to the site. 

It became, "List your blog, business, group or event for free!" What a mouthful I had. I don't know what we were thinking. I think about it now and laugh. 

The dual-profile thing was overkill for our early days, and added to the build time. We had to have privacy settings on almost every page, which put huge stress on servers and load times. Our poor programmers had to worry about how to make all of these different levels of privacy work together. It really stopped us from moving forward and being successful early on. 

Focus on what you're good at, and stick to your needs.

The Lesson:

We should have simply stuck with what we wanted to do originally. We should have just focused on influencers and blogs. 

My advice to people would be to focus on what you're good at, and stick to your needs. Don't worry about the new competition that's always popping up. It's important to look at what's happening in the market, but if you have a great idea, and you know how to monetize it, stick to doing that first, and worry about adding everything else later on – if you do it at all.

A lot of entrepreneurs think the product has to be perfect, and it's never going to be perfect. Facebook isn't perfect. Twitter isn't perfect. Things go down, things go wrong, algorithms change, people don't always like it. At the end of the day, get into the market while you have the advantage, and just focus on making sure you're doing that one thing really well. 

We added a lot of features that people ended up not using, or had smaller segments on them, which meant we spent time working on getting all of these different women's groups on there, when we should have just stuck to our influencers. At the end of the day, we're still working with the influencers today, but not with the women's groups. 

As soon as our funding dried up and we had to fend for ourselves, we got really smart really quickly. That's when we started reaching out to the brands. We got our initial funding. Amd then the market crashed and we weren't going to get any more, so we ended up doing a lot of consulting, and selecting our influencers to work with brands. 

I would also say if there's a new social channel or a new technology out there, make sure you investigate it and don't dismiss it. Then decide which ones are most important to your company. It's one of those things where you can't be everywhere, but you have to try every channel, and you can't ignore the new ones. 

We should have paid more attention to Instagram and we didn't. I'm not going back now, I don't need to go back, but we should have paid more attention to that one. It's often too hard to build a following once a social network has gone mainstream. We started on Twitter in 2006 or 2007, and that's how we got so many followers. If you started a new Twitter account today, there are so many rules and restrictions, and you just can't build your user base like you can when a network first comes onto the market. 

We should have allocated someone and said, "You're the Instagram person." For a startup, that can be anyone in your company, from your receptionist on down, or even a family member. But you should always find someone who gets that demographic and that social network, so you don't miss out.

Let your kids be a part of it. Ask them "Why Snapchat?" And they'll say, "Oh, you don't get it? You're so not cool!" Well, tell me why I don't get it. Or tell me why you don't like this brand. That doesn't cost anything, and then you don't miss out on the next big network. 

Follow The Influential Agency on Twitter at @shesconnected.

Pictured: Donna Marie Antoniadis. | Photo courtesy of The Influential Agency.

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