What a hungry 9 year old can teach you about your business
Posted by Andrew Tobert on 15 June 2012
Martha Payne is a nine-year-old girl from Lochgilphead, a tiny village on the West coast of Scotland. Every day she goes to school with a camera and takes a photo of her school lunch. When she gets home, she writes about it on her blog, Never Seconds, and 2.2 million people sit down to read it. Martha is a web entrepreneur. Here’s her story, and what she can teach you.
Martha is an unlikely sensation, but a sensation nonetheless. (If you don’t know her story, here’s a run down). Her infectiously cute writing style, her humor, her fair and balanced reporting (despite what you may remember of your school meals, she says heart-melting things like “My soup today must be the best soup in the world.”), have got her over 2 million page views, and mentions in national newspapers and TV networks in the UK and elsewhere. She’s received messages of support from politicians, celebrities, and has raised over £16,000 (about $20,000) for a charity that helps feed the starving. (She decided to promote the charity after her blog took off. Her readers’ then donated in droves). As her blog became more widely known, she started receiving photos from around the world from kids who’d done the same thing. The blog now brilliantly encapsulates global attitudes to children and their food. It’s shameful or heartening, depending on where you come from, but certainly worth a read.
All was going well with Never Seconds until Argyll and Bute council, the local authority that runs all the schools in her area, decided to crack down. They banned her from taking photos of her food (that she’d paid for) thereby pulling the rug from underneath her. On 14th June, she wrote a farewell note. Her dad expressed his sadness and disappointment with the council, but thanked the school staff, who had been supportive. A Twitter stormed ensued and the council, thankfully, backed down.
The story is worth retelling just because it’s a great one. But also because it can teach about SEO, web marketing, and how we conduct ourselves in the age of Twitter.
We’ve all heard adults, most notably celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, campaigning about food in the UK and elsewhere for a while. He’s even focused on school food specifically. But telling kids to eat healthily is patronizing, and ignores the pressures they face. (Interestingly, Argyll and Bute council, who came under fire for the food Martha was eating, blamed her for making the wrong choices. They didn’t think it was any reflection of the food she was being offered).
What was so wonderful about Never Seconds is that it was different from all that. Here was a (clearly intelligent and creative) child writing about exactly the same issues that adults have been going on about for decades, but from a child’s point of view. Martha clearly knows that she should eat her vegetables (each meal is given a score out of ten for its healthiness) but, instead of something preachy we might get from an adult, we get something new. Children know about healthy eating, they want to eat well, it’s just that adults don’t always let them. Just as Martha isn’t the only food blogger, or the only person talking about food and the issues surrounding it, your business doesn’t need to do anything revolutionary. But it does need to be interesting. What do you do that’s different? How can you add a unique voice?
If it’s working, keep doing it
In business we become obsessed by growth and innovation. We’re always looking for that new thing that’s going to make us rich. Somewhere, over that rainbow, is an untapped pot of gold, and if we keep trying more and more new stuff, we’ll find it. Do you think Martha’s readers log on every week, read her reviews thinking “Yeah but what about European debt crisis?” Or “what’s the hot new look for this season?” No, they want to read about what someone had for lunch. If they (or indeed, Martha) get bored, they’ll move onto something else. But no one’s there yet so relax. Enjoy what you’re doing, and if it pays the bills keep doing it. Not everyone gets to be Warren Buffet. And that’s a good thing.
Respond to criticism
This is an obvious one, but it’s amazing how often people instead just get defensive. Argyll and Bute isn't Beverly Hills, it's a rural area on the West coast of Scotland. No one would ever expect it to offer 5-star meals to its school children. But when a nine year old (or indeed, anyone) offers you fair and constructive criticism, you should take it, and see what you can do. They explained initially that as the “the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils”, they had to stop the photography. (Really? So it’s either exhaustive, comprehensive coverage or it’s forbidden?)
Yes, your customers won’t always give you fair and constructive criticism, but when they do, respond to it. They’re offering you the chance to improve your product or service. So take it. The chances are, the rest of your customers will like it, and you can show yourself to be a company that cares about its customers.
Beware the viral effect
No one outside Scotland had probably ever heard of Argyll and Bute until this happened. I grew up 100 miles away and I still had to Google it to see where it was.
But now that’s changed. Now everyone knows Argyll and Bute, not for it’s beautiful, idyllic scenery, but for its obstinate, censorial politicians. Politicians either get forgiven or voted out. But what if that was your business? You’d be dead before you even started.