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Let's take 5 lessons from Rachel Hollis

Have you ever read any books by Rachel Hollis? She’s a tremendously popular author in the self-help genre, most known for her books Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing.

Ironically, Hollis first became known for her relatability. A mother of four, she initially gained fame by posting a photo of her post-baby stretch marks on Instagram and proclaiming her pride in them. Hollis’ writing style belied a common sense approach with a goal towards female empowerment.

Which is why Hollis’ latest fall from grace is all the more puzzling - at least at a first glance.

Hollis has come under fire before, from accusations of plagiarism to criticisms of her working style, but last week’s folly started when she posted a video that mentioned that she employed a housekeeper. While this fact may be unsurprising for a woman of Hollis’ presumed wealth, Hollis was publicly called out on displaying her privilege, and told that it made her ‘unrelatable.’

Hollis’ response was caustic. In a video reply, she boasted about being ‘unrelatable,’ stating: “What is it about me that made you think I want to be relatable? No, sis, literally everything I do in my life is to live a life that most people can’t relate to. Most people won’t work this hard. Most people won’t get up at 4 a.m. Most people won’t fail publicly again and again just to reach the top of the mountain. Literally every woman I admire in history was unrelatable. If my life is relatable to most people, I’m doing it wrong.”

In her approach, Hollis seemed to suggest that others that wake up at 4 a.m. who have not achieved her level of monetary success (ironically this group may include her house cleaner), have simply not worked hard enough. To make matters worse, Hollis’ caption for the new video cited many of the greatest women in history, from Harriet Tubman to Marie Curie to Malala Yousafzai, and suggested that she was unrelatable in the same way that they are.

The backlash was predictably swift, and Hollis has issued an apology for her comments, even though the damage may be long-lasting. Yet besides angering her followers, it seems that Hollis may have been forgetting some of the core rules of marketing.

  1. Likeability is key. This is especially important for a small business. If your potential clients and customers are trying to decide to give business to you or a competitor, what is going to sway them in your favour? You can tell them you’re the best, but if they find you brash or arrogant or hard to work with, they may not be inclined to move forward.

  2. Stay relatable. For someone who initially gained influence on social media as relatable, Hollis seems to now pride herself in being anything but. Her target audience, however, seems unimpressed with the choice. As a small business owner, being able to relate to your clients and their pain points is what helps make you the right choice.

  3. Remember your roots. One of Hollis’ missteps at the root of this situation is that she seems to have done a complete 180-degree spin from what initially drove her success. Her followers supported her because she was relatable, and now that she has become successful she prides herself in being anything but. She’s made the mistake of thinking that she works harder than those who support her. No matter how successful your business becomes, do not forget about those who championed that success from day one.

  4. Humility goes a long way. Success is admirable, but rarely does the public have patience for bragging about one’s own success. Hollis’ response was problematic not because of her success, but because of how she chose to flaunt it. Had she presented it as requiring a house cleaner because of her busy schedule and her four children, her video would have gone unnoticed. Your customers and clients want to see you successful, but it is never helpful to flaunt your elevated status in order to shame them.

  5. Resist the urge to double down! Rachel Hollis fell into the trap that so many popular figures do when faced with controversy - instead of taking a step back to assess, Hollis only inflamed the situation by doubling down. While it happens less frequently with small businesses, there are occasionally social media missteps that happen where some may take offence. While you may not have intended malice, take a step back to assess the situation before issuing a knee-jerk response. Well-constructive messaging and open dialogue may alleviate an otherwise messy situation.

The Rachel Hollis story shows that, in the wake of her success, she’s left her audience behind. For a small business, building your audience is crucial, and keeping them is just as important.

I help businesses build out content that stays true to their messaging, and speaks directly to their clients. Let’s connect and see how we can help keep you and your business likeable, relatable, and front of mind for your clients.