When it comes to launching a small business amid tough economic times, Tan France can certainly relate.
“I started building my business within the [2007-09] recession, which was so unwise but I had no other choice,” the Queer Eye star, who founded fashion brand Kingdom & State, tells PEOPLE. “The first year-and-a-half, in particular, was so dire.”
“I started very late 2009, and 2010 was a wash. Then in 2011, I learned how to change things up to make it appropriate for what people were actually going through at that time,” France, 37, continues. “So I absolutely know what it means to pivot your business and switch things up to cater to the new market or audience.”
What France didn’t know, however, was that his experience would benefit him years later as he takes on his newest venture: starring on Facebook Watch’s Boost My Business, a show where he and other Facebook experts help eight small business owners grow online using social media.
The show, which is part of Facebook’s Summer of Support program and offers small businesses six weeks of free educational training, was filmed before the coronavirus pandemic swept through the U.S.
At the time, France was encouraging businesses to adopt online strategies, but his advice has taken on an entirely new meaning in recent months as businesses have been forced to rely on their digital sales to survive.
The 12-minute weekly episodes now feature a segment at the end where France reconnects with the businesses to see how they’ve handled the pandemic and if any strategies he provided have helped them cope with the economic impacts and challenges.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Tan France
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“There’s no small business that COVID hasn’t affected,” France explains. “This couldn’t be more timely. We taught them how to really capitalize on your online audience instead of the physical audience. If it wasn’t for social media, I wouldn’t have had three successful businesses… so for me, it was the perfect fit.”
Reaching success wasn’t easy for France, who admits there were many moments of doubt and frustration as he worked to get Kingdom & State, as well as his two smaller apparel brands, off the ground.
“When I look back, the main thing that got me through was true determination and true conviction in what I was doing,” he recalls. “It was hellacious and many times, almost every day, [I said], ‘Oh, I really do need to just quit.'”
“You have to be your own greatest cheerleader,” adds France. “It took real determination and knowing that the ideas I had were good and that they were viable, and I think if you don’t have that, you already don’t have a business.”
At times, his determination fell short and the Queer Eye fashion guru admits to experiencing failure. However, thanks to his optimistic outlook, France says he was able to spin it into something valuable.
“Those failures aren’t necessarily failures, they’re just moments of opportunity to learn,” he explains. “It really does teach you tenacity, if you do still put in the effort and work hard, you can make your way out of there. They didn’t just affect my business — they affected the way I handle problems or handle stressful situations for the rest of my life.”
When it came to the show, France says a lot of the advice he presented to the business owners — such as using eye-catching imagery and an “authentic voice” — came from those lessons he learned along his own journey.
“It was something that I really tried to articulate with everyone that I met on Boost My Business,” explains France, who has since sold all of his brands. “I was basically trying to encourage them to do the things that I did, like putting a face to the business.”
“You are buying into the person you’re buying from, and I think that that’s something that people so often forget. Give them a reason to buy from you,” he continues. “As soon as I started doing that, people started to really understand who they were buying from and how much I loved that product that I was creating, and it really changed my business.”
Other tips he says revolutionized the way he ran his businesses included using as little credit as possible to avoid debt, having a part-time job to provide a means for living in the early stages, and of course, capitalizing on social media.
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“Those three things created businesses for me that affected me for the rest of my life,” says France, who finishes each episode of Boost My Business with three takeaway points specific to each small business highlighted on the show.
“My main thing is: don’t underestimate the power of great social media and your authenticity,” he adds. “When it comes to something that could really build your business, social media is invaluable. If you’re an active business and you don’t have an active handle on social media, you are disqualifying yourself from the race.”
By the end of the season, France hopes small business owners everywhere can use the show as a source of inspiration and education.
“I’m hoping that throughout the course of the season, that anyone who has a small business will be able to get a bunch of information out of each episode to really learn how to propel their business forward,” he explains. “We tackle as many points as we can about what it is to have a small business and hopefully it will help craft the experience that you want in your own life.”
New episodes of Boost My Business will be available every Monday at 8 a.m. ET on the Facebook Business Watch page.