How One Marijuana Marketer Keeps on Facebook's Good Side
Jamie Cooper, CEO of Cannabiz Connection, has built a sucessful networking and marketing platform for Michigan's cannabis industry -- despite the obstacles.
Meet the founder of Cannabiz Connection, Jamie Cooper. She's been spearheading the legalization effort for Michigan and runs a tech platform that brings together the facilitation of networking businesses and thought leaders in the space.
What brought you into the cannabis industry?
In November 2014, I left the beautiful mountains of Colorado and moved to Michigan, the same year Colorado legalized recreational cannabis. Two months later, I watched a special on 60 Minutes in which they did a story looking into Colorado’s first year after legalization, reconfirming the massive economic boom I had witnessed with my own eyes. That ah-hah moment quickly turned into an obsession. By summer time, I had started the very first cannabis marketing company in Michigan, Cannabiz Connection.
What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry?
Advertising and acquiring payment processing can be quite the challenge, even when you own a company that doesn’t touch the plant. I have built a B2B networking and marketing platform for Michigan’s cannabis industry, so most of my clients are ancillary service providers -- such as attorneys, marketers, accountants, and suppliers -- companies that offer services to anyone building a cannabis business. Unlike other industries, I am unable to use Google AdWords and sometimes Facebook Advertising, to get the word out about my business. It has also been very difficult to find a payment processor that will work with my company. I was even told I would need to remove the words “cannabis” and “marijuana” out of all the website text, to even be considered. It’s a compromise I wasn’t willing to make. Companies that don’t even touch the plant should never face these challenges.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
I've learned to build my audience organically with webinars, groups, and content creation. I realized there was a huge need for information when it comes to building a cannabis business, so I make sure to create content to help fill that void. I have also learned how to run Facebook ads and comply with Facebook advertising guidelines. Facebook certainly doesn’t make it easy for me, but I have a very high success rate when it comes to running ads on that platform. For example, I frequently use Facebook advertising to drive people to webinars and my events and it’s very inexpensive. You must really know their policy and you must be willing to put up a fight.
As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage, disadvantage, or both?
A little bit of both. I am at an advantage because it seems big cannabis companies seek women and minorities to fill executive roles within companies, so sometimes some great opportunities have landed in my lap because of this. As a woman, I also have the advantage of compassion and empathy, a characteristic that women often possess and it resonates with consumers who are needing information about using cannabis to treat their sick loved ones. At the same time, it’s a disadvantage because it’s not very easy for women to find funding for their business and without proper funding avenues, it can be very difficult to grow your business compared to a male competitor who doesn’t have any issues getting the funding he needs. So immediately, women are at a disadvantage and that needs to change.
What's been your greatest lesson learned?
Don’t jump into bed with someone prematurely. Give a new partnership time and little commitment. I have learned you don’t truly know a person (or their company) until you have closely worked with them for at least a few weeks or months. In the cannabis industry, so many awesome opportunities can present itself, but you don’t have to say yes to every single one of them, and you don’t have to commit to working with people long-term immediately. Give the partnership some time before you make a commitment that you will regret. It’s also important to remember that red flags don’t turn green. The moment you see something that concerns you or could negatively impact your relationship or business, put your guard up. The last thing you want is to walk away from a bad partnership with the realization that all the bad signs were there, you just chose to ignore them.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you?
My ability to comfortably fly by the seat of my pants. This is a positive trait to have when working in the cannabis industry because nothing is set in stone. While some states have cannabis policies in place, you must remember that it’s still federally illegal, which is why cannabis entrepreneurs face the challenges they do. Until that’s fixed, those challenges will continue. It’s also a very regulated industry, so things are constantly changing and sometimes those changes end up costing your company thousands of dollars. Working in television news, you learn how to roll with the punches.
I vividly remember working hours putting together a broadcast and having to throw everything out the window because of breaking news. Working in TV news gave me the ability to make quick decisions, put together a plan, and present it in a professional manner that makes sense to my audience. This is one of the many skills I acquired down the line and it sets me apart from others. The moment Michigan regulators make an announcement or change in policy, business owners come to my company, knowing they can find the answers. I put together broadcasts with industry experts and regulatory officials to help keep cannabis business owners in Michigan informed.