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Filling the Blank Space: Business Lessons from Taylor Swift

Anna Johansson
Anna Johansson

The haters are going to hate, but Taylor Swift will keep shaking it off.

After all, her tour alone brought in an estimated $39.6 million in 2014.

She’s as successful as they come, but few outside of her inner circle realize just how savvy and business-minded she and her team are.

As an entrepreneur or business professional, you can glean a lot from studying how she approaches marketing, branding, sales, and PR.

The Accomplished Taylor Swift

What were you doing when you were 10-12 years old? Well, Swift was writing songs and giving live performances in front of crowds. At age 17, she released her first single, “Tim McGraw,” followed by her first album, “Taylor Swift.”

By the time she was 18, Swift had already earned her first number one single, was named Artist/Songwriter of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association, and won the CMA Horizon Award.

From this point on, it’s easy to lose track of the success. She was the leading name in the country music industry for another three-plus years, and then she transitioned to pop at the age of 23.

But the incredible thing about Swift’s career is that she’s been able to dominate two completely different genres in the music industry. She won dozens of awards and had millions of fans when she was a country act, and then she made the jump to pop where she’s become even more successful and famous.

Swift is more than a musical artist. She’s become a cultural icon who’s able to influence a number of fields, including fashion and design. Though she’s an individual, she’s also a brand. And, from the outside looking in, it may appear simple or streamlined, but it’s taken a lot of hard work and effort to get where she is today.

Five Business Takeaways

There’s obviously more involved here than good looks, luck, and even talent. Swift and her team are business masterminds who understand what it takes to sell albums, tickets, and merchandise to fans of all ages. They’ve done it for years – and there doesn’t appear to be any slowing down. Here are some business lessons that we can learn from Taylor Swift’s successful career:

1. Surround Yourself With Passionate People

Swift had a chance to sign her first music deal with a major label at the age of 13 but chose to walk away. Her reasoning was that the company wasn’t willing to put time and effort into her album. In other words, they lacked passion. Well, that was their loss. Swift would wait three years, until 2005, when she signed a deal with Big Machine Records.

Even at a young age, Swift knew that it mattered who she surrounded herself with. She decided that passion and intensity were priorities. Instead of settling for a questionable deal, she waited until the right one came along. We’ll just say that it’s worked out pretty well for her.

2. Be Willing to Make Tough Decisions

While Swift is often seen as a flirt with a knack for breaking up with boys and writing songs about the experiences, her boldest breakup doesn’t involve a boy at all. In 2014, she and her team decided to part ways with Spotify, the free music streaming service that does very little to compensate artists.

“Music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment," Swift told reporters in November 2014.

“And I'm not willing to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.”

Swift was the first major act to cut ties with music streaming services but certainly wasn’t the last. She caught a lot of flak for the breakup, too, but did her best to explain her choice to the fans.

It must have worked, as her latest album, 1989, has been her most successful to date (totaling more than $5 million in U.S. sales).

3. Understand Your Target Market

From a business point of view, one of the worst things that a brand can do is to lose touch with its target audience. This happens all too frequently, however.

Companies lose sight of who’s buying their products and try to make decisions independent of the best interests of their contingency. Swift has reinforced the idea that listening to your audience makes sense.

She started with country music, but soon realized her biggest following consisted of middle school and high school-aged girls. While a small percentage of these adolescent girls enjoy country music, the majority is more inclined to listen to pop. She didn’t fight this and chose to transition from country to pop.

While you should never compromise your brand’s core values just to appease the market, there does come a point when you have to let your paying customers direct your success. Swift has struck a fine balance between maintaining personal integrity and letting her fans guide her career.

Related Article: Your Target Audience Awaits in These Niche Social Networks

4. Be Genuine and Real

The amazing part about Swift is that she’s very genuine – considering her status. This goes back to understanding her target market. She knows that her fans want to see her off the stage and in real life.

To satisfy her fans, she leverages social media. In fact, some call her the queen of social media.

Just check out this infographic, which says that she has more than 70.3 million Facebook fans, 55 million Twitter followers, and a healthy 25 million Instagram followers.

And the great thing about her social profiles is that she actually posts some real content. While some celebrities use their pages to post pictures from album covers and concerts, Swift gives a raw, behind the scenes look at her life.

Businesses can learn a thing or two from how Swift engages with fans and customers. She does an effective job of creating a close-knit community of followers, despite the fact that the community consists of millions of geographically dispersed people.

Related Article: Social Media Marketing World: 8 Key Social Media Trends for 2015

5. Own Your Content

While it’s not possible to control what people say about your brand or business, you can influence what people say by gaining the upper hand. This is exactly what Swift does. She tries to own her distribution channels by creating content and stories before the mainstream media can.

Whether it’s posting weird pictures of cats, writing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, doing incredible things for unsuspecting fans or anything in between, Swift takes action before the tabloids can.

From a business perspective, the moral of the story is that you need to stop being passive and start taking action if you want more positivity to surround your brand. Take a page out of Swift’s book, and own your content.

Let Swift Guide Your Business

Though Taylor Swift may not make a very good CEO, lawyer, or executive, she and her team certainly have some lessons for those of us in the corporate world.

As you move forward in building your brand, consider these five lessons and how they can be applied in your situation. You may be surprised by just how relevant they are to you and those around you.

Image via Wikipedia.

Image Credit: Fizkes / Getty Images
Anna Johansson
Anna Johansson Member
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends.