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How I Run My Business: The People & Tools I Can’t Live Without

Whether it’s the solopreneur working from home with two kids or the startup founder running a team of 40 in Brooklyn, I’m fascinated by the systems that entrepreneurs create to grow and maintain their businesses.

On that note, I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to the tools and people I rely on every day to keep Factory45 running as smoothly as possible.

Before I get started, you should know that it wasn’t until the Fall of 2014 that I felt financially secure enough to make my first hire. So, in case you’re just starting your business now, remember that this doesn’t happen overnight.

THE PEOPLE

Rather than hiring full-time employees, I prefer to stay lean and hire contractors to help with critical components of my business. With sites like Upwork and HireMyMom.com it’s easy to hire part-time contractors, making it a win-win for you and for the person you’re hiring.

The contractor has the autonomy to run their own freelance business, set their own schedule and work from anywhere. The perk for you is that you can hire someone who specializes in the 1-2 skills you’re looking for.

I currently work with seven part-time contractors, who have (thankfully) become a well-oiled machine. I can act as project manager between each moving part, knowing that every person is doing their job as thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

It helps that every single one of them is also an ace at what they do, so building up trust happens quickly.

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Erika (Phoenix, AZ) manages the publishing of blog posts and the scheduling of emails for Factory45. So, for example, what you’re reading right now? She made it happen. After I write the content in a Google doc, I send the link to her with the photos to accompany it, and she designs it all on WordPress and ActiveCampaign.

 

Inaina (Atlanta, GA) designs the Keynote presentations that eventually become video lessons in the Factory45 program. She’s a former Apple employee with a profound knowledge of anything related to a Mac, and I was able to snag her off of Upwork nearly two years ago.

 

Shaunshaun (Seattle, WA) is the graphic designer for the Factory45 program. He creates the PDF’s, exercises, to-do lists and visual elements of the online course. I’m always telling him he’s fast as lightning (really, the man can whip up a PDF quicker than anyone I know).

 

Joshjosh (San Diego, CA) is the video editor for the Factory45 program and hiring him has saved me hours of time. After I record a video lesson for the course, I’m able to send Josh the draft so he can edit out any bloopers or mistakes. Rather than starting over every time I misspeak, hiring Josh allows me to record just one run-through.

 

raniRani (Bangladesh) is my only contractor who isn’t based in the U.S. and she takes care of Instagram growth for Factory45. Rani has been doing Instagram marketing for over two years and she has single-handedly grown my following from 1,500 to over 5,000 in six months — without buying followers.

 

Emilyemily (San Francisco, CA) has done all of the web design and development for the main Factory45 website and blog, as well as the private portal where my entrepreneurs are able to access the Factory45 program. She is the workhorse of the whole online operation and makes sure everything runs smoothly and looks beautiful.

 

Jerodostermeier-cpa copy (West Plain, MO) is my accountant and has managed the financial side of Factory45 as the business has continued to grow over the past two years. I’ve worked with Jerod since 2011 when I was making a poverty-line wage, so it’s been exciting to have him along for this ride. His help has also been invaluable in keeping all of my ducks in a row.


I know a lot of entrepreneurs hire people to do their blog writing and social media posting, but I’m pretty adamant about writing all of the content myself. You’ll never see a blog post with my name on it that wasn’t written by me. And every single word of the Factory45 program was written by me over many, many months.

There are only so many hours in the day, so hiring out “specialists” to take over the work that isn’t my strength, allows me to grow without burning out.

In addition to written content, I take the reins on strategic marketing, relationship building and most importantly, working with my entrepreneurs through Factory45.

THE TOOLS

  • Asana: Seriously, can’t live without it. It’s the ultimate task management resource. I was first introduced to it when I worked a brief stint for Danielle LaPorte in 2013 and I’ve relied on it ever since.
  • WordPress: I use WordPress for the Factory45 website, the blog and the program portal. I know how to create a blog post, but under Emily’s strict orders, I’m not allowed to touch anything else ; )
  • Google Drive: This is where all of my written content lives. I have close to 30 different folders for blog posts, launch strategies, marketing, each of my contractors, media outreach, etc. During the rare times that Google Drive crashes, my brain crashes too.
  • Dropbox: I use Dropbox as a collaborative sharing tool between myself, Emily, Shaun, Ina and Josh. It’s easy to transfer finished content from person to person so that it all ends up where it needs to be.
  • Edgar: For $49 a month, Edgar will save all of the social media posts that you schedule, and recycled them at a later date. Only a fraction of your audience sees a tweet or Facebook post when you send it out, so this ensures that your content doesn’t go to waste after one use.
  • ActiveCampaign: At the beginning of 2016, I made the transition from MailChimp (the email marketing platform I had been using since 2010) to ActiveCampaign. I wanted a fresh start and to clean house with my list, and with more advanced capabilities, I made the decision to migrate and I haven’t looked back.

I want to reiterate again that I bootstrapped for a long time and did everything by myself until I was ready to hand over some control.

When you’re first starting out it’s expected that you run all operations and stretch yourself thin so you have an understanding of everything that goes on in running your business.

 

 

 


 

How to Define the “Why” Behind Your Business

Last week, I was having celebratory drinks with a friend right around the time applications to Factory45 were closing.

“So…” she asked. “How did it go?! Did you have a lot of awesome people apply?”

When I told her yes, that I doubled the applicant pool and grew by 156%, her next question was:

“What’s next then? Are you going to blow this thing up or what?”

I took a sip of my drink, giving me time to try and come up with an answer that wouldn’t disappoint her.

“I don’t think so…” I said. “I like keeping things relatively small and manageable. I like having work / life balance and not being overwhelmed by a ton of other commitments.”

As the words came out of my mouth, I knew how they sounded.

Unambitious, at best.

Lazy, at worst.

My friend, on the other hand, runs a women’s clothing brand and is gunning for an IPO.

Her and her business partner dream of ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, having hundreds of employees to manage, and working out of a big corporate headquarters.

Me? I just want to be able to go to yoga at noon on a Tuesday.

While there was once a time that I dreamed of running a 7-figure business, the “why” behind my work has changed over the years.

And having been on both sides of the spectrum, I can tell you there isn’t a right or a wrong motive for doing business.

What can get you in trouble is deciding to start a company and not having a “why” at all.

Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, the “Lean In” movement, feminism and the amazing work that female executives are doing to boost leadership, women business owners are being pushed to want it all.

Yes, we hear, you can be a CEO and be a really great mom.

And while I believe that’s absolutely true, it doesn’t mean that you have to want it.

Is it okay to start a business so your family has an extra $1,000/month in spending money? Yes.

Is it okay to start a business so you can quit your full-time job and be at home when your kids are done with school? Absolutely.

Is it okay to start a business so you can work remotely and travel the word? Of course.

And YES, it’s also okay to want to be the next Tory Burch.

At the very beginning of the Factory45 program, I ask all of my entrepreneurs to write down the “vision” for their company in a one-page business plan.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we should all be asking ourselves to write down the “vision” for our lives, as the owners and creators of our businesses.

As you take this big step and make the commitment to embark on entrepreneurship, ask yourself:

What is my “why?”

What are the personal reasons for wanting to start a business?

Is it for fame, for glamour, for wealth, for freedom, for security, for flexibility, for fun?

As time goes on, your answer can change. But it’s your “why” that’s going to keep you moving past the hurdles and the hard times.

It’s your “why” that’s going to define you as an entrepreneur.

And whether you’re the entrepreneur who comes home at 10pm every night, fulfilled by a hard day’s work, or the entrepreneur who works 30 hours a week and has afternoon dance parties in her home office, only you know what will move you and drive you forward.

Define your “why” and you’ll be that much closer to defining your business.

 

 

Photo credit: Bench Accounting


From Journalism Student to Fashion Entrepreneur: What They Won’t Tell You

Ever since I graduated in 2008, I have been some sort of entrepreneur. Ironically, my worst grade in four years of college was in my “Entrepreneurship 101” class (heyo, Professor Rossi).

What I realized later on — that they don’t teach you in an academic setting — is that entrepreneurship has very little to do with getting good grades and is so much more about being able to take a risk.

My first experience with big risk-taking was during my senior year of college when I bailed on the law school entrance exam and booked a one-way ticket to Australia instead.

That one decision completely changed the trajectory of my life, and I spent two post-grad years bartending and traveling around the world, from Australia to Southeast Asia to South Africa.

When my parents thought I was coming home to get a “real job,” I would only stay for a few months, bartend every night, save up more money, and leave to travel again.

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When I eventually returned to the States in 2010 I brought my wanderlust and relentless craving for adventure with me.

I had once been the girl who envisioned herself in the corner office — but after two years abroad, I knew that I would never get a “real job.”

I wanted to create something bigger than myself. I wanted to start a business that would allow me to wake up every morning and go after my dreams. Maybe you can’t relate… I didn’t want to help build someone else’s dream.

It was a divine twist of fate when I got a Facebook message from a friend shortly after I got home. She said she was going through a “quarter-life crisis,” dreading the possibility of sitting in a cubicle all day, and suggested we start something together.

That “something” turned out to be a sustainable clothing company.

Of course, it didn’t happen immediately. Little did we know, we were about to embark on a three-year journey into self-discovery, entrepreneurial freedom and the pursuit of living life on our own terms.

Our plan was to create a company that would be 100% made in the USA, using fabrics and materials that did the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.

It was called {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists, and it prompted my early exploration of conscious consumerism and the practice of living with less.

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I learned about the downsides of fast fashion: the environmental damage, the humanitarian violations, and the psychological effects of modern-day consumer culture.

These realizations completely changed me, and I decided to dedicate my career to creating a more conscious world where people see the power of voting with their dollars.

That’s all to say, we quickly found out that having a “vision” wasn’t enough. We were naive, unversed in industry lingo, and had zero connections in the fashion industry. It became obvious very early on that what we were trying to accomplish wouldn’t be easy.

We spent money on the wrong things, made every mistake possible, wasted time pursuing leads that ended in dead ends and continuously took two steps back with every one step forward.

Looking back at the emails I sent to fabric suppliers, I now know that my inquiries surely got a swift click of the delete button. I didn’t know how to talk to industry veterans, I had no idea how to walk “the walk,” and it showed.

But after a year and a half, having nearly depleted both of our savings accounts, the stars aligned.

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We received a response about a private label inquiry we had sent on a whim to a general contact form. After a few meetings, we made the decision to source and manufacture our first production run under the guidance of a company who had done it before.

The company was a startup itself but was farther along and had the production infrastructure that we lacked. They also had the knowledge, connections and reputation that we needed on our side.

After pushing forward solo for so long, we had found someone to take us by the hand and walk us through the process.

We had finally found the mentorship we needed.

More doors opened at the end of 2011 when we launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first production run of our signature piece, the Versalette, one garment that can be worn over 30 different ways.

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What happened over our 30-day campaign far surpassed our wildest dreams. Not only did we acquire nearly 800 new customers, quadruple our first production order and attract the attention of The New York Times, but we finally saw a year and a half of hard work pay off.

Having gone through a unique entrepreneurial journey, I had developed a set of skills that were totally unexpected. I knew from my experience with the Versalette that breaking into the fashion industry was very difficult, and I wanted to make it easier for other aspiring entrepreneurs to do the same.

It’s my hope that I can continue to foster a space for creativity and collaboration while helping others start down their own path towards creating a business.

In the last few years, I’ve helped entrepreneurs all over the country set up supply chains in the U.S., source sustainable materials and bring their products to market.

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Factory45 is the program I created for entrepreneurs, like me, who have a vision and a plan but need the mentorship, framework and resources to get started.

If you have your own plans to launch an apparel brand, I hope you’ll consider joining me through your journey. Mentorship is the very thing that pushed my first company forward and I would love to do the same for you.

If you’re ready, apply to join me here.

*UPDATE: Applications to the 2016 program of Factory45 are now closed! Enrollment will open again in Spring 2017. Get on the list to be notified here.*

 

shannon whitehead, founder

 


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Launch Your Clothing Company with Factory45

*UPDATE: Applications to the 2016 program of Factory45 are now closed! Enrollment will open again in Spring 2017. Get on the list to be notified here.*

YES, you can now apply to join the 2016 program of Factory45!

If it’s the right fit, I’d love to have the opportunity to work with you.

You can get all of the details about the program here.

Over the past two years, Factory45 has helped entrepreneurs from all over the country launch clothing companies that are sustainably and ethically made in the USA.

Whether you still can’t find a fabric supplier whose minimums you can afford or the process of finding a manufacturer has been a giant headache, I know there is a way to launch your company with more confidence, less frustration and without wasting valuable time and money.

In fact, I’ve proven it.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to share my own story of entrepreneurship, introduce you to some of the alumni who have successfully launched through Factory45, and answer all of your questions about what you can expect.

If you’ve been waiting months for this day to come, then I invite you to fill out your application now.

If you’re still new to Factory45 and aren’t sure what it’s all about, then click the play button below. We’ve been working on this video project for months, and I’m so excited to be able to finally share it with everyone today.

Get inspired, get to know me and get ready. If you’ve been dreaming of starting your own apparel company but haven’t known where to start, Factory45 may be just what you’re looking for.

Apply to join me here.

 

shannon whitehead, founder

P.S. If there’s someone in your life who’s been talking about starting a clothing company please share the Factory45 application with them.

Entrepreneurship was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I hope that everyone (who wants to) gets the chance to run their own business.

Factory45 Success Story

Factory45 Success Story: VETTA, the Ultimate Capsule Collection

Over the past two months, a certain Factory45 entrepreneur has taken our community by storm.

“How did they move so fast?!”

“Their campaign was incredible!”

“I can’t believe how gorgeous their photography was!”

This community has blown me away with their support and kind words for the latest success story to come out of Factory45.

Yes, I’m talking about VETTA, the five-piece capsule collection that can make up a month’s worth of outfits. All sustainably sourced and ethically made in New York City.

So… how did they do it?

That’s what I want to share today with the hope that you’ll see inspiration and motivation in what VETTA created and take away some wisdom to apply to your own startup.

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I first met Cara Bartlett, one of VETTA’s co-founders, at a coffee shop in South Boston over a year ago.

At the time, I was in the middle of my second Factory45 cohort and Cara had recently left RueLaLa to go full time with her ethical fashion blog, Bien Faire.

We chatted about the fashion scene in Boston, she gave me some recommendations for ethically-made wedding dresses, and we parted ways with plans to host some sort of future event together.

Several months later, when I opened applications for the Factory45 Fall program, I was so surprised to see that Cara had applied for her company, “TBD.”

While she and her co-founder, Vanessa, had been brewing up dreams of starting their own line together, they needed help finding sustainable fabrics, choosing a manufacturer and coming up with creative ways to market the brand for a Kickstarter launch.

I guess you can say the rest is history. I accepted Cara into Factory45 and from day one, she hit the ground running at full speed ahead.

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Here’s what I’ve observed, after working with Cara for the past six months, that can be attributed to VETTA’s success:

>> Cara was working on VETTA full time. My philosophy and the mantra that my Factory45’ers hear over and over is: You have to take the entrepreneurial journey that’s right for you. Is it possible to launch a brand in six months? Yes. Is it possible for everyone? No.

Many of us have obligations, work, children, partner’s and other life “requirements” that take priority over our businesses. If you’re serious about launching a brand on the timeline you’ve laid out, though, then something has to give.

You either have to accept the fact that your brand will take 1-2 years to launch or you have to commit to dedicating everything you’ve got to the 6-8 month timeline you’ve laid out for yourself.

In the past, Cara has driven from Boston to New York City five weekends in a row. She’s flown to South Africa to meet with her co-founder in person. She’s traveled to Los Angeles for a whirlwind few days to shoot her lookbook and video.

When planning your launch timeline you have to figure out what’s right for you. Cara and Vanessa knew they wanted to launch a March 1st Kickstarter from the day they submitted their Factory45 application on September 21st. They kept their eye on the prize and didn’t miss their mark.

>> They built an audience before they launched. VETTA is unapologetically not for everyone. Cara and Vanessa identified a niche and an ideal target customer and invested six months into building a very specific and dedicated audience.

They grew their email list, Instagram following and Facebook page and with the help of beautiful photography, they strategically “teased” out their upcoming launch. They were able to get their target market excited about what they had to offer so that “early adopters” were ready and excited to purchase the VETTA collection as soon as it was available for pre-sale.

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>> They leveraged their network. During and after their campaign, VETTA caught the attention of some impressive press. While some of that was organic, for example The Boston Globe, Cara has told me they unabashedly called upon friends of friends of friends for help.

They networked their way into a meeting with VOGUE to start developing a relationship with the magazine. They tapped into the Factory45 network of suppliers and manufacturers to set up their supply chain. And as a result, they’re working with the same factory in NYC who creates many of Rag & Bone’s garments.

If you are creating something beautiful, intentional and good for the world, people will want to be apart of it. Don’t let fear get in the way of making the “ask.”

>> They had a “share-worthy” story. VETTA could have gone one of two ways. 1.) A collection of sustainably-and-ethically-made womenswear, 2.) 5 versatile pieces that mix + match to create a month’s worth of outfits.

Which version is more compelling? The difference in those two soundbites drastically affects your chance of becoming a “share-worthy” story. When it’s interesting, different and easy to communicate you’re much more likely to tell a friend about it.

I’ve written before about launching a Kickstarter campaign for my first company, {r}evolution apparel, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to leverage a concise message and story to represent your brand.

VETTA did just that and gained the attention of WHO WHAT WEAR, Brit + Co., Darling Magazine, BostInno, VentureFizz, The Wall Street Journal and other well-known press.

More than that, though, they gained the attention of 527 new customers.

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This is all to say that VETTA reached its $30,000 goal in five days and was featured by the Kickstarter Staff as a “Project We Love.”

By the end of their 30-day campaign, they had nearly tripled their goal to raise $88,954. Shortly after, Cara and Vanessa competed in the Sak’s Emerging Designer Showcase and won. Their second capsule collection will be available in Sak’s Fifth Avenue stores in the near future.

It goes without saying that I’m so proud of what VETTA has been able to accomplish and I want to emphasize that this kind of success is not out of reach for the aspiring entrepreneurs who may be reading.

It’s not going to be easy — but as Cara and Vanessa can attest, it will be worth it.

 

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Photos courtesy of VETTA and Sak’s Fifth Avenue


Important Marketing Tool

The Most Important Marketing Tool for Fashion Brands & How to Use It

So, I’m in yoga the other day and after the final “Namaste,” my teacher starts to make her daily announcements.

Instructor training begins again on Friday… Four beginner yoga classes are being offered on Saturdays… And then this:

“I also just want to let everyone know that I’m starting an email list.”

And as I’m putting my socks back on, I’m thinking, “Yes, go girl, start that email list.”

(It’s one of the first steps towards entrepreneurship, after all.)

But what begins to unfold has me cringing on my mat:

“So, um yeah, the clipboard is at the back of the room if you want to sign up… I’ll only send out, like, two emails a year…. I probably won’t send out the first email for a few months… You don’t have to sign up if you don’t want to, but I’ll just use it to stay in touch with you…”

And on it went as people started rolling up their mats.

I hung back and waited for a bit until I was one of the last people to leave the studio. As I walked past the clipboard that was sitting by the door, I looked over to see that not one person had signed up.

I wasn’t surprised. And it got me thinking about the startup brands I see online, desperately trying to build an audience, but failing to make an effective “ask.”

I should start by clarifying that your email list is your most important marketing tool — by far. It’s more important than Instagram, more important than Facebook, more important than Pinterest, more important than any other online marketing tool you can leverage.

Your email list is the fastest and most direct way to connect with your potential customers, and it’s yours. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, that now make you pay to connect with your followers, your email list belongs to you.

In the case of my yoga teacher, she was making a verbal “ask” to her studio of aspiring yogis. In the case of your online business, your “ask” is your opt-in incentive and call-to-action (CTA).

(If these terms are starting to sound like crazy-speak, consider joining Factory45 in May. We go into extensive detail about email marketing throughout the program.)

I know this isn’t very “zen” of me, but I want to analyze what my teacher did wrong so that it can help you grow your email list more effectively.

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>> She lacked confidence. If you don’t believe in what you’re offering it will show, and she seemed nervous to come across as too “salesy.” While marketing may not be a natural skill for a yoga teacher, it must become a natural skill for you if you plan to sell your collection, designs or products online.

If you’re not confident in making the “ask” and it shows through your copy, then you might as well not have an email opt-in at all.

(And don’t even think about doing that…)

>> She didn’t incentivize. So often I see email opt-ins that are as incentivizing as an annual flu shot. If your opt-in rate is low, it might be because your call-to-action is lackluster.

“Sign up to our mailing list” is not a call-to-action! That type of language doesn’t do anything to inspire people to want to hear from you. They need to know what they’re going to get and why they should care.

You can try discount codes, free shipping, and style guides to incentivize sign-ups, but the options are endless. The bottom line is that you have to provide real value to entice people to sign up.

>> She didn’t provide an expectation. She said, “I’ll just use it to stay in touch with you.”

What does that even mean?

She doesn’t know all of her students by name and if she did, “staying in touch” is a very allusive expression.

What will I receive emails about? Will I be interested in the topic? What kind of updates will be sent out?

Again, if you’re asking someone to opt into your list, instead of the email list of a competing brand, then you have to have a damn good reason why. “Staying in touch” doesn’t mean anything.

>> She didn’t sound consistent. There is a big difference between what online marketers call a “healthy list” and an “unhealthy list.”

A healthy list is engaged. You have an open rate above 25%, you have a consistent click-through rate, and your “unsubscribes” are generally low. A healthy list comes from consistency — weekly to bi-weekly emails that provide value, interest and intrigue to your following.

If you’re only going to send out two emails a year and you’re going to wait several months to send out the first one, then why bother?

By the time she sends out her first email, anyone who opted into her list will have already forgotten. And do you know what happens when people forget that they signed up?

They unsubscribe and mark the email as spam.

If you have something of value to offer to your target audience, then you need the confidence to market it. As a new business owner, you’re likely running the show on your own, so you have to be equal parts “the creative” and “the marketer.”

Building your email list is the most effective way to grow your brand, sell more products and make your mark in the industry.

But it doesn’t come easy.

It takes experimentation, rewriting your offers, asking for feedback and figuring out what value you can provide.

 

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5 Ways to Get Ahead When You’re a New Entrepreneur

How do you ensure success? Who stands out from the crowd? What separates the pros from the amateurs?

There aren’t any definitive answers. And I’m not even going to begin to try and analyze them. What I will say, is that over the years, I’ve been observing. Working with startups and new entrepreneurs on a regular basis has provided rare insight into what makes one person get ahead of the rest.

Here are five way to set yourself up for success that go beyond conventional wisdom:

1.) Make it easy to help you.

Most people are excited and willing to help out new entrepreneurs. But the likelihood of connecting with someone who is more seasoned in the industry is largely dependent on how you make the “ask.”

The first and most obvious way to sabotage yourself is by writing an inquiry email that scrolls on for block paragraph after endless block paragraph. In most cases if you’re looking for advice, the person you’re seeking out is busy.

I implore you, keep your email to no more than two to three short paragraphs. Your chances of getting a response are incrementally higher and I promise you’ll come across as more professional — and more effective.

Bonus tip: ask a specific question. Avoid using phrases like, “Can I pick your brain?” Instead, ask the exact questions you want to know the answers to. Once you have your foot in the door and get a response, you can follow up from there.

2.) Write thank you notes.

They don’t have to be handwritten and shipped via snail mail, but if someone takes the time to jump on a call on your behalf, follow up with them. I’m always surprised when I block out a free 30 minute call to answer someone’s questions and I never hear from them again.

Regardless if the advice was good or not, it’s common courtesy to express gratitude to someone who gave their time to you.

This is especially applicable when a contact goes out on a limb to introduce you to someone. It makes that person and yourself look bad if you don’t take the time to follow up afterwards.

Good things come from gratitude. And the most successful entrepreneurs show how much they value the people who helped them along the way.

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3.) Start before you’re ready.

Should I launch now? Should I get more real world experience first? Should I go back to school? Only you know the answer that’s right for you, but my recommendation to most aspiring entrepreneurs is to start before you’re ready.

Building a business requires a long runway. It’s not only about the amount of hours in the day that you spend on your business, but the months and years that you take building up to it. As I tell my entrepreneurs (on repeat), launching a successful company is a marathon not a sprint.

The sooner you can start fleshing out your ideas, seeking out mentorship, connecting with industry peers and educating yourself, the better off you are in the long run. The old cliche usually holds true: Tomorrow you’ll wish you had started today.

>> Tess, that one was for you : )

4.) Be consistent.

The entrepreneurs who get ahead are calm and collected. They’re methodical, they’re strategic and they don’t get easily frazzled.

Can’t figure out how to link up your domain to your server? “No problem, I’m sure tech support can help me.”

First sample came in two sizes too big? “No worries, I’ll speak with my factory and have them fix it.”

Kickstarter video is low quality? “No big deal, we’ll reshoot.”

When you’re first starting out, your attitude and the way you handle challenges are going to dictate how you respond in the months or years of your business to come. The entrepreneurs that get ahead know there is a solution for everything. And sometimes the solution falls under the guise of a better option.

Building a business is not an overnight endeavor. It requires consistency of action, which means not giving up if something doesn’t work the first time.

5.) Ask for help.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Nobody builds a successful business by doing it on their own. That’s right, nobody.

The entrepreneurs and mentors you see online or in fashion magazines are all getting help, seeking out mentors of their own, building advisory boards and seeking out further education.

In the past six months, I’ve taken three online courses, countless webinars, hired a consultant and sought out a mentor myself. This is in addition to the five part-time employees that help me build my business.

Solopreneurship is a farce. If you want to get ahead, then you have to seek out help from others and continue to invest in yourself.

That’s what separates the amateurs from the pros.

 

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3 Podcasts for Sustainable Fashion & Startup Inspiration

Has anyone else jumped on the podcast train? I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I’ve shared before that podcasts have been apart of my morning routine since 2014. It’s usually the first thing I do when my alarm goes off.

Recently, though, I’ve had the opportunity to get in front of the microphone myself. So today, I wanted to share three different interviews I’ve done (about three different topics) in case you’re like me, and are constantly looking for more content to tune into:

The Creative Giant Show: How to Sew Business Success in the Fashion Industry with Sustainable Apparel Strategist Shannon Whitehead.

I connected with host Charlie Gilkey back in 2010 when I was just starting to explore the world of entrepreneurship. And I was recently invited on his podcast to talk about:

  • Why I decided to start a sustainable apparel company, despite the risks involved.
  • Which challenges to consider if you’re thinking about starting a clothing company.
  • Which business trends are disrupting the fashion industry.

>> Listen here 

Conscious Chatter: Made in the USA

I mentioned this new podcast in my blog post from last week — it was started by my friend Kestrel Jenkins who has been in the sustainable fashion industry for years. Our interview focuses on “Made in the USA” and Kestrel and I discuss:

  • How outsourcing affected the U.S. economy after NAFTA was signed.
  • Why localized manufacturing is important for every country.
  • How the movement is growing because of small, independent brands.

>> Listen here

Bootstrapping It: Creating an Online Accelerator Program for Apparel Startups with Shannon Whitehead, Founder of Factory45

Host Vince Carter interviews entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their companies rather than trying to raise VC funding. So, of course, we had a lot to talk about. In the interview, we cover:

  • Why you should be honest with yourself about your business ambitions.
  • How to use Kickstarter and pre-sales to fund your business startup.
  • How to strategize so that you spend your startup funds on the right resources.

>> Listen here

Enjoy!

 

 

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dictate your success

Do You Let Others Dictate Your Success?

I have a friend in the sustainable fashion industry who is amazing.

Out of college, she interned for an international eco-fashion brand, she’s worked for big designers in NYC, she’s helped to run a fashion-tech startup on the west coast, and she’s constantly debuting her own creative projects.

One of her most recent endeavors is a podcast with people in the sustainable fashion industry and to announce it, she sent out an email to her network.

When a big-name womenswear designer replied back my friend was awestruck.

“I can’t believe she is interested!” she said to me.

To which I replied, “Um, of course she’s interested. You’re, like, amazing. And everything you do is amazing.”

“Do you think I should ask if I can interview her?” Insert grimace of trepidation.

Me: “Uh, YES! I’m sure she would be honored! Do it!”

It took less than a week for my friend to hear back from the designer and get an interview on the books.

As an outsider looking in on the situation, it was so clear to me why this person would immediately say “yes” to my friend’s request.

My best guess is that the designer was equally thrilled and honored to be asked.

But to my friend, making the ask was scary and nerve-racking. She was the one having to make herself vulnerable to rejection and in doing so, the stakes were automatically heightened.

We all put people on pedestals (I’ve written about imposter syndrome before here). Most of us can think of at least one person we feel inadequate to. We get it in our heads that because of our [age / experience / station in life / upbringing / background / etc.] we’re not worthy of the people around us.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from one of my entrepreneurs in Factory45:

“I reached out to this patternmaker… she wrote me back once and then I never heard from her again. It really knocked my confidence.”

Fact: As entrepreneurs, we cannot let our perception of others dictate the decisions we make and how we navigate forward.

As soon as we do, we’re letting other people determine our success.

For all we know, we’re letting an unanswered email that could’ve ended up in a spam folder, hinder us from moving forward.

And yes, we all do it. Sure, there is the occasional ego-less robot whose confidence doesn’t waver, but for the rest of us mortals we can’t help but question our place among others.

Where do I belong? Am I understood? These are questions humans have been asking themselves since the beginning of time — back when we were using rocks as dishware.

But I’d argue that as entrepreneurs, those questions take on an even deeper meaning. Do my ideas matter? Am I making the world a better place?

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We tend to look for outside opinions to validate those answers.

Recently, I was connected with an entrepreneur in the venture capital and development space, who has been a coach to entrepreneurs for several decades.

Originally, we were supposed to jump on call to talk through a pre-interview so I could be on his podcast, but after our call, he told me he wanted to do more.

“Shannon,” he said. “How can I support you beyond a 30-minute podcast? I really believe in what you’re doing and you’re one of the only people out there doing it. How can I help you?”

When we got back on the phone he expressed interest in mentoring me and immediately my thoughts jumped to:

“Why would he be interested in me?”

“How can I fairly compensate him?”

“I don’t want to waste his time…”

When we got on our third call it was clear how much he believed in Factory45. No strings attached. He wanted to do what he could to help me succeed.

So, why did I question my worth? Because of his LinkedIn profile? Or his bio? Or his successful company and connections to other entrepreneurs I admire?

Why do those external factors dictate our internal dialogue?

Because they shouldn’t.

If we’re all going to succeed as entrepreneurs (and yes, there is enough success for all of us), then we can’t hold back, waiting to see how others will respond.

We have to take the favor from the exec we met at a networking event. We have to click “send” on the cold pitch to Vogue. We have to accept the meeting with the intimidating industry veteran. We have to believe we’re worthy of the help we are offered.

It’s safe to say there isn’t anyone giving us gold stars or A+’s anymore. It’s our job as highly-capable, driven entrepreneurs to give them to ourselves.

The future of our businesses depend on it.

 

 

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*This post was published with permission from Kestrel.

Photo credit: Jeshu John


 

Why Appealing to Less People Will Help You Make More Sales

When I was a sophomore in high school my best friend’s mom told me:

“Shannon, you’re not for everyone. People either love you or they don’t.”

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the best thing to say to an insecure 16 year old but in her defense, I was a pain in the ass.

When I was younger I was opinionated, bossy and vocal. There were multiple times when I was asked to leave my world history class for arguing a point too emphatically (Ms. Gillard, I owe you a drink).

Much of my formative years were spent relishing in my “individuality” and how people responded to it. I prided myself on being polarizing because no one had to guess where I stood.

Over the years I’ve chilled out and matured, but this idea of “not being for everyone” has stayed with me — and it’s taught me something about entrepreneurship.

The fastest way to sabotage your business is by trying to be everything to everyone.

Have you heard the expression: If you’re trying to appeal to everyone, then you’re actually appealing to no one?

This is one of the most valuable pieces of marketing advice you can remember.

I’m not suggesting that you start pissing people off, arguing with your customers and forcing your opinions on others. We’re not teenagers anymore.

What I am suggesting is that you get very clear on who your company is meant to serve, so that you don’t waste time trying to market to people who don’t fit that mold.

Not only will this cut down on the risk of competition (which I’ve written about before here and here), but it will ensure that the right people find you.

Market studies have proven that the better you are at establishing a niche, the faster your customers will come out to support you.

Here’s an example: I have a current entrepreneur in Factory45 who launched her company last week. VETTA is a five-piece capsule collection that can be mixed and matched to create a month’s worth of outfits.

Cara, and her co-founder Vanessa, did an excellent job of designing, positioning and marketing their first collection to appeal to a particular niche of women.

While yes, it would be nice if every woman in the world pre-ordered from their Kickstarter campaign, VETTA doesn’t try to appeal to every woman in the world.

The VETTA customer is an aspiring minimalist, conscious consumer and wants to do more with less. The majority of women in the world don’t think about their fashion choices that way, but this positioning has ensured that the right people find out about VETTA and the right press writes about them.

If it was just another run-of-the-mill women’s clothing line on Kickstarter, then I guarantee they wouldn’t have seen the success they’ve had.

That’s all to say, VETTA reached its $30,000 goal in five days and was featured by Who What Wear and Darling Magazine.

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So, how do you make sure that you’re not for everyone?

First, you have to figure out who your customer is by digging deep — in Factory45, I ask my entrepreneurs to answer over 30 questions about their ideal customer.

Where does he/she live? What kind of books does she read? Where does she hang out online? Where does she shop? Is she religious? What political affiliation does she gravitate towards?

You can’t begin to effectively market to your customers until you know who she is, how she feels and what she believes. Everything you message and market is riding on the fact that you know your customer inside and out.

As another example, we can look at my own business. Factory45 is positioned, messaged and marketed in a way that appeals to a certain type of person:

  • I believe in localized manufacturing, so I only work with entrepreneurs who are in the U.S. or Canada where my production partners are.
  • I don’t believe in making more clothing for the sake of making more clothing, so I market to entrepreneurs who want to solve problems for people.
  • Environmental responsibility is important to me so I only accept entrepreneurs who care about sustainability, too.

Factory45 isn’t the only fashion accelerator out there, but it is the only one of its kind. My business model is unique, my philosophies are different, and what I teach can’t be found elsewhere in the fashion education landscape.

This helps to ensure that the right people apply to Factory45 and the wrong people join a different fashion accelerator.

It’s that simple. And it can be that simple for your business, too.

So, the next time you find yourself writing a product description or an “about” page or a sales page that is boring and generic, just think of teenage Shannon…

What would she do? ; )

 

 

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Photo credit (second photo): VETTA


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