The *Most* Important Lesson I Learned in Five Years of Business

Last month, on a whim, I decided to start a YouTube channel.

I know, I sound like a 17-year-old beauty blogger.

The reasons for creating videos were obvious (which I won’t get into right now) but beyond filming the actual content, I had no idea where to start.

So, I bought an online course that teaches YouTube for entrepreneurs.

While I thought I could probably figure it out on my own, I didn’t want to.

I knew there was so much more that went into the strategy behind YouTube, and I wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do step by step.

So, I got to work.

And as I started going through the course, researching content ideas, writing scripts, sifting through Google Keywords, I started to wonder:

What did I get myself into?

Because, to be honest, the whole process not only felt unnatural to me, but very uncomfortable.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars creating the highest-quality video content for the Factory45 program and now I was supposed to sit in front of my laptop webcam and not try to make it look perfect?

Every ounce of my being wanted to shoot and reshoot and have multiple camera angles and great lighting and a professional set.

But guess what? When you have zero YouTube subscribers and haven’t made one video yet, you don’t get a professional set.

You start where you are — with what you have.

As I filmed the first four videos, I had to remind myself over and over: Progress over perfection, progress over perfection, progress over perfection.

I could come up with every excuse to procrastinate:

“I shouldn’t shoot today because the ring light hasn’t arrived.”

“I shouldn’t shoot today because there’s construction noise outside.”

“I shouldn’t shoot today because I’m getting a haircut on Friday…”

Instead, I told myself: Just get the first four videos out there, see if they help your people and then see if they help other people discover Factory45.

Because here’s the thing:

If I spend months creating videos and never grow my viewership past my mom and my mother-in-law, then at least I’ll know it was a “failed” experiment that isn’t worth pursuing.

That’s the only way to know if an idea is truly worthwhile — by putting it out into the world and testing it.

The timing is never going to be perfect, you’re never going to feel ready and yes, it’s going to feel vulnerable and scary as hell.

But what’s the alternative?

The alternative is playing small, never taking a risk and being too afraid to put yourself out there.

So, secret #5 is this: To build a successful business, you have to be willing to start before you’re ready.

Whether it’s launching a first-time fashion business, a brand new collection or a YouTube channel of all things, there is never going to be a better time than now.

Because whether you wait another month, or another year or another five years, you’re going to wish you had started today.

There is always a small step you can take now to set you up for bigger steps tomorrow — especially since everything takes longer than you think it will,

So, the most important thing I’ve learned in the past five years is this: Success comes from experimenting with new ideas and not being afraid to feel uncomfortable.

When you push the limits and stop waiting for perfection or permission, then that’s when incredible things happen.

 

 


If you’re willing to start before you’re ready and launch your sustainable fashion brand this year, let’s do it together. Applications to Factory45 open on May 15th…


This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed it, the past four posts are here:

Secret #1 on starting niche is here.

Secret #2 on dealing with competition is here.

Secret #3 on the myth of “following your passion” is here.

Secret #4 on spending money is here.


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How to Know If You’re Ready to Invest in Your Fashion Brand

So, here’s an unpopular (secretly popular) topic:

Money.

More specifically, how to start a business when you don’t have a lot of money.

If you scour the internet, you can find enough stories of multi-millionaires who started from zero, eating chickpeas out of the can while sleeping on their friend’s futon.

But there’s a less extreme version of this, and it’s far more common.

It’s the story of the woman craving a creative outlet. She’s managed to save a small “safety net” of cash and even has some disposable income at the end of the month.

She sees acquaintances on Facebook breaking out on their own.

And she wonders to herself, how did they do it?

What do they know that I don’t?

So she starts to research.

“How to start a clothing line,” she types into Google.

From Marie Claire to WikiHow to “Startup Bros,” she faces 938,000,000 search results.

Overwhelm begins to set in, but she makes one conscious choice:

To take the first step.


This was my reality in 2010.

I was just starting out, trying to launch a sustainable fashion brand, and I had no idea what was what or who was who.

The entire industry was a mystery to me with limited access.

Nevertheless, I committed to putting $5,000 into a business bank account as an investment in a company I didn’t yet have.

I’ll never forget transferring that hard-earned cash as one lump sum, knowing that it was all of my savings and probably money that I would never see again.

It was a calculated risk, and there were no guarantees.

When I look back on that first bank transfer I remember it as the first of many times I took a risk for my business without knowing how it would turn out.

Nine years later, I now know it’s the name of the entrepreneurial game.

Whether it was investing money into a Kickstarter campaign I wasn’t sure would be successful or hiring a business coach or buying the numerous online courses I’ve enrolled in, what I’ve learned is this:

You have to be willing to invest in your business before you know it’s a sure thing.

I don’t mean that you should take out a second mortgage or drain your 401K, but you have to be willing to spend money to start or grow a business.

There is no way around it.

So, how do you do this without succumbing to the fear of bankruptcy and homelessness?

Create a “worst case scenario” plan.

Over the years, I’ve always told myself that if I lost all of my savings I could jump behind a bar and start pouring drinks again. As much as I hoped my bartending days were over, I knew that I could make cash quickly if I had to.

For you, it might be nannying or waitressing or admin or cleaning houses or freelancing.

Depending on how dire your “worst case scenario” plan is, having one can do two things:

  1. Be an indication that you’re not ready to take action on your business.
  2. Or liberate you.

It’s the litmus test you need to make a big financial decision.

So, secret #4 is this: To start a successful business, you must be willing to invest in uncertainty.

Because there is not an entrepreneur I know who got their company off the ground for free.

 

 

If you’re ready to invest in your idea and start your dream business, let’s do it together. Applications to Factory45 open on May 15th…


This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed “secret #1” you can read it here, if you missed “secret #2” it’s here and “secret #3” is here.

 

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Introducing the Market45 SS19 Lookbook!

When I launched the Factory45 accelerator program in 2014 I couldn’t have dreamed that we would eventually create an online marketplace, selling some of the brands that have launched through the program.

In creating Market45, an ethical fashion marketplace, my goal is to showcase the small, independent brands that are moving the fashion industry forward in a more conscious way.

The Market45 SS19 Lookbook is a way to celebrate that.

Each page showcases nine brands that have graduated from Factory45 and are selling on Market45. Their collective goal is to lessen their environmental impact, educate shoppers and provide better clothing choices to consumers.

As you flip through the pages, I invite you to get to know the products as well as the female founders behind them.

If you see something you know you’ll wear for years to come, you can find everything on Market45.co and get 10 percent off your purchase.

So, without further ado, click on the cover page below to meet the brands of the Market45 Spring/Summer Lookbook!LOOKBOOK

woman at desk working on computer

This is Why “Follow Your Passion” is a Myth

There is a lie being told in the entrepreneurial world.

It’s a false narrative that’s being targeted at people who are unhappy with their current work life and are looking for a change.

Maybe you’re one of those people.

The lie is this:

Follow your passion.
Quit your job and chase your dreams.
Do work you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

We see it every day: the Facebook and Instagram ads promising your “dream life” by people who look like they’re living their dream life.

It’s all palm trees and perfectly-foamed lattes and bright, white lighting. It’s breakfast trays in bed and bouquets of peonies and red painted lips.

But do you know what’s behind those beautiful photos and “dream lives?”

Many, many, many months (probably years) of it not looking that way.

Because the truth is, to become the picture of success — while creating a business that lasts — it requires this:

Doing work you don’t want to do.

In fact, when you’re first starting out, you can expect to do more work that you don’t want to do than work you actually enjoy.

And usually, it requires running your business as a side hustle while *still* going to your “real job.”

We all know there’s no such thing as overnight success.

But what I don’t think we always remember is that there’s so much more to the story than what we see on social media.

Chances are:

The fashion brand with the perfectly curated Instagram feed started with an iPhone and a Dropbox folder of stock photos.

The designer working in a beautifully-lit studio started in a converted home office that barely fit a desk.

The CEO flying first class to a paid speaking gig spent years sitting in the back of the plane to speak for free.

If you’re ready to start your own business, you should absolutely do it. It’s one of the most rewarding journeys you can take.

But there should be no illusions.

It will require “grunt work” — the things you think everyone else is outsourcing to interns — are the things you need to do yourself when you’re first starting out.

Packing and fulfilling orders, writing and scheduling your own social media posts, creating your emails and blog posts, going to networking events, dealing with tech issues that make you want to pull your hair out.

Those “annoying” tasks that tempt you to procrastinate or abandon them all together are the things you’ll look back on with genuine appreciation.

They’re the things that will make you grow, build new skills and realize that you’re capable of more than you think.

Because every successful entrepreneur I know has a similar story of doing work they didn’t want to do.

That’s what it takes.

So secret #3 is this: Successful entrepreneurs do things they’re not passionate about because they know that it’s not about passion.

It’s about purpose.

 

 

If you’re ready to put in the work to start your dream business, let’s do it together. Applications to Factory45 open on May 15th…


This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed “secret #1” you can read it here, if you missed “secret #2” it’s here.

Competition

How Successful Fashion Businesses Deal with Competition

I felt like I was going to throw up.

My stomach churned and my heart raced as I stared at my computer in disbelief.

It had only been six months since I stayed at her apartment, attended a documentary screening together and went out for ice cream with her sister and husband.

I thought we were friends.

And now, as I stared at her newly-launched website, it hit me hard.

“Sustainable Fashion Business Incubator,” it said in big, bold typeface.

My friend — someone who I trusted and supported and grown close to — had launched a competing (almost identical) program to Factory45.

As I scrolled down her site, the similarities between the two programs were nauseating. There were even entire paragraphs taken from my website and plagiarized.

When I got on the phone to ask her why she would launch such a similar program — one that I had already been running for two years — she insisted her course was different.

Five minutes into the conversation, there wasn’t anything left to say


There is nothing that can quite prepare you for discovering your first real competitor.

I’ve gotten more than one late-night email from Factory45 grads along the lines of:

“Shannon, do you know about this brand? It’s so similar to mine! What do I do?”

The first time it happens, you’re allowed to freak out.

It’s normal to enter a state of panic.

As long as you don’t quit.

Because that’s likely going to be your first instinct.

“Well!” *throws hands up in the air* “If she’s doing it, then there’s no point in me doing it! Guess that dream is OVER.”

As soon as those words come into your mind, here’s what I want you to do:

Walk away.

But only for a day.

Go to yoga, play with your kids, have dinner with your partner, call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

The next day, come back.

Because you’re going to find that the initial disappointment of discovering a competitor will have diminished — at least slightly.

Gradually, you’re going to feel reinvigorated by your idea and your business and you’re going to be glad you didn’t give up on it. For all of these reasons.

And as your business progresses and your customer-base grows, the concern about competition is going to fade.  

You’re going to become more certain about your place in the industry and more confident that you’re the person to pull it off.

You’re going to realize that there really is room for all of us.

Let me repeat that, there is room for all of us.

Having been through that experience with my friend and seeing even more competitors come into the space since then, I’ve been able to get a grip on how competition makes me feel.

While I’m aware of it, I generally don’t worry about it anymore. Not because I don’t still have fears, but because I know it doesn’t serve me in any positive way.

So, this is Secret #2: Successful businesses aren’t derailed by competition. They don’t slow down, they stay the course and they don’t get distracted.

Most of all, they keep showing up.

 

 

P.S. If you’re wondering what happened to my friend’s competing program, she went out of business after a year. While I did come to terms with there being enough room for both of us, I also saw firsthand how hard it is to stay in business if it’s a direct replicate of someone else’s idea. Needless to say, I learned a lot of lessons.

This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed “secret #1” you can read it here.


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Want Your Fashion Brand to Get Ahead? Do This.

What I’m about to tell you is going to sound completely counterintuitive but I swear to you, it is a big reason reason I’m still in business.

And it applies to virtually every startup — whether it’s physical products, online products, a service-based business, a subscription business, etc.

Start niche.

In other words, narrow down your audience to a very specific type of person, or a very specific type of product — or ideally, both.

I know, I know, why wouldn’t you want to broaden your audience and products to sell to as many people as you possibly can?

Because if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one.

Broad does not equal better, and I’ve written about why appealing to less people will result in more sales before here.

One of the best things I did in 2014 when I launched Factory45 for the first time was narrow down my niche to “sustainable fashion made in the USA.”

I didn’t try to appeal to every single person on the planet who wanted to start a fashion brand.

There were already other general fashion accelerator programs out there, and I probably would have been swallowed up.

It worked in my favor that I was only interested in sustainable and ethical fashion, and it allowed me to attract the type of people that shared my same ethos.

If you’re thinking, okay, that’s great but physical products are different…

I’m here to tell you, the rule still applies.

You will increase your likelihood of success exponentially if you start narrow and widen your offering over time, as your company grows and your cash flow increases.

Why?

Because starting very specific 1.) Ensures that your ideal customer finds you faster, 2.) Makes them feel like your brand was made for them, 3.) Creates clarity for you every time you write any sort of marketing copy, create brand imagery, make design decisions, etc.

You know exactly who you’re creating for.

Look at brands like Eileen Fisher, Reformation and Patagonia. These are pretty big companies and they’re still appealing to niche audiences.

Brands like Spanx, Nike and Coach started with one product offering and then expanded that niche offering as they grew.

So while yeah, this isn’t exactly a “secret” per se, you wouldn’t believe how many people overlook this advice when they’re first starting out.

And it kills me when I see new entrepreneurs making their first year of business even harder than it has to be.

Because another benefit of starting niche is that it allows you to simplify, in every way.

So while most new brands are spending countless hours trying to cast a wider net (that in 99 percent of cases isn’t going to yield better results), you’ll already have a very clear focus allowing you to move forward quickly and efficiently.

And if you ask any successful entrepreneur, the ability to simply move forward is half the battle.

 

 


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business secrets

5 Secrets to 5 Years of Business

Five years ago, I had no idea what in the world I was doing.

I was saying goodbye to my first company and although I knew it was the right decision, I couldn’t help feeling lost.

For the first time in years, I didn’t have direction.

I tried freelance consulting, writing a book, wardrobe clean-outs, working for a self-help author, all the while bartending in between.

After a year of falling haphazardly from one thing to the other, I finally bit the bullet and hired a business coach (that I could just barely afford).

And I finally started to feel reinvigorated by entrepreneurship.

I realized that yes, I definitely wanted to start another business  — but it took several months to get clear on two major things:

  1. What I wanted that business to look like.
  2. What my “Why” was.

Once I could identify those, and get really specific, everything else seemed to crystallize.

Just five months later, I launched Factory45 for the first time — completely terrified.

Would anyone enroll?

Would the program work?

What if everyone asked for a refund?

In the worst of times, the fear was completely paralyzing. In the best of times, the fear sat in a pit at the bottom of my stomach waiting for something to set it off.

But somehow, I was able to push past the negative self-talk.

And it paid off.

This April I’ll celebrate my FIVE year business anniversary.

*cue solo dance party AND an oat milk latte*

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of celebrating your wins.

So, that’s what we’re going to do.

While I would prefer to have everyone over for a champagne toast, we’ll have to keep the party on the internet.

For the entire month of April, I’m going to share my five secrets to staying in business for five years.

They were definitely secrets to me when I was first starting out.

I promise, these won’t be “teamwork makes the dreamwork” cliches.

I’m talking about real, tactical advice with the personal stories and proof behind them.

I’m excited to share them with you.

Next week I’ll share the first one, so keep an eye out : )

 

shannon signature

 

Oh, and here are the results from last week’s survey! I asked which “entrepreneur type” you are (as a reminder, here is the original post) and here are the results below:

business


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Entrepreneur Type

Which “Entrepreneur Type” Are You?

There are three types of entrepreneurs…

I’d love to know, which one are you? (There’s a chance to tell me at the end!)

Behind door #1, we have Taylor.

Taylor is an enthusiast. She can come up with a new business idea every week and her excitement is contagious. She loves dreaming and scheming, making vision boards, setting big goals and envisioning what her business will look like 10 years from now. She is vision-oriented.

Entrepreneur Type

Behind door #2, we have Sydney.

Sydney is a doer. She is known for sitting down to work, not getting up for eight hours straight and forgetting to eat. She is detail-oriented, thrives under pressure and is often labeled by her friends as a “workaholic.” She loves to-do lists, labeled folders and is a self-described “perfectionist.” She is action-oriented.

Entrepreneur Type

Behind door #3, we have Jaime.

Jaime is an enthusiastic doer. She sets lofty goals and the specific action steps to reach them. She loves imagining what could be, but she focuses her energy on what needs to be done to get there. Jaime knows that progress is better than perfection and that finished is better than perfect.

Entrepreneur Type


Most of us want to be Jaime.

The problem is, whichever door you fit into is already a part of your ingrained personality. It’s in your psyche, work ethic and overall human make-up which means that if you’re a Taylor or a Sydney, then it’s really hard to change.

The good news is, if you’re not already a Jaime you don’t necessarily need to change.

You just need to figure out how to make your “entrepreneur type” work for you.

How exactly?

If you’re an enthusiast (Taylor), then it’s pretty simple. You either need to find a doer (Sydney) as a business partner. Or you need to have the budget to outsource specific tasks to a team. While true Taylors are really great at seeing the big picture and coming up with fresh ideas, they have a hard time implementing on those ideas and taking action.

If you’re a Sydney, then you don’t necessarily need a business partner, but it would probably benefit you to outsource some of the tasks that aren’t “worth” your time: things like formatting your email newsletters or publishing your blog posts or scheduling your social media posts. They are time-consuming tasks that could be outsourced to a great assistant and free you up to focus on some of the bigger picture items.

If you’re a Jaime, then you’re in a good spot. But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t. And even Jaime needs a little help — she can’t do everything, especially as her business grows.

So, I’d love to know, which one are you?

Click here to tell me.

Disclaimer: This is purely for fun and obviously open to men, too — I used female pronouns but gender-neutral names : )

I’ll share the results with everyone next week!

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


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stand out

5 Ways to Stand Out as a New Fashion Brand

It’s no secret that the fashion industry is competitive.

There are so many brands vying for attention that it can often feel like it’s “all been done.”

Especially when you’re starting from zero… as a one-person show… with a limited marketing budget.

I feel you.

The good news is that there is still plenty of opportunity. 

If you’re in the early stages of launching your brand, here are five different strategies (with examples!) that will help you set you apart.

Dudley Stephens

SCARCITY | Dudley Stephens

Dudley Stephens is an American-made fleece brand for women and children — and let me tell you, these things sell like hotcakes. I was on their list for months waiting for the Cobble Hill turtleneck to come back in ice blue.

When I was notified that they had restocked I made a purchase immediately — and then scooped up another color for my mom.

That’s all to say, Dudley Stephens has made an outstanding product and whether it was intentional or not, the scarcity model works for them.

Why? Because it creates urgency to buy. You know that you can’t wait too long to make a purchase or your size, color or style preference will go out of stock. And that can be a really powerful business model.


Shit That I Knit

BRANDING | Shit That I Knit

In the middle of a snowstorm, founder Christina Fagan posted a photo on Instagram of herself wearing a bathing suit and one of her brand’s red knit hats.

She then challenged her following: Post your “bikini and beanie” pic, and you could win a free hat. Within hours, she had over 50 submissions from followers wearing their Shit That I Knit beanies.

This is just one example of how Christina has created a cult following and a million dollar business through the power of stand-out branding.

As The Boston Globe recently noted, the STIK brand tells a story — Christina, as the founder, is the main character, and the progress of her business is the plot.

The result? Brand obsession from fans who feel a connection to her.


Alter Ur Ego

ONE-OF-A-KIND | Alter UR Ego

In 2007, Heidi McKenzie was in a car accident that resulted in traumatic head and spinal cord injuries, leaving her a T4 paraplegic (she can’t feel from the chest down).  

Since then, she has become an advocate for other young people who are paralyzed and joined the first-ever Factory45 program in 2014 to launch a functional denim brand for men and women in wheelchairs.

While she says there is other “wheelchair clothing” on the market, almost all of it is designed for the elderly. Alter UR Ego is the only denim brand providing jeans for young, fashionable people like her.

When you’re the only product on the market providing a solution to a specific problem… well, that’s a good place to be.


Project Repat

PRICE | Project Repat

The product is simple: Send Project Repat your memorable t-shirts and they’ll turn them into a t-shirt quilt.

There are other companies that make t-shirt quilts but Project Repat leads the pack, in large part, because they’re able to offer the most affordable price.

They spent years perfecting their supply chain and manufacturing process so that they’re able to make t-shirt quilts in the most efficient amount of time possible, while still manufacturing in the USA and working with factories that pay a living wage.

With over 300,000 customers and thousands of five-star reviews, it makes it difficult for other competitors to come into the market if they can’t match the price. And that makes a big difference when it comes to staying ahead and continuing to grow.


Nisolo

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE | Nisolo

If you’re still reading and thinking, “Uh oh… my brand isn’t any of these things!” then this is for you.

Every single business in the history of entrepreneurship can achieve the stand-out quality of incredible customer service. In fact, there’s no reason not to.

Nisolo, a brand of ethically handcrafted shoes and accessories, has created a memorable customer experience that keeps people coming back for more.

My friend Claire still talks about her experience with Nisolo with heart eye emojis. She said they responded quickly over the holidays and honored a lower price after there was a price discrepancy with a product on sale.

Customer service is still one of the easiest ways to encourage word-of-mouth marketing and there’s no marketing method more powerful than that.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


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long-term success

One Thing You Can Do Today to Increase Your Long-Term Success

“That’s huge!” I say in my most celebratory voice.

“Yeah… but I still have to print my hangtags and my button supplier isn’t calling me back,” she tells me with a tone of defeat.

I pause for a second.

“Okay, sure, but you’ve finalized a CUSTOM sustainable fabric that you’ve been working on for MONTHS. That is a HUGE win!”

“Yeah… I guess you’re right…” she says, only slightly waning to my enthusiasm.

Why do we do this?

As entrepreneurs, why are we the last people to celebrate our own wins?

Even worse, why do we focus on all of the things that aren’t working rather than taking a moment to recognize how far we’ve come?

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to celebrating my own progress.

I’ll remember to send my web designer a bottle of champagne on launch day, but I won’t pour a glass for myself.

What gives?

The most obvious excuse is that there’s just too much to do.

As small business owners, we don’t have time to focus on the things that are going well because there’s always something else to be working on.

But I’m not suggesting you go on a Carnival Cruise every time your fabric order arrives on time.

What I am suggesting is that you take a beat to reflect.

To appreciate.

To sigh a breath of relief.

To recognize that in at least one way, you are doing great.

So, here’s your call to action for this week:

Come up with one small thing you can do to celebrate your wins.

Maybe it’s a five-minute office dance party to your all-time favorite song.

Maybe you take 10 minutes at night to luxuriate with a bubble bath and face mask.

Or maybe you splurge for the $5 oat milk latte instead of the $2 drip coffee.

Whatever you decide, it’s not so much the act of treating yourself as it is taking the time to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.

And most of us need a physical trigger to remind us to do that.

Why is this important? Why do we need to celebrate our wins, you ask?

Studies have shown that when we take time to celebrate small victories, we become better at goal setting and more importantly, reaching those goals.

And I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to set a goal then I’m willing to do whatever it takes to increase the odds of accomplishing it.

So, the next time you’re busting moves to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” know that you aren’t just indulging in a dance break…

What you’re really doing is increasing your odds of long term success.

And that’s something to celebrate.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


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