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Why Competition is a Good Thing (even when it gives you a panic attack)

“That’s, like, pretty much what I’m doing.”

“She’s selling the same thing I am.”

“I just found out X person is also making X product, so what’s the point in me even trying?”

As someone who works with and mentors new entrepreneurs on a regular basis, I’m no stranger to panicked emails popping up in my inbox about the discovery of a competitor.

“And she’s so much farther along!”

“And they already have 3,000 followers on Instagram!”

“They’re using organic cotton and making it in the USA, too!”

As soon as we discover potential competition, our cortisol levels shoot through the roof and we imagine the worst case scenario.

EVERYONE is going to buy from HER instead of ME.

So I might as well quit.

And while yes, quitting is the easiest route to take (in any situation) there are many more reasons to keep going:

  • An idea is just an idea. Everyone has them. What sets you apart is your ability to execute. 99% of ideas never see the light of day, so if you’re able to get your product to market, then you’re already that much farther ahead than everyone else. So much of entrepreneurship is simply a matter of keeping your head down and doing the work. It’s not glamorous, but there’s really no alternative.
  • The “me versus them” mentality is the fastest way to sabotage yourself. As soon as you start thinking the world is against you and the universe is set up for you to fail, then it’s over. I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who didn’t operate with an “abundance mentality.” Repeat after me: there are enough customers for me and there are enough customers for them.
  • Competition breeds creativity. Having competitors in the market forces you to innovate, think outside the box and pushes you to do better than you would have done if you had a monopoly. While it may give you anxiety at first, you have the ability to reframe how it makes you feel. It can either deflate you or empower you — and you have the power to choose.
  • Competition shows you there is a need in the marketplace. Having other players in the game means there is a big enough pool of people who want what you’re selling. The market share is there and it’s your job to find a way to take a piece of the pie.
  • The great news about being in the clothing business is that, unless you’re selling to nudists, everyone needs it. Fashion is a $1.5 trillion dollar industry. That’s a lot of people buying clothing. And the average American buys 62 pieces of clothing a year. As fast fashion continues to gross more people out, you’re there to provide an alternative ethical option. How cool is that?
  • And this. This is the best reason of all: Despite how many people are selling (or plan to sell) something similar to you, no one is ever going to do it the same way you are. That’s just fact. There is no one else on this planet that is even remotely close to the same person as you and thus, the way you create is going to be different from everyone else. 

No matter how many new kids lines or womenswear lines or outwear lines debut, they’re all going to be unique to their creator. And that’s why it’s so important to know who your target customer is. It relieves you from having to sell to “everyone” so you can focus on selling to the special group of people it’s made for. There is so much freedom in that.

I know I’ve written about competition before, but it’s the topic that continues to come up because it’s so much scarier when you’re just starting out.

Working with mostly women entrepreneurs has taught me how sensitive most of us are. We want perfection, we want everything to go the right way the first time, and we want to show everyone around us that we can do it.

As soon as we hit a bump in the road, we tend to question our intentions.

Who was I to think I could pull this off?

When really, who are you not to?

 

 

 

 


 

How to Stand Out from the Competition & Create Customers for Life

Did you know an online shopper decides within 90 seconds whether he or she is going to buy from you?

That’s right, you have a minute and a half to make a first impression and either convert the sale or lose it.

According to Vouchercloud, over 92% of online shoppers say visuals are the most influential factors affecting a purchasing decision.

When we begin to think about those visuals and how they affect the psychology of a potential customer, we often think only of the nuts and bolts of the website:

  • Should I use a homepage slider or a “hero” image?
  • Where should my call-to-action go?
  • Is the “add to cart” button above the fold?

While layout and design details are certainly important to your conversion rate, there’s one big factor that is usually left out of the conversation. And it’s this:

It’s not about the product you’re selling. It’s about the experience they’re buying.

In other words, it’s not about you. It’s about her.

Let’s say you’re a designer of cocktail dresses for the modern Southern belle (I know, super random – it just came to me). When you stop and think about it, what is your customer actually buying?

(It’s not a cocktail dress.)

Your customer is buying the greater experience of how that dress is going to make her feel.

When she’s browsing through your site, can she see herself in Savannah on her honeymoon? Can she envision the confidence and joy she’ll exude as she sits under a patio umbrella, sipping a mint julep, staring into the eyes of her new husband…

In this case, your sales strategy needs to take your potential customer from a drab cubicle where she’s wrapped in a cardigan all day to the sun-kissed brick roads of her honeymoon destination.

The best online stores are able to connect the dots between the shopping experience and how your customer wants to feel — with your product at the forefront of that solution.

Because what you’re actually selling is an aspiration.

A few years ago, I co-founded a sustainable clothing company that broke Kickstarter records, attracted the attention of big press, and sold out almost immediately after launching pre-sales.

We offered one piece, the Versalette, that could be worn over 20 different ways — designed to be the perfect garment for female travelers and minimalists.

The Versalette wasn’t just a multi-functional scarf for any woman. We were clear and deliberate on who our true customer was, so we understood that we were selling so much more than a product.

When a potential customer visited our site and thought about purchasing the Versalette, she was really thinking about all of the places she would go, all of the new sights she would see and what it would feel like to live life as an adventure.

We were selling the experience of throwing a backpack over your shoulder, not worrying about what to pack, hopping on a plane and seeing the world. Free of responsibility, free of worry and free of obligation.

Over time, we began receiving photos from our customers:

Here I am in my grey Versalette in front of the leaning tower of Pisa!”

This is me in front of Angkor Wat in my indigo Versalette!”

I took my cherry Versalette to Kenya with me and it was a life-saver – I even used it as a blanket on the plane!”

As more of these testimonials and photos arrived, we launched a blog series called the “Versa-Letters” to highlight travel experiences of our customers. The series further communicated the idea that when you have a Versalette in your suitcase, you’re bound to encounter adventure.

When you look at your own online store, or imagine the one you’ll create someday, what is the buying experience you’re giving your customer?

How are you incorporating design, photography, video, language, customer testimonials and unique offerings that make you stand out from the competition?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, keep digging deeper. Hone in on who your ideal target customer is and get clear on how she wants to feel when she imagines herself in your designs.

It’s your ability to create this experience that will mean the difference between a genuine connection — and losing her to another store just a few clicks away.

 

 

 

This article was originally published as a guest post on Startup Fashion here.

Photo credit: Kaboom Pics


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Copycats, Knock-Offs & What to Expect from the Competition

“What if I tell someone about my product and they steal my idea?”

One of the most common questions that comes up with my entrepreneurs in the beginning of Factory45 is the concern about copycats.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, “Should I have my production partner / patternmaker / samplemaker sign a nondisclosure agreement?”

I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have spent thousands of dollars on patents and trademarks without ever having their first customer.

There is a lot of concern churning around the fashion industry about being ripped off. And with the latest scandals coming out of Etsy, Urban Outfitters and others, I can’t really blame them.

It’s not unheard of for a designer to replicate a design someone else is selling and get away with it just by adding a few buttons or changing the length of the sleeves.

When brought to court the copycat designer would win the case simply by changing a few minor specs.

Unfortunately in fashion, that’s the way the (entrepreneurial) cookie crumbles.

In Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup, he says early-stage entrepreneurs spend too much time worrying about their idea being stolen and not enough time telling as many people about it as possible.

As a startup, Ries says you should focus on talking about your idea to anyone and everyone willing to listen. That’s the only way to get early customer feedback, hear what your potential customers actually want and find out if your idea is a viable business.

There is a big difference between someone saying you have a great idea and actually getting out their wallet to pay for it.

Believe me, I get it. I perfectly understand how fragile and vulnerable it feels to be in the early stages of a fledgling idea.

I’ll never forget an email I got from one of my Factory45’ers last year who was stressed out over another company she had come across:

“…They are basically doing what I’m doing, like sourcing fabric in North Carolina, being ethical, unisex, drawing inspiration from travels and all of a sudden I don’t feel so original anymore.”

I talked her off the ledge and we laughed about it afterward, but feelings of panic and self-doubt are normal to every startup.

When early stage entrepreneurs worry too much about protecting their idea, Eric Ries calls this “stealth mode.”

He says: “Part of the special challenge of being a startup is the near impossibility of having your idea company, or product be noticed by anyone, let alone a competitor.”

Makes sense, right? Stealing an idea is a lot different than stealing an idea and actually implementing it — especially an idea that hasn’t proven to be successful yet.

If you do reach a degree of success down the road, then competitors are bound to enter the market. People see something that works, and they want to have a piece of it — this comes with the territory.

I recently went through this with Factory45 when I found out that a friend and close colleague had ripped off, rebranded and launched her own version of a sustainable fashion incubator.

So much so that a mutual colleague asked her, “Isn’t this the same program that Shannon is running?”

Should I feel flattered? Maybe. But that’s definitely not how it feels in reality. And anyone who has gone through it will likely agree.

The thing is, as hard as it may be to take it gracefully in the moment, competition is a good thing — it pushes us to continue innovating and prevents us from getting stagnant.

After all is said and done, here’s what I’ve found to be helpful when dealing with competition, copycats and knock-offs:

1.) Before trying to get all Zen about it, spend 20 minutes screaming into your pillow. It will help you move past the anger and frustration faster.

2.) Seek to understand and assume positive intent. This can be applied to so much in life. As hard as it may be, give the benefit of the doubt and assume the similarities were not intentional.

3.) Believe in abundance. There is enough to go around. The universe offers ample opportunity for all of us to succeed. Talk yourself out of scarcity and into abundance.

4.) On the flip side, no one ever won by being a second-rate version of someone else (thanks, Judy). This is where strong brand identity comes into play.

5.) And then — there’s karma.

 

 

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Photo credit: Notemaker