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A Work/Life Q+A with the Founder of Factory45

I recently got an email from one of my current Factory45’ers asking if I had any tips and advice for life as an entrepreneur:

“You’ve done such an excellent job sharing all of your knowledge in building a fashion business which has been invaluable for me. Would it be possible for you to even share some tips & tricks in regards to more general topics…”

And then she went on to list some of her specific questions that I’m going to answer for you today — Q+A style.

Thanks to Franziska for asking the questions — I hope the answers are helpful to all of you!


BEST PRODUCTIVITY HACKS?

If there’s anything I’ve learned about productivity it’s that different systems work for different people. There is no “one size fits all,” so I can only tell you what works for me.

1.) Create triggers. Triggers are very small things you do to signify the start of a certain task. (Yes, this is what Pavlov did with his dogs and it works.) So for example, I light a candle before I sit down to write. Or I drink iced coffee instead of hot coffee to signify the start of a bigger task. Or I turn on classical piano when I need to outline a big-picture project.

2.) Choose a location where you can get “in flow.” I’ve written more about this here. I’m most productive when I’m working from the desk in my home office or at the library.

3.) Look for big chunks of time instead of small spurts of time. I know that I need at least 1.5 hours to really sit down and get something done. If I have less than 1.5 hours, then I designate that time for answering emails, writing Instagram captions or organizing my to-do list and calendar.


HOW DO YOU ORGANIZE YOUR WORK DAYS?

This is easier now that I’m a full-time entrepreneur and not working a side-job as I did when I was first starting out. 

To be honest, when I was bartending from 7pm to 2am and working on my business during the day, I don’t even remember how I organized my time… it was a blur. 

But this is what my week looks like now, once my son is off to daycare:

9:30-10:30AM | Go through my to-do list on Asana, answer any pressing emails, get organized, drink coffee, settle in.

10:30-12PM | Accomplish one medium-sized task before lunch. It could be something like writing an SEO brief for an upcoming YouTube episode, or creating an email for the Market45 newsletter, or outlining a new email automation series.

12-1PM | Break for lunch. And I mean, really break. I’ll usually read or watch a show or the news.

1PM-3PM | Accomplish one big task. This would be something like writing a blog post, writing a YouTube script, filming or recording a new project, or researching, brainstorming and outlining upcoming big projects.

3-3:30PM | Then I usually reserve the last half hour for any wrap-up admin that needs to be done before I leave to pick up my son.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve limited my daily to-do list to only trying to accomplish two significant tasks per day — no more than that. 

It keeps me from getting overwhelmed or disappointed when I’m not able to do “all the things.” And as far as productivity goes, it’s worked out so far.

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DO YOU HAVE A SELF-CARE ROUTINE?

I wouldn’t call it a routine, but I definitely prioritize my self-care. I’m very lucky to be married to another entrepreneur who equally co-parents. It makes all the difference in being able to take care of myself mentally, emotionally, intellectually, etc… 

  • I don’t check social media during the day (for the most part). This helps me avoid distraction, the comparison game and all of the other negatives that come from being sucked into an Instagram hole.
  • I’m an introvert so I need alone time to recharge. I’ll curl up with a book, go for a walk, listen to a podcast or lay down and close my eyes — even if it’s just for 30 minutes.
  • I have a hard “no work on weekends” rule. Even before I had a baby, I was pretty strict about not opening my computer on the weekends. This allowed me to truly reboot for Mondays. I know this isn’t always possible when you’re first starting out because weekends are your free time to actually work on your business. In that case, I would pick one or two other times during the week to designate as your “no work” zone — even if it’s just every Tuesday night or some other random time.

HOW DO YOU COMBINE BEING A FULL-TIME ENTREPRENEUR WITH HAVING A FAMILY?

Probably the same way as people who work full-time jobs! It’s not easy. I know I’m lucky to have the means to hire childcare and I wouldn’t be able to run my business without that help. 

One thing I like about having a business and having a kid is that there’s a finite beginning and end to my workday. I’ve been forced to consolidate my work schedule, and I’ve found that I’m more productive during that time because I know I have a deadline.

But I definitely look back on my time before parenthood and wonder what I did with all of that freedom! To those of you out there who are working a “real” job, while starting a business and raising kids, I truly applaud you. 

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DID YOU WORK ANOTHER JOB WHILE BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS?

Yes, and I do not subscribe to the common advice that you should just “Quit your job and follow your dreams!” 

One of the best decisions I made was to work a side job until I truly knew I had a business that could sustain my lifestyle, as well as some money saved for back-up.

As I mentioned, I was a bartender for a really long time before I took the leap to full-time entrepreneurship. I didn’t want to be stressed about money and by working for as long as I did, I didn’t have to strain my business to pay my rent.


HOW DID YOU FINANCE BEING AN EARLY-STAGE ENTREPRENEUR?

I saved up $5,000 working after college and I invested all of it into starting my first business, {r}evolution apparel. My then co-founder also invested $5,000 and that lasted until we opened sales a year later. 

When we launched with a Kickstarter campaign, we were able to pre-sell our product so our customers essentially paid for the cost of production. Our first production run was over $40K and we didn’t have to spend a dime of our own money.

I also used this pre-selling model when I launched Factory45. I opened applications in March 2014, participants paid for their first month of tuition in May and the program didn’t start until June. 

This gave me an influx of cash to create the first module and a little time to get things up and running. I invested all of the money from the 2014 cohort back into the business for 2015.


HOW DID YOU STAY MOTIVATED WHEN YOU WERE FIRST STARTING OUT?

The main thing that kept me motivated and held me accountable when I was first starting out was blogging. It was so helpful to have a process to document the journey of creating a business and a clothing company and it was the audience that the blog attracted that pushed us to keep going.

On a more general scale, I’ve noticed something over the past nine years of entrepreneurship that’s been hugely impactful. And it’s the simple act of declaring something to the world.

Tell the world you’re going to do something and you’re that much closer to actually accomplishing it.

 

 


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How to Increase Your Fashion Brand’s Sales by 15%

In the lead up to becoming an entrepreneur, I was a waitress.

I’ll clarify:

I was a waitress at a rowdy Irish pub turned late-night bar in the tourist district of downtown Boston. 

I spent the summer of 2009 working six nine-hour shifts a week, serving up to 24 tables at a time — often by myself.

We were constantly understaffed, with myself and three other waitresses on rotation, and we spent the entire summer clamoring over each other for the chance to be promoted to bartender.

The best shift was Thursday night.

It was just one waitress and Ian, the Thursday night bartender, and the waitress had control of the entire floor which meant you got to keep 100 percent of your tips (there were no bussers in this place).

When it was my turn for this shift, I would mentally and physically prepare. 

I’d make sure I was stocked up on silverware roll-ups, that the menus were wiped down from yesterday’s beer sludge and that the outside chalkboard clearly promoted our daily special of 2 dollar Molsons.

And then from 4-11pm, I would work harder than I have ever worked before. 

At the peak of it all, I remember holding a menu and someone’s check in my mouth while pouring a draught beer with one hand and balancing two plates of food on the other hand.

After several shifts like this, I came in one Thursday night and Ian said something I haven’t forgotten in 10 years.

“Shannon, our food and bev sales are always up 15 percent every time you work. What are you doing differently from everyone else?”

At the time, I didn’t have a good answer for him.

But years later, I often think back to those days in the service industry and now know exactly what I did differently.

(And no, it’s not that I worked harder — I didn’t bring you through this entire story for that.)

It’s something that you, as a fashion entrepreneur, can duplicate and implement:

Make a Frequent, Specific Ask.

Instead of, “Can I get you anything else?”

I would say, “Another IPA?” before the pint glass was empty.

Instead of, “Are you ready for the check?”

I would say, “Our brownie sundae is amazing. The best in Faneuil Hall.”

I was on a constant loop around the restaurant, ensuring that no one was sitting around waiting for me when there was money to be made.

And that ties back to the mistake that I see so many startup fashion brands making.

You’re waiting for your customer to come to you. 

You’re not sending out emails every week, you’re not making it clear what your brand has to offer and you’re not enticing the sale.

It’s all well and good to say, “Well, I’m not salesy and I’m going to do it my way and Shannon, you were just promoting binge drinking and diabetes.” 

And while, okay, that may be true (a girl’s gotta make a living) — if you don’t make the sale, then you don’t have a business. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling beer, brownies, jackets or dresses.

Instead of sending out an email to your list once a month about your entire collection, send out an email once a week featuring one specific product in that collection.

Frequent & Specific.

Build a 2-3 part email series around each product that highlights certain defining features, such as fabric or fit or customer feedback or its insanely low return rate.

Frequent & Specific.

Create a two-week, daily social media campaign around the re-launch of your best-selling product.

Frequent & Specific.

Every time you get in front of your ideal target customer, whether it’s through email or social media, you’re asking for them to get behind your brand, support what you’re building and show that support by purchasing from you.

The way you make that Ask matters.

I should know — the next summer I came back as bartender.

 

 


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fabric sourcing

Do you know one of the most time-intensive parts of creating a fashion brand?

Fabric sourcing.

It can take months to find the perfect fabric for your product(s).

And that’s why fabric sourcing is the very first thing we tackle in the Factory45 accelerator program.

Because at the same time as you’re building your social media presence, growing your email list and creating an audience before you launch, you’re likely still looking for fabric.

And if you have no idea where to begin, where to look or how to start, then today’s video is for you.

I’m laying out the first five steps to effective fabric sourcing.

And I’m going to make sure you sound like a pro when you’re reaching out to fabric suppliers.

Enjoy,

 

 


supplier email cta

This is a guest post from Brianna Kilcullen, the founder of Anact and a student of my Kickstarter course, The Crowdfunding Factory.

Today she’s sharing three things she’s learned about creating a Kickstarter campaign for anyone else who is considering it as a launch strategy. 

Here’s Brianna… 

I’ll begin by saying, I’ve never done a crowdfunding campaign before. Like ever. Knowing that I needed to create one to kickstart my business, I was on the hunt for a good resource that could help guide me along the way.

When I found out that Shannon ran one of the most successfully funded Kickstarter fashion projects at the time and had built an online course based on best practices, recommendations and preferred resources — I knew I had to take it. 

It was quick, simple and incredibly applicable. Thinking through the entire crowdfunding process before beginning helped prepare me for the highs and the lows and be proactive instead of reactive.  

Here are my top three takeaways: 

#1. CONSISTENCY. 

One of the biggest takeaways from The Crowdfunding Factory is that consistency is one of the most important parts of starting a business. More so than making a single ultra creative post or product. 

It can take seven interactions with a brand before a person decides to take action with a product or service. So I knew that in order for my business to be successful, I needed to make sure my content was being seen. 

I snagged up every social media account, and then I picked specific social media platforms that my target market frequented to maximize the return on investment aka my time and energy!  Anact is now on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and my personal accounts.  

Consistency also means that I needed to be posting frequently. So Anact went from posting about once a day to posting 3 times a day (for now).  PS: Social Sprout has become my go to for scheduling synchronized social media posts.

Three times a day seems a bit extreme; however, our backers will come from all different time zones and we believe it was important to make posts that could be seen from various time zones until our Kickstarter launches. Once we launch, we will post less, but we will now make sure we post on a schedule so that we are always consistent. 

kickstarter

#2. RE-SHARE. 80% of your time should be spent promoting content you’ve already made.

Adding onto the consistency train, promoting your content should be a high priority. We learned not to spend all our time creating new content (blurbs for posts, pictures, etc.) and realized that we needed to share and share and share and share our current content so that more people can see it and so our time spent creating that content doesn’t go to waste. 

To help with that, we started paying Instagram and Facebook to promote our posts so that it reached our target audience easier. We also encouraged our friends, family, and fans to share our content.  #freeinfluencers

Prior to launching Anact, I wasn’t even active on social media. I have to say that I have been really amazed at the opportunity it holds in promoting your business and connecting with amazing people all over the world. 

#3. SPREAD THE WORD.

If you’re a startup founder like me, you are most likely spending most of your time on the product creation process. We all saw what happened with FYRE Festival — a hyped up marketing campaign with a bad product is no bueno.

So once you have perfected your product, you’ll need to navigate the press circuit and promote all of your hard work so you can share with the world! Shannon’s guidance and personal press contact list was instrumental in understanding how to navigate this aspect of startup life.  

Terms such as “editorial calendar” and “press pitch” have become ingrained in my vocabulary as we prepare for our Kickstarter launch.  

There are many more insights and takeaways that I have gained, but the common theme in each takeaway has been that it has created confidence in myself and the crowdfunding process and for that – I am incredibly grateful! 

-Brianna
Founder, Anact

Anact is short for “an act”. The simple act of creating impact. My simple act was developing a hemp-based towel that is good for all people and the planet. 

When you buy a towel, you’re already taking action and making a difference.  We hope you take it a step further and each time you use the Anact towels you’re inspired to take simple acts to create impact too.


crowdfunding cta

The fashion industry is competitive — there’s no doubt about it.

And yet, it’s not hard to find new, successful brands popping up across the industry.

No one knew about Everlane until it became Everlane.

No one knew about Reformation until it became Reformation.

And no one knew about Summersalt until… well, you get the idea.

There is room for you and the brand you want to create.

The key is to position yourself in a way that sets you apart from everyone else.

In today’s video, I’m going to share three ways to market your brand so that it attracts customers.

What’s your brand’s “X factor?” I’ve provided three different ways to think about.

Now it’s up to you to define that X factor for yourself.

Need some help? Leave a comment below the video and we’ll talk it out : )

 

 


sustainable fashion advice

Last week I *hopefully* convinced you that it’s not only worth the time and effort to blog about your fashion brand, but it’s imperative. If you missed that post you can read it here.

Today I want to talk about the not-so-sexy side of creating content for your brand and why your blog strategy depends on these three letters:

S
E
O

SEO stands for “search engine optimization” — Wait! Before your eyes glaze over and you click away… let’s take a pause for a puppy break.

Okay, still with me?

In layman’s terms, SEO is the language that the internet speaks and is the reason that some articles rank on the first page of Google and why a very similar article could be buried in the depths of the cloud.

Why is this important to you? Because you want to rank on the first page of Google.

Why should you care? Because it’s one more way that your target customers can find your business.

It looks like this:

Cara has a sustainable fashion brand that sells five-piece capsule collections through her Shopify store. 

Cara also has a blog that features articles about minimalism, sustainability, ethical fashion, travel, clean beauty and other topics that appeal to her ideal target customer. 

Now, here’s where SEO comes in.

Because her blog titles are “optimized” for the “search engines” with “keywords,” her blog posts come up when her ideal target customer searches for a topic she’s written about.

So, let’s say a potential customer is searching on Google, looking for bloggers to follow who have sustainable wardrobes. 

The very first article that appears on Google’s front page is Cara’s article: 10 Bloggers Who Will Inspire Your Sustainable Wardrobe

SEO

The potential customer clicks on Cara’s blog post, finds herself reading valuable and engaging content and knows she’s found exactly what she was looking for.

What happens next?

Maybe the potential customer clicks away, but it’s far more likely that one of three things happens:

  1. She clicks over to another related blog post and stays on Cara’s blog longer.
  2. She is invited to subscribe to Cara’s email list through an email opt-in.
  3. She clicks over to Cara’s Shopify site where she realizes that not only does Cara blog about sustainable fashion, she has an entire line of sustainable fashion to purchase!

Do you see how powerful this machine of SEO and blogging works?

The task of creating blog content is something that can benefit your brand for months and years to come. 

Okay, so now that I’ve *hopefully* convinced you that SEO is important to your blog strategy, it begs the question — how do you get started optimizing and finding keywords to write about?

First, I would encourage you to install an SEO plug-in to whichever blog platform you’re using (I use Yoast for WordPress.) 

This will help you find keywords and optimize your blog posts — there’s an easy red light, yellow light, green light system that Yoast uses to tell you if you’re good to go.

Beyond that, there are people much smarter than me who have written all about SEO, so I’m going to link to them below:

  • If you prefer reading, HubSpot has a very thorough guide here
  • If you prefer listening, Jenna Kutcher has an SEO podcast here.
  • If you prefer outsourcing, current Factory45’er Gabbby Covay runs an agency that provides SEO services here.

And if you want to take a closer look at Cara as my guinea pig, her blog is here and her brand is here

She’s also a Factory45 alum, so I’ve been able to witness from the beginning how she’s built each block of her business strategy (it’s impressive).

These technical things are what we, as creatives, tend to avoid but I’m here to tell you, there’s no point in blogging for the sake of blogging.

There needs to be a consistent strategy around what you write about, and SEO is a big part of that.

Phew. I know. It’s a lot of work… More puppies?

You can do this.

 

 


Sustainable Fashion Advice

If I polled an audience of startup fashion designers and asked them the number one business task they dread the most, I bet I could guess what most of them would say.

It’s not Google Analytics…

Or calculating costs… 

Or managing a budget…

(Although I’m sure those are high on the list.)

The number one thing that most fashion entrepreneurs resist is:

Blogging.

I’m not talking about blogging as in being a “fashion blogger” and sharing your #ootd and styled outfits.

I’m talking about blogging as a strategic marketing tactic to attract an audience and create potential customers for your brand. 

In other words, blogging as a means to sell your products.

I’ve done a lot of research on this and all of the experts agree,

Blogging is not going anywhere.

It is still an incredibly powerful tool to grow your brand presence, drive traffic to your landing page or online store and convert website visitors into paying customers.

If you’re not leveraging it for your business, then you’re doing yourself a disservice and that’s what I want to help you with today.

So, what in the world are you supposed to write about?

Let me first say that a blog post does not have to be written. 

There are multiple mediums for blogging today, including audio and video, so if you don’t consider yourself a “good writer” you’re not off the hook!

The content you produce depends on which stage of business you’re in. For our purposes, I’m going to apply this to those of you who don’t have anything to sell yet.

Because yes, you should be marketing and building an audience before you have anything to sell. (But you already knew that, right?)

When brainstorming content ideas, the “winning topics” should fall under one of two categories:

  1. A personal post about you, your story, why you’re starting your brand and a behind the scenes look at building your business. It should be written in a way that connects with your ideal target customer (i.e. reader).
  2. An educational, entertaining or inspirational post that provides valuable content for your ideal target customer (i.e. reader).

That’s it — one of those two things.

The goal is for every blog post to either 1.) connect or 2.) provide value — in an ideal world, it does both.

Now, here’s the key to blogging:

Consistency.

Once a week, on the same day, you want to publish a new blog post and send it out to your email list and social media following.

The easiest way to make sure you’re consistent in this is to brainstorm content ideas in advance and to devise a system.

You can stay organized by creating an editorial calendar and a workflow spreadsheet.

The editorial calendar ensures that you have blog post topics lined up weeks in advance.

The workflow spreadsheet ensures that you know exactly what you need to do to optimize your new blog post every week.

If you’re still reading, then you’ve earned this… 

You can access my Editorial Calendar template here and my Workflow Spreadsheet here.

Simply copy and paste the contents and put them into your own Google Drive spreadsheet.

Finally, and most importantly, how does blogging work to create customers?

By getting readers to sign up to your email list.

This is the number one goal for every piece of marketing content you create when you don’t have products to sell yet.

By growing your email list, you’re ensuring that when you do have something to sell you’ll have an audience to sell it to.

So, will you publish a blog post next week?

 


sustainable fashion advice

“Oh, man. I was going about this all wrong…” she said to me, looking like the ‘face palm’ emoji.

“No wonder no one was emailing me back.”

This is an all-too-common feeling for new designers who are just starting out in the overwhelming world of fabric sourcing.

You know that whatever you’re doing isn’t working, but you don’t exactly know why.

Maybe your inquiry email is unclear. 

Maybe you’re not asking for the right thing… in the right way.

Maybe the supplier simply overlooked your email.

Whatever the reason, I do know this:

The vast majority of new designers are making four very common fabric sourcing mistakes.

And in this week’s video, I’m going to tell you what they are so you can avoid them.

If you’re not making the progress you need to source fabric and materials for your fashion brand, then I hope this video will help you on your search.

In the comments below the video, let me know which of the four mistakes you might be making and we can talk it through more.

To your success,

 


Last week I sent out a survey to gather feedback on email topics that would be helpful to you. You can still weigh in with your input here.

Most of you said you preferred watching videos or listening to audio to reading — and one of the most asked about topics was money.

How can you launch a fashion brand on a limited budget?

So, as a continued part of my YouTube experiment, that’s the question I’m answering today…

I’m sharing three ways to make the most of your money, launch your brand with limited risk and reduce the upfront price of product development.

I’ve worked with many brands over the years to effectively used these strategies without thousands of dollars sitting in the bank…

>> Click here to watch <<

Make no mistake, you need capital to start any business — especially a product-based business.

But to get off the ground, it’s not as much as you think.

You can watch the full video here.

Enjoy!

 


crowdfunding cta

Can you really launch a fashion line without going to fashion school?

YES.

Right around this time every year, I start to hear from many of you who want to apply to Factory45.

The biggest concern?

I don’t have a fashion background!
I didn’t go to fashion school!
I don’t know how to design or sew!

I ONLY have an idea!

And what do I have to say to that?

Great!

To be the right fit for the Factory45 program, you only need an idea in your head.

We’ll figure out the rest.

And today, to celebrate the launch of the Factory45 YOUTUBE channel — I’m sharing 3 reasons you can absolutely launch a fashion line without going to fashion school.

I’m going to use this channel to share tips and advice for every stage of running a sustainable fashion brand.

So, if you’re into video and want to see more of them, please click here and “Subscribe” to the Factory45 channel. You’ll simply get pinged when new videos go up (every Wednesday!)

And if you have suggestions or topics you’d like me to cover in a 3-5 minute video, then I’m ALL ears – simply email me at shannon@factory45.co.

More next week and in the meantime,

Check out the first two videos here >>