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Build a Following

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Today we are talking about a topic that is near and dear to my heart — and it’s something that most new fashion founders generally avoid doing. In this episode, I’m sharing four ways to build an audience before you launch your fashion brand.


Today we are talking about a topic that is near and dear to my heart — and it’s something that most new fashion founders generally avoid doing. In this episode, I’m sharing four ways to build an audience before you launch your fashion brand.

If you know me at all you know I love talking about marketing. I also know that, as a creative, most of you would rather be focusing on the product development and design side of building your brand. Too often, I’ve seen the importance of marketing fall to the wayside and I’m here to tell you why it needs to be a priority for a successful brand launch. So before we get started… 

I first need you to come to terms with the fact that you have to start talking about your product before you’re ready to sell anything. I know this can be really hard for a lot of people because we’re all worried that other people are going to steal our idea. But unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to invest in a PR team, a marketing agency or influencer endorsements, there’s no other alternative. You have to start talking about your brand and your idea to build an audience before you launch.

Okay, so is everyone on board with that? Hopefully you’re nodding your head. If you don’t focus on marketing as much as you’re focusing on your product, then you won’t have a business — you’ll have a hobby because you won’t be able to sell anything.

The next thing you need to know in building an audience before you launch is who your ideal target customer is. Your ideal target customer is your primary target market and this is the person who you want to be thinking about every time you make a branding or marketing decision.

Before you launch, you need to be able to establish an engaged audience of your target customer. What does that mean? An engaged audience is a group of your ideal target customers who are interested and excited about what your brand has to say and offer.

There are four main ways to build an engaged audience and they can be done at any point in starting or growing your business — and again, not to sound like a broken record, but that means you should be implementing these four things before you even have a product to sell.

The first way to build an engaged audience is by getting in front of existing audiences of your ideal target customer.

What is an existing audience? It’s a brand, influencer, platform or person who has the same or similar ideal target customer as you do and already has an engaged audience that they’ve built up. When you identify those existing audiences, there are a few different ways to get in front of them:

  • It could be through strategic partnerships / cross promotion – so let’s say there’s another complementary brand that isn’t a direct competitor, you could co-host a giveaway or contest with them to build your email list and social media followings. So for example, you’re a women’s apparel brand with a target customer between the ages of 45 and 65 and you partner with a jewelry brand with a similar aesthetic that complements your garments and appeals to the same demographic. 
  • Another way to get in front of existing audiences is through content marketing which I’ll talk about in more detail in a bit.
  • It could be podcast interviews (people love hearing the behind the scenes, origin story, etc.).
  • It could be doing a sample run with Instagram influencers that help you promote to their audiences.

There are all kinds of different options – only limited by your own creativity – but the point here is creating partnerships and relationships that provide visibility for your brand in front of existing audiences that aren’t your own. This is a great strategy because you’re not wasting marketing time and resources on your small audience of let’s say 25 people in the beginning. Your focus is on getting in front of an existing audience and bringing them back to be part of your own audience.

The second way to build an audience before you launch is to set up a Landing page + opt-in offer.

The goal here is to: BUILD YOUR EMAIL LIST!

You can do this by promoting freebies, called lead magnets, and driving people to your landing page to opt-in for the free gift (it can be a free checklist, short ebook, a guide or something else that provides value to your ideal target customer).

You can use quizzes, challenges and surveys to drive people back to your landing page to opt-into your list.

The bottom line is when you’re thinking about these free offers to entice subscribers, ask yourself: how can you provide value, and how can you build a relationship before you have anything to sell?

The third way to build your following is through word of mouth.  

Through this entire process of building an audience online, you want to create a relationship with your audience so they tell their friends about you.

You can do this by nurturing your email list (sending an email at least once a week) and then making a direct ask to tell their friends and doing the same thing on social media.

And the fourth strategy to build your audience that I’m going to talk about today is through content marketing.

When you create content (whether that’s a blog post, a YouTube video, a podcast episode, a TikTok video, a quiz or something else) and circulate it via social media, the goal is to then drive people back to your landing page so they sign up to your email list.

Content marketing is the primary way that brands build audiences of raving fans, so I’m going to talk about it in more detail than the other strategies I mentioned before.

First, there are a few goals of content marketing, in addition to driving people back to your landing page and email opt-in. Those goals are to:

  1. Build your “Know, Like & Trust” factor
  2. Listen to your customer and have human-to-human conversations (if you’re a good listener, they’ll tell you what they want to hear and see in your content marketing!)
  3. Be memorable! That means saying something different or saying something in a different way.
  4. Show emotion. This goes back to being human and connecting as a human.
  5. Be persistent and consistent. Keep showing up.
  6. Look at the content your competitors are creating and do it better or differently.
  7. Experiment. Double down on what’s working, scrap what isn’t working and always test new types of content.

When we talk about content marketing, there are typically 3 CATEGORIES that we refer to:

  1. Owned Media
  2. Earned Media
  3. Paid Media

For our purposes, we’re going to focus on Owned and Earned Media. Paid media would be content like Facebook ads or Google ads, which I don’t recommend when you’re first starting out, before you have anything to sell and can’t see a direct ROI.

Okay, so what’s Owned Media? Owned media is the type of content marketing that you create and control. Examples are

  • Your website
  • Your blog
  • Your email list
  • Your podcast
  • Your YouTube channel
  • Your social media content (even though you don’t technically own it)
  • Your retail display (if selling in person)

What’s Earned Media? 

  • Press
  • Social sharing
  • Word of mouth
  • Product reviews
  • Guest posts
  • Guest podcast interviews

To grow an audience online, you must focus on both Owned & Earned Media but you definitely don’t have to do every single strategy under each category.

My advice is to start with either a blog, a podcast or YouTube channel for your Owned Media. Choose whichever platform comes easiest and most naturally to you – if you prefer writing, then start a blog, if you prefer audio then start a podcast, if you prefer video then start a YouTube channel.

And then focus on social sharing, guest posts and guest podcast interviews for your Earned Media. Then, as you start to establish those areas of content marketing, you can experiment with others. Now, just a quick reminder about the questions everyone loves to ask… Can you do this before you have anything to sell?

Yes! Remember, you are giving away free content that entertains, inspires or informs your ideal target customer.

If you do this effectively, then by the time you do have something to sell, your potential customers are already going to love you, want to support you and most importantly, want what you’re selling. And just as a final note and disclaimer… When people get frustrated because their audience isn’t growing fast enough it’s usually because they expect it to happen quickly. This is not an overnight process! 

Sure, you can buy email lists and followers and it will look like you have a big audience, but I can guarantee a “bought audience” will not result in customers. Both content marketing and audience building require patience, consistency and persistence above all else. Every single new, organic follower or subscriber is something to be celebrated.

Since 2014, I’ve worked with entrepreneurs all over the globe to build audiences before they launched their sustainable fashion brands. This has resulted in our alumni collectively raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in pre-orders by launching their brands to an audience of customers. If you’re interested in learning more about our process, what we teach and how we’ve become the #1 fashion school for fashion brand launches, you can book a call to learn more. Just go to factory45.co/apply – the link is in the description of this episode.


As you start to build an audience for your fashion brand, one of the things you might be wondering is:

Do I have to be on every social media platform?

From Facebook to Twitter to TikTok, it’s normal to feel the pressure that you have to do them all.

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t.

Five years ago, would I have recommended that every new business be “omnipresent” across all social media platforms?


But we’re living in a different time.

A time when quality is more important than quantity.

A time when I would rather see you master one platform and grow an engaged audience really well, than try to be everywhere all at once.

So, what’s that one social media platform I recommend for fashion startups?


This will likely come as no surprise — it’s the most visual, it has an ecommerce element and it has a track record.

The question is: with all of the noise and competition for attention, how do you use Instagram to grow your fashion brand?

In this week’s Live Show, I’m going to tell you.


As always, there are two ways to tune in on Thursday at noon ET / 9am PT:

  1. Join our Facebook group here.
  2. Stream on YouTube here.

See you on Thursday!




Did you miss last week’s episode of Factory45 Live about creating an email marketing strategy? You can watch the replay by clicking below!

factory45 instagram on iphone in designer workspace

By the time we thought to take a picture, the sun had already set and we were saying our goodbyes.

“Let’s just take a photo real quick for Instagram,” Nicole said as we were walking down the steps of the restaurant.

We selfie’d like the best of ‘em and looked at it.

“Ugh,” was the simultaneous reaction.

“Why didn’t we think to do this earlier when our only light wasn’t a neon beer sign?”

After six years of online friendship, I had met Nicole (the founder of StartUp FASHION) for the first time in “real life.”

And like any good online business owners, we wanted documentation of it to share with our overlapping audiences.

I’m not ashamed — okay, I’m a little ashamed — to say we tried a few more times and never got the shot.

As we went our separate ways, we chalked up our lack of social media fodder to “living in the moment” and promised ourselves we’d get a good photo the next time we were in the same city.

I will be the first to admit, I am not good about remembering to take photos.

Despite living in a time when Instagram is the #1 most influential social media platform for online businesses, I am not as snap-happy as I should be.

Most weekends I leave my phone at home when I go out and if I’m experiencing something I really want to remember, then I usually don’t want to interrupt it by taking out my device.

Depending on what side of the Millennial line you are on, this is something you can either relate to — or not relate to at all.

Regardless of where you fall, there are several hacks I’ve learned over the years that have helped immensely in growing a 10,000+ Instagram following without letting it take over my life.

And that’s what I want to share with you today:

1.) Color palette.

When you click on your Instagram profile, the gallery of photos underneath your name and website should act as a storyboard for your brand. It should look polished, thoughtful and representative of what your company is and the aesthetic you want it to convey.

The first step in creating this storyboard is to come up with a color palette for the photos you share.

Do you only post black and white pictures? Do all of your images have a white border around them? Do you increase the saturation, so all of your pictures are bold and bright?

Choosing a color palette not only makes your Instagram grid look better, but it helps save time and energy when you’re deciding which photos to shoot, share and curate.

factory45, instagram, instagram hacks, social media, marketing, hacks

2.) Planoly.

There are a bunch of apps out there, but this is the one I’ve been using for over a year and it’s changed how I use Instagram for my business.

Planoly allows you to upload the photos you’ve taken on your camera roll and drag them into different layouts that represent your Instagram grid. This lets you see exactly how it’s going to look on your account when the photos are published.

You can also write all of your captions in advance and schedule the photo for the time you want it to publish.

Planoly has made it so much easier to plan a thoughtful editorial calendar, and I can save it for when I’m doing something mindless like sitting on the train or watching TV.

3.) Forget “Instant.”

When Instagram Stories was released it created a whole new level of anxiety for me. If you’re trying to live in the moment, then IG Stories is basically your worst nightmare.

I remember being at a pop-up shop in Boston when I decided to make one of my first IG Stories and it took FOREVER. I was sitting there, taking so much time with the filters… and the emojis… and the captions… that I was missing out on actually meeting the makers and walking around the venue.

Out of everything I’ve learned, this is the hack that really saved my Instagram sanity:

I discovered that I could shoot photos and video footage on my phone and upload them to Instagram Stories later when I had some time to do it thoughtfully.

If you didn’t know this tip, then you can try it right now. Go ahead and take a few photos or video on your camera roll wherever you are reading this.

After you do that, head over to Instagram and click on the Instagram Stories icon at the top left corner of your screen. Once the camera comes up, place your finger on the middle of the screen and drag it up.

You should see all of the photos and videos you’ve taken from the last 24 hours at the bottom. And you can upload any of them into your “Story.”

(The catch here is that you have to create the Story within 24 hours of taking the photos or footage, otherwise they won’t appear as an option for sharing.)

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4.) Curate.

My Instagram gallery is about 75% curated photos. In other words, I take screenshots of other people’s photos and share them with my own caption and give photo credit.

This works for me because so much of my brand message is about highlighting the entrepreneurs who are part of Factory45. I regularly share updates about the Factory45’ers who are launching new products, running Kickstarter campaigns or simply creating beautiful images.

It can also work for you if you don’t have time to take all of your own photos or if you’re not confident in your photography skills.

The best part about sharing other people’s photos is that it promotes goodwill and new business relationships if done right. By genuinely supporting someone else’s brand or giving them a shout-out, you’re putting yourself on their radar and they’re likely to return the favor.

The key here is to make your caption for the image about *them* (don’t try to pass off their photo as your own workspace, cup of coffee or bouquet of flowers) and don’t forget to give photo credit by tagging their Instagram account.

I get it. It can be super overwhelming to use social media for building your audience and brand awareness.

But even more than the hacks or tips and tricks, the absolute best thing you can do is to just start and stay consistent.

Perfection paralysis has no place in the ever-changing world of social media, so don’t let it stop you.

If you read last week’s post, then you know no one is even paying attention yet anyway ; )