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Why You Need a Blog for Your Fashion Brand — Really.

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?

 


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Instagram Experiment

The Instagram Experiment that Doubled My Engagement

“The Instagram algorithm is literally paralyzing me.”

I was talking to two startup designers at TexWorld, a fabric sourcing trade show in NYC.

“Gah, I’m so happy to hear you say that,” one of my Factory45 alum replied, “It’s paralyzing me,  too.” 

If you use Instagram to attract new customers and market your own brand, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

There is so. much. pressure. on the backs of small businesses to excel on this platform and with the ever-changing algorithms, Instagram is not making it easy on us.

Over the past two months, I’ve posted no more than THREE times on Instagram. 

And I’ve deleted two of those three posts after the fact because they didn’t look pretty “in the grid.”

The struggle is real. 

We are all putting in so much time and effort creating the content… making sure it’s aesthetically on-brand… writing a thoughtful caption… and then creating even more content for Instagram Stories.

Once we do finally click publish, only 2 percent of our followers even see the photo. It’s a wonder we haven’t already abandoned ship.

BUT, this is not a complain-festival.

After doing a bunch of research, I’ve accumulated some expert advice on the subject.

And then I did an experiment to pass along my “findings” to all of you.

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Okay, I’ll start with the bad news first.

> 99 percent of the time, photos of you will perform better than anything else.

I know, I know, you did not want me to say that but deep down, you already knew it.

The number one way to increase likes and engagement is to post photos of yourself (and apparently, selfies really crush it).

I’m not going to get into the details about how to get in front of the camera and take good photos, but Jenna Kutcher has a helpful podcast episode (and transcript) about it here

Also, if you’re thinking, “How is showing my face on-brand to what I’m selling?” check out the fashion brands @shitthatiknit and @dudley_stephens to see how founders Christina and Lauren get in front of the camera.

Okay, now for the good news.

> When it comes to Instagram photos (not Stories), it’s about quality over quantity.

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for people to post on IG every single day or multiple times a day.

Nowadays, it’s actually recommended to do less. And I don’t know about you, but that’s a huge relief. 

For maximum results, post 2-3 days a week (and try to hop on Stories every day).

> And now for the results of my experiment…

Last night I posted a photo after over two weeks of barely being on Instagram. In my head, I was thinking, the algorithm is going to kill my engagement for this.

But, I followed some of the advice I was getting and immediately before I published the photo, I spent 30 minutes engaging with other accounts I follow — I *wasn’t* just scrolling and “liking,” I was commenting, DM’ing, messaging on Stories, etc. 

And then I published this photo from TexWorld that yes, is a photo of me, has a thoughtful caption and a call-to-action at the end.

Instagram Experiment

In less than 12 hours, I had double the likes and comments in over six months of posts — and I didn’t have to pay to boost it. The engagement was 100% organic.

So, what does that tell me?

  1. Yes, I really do need to get in front of the camera in an authentic way.
  2. Besides advertising dollars, Instagram’s main goal is to keep people on the platform for as long as possible. If you engage with others, instead of mindlessly scrolling and “hearting,” then you are helping Instagram with its goal. They will reward your own account for it.
  3. Continue engaging after you publish. If you can, keep checking back in for about an hour after you post and try to respond to comments on your photo as quickly as possible. Again, Instagram is looking for engagement and they will boost your post to more of your audience if its algorithm sees people engaging with it.
  4. If you need to take a digital detox or IG hiatus for a bit, it won’t kill your account. Yes, you may lose a few followers but you can jump right back in after some time to refresh, regroup and plan more thoughtful content.

So, whether this is breaking news to you or you’ve heard it all before, the summary is this:

Get in front of the camera & plan to engage.

I’m challenging myself to do more of this, and I’m challenging all of you who may be struggling with the platform.

I’m going to commit two hours a week to batch shooting with a self-timer on my phone, writing captions and scheduling 1-2 weeks in advance on Planoly.

And then I’m going to commit to 10 minutes a day of genuine engagement with the accounts I follow.

It sounds like a lot of work but hey, running and growing a business is a lot of work.

And Instagram is still a valuable tool for getting in front of your ideal customer.

So, instead of feeling “paralyzed,” I’m making a conscious choice to feel empowered.

Will you join me?

 

 

P.S. Continue reading >> 4 Instagram Hacks You (Probably) Didn’t Know on the Factory45 blog

brand

Build Your Sustainable Brand on a Limited Budget

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!

 

shannon lohr founder of factory45

How to Launch a Fashion Line Without Fashion School

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.

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.

Thank you so much for your support in this latest creative endeavor… and don’t forget, applications to the 2019 program of Factory45 open NEXT WEEK!

I’ll send out an email on Wednesday, 5/15 to let you know that applications are open.

If Factory45 is the right fit for you this year, I’d love to hear from you.

More next week and in the meantime,

Check out the first two videos here >>

 

 


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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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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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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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