A little over a year after launching Allette, our line of nursing clothes, we got a big break. Through a contact made in a networking group, I met someone who introduced us to the maternity/nursing buyer at Nordstrom. Within a few weeks we had a meeting in NYC and contracts going. Turns out, the buyer was still nursing her baby and understood the gap in the market that we fill. Ultimately, she believed in us.
We were happy. But also, a little lost. Neither my business partner nor I came from fashion backgrounds. We didn’t live and breathe wholesale and had no past experience or rule book to guide us. We figured it out because we had to. And today, our relationship is strong and we’re exploring new partnerships with more confidence.
I’m certainly no expert but have learned a few things either through experience, mistakes, research or default. In any case, here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. These insights are drawn from a very specific to our situation: launching our small direct-to-consumer apparel brand on a large wholesale platform. Whether scaling is progressive WIP for you, or an opportunity suddenly falls out of the sky, breathe, Mama. You’ve got this.
1. Look at the big picture.
In a nutshell: don’t think about the short-term benefit and/or profits too much. Ha! As an entrepreneur profit (or lack thereof) feels like all you think about, right? But while a new contract or major opportunity can yield great results, it won’t happen overnight. As a matter of fact, setting up the new relationship will cost you time, energy, and yes, money. For us, we had to make a strategic decision about whether or not to go wholesale and to stop focusing on making our ideal margins with every sale as a result. We knew profit would come in time. It helped us to view the opportunity as a marketing exercise. We focused on the opportunity instead of the results. Fortunately, the opportunities were plenty: mass exposure, credibility, learnings, to name a few. We also took this time to source new suppliers and negotiate rates now that we had a little more leverage with volumes and needs. Things may be a little crazy at the moment but think strategically, not just reactively.
We focused on the opportunity instead of the results.
2. I know the kids are all doing it, but you don’t have to raise ‘traditional’ capital.
When we landed the Nordstrom contract and we had to ‘scale’ it felt like raising VC money was the only possible option. For some reason, scaling and raising money are interchangeable in today’s entrepreneurial world. They shouldn’t be. We went through the typical motions of creating our financial analysis and valuations and building presentations only to realize that this wasn’t the right route for us. It was a relief to find that we could do without a traditional VC deal. We could build a healthy and growing business while retaining control of our company and sticking to our core values.
We started the business to serve a need – helping women feel confident and beautiful postpartum. We also wanted to build something that made sense to us and fit with the lives we wanted to create. My business partner, Oksana, and I knew we wanted to grow and become profitable but not at the expense of our families or stress levels. We planned to stretch our cash flow and explore alternative forms of securing cash. We would not overproduce and stretch ourselves too thin. We both read this book and found it helpful in terms of looking at financing differently. Building a business is just that: building. It happens one brick at a time and we were just fine with that. Maybe VC’s are right for you, just take the time to figure it out before jumping in with both feet.
3. Talk to some folks who have ‘been there’.
This is not uncharted territory. It may be for you, but others have gone through this. Talk to them. Do your research. Reading this article is a good first step but there are surely several others in your environment who could help. HEYMAMA can provide some of your most valuable introductions. This is something I wish we had done more of. In the whirlwind of preparing and the classic ‘I can figure this out’ entrepreneurial attitude, we didn’t take enough time to really seek out advice and tips from those more seasoned than us. Taking more advice would have given us an advantage particularly when dealing with the tricky contract negotiations. We may have ended up in the same spot but we could have been more confident and equipped.
Be cool and don’t take it personally.
4. Feed your relationships – they’re everything.
Partners, vendors, old colleagues, and even the UPS guy. As you grow, your needs will grow. Having a strong network of contacts will help you navigate what comes at you. They will be your best asset when things become hectic and/or they don’t go as planned – and things often don’t go as planned. Brace yourself for delays, lack of communication, and setbacks. Be cool and don’t take it personally. Despite our best efforts, we quickly learned that Allette was not everyone else’s priority. How humbling! We decided to focus on what we could control. So we’re always responsive, clear, available, flexible. We’re team players. We’re nice. Because who wants to work with a jerk?
5. Drop the ‘I wear every hat’ mantra.
If you haven’t already done so, get aligned. After two years of pouring our hearts and souls into the business, Oksana and I still hadn’t fully outlined who actually does what except for some obvious exceptions. I guess we both wanted to own every part of the business. But just as mom and dad need to figure this out, so did we. We gave ourselves new titles (complete with business cards!), created weekly status meetings and held each other accountable. We also took a realistic look at what skills we were lacking between the two of us and made a plan to either recruit, train and/or work around those areas. It wasn’t just about the two of us anymore and we were ready(ish).
Have some tips and tricks you can share? We’re always learning. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.