The idea for my business—a direct-to-consumer line of high-end customizable handbags—was born in December 2015. That’s all it took. Once inspiration struck, I went into full startup mode, and goldno.8 launched just 13 months later.
Having built my career for more than 20 years at five major fashion houses, I thought I knew my stuff. After all, I had learned from some of the best people in the industry, including Isaac Mizrahi, Catherine Malandrino and Ralph Lauren. I understood what women want, how to merchandise, how to pitch, how to create and how to sell.
After venturing out on my own, however, I found I had a lot more to learn: how to build a website, how to create a supply chain, how to market online and on and on. My first year as a full-time entrepreneur has been a crash course, with lots of setbacks (I like that word more than failure) and some successes, too.
In the interest of paying it forward to the superstar women of the heymama community, I’m sharing some of the biggest lessons I learned along the way—the things I wish someone had shared with me before I started selling to customers online. Buckle up and read on!
You will become a walking billboard. As an entrepreneur, your brand will basically be all you think about and all you post about on social media. You will never not be promoting it. (Example: Visit www.goldno8.com and use code HEYMAMALOVE to get 20 percent off your purchase. See? I couldn’t resist!) No shame; this is a survival skill successful founders need.
You’re going to need help from actual humans. Sorry, mama, you can’t do everything yourself. Know your strengths, be realistic about your shortcomings, then delegate your areas of weakness to the best pros you can afford. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
Everything will take longer than you think. Cool your jets. A brand is not born overnight. I had a pie-in-the-sky fantasy that if I built it, sales would come. Nothing could be further from the truth. Be patient and be persistent. You’re doing great.
Cool your jets. A brand is not born overnight.
Standing out can be a struggle. Building a direct-to-consumer business is harder than the traditional route of selling through a third party. Rising above the internet noise and getting noticed takes a carefully orchestrated combination of marketing savvy and persistent PR. Plan to focus on those areas as much as you do your product quality.
There’s no place for shyness. I could easily spend all day hidden away working, so I force myself to get out and meet people face to face. Networking leads to new revelations, ideas and opportunities. Put on your big-girl pants and get out there. There’s no better way to get others to support your efforts than with an in-person meeting.
Your friends are your foot soldiers. Use them. In my first year of business, my contacts were my most powerful form of advertising. They posted on social media and told their friends. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and I quickly gained actual customers. Let everybody in your contact list know what you’re up to. If you have a great product, they will want to support you.
Don’t stray from your core mission—yet. In the beginning, laser focus is a must. I have hundreds of ideas in my head and would love to develop every one of them, but that would dilute my energy and impact my main objectives. So I’m staying focused on one big goal for the year: building brand awareness, which ultimately will lead to sales.
The paperwork might drive you slightly nuts. Take your time. Read everything carefully. Don’t apologize for asking a million questions. Don’t sign on the dotted line until you understand backwards and forwards. If something sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. Don’t agree to anything without putting the terms in writing.
The way to a person’s heart is through her inbox. Believe it or not, email and newsletter marketing drive online sales more than any other form of marketing. To be most effective, segment your email list—say, by geographic region or past purchases. Don’t waste your limited resources on a mass mailing that falls flat.
Your homepage isn’t where the money is. When you place ads online, don’t land the prospective customer on a page where they have to hunt around for a product. Land them directly on what you’re advertising. Then watch and understand that funnel: Is there an area where the customer is getting stuck and leaving the page? Find out. Fix it. Until your funnels are seamless, your marketing dollars are wasted.
Your instincts are valid. You may be new at this, but it’s your business—your baby! Every decision you implement should 100 percent align with your vision.
There you have it: A condensed list of things I wish had been laid out for me before I jumped headfirst into building a brand. Now I’m stashing these lessons in my arsenal of knowledge and using them to propel me forward, wiser and more excited than ever to pursue my dream. Here’s hoping they help you do likewise.