Hello again everyone. I hope that you all had a restful and beautiful holiday weekend with your friends and family.
Last week, I was driving to the airport here in Chicago to pick up my Aunt and Grandmother, who were flying in from Ohio. On my way there, I was reflecting on our business and, as usual, focusing on what I need to do more of or what I need to do better in 2017. I was asking myself questions such as: “How can we take our jeans to the next level and not make them just another pair?”; “How can I be better in 2017?”; “Do I have the right vendors selected?”; “How can I make sure that I achieve my goals in 2017?”; and “How can I get more people excited about what we are doing?” While sitting in my car aimlessly inching forward while reflecting in traffic on I-55, I was given an incredible Christmas gift from National Public Radio (NPR) and I wanted to share it with you.
NPR was interviewing Sara Blakely who founded Spanx. The interview and the conversation were so incredibly refreshing and well-timed for what I was thinking about. Allow me to share a few of the takeaways here. I would encourage you to find it online and listen to it if you get a chance before beginning your New Year.
Lesson 1: Keeping your guard up.
Sara said that she didn’t talk about starting Spanx for a year once she had committed herself to starting the business. The reason was she wanted to be able to keep her head down and march towards her goal without the pressure and stress of other people’s expectations. She said that once she did begin telling people she received the usual responses. “If it were such a great idea, then why wouldn’t the big companies have already done it?” “How are you going to support yourself and pay for this business?” The responses were generally negative and discouraging, but she acknowledged that her friends and family were just expressing their concerns for her best interest.
This was a great reminder. As entrepreneurs, we have to walk a delicate line in order to stay on the right course. That is the line between being receptive to opportunities and feedback that would grow the business, and being willing to block out certain outside noises that threaten real progress.
Lesson 2: Embracing our failures.
Sara mentioned that one of the most influential people in her life was her father. More specifically, she said there was one particular routine he started which heavily influenced her decision to start her business. Every week her father would ask her, “What did you fail at this week?”
She said that as a child she thought it was a rather odd question, but looking back it meant a great deal to her success. From an early age she was encouraged to try new things while being told to not acknowledge the innate fear of failure that plagues many of us. She said this was pivotal to her growth both personally and professionally.
Lesson 3: Don’t ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness.
Sara told a story about when she was first given some shelf space at seven Neiman Marcus stores. She spent a day at each store with a small folding table, telling consumers about her products and how they were different from what was currently on the market. The NPR anchor conducting the interview asked how did Neiman Marcus allow you to do that and Sara said they didn’t tell her she could, but they didn’t tell her that she couldn’t. So, she just showed up with her table, anticipating at some point they make ask her to leave. Luckily, not one store asked her to leave.
She mentioned that, for small businesses, the answer you will receive will always be “No.” Many times, start-up brands are put on the back burners in the minds of vendors and customers because they aren’t well established. However, you still have to be able to promote, sell and produce your product with the same capabilities and vigor as the big guys. Instead of asking permission to do this, Sara says to just do what you have to do as the steward of your brand until people tell you that you can’t. There is nothing more important for a brand than getting your name and point of difference across to as many people as possible. So do what you must even if it means annoying your vendors and distributors a bit in the beginning. They will forgive you once your brand begins to sell and helps their businesses grow.
I think that all of these lessons and points were great and I hope you find them both useful and inspiring going into the New Year. I love hearing advice from people who have walked the walk and talked the talk. Have a Happy New Year and a wonderful rest of your week.
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5