I’ve been focusing lately (as many of you know) on just my Diploma in Personal Styling. That is my short but oh so jam packed journey of personal styling discovery for women. Some who want to go on and start working with other women, some who just want to take the journey themselves and finally crack the right feelings for their own style.
Whatever the journey for my lovely ladies, it is making me much more focused on trying to create more content focused on what I know will help them, in their businesses and in life. This is my 10th year in running my business and I have learnt a lot. Ups and downs, successes and failures…and through it all, I have learnt invaluable lessons along the way.
So today, I thought I would share some of the things I would have done differently were I starting from scratch today as a freelance personal stylist. I think this post will be relevant (and hopefully useful) for anyone thinking of going it along in a small business venture. I should also preface this by saying thankfully, I don’t look back with regret. Everything I did was for a reason at that time and I learnt more from mistakes I made than from successes. I also believe I would not be where I am now were it for all the choices I did make so my ultimate advice always to my students is to plough your own furrow. Believe in your ideas and be brave enough to take the first steps. That is always the most important thing.
Outfit: All old White blouse is from Zara. Blue cord are Urban Outfitters and were found in a charity shop. Silver heels are from River Island.
I would not create a brand or website in year one
As a perfectionist I had this idea when I started that EVERYTHING had to be perfect before I started. The perfect website. The logo that would be ‘the forever logo’. The perfect service. Price. The list goes on. But, most definitely the most costly of these was my website. Looking back I learnt more in year 1 and 2 about myself, my services, my ideal client and my brand than I could possibly know at the start. If I was starting now, I would start a facebook page and perhaps a very basic website via an easy to use website template (like Wix.com). I would make notes on all my learning after each consultation or service – the good the bad, what worked, what didn’t, feedback on price etc. I would then start to consider my website in year two.
I would start to build a mailing list from day one
Everyone will tell you this and I am not different. Think about 3 years down the road and you have the best idea for a new service or consultation. You perhaps have won an award or got a piece published in your local paper. Who do you tell? You’re mum?! You need to start on day one building an audience of women who are interested in what you are doing, saying and offering. Some might say but don’t you need a website to do this? NO! You can start to build a mailing list in lots of different ways!
Facebook now has lots of functionality for your followers to connect with you (I am not an expert but definitely this is worth exploring if you have a facebook page). Around the time I was launching my Autumn Diploma in Personal Styling last year I spent €40 on a facebook advert targeting women who were interested in fashion. I created a really simple style guide with my top 30 new items from the high street and all you had to do was sign up to my mailing list to receive the free PDF. I added 129 women to my mailing list that week.
There are tonnes of ways to think about your mailing list in addition to facebook. You should ALWAYS have a little notebook in your handbag so when you are out and about and you meet a lady and get chatting, are you inviting them to be on your mailing list? If you take a stand at your local fashion show, do you have an incentive for women to leave their email address. Think outside the box (don’t you just love this saying!) and remember it might seem like ‘just one email’ but over 10 years mine has grown to over 5,000. This is 5,000 women I can market to, create a newsletter for and who spread the love about my business.
I would say no more often
It is easy in the first few years to say yes to everything everyone asks you to do and to a certain extent you need to be open to ways you can build your experience, meet people and network. I did this too. But around year 3 I remember I was in this circle of just saying yes. I remember one occasion where I was asked to style a photoshoot (for free) for Fashion One TV. I jumped at the chance. Looking back it just wasn’t something I should have said yes too. The reason being the fashion one girl (a channel aimed at 18 – 24 girls interested in high fashion) is not my customer. My customer was at the time 30 – 55 and interested in making less mistakes when shopping and interested in getting to know her own style, shape and nuances better! A few months later I styled a shoot for Weight Watchers which appeared in the RTE Guide. Now that was a much better fit for me and for my brand.
I guess using your common sense here and also valuing your time is what I am talking about here. Yes, you want to get experience so if you say yes to things just know what YOU are getting from it.
Below: This was a definite yes event! A networking lunch with Deloitte where Deirdre O’Kane was doing a stand up set followed by a styling class by moi
The mindset shift I wish I made earlier
With so much noise in the online world now (and it wasn’t even that bad when I started) there is one mindset shift that will be invaluable for you personally and for your business. It took me about 3 – 5 years to get there and that is to believe whole heartedly in yourself and what your key goal is with the women you are lucky enough to work with. If you a) recognise the feeling and results you want to achieve for your client/s b) believe in yourself to get those results, a lot of the noise around you starts to feel less intrusive. It is so easy to start veering off your own path because you listen to too many people around you. Charging what someone else believes you should charge. Spending your time on the social media platforms someone else has told you are the best. Take advice but ultimately there comes a point when you’ve got to say, this is my business and these are my ideas and that are GOOD. Belief if yourself and your ideas is the single biggest reason the amazing women I meet who would make a difference in so many others lives don’t believe they have got the confidence to put themselves out there in that way.
A side note: The fashion industry has a lot to answer for in this regard. There is a horrible belief out there that in order to work in fashion or to help others you have to look a certain way (all of the time). You must be a certain age or wear certain clothes. I always remind my students to ask themselves who THEY would like to go to if they were hiring a personal stylist or personal shopper – 9 times out of 10 it is not the image the person they have built the image of in their head as to what a stylist looks like. Think about that
A couple things I would definitely spend money on
As a new business starting out, most of us have no money so it can be hard to know how to spread the money you do have thinly! I know, I’ve been there. Here is a shirt list of the things I believe are worth investing in:
1. Taking tax/ accounting advice. I am rubbish as accounts. Even though I have a business degree, I just always hated it. Also, I realised early on that spending all my time trying to figure it out was not a good use of my time. From year 2 in my business I invested in an accountant. It doesn’t cost me a huge amount (look for a small one person operation). At the start they helped me to make sure I was set up the right way (sole trader versus limited company), they helped me create a cashflow so I could set myself targets and be accountable to those targets. Once I reach the VAT threshold they also now do my VAT return every 3 months and my personal income tax once a year. They cost me around €800 for the year. MONEY WELL SPENT.
2. Invest in a good newsletter/ marketing platform like mailchimp. This helps you to build your mailing list through your website and also most importantly is how you will create a slick looking newsletter to communicate with the ladies on your mailing list. (Anyone who signs up to your mailing list through your website will be automatically be added to your central newsletter mailing list in mailchimp). There are lots of other options out there but I use mailchimp. It is free to use until you get to I think it is 1,000 people on your mailing list then they charge a small monthly fee. Definitely worth it.
3. Find a mentor. This does not have to cost you anything if you look in the right places! Look out for professional women’s groups like Going for Growth or your local women’s networking groups. Think about what areas you feel you are weak on or lack confidence in and perhaps you can swap services with someone? I was lucky enough to get a place on Going for Growth about 5 years ago and not only did I get free mentoring but I sat around a table each month with a group of amazing women who just like me, are starting out or growing and we were all able to help each other.