As an avid outdoor athlete, I planned to hike and kayak throughout much of my pregnancy, so I was shocked to find that no one made outdoor apparel for the maternity market. When I lost my position as an anthropology professor to the economic downturn, I took up the challenge of making clothing that empowers and inspires women to stay active and healthy throughout pregnancy…and beyond. Here’s my advice for other women thinking about starting a business.
- Solicit feedback. Many aspiring entrepreneurs guard their great idea for fear someone will steal it. But instead of keeping it a secret, they should be shouting it from the rooftop! Not only is sharing your business idea the best way to find out if it really has legs, but start-ups need supporters to succeed. For me, the enthusiastic responses I received helped convince me to give Mountain Mama everything I had. And in the process, I found people who could give me great advice.
- Collaborate. Success breeds success. While you’re waiting to become a household name, do your best to pair up with people, companies, and organizations that already are. Create strategic partnerships with non-profit organizations whose work is consistent with your values, or with companies that provide related products or services. Use these collaborations to promote each other through social media or other channels, or even share valuable resources like mailing lists and sales reps. For me, trade shows have been a great way to connect with the people who run the companies I most admire.
- Find a muse. Stay focused. When I began designing my line of maternity clothing, I had to fight the urge to produce too much at once. I realized I needed a muse, someone whose needs could both inspire my designs and keep my creativity on target. But the athletic, adventurous women in the skiing and climbing magazines were too abstract. I kept coming back to a rock climbing partner from college. She bike commutes across San Francisco every day, rain or shine, and spends weekends kayaking, backpacking, and rock climbing – all while maintaining a distinctively sporty, feminine aesthetic. Once I focused on her, the rest was easy. Whether I’m running out of ideas or getting lost in too many, I simply ask myself, “What would Emily wear?”
- Attitude trumps experience. We all know there are things we can excel at that we just haven’t gotten to try. When you run your own business, you get the chance to see past the résumés to people’s potential. Since my business caters to outdoorsy mothers-to-be, I hire sales reps primarily based on their lifestyle, and it’s paying off! They represent the brand 100% and bring extra loyalty and enthusiasm because we’re a company that appreciates that family comes first.
- Be your brand. As an entrepreneur, you are your brand. Be conscious of your role as your company’s most important ambassador. Project success in how you dress and act. If you’re on Twitter and Facebook (and you should be), use them to reinforce your brand identity, and don’t post things that are overly personal or controversial. Splurge on professional photography so the world can see you at your best in a setting that reflects what you do. I’m embarrassed to say how many media outlets asked for pictures of me hiking with my baby before I finally booked a photo shoot.