This post is part of a new series on conversations worthy of attention.
Sara Blakely has had quite an interesting career and story#. She founded Spanx in her late 20s. The company made $4 million in sales in its first year (2000) and $10 million the following year (2001). In 2012, Forbes named Blakely the youngest self-made woman billionaire in the world.
That's a span of more than ten years. A lot happens in ten years. Imagine staying with an idea and working to develop it for that long. In a recent interview at CNBC, Blakely says, “if you're starting a business, it's important to keep these three things as priorities. They will keep you honest.”
1. Lead with the question “why?” … why has it always been done this way? Could it be better?
2. Stay vulnerable and authentic in your message
3. Be yourself through the process
The second piece of advice is useful for building a brand, we'll get back to it in a moment. I wanted to address the advice part first. We're advice junkies, looking for people who've made it in business to give us a silver bullet.
There's no silver bullet. There's work, staying with an idea and developing it, and being flexible about what comes of it. The part about failure is harder to internalize while you're failing. Nobody wants to hear you're failing before you're successful.
Make millions first, then you can talk about failure. But while you're failing is when you most need advice. That's the vulnerable part#:
I still feel this way 18 years in. Anyone else feeling this way? The important thing is that you keep going. Believing in yourself, and pursuing your dreams/ideas is not for sissies, that’s for sure.
The ups and downs are real (and I'm not even talking about your own mental ups and downs). I’m talking about the daily, sometimes hourly, ups and downs in an entrepreneur’s journey.
Mindset is everything. So what are you doing to help improve your mindset?
Vulnerability is how the entrepreneur's journey looks a lot like the creative journey. Maybe you're not an entrepreneur, but chances are your work requires creating—a process that can become frustrating in similar ways.
The thing you end up making may look nothing like the thing that was in your head. But unless you work on it, talk about it with others, observe how they interact with your idea in a prototype, you won't move it forward.
Building a brand involves many aspects of the creative process:
- We don't come up with it from day one, fully formed.
- Our colors may not line up with the impression we want to create in our industry.
- The name may be off, difficult to search, not descriptive enough, or too clever for our market. I worked in an organization that was operating in the #1 industry in the U.S. and chose a hard-to-pronounce French name to sell in North America.
- The tagline might be a stretch, or not descriptive of the business based on what customers and clients buy and want.
- We might be trying to promote a complex logo, then wonder why we're not competing at parity with companies we consider industry peers.
- Often we want to skip steps, rather than taking a step back and learning about how our buyers research options.
Mindshare is as important as mindset to set a business up for success. The company name, colors, logo and tagline (as appropriate) are part of our story. They're as important as how we tell the story in words and visuals. What we communicate depends on a lot contextual cues, but it relies on what the business is and does—the vulnerable and authentic aspect.
Sometimes people cannot afford working with a professional or an agency. I had an exchange recently with a small firm that was focusing on luxury travel and was starting with some tactics. It's important to get going, just like Blakely did with Spanx (she was working out of her home).
At some point, we may want to scale, or participate in a competitive set. Then we can make different decisions and seek help.