I’m connecting with and talking to designers every single day. Because of that, I hear a lot. The good, the bad, and the misguided.
There are few things that I hear over and over again, from designers who so badly want to grow their businesses but inadvertently are waiting for someone else to help them do that. So I’ve decided to call attention to them and I’m not going to sugar coat anything.
Ah, this is the one I hear all the time. “Where do I find a sales rep?” Followed quickly by the clarification that they mean a commission-based sales rep. I’m going to be completely honest, commission-based sucks. While it’s tempting to believe that having a commission-based sales rep means that they will work harder for the sale, what happens more often than not is that the effort is actually less. Why? Because sales reps who are really good at their jobs and who have an impressive Rolodex of buyers on their speed dial, know their worth and charge for it. They don’t need to work on commission-only because they know that the relationships they’ve built with buyers (meaning that buyers will actually talk to them and are interested in pitches they send) is their bread and butter. As it should be. Connections and networks over which someone has influence is an asset and shouldn’t come free.
Take things into your own hands, designers.
- Sell on your website
- Put real marketing resources (money and time) toward your web sales
- Participate in pop ups
- Host events
- Sell at trunk shows
Then, if a sales rep seems right for you, use it to complement the work and efforts you’re already doing. Hiring a sales rep that charges a monthly fee but also gets results rather than thinking that all you need in order to grow your business is a sales rep or that once you get one the sales will come rolling in and your financial problems will be like a vague, cloudy dream that you can’t quite remember experiencing.
The only thing I hear more than “Where do I find a sales rep” is “I need an investor” . Let’s get one thing clear. Investors don’t invest money is clothing brands. That may be a generalized statement but for the most part it is completely true. Fashion technology, yep. Technology, sure. Fashion, nah. I know you may think that you’re brand will be the 2020 version of Tommy Hilfiger but no investor thinks that.
If this is hard to hear, I’m sorry for making you sad. But what is exciting to hear is that you are in control of your situation. You can take the reigns and start building something that maybe one day an investor will pay attention to. And then you have the ability to yay or nay your way through interested investors. But right now, your job is to work your ass off to build something worthy of an investor’s attention. And by worthy I mean something that can hit the multi, multi, millions.
Not interested in that? Then it’s your job to find creative ways to fund the business you want to build.
- Freelance side work
- Creative product development
Whatever you want, you need to make a plan for getting there that doesn’t depend on the interest of investors.
PR Agencies are not cheap. They also don’t guarantee anything. They can’t. I mean, they can, but they’d be lying. Pitching to the press is an ongoing process that sometimes results in write ups and sometimes does not. It’s also something that has no guarantee of bringing anything to your business if you do get the write up.
Paying for a PR agency is something that many designers think they’re ready to do really early on, because, well, if you get mentioned in a magazine, then chances are your business will grow exponentially, right? Not really. Sure, some brands get a piece of press that does wonders for business. Others get a feature that brings little more than some extra content for their social media posting.
The point is this. It’s a bad idea to hire a PR agency when you’re not ready. More on that here.
Now, this shouldn’t be confused with getting press. I’m talking about the act of hiring someone to go after that press for you. Believing that you can pass off this part of the business, never really thinking about it too much, and that the coverage will come pouring in.
If you don’t have the money to pay a seasoned agency with an impressive history of placements, the time to work very closely with that agency to craft and build a story about your brand, and the patience and budget to keep working with them for many many months (anything less than six months is pushing it), then you should stop right there. Instead, create your own PR plan.
- Tell you own story
- Connect with podcasts, blogs, and indie mags
- Pitch guest posts
- Create a blogger/influencer outreach strategy
With effort, time, patience, and persistence you can do your own press outreach and see results.
Getting into a department store is not nearly as clinching for your business as you may think. They are tough cookies with their buys; feeling completely comfortable sending charge-backs for things they haven’t sold and holding you financially responsible of you don’t box up their shipment properly. Read more about all that here.
Once you get in, keep in mind that you get a very small space, mixed in with a whole lot of other brands. It’s not easy to stand out and it’s something that’s causing well known brands like Misha Nonoo to ditch stores altogether.
If you want to get in department stores, that’s great, and an exciting goal to have. But don’t let yourself believe that by simply getting into department stores, your sales issues will all be solved.
I’m not talking about sourcing trade shows (which are free for you), I’m talking about sale trade shows (which are expensive for you). To be clear, I don’t mean that trade shows are bad for you or that they’re never a good thing for your business. I mean that they are not necessary. You don’t need them in order to meet, connect with, and sell to buyers. Especially because there is no guarantee that that will happen. Buyers attend shows, yes. But they almost always have an agenda. They have to meet first with their list of brands they already know they want to buy from and currently stock in their stores. After that, they may have some space or budget left for new brands but more often than not, they’re not making decisions on the spot. They browse, take lookbooks and line sheets and get in touch if they’re interested.
So, if you have the budget to take a hit on the cost of the booth, displays, and marketing materials if you don’t sell a single thing and selling wholesale is a major part of your business plan and revenue equation, then participating in a trade show may be a good idea.
But if that’s not the case, don’t let yourself feel as though you’re missing out on something important. Remember that there are other ways to connect with buyers, so focus on those.
- Social media. Roll your eyes if you must but, when thoughtfully done, social media is one of the best ways to not only get the attention of buyers but to get to know them and give them the opportunity to get to know you. This means not pitching, not tagging them constantly in pics that have nothing to do with them, and not posting generic, thoughtless comments like “love this!” or dropping a red heart emoji. Instead, posting pics that are some how thoughtfully tied into their store or mentioning them in a caption or comment that might actually bring something to their day or present them with something that’s useful.
- Walk Ins. Get out of your studio and walk into stores. Check out the kind of brands they carry, ask who the buyer is, come back if she’s “not in”, email a follow up, and don’t stop until you hear, “No.”
- Trade Publications. I know it’s not as sexy to be mentioned in a trade publication as it is to be featured in Elle, but if you’re really after buyers, why not put some of your editor pitching efforts into industry press? Buyers are reading.
I see so many designers throwing themselves at the mercy of others, believing this is what they need to make it big. Nobody is saying that these things are easy. Nobody is saying that they don’t require consistency, pushing past fear, and finding yourself out of your comfort zone. What I’m saying is that this is what’s necessary to have a business. These are things that you can do so that you’re not relying on others to make or break your business.
I hope this advice was helpful and encouraging. I wrote it because I want you all to see that you can and should rely on yourself to follow your dreams and reach your goals.
P.S. If you’re on our mailing list, you already know this but just in case, we’re currently accepting new members to the StartUp FASHION Community. Enrollment is open until September 13th at 10pm EST and then we’re closed again until next year. So if you’ve been thinking about joining us, now’s the time! Join here.