8 Things I wish I knew Before Starting my Fashion Business

If you haven’t read my previous post on how I started up you can read that here. A year and a half ago I started my fashion business. I was just out of college, hyper and optimistic, without a care in the world, just knowing that I wanted to do the one thing I loved – design. 

The first few months were amazing. My parents helped me out with some seed money and I got orders from a couple of close friends and family, and the journey had begun! 

It started with these Bollywood-esque dream sequences and montages in my head of a perfect work-life balance…. me sketching and designing all day… me delivering products to happy customers… my brand page being super active on social media… spending the weekend with my friends because, you know, I earned it….. and then reality hit me in the face! 

Here are the things I wish I knew before I started up! Hopefully they will help you plan your business better, save some time, and if not anything else, at least know that what you’re going through is normal and you’re not alone.

1. Doing what you love does not always involve doing what you love : 
Remember what I said about the dream sequence of me sketching and designing all day? Yeah… Well… Not going to happen!! *sigh* 

Running a business is always going to be a lot more work than you expect it to be. Depending on how hard you are expecting it to me, you’re going to have to multiply that by 20, 100 or 1000. You will spend maybe 15-20% of your time with your passion/skill, and the rest of your time trying to successfully run your business. 

Odds are, if yours is a small startup like mine, you’re going to be doing most of the work by yourself in the beginning, because you are bootstrapping and can’t afford to outsource. That includes marketing, managing social media, strategising, selling, and crazy things like going to the post office to send out documents and/or products. 

With time you get used to it and it becomes part of routine, and you actually start getting good at it as well, but in the beginning.. if you’re not expecting it, it can be quite a slap in the face! 

2. You can’t make everyone happy : 
Pleasing everyone is something you’re going to want to do in the beginning. Because he/she is one of your first customers and customer is king, right? Well, that’s true! You must always listen to your customers. But you need to learn when to say no. 

The fear of losing business is going to make you want to go out of the way to fulfil your customers wants. And that’s perfectly ok.. as long as you’re not harming your own business in the process. I made that mistake. But you’ve got to know that if that customer truly knows your value he/she is going to understand if you need to increase your rates for a customised/specialised service. Be open and frank about it. 

3. The importance of a community : 
I can not stress enough the importance of a community. Participate. Open up. I’m a shy person myself but I knew I needed to start talking if I wanted my startup to be all it is capable of being. It can be quite a daunting task to put yourself out there, but trust me, it’s going to do nothing but good. 

I soon found the Startups Club group on Meetup.com, and started regularly attending their meetings. The value I got out of it has been unbelievable. And more than anything, being part of a community forms a major support factor on bad days and can help you pick yourself back up. Imagine having a family of entrepreneurs who understand exactly what you’re going through and who might be able to help you when you’re lost. That’s exactly what it’s like. 

Another amazing community to be part of for fashion entrepreneurs is Startup Fashion. If you can’t afford to sign up for membership at the moment, you could at least subscribe to their newsletter. They publish some great articles that’ve been extremely helpful in my journey!

4. Think less, Do more :
This has become my mantra lately. For months together I kept thinking about all the things I should be doing, like being more active on social media, running a blog, and a lot more.. I always knew they would be very good for me as well as my business. But I just never got down to really doing it.

Sure, there were some days when I’d get all charged up and do it, but then other “more important” work would crop up, and that was that. But you’ve got to learn to manage your time well. When you’re running a business, nothing can take a back seat. Every job is equally important. 

You know your business best. If you think there’s something that you need to do that would add value to your business, then treat that job as unavoidable. Make time for it every single day.

Procrastination is the enemy. Avoid it. Run as far away from it as possible. 

5. Don’t be afraid to charge more : 
A lot of us enter the fashion industry wondering why designers charge as much as they do for products. We think “I won’t be like them. I will provide designer products at low rates”. But, over time you will understand why exactly things cost as much as they do.

Particularly if you are trying to build a premium designer brand and want to provide high standards of quality, do not be afraid to charge what your products are worth. There’s always the fear that people won’t buy from a brand they don’t know if they see it as being overpriced.

But you’ve got to understand your target audience and understand what they’re willing to pay for what you have to offer. If providing the quality you do means charging a little more, explain to your customer why it costs as much as it does. Be transparent. Market your brand accordingly. Like I said earlier, don’t try to please everyone. 

6. Running out of money is part of the journey : 
You’re bootstrapping. But you made a plan, right? You budgeted perfectly. How could anything go wrong? Ah, but it will. Unexpected expenses are going to be popping up and giving you nightmares soon enough! 

You planned to launch your collection on a particular day. But then a failed prototype took you back to the drawing board, you ran out of materials, or your stitcher fell ill and didn’t show up for 5 days straight. Unexpected delays cost you a lot of time, and you’ll learn soon enough that time is money. Loads of money.

Be prepared for this and leave room for delays. Plan your finances accordingly. But even if you do run out of funds, you’re going to find a way. You’re going to push and push to get it done because you believe in what you’re doing, and there’s nothing more rewarding than that feeling. 

7. Having other income sources helps :
If you need to, get a part-time source of income. This could mean doing some freelance jobs or a part-time job. Do not take it to mean that you are failing at your business. It will help relieve some of the stress of running out of money. Elance and Freelancer are some good sites to find freelance jobs.

But if you are doing this, don’t forget to prioritise. Set aside time for your part-time work and don’t forget that your business is your main focus and comes first. Time management is key.

8. Don’t work without a plan, but nothing will go according to the plan :
Plan, plan, plan. Do not start without at least a brief business plan. Plan what you need to do, where you need to get, how long it will take you to get there, your finances, and everything else that your business revolves around.

But at the same time, remember that nothing will ever go exactly to your plan. Understanding when to pivot and when to persevere is very important. Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup talks a lot about pivoting. 

There are going to be a lot of pivot points as the days and months roll by but you’ve got to handle it with a calm mind. Do not get emotional about it, because that will affect your judgement. Clear your mind and think things through before making any decision. 10 mindful minutes every day helps immensely! πŸ™‚

As scary as it might get at times, don’t forget to have fun! Every single day! After all, your startup is your baby! And you, my friend, are one of the brave ones! 

What challenges have you faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them? Let me know in the comments! πŸ™‚


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