If you want to run a successful fashion business, it is important to start with why.
Over the weekend, I had a coaching session with a bridal designer in Nairobi, Kenya. She was doing well, had no issues with sales and in fact exceeded her target. So why did she book a coaching session with me? She needed help with her operations. She had followed me for years and I'm guessing she knew about my book How to Start a Clothing Factory.
We started the 2-hour session and after taking a few notes, the first question I asked her was 'Why did you start this business?' She was a bit lost so I followed up with the questions 'What did you hope to achieve?' and 'What did you want from this business?'
Still a bit lost, I gave her some examples using myself to help her out.
The 2 WHYs
Most times as business owners, especially creative entrepreneurs, we get caught up in the nitty gritty of creating the perfect product that we lose sight of why exactly we are doing what we are doing.
Why are you adding that extra bead on that garment? Why are you going for that fashion show? Why do you have to do this yourself? Can you outsource this instead?
Every decision you make has to align with the overall goals you have for your business and YOU! You decided to start this business for a reason. WHY?
Let's assume you started a business because your primary WHY was to spend more time with your family. And then you were faced with a decision of adding an extra bead to a dress you had to deliver to your client. As creative people we just want to do it because it will be perfect in our eyes - and it probably will be. However, in most situations will that decision affect your WHY?
Ask yourself - will that extra bead really make that much of a difference to your customer? Will they notice? If the answer is No, how much time will it take you to put that extra bead on? Will that prevent you from spending more time with your family?
If it will take you 1 extra hour to do so, then that could mean 1 less hour to spend with your family - which was why you started this business in the first place. So in the grand scheme of things, how important really is that extra bead you want to put on that dress if it makes no difference to the customer but will cost your time? Time that be spent more productively with your family.
The reason the WHY is so important is because it forces us all to think about why we do things. You should not be a slave to your business if that was why you quit your job in the first place.
You can't just start a business and hope that it works out. You need to know what makes sense and what doesn't and have a plan in place that will lead you down the path of success. If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?
Determining Your WHY
Your WHY is fundamental to the success of your business and for you as a person as well.
For the sake of simplicity, I'll split the WHY into 2 - External & Internal / Personal. If you focus too much on one, the other suffers so both have to be balanced in the long run.
Both WHYs should answer the following questions:
- Why did you start the business?
- What was your goal?
- What do you want to achieve?
- What do you want for yourself?
Once you have the answers to both WHYs, then you can structure your business to help you achieve the WHYs.
The External WHY
This is the WHY that talks about your mission. It is the reason that your business exists. It's what drives you every day and motivates you toward success. It's where the roots of your passion lay, and it's crucial for creating a successful brand because it will help keep you going when things get tough. It's what people typically call passion.
The external WHY will help you develop the products and services you need to reach your target audience.
In my case, my External WHY is to give fashion lovers a fast track to fashion business success by helping them navigate the frustrating and lonely world of fashion entrepreneurship and helping them turn their love for fashion into a viable and profitable business.
How do I do this?
By providing affordable and accessible fashion education, coaching and mentoring to enable them live their dreams and the lifestyle they want.
Everything I do is centered around this. By running a digital learning platform, I can reach them where they are just by the click of a button on their phone.
It was pretty for my client to articulate this clearly so we moved on to the other WHY - which directly affected her operations and why she booked the session.
The Internal WHY
This is the part where many of us shortchange ourselves. We do all that work and give up so much without realizing that the reason we set up the business was to help us satisfy our personal objectives. Your Internal WHY has to work hand in hand with your External WHY.
What is the point of running a thriving business without any peace of mind? Where all the money you make is spent on medication. Where you work so hard yet cannot pay yourself a salary now or in the foreseeable future? Where you become a slave to your business because if you dare take a break, everything grounds to a halt and comes crashing down.
To determine her external WHY, my client had to dig deep and answer the following questions:
- WHY was she running the business?
- What were her personal goals when she wanted to start the business?
- How did she want her present and future to look like?
- How would her business help her achieve that?
- HOW would this business help her achieve her personal goals.
ONLY when I knew what her personal WHY and her goals were could we begin to structure her operations to help her achieve it.
In my situation, I structured Martwayne around my lifestyle. I value my time above anything else and I love to travel. So my goal was to run a business that would allow me the flexibility to work from wherever I was in the world.
Once I knew what I wanted to achieve, I set out to create a structure that would enable my business run on autopilot. I structured the business to ensure:
- customers would get the services they wanted without me being physically present;
- the business could run without me being physically present in a specific location.
I moved my Courses online and outsourced a lot of my work to experts. I just coordinated their efforts. It increased my expenses and I made less money but doing that freed up more of my time.
For the Clothing Factory, I broke down my production process and outsourced where I could, giving my staff full ownership of their respective areas and I ensured a lot of the initial processes were done virtually. I wrote it all in my ebook How to Start a Clothing Factory.
The result? Clients didn't need to see me, the core of the work such as the pattern making was done by an expert so the fit was always near-perfect with minor alterations to the sample, the machinists did their work because there was a process, students didn't even know who I was but their feedback on their learning was excellent - which meant the instructors were doing a great job. I was able to travel for 3 months and the business continued in my absence. And after that, a whole year and business still continued in my absence.
Needless to say because I had created a digital learning platform before Covid hit, moving entirely online was an easy transition. Of course I hadn't planned on Covid but it all worked out.
With this example, she had a light bulb moment and was able to clearly articulated her internal WHY. Once we both knew what the end goal was, we developed a clear blue print for her factory which she will start implementing today.
What about YOU? What is your WHY?
I speak to lots of fashion entrepreneurs who are frustrated in their businesses. I've been there so I know how tough it can be. Like many others, I focused on the External WHY and totally neglected the Internal WHY. I found myself working so hard with nothing to show for it. Everyone else was happy but I was miserable. Until I decided enough was enough and went back to the drawing board.
Maybe you started your business because you wanted to do what you loved. But it goes just beyond what you love. When the realities of running a business, such as constant bills and salaries with no matching revenue, hit you in the face you begin to reconsider why you are doing what you are doing.
Or maybe your business is very profitable like many of my clients but you cannot take a break. Eventually you also begin to get miserable because you have missed the mark. You must know what the end goal is right from the very beginning so you can plan your entire structure to achieve that goal.
Think about what matters most to you. Think about the WHY. If your business doesn’t help you achieve your WHYs and your goals, then it might be time to reevaluate things or at least figure out how to change its structure.
If your goal is to travel and take as many vacations as you wish like me, then structure your business around that goal. That will be your driving force.
If your goal is to make enough money so you can take care of your aged parents who gave up everything to give you a great life, then structure your business in such a way that ensures you pay yourself a salary so you can do just that.
If you want more money and freedom, then focus on charging more for your work and working less, which means you can decide to have fewer clients but charge more money.
Simon Sinek put this perfectly in his book 'Start with Why'. In a story comparing how the Japanese and the Americans built cars in an assembly line , he wrote that the Japanese:
'engineered the outcome they wanted from the beginning. If they didn't achieve their desired outcome, they understood it was because of a decision they made at the start'.
If you know what your WHY is, I'd love to hear them. Do share them in the comment section below.
If you're not sure yet, don't worry! That's what this post is all about: helping you figure it out using my examples. I'm here to help you find real success.
If you need more in-depth guidance on how to structure your business to make more revenue and live the life and have the freedom you have always dreamed, click on the Whatsapp button to book a coaching session with me.
You are not alone in this journey and you don't have to be. So let's get started!
My passion is to make the whole fashion business simple and inexpensive for designers by sharing knowledge, tools and resources to help designers and fashion entrepreneurs discover their true potential so they can live the lives of their dreams.
Temi Williams ‧ Founder, Martwayne