Last fall, when I was sitting at my (beige lunatic) desk, trying to figure out how to make something of this “American-made” obsession I’d developed, I came across the Martha Stewart American Made Workshop. I’m generally not much of a Martha (I dream of wrapping presents just so and perfectly folding my linens… but I actually give cash and shove our sheets in a bin in the back of a closet) but seeing that Martha was devoting attention to American Made helped me realize that this movement was not going away. No matter what, I’d be there next year!
When the time came to register for the conference, I got really nervous. (Would it be worth it? Would I meet anyone? What would I wear? I hate networking! Better start doing my Tracy Anderson videos before I can go! were a continuous thought loop…) I bought a ticket immediately, so that I wouldn’t talk myself out of it, but still second-guessed my decision and began to come up with reasons not to go. When Matt found out he’d have meetings in New York at the same time, my excuses ran out and I knew I was going.
And I’m SO glad I did. It’s taken me too long to write this recap… the conference and the meetings I had during my time in New York were hugely inspiring and motivating – but I needed some time to process my thoughts before I could put it all together for you.
We had the opportunity to learn from several amazing speakers on the topics of: Women in Business, Doing Well While Doing Good, The Digital Toolbox, Creative Communities, and Branding. Though the topics were quite different, my major takeaways were essentially the same. So instead of breaking each panel down, bit by bit, I’m just going to speak to those. Below is a recap of my takeaways… over time, I’ll be sharing additional context into these lessons and how I’m embracing them with TAE.
I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but each panel seemed to hit on the idea that nothing can happen if you don’t take the first step. And the next step, and the next step… The first part is deciding what you want to do – and sometimes this takes a few tries to get right. Martha Stewart was a stockbroker before she became a caterer before she became MSL!
Next, it’s just doing it. Too often we get stuck writing the business plan or working on perfecting our product, but really we should be building a minimum viable product (MVP), pressure testing that, and perfecting as we go. People are also often afraid to share their ideas, but in reality, no one has time to steal an idea. Execution is paramount, so if it is your idea, you’ll be the only one to do it right.
When you are stupid enough and you don’t over think things, things can happen. – Fern Mallis
BUILD GREAT THINGS
Although you can (and should!) start with a minimum viable product, ultimately you need to create a really, really great product. This applies to physical products, blog content, user experiences, everything… you need to put yourself in your customer/reader/user’s shoes and create an end-to-end cohesive and positive experience. There’s so much noise in the marketplace today, you need to set yourself apart and add value if you want to succeed.
Things to think about: does your customer understand your shipping process? Do you send hand-written notes and respond quickly to customer questions? Does your site load quickly and have up-to-date links?
Lead with fashion, then price point, then quality, then social mission. That’s not why people buy. But that is why people will buy a second time. – Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker
Authentic social causes are fantastic, but they can’t be the sole benefit of your product – social mission is not the primary factor in the purchase decision tree. But, research has shown that IF quality and value proposition are aligned, millenials are more likely to support the brand with an authentic mission.
BE AUTHENTIC. BE NICE
There are no rules. You make up your own rules. Do the right thing. Work hard. And somehow it will work. – Bobbi Brown
When selecting a mission or building a company, you need to follow your heart and do what you are passionate about. If you believe in what you are doing, you will follow through when things get difficult.
Next, you need to determine what is authentic for your brand – you should know and embrace the four words that define your brand. If you make the decisions for your business through the lens of your brand, you will always protect the integrity of your product… and your brand. As Lauren Bush Lauren said, people tend to hold those who do good to a higher standard – and will attack accordingly. There are always compromises to be made, but if you act in the best interest of your brand, you will do the right thing.
Last, you should always be nice. Thank you cards and replies were mentioned in every single panel. Being nice will get you farther than you could ever imagine.
BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY
You are cool for an instant. If you don’t support your community and your neighbors, you have nothing. – Heath Carr, Shinola
Your goal is most likely commerce – you want people to read your site, buy your product, and share it. But for this to happen, you need to be a part of the community, engaging and inspiring your supporters so that they continue to support you.
Talk to people and build relationships – you never know what will come out of them. Bobbi Brown made her first sale while chatting with a woman at a cocktail party who turned out to be a cosmetics buyer, Tracy Anderson discovered her muscular structure concept while speaking with a doctor about her ex-husband’s injury and built her research around that to develop her technique.
Your community will not only support you, but will also help you to develop your brand. As you tell people your story and what you want to accomplish, you’ll believe it more and more.
BE COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
Everything you put into it is what you get out of it. I could have done nothing, but I did everything. – Bobbi Brown
We hear (and read) this all the time, but it’s true. And it came up in every panel. Most people don’t set out to build enormous corporations. Each person had an idea that they focused on and persisted – learning as they went and embracing new opportunities and challenges. I don’t know anyone who will tell you that it was easy to build and run their successful business – it’s just not. But the more you embrace discomfort, the more you learn.. and the better you do. At the end of the day, even when you are a purpose driven entity, it’s just business.
Business is not worth crying over. It’s worth working over. Cry about the important things. – Martha Stewart