Startup Diaries: The Challenges of Being a Fashion Entrepreneur

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As the designer and producer for my couture online boutique www.coralturner.co.uk I didn’t anticipate to what extent I would find myself becoming an ‘online internet marketing guru’ in the making. 

I launched my one-of-a-kind online boutique in 2011, and it was mid 2012 that the website started to gain exposure and sales.  So, to those fashion entrepreneurs out there and others in a start-up position, when it appears that the only voice you can hear as acknowledgement to your work is your own, and traffic to your website is practically non-existent, don’t despair.  As a sole trader unless you have a marketing budget that runs into thousands of pounds and your knowledge of internet marketing puts you at equal standing as those who invented the World Wide Web, you have a huge learning curve ahead of you, and it will take time.

The great thing is - it is not impossible as there are others who have gone before you and are achieving great success; you just have to up your game plan.  

On my initial launch with the building of the website, apart from sending out brochures and letters of introduction to varying parties, I did for the most part think my work here is done.  The garments for the website were originally modelled on mannequins, and as fate would present herself to me, I met a film producer who had worked for the major fashion events, in Paris, London and Milan.  Having reviewed my website he kindly told me that in order for the garments to come alive they would be better portrayed on models, thus it was back to the drawing board as I researched this avenue.  Following on from his advice and working with a great photographer the difference was phenomenal, that was change number one, with many, many more to follow. 

The next ‘phenomena’ and for me I use that word in its truest sense, was SEO, Keywords, Social Media, Page Rankings, Online and Offline Marketing, plus a little HTML code thrown into the mix, because I didn’t already have enough on my plate!  SEO (search engine optimisation) was a different world, with backlinks, meta tags, headers. Keywords brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘needle in a haystack’; we are talking about the fashion industry here, where just typing in the word jersey (one of my fabric specialities) a minimum of 6 million searches using that particular keyword takes place, and as a new comer to the table you will find it difficult to get a seat.  

So you have to get creative and dig deeper for the words and phrases that express who you are and reach out to your audience. 

In amongst all of this my website was looking OK, but not necessarily great in my eye, here too there would be numerous times of going back to the drawing board, tweaking, adding too and taking away from the site.  Also as part of the marketing strategy it is suggested that I have to learn about Social Media, Facebook, Linkedin, Blogs, YouTube and writing Fashion/Style articles.  Plus there was the constant bombardment from other sales/marketing media, all promising to wave a magic wand and place you on the first page of Google.  Another great piece of advice I was given, if those that make these promises are not themselves on the first page of Google, keep your money in your bank account, cashflow and cash are not only King but vital for any business and whilst setting up and thinking of saving funds, forget a rainy day, just think thunderstorms, there is a lot of money going out! 

It’s also the people you meet along the way that will make a huge difference to the journey, a fantastic lady I met Sammy Blindell of Ice Innovation, Sammy’s speciality is brand and web design, positioning your companies’ mission statement whilst building up the credibility of your brand.  I learnt about outsourcing and not trying to do everything myself, which was taking me away from the core of my business, sewing and designing, with this in place there was more balance coming into play. 

I found myself enjoying and understanding the marketing behind an online business, people have to know that you exist, as a small company it was not my intention to try and be all things to all women, thus I had to define my niche more, the young lady/woman whose sense of dress and style identifies with the designs I create, it was not just learning about which magazines she reads, but her politics, her mission statement, her views on life, and making that connection. 

You have to put yourself out there, have faith, patience, perseverance and trust your gut instinct, which is what happened to me New Years Eve December 2011.

I went to my local newsagents and looking at the magazines I picked up a copy of Today’s Black Woman – Style Report, an American celebrity lifestyle magazine.  I read the opening address by the editor Adrienne Moore and felt she was speaking to me personally.  I decided to write to her, and a month later I received an email from their Style Director saying they had received my correspondence and would be interested in placing my work in their magazine.  Thrilled was the understatement.   

Some years back my work had been featured in Sewing World where I was described as a ‘Couture Queen’ because of my love for fine detail and the craft, however, now we were talking fashion and lifestyle a different audience; in August 2012 my work was featured in Today’s Black Woman in the section ‘Designer Profile from a Global Perspective’ by Ionia Dunn Lee Cisse, change was on the horizon and I received great feedback from readers. 

I still was not savvy with social media, in fact you could hear me screaming every time it was mentioned, the next golden nugget of advice ‘be your authentic self’ talk to and with your audience, also put a plan in place of how you are going to post especially on Facebook, it not only became easier, but I started to have fun posting fashion tips and quotes, sharing my work and that of others on Coral Turner Couture the business page of Facebook. 

I also realised that I was subscribed to, far too many marketing organisations all of which offering great tips and pointers of what to do, however, sometimes you can feel as though you are drowning with too much information and need to know when to pull back.  Yet throughout all of this there was still the issue of SEO and the groupies that came under that heading. 

I then came across Diane Bertolin a fashion guru, stylist and writer whose company The Collective Publishing Company would help me to make sense of behind the scenes of internet marketing, and most importantly for me, whilst they cover many areas, having a dedicated sector that specialises in fashion is vital to my business.   My passion for sewing and designing is equal to Diane’s love for fashion and the industry.  I read Diane’s fashion articles and I felt as though I was sitting down with a girlfriend, who has my best interest at heart saying to me gently ‘yes your bum does look big in that outfit, however, what you picked before looked great’; a major find in the precarious business world of fashion.  

So, where am I now in the scheme of things?  Well, the business is gaining momentum and growing, the challenges are different, but they are not in the least daunting. I’ve learnt that the key components to your success are Vision, Focus, Determination, Constant Learning and Faith. You have to truly believe, and know that whilst in the beginning that light at the end of the tunnel is an occasional flicker, it will in time, provided you stay the course, be a beacon that shines on opportunities.  Trust your instincts, and please make sure that you have fun. 

Don’t be afraid of how many times you have to go back to the drawing board, as each time you do, you are not only getting better and perfecting your craft, you are also growing and learning. 

More importantly you are making your dreams a reality, and isn’t that what you set out to do in the first place? 

To your continuous success.

N.B: I would also like to point out, that there have been many friends and clients who have helped me grow my business, and it is only due to the context of this article that I have not named each and everyone, my thanks to you all, is more than words. 

Coral Turner is a fashion entrepreneur with an online boutique http://www.coralturner.co.uk.  In addition to her design work she also writes articles in relation to empowering self image and confidence through the clothes that we wear.

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