Things Learned from Building a Lifestyle Brand
I was recently asked for advice by someone venturing out into the tough world of building a clothing & lifestyle brand. I thought I’d share some of my insights for anyone else thinking of starting out. Feel free to comment with other suggestions I might have missed for the new entrepreneurs out there :)
Q. What should I be focused on this early ?
A. I learned the hard way that t-shirt companies are a dime a dozen with a very low barrier to entry. Just about anyone can create a design, print some shirts, & call themselves a brand. Because of this, it’s fairly difficult to sell enough shirts to make the profit needed to stay afloat. Focus on finding low cost, high margin items you can order in smaller quantities. Supplement your clothing sales with accessories & other products that will help you make more profit per transaction. I learned this lesson the hard way & eventually sold items like wayfarer shades, keychains, hat pints, cinch bags, etc.
Q. What marketing strategies work best on a limited budget?
A. Simple. Focus on what’s free & leverage that to your advantage. Some decent options include:
- Building a relationship with bloggers, YouTubers, & people with larger followings on social media in your niche. Offer them free products. Some of them will feature/promote you, some won’t. But if your product is solid, people will talk about it. It’s inevitable. For example, after sending out a bunch of free stuff to blogs & DJ’s, Billionaires was eventually featured as the 2nd best EDM clothing line by Do Androids Dance in 2013.
- Growing your Snapchat following by continually telling your brand’s story. Focus on connecting with people on a personal level & developing a relationship. Starting out it’s imperative that you know your customers well. I would even venture to say that you should work hard at knowing them personally. Know their names & something about them. You don’t necessarily need to be great friends, just be invested in them personally. At the end of the day, customers are people and they’re people who don’t want to be sold to. As you build a following through genuine & authentic relationships, your brand will begin to take a turn & your sales will improve.
- Build out an email subscriber list that you can direct to your products with exclusive content (1st priority), discounts & deals. This is one area that I struggled at in particular. It’s easy to overlook building an email list in 2016, but people still check their email & if yours are compelling enough & provide value to your subscriber base, you’ll be able to build off of that to generate sales.
- Consider setting aside a small budget to promote specific products or deals through Facebook or Instagram ads. Facebook’s pretty worthless when it comes to free marketing, but it’s advertising platform is a marketing dream. You can get so granular with retargeting, that you really shouldn’t ignore it. It takes money to make money. Period.
Q. What would you have done different at this point knowing what you know?
A. Knowing what I know now, I would never have…
- Stocked up on female sizes & styles. Girls are much pickier & harder to sell to in my opinion. I’ve had so much wasted inventory that I eventually sold at a loss because the girls I was trying to sell to rarely purchased online (or offline) unless they could try things on. If your goal is to create female oriented clothing, then by all means sell girls clothes. I just personally haven’t experienced much success with it.
- Spent so much money on things like premium quality banners, stickers, & packaging. Initially I thought creating a unique product experience with custom packaging & stickers would connect well with my customer base. I spent a lot out the gate that I shouldn’t have on things that didn’t impact sales or the lifetime value of a customer.
- Wasted energy, time, & money building a large(ish) following on social media (specifically Facebook). Right now, Billionaires has over 27,000 likes on Facebook that I worked incredibly hard for. This number basically means nothing now. Especially in 2016. Numbers are not nearly as important as they used to be. Focus on building a community around your brand with loyal customers who continue to come back & buy from you. It’s a whole lot easier to sell to people who know you & your product already, than to sell to new people every time you release new designs.