Good morning. Today I’d like to start a new mini-series called Designing a Business with Intention as a riff on both the purpose of MML, designing a life with intention, and taking into account the business side of Jess LC. Though I don’t have any grand scheme for this series, I plan to share the intentions I have for the company and how that relates to my business strategy.
Lesson: Just because you can grow your business in one way, doesn’t mean that you should.
I’d like to start by jumping into a very important turning point for my company.
Summer 2008: During the closing ceremonies for the Summer Olympics in Beijing, I lay sobbing on a bed in at the Palms in Las Vegas at the end of my first day debuting my Soc Chic collection at Magic, a fashion trade show. That August marked the first year anniversary of working Jess LC full-time. Up to that point in my life, everyone who knew about my company in high school and college thought the story was inspiring and what I had done was commendable for someone so young. Though the first year of business was certainly no cake walk, I was still accustomed to compliments and sometimes astonishment from friends and customers.
Until the first day of Magic.
The shoe designer who generously allowed me to share his booth space at the trade show was a veteran in the shoe industry. His decades of experience made him a wealth of information and advice. But I didn’t expect his (mildly) critical feedback. Rather than tell me how amazing it was that I was self-employed at 23, he looked at my company and told me how I should improve and expand.
In retrospect, the event itself wasn’t that negative. But in that moment I felt scared, uncertain, and overwhelmed. I was just 23! Didn’t he know that all I had accomplished to that point was pretty dang impressive?
So after crying and having a pity party for myself that evening, I was able to recognize that he didn’t mean to point out all I was doing wrong, he meant to show me how to do the right things going forward.
Among his advice was to do trade shows to get more store wholesale accounts and gain industry recognition. This is a standard way to grow a business, especially in fashion, and many well-established brands have taken this route with success. So I convinced myself that I should do trade shows for Jess LC. All the while ignoring the fact that having done Style Max in Chicago twice with my sales reps, participated at Magic with the shoe designer, and visited NYC’s shows – I knew I hated doing trade shows.
For me, the costs, set up, long show hours, and tear down were tedious and unpleasant. Besides talking to buyers about my jewelry, there wasn’t much that I actually enjoyed about the process. But by the end of the trade show three days later, I talked myself into thinking that I might actually like trade shows if I had the ability to decorate the booth with lots of white marble tables, gray walls, and cute lamps.
This (almost) was the end of the story.
Spring 2009: After starting MML and experimenting with online advertising for a few months, I took a moment to reflect and seriously ask myself what I wanted my life to look like. Did I want to be doing trade shows for the rest of my life? The answer, white marble tables or not, was “no.”
What did I really, really want my life to look like?
I wanted to help people through sharing my message of making under. I wanted to have a Westie puppy named Elsie who hung out with me all day while I worked. I wanted an assistant to come in half a day and fill an average of eight online orders and ship them. I wanted to write gift messages for online Jess LC customers. I wanted to work with store buyers directly. And so, for the past year and a half I have done everything I can to make that vision a reality.
And you know what? I couldn’t be happier.* Each day I know that I’m on a path that comes from a deep place within myself. I could have easily settled for the shoe designer’s vision for my company, but by asking myself what I really wanted to do, I realized that just because you can grow a business in one way, doesn’t mean you have to. Furthermore, I cannot deny that in the future I might decide to do trade shows again, but this time that decision will come from my heart, not from others’ expectations.
* Note: My life is far from perfect, and I’m certainly not happy all the time, but I do feel peaceful and purposeful overall.