Breaking into any industry – be it technology, entertainment or fashion -- has its obstacles. What makes sense in a startup scenario is likely relevant whether you are making software or sarongs. And while I’m not an expert in the fashion industry, my experience helping startups build and scale their businesses is as relevant to high fashion as it is to high tech.
Here are 10 key considerations to get you started on the road to success:
1. Do your research. Is there a need for your product or is the market saturated? How large is the market for your product? Is the price point right? Taking the time to do the research will set you up for success and longevity.
2. Customer experience comes first. Your customers want solutions to their problems. They will likely care more about how they look or feel in your product than the product itself. It’s not about the cashmere sweater alone, it’s about the person wearing it and meeting the needs of their lifestyle.
3. Understand the process from start to finish. As an entrepreneur, you have to understand what your customers are buying and experiencing from beginning to end. This includes the look, feel and functionality of any shop or online retail space that highlights your brand.
4. Know your business model. A business owner needs to understand the whole business model from the creation of goods to the end economics. If business is not your strong suit, brush up on your skills by taking a business course, or seek the advice of an adviser or industry expert who can point you in the right direction.
5. Focus on what sets you apart and build your brand accordingly. Understand what your unique value proposition is and run with it. Focus your attention on excelling in one or two areas only. As your business grows, there will be time to strengthen your direction and develop additional ways of expanding your enterprise.
6. Secure your funding. Before setting out on a business venture, ensure your funding is secure. Friends and family will likely be the primary investors in your startup. As you grow, professional investors will want to see evidence beyond passion before investing in your idea. Set the groundwork early to secure substantial investments later on.
7. Find the right platform. Think about whether a physical storefront or online shop makes sense for your business. Websites like Kickstarter and Etsy are great places for entrepreneurs to test the waters before committing to a retail location.
8. Create a logistics strategy. Few entrepreneurs have the luxury of a dedicated shipping department. Working with established logistics partners, like DHL, can help you establish a clear strategy. DHL’s Friends of Fashion program provides discounts and tools for young startups. Source business opportunities like this to manage your growth and keep costs down.
9. Where is your market and how will you reach it? At first, your customers will not come to you - you will have to go to them. Find out where your target customers are shopping – be it online or in trendy boutiques -- and build a strong presence there. Create a marketing and branding strategy to help reach new customers and retain current ones.
10. Be social media savvy. Social media can help you reach your target market for free, as opposed to purchasing advertising, which is expensive. Take advantage of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to build your customer base, brand and reputation.
Mark Zimmerman advises entrepreneurs in the information technology, communications and entertainment (ICE) practice at MaRS. He is member of the MaRS web business advisory panel, an adviser to the New Ventures Projects at the Richard Ivey School of Business and a panelist on the DHL Fashion Industry Panel held at World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto.