You’re ready to start your solo business -- you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play -- but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be A… series, we highlight solopreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.
This month, we’re chatting with three personal stylists -- Monica Barnett of Blueprint for Style, Conni Jespersen of Art in the Find, and Nicole Longstreath of The Wardrobe Code -- to get their inside advice on how they got their solo businesses started.
So you wanna be a personal stylist? Here’s what you need to know...
Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.
Conni: A wardrobe stylist is a multi-faceted job. Most of what I do involves behind-the-scenes movement before the actual event or appointment with a client. A wardrobe stylist can do everything from organizing and styling a photo shoot/editorial to shopping for or with a client. The role requires you to pick up and drop off clothes for photo shoots, organize dressing rooms, racks, and closets, and build solid relationships with women who need help with style and organization. It's the job of a stylist to help empower women to feel motivated and confident about their wardrobe every day!
Monica: As a wardrobe stylist and image consultant, I'm part psychiatrist, part clairvoyant, and part shopper. I work with individuals and companies to understand what they want to say with their style message, and then work toward creating that visually using clothing and accessories.
Nicole: I teach the modern working woman how to define her style and build a wardrobe around the person she's destined to be.
How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?
Conni: The obvious road to start out is attending a fashion-based college to obtain a degree in fashion. But if you have a degree in another field, like I do, use that to your advantage and assist someone who is already established. It’s a great way to build knowledge, experience, and skill. Another idea is to attend night classes at a community college to slowly earn a degree, while interning, assisting, or working in a field closely related to what you want to do. (That's what I did!)
Monica: I started very organically by styling friends, and discovered that I had a natural eye for putting things together. It morphed into a career after leaving a six-figure consulting gig out of necessity. I wanted to help people feel good and I know that when you look good, you feel good and that can change the game! I think a great way to start is to "start where you are" and get exposure to the different facets of fashion -- and read, a lot (which I openly confess I don't do enough of).
Nicole: I got laid off from commercial interior design for the second time in three years, so I decided to start my own business. I had already been working on the side with a few friends, and it seemed like the perfect time to go out on my own!
Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?
Conni: An extrovert would thrive in this role! You have to love working, networking, and collaborating with people and be confident in your style in order to help people with theirs. A lot of what you're doing in building relationships. Styling is not about ownership but about teaching others how to rock their own personal style in their own way. You have to be competitive but not pushy. Be willing to listen, look around, and see what's happening out there then give it back to women in a way that women will feel empowered to do it themselves!
Monica: Someone who is creative and has tenacity because it isn't all sunshine and fun. It requires a business mind to think a few steps ahead, build alliances, and brand appropriately. You truly have to have a passion for what you do because people see/feel and feed off of it!
Nicole: You have to be able to see different types of style possibilities for different people. It's not enough to simply dress your clients up in trends.
What do people need before they can get started in your industry?
Conni: Obtaining a credential or degree in fashion is encouraged but not required. Taking courses in the fashion industry is helpful because you'll be more apt to understanding the in's/out's of the fashion industry.
From an entrepreneur perspective, securing a business license & domain name for your site/blog were first. Most cities have places you can go for free business advice. In San Diego, there is a non-profit called Score, that gives free business/finance advice for new entrepreneurs. (They helped me a lot.)
Nicole: People who want to get started need an interest in fashion and some sort of creative professional background, since there is a pretty substantial customer service component of the business. You're not just a "creative" - you're a designer who creates wardrobes for clients.
How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you've considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven't tried yet?
Conni: Most of what I've done so far has been word-of-mouth or advertising tips/style services on my blog. Networking has been the greatest way of building a client base. When meeting people, I love to chat about what I do, exchange business cards, and reach out to them again after we've met. I have yet to try advertising in print as a method of building customers. I am just not sure how effective it would be for me.
Monica: Currently, I do mostly referrals and use most introductions to share what I do and get people excited. I have considered advertising in certain magazines but haven't done it yet partly because it's expensive but also because I'm not sure it will provide the type of clients I need at this juncture.
Nicole: I create content that my ideal client wants, but can't seem to find from other sources. Establishing myself as an expert and flying my flag on certain opinions has attracted an audience that feels connected because we share ideas.
How do you normally work with clients or customers?
Conni: Mainly I work with clients 1-on-1 but there are also fun events that I participate in where I am giving style tips to small groups. I also offer virtual styling online when a client lives out of town/state. This is an affordable option for people who need a stylist but don't need a whole overhaul of their wardrobe!
Nicole: The majority of my clients go through my online course, Style Mastery. We have an online library of materials, a private Facebook group, and we do twice-monthly live calls. I also do have a few clients I work with locally in Orange County.
How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?
Conni: I was once told by someone that it's easier to lower your prices later than it is to raise them. When I was deciding how to price my hourly rates/packages, I took the following into consideration.
- what I would need to make in a day to live
- what a "client" who would hire me could afford
Monica: I backed into my pricing originally based on what I wanted to make. Over time, I have changed the model to price slightly higher than the competition and to focus on dollars per hour.
What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?
Conni: In the fashion industry, there are networking groups you can join such as FGI (Fashion Group International). It's a great idea to start networking as soon as possible to know what is going on in the community. Other style resources are WWD (Women's Wear Daily), which is an online and print publication that is the know-all of style forecasters, and style.com.
What is an industry-specific tool that you couldn’t live without?
Nicole: Polyvore. (Editor’s note: Polyvore is a “community powered social commerce website” where you can curate products and create collages.)
What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?
Conni: I don't know if it's surprising but collaborations with others in your field will broaden your knowledge and experience. A lot of what you'll do in the beginning involves free work on your part to show what you know. Collaborations will not only widen your community but it will exercise your creativity! Be in it to help others, not just yourself.
Nicole: Women will invest in everything else in their life before they invest in themselves (which is a shame!). To convert a styling client, it's best to find women who already have a specific reason why they want to define their style. Otherwise, you're constantly convincing them how and why they're worth the investment. I still do a bit of that with clients, but they need to have mostly come to the conclusion on their own already.
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P.S. Liked this post? You’ll love seeing a day in the life of Nicole Longstreath!