Are you a creative entrepreneur? Martha Stewart’s AmericanMade 2014 summit was a meeting of the best. Whether you are a designer, writer, crafter, artist, if you planned to make your passion your living, this was the conference for you.
This summit didn’t specialize in specific skills but provided valuable inspiration for people at the top of their game in different disciplines. What I loved the most was hearing from creative people who built businesses against the odds and thrived.
What were the most useful things we learned at Martha Stewart's American Made Summit?
1. Make Your Product Meaningful
Carolyn Rafaelian, founder of jewelry brand Alex and Ani learned this after the initial success of a few styles, only for them to drop off near the holidays. She learned at this time of year, people want to see meaningful things for the holidays. For her, this ended up translating to incorporating inspiring symbols or elevating motifs into her jewelry.
2. Only Work with People You Like
Most of the entrepreneurs echoed this sentiment throughout the day. To succeed as a creative, one must work very hard, be patient and you could be made or broken by the team you choose. As your venture is your passion, the people that work with you should understand that and feel the same way. Know who you are and what your brand means and get to know who your partners are and what they stand for.
Blake Lively, who looked glowingly beautiful with her baby bump and flower appliqued white dress was there to represent her venture, Preserve. Even at her level of celebrity, the people who she chose to collaborate with her were her family. Her brother shot the photos for her site, she polls hubby Ryan Reynolds and other family members for their merchandise reviews. She talked about her holiday rituals of how her family painstakingly wrapped presents that they were never opened until after the New Year. No matter what level of success or failure, it’s the ones you love that propel you forward.
3. Tell a story.
Rachel Shechtman founded her boutique, Story on the concept of retail media. She curates her merchandise in a similar process as a magazine might, crafting shopping concepts around a story.
All of the award winners had a great journey behind their company. Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt built a business providing dirt for farming from city trash. Ellen Bennett designed and made high-quality custom aprons for restaurants after her frustration as a kitchen worker. Amy Peterson founded her jewelry company, Rebel Nell to empower and educate women in shelters to support themselves. These women were trained in making their signature jewelry inspired by graffiti of Detroit.
As an independent brand, whether you’re selling a product or yourself needs a killer pitch and story to tell. That’s what your customers, buyers and clients connect with.
4. Success most often comes on the heels of failure
Almost every panelist discussed moments of failure. It is how we strategize and move forward that counts. Barbara Corcoran discussed being offered the job for television's Shark Tank after a particularly disastrous financial year, only to find out that someone else was hired when she accepted. She also mentioned building her business after her original partner (life and business) left her to marry a woman half her age. Peter McGuiness, the Chief Brand officer of Chobani yogurt laid out the business plan of the founder after he was told that his concept for Greek yogurt would never work because of taste, teeny market share and his lack of English skills.
5. Super successful women give zero f**ks about being nice.
The most popular panel was the “Ask the Experts” panel that was hosted by Charlotte Beers, former CEO of Ogilvy and featured Martha Stewart, Barbara Corcoran, Tim Davis, president of UPS and David Bobbitt, the executive director of the SCORE foundation.
In the intro, Ms. Beers described Barbara Corcoran as a 12-year old boy who probably sleeps in a coffin Barbara Corcoran said Martha Stewart was full of sh*t and the second bitch who screwed her over. This was all done in good fun, to the happy amusement of the audience. These women had a comfort level having all reached a stratospheric level of success. While the men on the panel seemed intimidated, the women were clearly comfortable and confident in their own achievements. At this level of success, they did not waste effort analyzing how to seem “likable”, they were direct, efficient and lit a fire under the would be entrepreneurs just for being there.
So there you have it. Do you have the passion and patience to build your brand into a success? It doesn’t matter if you are an artist, make crafts that there isn’t an established market for or selling a service no one knew they needed. With the right strategy and hard work, there is a dream to be lived for everyone.