Recently, I received a raft of notifications from Linked In (the ‘business social media’ platform) with congratulations from colleagues and clients to mark my “14 year work anniversary” as they call it. And one of these notes came from my brother which started a conversation about some of the ‘family values’ we’d been brought up with, one of which was that being self-employed was risky, inadvisable and not something recommended to be pursued (I grew up with the message that you worked for someone else so that you would always know that a paycheck was coming your way).
Given that the statistics on small businesses (of which an image consulting/personal styling business is) failing in the first three years can be seen as a good reason to never move away from the ‘safety’ of working for “the man”. Striking out on my own and establishing a successful business that has now been going for 14 years is something that I took a moment stop and take some pride in (not something I’m good at doing, as I’m always striving to complete the next thing… which may be one of the reasons I’m still here all these years later). It also made me pause to consider (as I get asked frequently how to create a successful image business), what do I see as the essential qualities of a great image consultant or personal stylist.
Not only have I created a viable business over the years, I’ve survived the global financial crisis of 2008/-2010 that crushed many other similar businesses, but I’ve managed to keep growing despite a marriage failure and becoming a single mother with much larger bills to pay than what the business was bringing in at that time, when safety and security were what was required.
So what are the qualities of someone who survives and thrives running their own image business? From observation and personal experience, I bring you what I believe to be the eight most important qualities.
The first quality on my list would have to be a passion for image. One thing that I’ve had pointed out to me over the years when at networking events, meeting people who ask “what do you do?” and then listening to my answers, is “you’re really passionate about what you do”. This is so true. To sustain motivation over time and to harness willpower to keep going when times are tough (and according to Kerry McGonigal, willpower is a finite resource), passion is not just important but integral to building a successful image business. Sadly it’s not the only thing you need (as there are plenty who are passionate and love it who fall along the road), but without it, I would imagine that it’s super hard to keep going through all those tough times (and there are plenty of roadblocks, obstacles and tough times as a small-business owner), to stay motivated and keep on charting the business course.
The second quality on my list is caring. A strong desire to help others, to care deeply about your clients getting what they need, the best results for them. To want to find the right way to help them succeed using the tool that is image and style is imperative. If you don’t care enough then you won’t go the extra mile for your clients, you may not push yourself hard enough or even think about putting yourself in their shoes so that you can adapt your own style to suit them.
Knowing that what I do changes lives in such a positive way for my clients helps me keep caring, even when I’m tired, and I feel like doing something else, when I’ve had an invitation to go out and catch up with someone for lunch and instead I know that I’ve got to say no as it’s more important for me to prepare for my next client as I don’t want them to not get the best from me.
It’s caring that I’m not imposing my own style preferences on my clients.
It’s caring that I try and understand their needs (not assume that I know them without asking).
It’s caring about what they like and value.
Without true caring and a desire to help others, I believe it would be very hard to succeed in this kind of others-focused business.
One thing I’ve noticed about my successful image colleagues is that we all care, we really really care about getting the best outcomes for our clients.
The third necessity is the ability to be self-directed. There’s no boss breathing down your neck asking you where that article is. There’s no boss to tell you when you can take lunch, what time to get to work and leave when you can have a holiday or a day off. Being able to set your own boundaries, rules and behaviours in your workplace and then stick to them is imperative.
Given that most micro-businesses start from home, it’s super easy to let all the distractions of housework, a neighbour dropping by, the latest Netflix series, even the kids, get in the way of doing work. It’s easy to let the little things or even the drama of life get in the way.
The ability to set your own goals and then work to achieve them is integral to achieving business success of any kind. It’s why I’m sitting here at 5am writing this blog post, when I’d rather be sleeping, but I know this is the only time this week due to other work commitments, that I’m going to have the time to write a blog post and so here I am, at my desk, in my PJs tapping away on the keyboard to get this piece of work completed.
Being able to plan out your work, see what you need to do and then putting your head down and completing it without any externally provided deadlines can be hard. You need self-direction to succeed.
When you work from home, it’s easy for the others in your family to assume that you’re at home, and therefore can spend your day cleaning and organising the house, it’s easy for others to forget that you’re working.
I have a policy that when I go to work in the morning (which means walking upstairs to my studio) that any housework left undone is not thought about until I return home that night as if I’d completely left the house to go to work (just like my husband does) somewhere else. This is a boundary I’ve set up for myself and my family know it. They wouldn’t expect me to do housework during the work day if I had left the house and gone to work for someone else, so why expect me to do it when I’m at work for myself?
What about the kids’ needs? I’ve trained my kids from young to know that when I’m working (particularly if I have a client) that it’s important and I’m not to be disturbed, and that they are to respect my work and clients, be quiet and not interrupt unless it’s urgent. But they also know if they can come and sit in my office and do their homework if I’m not with a client, and ask questions. We work side-by-side to get our work done. I believe that I’m modelling good habits for them in this way – they see that I work hard and achieve success from my efforts.
Setting your business hours with your family and friends is also an important boundary. My family know that I work most days from 8.30am til 6pm, but working from home also allows me to take my kids to their after-school activities, before heading back to my office to complete my tasks for the day. It’s one of the benefits of working from home.
My friends and neighbours have learned that just because I’m “home” doesn’t mean I’m home for a chat and that my work should be respected in the way theirs is when they are at their workplace.
5. Keep Going and Going … and Going
Another key quality for success is keeping on going, even when times are tough, you don’t feel motivated or you’re just not seeing instant results. People look at this blog and will comment on how amazing it is and how much is on it. The reality is, is that I wrote it one blog post at a time over the last 10 years. This didn’t happen overnight, it happened over years just plugging away at it. Working hard, working diligently and even when I’m busy and have other things on my plate, still putting aside time (and getting up sometimes at 5am) to produce new content.
When setting up any sort of business, image or other, one of the most important aspects is marketing it – you have to find the clients, the buyers the people who will make your business succeed. One tip I give aspiring image consultants is that they need to think about what kind of business they want to run. Do they want a part-time or full-time business income? And when they know this, whatever time they are not in face-to-face client consultations, should be spent on growing the business by doing marketing, administration or some sort of creation process.
Often when you start a business you have time and no, or few clients. You have lots of time that you’d love to be doing consultations. The key is not to think “I’ve got no work so I’ll take the day off” instead it’s “how can I spend this time marketing to find new clients?”. Whatever time I’m not seeing clients, I’m still working on creating a sustainable business. Work a 40 hour week on marketing and creating a client base until you have the clients to fill in some of that time, and then, never take your eye off the marketing ball, you need to continue to use whatever time you have around your clients to keep on with your marketing efforts to sustain your business.
Stuff will always happen that throws a spanner in the works, from family issues to a global financial crisis, it’s how you deal with this and your ability to work around, go over, move past that is the key to succeeding… it’s keeping on going and going and going…
6. Growth Mindset
Now, this quality is super dooper important! If you’ve not heard of the growth mindset, do watch this video on the topic.
When you start a personal styling business you may just have finished a training program. Sure you’ve learned lots, but there is always more to learn. And even after 14 years I’m still learning, not only from going to professional conferences and educational events through my professional association (AICI – highly recommended, or in the UK FIPI – I’m running masterclasses there in June) but also from every single client I see, from every question I’m asked on the blog, from every question or comment left on one of my Facebook groups or programs. Yes, I learn so, so much from you. This is not a one-way thing – me putting information out, you receive it. This is a two-way – win-win street.
I value every comment and question as these are what have helped me learn and grow as an image and colour consultant. It’s what I’ve learned from seeing your outfits, hearing your woes, reading your ‘aha’ moments that have helped me become the professional I am today. And I don’t believe that I know it all, in fact I know there is so much more to know and I am always open to learning more. Your feedback whether it’s in person, or just me even helping you in a change room or your wardrobe at some stage, has helped me solidify my knowledge, see new patterns and understand more how to help you.
Learning new ways, understanding different models, seeking out new and different information will also keep you fresh and current rather than getting stuck in the past. It will assist you in providing better and more nuanced experiences for your clients.
Being open to growing and learning is one of my most important values and I believe has really helped me become the success I am today.
7. Learning From Mistakes
Almost last, but certainly not least, is learning from my mistakes. And yes, I’m human, and I’ve made a whole bunch of them over the years. Thinking “I’ve made a mistake, I’m hopeless, I should quit” is not the attitude to take.
I will always remember back during my image training program how in my ‘client body and style consultation’ I wasn’t sure how to give feedback to the client that she may not want to hear. She loved the dress she was wearing, and she wanted me to say that she could still wear it. I did say that, but I knew straight away that I’d given her a ‘bum steer’ (as we might say in Australia). Telling her something that was wrong was doing her no favours. Rather, what I quickly realised, was that I should have said that it wasn’t her best look, so let’s figure out why you love it and how you can take those qualities and work with them to find something that will be way more flattering and make her feel even better. To this day I regret my mistake, but I’ve never made the same one again!
As a client once said to me “If you don’t tell me I’ve got a big bum (A shape) when I know I have, I won’t trust anything you advise”, It can be tricky to be kind and gentle with your language around sensitive body issues, but still do the best for your client.
Admitting your mistakes takes courage, we’ve all had days where seeing the right colours for a client is hard and you start doubting yourself. What happens then is you start getting stressed and you really do stop “seeing” the colours, what’s right or wrong. I remember almost finishing a colour consultation with a clients, having decided early on she was cool, and just at the end listening to a tiny niggling voice in my head that tells me to double-check my analysis), turning over the drape to discover actually she was warm (just only a bit warm, not really warm, which is why I’d missed her subtle warmth in the first place).
Listen to those little voices if you feel something is not quite right. Tell your client you need a moment to go to the loo and take a moment to breathe and recoup if you’re feeling under the pump to make the right decision. And if you realise afterwards you got it wrong, ring them up and make a time to put it right. We all have bad days and admitting mistakes is hard, but shows both courage and integrity. Aren’t these two qualities that you value too?
And speaking of integrity, this is important in any business for ongoing success. Isn’t it a given? Well, sadly I sometimes hear stories that make me feel it’s not a quality valued by all…
Imagine you’re on a personal shopping expedition with your personal stylist. They find out what you need and take you to some stores. You assume it’s because they are the best stores for you based on their knowledge of what you need, your budget, your lifestyle etc. You are paying them for their time and expertise. Then you discover that they are also getting a “kickback” from the stores they take you to. They have an arrangement with these specific stores that they get a percentage of what you spend.
To me this is double-dipping. You are already paying them for their impartial advice …. but is it really impartial if they know they will make more money by getting you to spend at stores where they are also being “paid” to take you?
Sadly it happens frequently in this industry. I’ve been approached by boutiques over the years who offer me a kickback to take my clients shopping there. I refuse as I want to be taking my clients to the stores that are right for them and when money is involved, lines can be blured, things can become greyer and the not-so-great part of us can sometimes take over and justify why it is the right place to go (even when it’s not, and I’ve been told by clients who have seen some of these consultants that they couldn’t figure out why they took them to this boutique when everything was not their style and out of their price range).
I publish all my prices openly and transparently on my website so that it’s obvious what I charge. It’s never a shock and you know that it’s the same for everyone, there is no opportunity for me to charge one person more based on what I think they can afford and someone else less.
Want to Be a Successful Personal Stylist?
There is no one right way to run a business, there is no one right way to work with clients, there is no one right way to market your business and there is no one right way …
Notice that I’ve not talked about age or background. These are irrelevant, I’ve seen people of all ages and all walks of life create successful businesses. We all appeal to different people. I know that I’m not the right consultant for many, but if you do like my style, then I am the right one for you.
If you read this list and think, I find self-direction hard, or boundary setting tricky, or tend to give up rather than keep on going, it doesn’t mean you can’t be in this industry, it just may mean you’re better suited to working as a personal stylist for a store rather than being self-employed.
If you think you’re interested but it’s not a true passion, maybe it’s a hobby or interest rather than a business. There is nothing wrong with this, and I know that many get value from the personal development you learn when you take a training course in something that interest, or something that includes skills that can be applied in different areas of life.
These qualities I’ve listed are ones I believe to be truly important in creating success. When people ask me how I’ve done it, well, these are the secrets to my success. Not secret at all, just some dogged determination combined with passion and a desire to help women feel confident, feel good, in fact, feel great about their style, to help them understand more about who they are and how they can express this through their image so that they shine.
Want to Become a Personal Stylist or Image and Colour Consultant?
Because of my passion, and how I love to share what I’ve learned, I run training programs in image and colour so that if this is something you are excited and passionate about, that you too can enter this amazing and fulfilling space.
Find out more about my next classroom training here .