Friday, April 06, 2012

Steps to Success

Driving home from work a while back, I listened to an interview with Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx, those bodyshaping undergarments many women swear by. At the relatively young age of 41, Sara is now a billionaire, thanks to her simple idea of coming up with an undergarment that helps a woman look better in her clothing.

Now, I've never worn Spanx a day in my life. The undergarment that would help me look better in my clothes hasn't been invented yet. But I really enjoyed listening to Sara talk about the steps she took to grow from a simple idea to a successful and lucrative business.

Step one was deceptively simple: come up with a great idea. Sara said that too many people worry about things like focus group and what's selling, rather than depending on their own experiences. Sara created Spanx because she hated the way she looked in her white pants, but she didn't like wearing pantyhose with sandals. She tried cutting the feet out of pantyhose at first, but the hose kept rolling up her legs. So she set out to create a garment that would give her the barefoot look she wanted while still shaping her body more flatteringly underneath her clothes. Sara saw a need that she knew other people shared, and she took steps to fill that need. That's the essence of a great idea, isn't it?

Step two, for her, was finding a way to create the garment she envisioned. She had to go to a lot of textile mills before she found one that could help her make a prototype. Most of them told her no, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. Let me repeat that: she wouldn't take no for an answer. To achieve success at anything, you can't give up when you hear the word no.

Finally, once she got her prototype made, she threw herself into selling her idea to companies that could help her get it out to the buying public. Thinking about this from a writer's viewpoint, it's not enough for me, at least, to just write a good book. I want to share that book with people who read, which means I have to put myself and my work out there to be judged and consumed. I loved Sara's story about approaching a buyer at Neiman Marcus, trying to convince the woman to distribute her product in their stores. She said she convinced the woman to come to the ladies' room with her so she could show her the before and after. As Sara put it, "Talk about putting your butt on the line."

No matter what your dreams and goals are, I think you can learn a lot from Sara Blakely's steps to success. Every once in a while, you can come up with an answer that nobody's asked the question to. But most of the time, success comes from finding a need to fill and then filling it better than anyone else.

I love a good success story, as this blog post would attest. What about you? What are the success stories that have inspired you?


Chris Bailey said...

Thanks for summarizing the interview! It's always encouraging to be reminded that the word no is an invitation to try a different approach.

Between you and me, I've worn Spanx. I'm pleased to report to any non-users that they are as effective as sausage casing. However, as they can't be tied off top and bottom, you still have the challenge of disguising the filling that spills over. So. Love the idea. But my favorite fashion advice comes from that commercial Peyton Manning made a few years back: Buy a bigger shirt.

Lexi said...

Chris, you have to get the ones that go from right underneath your boobs to mid thigh. No muffin spillage that way and a smooth line. Both my daughters (ages 16 and 21) swear by them. The kids today wear such slinky formals . . .

Great post, Paula. A great reminder that hard work is involved in most things in order to succeed, including in writing.

Carla Swafford said...

It goes to prove that you have to believe in yourself and what your doing (or writing).

Heather said...

I think a huge part of success is never contemplating failure as an option - if you keep going, taking each set-back in stride, the forward progress gets you to your goal.