Do I have the know-how? Time? Money? Confidence? These are just some of the questions Gena Perdue grappled with as she transformed a beloved pastime into a career. Check out her story, and discover where your talents can take you. By Caterina Rando, REDBOOK.
Gena PerdueI met Gena Perdue one evening two years ago while speaking to a group of entrepreneurs about how to grow their businesses. I complimented her on her bright cloth purse and learned about her dream - which was to sell her handbags in top stores, like Barneys and Gump's.
Gena was just 5 years old when she developed her love for sewing - a passion that she shared with her mother and grandmother. Through the years, she made everything from dresses to hats to baby blankets. Gena and her husband, Jason, both 38, even turned their bedroom into a sewing studio, while they sleep in a smaller room! Though she'd been running her own business - providing facials and skin-care regimens for clients - this Santa Rosa, CA, mom yearned to make her creative pastime a bigger part of her life. She was starting to feel burned out from her business and found sewing - and the reactions she received from people who loved her designs - more satisfying.
To give her passion room to grow, Gena scaled way back on her skin-care work, and she and her friend Debbie began designing and making purses to sell at fairs, at Tupperware party-style gatherings, and at trunk shows (where designers show shoppers their wares). The hit-or-miss results frustrated Gena, so I started helping her to clarify her dream and to make it work with her life. Here's what she learned, and how you, too, can help your dream take shape - and take off!
STEP 1: Put your dream into focus.
Early on, I asked Gena what was really important to her: "I want to make something fun and creative, together with my daughter," she told me. I then asked her if creating something she could do with Beritt, now 7, was more important to her than creating purses to sell in homes or to department stores. Gena realized that this was true; she didn't love going to fairs, or dragging plastic bins full of purses into someone's home.
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Next, I asked her to create a mental picture of her ideal day - something I could snap a photograph of. This is what I call your compelling vision. Here's what she described: "After Beritt gets home from school, we play together, then spend time sewing together, each making our own creations - anything from purses to hats to scarves. The next day I see my work in the windows of some of the top boutiques on an upscale shopping street in a major U.S. city. It feels great to see what I've made in a shop!"
We then looked at what was stopping her from making her vision real. Gena's top priority was to have a business that would accommodate her family life. She realized that this was her project, that she didn't want a partner, and that she didn't want to make only handbags, as her friend Debbie did. "The thought of doing something on my own makes me feel so proud!" she told me.
Gena had the difficult conversation with Debbie, and fortunately, their friendship remained intact. "The hardest part for me was figuring out how to divvy up the assets," says Gena. "I didn't want to deal with it, and I love Debbie so much that I just gave them to her." Gena was uncomfortable with putting a financial value on her work and felt anxiety about negotiating money issues - both fears that would crop up again for her down the road.
Revitalized by her newfound independence, Gena decided to give her business a name. She'd have it silk-screened onto labels and put it on business cards - and it would help to make her new dream real. Gena chose the name Whim Creations by Gena Perdue. "The word 'whim' gives me the room to make whatever I want for as long or short as I want and as many or few of any item as I want," she explained. "It feels just right."
- Create a compelling vision. Mentally picture what your dream will look like once you achieve it. Ask yourself: Where am I? What am I doing? Who is around me? Then write out your vision and reflect on it daily. The more that you think about it, the clearer and more real it will become.
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STEP 2: Get informed.
To move her dream forward, we listed what Gena wanted to learn. She decided to take a class on starting a business and attend a seminar on budgeting. She also wanted to stay abreast of trends and find the best boutiques, in hopes of selling her creations there. So Gena went to the closest major shopping city - San Francisco - to see what the stores were showing, and she checked out retailers in other states online. "I like having a focus, but I also want to know what's going on in the world in case I want to participate," she said. "And I want to make sure I'm not doing exactly what others are doing."
Gena then asked herself what I call an inquiry question - one you ponder to help figure out your next steps and achieve your goal. Her question: How can I find sewing supplies at really affordable prices? So she went online again and found popular sewing sites and potential resources for design supplies.
Figure out what you don't know. List what you need to learn to make your dream happen, from how to determine your costs to where to take business classes.
Become an expert. Look at the latest projects of people in the field you're interested in to get a sense of the trends. Read trade publications. Go to trade shows. If your dream industry has an association, join it.
- Ask yourself the tough questions. What creative marketing strategy can I use to get clients? How can I get more support at home? Reflect on your questions daily, and give yourself days or weeks to find solutions.
STEP 3: Expect success.
Though Gena was committed to her goal, she often spoke tentatively about her business. I encouraged her to show more confidence and to stop using words that diminish her message, such as "try," "little," and "just." For instance, when asked about her designs, she used to say, "I just sew a little and sell a few things." We changed that to "I have my own company, selling handmade custom designs for women and girls."
That air of confidence transformed Gena. "Changing how I speak about my business makes me feel more confident about it," she told me. "I've also noticed that more people are excited about it because I am. I'm getting requests from store owners and people in the community to visit my studio and see what I'm working on."
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- Own your confidence. When you speak, be upbeat and self-assured. And stand up straight - this helps you project your voice and conveys authority and energy. Notice how much more responsive people will be to you - and how much more positive you'll feel, too. (For more tips on speaking with confidence, see "Are Your Words Holding You Back?")
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