As I draft this post, I'm on a layover in Atlanta following briefings yesterday on Capitol Hill regarding pending anti-small business cosmetics legislation. (You can read more about those briefings here.) On my trip from DC to Atlanta, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young lady who described herself as a young entrepreneur. Twenty-year old Brittany Reid is a New York City-trained and licensed makeup artist and a native Washingtonian (like me!). Here were are on the plane after an hour-and-a-half long impromptu business coaching session.
En route to Atlanta, Brittany shared her hopes and dreams with me, and picked my brain for some of my best and most succinct business advice. Here are a few of the things I shared with her:
Pick brand names you can own. Brittany said she was heart broken when she saw a line of makeup branded with the name she wants to use for her line. She said she loves her chosen name so much that she's not going to change it just because she saw another company using the same name. My advice to Brittany: pick another name.
Using a name that someone else is already using in your industry is risky because it's an invitation to a trademark battle down the line. Under no circumstances should you invest your resources building a brand when you know in advance that someone else is already using the brand name you are using. That's called trademark infringement and you don't want any part of it. Choose a name that is as unique as possible.
I like to tell my clients I'd rather have them be wealthy using a name they hate, than broke using a name they love. You can learn to love any brand name that is making you successful, so pick one that you and you alone can brand and own as you grow.
To find out if anyone else is using a name you want to use, check for it on your favorite search engines, and at the United State Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) search database where you can search for pending and registered trademarks. If the name (or a similar name) you want to use is in use, including the Internet and the USPTO search database, pick another name. Be creative and innovative! You're an entrepreneur, so you can do that!! (This is not legal advice, just information. For questions about your name, you'll need to make your best guess or hire a trademark attorney. Email me privately for references.)
Leverage your unique assets. Brittany wants to start a mineral makeup line. Of course this is the perfect business for her since she loves makeup and is a professional makeup artist. I cautioned Brittany that she will be entering a crowded field, and that her success will hinge in large part on her ability to leverage things about herself and her business that no one else has. Of course, this starts with her, Brittany, the person.
Many people can launch, own and manage a reasonably successful business if they offer quality products at fair prices. But no one else on earth can be Brittany. In this regard, I reminded her that she is her greatest asset. I suggested she build her own personal brand (not just a product line), using social media tools including a blog and a FaceBook page, lots of video showing off her makeup skills and the colors in her line, and Twitter to leverage herself as the innovative thought leader behind the brand.
I also suggested she start blogging and “comment blogging” now, even though she has no product launch date in sight, so she can eventually launch her line to a waiting group of motivated prospective customers.
Know the lay of the legislative land. One of the products Brittany said she's considering is a colorful, glittery makeup line for pre-tween girls. I cautioned Brittany that there is much Congressional focus these days on products aimed at children in that age group. I advised her to search online for existing or pending regulations that might affect her ability to sell products in the future. By doing so, she will arm herself with the information she needs to plan properly and account for any outside legal forces that may affect her venture, for better or for worse.
Brittany is a total sponge. I could literally feel her absorbing the insights and experiences I shared with her. She's just the type of young lady I love talking to. She's wide open and knows the world is her oyster. She reads a lot and has a teachable attitude. She does not shy away from working hard or taking reasonable risks. This is borne out by the fact that she held down a job at a DC-area fast food restaurant for 5 years (starting at age 15!) before moving to pursue her dreams in Atlanta, a hot bed of makeup and fashion in the African American community.
I am so excited for Brittany, and I know she is going places. I plan to stay in touch with her, and maybe keep you up to date on her entrepreneurial journey.
Brittany, if you're reading this (and you promised you would!), remember that, at this time in your life, everything on your side. Stay humble, respect others, keep your attitude in check and you will amaze yourself and all of us at what you can accomplish. And work that pretty smile and those gorgeous dimples you have. You go! I'll be watching … and looking for the “Small Business Success Notes To A Young Lady” you publish someday. Always pay it forward girl!
Question: What do you think of my advice to Brittany? What else would you tell her?