I went on a walk this morning with Labor Day, laborers and laboring on my mind. I thought about the labor my father put in in his lifetime and that of my mother as well. Mother went to “work” when we were in high school. She had so much fun with the ladies she worked with at L.E. Berger Middle School in West Fargo. She and her working buddies got their hair done every Friday, gathered at each other’s houses over coffee and bars, and became lifelong friends.
My parents demonstrated pride in work, a love of people, and sticktoitiveness.
I thought about my own career that began in the mid-’80s. Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow was a book that came out in 1987. I embraced that title and ran those words around and around in my head: Do what you love and the money will follow. It sounded like a great formula.
But as anyone learns who starts their own business, there’s what you love to do and then there’s what’s necessary to do to really have a successful business. It’s kind of like a great wardrobe: there are your star pieces, flashy and fun, and there are the workhorse pieces that you have to have in order to put together a wardrobe that works for all occasions. You may not love those workhorses as much as you do the flashy pieces, but try getting dressed without them. It’s impossible!
In 1989 came Le Divorce, not the book but my own divorce. (The book wouldn’t come out until 1998.) Instead of dabbling in what I loved, I had to make a decision: go for it with the intention of creating a true career or go get a real job? I had a family to raise. I didn’t have a safety net. Could I really build a business helping people manage their clothes? I had a lot of fear.
Luckily, there was help. Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway came out in 1987. I bet I read it three times…in a row. I was so afraid of becoming a bag lady within twelve months.
Do what you love, but discipline yourself to treat it like a business.
I needed paying clients and much more than one or two every other week like I had during the pre-divorce, jobette period of doing what I loved. Having a business that paid the bills instead of just buying pretty linens would require putting attention to things that weren’t as fun as dressing people, like bookkeeping, budgeting for office supplies, marketing, networking, researching, and scheduling. I had the “do what you love” part down; next I had to “learn as I go.” If I applied sticktoitiveness to the business side, I might get somewhere.
Clients came from different sources
With each step on my walk through Sonoma, I thought about the slow but steady pace of gaining clients. I thought of clients who dialed my number (on landlines) requesting to make an appointment with me. I probably needed them even more than they needed me! I practiced being the kind of consultant I’d want working with me as a client: kind, compassionate, encouraging, safe.
These soon-to-be clients attended a workshop I offered or were referred by a friend. When I started writing fashion articles somewhere in the ’90s for the Pacific Sun newspaper, a few would read my columns and call me. I loved writing about fashion for women. This dream job of being a columnist paid $60 per column when I first started. Later it went up to $75. I wasn’t making money, but I was getting practice being a writer and I was able to use my columns for marketing purposes.
Those columns helped me convince a small publishing company in Berkeley to take me on as an author. They published my first book, 40 Over 40, 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed. Readers were able to be the next closest thing to being a client. I loved it! I loved them. Some readers even became actual clients.
Write about real women and fashion and readers will find you.
I had a secret back then. I hoped that by writing about my profession that more people would get into it, that the industry of image consulting and wardrobe styling would grow. There would be more laborers in the field, more clients being served. I’ve had consultants come up to me at conferences and tell me it worked. They read the books, had no idea that this was a real profession, knew in their heart of hearts that they were meant to do this work, left their jobs, got trained, and started their businesses. Yay!
(In case you want to learn more about becoming an image consultant, here’s some of my best advice to date.
Plant seeds about how fulfilling this industry is and others will follow.
And my lovely career continues
This Labor Day weekend I assisted Russ who has been taking a client’s family Christmas photo these last 2-3 years. It’s funny when I think about it, but last year he did the wedding photos for my client’s daughter whom I was initially hired to work with when she was about twelve-years-old. I remember meeting with her and her mom and “helping” as best I could but what I really did was counsel her mother to let go. I could see there was only so much influence she or I could make on a daughter who wanted to dress like her friends. Familiar story, right?
But the mom became my client, then her sister did, and when the kids got older, two of them became clients too. And that’s how I now have a third-generation client. Yes, that daughter got married, had a baby and now the family Christmas photo needs to make room for more faces. The whole family was going to together in the same state, in the same house, so it was a good time to take the picture that will go out to their big holiday list. We’ve got it down now; Russ does the photography and I do the styling.
As soon as we pulled up into my client’s driveway one of her grandkids came running out. “Brenda, Brenda, we have an emergency! What should Owen wear for the photos?”
Owen is almost seven months old. His uncle said, “Here’s your third generation client, Brenda.” I’m happy to serve, just look at that face!
As with all my clients, I did insist he try on two of the three outfits they’d assembled. The white onesie with navy blue trim would stay tucked inside his blue jeans and not look as rumpled as the khaki colored button up shirt would. I insisted on a deep roll in his jeans. He was all set for the cameras.
After the shoot was over we sat around the dining room table with all the generations of clients sipping on wine and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres (except for Owen).
Do what you love with people you love and they become family
Could I be this lucky?
I used to think of Labor Day as a three-day weekend. It’s much more than that. Tell me about your laboring experiences. What have you enjoyed the most? Let’s not forget about homemaking either. Talk about laboring! Tell us more, please?