This post originally appeared on startupnation.com/start-your-business
The following is excerpted and reprinted from “Unleash the Girls: The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)” by Lisa Lindahl with permission from EZL Enterprises.
Someone asked me recently what my typical day was like when I was CEO of Jogbra Sports Bras. I had to laugh, because in my effort to answer this seemingly easy-breezy, softball question I realized: There was no such thing as a typical day.
It’s actually a fantasy to think of oneself as the “boss” of any entrepreneurial endeavor. Rather, the company becomes the boss o’ you! Once you commit to birth “your baby,” staying the course means doing what is needed to survive, grow and remain healthy.
Throughout my tenure at Jogbra (whether my job title was president, CEO, co-president or founder) I felt the title didn’t really mean anything, except perhaps to the outside world. In my day-to-day, the job was to get products made, marketed and sold. The tasks I actually performed on a day-to-day basis ranged from the very simple or immediate to the very complex and visionary.
The old chestnut is true: you wear a lot of hats when you’re an entrepreneur.
In the early months and first year of the business, my secretarial training and experiences in different secretarial stints came in handy. I had worked in various sectors — social services and education, as well as for private, for-profit enterprise and corporations. I knew we needed filing systems (yes, plural) and I knew how to set them up. I just didn’t want to have to maintain them. So, besides the necessary packing and shipping clerk, two early hires were an administrative assistant (read: Jill o’ All Trades) and a bookkeeper. For immediate outside help, I knew we needed legal, accounting, advertising and marketing support.
A “typical day” in the startup phase of Jogbra focused on finding and enrolling those who could help create and establish the Jogbra Sports Bras organization. We needed to create the types of relationships that would support and nurture our business. After that, I might say that a typical day was spent responding to the consequences of those engagements! As far as the legal and accounting area, aside from the patent process, much of it was necessary but mind-numbing minutiae.
There was a great deal to do in the early days of Jogbra. So much depended upon the acceptance of our product in the marketplace. We were, quite literally, moving from non-existence into existence. For this, we needed advertising and marketing. We needed to let “the world” know about Jogbra — not only our customers, but the stores that we needed to carry our product. This was no small task in the pre-internet, pre-social-media decades.
And, as I quickly grasped, introducing a new product concept into an industry was all about educating the dealers, the sales representatives that called on those dealers and the customers. We needed to capitalize on the media attention we were receiving. It was a good story: How two jock straps were cut up and sewn back together to become a new kind of bra for athletic women. And beneath the cuteness of the story was the rapidly dawning reality that women did indeed have an authentic need for their own “athletic supporter.”
So much of those early years were also about travel! If it wasn’t a rep wanting me to go with him or her on a sales call to an important account, it was a request for me to attend a regional show or race event. I went to every region of the country during those first few years and I met a lot of people.
My “typical day” would also include a lot of time on the telephone encouraging and guiding our sales representatives, who were scattered all over the country. As the number of reps grew, I realized that my by-the-pants, learn-as-I-go method of managing sales was not going to be adequate. I knew we needed a “real” sales manager, one whose profession, by choice, was truly sales. I needed someone who had studied sales and had a successful track record.
All this time I had also been creating the annual sales forecast. It was a natural extension of those “financial fairytales” I’d created for the SBA loan in the very beginning of our journey. Only now, it was based on actual numbers. Each year’s projection was based on the previous year’s history — finally something real!
I would hole up at home with all the files and sales histories spread around me on my dining room table and project our sales for the upcoming year — by style (when we started having more than one), by month, for the year. These quantities would then translate into both our projected revenues as well as inform our production schedule. My next task in this process was to turn to the sales territories and allocate sales goals to each rep group. Voila! We had a sales plan!
Well, we always had a plan to start with. But as the actual numbers would come rolling in, we would have to adjust and then compare our “plan to actuals.” It was always exciting — how’d we do? And this was the crux of the game: create a goal and then try to achieve it. Put a team together to help you play. Then, go out and play! Or — as more serious business types might say, “Plan your work then work your plan.”
The sales projection was our base plan; it structured the rest of our game plan. Once formed, I would communicate it to the sales rep organizations. On her end, Hinda and the production team would translate these sales projections into future production levels. Then, these would get communicated to both our fabric vendors and the factory. As the plan morphed and changed, we all had to be flexible and responsive.
Every day was an adventure. As I’ve said, it’s difficult to outline a “typical” day. When talking about the phenomenon of starting and running the Jogbra organization, it might be more correct to speak of its phases — startup, growing, and then maybe, at least for me, the last phase would be “leaving.” How we operated in each phase had different needs and required different skills.
“Unleash the Girls: The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)” is available now wherever books are sold and can be purchased via StartupNation.com.
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