Monica Barnett founded Blueprint for Style in 2008 in Washington, DC.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Blueprint for Style is about Image Consulting & Personal Styling (which can be confusing for some). My job/passion is helping individuals develop their own sense of personal style and create their personal brand; and teaching businesses to align their staff's style with the company's corporate image. If someone is aspiring to move up the ladder or do a career change or get back into the working world, an Image Consultant & Personal Stylist can assist in ensuring they're not wasting dollars or time on items that are not value-added. The average person uses about 40% of their closet – imagine if you used just 60% and what you wouldn't have to buy at the stores. In the long run, it's a cost savings!
How did you come up with the idea for Blueprint for Style?
The ideal already existed (stars and tv celebrities have personal stylist) but I decided to do it because it was something I had a passion for, something I loved to do, and something I was great at! As I looked around at colleagues and friends, people were always asking for advice, or my time to help them plan outfits, or how to make something go with something else – that's when I realized that we all need someone who can bring an objective perspective to what we project through our clothing and accessories, and provide insight and recommendations on how to improve. That's me!
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I spent the last 15 years doing operational, health care consulting for a few companies including Deloitte & Touche and The Advisory Board Company. I have a MHA and a degree in Organizational Psychology, and just assumed that I'd be in health care forever. But I found my passion and I'm living it.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
Yes; it had its rewards and downsides. On the positive side, it meant great tax breaks at year-end, low start-up cost and lower fixed operating expenses. It allowed for a lower break-even in terms of sales/services, and that translated into lower stress and little more flexibility to focus on important items like networking which didn't directly generate revenue but allowed for future relationships.
On the flip side, being at home was more relaxed and being relaxed is a CURSE when you're just starting out. I came to see that a space to call my 'workspace' was necessary so I could focus on work and then leave it behind. It also became a hinderance because I wanted to see clients and host small events – if I had an open space to call mine (not home), I would have been able to do more and, in some instances, appear more polished in my approach. Long story short – if you can secure a space outside the home, do it. Go to "work" everyday and think of ideals to use the space to generate revenue including renting it or taking on a partner.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Cost savings tips include (1) don't be afraid to work from home and focus on a (less expensive) online presence if possible: (2) track all of your expenses because they're write-offs at year-end, and then you get your tax return, take 50% of what you have to put back into your business, 40% to pay down debts, and 10% for yourself; (3) use your friends and family as marketers and PR- give them specific to-do's and follow up because they are your workers when you can't afford to hire any; and (4) look for free sources of visibility (dedicate 1 day a week to outreach) to create opportunities later on because people want what other people have, and if they think someone has it (through great PR/marketing) then that's half your battle!
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
No and yes. No because social marketing in the small business space has every small business focused on their own revenue generation and looking inward. Yes because there are some contacts and connections I have made through Twitter and the likes, and have created synergies.
The best approach in the small business space is to have a concrete, finite, and executable plan with a specific to-do and specific outcome so that tasks can be completed – remember that these small businesses are trying to stay afloat too, and some just need a reminder that 'no man is an island' and you can help in a specific way of they're willing to listen; and start with baby steps.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Yes! I had the ideal in my head and the strategy for execution but, I didn't realize that I needed to do my homework in terms of fully articulating that strategy and creating a value proposition especially in this economic climate. Pen to paper is essential when running a business because it allows you to formulate, articulate and strategize…and have others help.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Make sure you're PASSIONATE about it because it's what you'll rely on in the lean/harder times, and people can see and feel it when you talk.
Thank you Monica for sharing your passion with the entrepreneurs at Gaebler.com!