Welcome to Eventual Millionaire. I’m Jaime Tardy and today we have Melanie Duncan on the show. I am super excited. I met her a couple months ago at a conference, but then if you guys listened to Sean Malarkey’s interview, you heard him talk all about how we need to have her on the show. Thank goodness she actually said yes. So we have her on the show today. You can check her out at MelanieDuncan.com. She’s got quite a few online businesses and their annual revenue in total are doing over $2 million and she tells you that she can help you work less and make more so I am super excited to have her on the show today. Thanks so much for coming on, Melanie.
MELANIE DUNCAN: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
JAIME TARDY: Awesome. Let’s sort of back up, because I don’t know too much about the beginning stories. I’ve researched you online, but let’s talk about some beginning stories. How did you even start in business?
MD: Yes, the beginning stories; that’s what are the best ones to hear. I started in business actually with a sorority and fraternity clothing company that I started in college. I started it with my husband now, he wasn’t my husband in college he was just my boyfriend. About my sophomore year we had this crazy idea to start an online clothing company for sororities and fraternities because we noticed that a lot of people, a lot of our friends, were having a really hard time finding a convenient way to buy those lettered sweatshirts and tote bags. I am not sure if you’re familiar. It seems like the United States is really the only place that understands the Greek phenomena.
Basically, when you’re in college, a lot of people join a club called a sorority or fraternity and they buy a ton of stuff with their letters. They’re all Greek names like Delta Gamma or Sigma Alpha Epsilon. They get a special gift of letters, when they first join, like a sweatshirt with them but usually across four years people will spend thousands of dollars on, like I was saying, tote bags, sweatpants, cardigans, t-shirts, everything. We noticed people were having to find a way to drive off campus, because we didn’t have a Greek store on campus, and it was a huge hassle and it would take them months to get things done and we thought okay there is a really good profit margin with these items. People were buying them for around $70 to $150 for these sweatpants.
MD: Yes, basic Fruit of the Loom. Nothing super fancy and so we bought one embroidery machine. Actually we leased it because we couldn’t even afford to buy it. We leased one embroidery machine, started in our garage and started taking orders from friends and doing their Greek sweatshirts. It was not a glamorous beginning but we’re now the nation’s largest Greek apparel company.
JT: First, were you a business major?
MD: No, I was a psychology major.
JT: Okay, was your husband a business, was anyone a business major? You talk about profit margins and like ooh great. Okay he was.
MD: Actually I have to give my business immersion credit to him. He was an entrepreneur major, came from a very entrepreneurial family. I not so much. I mean just basic 9 to 5 type of; my parents did that, all of my aunts and uncles. When I first started getting around him and seeing the way he thought and also kind of seeing the way he wanted to live his life after college, everyone spends so much time in college thinking about just the next four years and he really had a lot of ideas about how he wanted to travel and have all this freedom.
I thought okay this is what I’m talking about. I was in psychology because I loved analyzing things, analyzing the way people think and behave and I was planning on just going into clinical or doing something very basic like that. The more I was around him; the more I realized I loved marketing and I loved consumer psychology. The two of us together make quite a powerhouse.
JT: That’s incredible. How did you go from embroidery machine in your garage, making as much as you can, to sort of, give me the transgression of where things went.
MD: Right, right, so I mean literally it was a multi-year process. I’ll try to kind of break it down for you. We had two other partners, when we started and we had an online business. We didn’t have a brick and mortar shop where you could come order. All the ordering was done online, but this was back in I want to say like 2005/2006 so really online marketing wasn’t as obvious of an option as it is today. We started; we thought okay we have this website to sell from. We thought that was innovative but we were still very much in the old world style of marketing mentality.
We were going door to door, different Greek houses on different campuses, in Southern California, where we were based. We were also spending thousands of dollars to fly across the country, set up a booth at one of the national Greek conferences, but we were spending a lot of money and we are talking thousands of dollars on tickets, thousands of dollars just to pay to be an exhibitor and we weren’t seeing that ROI or that return on investment. About a year in, we had sales, but just because you are getting sales doesn’t mean you are making money with the business. It’s much more important what you’re actually pocketing than what’s coming in and then just going right back out.
After about a year we had been spending all this money trying to get sales, getting some sales but we were still in the red or about $40,000 in a deficit and our two partners were kind of sick of it. They decided they didn’t want to be a part of it anymore and my husband and I were like okay we got to try something different. Now there is only two of us, we have to stay here. We were making all of the orders, doing the manufacturing and so we were like we can’t keep going to these Greek conferences because we have to stay here and do the customers service and make the orders. How are we going to market? How are we going to get our brand known?
As kind of a last ditch effort, really right before we quit, I always say success is, people often quit right on the doorstep of success. We found a kid to pay a couple hundred dollars to search engine optimize our site. We thought what is this SEO? What is a SEO? We paid him a couple hundred dollars and actually he just did some very basic stuff. I mean now it’s something that I could go in and do, you know, adding some meta tags. Within about two months, we started getting orders from all across the country. We though this is weird, we never went to a conference in New York. How are we getting orders from New York and Chicago and Florida? We were like oh my gosh this is brilliant, we need to market online.
I still remember my husband went and bought a bunch of those SEO and Google Ad Words for Dummies, you know those Dummy books. He read all summer and he was telling me okay we got to try search engines and we’re going to do Google ad words and I started doing social media and Facebook. After that, it was just a very, very sharp increase. We were moving every six months because we needed to get larger office space, more machines, more employees. That was definitely the tipping point was oh my gosh we should market our website online. It sounds so stupid now but hindsight is 20/20.
JT: Definitely. Let’s talk; I have tons of questions about that. The first though is there is so many people going through right now, what you talked about where things, you know, you’re working your butt off; you’re hoping things are going okay. You’re seeing a trajectory, but looking at your ROI and looking at your numbers, it’s not looking very good. How did you make that decision to keep going instead of quitting? We just talked about a couple weeks ago the dip by Seth Godin. I don’t think he wrote that book at that time. How did you know? How did you make that decision?
MD: First of all, I have to give credit. When you’ve got two people that are fully committed, I mean there are definitely times when one of us wanted to quit and the other one was like let’s give it one more chance; it’s very hard when it’s just you. I think that both of us, we were young, in our mid 20s, or early 20s then, and we just knew we wanted to be entrepreneurs. We didn’t know if this was going to be the idea but there was no doubt in our minds. We had the rest of our lives in front of us and we knew that we wanted to be our own bosses. We knew the type of life and freedom we wanted and it wasn’t like oh I hope this works.
It was like something will work. It could be this, it could be something else, but we’re going to go through and try every single thing until we move on to the next thing. I think it was just that ability to look at it and quitting wasn’t an option. We were just trying to learn and gain as much from the experience. It really is all about the process. We really treated it that way. It wasn’t that we were failures. Certain ideas didn’t fail, but then we knew what to focus on and what was really working.
JT: I love that. That’s sort of the piece that I think is missing for a lot of people is that that hard commitment of I don’t know if this is it, if this thing that I am doing right now is it, but it’s that hard commitment on whatever it is, that goal down the road and that’s what you can see.
MD: Yes, absolutely. I’ve started multiple businesses since then and every single time it never ceases to amaze me, every single time it takes longer and it’s actually harder than I thought it was going to be and I have businesses, in a variety of industries from service based to home décor to apparel, and every single time I’m like this is going to be so easy. It’s just going to be an overnight success and it never is. It is crazy. Three businesses I’ve started now; it has always taken at least 3 to 6 months longer to get to the level of success. I’m lucky that I’ve even reached that. That’s amazing, like I said, I think so many people quit just right before that “a-ha” moment.
JT: Let’s talk about this because you have a lot of experience in starting businesses. Great. To give us your wisdom, if you were to start a new business right now, what would you do and maybe you could tell us a little bit of the issues on why it took so long or why it could take so long so that way we sort of know what’s coming up.
MD: Sure. Definitely the most common mistake I see is people having this big idea, I mean this something that would take 5 to 10 years to complete, whether it’s custom programming a website or they want to have this entire handbag line that you have to manufacture overseas and handle all of these overhead expenses. My advice is always take your idea and kind of break it down into the smallest possible way you could test it. Like I said, for example, say someone wants to start a handbag line. This means they are going to have huge accounts receivables and they want to be in Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus and that’s what they want to do.
When you have an idea, you can’t just have that idea. What is the first step of that? The first step is not going and spending $50,000 in an upfront deposit to get a handbag sample made. It’s not. What you want to do first of all is approach local boutiques in the area, small business owners that are actually going to work with you. Ask them what’s selling, what’s not selling, what do they wish, what do customers come in asking for that’s not already being offered? I always try to take, when I started, another one of my business is Luxury Monograms. I could have easily spent a year traveling around the world and finding inspiration and sourcing textiles and doing this big thing, approaching all these major el décor.
But what I did is I made one product, I put it out there. I contacted a bunch of interior designers. I got feedback and I actually had something to sell before I went and expanded and spent all this time and energy and money into making it a cohesive offering. Just to clarify, I think that you need to find one part of your idea, one thing. Don’t worry about what you want it to be in 10 years, but find something to start going out there and receiving feedback because you have to stay flexible. I think too many people and a lot of people might get made at me for saying this, but it’s not always just about your vision. Having a successful business offering is kind of a push and pull between your ideals and what your consumer, what the market actually wants.
So many people think oh my gosh I am just going to make what I want and that will be a success. That’s one way to go about it. There’s definitely some people that it has worked for, but in all of my businesses, what I have found is successful is to put a starting point. Put a starting idea out there, something that I think is going to have some traction and then let the feedback from my customers, from the market, from my colleagues and peers, redirect what it grows and shapes into, because every time it has altered into something that wasn’t my original concept, but it was a successful kind of growth, organic growth, of that concept or idea.
JT: This is gold. Anyone who is listening needs to make sure that they are paying attention to this because it’s huge. It’s not what a lot of people do unfortunately. We see issues that way and a lot of people don’t like entrepreneurship because of that, but like you said, everybody that I’ve seen successful has taken something and sort of made that, you know, fish in water you’re not really sure exactly where you’re going. Unfortunately, it’s not always the fun route but definitely it’s the one that works the best. I think that’s awesome.
How did you, when you were doing the monograming, how did you decide to come up with something? Especially if it wasn’t your initial vision, right? If you didn’t have the inspiration, it wasn’t perfection or whatever it is, how do you put something out there that might not be as good as you really want it to be?
MD: Absolutely and again this is where I think a lot of people may not agree with me but I’ll just put it out there. Take what you would like from this information. I think you need to be a little bit detached from your business and from your idea. It’s wonderful to be passionate about what you do but I think it’s really important to have a little bit of detachment because that way when something doesn’t work, you’re not crushed. I see some people and they put their heart and their soul and every last reign of their being into some business idea and that is wonderful and I commend you for your passion but, for me, it has always been very helpful to stay a little bit objective and Luxury Monograms was actually started because of a very real demand and a very real reason.
After we had grown Custom Greek Threads, our Greek apparel business, we were noticing we were having a really hard time because of the sharp spikes and peaks in the business. Fall and spring were both very, very busy. They were going through rush and recruitment in school and then in the summer it would be crickets, very, very slow and dead because people weren’t at school. They were off traveling doing their thing. We were having to deal with the overhead of ramping up this large manufacturing facility, all of these employees and then having to literally cut our staff in half every summer because we had no business and we didn’t want to keep people on.
I mean I really always recommend staying very bootstrap, which we’ll probably talk about later, but we were having to spend all fall and spring training these excellent employees and then having to let them go and then rehire and retrain and it was just not effective at all. I was trying to find a way to utilize our employees and our manufacturing facilities during summer months to kind of even out. That can really hurt you when you have those drastic peaks and valleys in your business. So Luxury Monograms was started. I tried a few different ideas. First I tried some souvenir apparel like those San Diego or Pacific Beach sweatshirts that you see in different tourist locations, but the margin wasn’t really there. A lot of them were being produced overseas so it was very price competitive and it just didn’t really make sense for our business model.
We were looking for a really high end profit. We had very, very high quality embroidery machines and we wanted to find kind of a luxury pricing market. When I moved to New York a few years ago, I started hanging out with a lot of interior designers and people in the design field and I realized, I was like you know what, I am sitting on this great idea. The same reason that Custom Greek Threads is so successful, that option of customization and of personalizing something. That needs to be applied to the home décor market. What we did is take our existing facilities, our cut and sew team, our embroidery, our manufacturing and just kind of transferred it over to a very, I mean I could have gone crazy. I could have been, I love interior design, but I could have taken it in a totally weird direction and been like this needs to be my personal expression and my aesthetic and put a lot of myself into it, which you want to put some of your own self in your branding, but really what I did is we started with one line.
I just did throw pillows and I wanted to see how the market responded. I looked for kind of the sweet spot in pricing. I found that there were a lot of very expensive like $1,000 boutiques in the south and in the northeast that literally you would order a duvet and a bed set for $5,000. I also saw that there were a lot of online kind of kitschy type of gifts, you know, little baby bonnets and socks for $5 to $10. I thought well were is that middle market? Where is that $75 consumer that wants the nice website experience, wants the customization, some nice packaging, but doesn’t want to pay $5,000 so that’s what we did was find that kind of uncovered territory in terms of pricing and put our branding right in that niche spot making it kind of contemporary but still very stylish.
We’ll go into this in detail, if you want me to, but basically by utilizing some social media strategies, we were able to get on hundreds of design blogs across the country. We were on Good Morning America. We got on NBC’s The Nate Berkus Show, so that very quickly was a success and then, from all that blogging, all the backlinks, we were able to move to the top search terms for wedding gifts. The wedding market is huge for us and summer is when the most weddings are and the most showers so it actually evened out our facility very nicely.
JT: How perfect is that? First, was there any competition in that market before you went into it?
MD: Well absolutely. I don’t know that there was really or if there is really anything, like I said, kind of in that middle market. Tons of competition at the lower and the higher end of the spectrum and a lot of I say wholesalers, but a lot of people who sell a lot of gift items but weren’t actually the manufacturer. Since we are direct to customer, since we can literally, we have some wholesalers, but since we are able to create and then sell directly to the customer on our site, it gives us pretty much 50 percent more margin than most wholesalers are dealing with so we have a profit and we can scale that into a nicer website experience. We can have better customer service, you know, nicer packaging, because we have more of a margin to play with.
JT: Nice. So now if I don’t ask you about how you got on the Nate Berkus show and stuff like that, people will hate me. Please tell me more about exactly what you did to ramp that up, a new product, ready to go social media, what would you do? You’re like the queen of social media.
MD: I do. I love social media. It’s funny, now that I have been more in the internet marketing space, I realize how many young women and how many women in generally really love social media. Within my group of friends here in New York, I don’t really know a lot of other girls that teach online marketing or social media. I thought I was this anomaly but apparently I am not. I have always been a huge fan of social media and, like I said, I started using Facebook for Custom Greek Threads back in probably 2008 so it has been awhile.
I have always been a fan of blogging. I mean even when I wasn’t blogging, I was reading blogs. I always thought this is such a great way for people to express themselves, to connect with one another. I was meeting incredible people from all across the world just by reading their blogs and I thought this is incredible. What I did is when I started Luxury Monograms, I already had somewhat, not extensive so I don’t want people who don’t have this to be discouraged, but I knew a few people or a few bloggers in the interior design industry. What I did is I reached out to them and obviously the ones that featured me weren’t people that I had any personal connections with but I just went in, I did probably the standard thing you’ve heard other people talk about.
I first of all complimented them. I talked about specifically what I liked about them and their blog to show that I knew them, I understood their reader, I understood their market. I didn’t just say, “Hey promote my products” but I would compliment them on something they did, a reason why I liked their blog. I would talk about what I had just started and why I thought their readers in particular would be interested in it and then what I offered to do, because I think you should always give before you ever ask for anything, is I said, “Why don’t we give away one of these pillows. I’ll give one to you and we can give one, let’s do a contest on your blog and let’s do a giveaway and give to one of your readers a pillow.”
Blog owners, a lot of them really love being loved by their audience. So if they can give something away or they can make their readers happy, they are willing to do it. I had a lot of bloggers go okay you’ve got a nice product, I like your site. As soon as you kind of stroke the ego a little bit, a lot of people their ears perk up, they are listening now and so I did that across a couple big blogs and then, as I’ve noticed, in any area of media, as soon as a few people pick you up, a lot of people pick you up so it’s kind of really about just getting those one or two people to vouch for you. I’ve noticed that in print media, digital and television. I had a few major blogs feature us, feature our brand. We auctioned off something, it was a $75 throw pillow. It cost me probably around $20, that’s a good profit margin.
JT: Yes that is.
MD: I think a lot of people get discouraged because they think well I can’t do a contest on social media. I can’t give someone a trip to Tahiti or I can’t buy them a new car. You’d be surprised how small of an incentive you actually have to give people to want to participate in the contest. Those major blogs first started featuring us and, like I said, for those of you that are fans of search engine optimization or SEO, which I highly recommend, which is when you get to appear for results on Google or Yahoo! or Bing, those back links, by having my website linked to a lot of these major blogs that were getting a lot of traffic, made it very easy for me within three to six months to start appearing for major search terms.
Then I had traffic coming in from these blogs, but I also was getting a lot of organic traffic with people searching for custom gift, monogramed gifts, all of that and it is very funny. I found the television industry is very, very funny because a lot of the editors and a lot of the producers look to the online world to get their scoop. I thought oh you have to be featured on television and then blogs will pick you up. It’s not that way and it’s much easier, so much easier, because I remember that’s the first thing I did is I sent out press kits. I sent out press kits to all of the El Decors and the House Beautifuls and a bunch of television shows. Unless you have a personal connection it’s really hard to get someone to look at that, but it’s so easy to send an email to a blogger. Most of them check a lot of their email.
I’m pretty sure, I don’t have any actual facts on this but I am pretty sure all of the media, I started getting contacted by even the Oprah show, I got contacted by Martha Stewart and I think it’s because a lot of their talent scouts are looking online and seeing what are people posting about, what’s hot, what’s hip right now and that’s where they get their sources.
JT: Let me just say yes, thank you. I posted on a large blog. That’s how I got on CNN and Yahoo!’s homepage and all that was from guest posting on a blog. You don’t assume that that’s the way you do it but it’s amazing. They have to read stuff too and they go to blogs, which is so weird and amazing that that’s how you got on that sort of stuff. How many, like if you take us back to then, how many blogs were you getting on? What was your ratio? I love number, right. What was your ratio on sending out to these big blogs, especially ones that maybe you didn’t know versus how many you actually got?
MD: Right. In the beginning, I contacted maybe 10 major ones. I didn’t want to just contact blogs that hard large followings but I wanted to contact ones that I knew had, especially since they were interior design, that had a similar aesthetic to my line whether it was a little bit younger, a little bit more contemporary. I contacted people that I knew that my offerings would be a good fit for their style and also for what I assumed their reader styles would be. I probably started out contacting 10 major blogs and one of them said yes. Maybe a few of them replied out of that and one of them said yes.
Sometimes all you need is one and I had a really large feature on that blog and then from that, you know, bloggers, it’s very funny because you got a few of those really big ones and then there’s so many with moderate size followings or small followings but they are always looking for new content. They are always looking. From that one post, I would say probably 50 to 100 other blogs, now these might have been blogs that had a 1,000 readers or they might have had one reader. I don’t know how many. I started noticing from Google, you know, we were getting all of these just funny little blogs I’ve never heard of picking us up but they post it, their mom sees it, their mom shares it with their friend. Online marketing is incredible.
I would say the ratio is very low but once one said yes it was very easy to kind of spiral into other things and I wouldn’t say we were even featured on that many big blogs. It didn’t take any blockbuster sites. I did a little bit of guest posting for some smaller and midsize blogs, but I would say really a 10 percent acceptance rate was all I really needed to get that to go.
JT: Thank you for saying that too, because everyone assumes like oh well I sent out three and I didn’t hear back. You’re like okay well three might not be enough. I know it’s hard to get rejection and people go well I put it out there, I put it out there, but it seems like what you’re all about is sort of gung ho taking action like crazy and I didn’t mention at the beginning that you run the Entrepreneuress Academy. You talk about business all the time. Give me, like you talk to people about business and how they feel about business, tell me sort of one of the issues that you’re seeing and what sort of advice you have for them.
MD: Sure. I think the biggest issue I see is just people being afraid to put something out there because either they don’t think their idea is ready or they don’t want someone to steal their idea. That’s something I’ve encountered a lot recently that I was actually really surprised by is people saying I don’t want to put my idea out there because I don’t want someone to take it. Maybe what they think is this brilliant idea and they are so afraid to put it out there because someone might copy it or replicate it. That blew me away because in my experience it’s not at all about your idea.
Your idea can’t suck. It can’t be something that no one wants to buy or pay money for but it’s so much more about the execution and about the marketing and about the consistency. I always tell people it’s much better to have an average idea and have excellent execution than to have an excellent idea. Honestly, it’s really funny, when I was talking to my husband the other night, out of my peer group of friends that I kind of grew up, I’m definitely not the smartest person. I mean I grew up with people that had way higher SAT marks than me, were way smarter, got better grades, wrote better articles, all of that but I have just always been so stubborn and I’ve always just, I say hardworking, it’s not enough to be hardworking, you have to put it out there and then gauge the feedback.
From your failure, from that constructive criticism, just continually shape it, mold it and put it back out there. Get the feedback, listen, alter it, put it back out there and just kind of keep on with the cycle. That’s just something I’ve never had a hard time doing. I think that confidence is really important because there are going to be people that don’t like what you’re doing that don’t have interest in it and I think that’s just part of life and you just can’t let that bother you but that fact of either thinking someone is going to steal their idea or thinking their idea is not good enough; I just don’t think the idea is necessarily that big of a part of it.
JT: It’s huge that you say that though too because I think a lot of the ideas not being good enough have to do with confidence in you and all that sort of thing. Did you always have confidence or is that something that, especially in business, especially when you didn’t know that you were going to be a businesswoman, but did you always have that innately or is that something that you gained?
MD: You know, I’d say I have always been a pretty confident person. You definitely just through life, you know, adolescence, all of those funny phases, I was very shy when I was a lot younger but pretty much high school on and through college and everything I have been very secure in who I am and very secure in myself. I think that definitely is a huge part of being successful and being able to keep yourself motivated even when you’re not necessarily getting that external praise or that external feedback that you are a success.
JT: That’s why I like asking that question too. I need to highlight that. A lot of people need to do some work internally before they are going crazy gung ho on their business because they will stop themselves over and over and over again and go why isn’t this working and it’s not really necessarily about that or the idea. It’s about internally so we really need to highlight that also. You said earlier though that you want to talk about bootstrapping. I want to talk about bootstrapping too because one of the biggest excuses I hear is I don’t have enough money, I don’t know. What is the best thing that I can do without a lot of cash. Tell me some advice that you have as far as bootstrapping and really getting something out there without a ton of cash.
MD: Sure and I think that is another really common misconception – people thinking if they have a business idea and their next step is I need to find outside funding. I need to find an angel investor. I need to go take out a $50,000 or $100,000 loan. There’s obviously different industries and there are different businesses so I can only speak from my experience, but I know a lot of successful business owners. None of them have ever gotten outside funding. I mean really out of my handful of contacts that I am really close with, none of us got an investment. None of had to take out a $50,000 loan.
I told you I leased our first embroidery machine, but we didn’t go rent some expensive office. It blows my mind when people think they need to start with their expenses here. It’s like you need to, like I said, the smallest possible idea. Work from home. I can’t believe how many people have a business idea and so they go out and they go lease an office or they go lease a boutique. The last thing you want to do is go commit yourself to some monthly overhead before you even have money coming in or have a customer base. I always think you really don’t need that much to start.
Maybe, like I was talking about the handbag line, you know, you don’t need to spend $50,000 to get a product sample made in China. Start with something very small. Start with if you can find someone local to make something for you. Start wholesaling other people’s stuff. If you want to go have your own fashion line, which a lot of women I deal with they want this, this fashion line. That’s another concept entirely when you talk about demand versus what you can do but maybe you can start building an audience and customers and wholesale other people’s stuff first and then once you’ve got a customer base and you’ve got some profits and some money saved up, then you can go and do your own signature line.
Something like that works a little bit smarter and security wise, but I always just start with the bare minimum. You don’t need to start by bringing on a bunch of staff and a personal assistant and this beautiful Park Avenue office. I think people are amazed really how little you can start a business with especially right now with a website. You can put a website up for free. You can use Facebook. You can Pinterest, Twitter. It doesn’t cost any money. You can build an audience. You can monetize an audience with email. I think our A web account is like $99 a month or something. There is so much you can do with so little funding now that businesses are hosted online.
JT: That’s extremely important. I think one of the things that I see people do is when they go I am going to start a business, they want to spend money because they feel like they are doing something. They’re like oh well I got this thing and I got this office and I feel like I’m checking things off my list when, in reality, they might not know if there is a demand, but they feel like they’re getting stuff done and so really sort of rearranging their priorities and figuring out if it’s profitable first or if it actually has any demand whatsoever is hugely important.
I think just knowing that, in general, that you can do it and that you’ve done it and that your friends have done it too; we just assume that these people are like oh well there is just money floating around them and that’s why they are so successful. It’s so easy for you now. Still, you continue to try and bootstrap and I think that’s really important. The thing I really want to ask you about too, two more things actually, one is you talk about women in business and I keep getting emails from people saying why don’t you have more women on your show and I’m like I’m trying. I am so trying to find them, especially younger women. It’s really hard to find women. What do you think about that? What do you think about women in business and why maybe more of them aren’t millionaires?
MD: Oh man.
JT: I know, right, loaded question.
MD: I definitely have a lot of opinions about this. I really, really do and I can tell and just from when we were talking at the conference we were at together, you and I both have a very similar outlook when it comes to, you know, we’re very analytical. We are very logical and that’s, I would definitely say I am more logical than emotional and that’s not normal. That’s not kind of the average woman.
JT: We’re weird. Great, thanks a lot, Melanie!
MD: We’re not emotional. I don’t say that condescending. It’s a wonderful thing to be emotional, to be passionate but I think when it comes to business you need to have both. You need to be passionate. Women, in my opinion, and the men are going to get mad about this but that’s okay I can take it. Women should be more successful than men when it comes to online, when it comes to marketing, because we are naturally community oriented. We like to support each other, we like to be around each other. Women use social media more than men. The fact that there aren’t more women succeeding online drives me crazy.
That’s really why I started the Entrepreneuress Academy was because I was so tired of meeting women, in the city, when I moved to New York, these brilliant, smart, great idea women and I just saw them either not having the fundamental skills, like not understanding online marketing, not understanding Google ad words, some of these things that maybe aren’t super sexy and they are not as fun as being a fashion or interior designer but these critical skills and needing to understand how to do an online business and how to be profitable.
I have friends come to me all the time that want to be personal brands and they want to show how to set a beautiful table and they want to pick out shoes and purses and share their personal style, which is wonderful, but when you are looking into making a business, when you’re looking to make money, you have to have a few fundamental things in place – a few models, if you will – and that’s what I really wanted to teach because I think that we need to kind of reign them in a little bit. I don’t want to be negative about it but I think that we need to say all of your amazing ideas are up here.
We just need to, I’m always doing this, we need to take them and you want to be this amazing brand, you want to be this fashion designer, these are wonderful goals but let’s bring them down into something here and let’s diversify you. Let’s do it a little bit different. Let’s try to do this in a little bit different tweak because I don’t know why but I think also women, we tend to see something being done and we just want to do the same things. I gave you that handbag example. So many women have fantastic style and they love fashion so they say I am going to start a handbag line. I love fashion. I love interior design.
I would never be a fashion designer and I would never be an interior designer because I don’t like the business models and I think there is too much competition in the market and not enough demand. Just knowing that objectively I think is something that I would love to work with a lot of women on is let’s take your passion for something. So my passion for fashion – I have made money over here and now I go and shop.
JT: Now I do the fun stuff with all the money.
MD: Both, you know, like I can enjoy it. It’s not that you can’t have passions, you can’t have hobbies that are mainstream, but I think when it comes to your business, looking at it objectively and seeing I love these things but I think that there is an opportunity for me over here. I’m going to put this on the backburner. I might come back to this. Like Luxury Monograms, I did end up starting something that was quasi home decorish, but it wasn’t about me throwing my love of interior design behind it, it was about figuring out what made sense for my time, my expenses and my resources sand that’s where the business stemmed from.
JT: That’s sort of the thing then I think is extremely important. We all are told, no offense, online, find your passion and whatever you are passionate about make a business around it and I think that’s, I talk about this all the time, in all the interviews that I have done, nobody, almost nobody went what do I love and then got tons of money from that. It’s not usually about that at all and I think that’s sort of the piece, like you said, it’s not about that you can’t have your passions, you can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody else is going to pay you loads of money for that passion.
Like you said, being able to find that, so I still have the passion and I love doing it but I also have something that I also like, because I think the one thing that we don’t know, like I interviewed a guy who creates rubber ducky celebrities. Right, crazy, huge business, which is nuts and it’s funny because he loves that. He thinks it is so interesting but there are still pieces and parts of that business that aren’t fun. So yes, you love fashion and yes I want to start a business all around fashion but it’s not all trying on clothes and getting sent free stuff and that sort of thing. There are some hard stuff that you have to go through, which is important.
MD: With any business and especially when you are starting it yourself. I talk to a lot of women and I am always very quick to say I know you see me now. You see me, I live in a beautiful apartment in Manhattan, I travel whenever I want, I get to shop whenever I want, I have this great life. There were several, not several, but there were about two years that I was working literally in a sweatshop in Santa Ana, California, cutting fabrics for our orders by hand until 3:00 a.m. every day. It doesn’t start out like that.
You really have to see the divide in the road is the people that are willing, there is some quote and I love it even though it’s kind of cheesy but it’s like being an entrepreneur is living a few years of your life like no one else will so that you can spend the rest of your life living like no one else can. I think that’s really true. I went through, while I was in college, so I started my business in college. All of my friends were out partying and drinking and doing all this and I was trying to learn how to start a website and going through and cold calling, trying to get a customer base; you know, doing the stuff that no one else wanted to do. That wasn’t fun, it wasn’t glamorous.
We were doing all the manufacturing. We were sharing an office space with this other, I mean it was not glamorous but you do the dirty work, if you’re really committed to it, you do it and the rewards are I mean just incredible.
JT: Yes, please, because everyone looks at you and goes oh my God Melanie is amazing, right, and they haven’t seen the blood, sweat and tears or like the fishtails, the trying to figure things out or the we don’t see you going I have no idea how to do this or this might fail. That makes it really easy for me to put you on a pedestal like oh she’s wonderful and knows what she is doing and I suck and don’t know what I am doing and I think that’s really important to tell everybody that you worked your butt off too. What a surprise! Who knew? It wasn’t easy.
MD: Sent an email out to my list the other day. It was a side-by-side picture and one picture was me probably about five years ago and I am just like in a t-shirt sitting on the ground, I’ve got my hair back in a messy ponytail and I am cutting. We used to cut all of our Greek letters so all of the Delta Gamma that would be on the shirts, we sold these really cool pattern fabrics that you couldn’t cut on the machine. I used to, after working at the office all day, I would take home this stack and I mean it used to be like this, then it was like this, then it was like this, and it was this stack of letters that I had to hand cut and I would, after working all day at the office, I would take it home, cut them all and then bring them back the next day and actually have them sewn on the garments.
I took a picture of that. I’m like not cute. I had a little bit of makeup on but not glammed out by any means. I’m holding this stack like oh my gosh. I had this look of exhaustion and overwhelm on my face and then I put it next to one of my pictures of like professional photo shoot. I had hair and makeup done, on my rooftop in New York, like just, you know, fabulous and I put them side by side. I’m like this is the journey. You can’t get this without this.
JT: But that before and after was huge. People can actually see what you looked like because no offense, looking at your website, oh my gosh, gorgeous. Every photo is picture perfect. Every hair is in every single spot that it’s supposed to be and looking at that is a bit intimidating going oh my gosh that’s absolutely amazing. Being able to have you feel comfortable going yeah I looked like this before, okay guys it’s not just about the glam stuff. It’s about what we had to go through and letting people know that is really important.
The other thing I really want to ask you, before we finish, and the last question is how is it working with your husband for so long? Especially having to be your boyfriend and then going through that all the time. I’ve worked with married couples and sometimes it can be fun. Tell me about that.
MD: Definitely a journey. It’s funny because I don’t really know anything different. We met when I was 19 and started our first business together when I was probably right around 21. That was my first business. He had been involved in a couple other things before that. He’s two years older than I am, but I’ve always known starting a business with him and I’m pretty sure I would not be able to do it without him. We are just such an incredible team and the way that we, our strengths and weaknesses, we’re so, so blessed because they complement each other perfectly.
He is very, very techy. I know what I need to know to get by online but he is very tech oriented. He loves, he doesn’t program or do that type of stuff but he loves systems and learning all of that and being on the latest trends and everything that way and I love marketing. I love people and I love design and so the two of us together I think that we are our recipe for success. We’re able to complement each other and support each other in the areas that we’re not as good in and complement with strengths. That’s incredible.
From a personal standpoint and this is going to come off kind of funny, but I can’t imagine not working together on the same businesses because whether it’s healthy or not, we both drive so much joy out of what we do. There will be weeks where we’re working on a major project and it’s like day in and day out, 12 hours a day, and I, as a wife, and I see other of my friends, especially here in New York, where maybe they have a job but it’s not super demanding but their husbands are in finance or something where they are traveling, they’re gone all the time and there is this level of resentment because it’s like I’m not his priority. I am not a part of this really important thing to him.
With Devin, my husband and I, it’s like we’re teammates. We’re doing the same things at the same time. If he can’t make it to dinner or something because he is working on a project, I am like good, good for you, thank you.
JT: Go do that, yes.
MD: It’s not a matter of like me being personally rejected and wounded. I don’t mean to be condescending about that but because we are working on the same things and we can sit down at dinner and be so excited to talk about a new project or a new accomplishment and the other person is just as excited about that versus me having some personal success and expecting him to be like just as amped about it. I mean he is going to be supportive but when you are working towards the same goals and on the same projects, the level of connection and just getting to experience that as a couple is unbelievable.
JT: I was just going to say and if you have those long days, sometimes you get to see him throughout the day without necessarily, you can still work your butt off but being able to see each other, which is very different if you worked on your own.
MD: Again, it’s not easy.
JT: No, no.
MD: I don’t want to be all fluffy and like it’s perfect, we never fight. We butt heads. Sometimes you spend way too much time together than you probably should but at the end of the day I would not have it any other way.
JT: Thank you for saying that too, because it can’t be all roses all the time, because it never is. Perfect. We do have to wrap up. I understand. I loved having you here. Thank goodness Sean was like you need, it’s so funny, because we met before anyway and you’re awesome and doing amazing things, especially helping women entrepreneurs. The last question that I always ask everyone is what’s one action that listeners can take this week to help move them forward towards their goal of a million?
MD: My thing would be have something to sell. Have something to either charge for whether it’s your own product or service. Affiliate marketing is amazing, especially if you have viewers that are really into the online audience. I work with a lot of women that maybe don’t have an idea yet but they want to make money, they want to have that freedom, that control over their life but the idea of starting a business is so overwhelming. It’s like there are literally, whether you sell other people’s products or services online through wholesaling or whether you just have an audience and you sell affiliate product, of course, that someone else teaches.
I think that you need to start making money. Too many people wait too long to ask people for money. I work with a lot of people who do blog audiences, giving stuff away for free for years and so it’s all about training, training your audience. If you’re going to build an audience or you have an audience, you can’t wait forever to let them know that you’re trying to make money as well. I mean there’s so much free information out there. I would say take either, if you have a basic idea you can get off the ground, start putting something out there, even if it’s just you’re going to do phone consultations or you’re going to do some sort of recommendation of a product or a service. I think it’s really important to start making money, even if it’s in small little steps, even if it’s just by recommending or selling other people’s stuff, because you will learn so much just by doing that.
You will learn so much about what works, what doesn’t work, the marketing and you’ll also start to build and train an audience by having offerings. I think that there’s so many people trying to make money online but when you break it down, there’s only a small percent. I really say only about 25 percent that actually have something on the market that they can charge for. That is your first step is finding something. It doesn’t have to be the big thing that you want your brand to be in 5 or 10 years, but start with having something. It could be an eBook. Just by having a product or service and putting it out there and learning how to market it, it will prepare you for when you do have that signature item or that signature collection or service that you do want to offer.
JT: I love that. I love you, Melanie. It’s funny my mentor always used to say it’s a myth that it takes six months, a year, a year and a half, two years to make any money because what you really want to be doing is getting that up front because until the money is in your bank account, you don’t know if they really want your product or service because they can say yeah that sounds like a great idea, I totally want that, you should do that. Go six months and then come back and they are like oh you want my money though. Well not for me. I think that’s really important. That shows you that they are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Thank you so much for coming on, Melanie. I know people are going to want to learn a lot more about you so tell us where we can find you online. I know you are everywhere online so I will let you go ahead and say everywhere.
MD: I do have a lot of different portals but if you go to MelanieDuncan.com, that’s where I’ve kind of created just my little world and that’s where you can learn a lot more about me, my products, services and also there’s a lot of free content and video training that, if you’ve liked what you’ve heard today, you can hear even more of it over there.
JT: Perfect. I know you have an email list so if you like my stuff, I’m sure you’re going to like Melanie’s too. Thank you so much for coming on. Hopefully I’ll see you again at another conference soon. I hope you have a wonderful day, Melanie.
MD: Thank you.
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