The most familiar self-made female billionaire to me is Sara Blakely. Why Sara? Because so many celebrities use Spanx and all typical female magazines features Spanx products. But most of all, most of my close women friends wear Spanx and highly recommend that I use Spanx too. I remembered the first time I tried on a pair of Spanx underpants that started from my tummy and ended at my upper thigh. I thought WOAH now why didn’t anyone invent this earlier, it’s such a simple no brainer. This led to my obsession in finding out all about Sara Blakely. I thought to myself, she must be from a wealthy family or married a wealthy husband. Just as much as Spanx made me look amazing, reading about her road to being a self-made billionaire from the year 2000 till 2012 was amazingly empowering.
I became obsessed with reading anything and everything there was about this Sara Blakely to find any cracks in her story. In all her interviews, it was the great story of how her concept idea came about in 1998, when Blakely was selling fax machines door to door in Florida. Yes, door to door saleswoman trying to sell fax machines. Who buys fax machines from the door? It must have been tough.
Blakely wanted to remove her visible panty lines showing through her cream-colored pants. So she took a pair of her pantyhose and snipped off the feet part and wore this cropped pantyhose underneath her pants to smooth out the panty lines. She isn’t the first woman to have done so, many women would do too. The main difference is she TOOK ACTION and a simple solution to a simple problem became a billion-dollar business.
It was her “A-HA” big idea moment and she was determined to make an instant prototype and put it into production.
- FIGURE OUT YOUR OWN STRENGTH & WEAKNESSES
Blakely recognized that one of her main strengths was selling. She was good at it and really enjoyed it. She must have been, how many of us can say that we can sell a fax machine door to door?
2. WRITE YOUR GOALS DOWN IN A JOURNAL
Once she knew her strength was selling, she wanted to invent or create a product that she could sell that’s her own product and not somebody else’s. She wanted to sell this created product to millions of people that would make them feel good. She wrote this specifically in her journal and she kept looking at it and waiting for the day she would create THAT product.
Blakely had visualization for a big idea to come into her life. She knew she wanted her life to be different that what it currently was. So when she had her a-ha moment, she recognized that it was the goal she had written down in her journal and was looking for that product idea.
4. SPEED OF IMPLEMENTATION
The day Blakely cut the feet out of her pantyhose, she immediately pursued it. She didn’t know if it was going to be the ultimate idea she was looking for in her written and visualized goal, but did nothing but worked on the a-ha moment.
5. WORK HARD
Blakely has never taken a single business subject in college or university. So worked on her idea at night and on weekends. Whenever she had an opportunity she would just work on it. No excuses
Blakely worked Monday to Fridays selling fax machines, walking door to door from one area to another. Her nights and weekends were purely working on her idea. Often, she would skip dinners, parties and any other fun events. She needed this time to be spent on her idea to research patents and visit clothing manufacturers. Friends and family knew she was working on an idea but they didn’t know what it was. Blakely kept her idea a secret. They would say, ”Sara’s working on some crazy idea.”
7.KEEP YOUR GREAT IDEA / INVENTION TO YOURSELF
Blakely kept the idea and her project a secret for about one year. According to Blakely, ideas are most vulnerable at infancy. That’s the moment that most people want to turn into a friend, co-worker, husband or wife, family and tell them the idea. She didn’t want to invite ego into the process of getting the big idea out. She wanted to send time pursuing it and not defending it and explaining it to people.
“Don’t tell anyone your idea until you have invested enough of yourself in it that you are not going to turn back.” Sara Blakely
Personally in my opinion, it is best not to share your great idea to anyone initially, in order to avoid negative remarks or allow anyone to sway you away from your focus. It is also to safeguard your vulnerable infant idea from being stolen and pursued away from you. With great ideas, the next other elements required are speed of implementation, research, network and financials. Somebody else might be better in all of these elements than you and that person would be able to turn your idea into reality much faster than you could. Only share the idea with people that would help you take it forward like in Blakely’s case, the manufacturer owners and patent attorneys and materials people.
8. BE IN TUNE WITH YOUR HEART AND MIND
I believe during our pursuit of that great business idea, many of us tend to have many, many, many ideas and many, many, many signs. How would one know which idea is the great big idea? There is no proven formula. One great big idea from someone who executes it may not work as well as someone else executing the same great big idea. There are many factors involved in ensuring that a great big idea is successful.
“Trust Your Gut.” Sara Blakely
For Blakely, she knew that this idea felt very specific and different to all the other ideas she had. For me, I have many journals created over the years with hundreds of ideas, but when I had the a-ha moment of forming communities of SuperMumpreneurs and the SuperMumpreneur University, I knew this was the Great Big Idea for me that I can implement as soon as possible. That gut feeling told me to drop everything else I was working on or researching just to focus on nothing but SuperMumpreneur.
9. RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH
Blakely spent so much time in that one year on research on every aspect of the product and business.
For most of us, we need to view our competitors, similar products in the market, look for the right partners to work with such as manufacturers, patent attorneys, suppliers, distributors, study target market and various feasibility studies and plans.
The past one year for me has been doing nothing but researching on anything and everything related to women, mums and female entrepreneurs.
When Blakely finally told people about her secret idea one year later, when she had everything ready and prepared in the background, many thought she was crazy. Her friends and family would laugh when they found out her idea. Even the mill owners she pursued to make a Spanx prototype thought it was a waste of their time. Nevertheless, Blakely persevered and introduced to the world something new.
11. MAINTAIN EMPLOYMENT TILL BUSINESS READY TO TAKE OVER
It is important to maintain an income stream whilst pursuing your business idea. Blakely needed her day time job for the income, security, insurance and health benefits whilst her night and weekend pursuit was costing her money. Blakely worked from her apartment, doing her own packing and shipping and worked hard at getting her first major department store buyer. She only left her full-time job when she landed her first buyer Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. That was when she got the courage to make the leap and go on her own. She only quit in October 14, 2000.
12. THINK OUT OF THE BOX
Cutting the feet out of the pantyhose end was a simple idea that many women did. Blakely took it to the next level. When the first batch of Spanx arrived from the manufacturer, Blakely sent some to the Oprah Winfrey show, hoping that Oprah would try them on. She certainly did. It was Sara Blakely’s big break, Oprah chose Spanx as her product of the year for her popular segment “Favourite Things” episode. Oprah declared publicly over and over again all these amazing things, like “I gave up wearing undies. I only wear Spanx.” It was the best advertising and marketing Blakely could have ever imagined.
“Ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” Sara Blakely
13. MOVE SWIFTLY WITH THE MARKET REQUIREMENTS
Before the Oprah show aired, there was one huge problem. The show called Blakely and asked if she had a website. She didn’t but she sent “Uh-huh, of course.” They asked if she could ship and fulfill lots and lots of orders. She didn’t but she replied “Uh-huh, of course I can.” The truth is she didn’t and she couldn’t but she wasn’t going to allow this to foil her biggest opportunity to capitalize and sell. The show aired in 2.5 weeks time so she went into hyperdrive mode, hardly any sleep and built a website and made sure she had enough product in these 2.5 weeks. And the rest as they say, is history.
14. HAVE THE RIGHT MINDSET
You can only do points 1 to 13 if you have the right mindset in life. That drive to want to change your life. That want to be focused, disciplined and successful. Often times would not go well for Blakely whilst growing up, but she is able to laugh at herself and turn it into a story. Blakely likes the art of storytelling. Her favourite part of the screw up is being able to potentially make somebody else laugh or smile about it.
15. ACCEPT FAILURES AS LESSONS IN LIFE
Blakely doesn’t fear failure. She credits that to her father that raised her and her brother to do exercises in failure. At the dinner table, he would ask them what they had failed at that week and if they didn’t fail at something, he was disappointed. But if they failed at something, there would be high-fives given to them. He would ask them about the failures. This reframed Blakely’s mind and attitude towards failure. They would write down things that failed or didn’t turn out as well as they had hoped for and also write down what they got out of it anyway. For example Blakely said “Oh well, I didn’t make the team, but I met my best friend in tryouts.” There is always something good out of something that seems bad.
“It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable.” Sara Blakely
Personally to me, failures are lessons in life to make you learn, be better, strong and smarter. Even though I may be seen as a success to most people who know me personally, the reality is I have had so much failure in my life.
16. HAVE NO FEAR
Not trying becomes a bigger failure than going for something and it comes up short. As long as you try, you would come off better than you originally were.
Blakely credits her fearlessness towards failure as a major key to Spanx’s success. She had been selling fax machines door to door for seven years and she learnt a lot about rejection and how to deal with people telling you no. She dealt with her failures and moved forward, she built a no fear towards her failures and rejections. All those years of people telling her no was her training ground for all the no’s she had in the first two years of getting Spanx off the ground.
17. TIME MANAGEMENT
Blakely runs a billion-dollar business, meetings, interviews, appearances, is married, has a husband and 3 boys; a 6 year old and 18-month old twins. How does she manage to juggle it all? She pays a lot of attention to her calendar and time management and how she lives her life acknowledging the fact that she is layering becoming a mum, which is a full-time job on top of another crazy full-time job running Spanx.
18. PRIORITISE AND DELEGATE
Blakely pays a lot of attention to prioritizing what she wants to delegate and what she is willing to let go and decides how she wants to spend her time effectively.
19. HAVE A MENTOR, COACH OR GURU FROM EARLY STAGE
Blakely credits the late Wayne Dyer, personal-development guru and motivation speaker, for helping shape her character. At the age of 16, Blakely’s dad gave her the cassette series of Dyer’s How To Be a No-Limit Person. Her father told her that he wished he had listened to that tape at her young age instead of 40 when he discovered it. She started listening to it and she learned how to think productively and process life ina way that allowed her to stay focused on becoming her best self. She used to play his Dyer’s cassettes on repeat in her car during high school even though her friends joked with her that none of that wanted to ride in her car because of those motivational tapes.
When Blakely got on the cover of Forbes magazine, her friends texted her and they wrote that they should have listened to those tapes. Blakely feels that a mentor is a really important and wonderful gift in someone’s life. (Photo credit: Forbes.com)
20. THE FAKE COMMUTE – THE TRANSFORMATIONAL HOUR
Blakely does the fake commute daily. She gets into her car and sometimes for up to an hour before she needs to be in the office, she drives around alone. This gives her an hour of quiet time to herself and uninterrupted time to think. She lives only five minutes away from her office but she commutes for an hour.
This is similar to the Transformational Hour that I teach my students. An hour in the morning without any interruptions to enable time for yourself that is great for ideas or anything that will lead towards a transformation in your life or business.
Thank you Sara Blakely, having a woman like you to look up to, was and is one of my main driving forces in life since the year 2000. In my opinion, you are the perfect epitome of a super success and a SuperMumpreneur. May this article spread your greatness to more aspiring women.
Sara Blakely, ranks #1577 in the 2016 Forbes list of the World’s Billionaires. Her estimated net worth is USD1.1 Billion, in 2012 she was ranked Forbes World’s Youngest Self-Made Billionaire.