Laura: Hi everyone, I’m Laura Max Rose and I am your host today of The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. I am here today with a former host of The BusinessMakers Show Esther Freedman. Esther is the Founder of the kids clothing company Cuteheads; Esther, welcome to the show.
Esther: Thanks for having me.
Laura: So I am so excited to talk to you today because you are extremely young for starting such a successful company, especially in a niche like kid’s clothing. What gave you the idea for starting a kid’s clothing business?
Esther: Well the truth of the matter is I had the name before I had the actual business idea.
Laura: You got it from your dog Winnie.
Esther: I got it from my dog Winnie which you’ll appreciate because we call her our cute head and we always called her that and I think it was like February 2011, I was like you know that would be a really cute idea for a business. And my husband and I kind of kicked it back and forth, you know, what could it be? And I was like I love clothes, I love fashion, I’m into design so I wonder if that could be – if it could be something in that area. And then I did a little bit more market research and we decided that kids would be a really good route for it because I’m not really – I don’t have a design background so it was going to be a lot of – I didn’t really want to design for adults, I wanted to design for kids plus I love kids.
Laura: And when you think of cute heads you almost think of a little kid or like a doll.
Esther: Exactly right, that’s exactly right. So we decided that Cuteheads was a kid brand. Not an adult brand; it didn’t resonate for adults, but for kids it was perfect.
Laura: Had you always been interested in fashion? Was that something that you always had done?
Esther: Oh yeah. Well I mean I was always among – thanks to my mom, you know, she instilled that in me very, very early on. I can admit this now, but we would hide shopping bags in the trunk and sneak them in when my dad wasn’t looking; we would just go shopping together all the time, that was our favorite thing to do and she had great, great taste.
Laura: And now you have your own daughter Naomi, who in 1 ½?
Esther: Yes, she’s 1 ½. She’ll be 2 in December.
Laura: And she has certainly taken after your sense of style.
Esther: She loves to get dressed.
Laura: She has the cutest clothes I’ve ever seen.
Esther: Well I have created a monster.
Laura: If I follow on Instagram @cuteheadskids you’ll see photos of Naomi everywhere wearing clothes that I am jealous of; I want them in my size.
Esther: I know, I kind of do too. She really – She’ll grab things, Cuteheads things, and she holds them up and she says pretty Mommy, pretty. And she twirls around and yeah.
Laura: Is she excited about modeling for you?
Esther: Usually she doesn’t mind. She’s starting to get a little bit rebellious and I think one of the ways she’s rebelling is by no Mommy, no picture, no picture.
Laura: She’s like I need my break.
Esther: I need my space. The star needs her space. The truth of the matter is I don’t like to use her that much because I don’t want anyone to think I think she’d like some kind of baby model.
Laura: Well you have so many other babies who are wearing your clothes around the internet and people are sharing those as well.
Esther: Yeah, exactly. I share all kinds of customer photos and I try to just let her do her thing and be covered in dirt and whatever else she wants to do.
Laura: So you have a blog called The Cuteness, which I love reading.
Esther: Yes, yes thank you.
Laura: And recently you wrote an article about social media and your smartphone and so many of us need to read this, like how important it is to put that smartphone away at some designated time per night. I remember I think you said you try to put your away at 8:30 which I stuck to for about 1 day, now I’m over it.
Esther: Yeah, it’s really tough, it’s really tough.
Laura: It’s tough to do but you also said in that same article hey listen, I have to be straight with you, I wouldn’t have a business if it weren’t for social media. What did you mean by that; how has social media affected your business?
Esther: Social media has allowed me to reach so many more people than I normally would have been able to reach for very little money. I think marketing is extremely expensive, someone who has worked in marketing in the past I know that. Of course there are certain things you can do, spend a lot of money you get a lot in return but as a small business owner I don’t want to put up a bunch of money and hope for a return. So I really invested the time, which really is – you need the time and the patience to implement you social, media. I think that’s the misconception about social media is that you just turn it on and then you win. So it really doesn’t work that way but if you dedicate, you know, make it a priority you can be successful with it and really has helped my business grow. I’ve reached so many new customers and connected with so many other business owners that way, which that has of course helped because I collaborate with a lot of people.
Laura: Well I’ve been following you on social media almost since the beginning of Cuteheads, you were about 6 months into your Cuteheads journey; I don’t remember how many followers you had back then but I checked this morning and I think you had somewhere between 31 and 33,000 followers.
Esther: Yeah, that sounds about right.
Laura: What have you done, perhaps differently from other small business owners, that has led to that big of a following? What did you bring to the table that has made so many people interested in knowing what you’re up to?
Esther: I think the main thing that separates my social media from other people’s social media is that I’m very picky about what I post and I decided fairly recently that I was going to figure out what made Cuteheads Cuteheads and what people like about it. And I was going to pay more attention to my metrics and pay more attention to what people were responding to and I realized that people were not responding at all to pictures I was taking at parties and pictures I was taking at this event and that event and here’s a picture of me doing this; things that were very personal and sort of boring to anyone who didn’t know the people in the picture. And so I decided to do away with all that and now I have very strict guidelines from Instagram about what I’m going to post, when I’m going to post it and just the style of it.
I want it to feel real and I want it to feel serene and calm and peaceful, but also colorful and just very much speaking to the brand versus what I just think is cute or fun or cool at the ime. So it makes it difficult in a way because you really have to think about your pictures and sometimes I wake up in the morning and I go what am I going to post today? I don’t know, I better take something; but then I do and I just get it together and take a picture.
Laura: Well on the other side of that in terms of getting up and saying okay, this is what I’m going to do this morning, I’ve also heard you talk about how excited you are and how passionate you are about what you’re doing and how while that’s exhilarating and exciting it also can be all consuming and it becomes what you’re spending all your time on.
Laura: How do you decide what’s really important and how to make time for yourself? Are you just still earning that like the rest of us?
Esther: Yeah, I think if you’ve figured it out you let me know.
Laura: It’s hard. I mean I’m very passionate about what I do and sometimes I feel like I’m up 3 days in a row and I don’t feel any need to go to sleep.
Esther: For sure. And it’s more about the mental time that it takes; the time I spend thinking about it and the time I spend worrying about the things I haven’t done yet. That consumes me sort of.
Laura: Well you’ve said that sometimes you keep a notepad next to your bed.
Esther: I do. I always keep a notepad because I don’t like to look at my phone past 8:30 I don’t want to type it into a note, so I will write it down just to remember to do it in the morning, but my To Do list probably has 500 things on it. And some of them are huge like build a mobile website; you know some of them are really small, send this order to X blogger or whatever.
Laura: Well there is so much to do and that’s my next question for you is when you’re starting a business, you start off with a checklist of 5 things and then those 5 things turn into 10 and then that list of 10 years later is 500; how do you deal with that process, that evolution, and not getting everything done all at once?
Esther: So when I worked at Blinds.com there was something that the Chief Marketing Officer taught us and that you put things in categories. So you have your things that are the biggest wins but that take the least amount of effort, you always start with those things. And then you have things that are big wins that take a lot of effort, you maybe save those for the backburner; you have kind of these grids, these four grids, these four squares and you put things in different squares. You’ve got the things that take huge effort, no impact; you don’t do those things, that'[s box four. So everything goes into a category, so you want to focus on the things that are the big wins that take very little time. And that’s – I always start with those.
Laura: So focus, focus is a word I’m hearing?
Laura: You work by yourself right?
Esther: I work by myself. I have a lot of contractors who work for me, you know, seamstresses and marketing people.
Laura: Where do you get that focus from? Are you just self-motivated, do you have any tips for us?
Esther: I think that yes, self-motivated is definitely – I mean discipline is critical if you’re going to run a business. In my past job working for 5 years and learning the skills, I mean I really think it’s a skillset to continue to work on something when it’s extremely hard. There are so many times when I want to give up, I mean I want to give up every day. There’s always a moment that I’m like never mind, you know, is Housewives on?
Laura: And you would never know that. You would never know that from the outside looking in so I think that’s so important to communicate even when on the outside we’re going in a forward direction still inside we can feel like this is so exhausting.
Esther: It’s exhausting and you feel unsure and is it going to work and that’s part of the journey is just cerebrally knowing those things and then continuing on anyway. Like you just know them, they’re just in your brain but they don’t emotionally feel like ah, I can’t do it.
Laura: Like okay, I’m having feelings of doubt again but this happens every day.
Esther: Exactly. Here, I’m having these feelings, exactly, and I’m just going to continue on because I know it’s just a feeling and I know it’s not something that’s actually happening. But yes, discipline is critical. I mean you have to be able self-motivate or you will sit on the couch all day instead of doing you work. Which there are days where that has happened, believe me, especially around the time that I was about to have my daughter and right after I had my daughter I took a few months and just allowed myself to be in that sort of no showering..
Laura: I’m watching housewives, I’m meeting these guys, I’m not doing anything.
Esther: Exactly, I’m not meeting anybody right now because I haven’t washed my hair in like a week. So that was the reality of that time in my life and then I got to a point where I said okay, I’m ready to join the world again.
Laura: Well I think what you just said is so important because things like being about to have a baby is something that you may experience again but only a few more times if you do and it’s such a rare, wonderful experience. And for me, I was rocking and rolling and writing all this stuff and then I got engaged and I had to plan a wedding and I think other people might have thought I was crazy but I really wanted to take in that time in my life and I slowed everything else down because when else is this going to happen to me? It’s so exciting and so cool so I think it’s a good message to say all right, there’s a chapter and there’s a season for everything and you can take it in and enjoy it and you can still pick back up.
Esther: And you will really drive yourself crazy trying to do everything perfectly so I don’t try. I gave up perfection a long time ago and I really fully believe that done is better than perfect so I don’t worry if it’s not perfect, perfect, perfect anymore. I used to be such a perfectionist and I still am in some areas of life. You know, everyone is a work in progress, but I do believe that you have to give up on perfection if you want to be the best.
Laura: Or else you’re never going to put anything out there, you’ve got to put stuff out there.
Esther: There’s a book that I read by Seth Goden – if you don’t read his blog every day you should, it’s excellent and he’s a marketing genius – but he wrote a book called Lynch Pin and he talks in his book about shipping on time. Basically giving yourself a deadline; saying this is the day it’s happening and then working until you hit that deadline and then when it’s done – not perfect necessarily, but it’s done – and ship. Get it out the door, you know, put it on the table, let people see it.
Laura: It doesn’t matter if it’s messy, it matters that you’re doing it.
Esther: It doesn’t matter and every single person who’s ever started anything, the first iteration of whatever they started sucked, bad.
Laura: You’ve said this before.
Esther: Yeah, it was in the blog. And it’s such a good lesson to know that every single person who has ever started anything has had something that they shipped that has been terrible. And yet you people tell them oh, you need to work on this and then you do and it gets better and better and better and better and then it becomes whatever it’s going to be and hopefully becomes something that people love and gravitate towards and want to be a part of.
Laura: Well there are so many myths about overnight success, especially in America, and we want it now, we want to get rich quick, we want to win the lottery so it’s so refreshing to talk to someone who has really done this one day at a time and to watch that has been so cool. I know sometimes maybe it doesn’t feel like that’s what’s going on.
Esther: Well, you know, my example is my dad. You know he started Blinds.com and I worked for him and we laugh, you know, when he sold his business when I congratulated him I said congratulations on your overnight success. And we joked about it because it was like 20 years of work.
Laura: but on the outside everyone thinks oh, I just want to do what he did, I want to do it tomorrow.
Esther: I want to do that. He started that company in like 1993 and then it didn’t get sold till all these years later and he’s still working there of course and everything’s great, but it’s just a funny that people just – again, it’s what people see on the internet and what they read in the paper.
Laura: They don’t realize how many steps that person took to get wherever they are.
Esther: Yeah, how much personal growth it took to grow something from nothing to something. You have to also grow with that organism, that business and become a better leader. It’s one thing to have 5 employees, when you have 200 employees it’s a big difference and you have to learn how to…
Laura: And if you have 200 employees overnight – if you went from just you to 200 employees – you wouldn’t be able to handle that.
Esther: No, you wouldn’t know what you were doing.
Laura: Oh it’d be crazy.
Esther: Oh, it’d be a hot mess.
Laura: So you’re learning as the journey goes on?
Esther: Yeah, exactly.
Laura: Okay, so last question because we do have to wrap up but I could ask you a million more.
Laura: Best piece of advice for someone who’s about to start a business or follow a dream, what is it? Even though you’ve given us so many good pieces of advice, you can repeat something if want to.
Esther: I think – and we talked about this a little bit – but I think the best piece of advice I can give someone who’s starting a small business is not to worry about what anybody else is doing. You get so wrapped up in other people’s success and what you want and envious of that success and you forget to focus on yourself. If you stop worrying about what everybody else is doing and you only worry about what you’re doing I think it will make the journey a lot easier. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be easier if you’re not constantly comparing yourself to everybody.
Laura: Compare and despair.
Esther: Yes, exactly. It’s the worst feeling to feel like everyone around you is being successful and you’re just stuck doing nothing.
Laura: And you are doing something, it’s just that no two people are alike and we’re all in different phases.
Esther: And you’re all going to grow at different rates and different speeds. I mean some people do achieve almost overnight or very short – 6 months or a couple months they become successful, but that’s so unusual. I mean it’s so rare that something catches fire that quick.
Laura: Go at your own pace.
Esther: Go at your own pace and just let it grow and let it evolve. And if you haven’t achieved it it’s because you’re not ready yet and your brand or whatever you’re working on is probably not ready yet. So once you figure out where, it just needs time and needs work.
Laura: This is one of those interviews that I’ve done where I feel like everyone watching has to have listened to the last drop and written everything down because it’s been really great advice. I’m going to go back and re-watch it and write it down.
Esther: Oh, thanks.
Laura: Esther, thank you for joining us today.
Esther: Thank you; thanks for having me. This was fun.
Laura: I am your host, Laura Max Rose, and you’ve been watching The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. Thanks for joining us.
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