Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet and interview a role model entrepreneur who started her business on her dining room table 19 years ago.
Annie Selke has experienced great success from both working very hard and trusting her instincts, and years later she has an immensely successful brand, an
I asked Annie if she’d share some insight with budding entrepreneurs on how she’s come so far. My questions are for the most part related to start up companies, but I’m sure any of you who have a dream of turning ideas into a business will be equally inspired!
Please welcome Annie Selke into the spotlight today.
Q: You started your business on your dining room table 19 years ago when you had a one year old. Tell us what happened to bring you to that place.
AS: I had been working in New York for five years in various roles and companies. I was an assistant sales manager at Ferragamo, then went on to the Saks Fifth Avenue training program, then to Conran’s as a publicity assistant, later a copywriter and finally, I landed in a licensing company where I started in my now career long love, product development.
I always had a lot of enthusiasm and new ideas I wanted to see implemented. I was told over and over again “in a couple of years Annie” too often and got antsy and one day just decided to quit my job.
I bought an industrial sewing machine and my first client was Country Curtains, I started making chair pads for them with a group of home sewers I hired.
I had no business plan (which in hindsight I don’t recommend!) I just got to work.
Q: What did you learn in your first few years in business for yourself?
Every day was and education (and still is) as an entrepreneur. I learned how to participate in the NY Home Textiles Show and was encouraged by what I saw. I had unbridled enthusiasm for fabric design, and decided to take what I observed as inspiration and give it my own twist.
Q: What would you have done differently in the early years if anything?
I can’t say I’d do any of it differently. I’ve been successful beyond what I ever imagined. I kept redefining myself over the years, once I’d “done” something, I was always asking myself “what’s next?” I still do. But I do think it’s important to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish but from the start, to envision where you want to go and work towards that goal.
Q: What inspires you in your day to day ideas about your line of textiles, rugs, and furnishings?
Every collection comes from a piece of my personality, from things I’ve observed or experienced. And I’m always asking myself, “do I love the product?” I have both a design sense and business sense – Photoshop and Excel are equally important in my world – I love designing something and then watching how well it sells. I get a sense of gratification when people respond to my work, when they live with products I’ve designed.
Q Can you offer any tips for budding entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business?
Be eager. Do the thing that wakes you up in the morning. If you have passion and drive and talent and work hard enough, success will follow. Love what you do, it’s not worth it to go into business if you don’t absolutely love what you do. I’m a worker bee myself and I will emphasize that you can’t fear the work. To be successful you have to work hard.
Stay on top of the numbers and figure out how much money you need to make. Is it just to supplement at first or will this new venture need to feed your family? Start with a realistic financial picture and then structure your business to accommodate those numbers.
Recognize and make use of your strengths, but you should also be equally aware of your weaknesses. Know what you don’t know. Where you have weaknesses, hire help, for example, someone to do your payroll. Be clear about your needs with everyone you bring on board.
Be aware of both the risk and the reward. Even though you’re working hard, being self-employed is also an opportunity to have more control over the balance in your life. You really can define what’s important for yourself and your family and your life’s work. Master that balance and you will be a role model for your children and those around you.
Q: Share some tips for a young business in expansion. Once it starts to experience growth, what is important to keep in mind?
AS: As a successful business grows, more opportunities will come your way. Always do a gut check whenever you’re approached. It’s flattering for others to want to partner with you, but know your brand and where you want to go with it. Stay focused, trust your instincts, and never be afraid to say “no” to opportunities that won’t fit your brand or business plan.
Q: What’s your opinion on the changes in the business world, especially the influence of social media and blogs?
AS: As a business person, it’s so important to be open. Business changes over the years and you have to adapt to those changes. Both social media and the rise of blogging are examples of powerful changes –people more than ever want to feel connected and businesses will benefit by being approachable, sharing their stories with their customers, and engaging with their constituents. Businesses have to be acutely aware of what’s happening and evolve with those national or global changes.
For more tips on how to be a successful entrepreneur, take a peek at this article where Annie shares eight lessons learned from starting a business.
Thanks so much Annie for sharing your wisdom and inspiring story with us today!