Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Susannah Davda and I launched my business The Shoe Consultant in 2015. I help people to start shoe brands that delight their customers.
Footwear entrepreneurs around the world receive my support from concept to launch and beyond. Shoe start-ups can access my 22 years of footwear industry knowledge and experience in several ways:
- Sign up for my comprehensive online course How to Start a Shoe Brand
- Work with me one-to-one
- Join my free Shoe Biz Club newsletter
Before I launched The Shoe Consultant, people who wanted to start shoe companies struggled to gain access to this rather closed industry. Footwear business professionals didn’t see the point of nurturing those with no previous shoe experience. I didn’t think this was fair, so for the past five and a half years, I have helped dozens of entrepreneurs to enter the wonderful world of shoes.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Except for a paper round and a brief stint in a horrible bag shop, I have only ever worked in shoes. At the age of sixteen, I started working in a shoe shop. Although the product was pretty average, I loved it when new styles were delivered. I got a kick out of seeing the transformation of customers trying on different shoes. I didn’t even mind the monotony of “working stock” - climbing up and down ladders shifting heavy shoe boxes from one set of shelves to another.
When I was looking for fashion design degree courses in the great big manual of university options, I stumbled across the tiny Footwear Design section. There were two footwear design degree courses and an HND in the UK. I applied for all three!
During my undergraduate degree, I learned to design, make, and cut the patterns for shoes. When I graduated, I worked in design and buying, then product management. I had experience in retail, wholesale, and branded footwear, and I knew I wanted to use my knowledge to help people.
I had been planning to leave my corporate global shoe brand role for a while and was saving like crazy. I would walk part of my commute to save money on transport, buy the cheapest lunch, and know that those small sacrifices would be worth it in the end. I had a blog called The Shoe Consultant which I’d been writing for a couple of years before I left my job. Although it was consumer-facing, the name inspired me to launch a real consultancy business.
I handed in my notice the first day back in the office after Christmas, with no more than a vague idea about the kind of shoe brands I would help.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I registered my business as a Limited Company in April 2015 and began adding services to my website. These were not well-researched offerings that customers were waiting for. They were simply the things I knew I could do well given my experience.
I offered consultancy for shoe brands, speaking, and writing - all of which are still revenue streams for my business - as well as personal shoe shopping for individuals - which is not!
I attended lots of Enterprise Nation workshops and networking events in the first few months of business. Enhancing my skills in marketing and social media, as well as meeting other entrepreneurs.
At one of those networking events, I met my first consultancy client: someone who was trying to start a shoe brand but struggling. Start-up footwear business clients like her eventually became the main focus of my business. However, it took me a while to realize that the personal shoe shopping side of my business wasn’t viable. I would have greater success if I focused on the revenue-generating B2B work.
As many service-based business owners do, I started out charging my consultancy clients an hourly rate. I also traveled an hour each way to meet with them. A business coach helped me to realize that I needed to package up my services and work remotely to make a profit.
I still work one-to-one with clients but over Skype or Zoom. In June 2020 I launched my How to Start a Shoe Brand online course which had been a year in the making. It now represents a significant passive income stream for the business.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched my business fairly quietly, with no big party or fanfare in the press. Because I offer services rather than products, I didn’t have to invest a lot of money to be up and running. I decided to take my time exploring how my knowledge could both benefit other people, and provide me with an income.
I built my own website using a WordPress template and just had to pay for hosting and registering my domains. Although my website wasn’t beautiful, it did the job.
I worked with just a few clients in the first and second years of business. Launching coincided with me becoming pregnant, so it was a busy time for me personally. However, I did enjoy the flexibility that working for myself offered. I look at January 2017 when my son started attending nursery part-time as when the business really got started.
My business journey has been an unconventional one, but it served me well to offer numerous services at first. This enabled me to work out where the revenue opportunities were without any financial risk.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Initially, my clients came from in-person networking, Twitter, and Google search. When I relaunched my website - professionally designed this time - the SEO improved dramatically. My clients now find me on Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, online press, and podcasts.
I have found the client testimonials to be incredibly powerful. I share them on social media as well as on the testimonials page of my website.
Instagram takes some time and persistence to crack. I found that when I started posting relevant content regularly and included Stories in the mix; my followers saw more of my posts. Reels are now an important factor in posts being prioritized by the algorithm.
I retain clients by delivering excellent service. Since I launched the business in 2015 I have learned a great deal about what shoe startups need. All of my products and services help to make the journey to shoe brand success smoother for them.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
What I do is very niche, which restricts revenue potential, but makes it easier to attract clients than more mass-market types of businesses.
I am currently forging partnerships with shoe business professionals across the world to increase awareness of my services in their countries. There has also been diversification in the way I deliver my knowledge to new footwear brands. From one-to-one only to the online course, and now I’m offering online masterclasses on specific topics. The last 12 months has been a strong growth period for The Shoe Consultant.
Plans include building a membership site and hosting a pop-up shoe shop.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I definitely tried to persist with the personal shoe shopping service for too long. If I had just focused on helping startup shoe brands early on, I think I could have grown my business more swiftly. I knew that B2C wasn’t a real opportunity fairly soon after beginning to promote this service, but I persisted, thinking something will work. It was other people who encouraged me to keep going. So my advice to other entrepreneurs would be to follow your instinct. If one aspect of your business isn’t working, concentrate on the area that is.
Another big change I made in my business was to charge up-front for most of the services I provide. This means I spend a lot less time chasing payments, and more time on the elements of my business I love.
Launching an online course in the middle of lockdown wasn’t something I could have planned for, but we happened to be close to completing it when COVID-19 spread internationally. My intern and I worked intensively on the course, so we could launch it when everyone was still stuck at home. I think the early success of the course was due in part to the dramatic change in people’s lifestyles.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For social media scheduling and content creation, we use Preview, Hootsuite, and Canva. For keeping track of clients and leads, we like Capsule CRM. Asana is a fantastic project management tool, with fun animations when you tick off tasks. It has really helped with remote working.
We use Google Drive, Docs, and Sheets for most of our shared work, and Google Hangouts for quick remote communication. Skype and Zoom are great for client calls. QuickBooks for bookkeeping, MailChimp for email marketing, and Evernote for searchable notes.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Launch by Jeff Walker was an important read before launching my online course. It goes into the psychology behind launch techniques and provides practical guides.
Cash is Queen: The Podcast for Women Entrepreneurs is really accessible and practical, as is The Lifestyle Edit Podcast by Naomi Powell. Grow With Soul by Kayte Ferris is a gentle and inspiring podcast: it feels like the way I want to do business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
The advice I give my shoe brand clients is:
- Work out who your customer is and what drives them before creating a product for them.
- Build an audience before you have anything to sell
- Always reference your customer when you make any decision about your brand, marketing, product, or pricing
It’s easy to skip those points and go straight to developing your product, but you risk the product not being right for the customer and nobody is waiting to buy it.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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