This is a follow up story for LoveLornLingerie. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello! My name is Jessica Ding and I run Love Lorn Lingerie, a handmade leather, and lingerie brand. I sell a broad range of products within a niche field - leather harnesses, collars, and accessories, to lacy bras and headpieces. My products do well with those in the BDSM scene, in the gothic lifestyle, and festival-goers! The last time I spoke with Pat (in September 2019), this business was a simple side hustle that I worked alongside my part-time day job.
As luck would have it, soon after that interview I was let go of my part-time job and this endeavor turned into my full-time job! Fortunately, as I went into the holiday season, my revenue nearly tripled, making enough money that looking for another part-time job was unnecessary.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The business has been surprisingly steady! After the holiday boom, my business - as all retail businesses do - experienced a drop during the beginning of the year. I spent that downtime prepping for a trade show. I was able to pick up one new wholesale client there while deepening the existing wholesale relationships I had. I had some other great leads who were interested in products for the upcoming festival season but! As we all know, the pandemic hit, which led to all the brick and mortar stores closing and the festivals being canceled.
Be flexible, and take on slightly more work than you think you can handle because you’ll get through it, and when times are perilous, the work will help stabilize things for the future.
I started learning more heavily about social media advertising. I revived my mostly dead Twitter account and connected with people there. I’d paused influencer marketing during the holidays but started doing that again, with mixed results. This was primarily on Instagram but I’ve found some difficulty growing there - that’s not to say that I didn’t grow my account, just that the algorithm did seem to limit my reach.
Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the business I’m in - being sex-adjacent means my content is much more likely to be shadowbanned or censored. I’m still unable to run paid ads on any social media channel - all attempts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have been rejected. I’m now working with a marketing freelancer who is helping me navigate Google Ads. In the meantime, I’ve started forming some affiliate partnerships with blogs, and collaborating more with photographers, and looking especially for opportunities to work with more diverse people. We’ve started submitting photo shoots into independent magazines, which is another great way to grow brand recognition and authority.
As for retaining my previous customers, I’ve introduced a Points and Rewards system on my website. I’ve had customers who repeated buyers anyway and I wanted to reward that loyalty. Implementing that, plus smaller “Thank You” discounts, have been effective moves.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Walking the fine line between compromises and holding your ground. I’ve made mistakes on both ends of the spectrum this year. I can think of incidences where my rigidness in holding to my self-imposed rules have lost me customers and where agreeing immediately to what a buyer wants has also caused me to lose out in the end. I’m still trying to find that balance, but loosening up my own rules in some places has opened up good opportunities. In this case, agreeing to do consignment with boutiques (where previously I only accepted wholesale), has been successful; it’s both an opportunity to make sales as well as a chance to broaden my audience and create brand awareness. One of the consignment accounts has since turned into a small but steady wholesale account.
Of course, the pandemic has shaken things up considerably. Originally, I had planned to participate in 6-7 in-person markets/conventions around the US this year, all of which were canceled. These are opportunities for me to make a bunch of revenue all at once, so the loss of these markets wasn’t great. It’s offset by the fact that this also means I don’t need to spend my money on travel costs like flights and hotels. I’m lucky that I’ve spent the last 5 or so years building my business online. Even with the lack of markets, the fact that my primary way of making sales was intact and functioning meant I was still stable for most of the year.
The wholesale accounts I had honestly helped carry me through the early year. I used to think about closing the wholesale option purely because the profit margin (15-20%) was so much smaller than selling retail directly to the customer (50-60%). However, stores work on a different buying rhythm than consumers; where retail was incredibly slow in January and February, stores were planning out their spring seasons and making large purchases that would carry them through the next few months. I was lucky to receive a few of these orders before the pandemic officially shut down the country. Once the wholesale orders were completed, it was just in time for the increased retail buying that comes with spring.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I’m still planning on creating more and different products, specifically for men, and more gender-neutral designs. I’m sad to say I didn’t create as many new designs as I wanted this year, but I’m grateful that much of it was because the orders I had received took up more of my time.
I would love to be able to expand my wholesale accounts to Europe in the next few years! Before that can happen, I’m setting the groundwork for scaling up by standardizing all my products’ size ranges, rechecking the quality of the fits, and cleaning up my administrative processes.
Next year, I will be moving out of my one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom place, where one room will be my designated studio. I imagine that will be sufficient for at least one year, after which I think I’ll start looking for studio space outside the home, where I can hire employees and create better boundaries between my life and my work.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Admittedly, most of my reading this year has been schlocky horror books and escapist fiction but I did read the E-Myth by Michael Gerber and most of Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey (before my attention span disappeared). The E-Myth was very helpful in figuring out how to prepare and structure my business for scaling up.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Be flexible, and take on slightly more work than you think you can handle because you’ll get through it, and when times are perilous, the work will help stabilize things for the future. BUT I think it’s also important to only take on work that’s within your comfort zone. I have zero issues refusing orders from customers who are likely to waste my time or cause trouble for me down the line.
If you are a small business or sole proprietor, I would absolutely recommend putting more of your personal voice in your social media and website. Now more than ever, I think consumers are more interested in supporting individuals rather than big corporations. I have lots of competitors, especially competitors who sell much cheaper mass-produced versions of what I make (sometimes they are literally exact copies of my designs), but people will still choose to purchase from me because they know my face, my voice, and my values. They trust that my designs are original, handmade, and honest.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m not looking to hire anyone full time or long term but I do occasionally need writers for SEO blog posts, and occasionally need marketing help on a project basis!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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