Zahra Aljabri, a young attorney from Minneapolis, Minnesota USA, has worked with her husband to establish a business to provide modest clothing with high style. She calls her business Mode-sty, pronounced MODE-e-sty, to emphasize the mode or modern element of her style. So far, she has worked with designers to offer discounts on modest pieces of clothing through timed, flash sales similar to Ideeli, but she would eventually like to have clothing made exclusively for her customers, since it is difficult to find modest clothing with the level of style she seeks. I first learned about Zahra's work through a personal email she sent through this site in 2012 and have since enjoyed several emails and a couple of phone calls to discuss her questions about style preferences and apparel manufacturing. What has most impressed me about her business has been the large number of followers she has gained over social media within just a few months. I asked her about her strategy and wanted to share her answers with you for the benefit of those who operate their own blogs or commerce sites.
Start with your personal network
Zahra said she had a large network of personal friends and said that she started by spreading the word to them. Common sense tells us all that this is best kept in balance, which I'm sure Zahra does because of the courtesy I have seen her use thus far in minimizing advertising emails. Most of us have had at least one over-eager friend or relative trying to make us part of a multi-level marketing chain. If you cannot afford or don't need a product, it is harder to break that news to a friend who is pushing it on you than to a complete stranger.
Greg Harris produces an excellent series of speeches called Family Business Workshop. My parents went to the very first workshop on this topic he ever held, back in the 1980s, and they brought back recordings of the sessions which laid an early foundation to inspire my work with the Fashion Belle business later in life. One of Mr. Harris' mottoes for planning a business is to select something that can succeed separately from friends and family as your only customers. He called friends and family a sacred circle that should not be intruded into for selling purposes. He highly recommends using family members as employees, but the customer base should be able to thrive outside of that circle.
I think this is excellent advice, especially when selecting the type of business you want to develop. Multi-level marketing programs seem to be the worst for exploiting family and friend relationships, though some people may be able to manage it discreetly. Manufacturing your own product or offering skills and services lends itself better to an expanded customer base. For my own purposes, I am keeping announcement of this website fairly low-key among my personal acquaintances. I may send out word again when each of the patterns in development launch. The traffic we are getting through Google alone has actually led some of my friends to this site who did not otherwise know about it!
Comment on blogs around the web
This is a longstanding technique that Zahra said she and her husband use to spread the word about their Mode-sty business. She acknowledges that it takes time, and her husband has helped with it. Google and other search engines rank sites highly based on the number and quality of backlinks, that is, the sites that link to your site. Many blogs have "no follow" attributes added to links that are posted in guest posts which will cancel any search engine benefit. However, it is still worthwhile to post links on blogs for the benefit of interlinking the web community. People who read another blog may find yours through a link you post in a comment. Be courteous and leave meaningful content, not just a pure promotion for your own site. Most blogs are moderated, and comments that provide a thoughtful commentary on an article are much more welcome than pure advertising links.
Follow people on Facebook and Twitter
Zahra mentioned the principle I heard recently from another Search Engine Optimization expert that if you follow people on Facebook and Twitter, they will often follow you back, increasing your brand's exposure. Facebook has a policy that brand pages are not allowed to connect as friends to others' personal pages. However, you can add a page to your favorites list or use a personal Facebook page to connect. A certain amount of risk comes in using your full real name connected to a business, so we here at Fashion Belle have chosen to stay away from the personal page approach. However, Twitter is more flexible and allows following of any type of other Twitter account. Posting links back to your website on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media sites is helpful in gaining followers.
Ask for feedback
Zahra has set up two phone conversations with me to ask about style preferences and manufacturing tips and has said she would like to call again in the future. She has mentioned talking to hundreds of people, so it is my impression that she has reached out in a big way to get feedback, both through emails and via phone. Her interest in my advice encouraged me to think of what I might want to ask her, which is how this article was inspired, by the advice she gave me on social media. She sent a follow-up email to say, "Also for connection online, ask more questions so that you can draw people out to comment."
Zahra's attitude is remarkable in a society where so many people think they know more than their neighbor and refuse to ask for advice. It is the wisest people who are willing to ask for advice and learn from it. A former pastor of mine said once that everyone has something to teach you, even the homeless guy on the street. I thought of his quote often when I lived in New York City to work as an apparel patternmaker and saw the homeless sleeping on the streets and in the subways in all temperatures throughout the year. Indeed, they were surviving on next to nothing in a city the rest of us consider one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. They were tough, and I admired their tenacity to hold on to life when life was hard.
Read more about Zahra's work at the following link: Fascinating and Fashionable: Zahra the Modest Clothing Entrepreneur.