Today's interview is with Alana Oates, founder of Llani Shoes. She produces the most fun and stylish slippers, flats, and slides that provide the comfort of home from anywhere. Read on to learn about her experience running a small business. AND...if you make it to the bottom there's a little treat for you!
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I launched Llani in 2016, but the decision happened way before that. It was always a nagging idea in the back of my mind. I was working for a large corporate company in San Francisco, but my fiancee was on the east coast in the home we bought before I said yes to the opportunity that took me across the country.
My motivation to get home really propelled me to take the steps to start the brand. I knew I wanted to 'come home' and in doing so, I wanted to work independently.
What do you wish you had known when you were starting out?
I think for a few months when I was sampling shoes and figuring out how and when to launch, I took it all a bit too seriously. I obviously wanted to put my best work into the world and I thought that once I decided on an identity, a logo, a color story, it could never change and it would determine the brand ID forever.
I soon realized, it was better to launch and let the brand evolve it's self. Now, I let my customers choose what they want to see more of. I follow my sales patterns, for sizes I buy into, and I pay attention to the feedback I get on social media to determine my next steps.
For other product-based business owners, how would you recommend finding a manufacturer?
I was lucky that I had a strong background in sourcing from the larger companies I worked for, but I found a lot of my current vendors through Linked-In. Some approached me, some I sought out.
The best thing is to have an idea in mind of want you want. I knew I wanted to work in India. I have always been inspired by the culture, and I love their hand-crafted atheistic.
My collection features a lot of hand beaded work, and it's one of the only places in the world I can get the quality I wanted for the right price. Figure out what area will be best for what you need to produce, and work from there.
What has been the most effective strategy for selling more products?
I do a lot of influencer outreach. For me, I like to reach out to girls who are also business owners, or creatives. Maybe they don't have the largest followings, but they have a curated feed and great fashion sense, while also having the integrity to showcase smaller brands and tell their story.
These girls are thrilled to get a pair of my shoes, and post a photo in return. Instagram has been a god send for me. I don't know how small businesses launched before social media!
What has been the best financial investment you've made in your business?
My largest investment has directly been into my product. I have really tried to keep all other costs lean. It's the most important piece of what I do, so investing in that first and foremost was the best move.
Just this year I took another big step and partnered with a PR firm in NYC. That was my second biggest investment, but waiting one year to take the step felt like the right timing. I hope it will be a game changer.
What is something you regret or wish you had done differently in your business?
I really can't say I regret anything to date. There are small learns I encounter everyday, like ordered too much of one size and not enough of another. But that can all be channeled into the next season to make that one a success. I'm forced to learn through trial and error.
What's your favorite business book, blog, or podcast?
I love to listen to Girlboss radio, in the mornings while I'm getting ready for my day. Sophia features amazing women who have started their own companies and listing to their journeys really inspires me.
How do you rest, recharge, and find inspiration?
I love to socialize and I gain a ton of energy from doing so. Trying to unplug on weekends is huge for me too. My husband and I often go to the shore on weekends with our dog, getting away from the office and taking a walk on the beach with my family is the best way for me to relax.
Anything else you would like readers to know about you, your business, or being a small business owner in general?
Don't be afraid, don't delay, start now and worry about perfection later.
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Don't forget to follow her on Instagram. Thanks so much for sharing, Alana!