4 Great Lessons in Entrepreneurship Everyone Can Learn From Spanx Founder Sara Blakely

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Once upon a time, not too terribly long ago, Sara Blakely had a party to attend. Back then, she sold fax machines door-to-door, and had saved up her money to buy an expensive pair of white pants. She wanted a seamless look under said pants (read: no panty lines or body jiggles) so she put on a pair of pantyhose and cut the feet off.

Her “ah-ha!” moment, as she explained to Dave Ramsey, was seeing her rear end smoothly shaped by that undergarment. In that instant, Blakely knew this kind of product needed to exist for all women and the female form. She took the only money she had to her name, $5,000 in savings, to create a patent for her idea and design the prototype for her shapewear brand, Spanx.

Today, Blakely, the founder of Spanx, is a self-made billionaire. Her products, which have expanded to include women’s shapewear, maternity wear, leggings, and even a Spanx line for men, sell at department stores worldwide and are available to purchase in 65 countries. Oprah Winfrey has declared Spanx to be one of her “favorite things,” and Sara Blakely is the youngest female self-made billionaire ever to be included in the Forbes World’s Billionaires list.

For entrepreneurs who look up to Blakely in awe (and there are certainly many of them) and who are inspired to have a success story just like hers, we have gathered some of the greatest business tips she has shared over the years.

1. Believe in your idea and trust your instincts

Blakely has been quoted in Forbes for saying that even if you hear the word “no” a million times, but still believe in your idea 100%, you should not let anyone stop you. In order to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, Blakely visualized her specific goals and developed courage in order to dive deep into the world of business. She knew she was obsessed with her business idea, and that the product was a solution to a problem women everywhere had been dealing with for far too long.

Blakely was determined to keep going and bring her dream to life; in spite of the initial “no” responses she first heard, she began to hear a chorus of “yes” from others who believed in her product as much as she did.

2. Do your homework

As a newbie entrepreneur, Blakely didn’t have a business degree. She also didn’t have any experience in the fashion or merchandising industries. What she did have was the library, books, and her own door-to-door sales experience. Here’s how she conducted her early research, and any entrepreneur with a big, new idea should follow these steps as well:

  • Meeting with law firms to find a patent attorney
  • Writing her own original patent, with the help of research found in a book on patents and trademarks, and submitting it online
  • Researching existing hosiery patents at the library
  • Cold calling and travelling to meet with hosiery mills—(true, not every entrepreneur reading this will want to start a hosiery business, but the point is to reach out and make introductions on the phone and in person)
  • Visiting fabric stores to peruse the right materials
  • Developing a prototype (and an abstract image to go with the patent) that she would test on real women, ranging from her mom to her grandmother
  • Developing unique packaging—red, with illustrated women on it—with the help of a friend that specialized in graphic design

Bottom line? You may not know everything about a given industry you want to make your mark in, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your due diligence.

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3. Stay out of debt

That early five-grand investment aside, Blakely didn’t accept the help of outside investors. She bootstrapped and kept her day job while she launched her dream business. As a result, today Blakely is debt-free and owns 100% of Spanx.

4. Come up with (and trademark!) a really great business name

Spanx. It’s a little saucy if you consider that where the “x” is there’s usually a “k,” isn’t it? According to Blakely, who has stand-up comedians as friends, the “k” sound tends to make audiences laugh—and that was the kind of sound that Blakely was after. “Spanks” came to Blakely while she was stuck in traffic; she wrote it down and switched the “k” to an “x” instead. This was all because of her research where she learned that made-up words are easier to trademark and catch on better with consumers.

Moral of the story? Think like the Spanx founder when it comes to naming your next big idea.

RELATED: 3 Leadership Lessons Wonder Woman Can Teach Female Entrepreneurs

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