How do you set up an online-only business aimed at a demographic traditionally not known to be digitally savvy? We spoke to Cyndy Lessing, Founder and Co-Founder of SoSensational about how she made it work.
Sometimes the biggest success stories are the ones that come when you least expect them. So, when Cyndy Lessing sold her business and left insurance broking after 30-years, she decided it was time to make some changes and follow her passion. This was the start of her journey from insurance broker to Founder and Co-Founder of SoSensational.
After retraining as an image consultant, she set up SoSensational with friend and fashion editor, Jan Shure. It’s a place for mature women to find fashion that has been carefully selected for their needs, in an online space designed especially for them. After seeing an article about The Times and Vodafone SME Mentorship programme in 2015, she applied and won a month’s worth of mentoring with Sophie Cornish, founder of notonthehighstreet.com.
“Sophie has been an amazing help to us and still continues to be. She’s a wonderful support – because she gets what we’re trying to do,” said Cyndy. “It’s lonely sometimes and working with someone who’s been there and done it is very supportive and reassuring.”
We asked Cyndy to share her top three highlights of taking part in a mentorship:
1. Helping us focus on our goals
2. Encouragement – sometimes you just need someone else to say you are doing ok!
3. Supporting us as mature women in a young person’s industry
Ecommerce and digital, particularly social media, are often seen as a young person’s business but Cyndy, who jumped into this world in her early 60s, is proof that with a solid business idea, constant social media presence and a little help and support, anyone can become a master.
Most people are aware that every type of business needs to be on social media but when you’re just starting out, how do you go about building a digital presence? “We had absolutely no digital experience whatsoever when we started,” said Cyndy. “Digital and tech trends do influence our business plans and we try hard to keep up by reading blogs.”
Having a strong business plan and brand identity was the driving force that kept them going in the difficult early days. “We just knew we had a great business idea that filled a massive gap in the market place. Everything we’ve learned has been learned on the job.”
The great idea was giving an untapped market something that they’d been craving: A chance to buy fashion online. “When we first started, our audience were just buying theatre tickets, books and music online. But clothes? Not so much.”
But armed with the knowledge that friends and peers were waiting for a way to buy clothes online, she knew there was a chance to provide an essential service. The challenge became convincing a mature audience that there was a trustworthy way to get exactly what they wanted online, instead of just making do with a sub-par high street experience.
Her demographic soon realised the benefits of buying online and being part of a community of like-minded people, all thanks to web content and social media.
“We create great content for our website. It’s what our grown-up audience want to see and read so that’s what we show them on social media,” said Cyndy. “And social media isn’t just important; it is absolutely critical. An online business cannot survive without using it to engage with their audience and extend their reach.”
Here are Cyndy’s top three pieces of advice to entrepreneurs setting up their own online business:
1. Don’t wait for your website to be perfect. It’s a ‘work in progress’ and always will be.
2. Use video and social media to get your message to a wider audience.
3. Understand which social media platform your audience is using and promote there first. Understand how it works best for your audience.
In fact, Cyndy urges all businesses to get to grips with social media as quickly as possible; “It’s your best marketing tool and it can be cheap.” She also recommends the use of video, which “doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done.” Our Small Business Owners’ Guide to Social Media is the perfect entry point into understanding the most commonly used social platforms.
When it comes to running an online business, Cyndy wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, being solely run through a website gave her several advantages like the excitement of watching the numbers grow in real time from global sales and being able to offer customers a huge range to pick from without needing to hold stock.
All of this is made a lot easier when technology and connectivity matches your speed of working. So when you’ve set up your website and social media, make sure you’re being supported by your provider, so your business will be ready for anything.
Above all, Cyndy knows that understanding your business, your reason for being in business and what your customers need, will keep you going through the difficult times. “Our motivation is the absolute certainty that we have a great business idea and are totally unique.”
And while enjoying your success is great – after all, you’ve earned it – don’t forget to stick to your business plan and keep pushing growth. You set yourself goals for a reason: “We want to discover an investor who will realise what an amazing business we have and help us to push the brand out in the UK, Western Europe and the USA.”
To see how your business compares in terms of digital readiness to 5,000 other UK businesses, visit our Ready Business Indicator here.
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